Episode 4.06 – Is there a ‘secret history’ of video games?

In the late 1990s, military technology collided with entertainment, a destiny reaching back to the first flight simulators, nearly a century ago. We have amazing games today because of the Cold War – and a historic tank battle no one saw coming.

We had the great good fortune to be able to interview simulation pioneer Dr. Mike Zyda for this episode (he’ll be back again in part two). Mike is quite likely the key individual who facilitated the blending of military and entertainment technologies.

The Battle of 73 Easting is arguably the most important tank battle fought in the second half of the 20th century. The battle became the foundation for a new generation of battlefield simulation:

Big thanks to my nephew Andy (on the right) for helping his uncle understand the ins and outs of flying an aircraft – for real!

1968: When the World Began – SWORD OF DAMOCLES

Ivan Sutherland – the Albert Einstein of interactivity – created SKETCHPAD, the first application that let users ‘draw’ onto a computer display. Five years later he followed that up with his ‘ultimate display’ – inventing virtual and augmented reality with a device nicknamed the SWORD OF DAMOCLES.

JCR Licklider‘s 1960 paper “Man-Computer Symbiosis” touched off a new wave of thinking of the computer as aid and amplifier of human capacity.
Read the PDF:  Licklider – Man-Computer Symbiosis

A video from Lincoln Labs, demonstrating some of the features of Ivan Sutherland’s SKETCHPAD, the first program that allowed you to draw to a computer display of an interactive computer, the TX-2:

And here’s the PDF of his 1965 paper: Sutherland – The Ultimate Display

By 1968, Sutherland was ready to show his ultimate display at the Fall Joint Computing Conference in San Francisco. Here’s what his ‘Sword of Damocles’ looked like in operation:

The proceedings for the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference paint the picture of computing at its pivot from arcane to mainstream, growing into greater interactivity. Here’s the stellar list of papers – featuring two by Sutherland, both foundational to VR and 3D graphics: FJCC Proceedings