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Feature: 'The History Of Pong: Avoid Missing Game to Start Industry'

Feature: 'The History Of Pong: Avoid Missing Game to Start Industry' Exclusive

January 9, 2009 | By Staff

January 9, 2009 | By Staff
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More: Console/PC, Exclusive

In the first in a series of Gamasutra-exclusive bonus material originally to be included in Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton's forthcoming book Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time, the duo presents a history of Pong, the game that jumpstarted the game business, and some of the innovations it inspired.

Recapping the events that lead up to Pong's debut in 1972, Logudice and Barton note that the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), a device financed by the U.S. Army and intended to calculate artillery firing tables, was the first comprehensive reprogrammable digital computer, introduced in 1946:

"Conceived and designed by John Mauchly and John Eckert, the room-sized ENIAC influenced the development of later increasingly smaller and more powerful computers from a variety of commercial companies, beginning the slow transition from centuries-old mechanical and analog paradigms to fully digital device ...

Despite the size and cost restrictions that limited these computing systems to government and large institutions such as universities, games found their way onto even the earliest mainframes, starting the ongoing trend of implementing video games wherever a viable platform presented itself.

The first known instance of an actual implementation was Alexander Douglas's 1952 creation of OXO (also known as Naughts and Crosses), a simple graphical single-player-versus-the-computer tic-tac-toe game on the EDSAC mainframe at the University of Cambridge. Although more proof of a concept than a compelling gameplay experience, OXO nevertheless set the precedent of using a computer to play games."

Logudice and Barton also remark that Pong was far from the first video game based on "pinging" a ball back and forth across a screen, nor was Ralph Baer's paddle-and-ball game on the Odyssey Home Entertainment System:

"The first known precursor of Pong debuted in 1958 on a visitors' day at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. It was there that William Higinbotham and Robert Dvorak demonstrated Tennis for Two, a small analog computer game that used an oscilloscope for its display.

Tennis for Two rendered a moving ball that was affected by gravity (the first known use of physics[1] in a game) in a simplified side view of a tennis court. Each player could rotate a knob to change the angle of the ball, and the press of a button sent the ball toward the opposite side of the court.

As with OXO, few people got to experience Tennis for Two, but in many ways it can be considered the first dedicated video game system. Without the benefit of hindsight, this milestone was even lost on the game's creators, who, after a second visitors' day one year later, disassembled the machine's components for use in other projects."

You can read the full feature, which includes more details on Pong's history and the innovations it inspired (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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