by Ken Gagne
Have you been idly hanging around the arcades and Sears electronics department, waiting for video games to be invented? Are you a parent in need of a scapegoat for your child's violent behavior? Wait no more! Atari has created a new market for 1977 with the release of Pong, the world's first video game.
Since Pong is the first of its kind, it is recommended that the manual be read thoroughly before any attempt at gameplay is made. Doing otherwise may lead "gamers" to confusion or frustration.
The objective is to bounce a ball off a thin moving bar. The bar can be moved vertically through use of a "paddle," a knob allowing for analog movement in two directions. It is predicted that these will eventually be replaced by four-directional digital pads, but this writer thinks such visions are best left to Isaac Asimov and his robots.
Pong is a two-player game, meaning two people can play it together. As the ball bounces off one player's bar, it careens toward the other player's. This back-and-forth motion continues indefinitely until one player or the other fails to block the ball, in which case the other player earns a point. At what point the game ends remains to be seen. 24-hour testing continues to determine score limits, if any.
There's more to the game than the gameplay, of course. The graphics are simple, yet efficient. The ball, bar, and score meters are white, against a black background. Any other colors would only prove distracting, especially when such high level of concentration is required play effectively.
The soundtrack was initially planned to be provided by ABBA. However, the music eventually had to be cut when it would not fit into the game's two kilobits of memory. The original score is still available separately on eight-track, courtesy Sonapanic Records. Yet the action remains intense, goaded by the thrilling beeps and whistles.
Although Pong's level of complexity may deter some curious people, others will revel in its endless possibilities. The replay value is high, thanks to its acknowledgement of real-world physics — specifically, Newton's First Law: a body in motion tends to stay in motion. The ball never stops moving, so players can keep at it until the cows come home.
Atari should be applauded for this bold new innovation. The amazing technology of computers has been shrunk down from the size of a city block to a television, so that youngsters can enjoy the privacy of playing with their paddles.
There is little lacking from this first video game. Another dimension of gameplay could be added if the bars could move along all sides of the screen. And perhaps a final move to determine victory — for lack of a better word, I will call it a "fatality" — would raise the heat of competition. Let's hope that Atari considers thes features in the highly-anticipated sequel, Pong 2: Ping.
This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Tech News, 01-Apr-98