Pong - Your thoughts on arguably the true originator of our industry

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Bill Loguidice's picture

Hey guys! I'll be working on the Pong chapter while I'm working on the Spacewar! chapter, as their historical lead-ups kind of run in parallel. In any case, Pong needs no introduction, from its first conceptual appearance on Ralph Baer's Brown Box that "inspired" Nolan Bushnell to ask Al Alcorn to create the original arcade game, to the precursor to it all from 1958, William Higginbotham's "Tennis for Two". Of course I'll also be discussing the various home Pong systems and clones and a few ways that the game influenced future games. As always, your thoughts are much appreciated for this truly iconic game.

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Matt Barton
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Seems like the key here is

Seems like the key here is that it was an extremely accessible game; perfect for an era when most people had ZERO experience with videogames or computers. Anything more complicated (such as Computer Space) was just too much for anyone but an engineer or hardcore geek. Also, just the ability to play a game on a screen was a novelty. Plus, it was really competitive and social (at least until the computer-controlled opponents showed up).

Also, can't forget the whole Bushnell/Baer drama.

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Rowdy Rob
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Pong was social!
Matt Barton wrote:

Seems like the key here is that it was an extremely accessible game; perfect for an era when most people had ZERO experience with videogames or computers.

I think that's exactly it. The average person's first "computer" experience was with Pong! I recall playing (and watching people play) Pong against opponents of all ages. Games afterwards seemed to attract mostly kids, but Pong was played pretty heavily by adults (they wouldn't even let me play, those lowlife adult scum!). It was kind of like a sporting event where even the out-of-shape person could compete.

The first "home" games I recall were Atari "Pong" consoles that had several variations of the same theme (Squash, Tennis, Raquetball, etc.) The first gaming controller I ever used was a "paddle," ironic since they are unknown today. One of my friends had a "Pong" console, and I would spend the night at his house frequently just to play it (I suppose I liked his friendship a little too, but he had PONG!!!).

I suppose Pong might be fun if you had two players today, but it completely bores me now. But "Breakout" was apparently Pong's child, and I loved Breakout, and still occasionally play "Arkanoid" clones today!

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Matt Barton
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Yeah, so many games came

Yeah, so many games came from that Pong model.

I remember some other games that used paddles to good effect. Seems like Beach Head would let you use a paddle at least on certain levels...Damn, come to think of it, I can't think of many titles that used paddles.

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Bill Loguidice
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Paddles
Matt Barton wrote:

Yeah, so many games came from that Pong model.

I remember some other games that used paddles to good effect. Seems like Beach Head would let you use a paddle at least on certain levels...Damn, come to think of it, I can't think of many titles that used paddles.

It depends on the platform. Certainly the Apple II supported dual paddles for left/right, up/down, since its default controls were analog anyway. The Atari 2600 initially came with a set of paddles as well. The C-64 had several paddle titles besides the usual suspects, including Questron and Arkanoid. Interestingly, the paddles from Commodore were a higher resolution/accuracy than the standard Atari models, though both could be used interchangeably (nevertheless, some games were designed for the higher tracking accuracy). The knob on top of the Bally Astrocade controllers is a combination joystick and paddle. Etc.

Paddles are among my favorite all time controllers, but it's true that once you get past roughly the mid-80's, their use dropped considerably, with the most notable title being Arkanoid and its sequels still making use of it. Prior to that, though, it was a fairly common control scheme and quite ubiquitous if you consider the myriad of arcade machines and home systems that utilized it in the 1970's.



Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Mark Vergeer
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Was going through photo

Was going through photo albums the other day and discovered kids playing pong on one of my birthday parties at home when I was a kid.

-(
Now how do I explain to the retrogaming folk on this website that in these pictures I am actually more involved in playing a 4-in-a-row-game with my mates instead of being glued to the tv playing a game of pong..... ouch.
The memory plays funny tricks, I fondly remember playing pong on that birthday - but it seems I didn't. At least not in these pictures. I must tell you I was rather good at 4-in-a-row - a whole lot better than pong - so perhaps that explains it.



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.
www.markvergeer.nl

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davyK
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I can remember an interview

I can remember an interview with Bushnell in which he states that after the Computer Space experience he wanted to strip all the complexity out and come up with a simple game that could be played in a pub/bar. The one hand control scheme was important in that respect and he also empahsises the social side of the game.

Bill Loguidice
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Very true
davyK wrote:

I can remember an interview with Bushnell in which he states that after the Computer Space experience he wanted to strip all the complexity out and come up with a simple game that could be played in a pub/bar. The one hand control scheme was important in that respect and he also empahsises the social side of the game.

Indeed, though there's no question he stole the game concept from Baer. Bushnell's genius was in realizing the mistake with Computer Space and going in the complete opposite direction with Pong. Computer Space had a gorgeous, futuristic cabinet with a control panel right out of NASA, while Pong had a modest brown and tan cabinet with a few dials and the infamous instructions of "avoid missing ball for high score".

I find myself going into lots of pre-history with this Pong chapter (I'm writing it now), but I think it's all important stuff and is necessary to tie into the later Spacewar! chapter.



Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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steve (not verified)
Higinbotham/Baer

Bill,

Interestingly, I just received an email from William Higinbotham's son yesterday. He wrote to tell me a couple things:
1. I spelled his Dad's name wrong in my interview with Ralph Baer (it's Higinbotham not Higginbotham)
2. To make sure that I knew that Refer to his Dad's game as something other than a "video game" Here is what he said:
"People refer my father's game as a video game. Video is a term used in association with TVs raster display and I get the feeling that Baer does not like the term to be used loosely"

Baer is an inventor and very much into patents. I'm sure the above was to protect his patent on Pong. If Higinbotham had created a "video game" then Baer's patent would be null because there would have been prior art. I guess Baer wanted to to be called a "scope game"?

-Steve

Chris Kennedy
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Video Games - the term

Bill -

I do not mean to diverge too much from the Pong topic, however I would like to add a comment based on the discussion you guys have been having here.

Steve said a few things with his post about the e-mail from William Higinbotham's son that I would like to use to make my point about "video games" - There are many times when a discussion/debate/argument can stem from a disagreement based on classification (i.e. Is NASCAR a "sport?" Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?). So then the question "what is a video game?" has to be answered before a topic can be debated (i.e. Who is the "father" of video games?).

I personally do not believe "video game" is something that specifically means an interactive form of entertainment whose visual information is communicated via a raster display. While that might be something to serve as a differentiation among different types of screen-based games from years ago, I believe the term has evolved and is now quite accepted by the masses as a game played with a controller (also loosely defined) with some sort of visual information communicated to the player. I am a bit crude with words in my own definition. That said, I believe your average joe gamer would consider vector games, Virtual Boy, Tiger handhelds, and Sega's "3D hologram" game Time Traveler to all be lopped into the comprehensive term "video game." I imagine a scope game would be welcomed into this definition as well. The term has grown to encompass a group of several different types of screen-based games. Even using the term "screen-based" could create an argument. Thus, the term "video games" has become a very loose and inclusive term for this genre of entertainment.

Perhaps those of us that would post on armchair arcade would tend to separate those games mentioned above into different classifications outside of the term "video game," but the masses would most likely disagree in a very condescending manner.

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Matt Barton
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I agree, Steve. I've seen

I agree, Steve. I've seen some ridiculous efforts to go against the common sense definition of the word, and even some complicated charts to that effect. I've seen people try to claim paper-based games and strange sorts of card games were "videogames," even though they had nothing to do with computers or displays of any sort. I've also seen people try to lump in things like Simon and Electronic Battleship, Operation, etc., as videogames.

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