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Nimrod

The evolution of video games slowly evolved over time from interactive electronic games and experiments in labs with large expensive computers that were not available to the general public. The first step towards developing what we now know as video games began in 1947 when the first interactive electronic game was invented.

The Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device allowed players to control a CRT’s electron gun much like an Etch-A-Sketch proving the feasibility of controlling and manipulating a video signal on a display. The next major milestone in the course of creating the modern video game took place three years later in 1951 when Ferranti International first displayed their Nimrod computer at the Festival of Britain’s Exhibition of Science.

The Nimrod was the first digital computer exclusively designed to play a game though its true intention was to demonstrate the processing power of the new computing device. The device played the game of Nim, a two-player mathematical game of strategy in which players take turns removing objects from piles until the last object is obtained. Unlike the “Cathode-Ray Tube amusement Device” the Nimrod computer did not use a Cathode-Ray Tube display but used a set of fixed lights that turned on and off for a visual to describe what was happening throughout the gameplay.

Nimrod Being Played
Nimrod computer, first digital computer exclusively designed to play a game – 1951

The twelve-by-nine-by-five-foot computer was designed by John Makepeace Bennett and built by engineer Raymond Stuart-Williams. The computer allowed exhibition attendees to play a game of Nim against an artificial intelligence, a game mechanic that would be instrumental in the evolution of video games.

Along with the CRT Amusement Device, the game of Nim running on the Nimrod is a candidate for one of the first video games. The determination of the first video game is subjective and regardless of what is credits as the first video game the Nimrod played a large role in the path forward to the modern video game. While definitions vary, the cathode-ray tube amusement device was a purely analog electrical game, while the Nimrod did not feature an electronic screen it had a game running on a computer. It was one of the first computer games to have any sort of visual representation to display the progress of the game as was as one of the first games to incorporate artificial intelligence.

Nimrod Computer
InventorsJohn Makepeace Bennett
Raymond Stuart-Williams
Research CenterFerranti
GenerationPre-First Generation
DebutMay 5, 1951
Hardware TypeComputer Technology Demo
Manufacture StatePrototype / Demonstration
GenreBoard Game
Nim
ModeSingle-player

An overview of the Nimrod computer

 

Chad Jaksen

Chad Jaksen YouTube channel explores the rich and fascinating history of video games, while examining and critiquing the current state of the video game industry.

PC Gaming in the 1950s