What makes it special?

Simon has an appropriate response to any action the user may take. In terms of logic, Simon knows everything there is to know about Simon : there are no conflicting or unclear tasks, but an elegant unity, an interaction loop that becomes complete as soon as a user picks up the game.

This is the ideal form of machine intelligence : not the imitation of human intelligence advocated by proponents of believable or intelligent agents, a subset of Artificial Intelligence, but a completely non-human intelligence and therefore not subjected to ambiguity or subjective interpretation. In that sense Artificial Intelligence might seem to apply, were it not for the fact that the term describes not a machine-specific form of intelligence, but a machine simulation of human intelligence. [more thoughts on AI]

Simon is one of the simplest, most conceptually elegant, addictive electronic games ever. More than thirty years later, you can still buy it. And isn’t it far more likely that folks will still be playing Simon thirty years from now than that they’ll have any interest whatsoever in, say, Gears of War 2? [1]

Patentmania: The Golden Age of Electronic Games


The game in its present form was conceived and produced by engineers Ralph H. Baer and Howard J. Morrison with software programming by Lenny Cope. Baer, creator of a vast number of early electronic games, was a pioneer in the field. To him we owe many of the early prototypes of video games and consoles, as well as the inclusion of the household TV set into the gaming paradigm.

In the 1970s electrical engineer Ralph H. Baer and toy designer Howard J. Morrison collaborated on several projects for Marvin Glass and Associates, a toy design and engineering firm based out of Chicago, Illinois. In 76 the two attended the Music Operators of America (MOA) trade show in Chicago, where amusement and vending-machine manufacturers displayed their latest coin-operated devices. Baer’s primary mission was to check for patent infringements on behalf of Sanders and Magnavox, clients of Marvin Glass. By this time the MOA included arcade video games to reflect current trends, and one of those in particular caught Baer’s eye: an Atari game called Touch Me.

Touch Me was a memory game that had been created a couple of years earlier, in 1974, with the contribution of none other than Mr. Steve Jobs himself, at the time employee no. 40 at Atari, 18 years old. [3]

Touch Me was an electronic version of Simon Says: it played a sound accompanied by a corresponding light above one of the four buttons. After the player pushed the matching button, the machine played another sound, building on the sequence until the player made up to three mistakes. The game was not very successful, but Baer saw potential:

Nice gameplay. Terrible execution. Visually boring. Miserable, rasping sounds.

Videogames: In the Beginning

Morrison suggested a handheld version, Baer produced a prototype provisionally called Follow Me, and Lenny Cope programmed the game logic onto the popular and inexpensive Texas Instruments (TI) microprocessor chip TMS-1000. This same chip powered vast numbers of electronic toys and calculators in the 1970s.

Programming in those days was accomplished painfully and slowly, by connecting a Teletype terminal via long distance telephone wires to a TI mainframe many miles away in Pennsylvania. As the game logic acquired greater sophistication, so did Baer and Cope’s technical challenges, and by 1977 they had a working version named Feedback, close in appearance to the present round 8×8″ incarnation of the game.

The prototype intrigued reps of the Milton Bradley (MB) toy manufacturing company (now Hasbro), who acquired the rights to distribute it, but not until Dr. Dorothy Wooster, MB’s game-play psychology expert requested some final tweaks and changed the name to Simon.

Simon was launched with a midnight showing to the press in 1978 at Studio 54 in New York City followed by an immediate success, and became a pop-culture artifact of the ’80s.

I created this edition of the widely popular 1978 memory game Simon as a way of brushing up on my AS3 programming chops, to investigate patented gaming technologies dating back over 20 years, and to conduct research into the history of early electronic sound games. I developed the game in Flash, which is no longer supported.


Because it is predominantly a sound game, the sounds of Simon are chosen to be harmonic and pleasing. In his memoir Videogames: In the Beginning [5], Baer recalls searching for an instrument that could play many songs using only four notes, and found it when browsing through his son’s Compton’s Encyclopedia: the bugle horn!

the sounds can be played in any sequence and still sound pleasant.

Associations have also been made between Simon and the alien tones, colours, and flying saucers in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a blockbuster hit that came out in 1977, which would explain additional hype around the game’s release for the 1978 holiday season.

Ralph and Simon

There are few throughout the US and Canada, as well as most of Europe, who have not in some way interacted with Ralph H. Baer’s creations. Simon is said to be among his personal favourites, not because it brought success and recognition, but simply for its elegance.

In 2010 Baer was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, alongside Lee Deforest (developer of electromagnetic radiation detectors fundamental in space telegraphy and the man who put the control electrode, the grid,  into the vacuum tube that started the electronic age), Edwin Armstrong (inventor of FM radio), Philo Farnsworth (television system) and Nikola Tesla (induction motors for alternating current, wireless electricity). This honour came to him not so much for his work on military electrical engineering research, which he certainly contributed to a great deal, but for his work on electronic and video games.

Further readings

Interested in learning more about early electronic games or Ralph H. Baer? Mr. Baer’s personal site Ralph H. Baer Consulting is a good place to start. I also highly recommend The Medium of the Video Game by Ralph H. Baer and Mark J. P. Wolf and Videogames: In the Beginning.


1. Patentmania: The Golden Age of Electronic Games
2. Simon at ToysЯus
3. A Complete History of Breakout
4. Simon Turns 30
5. Videogames: In the Beginning
6. Ralph H. Baer Consulting
7. Simon manual
8. Reverse engineering an MB Electronic Simon game