Pong is one of the earliest video arcade-style games, originally released in 1972 by Atari – it was actually their first game. The game was based on another tennis game manufactured by a competitor for a household console, the Odyssey, which was manufactured by their competitor Magnavox. Atari’s version was much more successful, and laid the first bricks in the road for video games as we know them today.
Sue Over Anything
Atari’s new tennis game got into hot water with Magnavox because they were both tennis games. That sounds funny now, but in the era of the first video games, lawmakers weren’t sure how to handle it. Atari believes it could have won, but the expense of fighting Magnavox would have cost them more money than they had at the time. Instead, they settled, and Magnavox agreed to a sum of 1.5 million dollars split across eight payments as well as full information on everything Atari was doing for the next year, public or in development. Atari, as a result, delayed some of it’s products.
In terms of business dealings, the original creator figured Atari would be able to produce the game themselves (instead of licensing it out, as this was Atari’s first game they both made and kept for themselves) but couldn’t get any credit or loans to actually manufacture the things, because it looked like pinball at a glance, and banks associated pinball with the Mafia at the time. Eventually Wells Fargo gave Atari credit, and the arcade cabinets went into production at the rate of ten machines a day. Many of them failed quality testing. This was still their first game! Eventually Atari got it together, and even began shipping Pong multi-nationally thanks to their success in the States.
Home Pong, the edition of Pong that gamers could play at home, sold so many units that it became Sears’s most popular selling item for the holiday season in 1975, a coveted position that lead to dozens upon dozens of copycats entering the market. But it was too late – Atari won. Atari won decisively. Pong was popular and fun among all ages, installed in bars or arcades, or even played at home.
The Age of CRTs
Many early CRT monitors didn’t have great resolution, and it’s not like the computers inside of the consoles of the time were powerful enough to display much anyway. Still, in spite of this, the creator aspired to make the game more interesting than the simple version found in the Magnavox device.
The paddle is designed so that the ball will bounce back at different angles, depending on which pixel of the paddle the ball hits. The ball goes faster, the longer the players are trading it back and forth. The game has a surprising amount of complexity given the simplicity of the tech put into it. Pong doesn’t run on ‘code’ as we understand that word today. The home version ran on a chip, but the arcade-cabinet version that kickstarted Atari ran on a printed circuit board that used transistor-transistor logic to determine where the ball was going to go. Remember – this is just three or so years after Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, and Atari is certainly not working with NASA’s budget or their technology department. Part of the game, the way that the paddles don’t reach the top of the screen, is due to those circuits. It’s a built-in bug, a flaw that the creator let slide because it made the game harder. Today, making a Pong game is a popular beginner’s exercise in coding languages like Python, done on machines dozens of times more powerful than the original.
Truly, Pong was a pioneer.