Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii thank Water Dispenser

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By Uchandl Strund
Thursday, June 18, 2009, 09:47 PM EDT



When children of Generation X nostalgically remember classic arcades, games like Frogger, Pac-Man and Missile Command come to mind. Computer Space was created in 1971 by Atari founders Ted Dabny and Nolan Bushnell, and Computer Space is sometimes called the first arcade game. Many think that Pong (released in 1972) birthed the video arcade.

Coin operated machines have been around for centuries, since 215 B.C. when the Greek inventor Heron created dispenser that took coins in exchange for holy water. In 1889, the first public coin telephone was installed in a bank by inventor William Gray. And in the 1930’s Penny Arcades amused customers with their collection of coin operated games.

Some of the early machines included Mutoscopes that beckoned patrons to crank their handles and watch a short movie. These movies were created by hundreds of sequential pictures, much the same way that a "flip book" or a motion picture gives the illusion of movement.

The early pinball machines were very different from their modern offspring, and did not include flippers; instead you shook the cabinet in order to control the ball. Some were horizontal, and you shot the ball upward, instead of across a level playing field, similar to modern pachinko machines.

From the 1950’s though the 1960’s, arcade machines began to look more like the arcades of the 1980’s. They did this without television technology, instead using electro-mechanical components. Without a picture tube or electronics, these machines used bicycle chains, mirrors, light bulbs, motors, relays and lots of wire to display images on a screen.

During this golden age of arcades, patrons could simulate driving a car across the road, fly airplanes over the countryside, make miniature clowns dance, have their fortunes told by a gypsy, and enjoy hundreds of other diversions in the neighborhood hangouts. And because there was no television screen, the creative inventors of these machines had to create three-dimensional miniatures in order to achieve their illusions.

The next generation brought Computer Space, then Pong, followed by Space Invaders, and then video machines replaced the mechanical machines.

Now the Xbox 360, Wii and PS3 own the throne. Would they be humbled if reminded that they may owe their existence to a coin operated holy water dispenser?