By William Higginbotham
Last updated Wednesday, February 18, 2019
Tennis for Two is often regarded as one of the first video games ever created. Developed by William Higginbotham, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, Tennis for Two was completed on October 18, 1958, long before the first commercial video games were ever released. Tennis for Two was released long before Pong(20 years before) was developed, and though it has a similar premise the gameplay is dramatically different and extremely simple.
Tennis foTwo is generally considered one of the earliest, if not the earliest, video games ever released. It is among the first video games that featured an graphical display. Higginbotham (then the head of the laboratory's Instrumentation Division) created the game in response to the upcoming "visitor day" at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. According to e exciting. One of the computers the army used was able to calculate the trajectory of ballistic missiles, and he used this technology to develop the game. Unsurprisingly, the game was a huge hit among the attendees and reports suggest that huge lines formed to play the simple, yet at the time innovative game.
Even though Higginbotham realized that he had developed something very unique, he never patented the idea due to the fact that the United States government would have gained ownership of it ("But if I had realized just how significant it was, I would have taken out a patent and the U.S. government would own it!" - Higginbotham). For two years the game was in commission until it was unfortunately dismanteled.
Dave Ahl, though uninvolved in the video game industry, is an important element
to the history of Tennis for Two. As a highschool student he was awarded a scholarship and was allowed to tour the Brookhaven National Laboratory. During his visit he was allowed to play Tennis for Two and documented his experience in a magazine that today is among the most important chronicles of the video game.
The game was fairly simple. A two player game, each player would control a knob and attempt to volley the ball (displayed as a dot) over the net. Not only was it among the first games ever released, but it was also the first multiplayer game as well. The game is viewed on its side and is completely two dimensional. The game's lines are green and the screen is a circle with a grid in the background.
For the 50th anniversary of Tennis for Two, physists at Brookhaven attempted to recreate the video game. Peter Takacs was in charge of the recreation and he and his team spent several months attempting to perfectly replicate the original game. It took so long to recreate the game because they simply didn't have access to the equipment that was used in the original game. The original Tennis for Two used a vacuum tube analog computer, most of which were destroyed during the sixties. Even though the team was unable to find a vacuum tube analog computer, they were able to replicate the game using modern technology.
Unfortunately, the chips they used kept blowing out due to the high voltage spikes. According to Takacs, the technology used years ago was actually better suited for this game than what was available during the recreation. Eventually they were able to successfully recreate it and to this day it is still working. It is arguable whether or not Tennis for Two was the first video game ever created. Several inventions, such as OXO, an electronic tic-tac-toe game, was released years before Tennis for Two. Even farther before that was the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device, a patent by Estle R. Mann that is generally considered the earliest known predecessor to video games. Interesingly, however, Tennis for Two might be the first video game intended exclusively for entertainment. OXO, while a replication of a game, was made specficially for studing how humans and computers interact with each other.
William Higinbotham died in 1994. He will forever be remembered as one of the pioneers of the video game industry for his part in creating not only one of the first video games of all time, but the first video game meant for fun. Despite this fact, he claims to have regretted that he was better known for being a pioneer of the industry instead of his involvement in the non- proliferation of nuclear warheads. This news came from his son, William B. Higinbotham, who responded to those that wished to know more about his game saying "It is imperative that you include information on his nuclear nonproliferation work. That was what he wanted to be remembered for."
- Main article: William Higginbotham
Bob Dvorak was an employee at BNL who assisted Higinbotham in creating Tennis for Two. A Technical Specialist at the Instrumentation Division (the same division Higinbotham worked at), Dvorak actualy built the machine and worked alongside Higinbotham during the three weeks it took to develop it. Higinbotham claims that Dvorak was an essintial element to the creation of the game, saying that he would fully realize his ideas that he wrote on paper and made sure that the game was completed in time for the exhibit. Things that didn't work were promtly changed. Robert's sons, Charles Dvorak and Bob Dvorak, were both present at the 50th anniversary of Tennis for Two at BNL to celebrate the history of their father's creation.
Peter Takacs was not invovled in the creation of Tennis for Two when it was conceptualized in the late fifties. Instead, the BNL employee was involved in the recreation of the game in celebration of the 50th anniversary. It took him and his team several months to recreate the game, a much longer timespan than the original simply because the material used in the original wasn't available anymore. Because of this it's not a perfect recreation but is extremely close nonetheless. The original Tennis for Two machine that Higinbotham created was disassembled two years after its creation.