Trip to Meet
by JoAnn Thomasson
the opinion of most classic gamers, I would probably qualify
as a "non-gamer". Sure, I grew up with the Intellivision
and have attended a Classic Gaming Expo with my husband,
but I certainly haven't kept up with classic gaming much.
Of course, being married to Michael of Good Deal Games,
my involvement in classic gaming has certainly increased.
And it is through him that I first heard of Ralph Baer.
I have to admit I didn't know much about the Brown Box or
Ralph's place in classic gaming history, but as soon as
Michael mentioned that he was the creator of Simon, my interest
have heard Michael speak of Ralph Baer for as long as I
can remember. He was so excited a few years ago when Ralph
was scheduled to appear at the CGE and Michael was finally
going to meet him. Unfortunately Ralph wasn't able to make
it, and I remember Michael being incredibly disappointed.
Well, through Good Deal Games and his acquaintance with
Leonard Herman, the author of Phoenix: The Fall and Rise
of Videogames, Michael was extended an invitation to visit
Ralph in New Hampshire. We were supposed to go last summer,
but I spent a month teaching English in Poland, and we couldn't
get the timing right after that. Michael was assured the
invitation was open whenever we could make it, and since
Michael has been assisting Ralph with his upcoming biography,
one snowy weekend we decided to head to New England.
this was a big trip for Michael. I was looking forward to
going, as Ralph seemed to be really interesting, and I enjoy
any kind of road trip. However the Weather Channel had me
a little nervous, talking about the Nor'easter that was
supposed to be hitting, where else, Manchester, NH. Oh,
and Albany and the area around the Berkshire Mts. (which
we'd have to drive right through!) were expecting about
10 inches of snow. Michael, being from the south, wasn't
going to let this deter him. I, having a healthy respect
for a good snowstorm, was a nervous wreck. But on the day
we were to leave, there was still no big storm, so I bravely
set out on this adventure with my husband, the classic gamer.
a non-gamer, I have to say that the day we spent with Ralph
Baer was fascinating. We arrived at his house and one of the
first things we noticed was the Simon on the coffee table.
It didn't take long before Michael and I both had to have
our pictures taken playing Simon in the home of its creator!
and his wife could not have made us feel more welcome in their
home. We talked a lot about projects he is working on now,
as well as some of his history with video games.
of course, couldn't wait to get down to the brown box and
the rest of the setup - the G4 network and other networks
had recently interviewed Ralph, so all of his gadgets were
still on display. After a great New England lunch, we were
finally invited down to the office and the basement with all
basement office was great! It was set up like an apartment,
complete with a number on the door, mail and paper box, window
box and shutters. What a clever idea!! We started with the
video games, of course. One of the first things we saw was
a reproduction of the brown box that Ralph is currently working
on. We found out that he recently reacquired the original
brown box from the Smithsonian where it had been on display.
The display, however, had been dismantled, and Ralph didn't
like the idea of his brown box sitting in a corner in Washington.
then showed us some joysticks he's been developing, made from
cardboard boxes and Styrofoam balls! Definitely not something
you'd find in the stores!! But playable, as Michael and Ralph
showed me while playing a chase game on the brown box replica.
Ralph had also rigged up a replica of the original light gun
for the brown box, made with a toy rifle bought at a garage
sale. It was a lot of fun watching Michael play with all the
of the office, the basement was full of toys and gadgets that
Ralph designed or adapted, including Maniac, Simon, Amaze-A-Tron,
Computer Perfection, Smarty Bear, Bike Max, Talking Toys,
also saw many toys that were never released to the public,
such as GI Joes that could speak to each other and interact
through infrared technology. What kid wouldn't love that?
the girls, there were also talking Barbies. Well, at least
a talking Barbie vanity. Barbie would sit at her vanity to
wash up and do her hair, and Ralph had rigged it so the showerhead
made noise and the vanity mirror said something about how
beautiful Barbie looked.
My personal favorite was this great gadget, again using infrared
technology that could blow the hood, door and tires off of
a plastic car.
Not normally a destructive person (well, Michael would say
I'm a klutz and destroy lots of things, but I digress), I
asked Ralph to reassemble the vehicle and demolish it for
me a couple of times.
personal favorite were Ralph's Funglasses, gaudy neon orange
and green glasses that emitted pulsating light and funny sounds.
notable interest was the Kid Vid device,
the first talking video game apparatus for the Atari 2600.
back in the basement we saw many of Ralph's patents, along
with documents from some of his many lawsuits over patent
Some of the suits involved companies such as Atari and Nintendo.
I guess when you've patented that many things, some infringement
is inevitable. I guess the bright side for Ralph would be
that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!!
leaving the basement, I had a photo taken with Ralph holding
an Odyssey 1 hockey overlay, used to add color to the then
black and white video games.
There were overlays for other games, of course, but being
a big hockey fan myself, I figured that was as close as I
may get to see any this season!
and I also were able to play a few games on the original
Odyssey and Brown box with the man himself. That was pretty
cool, thinking that we were playing on some of the original
consoles with the man who created them!
One of the neatest things we saw, thanks to the setup Ralph
had put together for his earlier TV interviews, was an early
TV game box prototype that contained a lever device to imitate
a pump for a water pumping game. This version was never
released because it was cost prohibitive, but it was really
neat to see.
We even got to see some of the inside circuitry of the brown
box. To me it looked like an electrical nightmare, but I
could see Michael looking at it and figuring out what all
the wires were for and how they all worked together to create
video game magic!
I could finally pull Michael away from all the inventions,
we headed back upstairs for a little more visiting before
we were on our way. Ralph was showing us some of his autobiography
he'd been working on, and we got to talking about his growing
up in Germany. I mentioned to him that I'd been in Poland
the previous summer and visited Auschwitz, and this led to
more discussion about his growing up Jewish during the time
of Hitler and how he came to America. He has led quite an
amazing life! After coming to America, he joined the Army
and returned to Europe. I found this fascinating and asked
where he'd been, and told him that Michael and I had visited
the American cemetery in Normandy, France, when we took students
there a few years ago. After learning that I am a French teacher,
Ralph showed us a picture in his autobiography of a chateau
in which he had lived during the war. The picture had been
painted by Winston Churchill who used to enjoy coming to this
particular chateau to paint! It was amazing to see a painting,
by Winston Churchill, of a castle in France, where Ralph Baer
could point out the room in which he stayed during World War
So as you can see, even before becoming the inventor that
he is, and creating the video games for which most of you
probably know him, he was leading a fascinating life. I think
that's what most impressed me about him - the fact that he
has done all these amazing things, and talks about them so
non-chalantly. He is an incredibly friendly and down-to-earth
man, but full of remarkable stories. I knew the trip to New
Hampshire would be fun, and I was excited about it for Michael,
but I really came away feeling like I'd met an outstanding
and noteworthy man! So thank you Ralph, and thank you Michael,
for giving me the opportunity to meet the true Father of Videogames!
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