To celebrate National Inventors Month we are taking a look at the inventions which lead the way to modern PC gaming. This week we are looking at the invention of Pong, one of the first video games ever made.
Let’s go back…waaay back to 1972, August ’72 to be exact. Ralph Baer’s Magnavox Odyssey hits store shelves with ‘Tennis’ (a full three years earlier than Atari’s home version of Pong). Sales of the Odyssey were hampered by the misconception that the system would only work on Magnavox television sets, as a result the Odyssey and ‘Tennis’ fails to hit mainstream audiences, paving the way for Atari.
The original Pong (named ‘Tennis’) being played on the Magnavox Odyssey
Pong’s creation and development came about almost entirely as a fluke. Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell assigned newly hired developer Allan Alcorn a simple one-off sports game to test his skills, the result was a tennis based game dubbed Pong. The title is a reference to the ‘beeps and boops’ sounds the game utilizes to simulate the ball hitting the paddle. The game was never expected to make the light of day, but the Atari founders were impressed by Alcorn’s work and decided to try and launch the game.
Bushnell takes his game to pinball giant Bally to try and sell the concept, he is immediately rejected. Undeterred, he installs a Pong prototype at a local bar in Sunnyvale, CA. Alcorn and Bushnell are amazed to find the game stuffed with quarters and unable to operate within a few hours. Spurred on by this initial success Atari decides to manufacture and distribute the Pong arcade game themselves. Renting an abandoned roller skating rink Atari begins making ‘Pong’ arcade cabinets to an ever increasing list of demanding clients. In 1972 alone Atari sells 8,500 machines (in a market where 2,000 pinball machine sales is considered a ‘hit).
Nolan Bushnell and his Pong cabinet
Two years later, in 1974 Atari employees Bob Brown and Harold Lee propose a home version of Pong, able to be hooked up to any TV set. However, retailers are skittish over the short life of Magnavox's TV-based Odyssey game and the system languishes in the Atari labs. In 1975 they cut a deal with Tom Quinn, head purchaser for the sporting goods department at national retailer Sears, to sell the system under the Sears Tele-Games label. The order is for 150,000 units. By Christmas, Atari's US$100 home PONG console becomes Sears biggest selling item, with reports of people waiting outside stores for hours to get one.
In 1976 Nolan Bushnell sells Atari to Warner for $28 million, with Joe Keenan as President and Bushnell pocketing $16 million and the title of CEO.
Ralph Baer and the makers of the Magnavox Odyssey filed suit against Atari and its affiliated companies in 1974, claiming that Atari had infringed on Baer's patents and his concept of electronic ping-pong based on detailed records Sanders kept of the Odyssey's design process dating back to 1966. Other documents included depositions from witnesses and a signed guest book that demonstrated Bushnell had played the Odyssey's table tennis game prior to releasing Pong. Bushnell decided to settle with Magnavox out of court. Magnavox offered Atari an agreement to become a licensee for US$0.7 million. Other companies producing "Pong clones"—Atari's competitors—would have to pay royalties. In addition, Magnavox would obtain the rights to Atari products developed over the next year.
Pong has appeared in several facets of popular culture. The game is prominently featured in episodes of television series: That '70s Show, King of the Hill, and Saturday Night Live. In 2006, an American Express commercial featured Andy Roddick in a tennis match against the white, in-game paddle.
Other video games have also referenced and parodied Pong; for example Neuromancer for the Commodore 64 and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts for the Xbox 360. The concert event Video Games Live has performed audio from Pong as part of a special retro "Classic Arcade Medley". Frank Black's song "Whatever Happened to Pong?" on the album Teenager of the Year heavily references the game's elements.
As debate still rages on what game can truly be considered the ‘first’ ever created, many video game fans and historians are all in agreement that Pong holds a special place in our hearts. Now, insert coin and AVOID MISSING BALL FOR HIGH SCORE!
Play Pong Online: http://www.bafta.org...ine,678,BA.html
Play Plasma Pong: http://download.cnet...4-10511143.html
Souces: Wikipedia.org, YouTube.com, Thedoteaters.com