Retro Corner: Pong

How retro can we go? Well, pretty fookin’ retro as today we talk about Pong, the game that kickstarted the global gaming industry we see today!

Despite popular belief, Pong was not the first video game ever made. In fact, there were quite a few before that, including Computer Space which was the first commercially sold coin-operated game of any kind created by Nolan Bushneil and Ted Dabney who later founded a little company you may have heard of called Atari. In turn, the development of Computer Space led to Pong in its own way as Atari were the ones who created and manufactured the game.

Before Pong, Video Gaming was practically non-existent in the mainstream, with only a handful of people, usually your stereotypical unsocial programmer with prescription glasses and retainers, even looking at its potential. That was until Allan Alcorn, an engineer at Atari, came up with the idea for a two-dimensional table tennis simulator that can be played between two players, and thus Pong was born.

The date was November 29th, 1972, when the “tea house” in Amsterdam first opened its doors, pioneering the legal sale of cannabis in the Netherlands….. Ohh, and Pong released.

Pong was Atari’s first game, as well as the very first sports game, and was the title that brought gaming into the mainstream establishing a now 42 year old industry. It was about as simple as it gets. Two players each control a ‘paddle’ and must bounce the ball to each other. If one player does not return then a point is scored to the other player.

Mr. Alcorn Himself
Mr. Alcorn Himself

However, that alone Alcorn found to be a little boring, so added some additional functionality to mix it up a bit. Simple things like where the ball hits the paddle skewing the direction, and the ball speeding up the longer it was in play kept the game interesting. As well as that, players can try to skillshot it to the very top of the screen, as the paddles could not reach it. Funnily enough this did not come about because it was designed that way, but rather caused by a circuit defect which Alcorn liked because it gave the game some greater difficulty.

At first Pong was sold as an arcade machine, and saw huge success wherever it went. Compared to other machines Pong raked in at least 4 times more dosh, and businesses such as bars saw large increases in customers solely to play the game. This even went as far back as the first prototypes available in a few select businesses, which had a technical issues caused by the machine overflowing with quarters. By the end of 1974, Atari sold more than 8,000 units, and while that may be small by standards today, was absolutely massive for the time.

Atari urged their employees to come up with more products, one of which was Home Pong. Proposed by Harold Lee, this was, as you may have guessed, a home console for pong that players can plug up to their home TV. Lee and Alcorn worked together creating the console, working in shifts to save time and money, until 1975 when the product released. While the game was practically identical, no more did you need a massive machine to play it. Now, all of it was condensed down to a single chip which at the time was the most powerful ever used in a consumer product.

Home Pong was an massive success, and in 1975 sold 150,000 units during the holidays, becoming Sears (the company that sold the console) most successful product ever. Over the next few years new players joined the market, including Nintendo releasing the Colour TV Game 6 in 1977 and the re-release of Magnavox’s Odyssey system, but Atari were now in full swing and continued to be major contributors to the gaming industry for years to come.

Today, Pong is the thing of legends, often referenced and parodied in pop culture, however outside that it is rarely mentioned and appreciated (kinda why I did this article). Something so simple, which can be recreated yourself at home within an hour using a 2D engine such as GameSalad (like seriously…. No actual programming involved), kickstarted what today is the biggest entertainment industry in the world.

So, there is only one thing left to say. To Atari:

Sound

 

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