The Fairchild Video Entertainment System (VES) was the first home video game to use cartridges. Fairchild Semiconductor’s parent company Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation was looking for a larger market for its microprocessors (notably its F8 line of processors). The company noticed the major shortcoming to Pong was that it was, well, it was Pong. It would always be Pong. Once you got tired of Pong, you were still stuck with Pong.

The simple solution was to create a reprogrammable Pong type game. Once you got tired of Pong you could reprogram it for a new game. Fairchild realized that maybe only 20 people in America were capable of reprogramming machines. So the more-complex-yet-simpler-in-the-long-run solution was to put programs on some kind of medium and then have them load into the nifty little onboard microprocessor. The original Odyssey system used hard-edged circuit board cards but those proved to be less than robust. Kids might play with this. The solution, then, was to encase the cards in some rough ‘n’ tumble plastic cartridges. Eureka!

The Fairchild VES was released to the market place in 1976. A casual inspection of the Fairchild VES (later renamed Channel F) would make it seem like a knock off of the Atari 2600, right down to the faux wood paneling. God, why were people in the ‘70s so damage? However, the VES beat the Atari 2600 to the market place by a good year. Atari had the 2600 in development when the VES was released and the VES prompted Atari to make some changes. First, Atari added its own fancy faux wood grain paneling. That was a given. It also gave the 2600 the subname "Video Computer System". The VES vs the VCS. See? Fairchild was not pleased by Atari’s sound alike name and redubbed their VES to "Channel F".

The Fairchild VES had a pong game hard wired onto its board and roughly 28 cartridge games were released. Each cart was piss yellow plastic. Carts were numbered sequentially, from 1 to 28. Instruction were actually printed on each cart. The numbering system, like the wood grain and Vxx name, was also copied by Atari in the early days. The VES cart packaging itself looked like Sesame Street on acid: bright giant funky number artwork and rainbows.

The VES’s controllers were an early evolution of the joystick. When designing the system, engineers noticed what sucked about Pong was besides that it was Pong was that the controllers were built into the unit. Players had to huddle over the system. They couldn’t sit in easy chairs and hurl popcorn at the opposing player when he kicked ass in Shooting Gallery. The engineers attached individual paddles (two in total) to the end of 8’ of wire. The tops of the paddles were orbs that could be moved like a joystick, albeit in only 4 directions. The orbs could also be rotated for Pong-like paddle games. If the user pressed down on the orb, that amounted to the fire button.

The VES did not last long. While the VES seemed an amazing game machine when compared to Pong, the Atari 2600 had “superior” graphics and quickly captured the hearts, minds, and wallets of gamers. The VES actually only had 64 bytes (as in bytes not kilobytes! Holy Christ hey?) compared to the Atari 2600’s massive 4K memory array. By 1978 the system was a dead end for Fairchild and they sold it to a company called Zircon. Zircon tried to come out with two different models: an improved VES II and a stripped down VES for people who couldn’t afford the Atari 2600 and were willing to put up with really, really shitty graphics instead of only shitty graphics.

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