Analogic (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Analogic: Takes place on a spacescape overlayed by a grid of seemingly random numbers.Analogic: Takes place on a spacescape overlayed by a grid of seemingly random numbers. It impresses me that the Odyssey, a system that doesn't do math, would be the system to introduce a game with arithmetic as its focus. In addition to being the first math edutainment vehicle, Analogic is also the first Science Fiction-themed home videogame.

The Analogic Überlay is a grid of seemingly random numbers superimposed over a simple spacescape. I say "seemingly" because those numbers are actually a maze. (It's important to keep that in mind for later.) Each player controls a PlayerSpot which starts the game at either the planet Even in the upper left, or the planet Odd in the lower right. They represent “light beam transceivers”. The light beam itself is the BallSpot. To setup the game, players bring out the BallSpot and, using their ENGLIGH knobs, maneuver it so that it is constantly bouncing back and forth between the two PlayerSpots.

The object of Analogic is for each player to traverse the space between the Odd/Even worlds and reach the other player’s starting position before their opponent does by choosing odd or even numbers on a vertical or horizontal path. Doing so will involve math.

The whole point of the game is to force the players to add small numbers aloud and to demonstrate that they understand the difference between an odd and even number. If going first, planet Odd’s player (starting in the lower right) would move to a number matching their planet’s “polarity”, in this case, their only choice would be the “3” just above their starting square, as players are only allowed to move either vertically or horizontally. The player for planet Even, would then have to choose to move to a number which, when added to the number just moved to by their opponent, would add up to a number matching their planet’s polarity. So in the case of player Odd moving first, player Even would have no choice but to move to “5” saying “Three plus five is eight; even!”. Planet Odd’s player would then have to move to a number that added up to an Odd number when added to planet Even’s previous choice. In this case, Odd would move to the grid space labeled “6” and say “Five plus six is eleven; odd!”.

There are twists to this seemingly simple exchange. While moving a transceiver, both players must maintain contact with the other transceiver by using their ENGLISH controls to keep the “light beam” (BallSpot) oscillating between the two PlayerSpots. Keep in mind that the player whose PlayerSpot last deflected the BallSpot has control of the BallSpot’s ENGLISH. If the player who has control of the interstellar beam, (i.e. the player who controls the ENGLISH), misses contact with their opponent's PlayerSpot, then that player must go back one space and give his opponent a Diagonal Chip. This chip is good for a diagonal move at “anytime during the game”. After a certain point, however, one can no longer earn a chip because it becomes unnecessary, and then downright impossible, to maintain contact after the two transceivers get within three columns of each other and then pass each other in space.

This is where the planetoids come in. If your transceiver comes in contact with a large planetoid, you can earn a chip. After crossing that dotted divide however, there are no more opportunities to earn a Diagonal Chip. This is also where the Sci-Fi backstory becomes largely superfluous, as the PlayerSpots can only deflect the BallSpot from one side, maintaining the interstellar light beam becomes impossible when the PlayerSpots pass each other en route to the other planet.

::Aside:: By the way, this game uses the famous “poker” chips. Two things are funny about the poker chips. The first, is that they are not used in a poker game on the Odyssey, but rather, the Roulette game, so, don't call 'em "poker" chips. The second "funny" thing, is that when shopping for an Odyssey on eBay one is more likely to find the chips advertsied as "never opened" than opened. Yes, it’s actually seems harder to find the chips in non-mint condition! ::End of Aside::

Now, you may be thinking, “Hey, that’s a pretty spiffy, original idea and a great way for dealing with the analog limitations of the Odyssey!”, and you’d be right. What happened when we played, however, was that we often found ourselves in a numerical cul de sac, unable to move forward to a number of the appropriate polarity and unable to move diagonally because we hadn’t received any chips. As an education tool, we though this was due to poor or non-existent playtesting of the playfield. Upon further analysis of the “grid”, however, I realize that Analogic is a maze game as much as it is a math game. Despite there being dead ends, there is a path through the grid for both players, regardless of whether Diagonal Chips are won.

I did like the theme and the mechanics. The gameplay, though original in the way it introduced math on a system that can't do math, just wasn't fun enough for my 7 year old son and I to enjoy. Despite being gifted at math, he certainly didn’t like adding numbers under what he perceived of as an environment of “pressure”. ("But there's no pressure in Space!" I explained. He didn't get it.) Our initial experience had first led me to give Analogic no point at all, with extreme prejudice due to misperceived poor design. With recent insights, however, I’m going to change that to half-a-point, without the prejudice. Keep in mind if you ever play it, that Analogic is a maze game, too. By doing, so you may enjoy it more than we did.

The Score: Ultraman: 4, Odyssey: 4

Roulette is next.

Comments

martyg
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Odyssey is Digital

Slight problem with the premise of the article - the Odyssey is digital, not analog. The electronic signals exchanged between the various parts (ball and players generators, sync generators, diode matrix, etc.) are binary. The games and logic itself are implemented in DTL, a common pre-TTL digital design component using discrete transistors and diodes. The confusion usually comes from the analog circuitry for the output, game controlers, and the use overall use of discrete components. Ralph himself has stated the system is digital.

Bill Loguidice
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I've heard that analog

I've heard that analog versus digital debate too, Marty, and Baer's own statements on the subject. I'd love to hear an intelligent argument saying that it is "mostly" analog in nature to expressely go against Baer - if possible - as even though I'm no hardware engineer (far, far from it), I tend to favor the idea that the original Odyssey should have an analog classification (or best, hybrid) based on the sum of its parts.

In this particular case though, I believe the author was referring to "analog nature" more as a descriptor of the Odyssey's "significant" (with all due respect and consideration to Baer's engineering achievement and historical milestone) limitations.

It's interesting, as the book I'm finishing up with Matt on the first 15 years of home videogame and computer entertainment systems has an introduction featuring a segment on the original Odyssey where I basically discuss the limitations and capabilities of the hardware from more of an analog standpoint than a digital one. I hope my impressions are ultimately accurate, as I'd hate to open up a big debate right from the start with the book.

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martyg
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The Analog vs. Digital

The sum of the parts are digital however, and it actually uses binary logic at its core. There can't be an intelligent argument against Baer on the matter, when he himself designed it as a digital system and states such. From an interview with Ralph:

"The Brown Box and its 1968 predecessor developmental systems were neither built around an analog computer (come on now...this was a consumer product!) nor was a purely analog design. While its circuitry was made up of discrete components, the circuits contained Flip-Flops, AND and OR gates, One-Shots, diode matrices, etc...what are these circuits if they are not digital circuits? People think that discrete component circuitry was strictly analog. This is complete nonsense. Of course we built digital circuits in the forties and fifties before there were IC's. In the sixties, plug-in cards with as little as one or two flip-flops were typical of logic modules of the day. So the notion that the Brown Box and its production version, the Magnavox Odyssey game was comprised of "analog circuits" is a myth...but that myth has a real origin: During the lawsuits, the opposition (Bally-Midway, Seeburg, etc) tried to make the judge believe that our circuits were analog and theirs were digital and hence they didn't fall under the Claims of our patents. The judges ruled otherwise and saw through this ploy in a hurry."

That "Odyssey is Analog" ploy has been floating around ever since, and quoted for so long on websites that its become taken as fact by some. I don't blame anyone for initially holding the view, I originally thought that it was as well because of that. I highly recommend Ralph's book "Videogames: In The Beginning" for an in depth look, or email him directly. He reads all his email.

With regards to what the author was refering to, the premise is the very problem. By assuming it was analog, he assumed it likewise could not do basic math. The logic is binary, so the argument doesn't make sense then. You can form AND, OR, NOT, NAND and NOR gates out of DTL, all the basics required for binary math.

On a side note, congrats on the book. If you like, I'd be happy to proof the material when you get far enough along. Either way, looking forward to seeing it. I wouldn't worry to much about people debating material, that's good when something you publish promotes discussion. And I'm sure it won't have anywhere near the accuracy problems Steve Kent's book did.

Marty
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Matt Barton
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Mistakes Generate More Discussion

Heheh, well, I've always heard the same thing about the Odyssey, though I also seem to recall reading Baer's comment (thanks for quoting that, Marty). At any rate, it's amazing how much discussion can come out of a mistake or faulty reference than all of the things folks get right. I don't understand why people assume a book must be 100% accurate. That's simply impossible. I bet even Ralph doesn't remember everything about those days, and his alleged fortress of documentation may or may not be 100% comprehensive or precise. We must also remember that Baer was heavily, heavily involved in litigation over the Odyssey, and has a clear incentive to skew the facts his way (just as the Bally/Midway folks do!) In short, when you're dealing with a controversy so heated, it's wise not to take either side at face value. If Baer says the system is digital, enter that into the debate, but again, it's a claim that must be taken as evidence (not proof).

I'd also posit that terms like "digital" are fuzzy at best. A light switch has two discrete states--on or off. Does that make it digital? Likewise, an "analog" watch contains a second hand that moves a specific distance at discrete intervals. Digital? I've also heard mathematicians say that any set of switches that can be moved on or off can serve as the basis for all mathematical operations. Indeed, I've seen it demonstrated with chalk erasers rotated one way or the other to represent + or -.

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martyg
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Ralph's Memory and Documentation

"I bet even Ralph doesn't remember everything about those days, and his alleged fortress of documentation may or may not be 100% comprehensive or precise. "

Actually, the documentation is very precise - that's one of the reasons they won the cases and his patents were upheld. That's also one of the things Nolan always chastised Ralph about, that he was just very good at doccumentation and filing patents. And I'm not sure why you're calling it "alleged", its currently housed with the Smithsonian.

And as someone who talks to Ralph pretty regularly, I can say his memory is extremely intact. Comes from the need to regularly defend his patents, and constantly talking and presenting on the subject - he still has a very busy schedule even with his health problems. In fact, a group of us (including Ralph) are actually busy working out a number of missconceptions from the time period (not related to the Odyssey) across the board regarding various companies, designers, etc. and his memory of the period (names, facts, directions to take in investigating) have been extremely precise.

"In short, when you're dealing with a controversy so heated, it's wise not to take either side at face value. If Baer says the system is digital, enter that into the debate, but again, it's a claim that must be taken as evidence (not proof)."

I'm going to have to completely disagree. If the designer himself says it was designed digital, provides the plans and documents of the design process, and the courts uphold it as being digital, there's not much skew there or debate. They're also in his book, and available at the Smithsonian as mentioned. In fact, the need for proof lies with those who keep trying to claim its not digital.

"A light switch has two discrete states--on or off. Does that make it digital? Likewise, an "analog" watch contains a second hand that moves a specific distance at discrete intervals. Digital? I've also heard mathematicians say that any set of switches that can be moved on or off can serve as the basis for all mathematical operations."

That doesn't make a lot of sense, individual discrete components do not represent "digitial" circuits. The circuit(s) design as a whole does. i.e. "The distinction of "digital" versus "analog" can refer to method of input, data storage and transfer, or the internal working of a device". So in your examples, yes, individual items that can represent discrete (binary) states (such as your lightswitch example) can indeed be used to form a digital circuit. A lightswitch is nothing more than a manually controlled gate (though nowadays can be automatically controlled as well), and a succession of them can be used to form logic gates. The watch example also doesn't make a lot of sense - its moving a percieved exact distance because of precisely formed gears, not a circuit and certainly with no input or output. And the discrete intervals are actually an illusion, since there's usually no crystial to provide a reasonably accurate rate. There's no input to these devices, you manually set a "state" and the device simply uses a motion based component to provide advancement - and in most cases that motion component also needs to be manually controlled (through manual winding or self-winding from motion of the watch itself). Hence "analog" watches tend to loose time over periods, no different than grandfather clocks or similar non-electrical devices that use motion to provide rate.

Once again, the Odyssey (meaning its main game circuits and logic) is designed using DTL logic. Diode-Transistor Logic is by definition, a class of digital circuits. Its not something under debate - that's the standard definition. It was later produced in single chip (IC) format and then replaced by the IC based TTL, which simply replaced two of the diodes with an NPN transistor. What were the analog components on the odyssey? The controller and the television signal output (which is pretty standard among even CPU based consoles).

Marty
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Michael McCourt
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Hey Marty, Thanks for the

Hey Marty,

Thanks for the comment! Yes, you found this week's mistake designed to promote commentary and discussion. Yeah, that's the ticket!

For fear of betraying an even deeper ignorance to my reading public, I must admit that my only basis for refering to the system as analog was the title of the game -- Analogic get it? In the first version of this entry (over at Atari Age), I called it an analog system but removed the distinction from this post because I realized I didn't actually know that it was. Wouldn't you know it though, it snuck back in in the form of a poorly worded question and escaped my eagle eyed proofreading.

What the question should have been, and will be corrected to, in the event of a book or a third draft, is:

"Hey, that’s a pretty spiffy, original idea and a great way for dealing with a system that doesn't even do math!"

See? That way it doesn't misinform anybody, it merely informs redundantly! :)

Seriously, thanks for bringing it up, Marty, and thanks as well to the Armchair Arcade guys for pointing out the possible benefits to the doubt.

martyg
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Not a problem. I genuinely

Mezrabad - Not a problem. I genuinely enjoy your blog, just as I genuinely enjoy the Armchair guys (Bill and Matt) material on the main site as well. It's just this subject (among several others) isone I've been investing a lot of time in as of late weeding through info (and missinformation) on. I'd say the other big one for me would be the whole Amiga/Atari/Tramiel fiasco.

Marty
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Matt Barton
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Ralph's Defenders

Well, we can always agree to disagree, especially since you're good friends with Baer, and quite understandably want to defend him. Still, I just can't quite bring myself to the "Baer says it, so it must be true" school of thought. Likewise, I'd be skeptical of buying everything I saw in his notes. Again, I must point out that Baer has a long-standing and very real motive for defending his patents and making all sorts of sweeping generalizations about his inventions--it translates into cold, hard, cash. No doubt, this is a man who knows how to present the right sort of evidence to the courts, whereas Nolan and the rest of the "hacker" types had "better" things to do with their time and ended up taking a royal screwing for it.

At any rate, I definitely don't begrudge Baer for being angry about the Odyssey debacle and getting as much money as he could convince courts to award him, but I'm not going to lionize him or accept anything without a grain of salt. Perhaps if he hadn't grubbed so hard for coin, I might have more respect for him, but it honestly just seems a bit off for a well-paid engineer to carry on so, even after all these years.

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martyg
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Ralph and Money

Matt, I think you're a bit missinformed on a few things:

"whereas Nolan and the rest of the "hacker" types had "better" things to do with their time and ended up taking a royal screwing for it."

Nolan was far from a "hacker type", he was a salesman and a "trained and well paid engineer" at Ampex as well. In fact, that's one of the things that have been going on - Ted Dabney was found and has been discussing the actual design process of Computer Space and setting a bunch of things in a different light. Nolan is the one that's far far better at presentation and public swaying.

And Ralph's testifying was against major arcade companies looking to not have to pay royalties on their own "well paid engineer designed products", not "hacker" types.

"I must point out that Baer has a long-standing and very real motive for defending his patents and making all sorts of sweeping generalizations about his inventions--it translates into cold, hard, cash."

"getting as much money as he could convince courts to award him"

"Perhaps if he hadn't grubbed so hard for coin"

Those are completely way off (if not a bit slanderous) - he was called as a witness for Magnavox, Sanders, and other companies in all those cases, not as a plantiff. There was no "court awarded cash" to him, the companies who brought him in were the ones defending their cash flow. And what "all sorts of sweeping generalizations" about his products has he made? Or is that comment a "sweeping generalization" in itself?

Finally, skpetical of what with his notes? They show the documented evolution and design process of all his protos and products. Not much room for "skew" and point of view there, they're not stating opinions. Likewise, they were valid evidence in countless court cases. And they show a DTL based setup for the Odyssey - again not much room for skewing their either, DTL has a standard definition (not created by Ralph) of being a class of digital circuits.

You want to agree to disagree (for whatever reason you see), that's fine. But don't keep making these outlandish statements to try and somehow justify it. Its not helping.

Marty
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Matt Barton
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Thanks for the input
martyg wrote:

You want to agree to disagree (for whatever reason you see), that's fine. But don't keep making these outlandish statements to try and somehow justify it. Its not helping.

Indeed, I see no reason to continue this discussion. You're a personal friend of Baer, I don't know the man and am relying only on what I've read or heard second-hand (if that). I defer to your opinion; what do I know? The general impression I've received is of a man who claims to have "come up with the idea of playing a game on a screen" or some such nonsense; it's probably not even so. It just seems everything I've heard or said portrays him in the same light: "I invented this, I invented that, I don't get credit for any of it; those jackals stole my idea" and so on. It's just not a flattering picture. On the other hand, I haven't heard positive things about Nolan either, nor about Jobs, or Gates, or any of them. If there are any saints in this industry, I'd like to know who they are. Heck, I've even read very unflattering things about Richard Stallman.

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