In the 1950s, it took a former atomic bomb scientist three weeks to make the world’s first video game.
Physicist William Higinbothame was a Cornell graduate who worked on a timing system for the atomic bomb (and later focused his interests on nuclear arms control). More than a decade later, in 1958, Higinbothame would use his electronics expertise to create a simple (by today’s standards) tennis video game at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. He wanted to offer a more interactive demonstration for visitors that would “convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society.”
The game, “Tennis for Two” ran on a small (we’re talking five inches in diameter) analog computer. Players turned a knob to adjust the angle of the ball, and pushed a button to hit it toward their opponent. In terms of graphics, the cathode ray tube display showed a side view of a tennis court represented by two lines (one for the ground and one for the net). The ball was a dot. Oh, and you had to keep score yourself.
We’ve come a long way since Tennis for Two. Players are able to game in virtual reality, catch Pokemon in augmented reality, experience the rich visual worlds of games like No Man’s Sky, and even connect with players across the globe in real time. As new technology becomes available, it will almost certainly find its place in gaming.
And with new technology also comes new challenges – most people can’t create a video game in three weeks like Higinbothame did. There’s an imaginative, exciting, and frequently painstaking process behind making a game – from the initial pitch to delivery. And that’s the focus of the new feature-length documentary film “The Name of the Game,” directed by Paul J. Vogel and Jarno Elonen.
Coming to all VOD platforms worldwide on November 30th, “The Name of the Game” follows Vogel and Elonen as they document the radical collaboration between the legendary, old-school arcade game designer Eugene Jarvis, who pioneered classics like Defender and Robotron, and the Finnish game developing company Housemarque as they team up to bring retro arcade style to modern day gaming consoles in Nex Machina.
“Very early on, it was apparent to us that we have something big on our hands,” said Vogel. “We came in to make a kickstarter video for Housemarque when we realized there is a much larger story to be told.”
The directorial duo follows Jarvis, Harry Krueger, the game’s director, Mikael Haveri, the game’s head of marketing, and Tommaso de Benetti, the game’s community manager, for three years through six countries as they attempt to create the next big thing in the gaming world. The film not only illustrates the immense creativity necessary to succeed in the high-risk world of video game development, but it also illuminates the pitfalls that can arise from completely indulging in passion projects. According to Vogel:
“Balancing the technical with the personal was one of our greatest challenges. I really wanted to tell a story about the people behind making the games rather than falling into a sanitized making-of story. These guys are so passionate about what they do – to a fault, and I feel like pursuing one’s crazy dreams is something even non-gamers can relate to.”
“The Name of the Game” is written by Heikki Kareranta, produced by Jirka Silander, and executive produced by Geoff Clark and Jason Taylor of Futurism Studios. The film will be distributed internationally by Gunpowder & Sky’s Filmbuff and available to watch today on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, and Vimeo. You can also purchase the film here today.
Futurism Studios is a subsidiary of Futurism LLC. This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Futurism editorial team. Futurism may receive a portion of proceeds from this film.