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The 'GDC 25' Chronicles: The Inventor of Fire

Continuing his 'GDC 25' archival research, official GDC historian Jason Scott makes available a rare Game Developers Conference 2008 video featuring game pioneers Ralph Baer and Al Alcorn.

Jason Scott, Blogger

December 8, 2010

2 Min Read

[Continuing his 'GDC 25' archival research ahead of the 25th Game Developers Conference in San Francisco next February, official GDC historian Jason Scott makes available a rare GDC 2008 video featuring game pioneers Ralph Baer and Al Alcorn.] So let's say you're a caveman. A really, really smart caveman, actually - you figure out that fire, which you usually only see burning the tops of trees after a terrifying lightning storm that sends your contemporaries running for the safety of their caves, can be harnessed. You work out how to strike rocks to make a spark to burn a torch, so you can make a fire anytime. From your discovery, humans learn to cook food, warm themselves at night, and a million other skills. Now let's say that you live long enough to be able to stand up at a NASA convention and give a speech about those great fire discovery days. That's the inherent fascination for me about Ralph Baer. Here's a guy who essentially invents video games; actually does the engineering work to create a game that you would recognize in a second as being a video game (pong). Then he continues to invent and innovate while he watches his idea grow from a tiny niche industry to the dominant form of entertainment. Available online for the first time on GDC Vault, Baer's GDC 2008 video presentation, 'How to Create an Industry', shows how the luminary got to stand up at that NASA convention equivalent. At that Game Developers Conference (an amazing idea in itself, looking back), Baer talked about how he came about figuring out how to knock the rocks together to make a spark. He's given this presentation a bunch of times at various events, but it never gets old for me - it gets even better. He walks you through his life, the pieces of thought that brought him to play with televisions, and the design work that brought him to thinking of doing a 'pong' game on them. If you've not seen it before, now's your chance. And before I stop with Ralph, let me say that he appears here with Al Alcorn, who took Ralph's game and designs Atari's Pong, a game that brings the coin-op industry firmly into the video era. When Ralph brings us to the Odyssey home console, Al picks up and takes it to the next ten-plus years of innovation at Atari. And all this in 40 minutes. Check it out on GDC Vault now!

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