Concept of using cartridges in gaming have become a somewhat a distant memory now—except for dedicated handhelds like 3DS and Vita…and if you’re a retro game collector (like myself)—but back in the day, cartridges were THE ONLY way to get video games playing onto a television set. While the exact origins of the cartridge have been difficult to trace back to, a new Fast Company article runs down the story of the beginnings of this innovative and important piece in the history of gaming technology.
Benj Edwards, the writer of that feature, takes the topic back to the 1960s, when three employees from a bowling alley supply company formed their own electronics company and decided to enter the then-booming video game business:
With [Jerry] Lawson in charge of electronic engineering and software for the project and Talesfore as head of industrial design, the group began work miniaturizing Alpex’s unwieldy prototype into a size that would fit within a box that could sit comfortably atop a living room TV set. Before long, they realized that implementing the actual removable game software module would take special expertise. Talesfore knew just the guy to do the job: Ron Smith, a mechanical engineer he had worked with at National Semiconductor.
Back in the day, the key to the ubiquity of cartridges was how intentionally sturdy and easy they were for anyone to use:
Alpex’s prototype had always included a way to exchange games via plug-in modules. But the modules were fragile and awkward. Fairchild had to envision a consumer-friendly way to package them, a job that fell primarily to industrial designer Nick Talesfore.
Inserting and removing socketed electronic assemblies had, until then, been an activity reserved for trained technicians, engineers, and military personnel. Taking a sensitive circuit board and putting it into the hands of a consumer—who might be prone to stepping on it, dunking it in the toilet, or leaving it baking in the sun—posed a considerable design challenge. Obviously, the board needed a protective shell of some kind.
And then the Alpex team’s hard work would become the Fairchild Channel F console, which — despite it’s uniqueness and influence — it eventually got owned and dominated in the market by Atari’s Video Computer System (or the VCS; OR the 2600). However, the Alpex team’s technological breakthrough established the roadmap for many video game console successes that followed; despite that fact that cartridges aren’t primarily used in gaming anymore…
[Thanks Fast Company]