Little Bits of History

Video Games

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 29, 2014
Pong

Pong

November 29, 1972: Atari announces their new game – Pong. One of the earliest arcade video games, it was the first successful venture into this new market. It is a tennis sports game and is played using simple two-dimensional graphics. Other games hit the market prior to Pong’s release, but this was the first mainstream game to make it big. Allan Alcorn created Pong as a training exercise for Atari Incorporated. The game was based on an electronic ping-pong game included in the Magnavox Odyssey. This would later result in a lawsuit. The lawsuit wasn’t filed immediately but eventually Sanders, Associates prevailed and Atari decided to settle with Magnavox and Sanders out of court.

Atari had hoped to develop more games and license them to other companies. They hired Alcorn who had no experience with video games and gave him the task of developing something. He produced Pong. Alcorn had looked over schematics for Computer Space, but found them impossible and so he created his own game. He based his design on knowledge of transistor-transistor logic but felt the game was too boring. He divided the paddle into eight segments with each returning the ball at a different angle. The ball also accelerated the longer it was in play and the paddles were limited to which part of the screen they could traverse.

Three months into development, Bushnell told Alcorn to add realistic sound effects and the roaring of a crowd. Dabney, company-owner of Atari, wanted boos and hisses to emit from the machine after a missed ball, but the space available did not allow for this. A new method was devised and the different sounds were added. Alcorn purchased a $74 Hitachi black-and-white TV set from a local store and put it into a 4-foot wooden cabinet. He added the necessary circuitry and presented his prototype. In August 1972, Bushnell and Alcorn put a prototype game into a local bar, Andy Capp’s Tavern. They picked the spot because they had a good relationship with Bill Gattis, the manager, since they provided the bar’s pinball machines.

The game was played the first night and continued to have players amused for the next ten days. After that time, the game showed some problems and Alcorn went on site to fix it. The problem was that the coin mechanism was overflowing with quarters. Since the game was such a local success, Bushnell announced on this day, that it was available. They found a manufacturer and shipping began soon after with international sales coming in 1973. The game was such a success in arcades and bars, that a home version was made. It was first rejected as too expensive. Marketing kept trying and finally the Sears Sporting Goods department helped get the game into private homes in 1975.

Some of the best projects to ever come out of Atari or Chuck E. Cheese’s were from high school dropouts, college dropouts. One guy had been in jail.

I had an awful lot of my soul invested in Atari culture.

We had some really powerful technology – Atari always was a technology-driven company, and we were very keen on keeping the technological edge on everything. There’s a whole bunch of things that we innovated. We made the first computer that did stamps or sprites, we did screen-mapping for the very first time, and a lot of stuff like that.

Selling Atari when I did – I think that’s my biggest regret. And I probably should have gotten back heavily into the games business in the late Eighties. But I was operating under this theory at the time that the way to have an interesting life was to reinvent yourself every five or six years. – all from Nolan Bushnell

Also on this day: Warren Commission formed – In 1963 the Warren Commission was formed to investigate President Kennedy’s assassination.
Phonetic – In 1877, Thomas Edison demonstrated his phonograph.
Zong – In 1781, the Zong Massacre took place.
Going South – In 1929, the first fly-over of the South Pole occurred.

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