We take a look back at some games and gadgets of Christmas past. While some were innovative, not all were all big sellers

E-readers, tablet computers and gaming consoles that are the hot gifts of the 2010 Christmas season, but what about years gone by? Gadgets and gizmos have always been a good bet for festive presents.

Remember Pong?

"It was the gift to have," said Dag Spicer, senior curator of the Computer History Museum in California. "It cost $99. They sold tens and tens of millions of those."

Photo: Mark Richards

Next month, the museum will unveil a 21st century makeover that more than doubles its exhibition space and adds research and education facilities. One 25,000-square-foot exhibit will look at first 2,000 years of computing - everything from the abacus to the iPod - while another exhibit showcases some of the best-selling tech gadgets, like Pong, from the recent past.

About 95 percent of the museum's artifacts come from the public - as well as a long list of distinguished technologists that includes Gordon Bell (father of the minicomputer), Gene Amdahl (legendary mainframe architect for IBM and Amdahl Corp), Apple engineer Steve Wozniak, John McCarthy (father of artificial intelligence at Stanford University) and Microsoft founder and CEO Bill Gates.

Much has changed since Pong, a rudimentary tennis game created by Atari, arrived in 1972.

"The consoles now, of course, have graphics that are light years beyond what Pong used, which was three or four lines drawn on a screen, and the ability to play with other people over a network. That's a huge innovation with today's games," Spicer said. "Also, games now are produced in a sense very much like a Hollywood movie. They even use real actors for voiceovers. Many of them are also based on a movie."

Pong appeared first as an electronic arcade game. Three years later it was offered as a home video game that was played on your TV. Its simple two-dimensional graphics presented users with two opposing paddles and a ball that bounced back and forth between them. The speed of the ball and size of the paddles could be adjusted to make the game more or less challenging.

The game, created originally by an Atari engineer as a training exercise, was a runaway seller.

In 1977, one of the first multi-game systems arrived: the Atari 2600 with a Combat game cartridge. The 'Atari Video Computer System', as it was initially called, offered two popular arcade titles: Tank and Anti-Aircraft II, according to the History Museum. Although the 2600 was not the first home game console to use a microprocessor and removable game cartridges, it helped establish that as the standard.

The cost? $199 (£127).

NEXT PAGE: Kitchen computer

  1. Innovative but not big sellers
  2. Kitchen computer
  3. More 1990s big-sellers