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A short history of videogames, 1951–2011

From Nim to the Nintendo 3DS, take a whistle-stop tour through 60 years of videogames.

1950s

1951

Ferranti designs the Nimrod computer to demonstrate the game of Nim during the Festival of Britain.

1952

Professor A.S. Douglas creates computer noughts and crosses game at Cambridge University, UK.

1958

Willy Higinbotham invents Tennis for Two on an oscilloscope at Brookhaven National Laboratory, New York.


1960s

1961

Steve Russell, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), creates Spacewar! on the PDP-1 mainframe computer.

1967

Engineer Ralph Baer demonstrates fully-functional ping-pong game.

1969

Ralph Baer develops the Brown Box, the first video games console that works on televisions.


1970s

1971

Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney create an arcade version of Spacewar!, calling it Computer Space.

1972

Ralph Baer licenses home games console patent to Magnavox and releases the Magnavox Odyssey.

Bushnell and Dabney found Atari and release an arcade version of Pong.

1975

Atari releases a home version of Pong.

Gunfight is released in Japanese arcades by Taito.

Midway licenses the game for the US, and redesigns the machine to use a microprocessor instead of hardwired solid-state circuits.

1976

Coleco releases the Telstar home video game console.

Atari releases the arcade game Breakout. Working on the prototype are Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, who go on to form Apple Computers.

Fairfield Camera & Instrument debuts the Channel F cartridge-based home games console.

1977

Atari releases the Video Computer System 2600 home games console, launched with nine games including Combat.

Atari 2600 Video Computer System
Atari 2600 Video Computer System, 1977 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1978

Taito and Midway introduce Space Invaders into arcades, causing a national coin shortage in Japan.

Magnavox releases the Odyssey 2 games console.

1979

Atari releases Asteroids in arcades.

Toy company Mattel produces the Intellivision games console.

Mattel Intellivision Games Console
Mattel Intellivision Games Console, 1979 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1980s

1980

Battlezone by Atari is the first 3D game ever created; it is later used by the US military for training exercises.

Williams Electronics releases Defender.

Japanese video game designer Toru Iwatani creates Pac-Man for Namco.

British inventor Clive Sinclair enters the home computer market with the ZX80.

Commodore Business Machines introduces the VIC-20 8-bit home computer.

Acorn Computers releases the Acorn Atom home computer.

1981

Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto creates Donkey Kong and introduces the world to an Italian plumber called Jumpman—later renamed Mario.

Centipede is released in arcades by Atari.

Konami develops Frogger.

Sinclair Research releases the Sinclair ZX81 home computer.

The BBC and Acorn partner up to produce the BBC Microcomputer.

Sinclair ZX 81 microcomputer, 1981-1985
Sinclair ZX 81 microcomputer, 1981–1985 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
BBC Microcomputer System, 1981
BBC Microcomputer System, 1981 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1982

Coleco introduces the ColecoVision games console.

Tron arcade game is released to tie in with the Disney film.

Sinclair continue their domination of the British home computer market with the ZX Spectrum.

Beam Software releases text-adventure game The Hobbit.

The Commodore 64 is released to compete against the ZX Spectrum.

Namco releases Pole Position into arcades.

Commodore 64 microcomputer, 1982–1985
Commodore 64 microcomputer, 1982–1985 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Sinclair ZX Spectrum microcomputer
Sinclair ZX Spectrum microcomputer, 1982–1985 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1983

Cinematronics debuts Rick Dyer’s Dragon’s Lair in arcades. Interactive animation has arrived, courtesy of the laserdisc.

Atari introduces Star Wars: The Videogame into arcades.

Nintendo introduces the Famicom in Japan.

British bedroom coder Matthew Smith designs Manic Miner.

Nintendo Famicom Games Console
Nintendo Famicom Games Console, 1983 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1984

Russian computer engineer Alexey Pajitnov creates Tetris on an Elektronika 60, later ported to the IBM PC.

Cambridge University students David Braben and Ian Bell create Elite.

Amstrad releases the CPC464 home computer.

1985

The Famicom is redesigned as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and released in Europe and the US.

Super Mario Bros. is released by Nintendo for the NES.

Atari releases the 520ST home computer.

Ed Logg designs the Gauntlet arcade game at Atari.

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), 1983
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), 1983 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1986

Sega releases the Master System to compete against the NES.

Twins Philip and Andrew Oliver design the first Dizzy game.

Taito releases Bubble Bobble into arcades.

Sega Master System
Sega Master System, 1990 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1987

Commodore releases the Amiga 500 home computer.

Taito follows up Bubble Bobble with the release of Rainbow Islands.

The Legend of Zelda is released for the NES.

Commodore Amiga 500 microcomputer
Commodore Amiga 500 microcomputer, 1987 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1989

Peter Molyneux forms Bullfrog Productions and releases god-game Populous.

Atari enters the handheld market with the release of the Lynx.

Sega releases Golden Axe in arcades.

Will Wright creates SimCity.


1990s

1990

The Nintendo Game Boy is released in the UK.

Sega releases the groundbreaking 16-bit Mega Drive console in the UK.

The Secret of Monkey Island is released by Lucas Arts for Amiga and PC.

Nintendo Game Boy, model DMG-01, 1989
Nintendo Game Boy, model DMG-01, 1989 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Sega Mega Drive console
Sega Mega Drive console, c.1990 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1991

Capcom introduces Street Fighter II into arcades.

DMA Design releases Lemmings for the Commodore Amiga.

Sega responds to the Game Boy by releasing the hand held Game Gear console.

Sega introduces the world to a blue hedgehog called Sonic.

Nintendo releases the Super Nintendo to compete against the Mega Drive. The acclaimed Super Mario World is included as a launch title.

1992

Midway responds to Street Fighter II with the release of Mortal Kombat.

Sega releases Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Mega Drive.

Jon Hare designs Sensible Soccer.

Sega launches Virtua Racing into arcades.

Brothers Oliver and Peter Collyer develop Championship Manager.

1993

Sega launches the first 3D fighting game, Virtua Fighter, in arcades.

Atari releases the Jaguar home games console.

id Software release first-person-shooter Doom for the home PC.

Broderbund creates Myst for the Macintosh computer.

Nintendo releases Super Mario Kart for the SNES.

1994

Sony releases the PlayStation in Japan.

Bullfrog releases Theme Park.

1995

Westwood Studios releases Command & Conquer for the home PC.

The Sega Saturn arrives in the UK.

Psygnosis release racing game Wipeout on the Playstation 1.

Windows 95 is released by Microsoft. Millions idle away office hours playing Minesweeper and Solitaire.

1996

The Tamagotchi virtual pet is released in Japan.

British studio Core Design develops Tomb Raider, introducing Lara Croft.

id Software releases Quake.

Capcom releases Resident Evil.

Nintendo develops Pokémon for the Game Boy.

Electronic toys by Bandai (Tamagotchi cyber pets, 1996; Yomega X-Brain auto return yo-yo, 1998)
Electronic toys by Bandai (Tamagotchi cyber pets, 1996; Yomega X-Brain auto return yo-yo, 1998) © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1997

Nintendo 64 released in UK. The groundbreaking Super Mario 64 is included as a launch title.

Nokia releases the 5110 mobile phone, including the game Snake.

The PlayStation sells 20 million units worldwide.

Rare develops GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64.

Scottish studio DMA Design releases Grand Theft Auto for the PC.

Nintendo 64 games console
Nintendo 64 games console, 1996–2003 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

1998

Sega releases the Dreamcast games console.

Nintendo releases the Game Boy Color.

Valve Software develops Half-Life for the PC.

Arcade sensation Dance Dance Revolution is released by Konami.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is released for the Nintendo 64.


2000s

2000

Sony releases the PlayStation 2 in the UK.

Will Wright’s The Sims is released on the PC.

2001

Nintendo releases the Game Boy Advance in the UK.

Sega announces that it will no longer manufacture hardware.

Grand Theft Auto III is released for the PlayStation 2.

Game Boy Advance
Nintendo Game Boy Advance, model AGB-001, 2001 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

2002

Microsoft releases the Xbox games console in the UK. It includes Bungie Software’s Halo as a launch title.

Nintendo releases the GameCube in the UK.

2003

EyeToy: Play released for the PlayStation 2.

2004

Blizzard releases online role-playing epic World of Warcraft.

Nintendo releases the DS handheld.

Valve Software releases Half-Life 2.

Sony London Studios develops SingStar for the PlayStation 2.

2005

Sony releases the PSP.

Harmonix develops Guitar Hero for the PlayStation 2.

Microsoft launches the Xbox 360.

Relentless Software releases Buzz: The Music Quiz.

2006

Nintendo releases the Wii. Wii Sports is included as a launch title.

Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training is released for the DS.

Nintendo Wii base unit, remote controller, Numchuck, sensor bar and box, 2006
Nintendo Wii base unit, remote controller, Numchuck, sensor bar and box, 2006 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

2007

Sony releases the Playstation 3 in the UK.

Apple launches the iPhone.

Sony PlayStation 3 games console, 2007–2010
Sony PlayStation 3 games console, 2007–2010 © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

2008

Media Molecule releases LittleBigPlanet for the PS3.

Grand Theft Auto IV released by Rockstar Games.

2009

Nintendo releases the DSi.


2010s

2010

Sony releases PlayStation Move motion controller.

Microsoft releases the controller-free Kinect for the Xbox 360.

2011

Nintendo releases the 3DS, a handheld 3D gaming device that doesn’t require glasses.

Rockstar Games publishes L.A. Noire.

Nintendo announces the Wii U console.


Further reading

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