Tech rewind: Interesting facts about the hit arcade video game Pong

Updated: 01 December, 2015 10:23 IST | A Correspondent |

American video game company Atari released Pong a table-tennis sports game on the arcade platform on this day, November 29 in 1972...

American video game company Atari released Pong a table-tennis sports game on the arcade platform on this day, November 29 in 1972.

Pong is generally considered to be the first commercially successful arcade video game machine, which helped to establish the video game industry.

On the occasion of the game's 43rd anniversary here's a look at some interesting trivia that you may or may not know...

A screenshot of Atari's Pong. Pic courtesy/YouTube
A screenshot of Atari's Pong. Pic courtesy/YouTube

1. Before founding Atari, co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created Computer Space in 1971. The game is generally accepted as the world's first commercially sold coin-operated video game — and indeed, the first commercially sold video game of any kind.

2. Nolan Bushnell based the idea for Pong after viewing an electronic ping-pong game included in the Magnavox Odyssey, the world's first commercial home video game console created by rival company Magnavox.

3. Before coming up with Pong, Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell had received the company's first contract from Bally Manufacturing Corporation for the creation of a driving game.

4. Pong creator Allan Alcorn, who is experienced in electrical engineering and computer science had previously worked with Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney at electronics company Ampex notable for its various innovations in video recording technology.

5. Since Pong creator Allan Alcorn had no experience in video game development, Nolan Bushnell assigned him a project secretly meant to be a warm up exercise to acclimate Alcorn to creating games.

6. The cabinet for the Pong prototype was constructed using Hitachi black-and-white television set placed into a 4-foot (1.2 m) wooden cabinet. The wires were soldered into boards to create the necessary circuitry. The coin mechanism from a laundromat was used on the side, which featured a milk carton inside to catch coins.

7. Atari secretly spawned a 'competitor' in 1973 called Kee Games, which was actually headed by Nolan Bushnell's next door neighbour Joe Keenan. This was done to circumvent pinball distributors' insistence on exclusive distribution deals as both Atari and Kee could market (virtually) the same game to different distributors, with each getting an "exclusive" deal. Though Kee's relationship to Atari was discovered in 1974, Joe Keenan did such a good job managing the subsidiary that he was promoted to president of Atari that same year.

8. In order to feature realistic sound effects, as requested by the Atari owners, Pong creator Allan Alcorn used a sync generator after discovering that it could generate different tones and used those for the game's sound effects.

9. Nolan Bushnell has credited the inspiration for Pong to previous versions of electronic tennis most notably a version on a PDP-1 computer in 1964 while attending college. Allan Alcorn however dismisses this claiming that the it was in direct response to Nolan's viewing of the Magnavox Odyssey's Tennis game.

10. Atari engineer Allan Alcorn originally designed and built Pong as a training exercise. The company's co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney decided to manufacture it after being impressed by Alcorn's work.

11. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and Pong creator Allan Alcorn installed a prototype of the game at a local bar, Andy Capp's Tavern in August 1972. It was so well received by the bar's patrons that people came there to solely play the game.

12. A few days after its installation the Pong prototype began exhibiting technical issues. Upon inspecting the machine, creator Allan Alcorn discovered that the problem was the coin mechanism was overflowing with quarters.

13. Intially Nolan Bushnell had difficulty finding financial backing for Pong. Banks viewed the game as a variant of pinball, which at the time the general public associated with the Mafia or the criminal underworld. Atari eventually obtained a line of credit from multinational banking firm Wells Fargo that it used to expand its facilities to house an assembly line.

14. The first arcade cabinets of Pong were assembled very slowly, about ten machines a day, many of which failed quality testing. Atari eventually streamlined the process and began producing the game in greater quantities.

15. Atari released Home Pong, a home version of Pong, essentially one of the first video game consoles that could be connected to a television, similar to rival firm Magnavox's Magnavox Odyssey in Christmas 1975 through retail giant Sears.

16. During Pong's development Allan Alcorn discovered that the in-game paddles were unable to reach the top of screen, which was caused by a simple circuit that had an inherent defect. He decided it gave the game more difficulty and helped limit the time the game could be played instead of fixing the issue.

17. The development of Home Pong initially began under the codename Darlene, named after an attractive female employee at Atari.

18. The popularity and commercial success of Atari's Pong and Home Pong led to numerous copies by rival companies.

19. Atari faced legal action against Ralph Baer, the inventor of the Magnavox Odyssey, and his employer, Sanders Associates over its similarities with a game included in Magnavox's console. Magnavox offered Atari an agreement to become a licensee for US$0.7 million in 1976. To avoid Magnavox obtaining rights to its products, Atari decided to delay the release of its products for a year, and withheld information from Magnavox's attorneys during visits to Atari facilities.

20. Atari's Pong arcade games were a huge success and earned USD 35–40 per day, according to Nolan Bushnell.

21. By 1973, a year after Pong was introduced, Atari had filled 2,500 orders, and, at the end of 1974, sold more than 8,000 units.

22. The Home Pong prototype consisted of a device attached to a wooden pedestal containing over a hundred wires, which would eventually be replaced with a single chip, which was finished in the latter half of 1974, and was, at the time, the highest performing chip used in a consumer product. The chip was designed and tested by Allan Alcorn and Harold Lee.

23. Popular Japanese digital entertainment firm Konami known to be one of the major developers of video games today, decided to break into the video game market after viewing the success of Pong. Their first title, Maze was moderately successful and drove the company to develop more games.

24. Japanese gaming giant Nintendo entered the video game market with clones Home Pong.

25. In an effort to compete more effectively against competitors Atari produced numerous Pong sequels in the years following the original's release. Four sequels namely Pong Doubles, Super Pong, Quadrapong, and Pin-Pong were released. They featured similar graphics but had new gameplay elements. Pong Doubles allows four players to compete in pairs, while Quadrapong has them compete against each other in a four way field.

26. Pong's arcade cabinets have since become collector's items with the cocktail-table version being the rarest.

27. A free-to-play version of Pong was conceptualized Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell to entertain children in a doctor's office. Initially titled Snoopy Pong after the popular Peanuts character Snoopy he also designed an arcade cabinet similar to Snoopy's doghouse but opted to retitle it Puppy Pong to avoid legal action.

28. Nolan Bushnell also owned popular family restaurant chain Chuck E. Cheese's and made pong as a staple in many of its branches.

29. Pong has also been included in several Atari compilations on video game platforms including the Sega Mega Drive, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo DS, and personal computer.

30. A slot machine version of Pong also exists due to an agreement between Atari and Bally Gaming and Systems.

31. In an effort to remake Pong on numerous gaming platforms, Atari featured the game in Video Olympics, one of the original release titles for their 1977 video game console Atari 2600.

32. The 2002 game TD Overdrive: The Brotherhood of Speed, which was released on the PC, Playstation 2 and Xbox featured Pong as an extra game to be played during the loading screen. The game was developed by Atari.

33. The classic version of Atari's Pong underwent a major overhaul in 1999 when it was remade using 3D computer graphics and power-ups for home computers and the Playstation video game console.

34. A single player variation of Pong titled Breakout was released by Atari in 1976. Like its predecessor Breakout also featured numerous clones that copied its gameplay notably Arkanoid, Alleyway, Break 'Em All to name a few. The object of Breakout is to remove bricks from a wall by hitting them with a ball.

35. Pong has been a prominent feature in popular American TV shows like 'That 70s Show', 'King of the Hill', 'Saturday Night Live' and many others.

36. A popular 2006 commercial by financial firm American Express depicted retired Tennis ace Andy Roddick in a tennis match against the white, in-game paddle from Pong.

37. Pong has been referenced or parodied in other prominent video games. Notable examples include Neuromancer for the Commodore 64 and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts for the Xbox 360.

38. A Pong-themed clock was created by Dutch design studio Buro Vormkrijgers. Initially a fun project within their offices, the studio faced legal action against Atari after they decided to manufacture it for retail in February 2006. Eventually, both companies reached an agreement in which Buro Vormkrijgers could produce a limited number of clocks under license.

39. The audio from Pong has been performed as part of a special "Classic Arcade Medley" at Video Games Live a musical concert series consisting of segments of video game music performed by a live orchestra with video footage and synchronized lighting and effects.

40. Noted artists have also paid tribute to Pong in their works. French artist Pierre Huyghe's 1999 installation entitled 'Atari Light' displayed at the Venice Biennale in 2001, and the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León in 2007 showed two people use handheld gaming devices to play Pong on an illuminated ceiling.

41. Pong was included at the 2002 Game On exhibition held at the Barbican Art Gallery in London. The event showcased various aspects of video game history, development, and culture.

42. American singer Frank Black wrote a song titled 'Whatever Happened to Pong?' on his 1994 album 'Teenager of the Year'. The song heavily references the game's elements.

First Published: 29 November, 2015 08:55 IST

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