History of video games: the golden age of electromechanical machines

We have already talked about the first generation of coin-operated electrical machines and electromechanical machines, and we have also wanted to review the history of Pinballs as a tribute to a parallel trajectory, proper but with points in common with the video game itself. But we still have one last step before entering the field of computing. The truth is that here history begins to bifurcate and branch out. Tennis for Two, clearly considered the first video game as such, was born in 1958. Before him we had already witnessed the first computerized simulations of board games such as nim or chess (in that way), so we already have half of the 20th century, the most direct predecessors of the modern video game. But before jumping into them, we need to go back to the resurgence of electromechanical machines and their golden age, the decade between the 1960s and 1970s.

We have already seen how the first electromechanical machines were quite simple and rudimentary. The fact that they were electromechanical was what gave them their revolutionary air, but that soon became obsolete. New technologies allowed creative visionaries to come up with ever more elaborate experiences, new mechanics, and ideas like ever more elaborate shooters or experiences. It would be in 1965 when a Japanese company called Nakamura Manufacturing (a company that would later change its name to Namco) launched a game that translated would come to be something like “Torpedo Launcher”. A little later, a company founded by an American, Sega, released a game that would revolutionize and revitalize the arcade scene: Periscope.


It’s not very clear how did two such similar machines appear and there are various theories and speculations. One of the most credible is that Masaya Nakamura designed the machine, since it is well established that it was one of his first creations, and then sold the rights (since he himself admitted that he sold several games from his early years to the competition) – another less kind is that David Rosen’s Sega simply copied it. In any case, it would be Sega that took the recognition cat into the water. Its first iteration was a huge cockpit with three periscopes, in which each player used their own to aim at the mechanically moved ships in the background and fire missiles that traveled like beams of light below a surface that simulated the sea. It was a great success at various fairs and exhibitions, but the original booth was very difficult to export, so a one-man design was made and was a huge international success. Periscope put Sega on the international map and is considered the most lucrative arcade game of its time.

Detecting a renewed public interest in electromechanical entertainment, the sector began to reactivate internationally. In the early 1960s, arcades in the United States were in decline, but the advent of Periscope and other games that accompanied it once again captured the interest of an increasingly enthusiastic public that encouraged houses to create different experiences with the means they had. In some cases, that competition wouldn’t exactly be sporty, since for example Sega, after having struck the market like lightning, was subjected to a narrow marking by American houses; each new product was answered by two or three shameless clones who ate their chances in the West due to the extra cost of importing (although the internal demand from Japan was such that the business continued to function).

More devious tactics aside, it was a time of enormous creativity, ingenuity, and ingenuity. The companies used all kinds of techniques to create different and elaborate experiences, such as holograms, mobile models, mechanical devices, mirrors, video tapes, pistols or light shotguns and anything that would allow them to recreate the fantasy they wanted to put in their hands. of the players. Some of the great video game legends were born here, just in time to witness the revolution that computerization would bring to this sector.

Previous week: Brief history of Pinballs

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