Archival Collections Related to Video and Other Electronic Games

The Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play houses important archival materials that chronicle the development of electronic and video games. These materials, which shed light on the impact electronic and video games have had on American culture, have been gathered, preserved, studied, and interpreted through the work of the museum’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games. Included in the collection are personal papers, design documents, business records, and other unpublished materials that document the history of video games and other electronic games and the ways in which they affect how people play, learn, and connect with each other, including across boundaries of culture and geography. Search The Strong's archives catalog.

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Cort and Barbara Allen Atari Packaging Design Collection, 1976–1984

Atari launched the home video game revolution with Home Pong (1975) and the Atari Video Computer System (1977). This collection of more than 2,000 drawings, design plans, mock-ups, proofs, drafts of manual scripts, notes, and unused packaging provides a record of the design and production of packaging and manuals for dozens of Atari home console, computer, and handheld games. Some important examples include the iconic maze game Pac-Man, the playful platformer Mario Bros., and the handheld memory game Touch Me. Among the materials are artist Cliff Spohn’s original box artwork for Atari’s 1977 Video Computer System launch title Surround, concept package artwork for an unreleased Kee Games version of the Atari 2600, and PAL (Phase Alternating Line) region and French language materials. The bulk of the documentation relates to games created from the late 1970s through the early 1980s.

See also, "Atari Packaging Design Collection Documents the Art of Selling Video Games."

American Pinball Companies (Bally, Midway, Williams) Collection, 1933–2000

American coin-operated game companies Bally, Midway, and Williams helped lay the foundation for modern pinball with titles such as Ballyhoo (1932), Balls-a-Poppin (1956), Space Mission (1976), High Speed (1986), The Addams Family (1992), Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure (1993), Medieval Madness (1997), and Revenge From Mars (1999). This assemblage of tens of thousands of pages of documentation spans the rise of pin games in the 1930s through the shutdown of Williams’s pinball division at the end of the century. This extensive collection encompasses a wide variety of historical materials related to the design, engineering, and manufacture of pinball machines, including thousands of engineering drawings, wiring diagrams, play test documentation, playfield sketches, memos, and notes for Williams pinball machines; hundreds of original parts lists and bills of materials beginning with Bally’s 1933 Rocket pin game; and 20 engineering log books from programmers and software engineers such as Noah Falstein, Ed Suchoki, and Bill Pfutzenreuter.

Atari Arcade Design Collection, 1973–1991

Atari created the modern arcade industry with its development of Computer Space, Pong, and other coin-operated games in the 1970s and 1980s. This collection of more than 250 design plans and concept sketches documents the thinking behind such Atari arcade cabinets as the first racing game Gran Trak 10, the pioneering 3-D dogfight simulator Red Baron, the legendary dungeon crawl title Gauntlet, and many others. The list includes Pin Pong, the barrel and cocktail variations of Pong, the 4-player version of Football, Touch Me (the game that inspired Ralph Baer’s creation of Simon), Capcom’s Street Fighter, S.T.U.N. Runner, Dodgem, Peter Pack Rat, Gremlins (never released), and Qwak!. The concept drawings feature the work of Atari artists Regan Cheng, Barney Huang, Pete Takaichi, and Ken Hata, among others. 

View the Atari Arcade Design Collection finding aid. See also “Gauntlet by Design: Creating the Four-Player-at-Once Arcade Game Experience” and “A Fabulous Collection of Atari Concept Art” blogs, and the Atari Coin-Op Divisions Collection, 1972–1999 in The Strong's Video Game Company Collections. 

Ralph H. Baer Papers, 1968–2010

Ralph H. Baer (1922–2014) invented the Brown Box prototype of Magnavox Odyssey—the first home video console (1972)—and contributed importantly to the development of commercial and educational electronic toys and games for four decades afterward. This extensive collection documents, in particular, his work with video game pioneer Jay Smith III, the toy design firm Marvin Glass and Associates, and toy and game designer Phillip E. Orbanes. Represented games and toys include Computer Perfection, Maniac, M.A.S.K. Laser Command, Smarty Bear, Sounds By Me, Simon, and numerous others licensed to firms such as Coleco, Ideal, Kenner, and Milton Bradley. Included are sketches, notes, specifications, schematics, patent information, correspondence, two compact discs, and one DVD.

View the Ralph H. Baer Papers finding aidSee also “Happy Birthday Home Video Games!,” "Remembering Ralph," and "Installing Ralph Baer's Desk at The Strong."  

Bill Budge Collection, 1971–1985

Bill Budge, an American computer game programmer and designer, began his career at Apple Computer in 1980. Budge achieved early success in 1981 with his Raster Blaster pinball game, but it was his Pinball Construction Set, released in 1983, that revolutionized game design by giving players the chance to modify the playfield itself. This emphasis on encouraging user generated content was one reason the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences honored Budge with its Pioneer award in 2011. The Bill Budge Collection holds computer programming and reference manuals, a binder of printed source codes, two disks, and printouts of early programs created by Budge in the 1970s. The bulk of the materials are published manuals, released between 1976 and 1980, including one manual signed by Steve Wozniak of Apple Computer, Inc.

View the Bill Budge finding aid.

Dan Bunten (Dani Bunten Berry) Papers, 1949–1998

One of the most important game programmers during the era of personal computer development, Dan Bunten (1949–1998) pioneered multiplayer games. His Wheeler Dealers (1978) became one of the first boxed computer games; his landmark multiplayer game M.U.L.E. (1983) helped inspire future generations of multiplayer game developers; and his Modem Wars (1988) became the first game to take advantage of modems for game play. Other Bunten games included Robot Rascals, Heart of Africa, Cartels & Cutthroats, Cyber Masters, and Computer Quarterback. The Bunten papers contain business records of the Ozark Softscape company, game concept documents and descriptions, press clippings, personal documents, and photographs.

Don Daglow Papers, 1977–2010

Don Daglow has been a video game designer, programmer, and producer since the early 1970s. He is best known for pioneering simulation games, the first computer baseball game, and the first graphical massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). This collection includes computer code, sketches, personal papers, and other materials related to his Neverwinter Nights, Diplomax, Off the Wall, and Utopia games. Miscellaneous additional papers are also present.

View the Don Daglow Papers finding aid. See also “Creating MMORPGs: The Neverwinter Nights Story.”

Brian Fargo Papers, 1983–2012

Brian Fargo founded and led Interplay, one of the most important computer game companies of the 1980s and 1990s. The company developed and published numerous key titles such as The Bard’s Tale, Battle Chess, Mindbender, Neuromancer, Fallout, and Baldur’s Gate. This collection of materials, donated by Fargo, documents development work on many of the Interplay’s key games and provides a record of Fargo’s work as founder and CEO.

See also "Preserving Video Game History with the Brian Fargo Papers, 1983–2012."

Kevin Gifford Video Game Magazine Collection, 1970s–​Present

Assembled by video game magazine collector, writer, and translator Kevin Gifford, this group of more than 8,000 individual periodicals includes titles such Nintendo Power, Atari Age, Next Generation, Electronic Games, Official US PlayStation Magazine, Creative Computing, BYTE, and many more. The collection is especially strong in magazines from the United States and the United Kingdom, with significant representation of Japanese gaming publications. Collectively, the magazines richly document both the evolution of the video game industry since the 1970s and how important elements of the print media covered and interpreted the industry and the individuals and companies that built it.

Gerald A. “Jerry” Lawson Collection, 1967–1994

Pioneering African-American engineer Jerry Lawson (1940–2011) helped revolutionize the video game industry through his design of the Fairchild Channel F, the first video game system to use interchangeable cartridges. An early member of the Homebrew Computer Club, Lawson went on to found Video Soft, Inc. in 1980. This collection includes three generations of Fairchild Channel F prototype Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs), a Fairchild Channel F (1976), and a Channel F System II (1979) owned by Lawson. Also included are more than two dozen  games, including Channel F and Video Soft prototype cartridges; a game originally produced for the first video game-themed television show, TV Powww!; a copy of the rare Video Soft Color Bar Generator utility cartridge; design documents on the Channel F (including a blueprint of the Channel F console case); and other design documents and business records from Video Soft.

View the Gerald A. "Jerry" Lawson finding aid. See also “Collection Documents the Career of Video Game Pioneer Jerry Lawson.” 

Jordan Mechner Collection, 1913–2014

American video game designer, author, and filmmaker Jordan Mechner is best known for creating the popular Prince of Persia game franchise. He programmed two of his first published games—Karateka (1984) and Prince of Persia (1989)—almost entirely by himself, developing pioneering animation techniques to produce realistic movement from the games’ characters. The material in this collection documents his groundbreaking work on both of those games and also on The Last Express (1997). Included are game design documents, notes, correspondence, development agreements, publicity, magazine articles, photographs, film, digital files, audio-visual media, source code disks, and other items. The collection also contains business records for Mechner’s Smoking Car Productions firm, more than 150 copies of these games and Prince of Persia sequels in a variety of formats, and memorabilia related to them. The bulk of the materials are from 1984 to 1999.

View the Jordan Mechner Collection finding aid. See also "Jordan Mechner Collection Documents Revolution in Game Graphics." 

Carol Shaw Collection, 1978–2002

The first widely recognized female video game designer and programmer Carol Shaw is best known for the popular game River Raid (1982), which sold more than one million copies. The materials in this collection document Shaw’s work for Atari, Inc. and Activision in the 1970s and 1980s, including her 1978 unreleased game Polo—possibly the first console video game designed and programmed by a woman. The collection contains five published versions of River Raid for various home consoles; the EPROM (erasable programmable read-only memory) for Polo; product packages for 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe (1979) and Video Checkers (1980) for the Atari 2600; and two modern compilations of classic Activision games that include River Raid, one for PC and one for the PlayStation 2. Promotional materials—including a German River Raid flyer, a t-shirt, and two U-matic tapes with game commercials—serve as examples of marketing for Shaw’s games. Other archival materials include printed source code for 11 games and applications, such as Video Checkers, Super Breakout (1981), River Raid, and Polo, as well as design documents, notes, sketches, and printouts of reference materials for an Atari calculator program (1979), Polo, Checkers, and 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe.

View the Women and Games Initiative. See also "Preserving Carol Shaw's Trailblazing Video Game Career."

Toys for Bob Skylanders Collection, 2009–2017

Game developer and subsidiary of Activision, Toys for Bob created the first video game and action figure hybrid with its 2011 release of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. The game, which used radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, allowed players to transport their toy character figures into the digital game world via the Portal of Power. Skylanders’ success spawned a $3 billion franchise and established the “toys-to-life” game category. This collection consists of a wide array of objects and documentation related to the development of the franchise, including more than 200 pre-production figures and portals such as hand-sculpted and hand-painted prototypes and the first working prototype portal. Also included are figure molds, RFID test equipment, more than 175 games and figures in their original packaging; nearly 1,000 pages of archival records documenting character concepts, character design, and production schedules; and video interviews with key members of the development team, including studio founders Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford, principal concept artist I-Wei Huang, and principal engineer Robert Leyland.  

Wargaming Collection, 2000–2018

Wargaming is a Cyprus-based video game developer and creator of the massively multiplayer online, free-to-play game World of Tanks. ​First released on PC in August 2010, World of Tanks quickly became one of the most successful free-to-play online video games. Wargaming donated this collection that includes more than 25,000 digital images, documents, and videos related to the development of the company's games. Materials also include commercially published titles, fan-created sculptures, and promotional items such as World of Tanks Matryoshka Dolls that reflect the company's origins in Belarus.

Guy Welch Collection, 1988–2013

Guy Welch is an American video game designer and product manager who began his career at Sierra Entertainment in 1998. Welch is interested in preserving early video game history and making artifacts accessible to fellow game historians. This collection of materials, amassed by Welch during his time at Sierra Entertainment and later, Microsoft, holds game development materials, artwork, sketches, animation cels, published advertisements, magazines, corporate records, concept design documents, ephemera, and more.

View the Guy Welch finding aid.

Ken and Roberta Williams Collection, 1979–1996

Ken and Roberta Williams founded the Sierra On-Line computer game company in 1979 and developed it into one of the leading and most influential video game companies of the next two decades. Games they designed and produced ranked among the most popular of the era and included the first graphical computer adventure game, Mystery House; the first third-person graphical adventure game, King’s Quest; and dozens of other noted titles, such as The Black Cauldron, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, Leisure Suit Larry, Gabriel Knight, and Phantasmagoria. Through these and other games, Ken and Roberta Williams pioneered the use of animation, video, and humor in computer games. The collection includes more than 140 examples of Sierra On-Line games plus design documents, artwork, press releases, annual reports, copies of the company magazine (Interaction), newspaper clippings, photographs, and miscellaneous memorabilia and other material.

View the Ken and Roberta Williams Collection finding aid.

Williams Pinball Playfield Design Collection, 1946–­­­­­­­­­1995

Founded in 1943, Williams Manufacturing, Inc. (later Williams Electronics Games, Inc.) created some of the most innovative pinball machines and other coin-operated games in the second half of the 20th century. Consisting of more than 200 pinball playfield design sketches, this collection documents the evolution of playfield layouts and the thinking behind pinball machines such as Sunny (1947), Williams’s first game with flippers; Vagabond (1962), the first game to use a drop target; and the mini-playfield and ramp-filled game Indiana Jones: The Pinball Adventure (1993). The playfield drawings feature the work of designers Harry Williams, Gordon Horlick, Sam Stern, Steve Kordek, Norm Clark, and Mark Ritchie, among others. Also included are hundreds of mechanical design drawings of parts assemblies, backbox inserts (which held lamps and scoring reels), and pinball concept artwork. The bulk of the sketches are for games created from 1947 to 1971. 

View the Williams Pinball Playfield Design Collection finding aidSee also Pinball in America and "The Williams Pinball Playfield Design Collection."​ 

Will Wright Papers, 1989–2010

Will Wright, co-founder of the game development company Maxis, now part of Electronic Arts (EA), is best known for designing the video games series SimCity and The Sims. These papers consist chiefly of nine notebooks containing Wright’s original drawings, sketches, and notes for SimCity 2000 (1993), SimCopter (1996), The Sims (2000), and Spore (2008). The materials illustrate how Wright brainstormed ideas, conceptualized play mechanics, and outlined presentations about the games.

View the Will Wright Papers finding aid. See also “Will Wright's Video Game Notebooks."

Also view materials in The Strong's Video Game Company Collections. These collections include either software or hardware, or both, or one or both in addition to archival items.