Tennis For Two Restored 50 Years On

Tennis For Two Restored 50 Years On

NYC engineers close to restoring one of the world’s first videogames to its original state.

Engineers at New York City’s Brookhaven National Laboratory are close to successfully restoring Tennis For Two, one of the first videogames ever created.

Brookhaven engineer Willy Higinbotham debuted the game at BNL’s annual open day all the way back in 1958. Hundreds waited to play Tennis For Two, made from a vacuum tube analogue computer, two controllers and a 5” oscilloscope screen, controlling an invisible tennis racquet with buttons and dials.

Higinbotham never patented his creation and the game was dismantled a year later, and would not be heard of again until 1997, when a group of engineers sought to recreate the game for Brookhaven’s 50th birthday celebrations.

However, unable to obtain the Donner Model 30 analogue computer that powered the game, the team had to settle for making their own using solid-state components. With solid-state devices susceptible to damage from voltage spikes, they soon blew out.

After spending several years picking up old analogue computers and components online, a team at Brookhaven has successfully assembled a working version of a Donner Model 3400, which does much the same job as the original Model 30.

Now Peter Takacs, a physicist in Brookhaven’s Instrumentation Division, says the time has nearly come for Tennis For Two to return. “We are now integrating the Donner computer into our 1997 game board,” Takacs wrote on ScienceBlogs. "This requires removing the extra components that belong to the solid-state devices and restoring the circuit to its original 1958 state.

“After the OK from Brookhaven’s electrical safety inspector, we will be ready to power up the board and plug it into the Donner operational amplifiers. Then we will truly be able to travel back in time.”

It was widely accepted for some time that Tennis For Two was the world’s first video game but other, earlier games have since appeared. It is now claimed the world’s first was the catchily named Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device, made in 1947.

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