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Current console tech unnecessary, says Baer

The current level game console technology is not really necessary, according to the man who invented videogames

The current level of game console technology is not really necessary, according to the man who invented videogames.

"The short answer is no. I mean, we played perfectly fine games with - by today's standards - extremely primitive hardware like the Atari VCS," industry pioneer Ralph Baer told GamesIndustry.biz.

"There's got to be a reason for playing the damn thing, but obviously the reason for playing most of those interactive, gory games is that they look a lot better when they are in high resolution."

Baer says that the technology isn't necessary for the gameplay, yet he acknowledges that people interested in high-resolution graphics tend to look down their noses at the Nintendo Wii.

Even so, he thinks that the Wii plays a lot of good games and notes that it appeals to "old-timers" who cannot manage the complicated controls of other systems.

"Who the hell - who didn't grow up with that stuff - over 45 or 50 can handle pushing 50 different buttons on a hand control? The answer is no one, right? Or very few, so there is a whole pile of people left out of the equation."

With the hardware and software becoming more complex, companies need ever more specialised workers to create games.

"It just gets more and more and more expensive, which means that most small companies are going to die by the wayside," Baer said.

He personally dislikes violence in games, questioning the need for all the fighting, but understands that it will always be with us.

"Violence sells. There's no question about it."

"And why does it sell? Because in the last 30 to 40 years, in my opinion, we have managed to debase our culture unbelievably."

He does, however, appreciate the physical involvement of the Nintendo Wii - something that he pushed unsuccessfully himself for nearly 20 years.

"For one thing, I like it because I did most of what they are doing in 1989, 1990-91. I had Konami in here - the VP for, I think, product development came with a couple of Chinese factory people and I showed them a whole bunch of stuff all of that nature.

"Like shooting at the screen not with a gun, but with a helmet with an optical eyesight inside so that you could home in on the target and yell in the mouthpiece 'fire' and being able to fire.

"Things like knowing where you are with respect to the screen so that the object on the screen can interact with you depending upon where you are in the room."

In his book "Videogames: In the Beginning," Baer talked about pitching his Laser Tag-inspired videogame in which on-screen characters could track the location of players in their living rooms.

Although none of the companies were willing to pursue the idea at the time, he is pleased to see similar "spatial recognition" happening 20 years later with the Wii - even though he has no financial stake in it.

"As an individual inventor, you can't afford to patent anything," Baer lamented.

"And if you did, and spent the money, it would do you no good because if a company wants to do what they want to do, they just do it - and if I sue them, they have three or four or five house lawyers.

"It would cost them nothing to respond, and it would cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend, and there's no guarantee of winning, right? So patents are almost entirely worthless to an individual."

Baer himself holds around 150 patents and was the first to invent a light gun game (1967), a golf game using an actual ball and putter (1969), a videogame that connected to a tape recorder to use natural sounds (1973) and a camera for placing players' faces in games (1984).

"Two-thirds of [my patents] wound up in some production item and made money, but very few of them wound up in my bank account," he noted.

The complete interview with Ralph Baer can be read here.

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