On November 29th, 1972, one of the most iconic video games was born. That’s right; we’re definitely talking about Pong. It’s that little virtual table-tennis game that just so happened to plant the seed for what was later to become modern platform gaming. It’s also that same simplistic game that managed to inspire countless artists to go forth and implement their own ideas for the world to enjoy.
Atari manufactured the very first Pong title 47 years ago today. That’s sort of hard to believe, but it’s actually true. And, you might just be surprised to know that it was never originally intended to be a full video game for the public eye. Pong, was, in fact, a training exercise created by Allan Alcorn shortly after being hired by Atari. That pretty much means that the game was created as a test project to see if Alcorn was capable of working for the developer.
Allan Alcorn, who created Pong, never actually worked on video games before. However, despite his shortcomings in the gaming field, his impressive catalog of knowledge in computer science managed to attract Atari’s attention. From there, Alcorn was assigned with the task of creating a simplistic tennis game that featured two paddles, one ball, and a static scoreboard.
Alcorn intended to take the base idea handed to him by Atari and expand on it with his own influx of ideas. With that, Pong went under the hammer and disappeared briefly while Alcorn made the relevant tweaks that would later become the Pong that yesterdays generation will fondly remember.
Alcorn felt that the original structure of the game lacked character and insisted on implementing various things before revealing it to the public. So, with a few more grueling weeks of tweaking, Alcorn managed to insert features that would later change the face of gaming history. For example, the final version of Pong featured sound effects, an accelerated ball, tougher angles for the player to reach, and much more that was never originally scripted by Atari.
Three months into development, Alcorn built the prototype for Pong. And, while it wasn’t exactly pretty – it was still charming in its own unique sort of way. With a four foot large orange cabinet, a $75 Hitachi television set, and a whole bunch of circuit boards encased within; Pong was ready to craft and release for testing.
The original prototype was placed in the local bar, Andy Capp’s Tavern, in August 1972. This was a bar that Atari already had a strong connection with regards to promoting the Atari brand. So, with Pong being introduced as a taster for future marketing, Andy Capp’s Tavern took in the prototype and set it up beside a jukebox, a pinball machine, and a second game titled ‘Computer Space.’
After ten days, Pong became a massive hit with the locals. By the second week’s end, the prototype began to encounter problems due to the overflow of quarters being launched into the machine. Because of this, Atari looked to full-throttle the Pong universe and push the game into further development.
Atari founder, Nolan Bushnell, initially struggled to locate the financial partnership in order to streamline Pong. But, this was mainly because of banks and associates assuming Pong was nothing more than a failed attempt at replicating the pinball machine. However, after several weeks of seeking a desperate route, Bushnell formed a partnership with Wells Fargo and received a line of credit in order to establish Pong as a global title.
By November 1972, Atari had acquired a wider factory and a line of assembly workers from the local unemployment office. From there, an estimated ten machines were built a day ready for the public release.
On November 29th, 1972, Pong was unveiled to the world. And, from there, the legacy was built, and the Pong name cemented itself in the very mountains of retro gaming.
Forty-seven years have passed since the original release of Pong, and you’ll likely still notice it pop up here or there even today. That’s sort of the beauty behind it. It’s a game that’ll most definitely never die and be forgotten about because it truly was, and still is, a gem within the gaming community.
Pong has had many, many remakes in almost fifty years. Heck, it’ll probably have plenty more in future years, too. Atari will forever cradle Pong even in the grave a hundred years from now. That’s something not many developers can proudly admit, even with the most remarkable teams onboard. But as for one guy and a basic concept – ambition formed history in 1972.
Today, we’ve not only got this classic title circulating in retro arcades – but we’ve also got it built into specialized coffee tables in our own homes, too. So, even as 4K dominates the current market with groundbreaking consoles, it’s still nice to know there’s still room for the classics even after half a century on the market. And, so long as generations grow up with awesome parents who still dig the classics, it’s doubtful Pong will ever kneel before the power of the elite consoles.
Half a century, eh? That’s quite the benchmark to set for the rest of these ambitious developers. So, let’s just see if anybody can top that and produce something just as memorable. In this day and age, building a legacy isn’t exactly a walk in the park. But, as Pong evidently proved – simplicity is more often than not the key to great success.
Here’s to another glorious 47 years, my friends.
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