Games From the Masters

Video and computer games got a big boost from these IEEE Fellows

7 May 2014

This article is part of our series highlighting IEEE Fellows in celebration of the Fellow program's 50th-anniversary year.

If you play video or computer games, you have IEEE Fellows to thank. They pioneered video game consoles, developed motion-controlled play, and are improving cloud-based gaming.

achieveBaer Photo: AP Photo

Long before Xbox, PlayStation, and the Wii, there was the Brown Box, invented by IEEE Life Fellow Ralph Baer. Known as the “Father of the Home Video Game,” he came up with the idea for the home console for video games in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1968 that Baer and colleagues at Sanders Associates, in Nashua, N.H., finished a prototype. It ran games off printed-circuit-board cartridges that controlled switches to alter the circuit logic, depending on the game. The system was licensed to TV set-maker Magnavox, which named it the Odyssey. The company offered it in the United States in 1972 with games that included football, a shooting game, and a table tennis game that predated Atari’s popular version, called Pong. Baer also helped pioneer the popularity of single-chip, microprocessor-controlled games such as Milton-Bradley’s electronic memory game, Simon.

Baer also developed interactive video entertainment and educational and training games for consumer and military applications. He donated his original video games to the Smithsonian Institution, as reported on the IEEE Global History Network.

It took some time for Baer to be nominated, but he was elevated to Fellow in 2013 “for contributions to the creation, development, and commercialization of interactive video games.”


achieveBlake Photo: Microsoft

IEEE Fellow Andrew Blake took gaming to a whole new level with Microsoft’s Kinect. He and his team at Microsoft Research Cambridge, in the United Kingdom, developed the Kinect add-on to the Xbox 360 console, essentially turning the person playing the game into the controller. Relying on a variety of devices and techniques, including a 3-D camera, depth sensors, and real-time motion tracking, Kinect lets the player control an onscreen avatar simply by moving his or her body.

The lab, where Blake is the managing director, came up with one of the breakthroughs that lets Kinect track a person without the person having to wear sensors—something researchers in machine learning had been working on for two decades. Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence that focuses on algorithms that allow computers to mimic human behavior based on empirical data.

Blake joined the 2008 class of Fellows for his “contributions to the foundations of segmentation and tracking, and innovation in vision applications.”


achieveLeung Photo: The University of British Columbia

With the popularity of mobile devices, gone are the days when playing video and computer games meant staying, say, at home. Though not a game console developer, IEEE Fellow Victor C.M. Leung is working on enabling games to be played anywhere on any device via the cloud. There already are cloud-based games like OnLive and Xbox Live, but the experience is not always ideal because of the diversity of the devices used and a given network’s quality of service and cloud response during play. Leung is working on improvements on several fronts.

A professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, Leung and his team there are working on a cognitive cloud-gaming platform that learns about the game player’s environment and adapts the cloud-gaming service accordingly. They have designed and implemented a component-based gaming platform that supports click-and-play, intelligent resource allocation, and partial offline execution. Their testing has shown that this type of intelligent partitioning leads to better system performance across the cloud.

The team is also developing a cognitive framework that applies scalable and ubiquitous computing resources in the cloud so that sophisticated games can be played on mobile devices having but limited processing and storage capacity. And the games can be played over wireless and wired networks. Also being developed are techniques that allow gamers to play on one device, pause the game, and pick it up again on another device.

Leung was elevated to Fellow in 2003 for “contributions to the design of protocols and management strategies for wireless and mobile communication networks.”

Check out the IEEE Global History Network about how video games got their start.

And visit the IEEE Fellow website to learn more about the Fellow program. Nominations for the class of 2016 are now being accepted.

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