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Compendium: The Origins of Pong

The Origins of PongThe game that started it all, the entire industry built upon its legacy. Although there is a certain truth to that statement, Pong was not the first of its kind like so many would believe. The foundation of the video game industry had been laid down years before with games such as Spacewar!Pong was more the catalyst that fuelled the rapid expansion of the industry from its release to the modern day, with the current state of the industry growing at an unprecedented rate. It was the first video game to reach a widespread audience and not just limited to educational institutes or a small number of dedicated arcades. Pong and its creators Atari that at the time where headed up by Nolan Bushnell, lead the way with video game innovation for the next decade. Bushnell and his colleague Ted Dabney formed Atari after the two had completed Computer Space. They had planned to make a sequel with the game manufactures Nutting Associates, however a disagreement over ownership lead to Bushnell moving on and establishing Atari. The company was solely formed to design and produce video games which was unique at a time when there was no real video game industry to speak off. Bushnell hired Alan Alcorn to get to work on the first game for the company, since Alcorn was a computer scientist with no experience making video game he was given a project that was seen as a warm up exercise. Bushnell fabricated a report that General Electric had commissioned a simple table tennis game with a moving dot and paddles. Alcorn soon had a prototype ready which featured far more complex gameplay then Bushnell and Dabney had been expecting.

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“What started as training exercise for a new employee turn out to be one of the most influential games in the industry”

The game included ball acceleration the longer a rally lasted and variable angles of return shots depending on where the ball hit the paddle. Sounds where generated using the digital circuit sync generator, with a black and white TV set to display the visuals. Spurred on by the quality of Alcorn’s work they attempted to market the game and in September of 1972 a Pong prototype cabinet was installed at a local bar, it was an instant success with the bars customers. On a business trip to Chicago Bushnell decided to pitch Pong to both Bally Manufacturing Corporation and Midway Manufacturing, Atari had a deal with Bally for a driving game and Bushnell offered Pong as fulfilment of the contract. However on hearing of the prototypes success Bushnell decided it would be better for Atari to produce the game themselves rather than licence it to another. In order to save face with Bally and Midway Bushnell informed both parties that the other wasn’t interested in investing, which lead to Bally and Midway declining Bushnell’s offer. Atari where soon in mass production of Pong machines after receiving financing from the bank and boosting up its employee numbers. The games release was announced on 29th of November and by the following year the game was already being shipped to other countries around the world. Atari vision soon went beyond the arcade and it dominance of the video game market would be complete with the development of a home version of the arcade game.

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