This was the most crowded I'd ever seen a Post Mortem gathering, and the packed room was bursting with love for the speaker. When Baer showed a video of his 1967 self and a colleague demonstrating "the ping-pong game", the room went wild; here was footage of a gentleman in thick glasses holding a bulky, knob-encrusted controller showing off what would become the very first home video game console, and the person showing the video through his MacBook was the exact same guy, 40 years older but just as enthusiastic. (The audio on his laptop cut out, actually, so he just narrated the video in-person instead.) I have to say, it was something else, all right.
Telling the story of Odyssey's development took less time than scheduled, so he continued by opening up a Word document that contained illustrations of all his inventions over the decades, telling the tale of each. These were mainly commercial failures you've never heard of (Talking doormats! TV-interacting hand puppets!) but there were a couple of bigger names which clearly subsidized all the other experiments.
Undoubtedly, the biggest of the hits was Simon, a stand-alone electronic game that has been on sale continuously since its introduction in 1978, and whose most recent designs barely stray from the original. (Baer named the bright and many-colorful LEDs in new models, a technology unavailable 30 years ago, as one welcome change.) How many other battery-operated toys can claim that distinction?
During the brief Q&A, one fellow asked him whether the Odyssey was a digital or analog computer. Baer replied that he didn't feel it was computer at all; just a very clever arrangement of relays and switches that interfered meaningfully with the TV's normal operation. (Though I rather feel that to be a perfectly valid, deconstructionist definition of a computer system...)
His response to an enthusiastic "Sir! What advice do you have for us!" was basically: Eh, I dunno, you're all writing software, and I'm just an old TV hacker. But, he noted, there will always be a market for console peripherals.
His parting words for the evening, spoken with a grin, hinted that he was looking at the Wii schematics with some interest...
Crappy iPhone photo by me. You can learn more about Ralph Baer's life work at his page on the Smithsonian's website.