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Brief History of Computer Games: 1977

The Year of the Trinity

By: E. Bolognesi
Published: 13 September 2019, 5:19 pm

Let's start this long journey from the year of the Trinity: 1977, when the first home computers were released.

Since we are talking about games made for home computers, this story starts from the glorious year 1977. It's called the year of the "Trinity" because the world saw the birth of the first three personal computers: Commodore PET, Apple II, and Tandy TRS-80.

The Trinity: Commodore PET, Tandy TRS-80, Apple II
The Trinity: Commodore PET, Tandy TRS-80, Apple II

Of course, computer games were invented before home computers; they were developed and played on mainframes. The Oregon Trail is probably the most famous example. Colossal Cave, the game that launched the text adventure genre, was programmed on a DEC PDP-10 mainframe, like Zork, the well-known Infocom adventure. But those were not commercial games. The market for computer games did not exist until the arrival of home computers.

It took some time to have the first titles. The first computers arrived in 1977, but the first games came in 1978, primarily thanks to the computer makers (Apple, Commodore, Tandy), also because, initially, they were the only ones able to make them.

It is crucial to realize that at that time, the mere concept that somebody could create a piece of software (specifically a game) for a computer, and make money selling it, did simply not exist. There were no books telling programmers how to make games, no developer tools, and not enough technical documentation. This is why the first games were programmed in BASIC, a simple language, not very fast, but the only one pre-installed on those computers.

Startup screen of the PET, ready to accept BASIC commands
Startup screen of the PET, ready to accept BASIC commands

Actually, it was the only software pre-installed on those machines. When the lucky owners of the PET, Apple II, or TRS-80 were switching on their computers, they were welcomed by a screen telling them that the BASIC interpreter was ready to accept commands. Users had two options: load an existing program from a tape or start typing their BASIC program. Many opted for the second choice, and some became passionate about coding and game development.

That's why many of the first games were developed in BASIC, as we will see in the following chapters.

Baseball on the Commodore PET (1977)
Baseball on the Commodore PET (1977)

MobyGames report only three games for the PET released in 1977, including a Baseball game by Bob Polaro. There were also three games for the Apple II, including a version of Pong, and three games for the TRS-80, including an early text-only RPG called Devil's Dungeon.

Number of games released per computer platform 1977-1981
Number of games released per computer platform 1977-1981

Not much, but as we can see in the chart above, things would become more attractive starting from 1978.

← Brief History of Computer Games and Platforms - Part 1: 1977-1982

Brief History of Computer Games: 1978-1979 →

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