To appreciate how good consoles are nowadays, we need to return to the first generation of home consoles. These were the ancestors of all game consoles that exist today. Even though none of the 3 original consoles’ parent companies exist anymore, the impact they made on gaming cannot be ignored.
Atari Pong, Magnavox Oddysey, and the Coleco Telestar series are the three consoles that make up the first generation. These consoles are referred to as dedicated consoles because they only had 1 to 2 games on them. To give you a sense of time, the first generation came out between 1972 and 1980.
We are now on the 9th generation that started in 2020. That is a whole 50 years of technological change! Let’s explore the consoles that started it all.
1. Magnavox Odyssey (1972)
Let’s begin with the first commercially available home game console, the Magnavox Odyssey. The Odyssey consists of a white, black, and brown box that connects to a television set and two rectangular wired controllers. These controllers do not look like any other controller you would see today. The only way to control the game it came with was to turn the knob on the side of the controller.
The graphics entirely limited games at this point. The Odyssey could only display 3 dots and a line of varying heights. Players would have to place plastic overlays on their TV to play the different games. If you ever used one of those old overhead projectors, that is what it was like. The Odyssey console came packaged with dice, paper money, and other board game paraphernalia to accompany the games.
2. Atari Pong (1975)
After a successful run as an arcade game, the creators of Pong tried to make the jump to a home console. For a while, that was the way for game creators to make it. Make a full-blown arcade cabinet of your game, and then maybe a console can be made solely for that game to play at home.
Harold Lee and Allan Alcorn were tasked with making the home console port. After completing the prototype in 1974, they thought of selling the product to Sears after seeing an ad for the Magnavox Oddysey in the sporting goods category.
After some haggling and other offers, they eventually decided to go with Sears, and Atari bought a whole new factory to manufacture 150,000 units. But it wasn’t happily ever after yet. In 1974, Magnavox filed a lawsuit against Pong because the Odyssey had a very similar ping-pong-type game. Eventually, Atari decided to settle the lawsuit for 1.5 million dollars. In some ways, it was worth it, though, because Pong is still one of the most famous games.
3. Coleco Telestar Series (1976-1978)
Coleco is one of those companies that hopped on the trend at full force, just slightly too late. For example, the Telestar series started in 1976 with a Pong-clone console. After that had reasonable success, Coleco decided to release 14 consoles in total over the next two years. Some of the most notable ones are Coleco Telstar Combat!, Coleco Telestar Arcade, and Coleco Telstar Classic.
Starting as a Pong-clone console, the Telestar had 3 games, Tennis, Handball, and Hockey. You might hear those and think that sounds pretty impressive for the time. But, lets us tell you, those are the loosest interpretations of those 3 sports possible. The Coleco Telestar Combat! is probably the most original offer from these consoles. And, yes, the exclamation point is in the title of the console. The 4 games it came with were Combat, Night Battle, Robot Battle, and Camouflage Combat. I have not had the chance to play those games, but boy, oh boy, do they sound fun.
Is First Always Best?
These 3 consoles, or 17 consoles depending on how you look at it, laid the framework to get where we are with all of the current generation consoles. But, are these games actually fun anymore? These games are fun, but we don’t see anybody putting hundreds of hours into Night Battle anytime soon.
That being said, if we had to name a winner of these 3, we would have to go with the Atari Pong. Even though they basically stole the concept from the Magnavox Odyssey, Atari did it so much better. There is a reason most people have heard of Pong and not the Odyssey.