From Paddles To Controllers – My Tribute To Pong… - subsaint Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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From Paddles To Controllers – My Tribute To Pong…

This is an important day in the world of video games as it marks the day Atari announced the release of Pong, the grandfather of all video games and a game that many consider to be the first real video game. Sure, there was a similarly themed game played on an oscilloscope called Tennis for Two developed by one of the pioneers of the video game industry, the late William Higinbotham...a game that released over a decade prior to the actual release of Pong. But just like the Wright brothers are often credited with developing the first airplane and Alexander Graham Bell is often credited with developing the first telephone, Pong often wins the title as the first video game.

The Computer History Museum cites that on November 29th, 1972 Atari announced the release of Pong.

I'm not a historian by any stretch of the imagination, but I do find I am fascinated by video game history, and the storybooks chronicling the Pong narrative weave a fascinating tale full of fame, fortune and fallout. I'm not about to summarize the riveting story here; there are plenty of published books on the subject that are far more interesting, factual and relevant than my little blog.

Trivia: Did you know the man credited with designing and building the original Pong was Allan Alcorn, a former Atari engineer who was also involved with work on the Atari 2600.

Even though I'm not going to cut and paste excerpts from these sources, I would like to share one of my favorite accounts of Pong's rise to stardom. As the story goes, a Pong cabinet was wheeled into a popular drinking establish to test out its reception and popularity by the barroom patrons. Within days there were reports the machine was having problems and when the techs came out to troubleshoot the machine they discovered the coin assembly was jammed due to an overflow of quarters. But, depending on the stories you read, this was all just a ploy by the owners (Atari) of the machine to help promote its success as a lucrative appliance to have on hand to further empty the pockets of paying customers - they (Atari) were the ones who overflowed the quarter reservoir, not the customers. Whether this is true or not, who can say, but it makes for a great story. The game would go on to make quite a few quarters in its time.

If Mario is considered the most recognizable video game character, Pong has to be the most recognizable video game or at least ranks right up there with Pac Man and Tetris. Its fingerprints are all over pop culture and is featured in movies, TV shows (including commercials) and even other video games. It has a healthy selection of Pong related merchandise including one of my personal favorites available from Think Geek - the Animated Retro Table Tennis Shirt. Check it out here. You can even get a Pong game for your mobile device. Read about it in Ben Reeve's news story here.

(It's actually an animated shirt)

In the 90s and for the longest time after that, we used to hear all First Person Shooters (FPS) released after Doom referred to as Doom clones, but if ever there was a game that was emulated, it was Pong. The saga about the Pong clones is part of what contributes to its colorful history and on a personal level it's because of a Pong clone that I am quite possibly the gamer I am today.

Trivia: Did you know that the paddles from Pong made an appearance in the recently released Wreck It Ralph movie?


Not bad for a game that is forty years old, a game that was created before many of you (and quite possibly some of your parents) were even born and for a game that some of you have probably never even played and might look at now and wonder what's so special about it.

So, if I'm not going to summarize the cradle to grave legacy of Pong and since I've already paid my respects to the game, what else is left to talk about?

I guess nothing.

The end.

No wait, I'm only kidding. Maybe you noticed above where I credit Pong to kickstarting my journey towards the darkside of being a gamer. I suppose by sharing this story, I'm aging myself a little bit too. Meh, most of you know that I'm older. I might have been alive when Pong was released, but if I was, I certainly wasn't old enough to hold a controller and play the game. That would come a few years later and it would be on one of these Pong clones I speak of.

For the longest time and after a few half hearted attempts at identifying a particular gaming system, with the research I've done for this blog I have finally made an important discovery. This is a significant breakthrough because it answers the one or two questions many of us at some point in our gaming career are asked:

What was the first video game you have ever played?

And

What was your first console?

Since I couldn't recall the system with absolute certainty, I often just answered something like Combat on the Atari 2600 or Telengard on the Commodore 64. But now...now I can confidently change my reply and state the answer to these two questions as...

The first game I ever played was a Pong clone on the Radio Shack TV Scoreboard.


Yes, the Radio Shack TV Scoreboard was my first system.

(The funny thing is I've heard of this system, but until I saw a picture of it I didn't know they were one in the same)

The details about this archaic system are rather sketchy. The Wikipedia entry for it is one of the shortest I've ever seen for a console...devoid of technical specifications and release information. But it does list the manufacturing dates as the mid 70s to mid 80s, which certainly checks with when I would have had it. I can't say for certain exact dates and times, but I recall a major event in my life occurring in 1984 (I was in hospital for an extended period of time) that I use as a marker of sorts...and I seem to recall playing the system prior to this event. Since I was playing Commodore 64 (released 1982) and the Atari 2600 (1980'ish), I'm guessing I would've played it somewhere from 1980 to 1982.

Just as sketchy are my details of actually playing it, but I do have one vivid memory.

When I discovered we, or should I say when I discovered my parents owned this console (for lack of a better term)...it wasn't actually being used or even in plain sight. My older brother and I discovered this strange device buried away in the hall closet, and after a little effort we managed to excavate it from the musty smelling photo albums and boxes of who knows what. With a little persuasion (whining) we convinced our parents to let us hook it up to the TV. At first they agreed and I remember despite my fascination with guns, I didn't really play the clay pigeon shooting game...but man oh man, my brother and I played the heck out of some Pong (or a clone of Pong). Well, that only lasted a few days before my parents got tired of the eye sore (which is why I'm guessing we found the system buried in the closet) associated with all of the wires strewn about. Since the TV was so large, the console sat on the floor in front of the TV...and I just remember my parents weren't very fond of that arrangement (to put it mildly). Then again, I'm sure we didn't wind up the controller cords and leave everything looking presentable either.

So, our Radio Shack TV Scoreboard system was banished back to the confines of the closet. I remember sitting in the closet and playing with the buttons on the front of the console...imagining they were the controls to a spaceship or some other high tech piece of fancy equipment. I mean just look at it - how could you not make that correlation? I also remember imagining the gun controller was real and how I was John Marston. Okay, maybe not the real John Marston, but my 80s version of him. I remember thinking if we weren't going to ever plug this system in again, how I would like to cut the cord and keep that gun to play with. Oh, the mind of a child. I don't know if I ever did, but I can only imagine what my parents would've thought upon discovering I hacked the cord up had I really done it.

And then the coolest thing happened (and perhaps my first exposure to what it means to rebel against your parents). One day my parents were both gone and it was just me and my brother. Too young to be on our own, but hey...this was the 80s. It happened. My brother dug the Radio Shack TV Scoreboard out of the closet, with all his might pulled the monstrosity of a TV away from the wall far enough to get to the connectors, hooked it up to the TV and we played it...despite having been given specific instructions not to mess with it. We played it for a little while and before my parents came home, it was tucked away again as if it were never touched.

This went on a time or two (or dozen) until eventually life happens (parents were divorced - we lived with mom and occasionally saw dad) and the Radio Shack TV Scoreboard disappeared only to be replaced with bigger, better and shiner toys - the Commodore 64 and Atari 2600.

Now that my mystery has been solved and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt my first video game was a Pong clone on the Radio Shack TV Scoreboard, the only other question I have is...does my dad who is notorious for being a purveyor of rare elixirs and fine flasks (or hoarder, depending on your definition) still have this item buried away in the attic somewhere?

Oh, daaad...

 

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