The Magnavox Odyssey was the first home video game system, invented by Ralph Baer, who started work on it as early as 1967. It was then launched in 1972 at the end of which over 100,000 units were sold.
This system is very basic, having no CPU, score mechanism, colour or sound. In fact there were only 40 diodes and 40 transistors inside. Six cartridges could be used to play up to 12 games - sometimes the same cartridges being used more than once to play different games. The large number of game accessories that came with it allowed for different games to be played, with some games using the accessories as a main focus for the game instead of the console. Each game used a plastic transparent colour overlay which was to affixed to the TV set. The overlays compensated for the fact that the Odyssey could only produce a vertical line, a dot for the ball and 2 shorter lines (representing each player controller) on the screen. The overlays were meant to attach to the TV by use of static electricity and smoothed over by hand or a soft cloth, but the instruction manual said if this didn’t work one should use tape instead. It even suggested that you could trim them down to fit your TV set!
The controllers are in fact two largish block sized controllers with a round dial on either side. Twisting the dial on the left for horizontal movement, and the right for vertical movement. An `English’ dial on the left of each one controlled the `deflection ‘ of the ball. Ball speed could also be controlled.
Despite the basic nature of the games by today's standards, the system marked a crucial change in the way people used their TVs. In 1972 the marketing stated that the user could now actually `participate’ in television and not just be a spectator, with the system manual describing it as: `The exciting casino action of Monte Carlo, the thrills of Wimbledon, the challenge of ski trails – can be duplicated right in your own living room.’
The games included tennis, ski, hockey, table tennis, simon says, analogic, states, cat and mouse, submarine, football, haunted house, roulette, invasion and shooting games (with the optional rifle that could be purchased separately). Most games were also played with cards, dices, paper money or game chips delivered with the system.
Odyssey’s cartridges contain no components: they are basically wirejumper sets. When plugging a cartridge into the console, internal diode logic circuits are interconnected in different ways to produce the desired result. As a matter of fact, the Odyssey contains everything to make a game based around a ball, one or two paddles representing the players, and a central or off-side vertical line which serves as a net or a wall. The cartridges act to connect some the machine’s diode logic circuitry to set the aspect and the position of the vertical line (normally centered for ping pong and tennis but located on the left or on the middle for handball and volleyball respectively, or not displayed at all for Chase games and gun games), and to determine the interaction between the ball and the other graphic objects: bounce or erase either a player or a ball spot when there is a collision with a player or the central line (a player could even be erased after a collision with the ball).
Text and info from Abi Waddell & David Winter.