Sunday, February 8, 2009

Pong (Game)

Pong (marketed as PONG) is one of the earliest arcade video games, and is a tennis sports game featuring simple two-dimensional graphics. While other arcade video games such as Computer Space came before it, Pong was one of the first video games to reach mainstream popularity. The aim is to defeat your opponent in a simulated table tennis game by earning a higher score. The game was originally manufactured by Atari Incorporated (Atari), who released it in 1972. Pong was created by Allan Alcorn as a training exercise assigned to him by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell based the idea on an electronic ping-pong game included in the Magnavox Odyssey, which later resulted in a lawsuit against Atari. Surprised by the quality of Alcorn's work, Atari decided to manufacture the game.
Pong quickly became a success and is the first commercially successful video game, which led to the start of the video game industry. Soon after its release, several companies began producing games that copied Pong's gameplay, and eventually released new types of games. As a result, Atari encouraged its staff to produce more innovative games. Several sequels were released that built upon the original's gameplay by adding new features. During the 1975 Christmas season, Atari released a home version of Pong exclusively through Sears retail stores. It was also a commercial success and led to numerous copies. The game has been remade on numerous home and portable platforms following its release. Pong has been referenced and parodied in multiple television shows and video games, and has been a part of several video game and cultural exhibitions.

The two paddles return the ball back and forth. The score is kept by the numbers (0 and 1) at the top of the screen.

Pong is a two-dimensional sports game which simulates table tennis. The player controls an in-game paddle by moving it vertically across the left side of the screen, and can compete against either a computer controlled opponent or another player controlling a second paddle on the opposing side. Players use the paddles to hit a ball back and forth. The aim is for a player to earn more points than the opponent; points are earned when one fails to return the ball to the other.

Development and history
Atari engineer Allan Alcorn designed and built Pong as a training exercise.

Pong was the first game developed by Atari Inc., founded in June 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. After producing Computer Space, Bushnell decided to form a company to produce more games by licensing ideas to other companies. Their first contract was with Bally Technologies for a driving game. Soon after the founding, Bushnell hired Allan Alcorn because of his experience with electrical engineering and computer science; Bushnell and Dabney also had previously worked with him at Ampex. Prior to working at Atari, Alcorn had no experience with video games. To acclimate Alcorn to creating games, Bushnell gave him a project secretly meant to be a warm-up exercise. Bushnell told Alcorn that he had a contract with General Electric for a product, and asked Alcorn to create a simple game with one moving spot, two paddles, and digits for score keeping. The project was inspired by a game included in the first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey—in May 1972, Bushnell had visited the Magnavox Profit Caravan in Burlingame, California where he played the Magnavox Odyssey demonstration, specifically the table tennis game.
Alcorn first examined Bushnell's schematics for Computer Space, but found them to be illegible. He went on to create his own designs based on his knowledge of transistor–transistor logic and Bushnell's game. Feeling the basic game was too boring, Alcorn added features to give the game more appeal. He divided the paddle into eight segments to change the ball's angle of return. For example, the center segments return the ball a 90° angle in relation to the paddle, while the outer segments return the ball at smaller angles. He also made the ball accelerate the more it was returned back and forth between paddles; missing the ball reset the speed. Another feature was that the in-game paddles could not reach the top of screen. This was caused by a simple circuit which had an inherent defect. Instead of dedicating time to fixing the defect, Alcorn decided it gave the game more difficulty and helped limit the time the game could be played; he imagined two skilled players being able to play forever otherwise.
Three months into development, Bushnell told Alcorn he wanted the game to feature realistic sound effects and a roaring crowd. Dabney also wanted the game to "boo" and "hiss" when a player lost a round. Alcorn was running out of room on the circuit board and did not know how to create such sounds with digital circuits. After inspecting the sync generator, he discovered it could generate different tones and used those for the game's sound effects. To construct the prototype, Alcorn purchased a black and white television set from a local store, placed it into a 4 feet (1.2 m) wooden cabinet, and soldered the wires into boards to create the necessary circuitry. The prototype impressed Bushnell and Dabney so much that they felt it could be a profitable product and decided to test its marketability.

Atari had established a pinball route consisting of local businesses to generate steady income. In September 1972, Bushnell and Alcorn installed the Pong prototype at a local bar, Andy Capp's Tavern; they selected the bar because of their good working relation with the bar's manager, Bill Gaddis. They placed the prototype on one of the tables near the other entertainment machines: a jukebox, pinball machines, and Computer Space. The game was well received the first night and its popularity continued to grow over the next one and a half weeks. Bushnell then went on a business trip to Chicago to demonstrate Pong to executives at Bally and Midway Manufacturing; he intended to use Pong to fulfill his contract with Bally, rather than the driving game. A few days later, the prototype began exhibiting complications and Gattis contacted Alcorn to fix it. Upon inspecting the machine, Alcorn discovered the mechanisms had jammed from an overflow of quarters.
After hearing about the game's success, Bushnell decided there would be more profit for Atari to manufacture the game rather than license it, but the interest of Bally and Midway had already been piqued. Bushnell decided to inform each of the two groups that the other was not interested—Bushnell told the Bally executives that the Midway executives did not want it and vice versa—to preserve the relationships for future dealings. Upon hearing this, the two groups declined Bushnell's offer. Bushnell had difficulty finding financial backing for Pong; banks viewed it as a variant of pinball, which at the time the general public associated with the Mafia. Atari eventually obtained a line of credit from Wells Fargo that it used to expand their facilities to house an assembly line. Management sought assembly workers at the local unemployment office, but was unable to keep up with demand. The first arcade cabinets produced 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. By 1973, they began shipping Pong to other countries with the aid of foreign partners.