The world's first 16 bit home computer graphics game and the
invention of the first computer based full keyboard sequencer
These days many home computer enthusiasts build, configure and some even program their own home computers. Many also use their computers for complex projects such as game graphics and music. The first person in the history of the world to build a home computer suitable for doing projects that we take for granted today was Richard Adams. He built a powerful home 16 bit computer starting in 1974. This page highlights his early interests and influences that led him to build the IMP16 computer project.
On Saturday Match 6, 1965 there was a talent tryout booth at a carnival on the lot of the Miami TV station WTVJ. The object of the talent search was for children to mimic the comedian Frank Fontain's characterization of Crazy Guggenheim on the Jackie Gleason show.

Frank Fontain as Crazy Guggenheim

The next day on Sunday afternoon March 7, 1965, Richard got a telegram informing him he was a finalist in the contest.

Speedy invitation to TV station for contest finalist Richard, age 10 in 1965

After his mom dropped him off at the TV station for the taping of his finalist entry to the crazy contest, Richard had the freedom to roam around the studios, control rooms, and equipment bays that made black and white television technology possible. He got hooked on the technology. All the equipment and goings on were to Richard like a candy shop was to someone with a sweet tooth.
Richard wasn't the Crazy Guggenheim grand prize winner. He was more crazy about technology than he was about acting, in a manner of speaking that is.

Richard is Crazy Guggenehim with TV personality Skipper Chuck Zinc

Following the TV station experience, Richard studied electronics magazines and found a company that sold the plans showing how to make your own TV camera. This became his hobbyist goal. According to the crew at the TV station, buying a TV camera in 1965 cost as much as buying a house. Needless to say but that few people had TV cameras at home.
Richard called all the TV stations and was able to get a free video sensor tube called a "vidicon" from local TV station WCKT / WSVN. This sealed the deal. Now he could make his own TV camera. Since the vidicon was the most expensive part, all the other things needed would be simple. He did all of this at age 10.
Richard kept working on the TV camera project. In 1967 he contacted the Miami Herald's "Action Line" consumer help department. Action Line made arrangements with local TV station WLBW so that their engineering department would help fine tune the camera.
Interestingly, Richard had now made the rounds of all the local Miami affiliates for each of the three major TV networks at that time. There were no Fox, WB or UPN networks yet in the 1960s. Each of the affiliates that did exist had helped in one way or another with his TV camera project. CBS affiliate WTVJ inspired him. NBC affiliate WCKT / WSVN gave him a vidicon tube. ABC affiliate WLBW offered to help make it work correctly. These station call letters and network affiliations are stated here as of the time in the mid 1960s when he embarked on the TV camera project.

The Herald was proud to help Richard with his technological project

The publicity for the TV camera project opened several doors for Richard. There were follow up articles in the Miami Herald and a more local paper called the Journal. Richard set up a booth to let people come and see themselves on TV for a charity donation to Muscular Dystrophy. Adults in industry and hobbyists contacted Richard to learn more about his TV camera project. Some stayed in touch with him for years.
With all this positive attention, the South Florida Nacasa Club voted to honor Richard and his brother Scott at their annual award banquet. Scott was honored for an amazingly successful science project Scott did that involved rockets and animal behavior. Scott's project didn't make the newspapers, though he was honored at the county Science Fair. Below is the award invitation letter for Nacasa.

Award invitation for Scott and Richard

When Richard got the TV camera working in his workshop, his neighborhood friend H. Jay Levine, 1997 Emmy award winner, was the first person other than Richard to see the camera in operation. There was a tube type TV monitor and a Precision model ES-520 oscilloscope connected to the camera at the time. The first video pictures were of some plastic grapes Richard borrowed from a decorative basket in the house there on 8th Avenue.
The largest group demonstration of the TV camera in operation was during Richard's junior high school (middle school) science class The teacher, Mr. Grant, invited Richard to demonstrate the device in operation. The class was held in the school auditorium that had many TV monitors to receive the local educational TV station's broadcasts. Richard connected the camera into the TV antenna system for the auditorium, and pointed the camera at the classmates. Several of the TVs couldn't get the signal, but most worked correctly. One of the other students, Dennis Martin, hammed it up and came up for a close up with the microphone to adlib with a featured news story about the great Quisp and Quake debate. This was relevant to TV commercials at the time that advertised two breakfast cereals and a TV marketing campaign used to foster interest in their products.
At the same junior high school, Thomas Jefferson in Miami Florida, Richard's music teacher Mr. East helped Richard's yearning to work with musical equipment. Mr. East allowed Richard to use the school's recording and other AV equipment after hours and during chorus class. His science teacher, Mr. Raymond, allowed Richard access into the science stockroom where Richard had access to do various chemical and electrical experiments both on his own, and to the annoyance of other students. This increased access to school facilities was another benefit that resulted from the publicity of the TV camera project.
In the 1969-1970 School year, brothers Scott and Richard attended the same High School. Scott was a senior, Richard a sophomore. This particular school had grades 10-12. Scott was becoming the top man on using the school's new computer terminal. This was quite lucky for Richard as Richard became one of the only sophomores to have access to the computer because Scott cut through the red tape to get Richard on the terminal.
In those days computers were quite limited in availability. The school had a terminal that consisted of a Selectric typewriter with a modem. This connected to a mainframe IBM 360 computer located miles away. The terminal operated in the APL language. Scott and Richard toured the facility where the mainframe computer was located, on more than one occasion.
The following school year, Scott went to college and got to work on the computers there. Richard, now a high school junior, became so proficient on the computer terminal that he landed a job with the company that offered the computer service. This was Shared Computer Systems of Miami Florida, aka SCS.
In those days, a computer disk drive with a capacity of only 20Mb was as big as a washing machine and yet that was the state of the art. As of this writing today in 2008, a tiny flash cartridge for a digital camera can have more than 100 times the storage capacity of that device from the 1960s that was a big as a laundry machine. Imagine carrying 100 washing machine size memory devices around with you to have a digital camera. That's one reason why there weren't any digital cameras in the mid 60's.
At his job at SCS, Richard worked on software for the computer both in Assembly Language and APL/360. He wrote programs for predicting election results while voting was in process and for professional payroll companies. In his spare time he learned to write his own miniature 360 operating system and work directly on the hardware machines. He learned to execute computer instructions directly at the front panel switches and lights. He was one of only a few sixteen years olds in the world at that time that had access to this exotic "hands on" education.
Richard wasn't a complete nerd when he was a teen. He loved motorcycles, airplanes, fast cars and dating girls. His father's job managing Dean Franklin Aviation gave him access to machinery and mechanical experience that was unique due to Franklin's near monopoly for parts and repairs of the Grumman Goose amphibious airplanes. These were very popular in South Florida.
Richard visited a few doors down from Franklin Aviation where the first rear engine rail dragster known as the Israeli Rocket was invented and updated. One of the mechanics that worked on the Israeli Rocket lived around the block from Richard's family home in North Miami. Richard participated while the Israeli Rocket was often tested at the old airstrip runways at the Miami Dade Community College.
Richard loved drag racing and built up a 1966 Ford Mustang as his own combined street / drag race car. His Mustang was a hard top with a bored out balanced 289, 12:1 pistons, 4.86 9" rear end, Crane Cam and needle bearing rocker arms. It was first painted metallic blue. After an incident where the flywheel exploded (without personal injury), the car was painted white. The Mustang and other similar projects gave him substantial experience in automotive technology and real world mechanical design in general.
It is clear that the safer design innovation of the Israeli Rocket inspired the world most famous Drag Racer Don Garlits to switch to a rear engine design for his own dragsters after Garlits had a serious injury from his more dangerous front engine vehicles.
In 1973 Richard first entered college to get his BS in Computer Science and minor in Electrical Engineering at Florida Institute of Technology. Another perk from the 1967 TV camera project publicity was a scholarship he received from the Selby Foundation.
The long gas lines caused by the Arab Oil embargo made Richard yearn for a vehicle to get to college that got better gas mileage than his Drag Racing Mustang that got poor gas mileage. He sold his Mustang street car to a fireman during his first year of college by advertising it in Hot Road magazine.
Considering all the prior experience Richard had, he was already at graduate school level in some of his electrical lab and computer programming skills when he entered college. Soon after starting college, the school's Electrical Engineering department allowed him to skip out of the non-credit Introductory EE course after Richard's novel bridge design project beat all the others in the strength capacity test by a factor of two to one.
In fact, his bridge design would not break at all with the test setup the professors used with all the other student's bridge contest entries. It flexed instead. The bridge was checked extensively by the EE department and found to be in compliance with the rules. Its structural members were innovatively built from bundles of toothpicks joined together at the ends by fast hardening epoxy. The EE department changed the rules to disallow this kind of construction the following year.
Even though Richard left that introductory class, the other students in Richard's group project, that Richard had brainstormed while in the class, went on to build and demonstrate the AC power line wireless control system that was based on Richard's ideas. This was similar to the X10 based system that was developed independently at about the same time. Electrical Engineering was Richard's minor degree, as Richard was officially in the Computer Sciences department and a visitor to the EE department.
Since Richard already had hands on Assembly Language programming from his job at SCS, he was able to make a deal with the college's Computer Sciences department to earn an equivalency for the first quarter's Assembly Language course requirement by inventing his computer controlled musical electronic organ apparatus that is documented in the November 1974 newspaper article below. Even though the newspaper article was published in November, the electric organ musical sequencer project was completed and working in the first quarter of that year.

Some of those reading the newspaper article about the computerized organ were top notch scientists and engineers that worked at Cape Kennedy and nearby Air Force and Nasa supporting companies. On many occasions for next year and a half before he left Melbourne, Richard talked up a storm about his projects with people working in the Nasa community. Richard was always working on something electronic, and the newspaper article about the organ was his calling card that many people had heard of.
A brief history of the music project is that Richard's friends in a rock and roll band knew he had some keyboard experience and gave Richard a broken keyboard to fix and practice on. Richard fixed the organ and mounted it on a wood frame made of two by fours. He didn't put much time into music practice. Seeing numerous articles on electronic musical devices, including those with some crude memory, Richard brainstormed having the computer record and playback his "out of practice" keyboard skills. The playback could be improved by software editing using the machine's speed and accuracy to replace the practice he was lacking.
The college's huge Honeywell DDP24 computer was not a "State of the Art" computer at the time. It was donated to the college by Cape Kennedy, having been originally used at the Cape's "Mission Control," for mission calculations. It filled an entire room.
Students used the huge outdated DDP24 to learn about computer hardware and software design. Many of the components were often not in working condition. It was a transistorized computer designed before the days of integrated circuits that were already available then in 1974. The actual computer NOR gates were formed from components on the circuit cards. It was a fantastic learning tool for those interested in getting down to the nitty gritty of computer design.
Richard' invention was the first bidirectional polyphonic sequencer that allowed full scanning and memory behind each key of the organ. Richard played the organ and the computer remembered it and could replicate his keyboard musing. He could also hard code music in a language he developed on punched computer cards and paper tape.
Since the DDP24 computer's paper tape punch and card punch were rarely working, there was no reliable offline storage on the DDP24. Richard's attempts to save edited music were met with disappointment.
Richard developed a long distance high speed interface to a more modern Interdata Computer in another part of the college so that he could use its 10 megabyte hard drive for music storage. He also developed a television camera interface to read music directly as another school project.
Alas, Richard couldn't rely on the college's computers he had to share with other students to fulfill his ambitions. Using his skills from the TV camera project, he explored the hobbyist offerings of 8 bits computer kits based on the Intel 8008 processor chip at the time and overruled them. Richard opted for a kit from a surplus parts company called International Electronics that sold Richard the IMP16 chips and two circuit boards. Having started on 32 bit IBM 360 computers and used the college's Interdata Model 70 computer that was a more modern 16 bit design, Richard set the bar at 16 bits minimum for a computer he'd build for himself.
Richard resurrected some donated parts from a Soroban Engineering Company card reader to use as the circuit card edges, sockets and chassis. He made a working IMP16 computer using a memory controller, power supply and control panel all of his own design. The keyboard and graphics were added soon after.
Richard later learned that out of all the IMP16 kits of this kind that the surplus outfit sold, Richard was the only one to use it successfully. This achievement is what got Richard his first job with National Semiconductor after graduating college, since National made the IMP16 chip set and was impressed with Richard's achievements with their products.
Early photos of Richard's IMP16 computer as it was in 1975 are shown on the page that describes Scott's game. Click here for that page which shows the earliest photos known of the IMP16 computer and an actual video of the game that Scott Adams wrote for it.
At last, Richard had the electric organ sequencer invention interface and software working on his own computer, with complete control over its utilization. Below is a photo of the organ as it was in 1975, mounted on the wood two by fours frame.

1975 photo of Electric Organ used in Richard's music sequence invention
The electronics at the rear of the organ contained the more modern digital electronics that made the sequencer invention work. This organ was originally a transistorized hybrid analog organ. Each of the 12 notes in the top octave had an oscillator "metal can" that's visible in the photo. The oscillators used dividers to make the notes for the lower octaves. All other circuitry of the old organ was analog rather than digital.
The organ used for the sequencer invention looks like one of the variations of the Farfisa brand Compact Deluxe series of organs made in about 1970. Below is a capture of a video frame from a color video. The video was made in 1979 and included some views of Richard's organ. The color photo might allow an easier comparison to other known organ models from that era, in case you'd like to exactly identify the model. The video has the only known color photo of the organ Richard used. Some of the added digital circuitry is visible at the top edge of this photo.

1979 photo of electric organ used for the sequencer invention
While Scott was writing his famous first graphics game, Richard set out to design and build several other upgrades for his computer. Most notable was a bit-mapped graphics controller. Next is a description of an invention Richard made using bit-mapped graphics.
A famous professor at the school inspired Richard with an animated graphics film the professor made on a college computer system under a grant from the National Sciences Foundation. The film was made by drawing frames of video, one frame at a time, and playing them in sequence to animate the result. The professor demonstrated vibrating membranes in one of his films. For example, the vibrating reed that makes the musical note's pitch in a harmonica is a real life instance of things that vibrate which can be expressed with college math.
Richard brainstormed a way to streamline the calculations so that they could be done in real time on his own IMP16 computer. In the winter of 1976, college professors made field trips to Richard's house to watch a demonstration of the animated vibrating strings Richard displayed on his computer. "I can actually see the motion," the famous professor Dr. George E. Abdo said.
On his shoestring budget, Richard had invented a system to display animation in real time of a few seconds that his professor's big budget college computers took hours to generate merely one frame at a time. This voluntary extra credit project made it clear that Richard deserved an "A" in the class.
Below is a photo of the IMP16 computer as it was expanded with an 8" floppy drive while Richard lived in San Jose. The photo of the IMP computer below is from 1979. It was taken from a captured frame of a video made in Richard's office at about the same time as he thought to record the video of Scott's game. The original IMP16 computer appears at the top right of the photo. A red Plexiglas panel was added to the control panel to support the buttons and protect them from damage. The same keyboard from the 1975 photo is present. Other items were part of various changes and expansions Richard did from 1975 to 1979. He made one small change to Scott's original program to maintain compatibility and have it load from the floppy drive.

1979 photo of floppy processor and 8" floppy drive added to the IMP16
This expansion of the IMP16 computer was in part facilitated by using circuits Richard was given for hobbyist use while involved in a joint venture between National Semiconductor and Western Digital. The venture concerned inventive disk controller chips. Richard was one of the engineers involved in that disk controller chip project. Richard later applied the skills he learned of disk controller chips to his own inventions that he sold through a company he started called Happy Computers.
By 1979, Richard had moved his IMP16 programs from his cassette tape library to floppy disk, including Scott's Space Wars game. To make the video of Scott's game, Richard ran a temporary wire to connect the video output of the IMP16 to a VHS VCR he had in the living room of his house that was next door to office room where the IMP16 was located. The recording was made in 1979 after Scott had already started Adventure International, while Scott still lived in Florida. The video was recorded as sort of a family postcard to announce the birth of Richard's first daughter, and for season's greetings.
The digital computer based sequencer and real time animation method were inventions that could have been patented. Back in 1974, the possibility of a small entity inventor such as a college student filing a patent was remote. Even though these inventions were the first instances of anyone doing such things, access to a US patent system for small entities such as student inventors was nearly impossible unless someone knowledgeable of patents and connected with an larger institution honestly wanted to reward the student. The patent system was expanded twenty years later in 1994 by adding the provisional patent system that gave smaller inventors a route for easier access.
Richard's music invention came years before the midi standard. He enjoyed using his electric organ sequencer until the organ was severely damaged during a move in 1983. A short time later, the midi standard was adopted and Richard bought a digital organ that had a sequencer already built in. It turns out that midi standard was a commercial implementation of the sequencer technology he invented ten years earlier.
This page was first written to document the events and influences that led to the writing and later recording of the first graphics computer game written on and for a home computer. One of the things that set this all in motion was the day Richard's mother dropped him off at the TV station. Richard's dad helped in countless ways as well. The Adams brothers continued their inventive pursuits. For more info on this or to contact the keeper of this archive, see the information on the web page about Scott's Space Wars game at the link below.
This page is Copyright (C) 2010, All rights reserved.
To contact the webmaster of this page by email, see the contact information at the bottom of the page at the "Scott's first game" link below.
Click for Scott's first game and youtube video and IMP16 photos.
Click for Scott Adams official Wikipedia Biography
Click for Richard Adams official Wikipedia Biography

Online Biography Support
Statement from Richard Adams:
To support online biographies with facts and copies of publications about me that I have archived, researched, and obtained permission to excerpt, The following pages of my scrapbook are made accessible to others. Where applicable, each page at this link below contains information on how to cite the publication. Here are the links to those pages. Copy and paste as needed, or access them direcly by clicking from the references at the bottom of an online encyclopedia page above that is hosted elsewhere.
In addition to the above publications, the following additional biographical facts are offered by Richard Adams, who assisted in writing this web page, and owns the domain.
The name "Happy Computers was first coined by Glenn Baehler, Richard's father in law. Glenn had a brainstorm to sell receipes for computers. When Richard's Company was incorporated into Happy Computers, Inc., Glenn became the Vice President, while Richard was president. Besides the company name, Glenn's additional contribution to Happy Computers was in the scope of product marketing. Happy Computers, Inc. did not sell recipes.
For those younger born after 1950 there is a good chance you didn't know that Scott Adams (Richard's brother) was probably the most talked about and written about computer game entrepreneur of the early 1980's. His original adventure game series and the company he founded to sell them gave a reason for many people to even want to buy a computer. Back at that time, printers were expensive and disk drives were practically non-existent. Yet you could buy a TRS-80 with a cassette tape reader to read in one of Scott's adventure game programs and transform yourself into a warrior, hero or pirate with the first interactive intellectually based, humorous and just downright fun thing anybody ever got to do at home with a computer.
Scott's Adventure game series and other games his company sold created the demand for early computers that gave the industry its solid start. Bill Gates and IBM gave it a good shot in the arm for business applications. But coming out of the starting gate, it was Richard Adams' home built computer that enabled the genius game writer Scott to give the earliest home computer industry a reason to exist. To Richard, the IMP16 computer was just a tool to play music and learn with.
While working for Fairchild Test Systems Group (owned by Schlumberger, separate from Fairchild Semiconductor and later split up and sold) in Silicon Valley, Richard surprised his colleagues with the solution to a problem. He introduced the computerized math technology of Fast Fourier Transforms and Array Processors to test codecs and other mixed signal integrated circuits. This led to his promotion from working in the Silicon Valley support center to a world wide support position known as the Swat team. He taught in-house classes and customers throughout the world to use this technology. He presented papers at technical conferences on this subject. One of the papers was written to correlate old testing methods that used slow audio meters with his new faster computerized methods.
The use of FFT and DFT to measure analog waveforms evolved into wide spread use for audio and video compression such as mpeg. Back in the day when Richard pioneered its use for testing chips, array processors were needed for high throughput. These same array processors were starting widespread use in medical ultrasound machines. In addition to the promotion at Fairchild, Richard's invention to apply math for testing chips gained him recognition among his peers at Fairchild as an "applications genius." See article from page 3 of the Sentry/gram July 1979 newsletter below. All four pages of this company newsletter can be accessed here. There is a cartoon on page 4 that makes light of the Schlumberger takeover of Fairchild, in motion at that time in history.

After moving to Grass Valley in 1989, Richard shifted his attention away from Atari computers since it was clear that other brands of computers were becoming more popular. He decided to get back into test equipment, and invented a portable video signal tester that sold for about $3,000. This was used by video professionals. This is actually a low price, as the device he invented had features comparable to equipment that sold for $50,000 and was much bulkier. This device was known as the PVM-1073 Video Multimeter.
Richard used a DBA (doing business as) fictitious name for the company called "Plateau Digital Technology" This was a fictitious name for the Happy Computers Inc. corporation, that Richard started in 1983. The DBA was a simpler approach than forming a subsidiary. The DBA statement where Richard's Happy Computers Inc. operated under the fictitious name is here. These details are provided in order to identify that the PVM-1073 video meter invention was from Richard.
The PVM-1073 was reviewed in several professional video equipment magazines. At about the same time that Richard introduced this product, the NAB centered video industry started a shift toward digital television and high definition. Richard sold the intellectual property rights to this invention to another manufacturer and continued to work with them to apply the meter to a variety of uses. In the review of the PVM-1073 shown in the article below, the Ph.D. author wrote about Richard's invention, "the Video Multimeter was the most exciting new product introduced." This referred to the 1991 trade show for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB 1991) in Las Vegas.

Richard's work continued with inventions for high definition television. Most recently, Richard's work focused on superconductors, leading to a 2008 international patent pending for a breakthrough renewable energy electric power generator that you can click here to read about.