Gaming history

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History of video games

The history of computer games probably begins in 1946 with the creation of the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device, patented by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann on December 14, 1948 (U.S. Patent #2 455 992), which was a missile simulator. In the early 1950's game development usually took place by few people at universities beside studies, simply to explore new ways using the technology and have some fun. The outcome of this have been electronic versions of known board and pen-and-paper games, like checkers by Christopher Strachey in 1951, or OXO a.k.a. Noughts and Crosses (Tic-Tac-Toe) by A.S. Douglas in 1952. Also in 1951, the Ferranti NIMROD was introduced, a special computer to play Nim. In 1958, William Higinbotham created Tennis for Two on an analog computer linked to an oscilloscope, which is often referred as the first true electronic game. Probably the most exciting game in the early era of video games is Spacewar! by Steve Russel in 1961 for the PDP-1.

Ralph Bear is credited as the father of video games, who already imagined the concept of playing a game on TV in 1951. In 1966 he began to realize his vision of a video game console on his own, which has become known as the Magnavox Oddyssey in 1972, and sold around 100.000 units for a price of around 100$. His first video game was a chase game.

The first popular video game was PONG, a coin-up arcade game invented by the Atari founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, released on November 29, 1972. They sold around 8000 units, and brought video games to the mainstream.

Video games has become less popular in the early 1980's when the first home computer appeared, most notably the C64 which was released in 1982. This situation should take until Nintendo released Super Mario Brothers in 1985/1986 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which was released in 1983. In 1989, two handheld systems appeared, the Nintendo Gameboy and the Atari Lynx.

In the 1990s technology rapidly improves video games in graphics and sound. Probably the biggest innovation begun in the mid 90's with a change to 3D graphics with the introduction of 3D hardware. Also the possibility of networking computers facilitate new game types, and moved them into cyberspace.

The triumphal procession of video games didn't stop and has become a widespread recreational activity and an own culture.

Origins of Unix gaming

While the roots of the Unix family lays back in 1969, and meantime has become a mature and widespread platform in the hacker culture, Unix-like systems never have been a traditional video gaming platform. Nevertheless, gaming also exist among hackers, and the BSD Games Collection (/usr/games) is a contemporary witness of traditional Unix games, a collection of classic text-based games. Due to Unix's strength in networking, it also has been used as MUD/MUSH server often. Probably the most popular traditional Unix game ever written is Nethack, from which even some graphical clones have been developed nowadays. Indeed, even graphical X11 games usually have a cheesy look.

As the gaming scene evolved in the late 1980's, because of new commodity hardware like VGA with lots of potential for gaming, Unix was rather used for expensive high-quality workstation-oriented graphics, but unsuited for arcade games. That's when the development of Linux started in 1991, which is the epitome of Unix today. Those days Unix's graphic capabilities were limited to an ugly implemented SVGALib with limited hardware support, or the network-friendly and flexible Xlib, which was slow. Some few attempts to establish the upcoming Linux as a gaming platform in the mid 1990's, by porting games like Doom or Abuse (both use SVGALib and X) didn't really break into a new market. Especially Dave D. Tayler did some pioneer work then.

In the mid 1990's the 3D revolution began with the introduction of commodity 3D accelerators, though it took some time to bring the new technology to Unix. Indeed, the new 3D technology heavily relies on the driver support of the manufactures, and due to their mulishness isn't yet supported for Unix-like systems in general. In 1993, Brian Paul started Mesa, a free implementation of the OpenGL specifications, but Daryll Strauss is known as the person who brought 3D graphics to Linux by convincing 3Dfx to let him port Glide. For the first time 3D acceleration was supported by Mesa 2.2 via Glide in 1998.

Since OpenGL doesn't handle presentation devices, it needs to be connected for a proper integration into X. This sort of glue is SGI's GLX, Open Source since 1999. It still needs a suitable driver for 3D hardware acceleration, and Utah GLX was an attempt to extend GLX with hardware acceleration. Indeed, it reached a reasonably good performance, but had intrinsic limitations in its design. Nevertheless, it was the beginning for Linux as a viable gaming platform, and the start for Loki Software (1998-2002) to port some games to Linux. Following Loki's example, Linux Game Publishing was founded in 2001 with the aim to port games to Linux.

The Direct Rendering Infrastructure (DRI) was another attempt to support hardware acceleration, and has overcome Utah GLX's design limitations. It consists of the Direct Rendering Manager (DRM) kernel modules, which provides an interface to the hardware, and a userspace backend for Mesa, which access them. DRI reaches excellent 3D performance on supported hardware, and is supported on Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and Solaris.

Only few professional game developers support Linux as gaming platform these days. Probably the best known developer still is id Software, but others like BioWare also see an opportunity. At this time, development of Unix games is mainly done for Linux by hobbyist of the Open Source culture, and is on its way to produce some very nice free titles, though they usually can't compete with modern games by the industry for several reasons. Due to this situation, over the years an alternative to playing original Unix games by machine emulation has become popular, and makes it possible to play original games for Windows, AMIGA, Super Nintendo, Neo Geo, Playstation, and many more. It is also possible to run Linux on several video game consoles like Xbox, PlayStation, GameCube, and Dreamcast.

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