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Pong Game from Atari – Nolan Bushnell – 1972 AD

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Allan Alcorn (b. 1948), Nolan Bushnell (b. 1943)

“In the late 1960s the idea of putting a computer into an arcade hall to make money was still quite novel. Nolan Bushnell, a huge fan of the highly influential Spacewar! game, had tried it with Computer Space — generally accepted as the first coin-operated video game. While Computer Space never achieved commercial success, Bushnell’s next attempt — Pong — would be the first product from Atari, a new company he cofounded with Ted Dabney (1937–2018).

Pong is often referred to as the game that helped launch the video game industry, bringing into focus a new kind of entertainment that would revolutionize electronic “play” and drive advancements in other fields, including AI, which benefited from the innovations in computer graphics technologies that run modern games.

As legend goes, Bushnell wanted to create a game that was blazingly simple to understand by anyone. He was familiar with the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home console game, and its version of table tennis. However that influenced his thinking (which resulted in a series of protracted lawsuits), he asked new employee, Allan Alcorn, to design an arcade version with similar game mechanics. Alcorn figured out that he could build such a game purely with digital circuitry—no programming involved. He took a black-and-white television set and placed it inside a wooden cabinet, soldering the circuiting to boards as needed. It was good enough to develop a prototype and test out, so Bushnell and Dabney installed a coin collector in the case and charged 25 cents per game. It was “launched” in 1972 in Andy Capp’s Tavern in Silicon Valley as a test run.

The game consisted of a screen interface divided in half as two sides of a playing court. On either side were two vertical sticks or paddles that players moved up and down as a ball bounced between the sides of the screen. Scores increased each time a player’s opponent failed to volley the ball back to the opposing player. The game was an instant hit. Two weeks later, the bar’s owner called up and told the engineers to come and fix their contraption: nobody could play it anymore, because the coin box was jammed with quarters.”

SEE ALSO: PDP-1 (1959), Spacewar! (1962)

The Pong arcade game and coin box placed in Andy Capp’s Tavern in Silicon Valley in 1972. Each player controls their paddle by turning the respective knob.

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