Friday, October 20, 2006

Pong TV Game - History

The paleolithic ‘pong’
in the beginning, there was nothing. well, actually, there was
pinball, some shooting gallery games, a few nickel peep-show
machines and those mechanical genies that would guess your
weight and give a glimpse of your future. but it was probably
pretty hard trying to beat your buddies at who weighs less.
(there was bell, there was edison, there was fermi. and then there was higinbotham)

'tennis for two' on an oscilloscope
working at brookhaven national laboratory, a us nuclear research
lab in upton, new york, william a. higinbotham, a chain-smoking,
fun-loving character and self-confessed pinball player, wants to
develop an open house exhibit at bnl that will entertain people as
they learn. his idea is to use a small analog computer in the lab to
graph and display the trajectory of a moving ball on an oscilloscope,
with which users can interact.
missile trajectory plotting is one of the specialties of computers at
this time, the other being cryptography.
along with technical specialist robert v. dvorak who actually
assembles the device, to create in three weeks the game system they
name tennis for two, and it debuts with other exhibits in the
brookhaven gymnasium at the next open house in october 1958.
in the rudimentary side-view tennis game, the ball bounces off a long
horizontal line at the bottom of the oscilloscope, and there is a small
vertical line in the centre to represent the net.
the game was simple, but fun to play, and its charm was infectious.
brookhaven national laboratory -
tribute to william higinbotham, inventor of 'pong' -

at MIT circa 1961 there's a group of hard core computer nerds calling
themselves the tech model railroad club : wayne witanen and j. martin graetz,
along with 25 year-old steve russell, they develop the idea to pit two spaceships
with limited fuel supplies against each other in a missle duel. the program
becomes 'spacewar !', the world's first fully interactive videogame, with russell
as main programmer (1962).
two spaceships called the wedge and the needle, according to their shapes, are
rendered in rough outlined graphics. it causes a sensation at MIT's annual
science open house, and a scoring system must be introduced to limit people's time
at the control switches used to play. it is such a huge hit with the computer
community that copies are quickly spread around to other educational facilities in
the u.s. across the then burgeoning internet precursor ARPAnet.
and once again, just like willy higinbotham, russell doesn't seek to copyright or
patent his work. most likely because the system 'spacewar !' is running on is the
size of a refrigerator and costs us$120,000. due to its public domain status, the
game will end up being one of the most copied concepts in videogame history.
'spacewar !' ?

who really invented the videogame ?
in 1949, a young engineer named ralph baer, was given an assignment
to build a television set.
in 1966 with the help of bob tremblay and bob solomon they are
ready to demonstrate a system that allows spots to be moved around
on a tv screen. in january of 1967 baer puts technician bill harrison
to work to build the first multi-game unit. it plays 'chase' games, has a
'light gun' and a variety of other simple games. they call the system the
‘home tv game’. in early 1968 baer files for the first videogame patent,
and by the end of that year they again demonstrate the system,
capable of switching between ping-pong, volleyball, handball, hockey
and even several shooting games to be used with a newly designed
during many years of litigation defending his patent, baer learns of
higinbotham's creation, and he describes it as a simple, oscilloscope-
based ballistics demonstration.
unfortunately, the man at the centre of this controversy cannot speak for
himself: william higinbotham, owner of 20 patents concerning electronic
circuits, passes away on november 10, 1995, at the age of 84.
after further developing the system was released as the first ever
commercially available home videogame to magnavox dealers as the
‘odyssey’ in may of 1972.
the graphics are so rudimentary that the system comes with a set of two
sizes of colour mylar overlays to put on the television screen to represent
the various playfields, including tennis and hockey.

the arcade
in the footsteps of pioneers william higinbotham, ralph baer and steve russel
nolan bushnell, the zeus of the videogame industry, is about to create an
entire entertainment industry, which in a few short years will eclipse even the
80 year old movie business.
at 19 years old, he becomes convinced of the commercial viability of a videogame
like 'spacewar', if only the system that ran it could be scaled down from university
mainframes and into a more reasonably compact version. he begins an eight year
odyssey to do just that: produce an arcade version of 'spacewar'.
1971 bushnell leaves ampex to work on the computer space game full time and
when he finally completes it that year he finds a buyer in nutting associates,
a manufacturer of coin-op trivia games. 1,500 of the units are built, with a futuristic
design and fiberglass cabinet, but the game does not sell well.
bushnell comes to the conclusion that the procedures of using various buttons for
the thrusting and rotating of the ships are just too complicated for half-pissed bar
patrons to comprehend. he becomes convinced that any successful video arcade
game has to be extremely easy to understand from the get-go.
at least the futuristic fibreglass cabinet is a hit...

'pong' released
bushnell, cofounder of atari in 1972 (a term from the japanese game go, whose
meaning is equivalent to "check" in chess.) bushnell hires al alcorn to program
since alcorn is inexperienced, bushnell has him program a simple video tennis
game as an exercise. they call the game 'pong', for two reasons:
1) 'pong' is the sound the game makes when the ball hits a paddle or side of the
screen, and
2) the name 'ping-pong' is already copyrighted. 'pong' is but a polished variant
of the game willie higinbotham displayed on his oscilloscope.

ROM chips
now the arcade is about to get a whole lot more crowded, between 1971 and 1973,
30 videogames are produced for the arcade by 11 manufacturers.
in 1974 the company kee games, headed by joe keenan releases 'tank',
designed by scott bristow. gameplay consists of two tanks facing off in a maze,
while trying to avoid land mines scattered about. the game breaks new technical
ground by incorporating ROM chips to hold graphics memory, enabling it to display
more complicated detail on-screen than the simple blocks of 'pong'.
'tank' becomes the biggest hit of 1974, kee and atari 'merge' back into
one company.

'pong' is a tv based game
in 1974 atari employees bob brown and harold lee propose a home version of 'pong',
able to be hooked up to any tv set. retailers are skittish over the short life of magnavox's
tv-based 'odyssey' game and the system languishes in the atari labs.
in 1975 they cut a deal to sell the system under the sears tele-games label.
the order is for 150,000 units. bushnell has nowhere near the facilities to produce that
many in the time sears wants them, so he taps a venture capitalist for a $10 million
line-of-credit to expand. by christmas, atari's US$100 home 'pong' console becomes sears
biggest selling item, with reports of people waiting outside stores for hours to get one.
and once again dozens of manufacturers swarm out with myriad versions of home 'pong'
games. almost all of these machines are based on the new 'pong-on-a-chip' circuit
developed by general instruments.


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