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Video Game / Pong

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The Grandpappy of Video Games.

"Avoid missing ball for high score."
— The complete directions for the original arcade game.

Pong is a 1972 video game, the first one released by Atari. You control a paddle that goes along one line — in the classic version, up and down. Your opponent has another paddle. You bounce a square ball against the paddle. If your opponent misses, you get a point. If you miss, your opponent gets a point. First to reach 21 wins.

Can be played PvP or against a computer AI (the original arcade machine, however, was PvP only).

In more detail: Pong, developed by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, is one of the oldest video games. Simple and intuitive, it came from Bushnell wanting to create the easiest game he could think of after the commercial failure of his previous arcade effort, Computer Space, which required reading a full page of instructions. It dates from 1972, making it Older Than the NES. The company that was founded to publish it, Atari, became synonymous with video games for years afterwards. It was also packed with many first-generation consoles, and Atari made a separate console that only played the game.

Pong is often thought of as "the first video game ever", but this is untrue — for one, the Magnavox Odyssey debuted earlier in 1972 (and had been in development since 1968). Not to mention Computer Space, also created by Bushnell, debuted a year earlier. Before that, it gets pretty complicated and still challenged due to varying opinions of what constitutes a Video Game — the very first is either Spacewar! (1962), Tennis for Two (1958), OXO (1952), Draughts (also 1952), or the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device (1947). What is true, though, is that Pong is the first video game to be put in mass market, as opposed to earlier attempts which were more like scientific experiments on computational power. It was probably the first video game to actually be called a "video game" in its time, and therefore it can claim to be the first video game in a semantic sense, if not a literal one.

The plug and play at home version of the game is notable for laying the ground work for what would go on to be the Atari 2600.

Received an official sequel by the name of Pong: The Next Level for the PC and original Playstation with 20 stages, each containing three variations, adding 3D graphics, environmental hazards, and power-ups to the gameplay. It features a one-player adventure mode and multiplayer for up to 4 players. Naturally, it has the original game as an Embedded Precursor. Another sequel, titled Pong Quest released in 2020. It adds a plot, unlockable costumes and modernized gameplay.

Everything aside, Pong was the first game to be successful enough for people outside the (then extremely small) geek culture to know about its existence. And for those of you wondering, the Atari logo is two people playing tennis, a reference to their flagship game.

There were other variations that came along later, such as a hockey/soccer variety with multiple paddles per side.

The original Pong arcade game provides examples of:

  • Compilation Re-release: Video Olympics for the Atari 2600 is the oldest example in video game history, being one of the 2600's nine launch titles in 1977. It includes Pong, Super Pong, Pong Doubles, and Quadrapong, along with a few other of Atari's early arcade games.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: There is nothing here even resembling a plot, but the game still got wildly popular due to it being the first of its kind. Though this hasn't stopped a few devoted fans from making their own Pong fanfiction.
  • One-Word Title: As it's similar to ping-pong. Also named for an onomatopoeia of one of the sound effects in the game.
  • Pinball Projectile: The ball can bounce off walls to make its trajectory a little harder for your opponent to track.
  • Player Versus Player: The first iteration was exclusively PVP. Later versions allowed one player to face off against the computer.
  • Product Facelift: Magnavox made a bunch of their own variations of Pong consoles, such as the Magnavox Odyssey 4000.
    • In Japan only, the Color TV Game 6, another Pong clone, was the first game console ever made by Nintendo. The Color TV Game series was the best-selling home video game hardware in the entire world in the 1970s, foreshadowing Nintendo's dominance in the Japanese and North American video game markets in the 1980s and early 1990s.
  • Rule of Perception: A loud droning noise plays whenever you score in Pong to give the player a sign beyond the minimalist graphics that the score had changed.
  • Scoring Points: Again, one of the earliest examples in video game history, with the scores being displayed at the top of the screen. You get one point every time the ball touches the side of the screen opposite your paddle. Get 11 points and you win.
  • Story to Gameplay Ratio: Possibly the lowest out of any game ever made.
  • Top-Down View: Pong is basically top-view tennis.

The 1998 sequel Pong: The Next Level contains examples of:

  • Artificial Stupidity: Lampshaded on the third fishing stage difficulty, where the fish outright swim straight for the edge where the shark hangs out. The difficulty title points out the fact that the fish are outright being dumb on this stage.
  • Blackout Basement: The third and final variant of "Beach Party" leaves only a small spotlight around the ball visible.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The AI in this game is inexplicably extremely good at redirecting the trajectory of the balls to go right for the powerups they want, even though the game doesn't provide anywhere near enough dexterity for a human player to be able to easily do it.
  • Embedded Precursor: The reward for finishing all levels of a single difficulty is one of three classic Pong stages, based on the original game, soccer/football, and hockey.
  • Fishing Minigame: Yes, really. There's a fishing level in a Pong game. It has just about as much connection to the source material as you think.
  • Gameplay Roulette: A lot of levels bear little resemblance to Pong at all, ending the connection at using a ball and a paddle.
  • Jungle Japes: Two levels take place in a jungle, with one level even bearing this exact name.
  • No Plot? No Problem!: There's no story to the game at all, which is fairly reasonable considering, well, it's a game about balls and paddles. You don't exactly need a whole lot of lore for that. note 
  • Poison Mushroom: A skull powerup item usually tends to be punishing to both players.
  • Slippy-Slidey Ice World: The main gimmick of the second difficulty of "Beach Party".
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: As if the game already wasn't enough of a Gameplay Roulette, the one stage that provides almost no connection whatsoever to the original concept would have to be the Fishing Minigame. Yes, really. There's a fishing level in a Pong game. In addition, Frog Follies also effectively foregoes the whole concept of Pong by being more of a labyrinth type game where you roll a ball through a maze.
  • Video Game 3D Leap: This game takes place in full 3D, though the gameplay remains unchanged.

Alternative Title(s): Pong The Next Level