Five years ago I had the fortune of getting in contact with Ralph Baer, affectionately known as the “Father of Video Games”. I conducted an interview with him, which is available below. This interview was originally made available on another site but they have seen fit to remove the content I made available, including the interview below.
Mr. Baer was truly an inventing force. The man, as you will read below, was decades ahead of his time and that of gaming in general. We will miss you, Ralph. Without you, gaming would surely be different, possibly unrecognizable to us today. Retrogaming fans, below is the full interview. Please enjoy and remember Mr. Baer and his family in this trying time.
Carl Williams (CW)- How do you find inspiration for some of your ideas? Simon, I couldn’t even begin to brainstorm something like that yet you do it with quite regularity.
Ralph Baer (RB)- Creativity is handed down to us genetically from some progenitor (thank you very much, whoever you are). Add education and experience and you can a lot of creative stuff. If you don’t have the gene set that makes you a natural for playing the violin, try something that suits your natural capabilities. I am an engineer by degree and experience so it is only natural that I have been able to come up with a large number of novel and neat things
CW- You have had quite an extensive and amazing career in all facets of entertainment, even creating the foundation for video games as we know it today. What is your favorite invention so far?
RB- Obviously, that has to be videogames and related technology.
CW- You have created so much and even rebuilt many pieces of it and then donated that to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY, then the amazing donation to the Smithsonian Institution, what motivated such an unselfish act as that?
RB- The original game hardware and the documentation that covers the invention and development has historical significance and belongs into a museum and that’s all there is to it. Besides, doing that is not altogether “unselfish” because it certainly goes to my legacy.
CW- How did it feel to receive the National Medal of Technology from then President Bush in 2006?
RB- It doesn’t get much better than that in the U.S. since it’s the closest thing to a Nobel Prize in technology that we have in this country.
CW- Are you still inventing things?
RB- Yes, I still sit at the bench in the lab and do hardware and some software toy and game design…keeps the old noggin in good shape.
CW- If you could offer some advice to young inventors what would it be?
RB- Try to figure out early in life what you might be really good at and then study hard and work in that field, whatever it is.
CW- Having been there for the beginning of video games to today, did you ever think video games would develop like they have?
RB- Nobody can read the crystal ball. The improvements in videogame hardware and software run parallel to (and are entirely dependent upon) the advances in semiconductor technology. Those have been utterly fantastic over the past thirty years.
CW- What ways do you see them evolving in the future?
RB- Another level or two of realism in the graphics to where the images are practically photo-realistic, greater use of 3-D and continued development of many different genres of games
CW- What if any are your personal favorite games magazines
RB- I rarely read game magazines, just as I don’t play games unless my grandkids bring one along and insist that I play with them. I am just too busy. At age 87 I have other priorities.
CW- Who has been the most influential on your life?
RB- I have been fortunate to have worked for and with a lot of really bright and talented people without whom I would not have been able to do nearly as many things as I have done. Everybody stands on the shoulders of others.
CW- Do you still play classic games? If so, what are your favorites?
RB- I still occasionally play Scrabble, Tetris, card games but mostly when I have visitors who are game people and insist that we play something. I much prefer working on a new electronic toy or game than playing it once it’s done.
CW- What is your opinion about the younger generations perhaps not being able to see how truly magnificent 8-bit games for instance can be, or even about kids today discovering games from 20-30 years ago and falling in love with them like we did when they first came out?
RB- I think some of the low-priced plug-and-play products that are out there for less than twenty dollars do a great job of replicating many of the old Atari VCS games and others; they really make games of that era affordable to all. They also sell well so I don’t see where there is a problem with denying youngsters the pleasure of playing classics. Most of these plug-and-play games have hand controllers that are close to the original so that they are even superior to computer simulations in that respect.
CW- What do you think of companies like Nintendo digging into their past and putting such a high emphasis on their Virtual Console service? Do you see this as a good thing or a bad thing for video games in general?
RB- Frankly, I don’t know a thing about that subject. What I do know is that all of the physical interaction games (like tennis, bowling, etc.) offered by Nintendo’s Wii is great (I showed most of this to outfits like Konami in 1989 and 1990 but nobody was ready to do it then).
More on the life of Ralph Baer is available on his site.
Check out our friends at Retro Game Network and their memorial for Ralph Baer.