They're pretty much a distant memory now — except for tinier descendants like 3DS and Vita games — but it used to be that cartridges were the only way to get video games playing onto a TV. The exact origins of the cartridge have been tough to trace, but a new Fast Company article run down the beginnings of this key piece of gaming technology.
The feature by Benj Edwards goes back in time to the 1960s, when three refugees from a bowling alley supply company formed their own electronics outfit and began trying to enter the booming video game business:
With 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 realised 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.
The key to the ubiquity of cartridges back in the day was their sturdiness and ease of use, something that was intentional:
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.
The Alpex team's efforts eventually came to fruition as the Fairchild Channel F console. While influential and unique, it eventually got steamrolled by Atari. But the breakthrough created by those early pioneers laid the roadmap for many successes that followed, even if we don't use cartridges anymore. Read the whole deep dive over at Fast Company