Practice

This is the forth variation of the classic Pong game offered by the General Instruments widely used Pong-On-A-Chip. While the chip itself officially supports 6 games (technically 7, 2 being light gun games), most Pong clones based of these chips, indeed most Pong clones, only offered these standard four game – Tennis, Soccer, Squash, and Practice.

Practice is essentially a single player version of Squash, and the only single player game on these systems. It’s function is, exactly as it says on the tin, to allow the player to practice their volleys ready for two player challenges in one of the other three games. As in Squash the ball bounces off a now solid left hand wall and your goal is simply to return the volley 15 consecutive time.

You score for every volley you return and your score is reset when you miss a volley. Miss a total of 15 volleys and it’s game over.

As expected Practice is a mostly unexciting game but it does happily offer enough to get your eye in when friends are not abundant for a real match.

3/5

Squash

The third version of Pong for systems based around the General Instruments chip. Pretty much the same as the previous two, white on black, two bats and a ball. Analogue controllers move each players bat up and down. The difference with this variant being both bats are on the same, right hand, side of the screen.

The ball comes in from the right, from behind the bats, and bounces off a now solid wall on the left. Each player takes it in turn to return the volley and bounce the ball off the left side wall. If a player fails to return their shot then their opponent scores a point. As with all Pong games first to score 15 wins.

It’s not quiet as confusing as Soccer in keeping track of whose controlling which bats, but the two bats are close enough together that it’s not as simple as the basic Tennis game. There’s not really a whole lot that can be done with Pong and the two main variants aren’t really doing their job of giving variety in gameplay.

Just play Tennis, it’s a classic for a reason.

3/5

Soccer

Going into it I was expecting a better, more interesting, challenging experience from Soccer (aka Hockey) over the original Pong. The original was a take on Tennis – two bats and a ball. Soccer is for all intents and purposes the exact same game but each player gets a second bat that moves in time with the first, and the edge of the screen is narrowed into a more soccer like goal aperture.

The original bat now represents your goalkeeper and the new bat is in a forward position representing a striker. In theory it is now harder to score with the narrower goal area and you have chances for some more tactical play with the additional forward bat providing quicker volleys and angles on the ball.

Unfortunately all that really happens is added confusion. It can be hard in the moment to see which bat is yours, whose moving and hitting the ball. Alas it seems maybe a hint of colour for player differentiation might have helped.

3/5

Tennis

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.

5/5