There’s at least one older video game (Space War) and certainly a fair few older computer games (OXO and Nim simulations dating back to the 1950’s) but this, Pong, is widely considered the grandaddy of modern video gaming. The game itself has its roots in an early proto-home console released in 1972 called the Magnavox Odyssey and developed by Ralph Bear during the late 1960’s. The Tennis game on the Odyssey (not quite Pong) was seen by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell who later, as the story goes, described it to Atari engineer Al Alcorn as a learning project. Al’s resulting game, Pong, was considered so good it was released as Atari’s first official arcade cabinet in 1972.
Home versions of Pong have their roots around 1974 in popular electronics magazines giving circuit diagrams for make your own systems to circumvent Atari’s pricy arcade licensing. Following lawsuits between Magnavox and Atari, and the development of silicon chip technologies, the Pong craze exploded between 1975 and 1977 with thousands of companies get in on the act. Most of which were built around General Instruments AY-3-8500 series ‘Pong-on-a-chip’.
That’s the history, but what of the game. Well, it is, was, and remains a classic for a reason. It’s not so much it being the first but how it’s shear simplicity fully and perfectly encapsulates everything it is to be a video game. Every video game since, at it’s core, has been trying to dial into to that inherent gameplay addiction that was perfected here.
The game it self is a very rudimentary visualisation of Tennis. A player bat on either side of the screen and a (square) ball bouncing between them. Your task as a gamer is merely to return the shot and maintain the volley. Miss the ball and your opponent scores a point. First to 15 wins.
Ultimately, one you master the analogue movement of the controls (just up and down), get two good players together who can maintain a some good volleying and the result is still some of the best and most addictive gameplay you’re likely to experience anywhere. It’s just pure fun.