Obituary: Ralph Baer

Electronics pioneer who fathered the console passes away

Ralph Baer, who pioneered a number of devices, systems and patents which played key roles in the development of home gaming, has passed away aged 92.

Baer's most famous achievement was the creation of the machine which was sold to the public in 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey - a device for playing games at home in the living room via the television, or what we'd now call a console. The very first of its kind, the Odyssey used interchangeable printed circuit boards to switch games and offered users a variety of different coloured gel overlays for the TV screen to simulate colour graphics. 27 Games were released for the Odyssey, which sold 333,000 units worldwide and began a trend which still stands at the very core of our industry.

Baer also designed the world's first game peripheral to work with the Odyssey, creating a simple light rifle for a game called Shooting Gallery. He also created a putting game which used a golf ball on a joystick, designed to be hit with a club, which was never released, and the electronic memory game Simon.

During his youth, Baer lived in Germany. Forced to flee the Nazi party just two months before Kristallnacht, Baer lived briefly in the Netherlands before finding refuge in America, where he graduated as a radio technician. Drafted into the US army in 1943 as a part of the intelligence service, Baer contracted pneumonia shortly before the D-Day landings, completing a correspondence course in algebra from his hospital bed instead.

An expert in small arms, he also brought home massive amounts of foreign weaponry to the US after the war, staging several public exhibitions with it. He also went on to work on the US space program, designing launch mechanisms for rockets, before creating the Brown Box which would become the Odyssey. He held over 150 patents and had been recognised by the US presidency for his contribution to science, technology and entertainment.

Latest comments (4)

Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, Ludia3 years ago
I am reading Baer's book, "Videogames: In the Beginning" and my admiration for this guy only grows with every page. Rest in peace, Baer. And thank you for being the right guy in the right place with the right idea and the right skills to put it into practice. Videogames are orphans, now.
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Adam Campbell Game Production Manager, Azoomee3 years ago
Sad loss yet such a great legacy left behind. We should all remember the part this man played in making the industry what it is today!
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This was an email few years ago........."and I definitely have no intention of "retiring - whatever that is - until it's time to check out...and even then I want them to leave my screwdriver in my pocket protector in my shirt pocket...there just might be some last minute thing I need to fix and I don't want to be without my tools." Ralph Baer R.I.P. I'll miss you. Here's hoping you have your tools. (Robert Grant Stanton, Sr.)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Grant Stanton on 8th December 2014 10:08pm

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Shane Sweeney Academic 3 years ago
Grant, that quote made me tear up.

I too re-read Video Games in the Beginning last night after I heard. I got very sad. It's an awful book, poorly produced, filled with Microsoft word art, poorly edited, Spelling mistakes. I feel such sadness he couldn't muster enough financial support to make a quality book, especially in contrast to the myriad of quality media about Nolan Bushnell. Very few people have a legacy of producing an entire medium.

It is a depressing and angry read from a depressed man trying to prove his rightful place as the Father of Video Games, he shouldn't of needed to write this book himself. The whole book is a primary source meticulously documented about how he came up with the idea of interactivity on a screen and how we went about building it and how Nolan Bushnell saw everything he worked on, even highlighting that Nolan signed his guest book.

I really hope he passed truly knowing history would always remember him.
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