WATCH: The technology behind the giant Ping-Pong game and a sneak peek at how it’s played.
MANCHESTER, NH – When Kelley Muir first met inventor and innovator Ralph Baer in 2009, it was with great intention. She was hoping to coax him into speaking to college students about his life’s work. How cool would it be to hear about the creation of interactive gaming from Baer himself, “The Father of the Video Game.”
It never came to pass.
“When he died in 2014, it was like, well – there goes that chance,” Muir said.
Then she heard about an initiative to erect a memorial for Baer in the city, The Baer Square Bench Project, which will be installed in May. She connected with Jupiter Hall proprietors Daniel and Katie Berube and together, they hatched a plan for Friday’s event, Ralph Baer’s Birthday Party, which will take place from 5-9 p.m. at the event space at 89 Hanover St.
Muir, who did a lot of art installations during her college days, even got the chance to talk with Baer about the launch of one of his inventions, the Simon game – the light-and-sound memory sphere, which debuted at Studio 54 night club. She and her friends had created an interactive Simon installation that could be played by more than a dozen people at once inside a room.
“He really seemed to love the idea of people playing his games and engaging that way, so when they announced the Baer Bench project, I was really excited. I loved that we were honoring his memory and his history, and thought it was something we could build on by exploring the way his technology and creations have impacted – and continue to impact – the world,” Muir said
On Friday the entire city is invited to join the celebration at Jupiter Hall, where they will be able to play Ping-Pong on a giant 10-foot screen created collaboratively by Muir and friends she’s come to know and love within the local “nerd” community, including Dave Seah, Ryan Sutton, Roxanne Chang, Sara Ceaser and Sid Ceaser.
Last weekend they came together to prepare the perfect party for a guy like Baer, setting up the Ping-Pong screen, and connecting the technology that will make it possible for everyone to play [see video above].
The event will also include more than 40 submissions by local artists who answered the call for artwork that in some way connects to video games. Proceeds from any sold artwork will go toward the memorial bench.
Mayor Joyce Craig intends to issue a proclamation declaring March 8 Ralph Baer Day in Manchester, forever more, something Muir believes will create a sense of place in Manchester around the inventor – a distinction the city can capitalize on in a variety of ways.
But for right now the focus is on Friday, says Daniel Berube, proprietor of Jupiter Hall along with his wife, Katie Berube, who described the collaborative effort of preparing the hall for Friday’s party as a blank canvas which has become a beautiful tribute to one of Manchester’s own.
“We love the idea of people coming to us to propose an idea and to visualize and make things happen, especially people who visit Jupiter Hall and have been here for other events. Kelley has attended NH UXPA [New Hampshire User Experience Professionals Association] meetings here and through that, she had the idea of talking to us to make this inaugural event happen,” Daniel Berube said.
Involving geeks and nerds and the general public in a celebration of Baer’s life and accomplishments will go a long way in establishing what the Berubes hope will become a monthly tradition of “First Friday” art-centric events connecting the city’s burgeoning creative arts scene.
Video game-inspired desert treats are in the works, artfully created by Madear’s Manchester, and Chiptunes in the background, performed by Glenn Dubois, aka Glenntai, music generated from mash-ups of video game sounds via his Game Boy.
“Every person I talk to who knew Ralph Baer elaborates on how beloved he was. We want to spread the word so people know about him and learn from him,” said Katie Berube.
“Ralph is a role model, and our kids need that. They need to be able to do something that allows them to get the idea of exploring and creating, and learning about the innovative technology that’s helping to tell his story,” Daniel Berube said.
“He was ahead of his time. If you think back to the 1960s and ’70s when he was working, we take for granted what we have today. At the time the technology we rely on today didn’t exist. There were no cell phones or computers, and he had the vision to create these things,” Katie Berube said.
“What I would want to emphasize to people is the idea of what would Ralph Baer be inventing today. It’s exciting to think about that, and we want to provide a place where people can celebrate that and show that, and nurture that. There are other Ralph Baers out there, and we believe it will inspire them to explore and create the next great technology yet to be created,” Katie Berube said.
Daniel Berube added that it is gratifying that Baer’s son, Mark Baer, is helping and supporting their efforts to make sure his father’s accomplishments are duly recognized.
The vision for Friday’s event is creating a space where people can reminisce about their favorite video games and where families can come together to interact, not only with the giant Ping-Pong game, but with others whose lives have been enhanced by the joy of gaming, Daniel Berube said.
“We imagine kids will come here and be inspired by the technology and innovative developments, right down to how we’re going to engage everyone’s senses – through visual, audio and and even through the artistry of food, with dessert treats inspired by Simon, created by Kyle Davis from Madear’s,” Daniel Berube said.
The celebration of all things Baer will extend to the bench dedication on May 5, says Daniel Berube, who envisions several sites around the city holding activities that connect the public to Baer’s accomplishments.
“I can’t wait to see Manchester become a gathering point for the world over time, to learn more about Ralph Baer and what’s exciting about our city,” Daniel Berube said.
Baer not only invented the gaming system or “Brown Box,” which evolved into the modern video game industry in the 1960s – his ping-pong game was eventually licensed by Magnavox in 1972 as the Odyssey game, months before Atari’s version hit the shelves – but Baer held more than 150 patents on games, devices, and other technology including the light gun used to play Duck Hunt.
“He did what he did, not for awards … but really, he did what he did to inspire others to make things and play,” Muir said.
The party runs from 5-9 p.m. on March 8 at Jupiter Hall, 89 Hanover St. The event is free. The art will remain on exhibit through March 12. You can join the Ralph Baer Day Facebook event page here.
Downtown businesses can participate by creating 8-bit artwork to display in their storefront windows. More details here.
⇒More information and events listings at RalphBaerDay.com