For anyone who doesn't know about the "Pong" craze from the '70s, it was literally a zeitgeist that sweeped the nation. The Christmas of 1975 made "Pong" a household name with the sale of the Sears/Atari home "Pong" consoles. These hooked into the television inputs, and play was done directly from the console itself by two or more players. Numerous versions of "Pong" were released from multiple distributors after that initial success. It was a true phenomenon that led Atari to develop what we now remember as the "Atari 2600".
Many old school gamers from the late '70s and early '80s believe with some sense of certainty that the first "Pong" was produced by Atari in 1975. Though the view is a popular one, those gamers are mistaken. The first ever home game version of "Pong" was demonstrated in 1972 by Magnavox at an expedition. Initially called "Ping-Pong", it was later called "Table Tennis" in the system Magnavox released as "Odyssey". The developer of what would be known as Atari's "Pong" attended that very expedition, and designed his game from that experience.
While this review is for that particular Odyssey game, you can't really review this game individually apart from a generic review of the console on which it ran, namely the original Magnavox Odyssey. The games for that system, the first EVER videogame console, are so tied to the system itself that it requires a review of the Odyssey system itself.The idea that eventually turned into the Odyssey started in the mind of a German immigrant named Ralph Baer in 1951 while working for a Television manufacturing company called "Loral". He posited the idea that the television had the potential not just for viewing entertainment programs, but also playing visual games. The executives quickly trashed the idea, but Baer never forgot it. In 1966, while working for Magnavox, he pitched the idea again and came up with a prototype that would be external from the television instead of built-in. Six years, and a lot of investment capital later, and Magnavox released the first ever videogame console -- the "Odyssey". This achievement established Ralph Baer as the father of the home videogame console.
The Odyssey system was pretty simple from a technical perspective. There was no CPU, so the system worked with only a number of transistors and diodes, whose switch settings would manipulate the behavior of dots on the TV screen. Games were not held on cartridges, but on cards which contained electrical circuits. These acted as toggles on the internal switch system. Inserting these cards (and thus their circuits) reconfigured the system's discreet internal logic. As you can imagine, this incredible limitation of functionality was used to make equally limited games. For instance, the Odyssey's graphics were EXTREMELY simple. The system was capable of drawing two large blocks, a small block, and a larger vertical line. These could be "programmed" by the game cards to act in a variety of ways, allowing more than one actual game. This game, "Table Tennis", would use the two larger blocks as "paddles", the small block as a ball, and the vertical line as the center net. Other games might only use one or both of the large blocks as lighting points for the screens, or even a character.
The backgrounds were available, but as semi-transparent TV-screen overlays in two sizes for two different sizes of television screens popular at the time of its creation. These would be used with the matching game to create that game's intended background. Sound effects are noticeably absent.The system had no concept of score keeping in the console itself. Instead, accessories came with the system's in-box games, and with those games which were sold separately.
Accessories would include score cards with stick on numbers, red, white, and black chips, play money, etc. Some games even came with gameboards. It was up to the gamers to keep their own score using these accessories. This gave some (though not all) of the games the distinct feeling of being little more than board games with a televised component.The handheld controller consisted of two turning dials on each edge, one moving vertical and one horizontal. The horizontal control also contained an extra dial, called the "English" control, which was used to control the direction of the ball on games which used one. For those of us who remember the Etch-A-Sketch, imagine if you could use an Etch-A-Sketch as a game controller. It was virtually impossible to make straight diagonal lines.
Controlling the shooting-type games was not as difficult as the regular controlled games. The shooting controller consisted of a light sensing rifle which could detect the difference between the black television screen and the lighted dots. Unfortunately, this light sensing rifle was not very distinquishing. Shooting at a light bulb would register success as easily as a lighted screen dot. Though this might seem to be an easy way to cheat for scores, again, the scores were manually calculated by the very gamer who was playing the game, so such cheating had no visual effect.
It's hard to judge a system like this. I mean, it was truly revolutionary, and is responsible for starting the domino effect of improvements that the gaming industry has made. Yes much much better games are made on much much better consoles today, but those who are making such games today are relying on the history of knowledge and technology that systems like the Odyssey, Atari, and all game systems since then have laid. Odyssey isn't just an important step in the evolution of home video games, it's the genesis of the entire industry.I judged the system with that history in mind, and took into account that my own tilt in favor of the system is very large.
My grandparents bought me an Odyssey for my birthday in 1974, when I had just turned three years old, and though I didn't start playing it until I was age five, and even then only at their home, I played it whenever I could find a willing participant all the way up until the early '80s, when I received an Atari 2600 as a replacement. Hence, for me personally, it was a system that had great lasting value, and I am definitely biased from being able to say that I was one one of the few people on earth to own and play the very first videogame console. However, I have to be honest about things like gameplay, graphics, etc. They were absolutely revolutionary for their time, but they are what they are, and I can't rate them as anything but the most basic. If they were any more basic, they would be "imagination".
The Odyssey system was virtually made for this "Table Tennis" game, and on most fronts it makes the grade. All other games available on this system are more or less simply laid on top of this game's graphics and functionality. The simple graphics are more than acceptible for a game as simple as this one and were in fact made primarily for this game. It was literally the only game on the console that did not require a screen overlay. Controls, while clunky for most games, fit this one perfectly. There is, again, a noticeable lack of sound effects and score keeping, but these absences don't hurt the experience too dramatically, as keeping manual score for a game like this was not burdensome, and sound effects were unnecessary to determine when hits or misses were made.
Despite the more advanced Atari clones which came later, this was most assuredly the game that began the home gaming frenzy. In fact, this is in some ways the most challenging of the ping-pong games of the '70s. Unlike other versions of "Pong", you could move the "paddles" left or right as well as up or down, presenting a more realistic "Table Tennis" experience. Another difference from other "Pong" implementations is the use of the "English" control to drive the direction of the ball. These added a certain skill requirement to the game that wasn't present in the later clones, and I have to admit that they were sorely missed.For those who require complete modernized gameplay and professional environments to really enjoy a game or gaming system, the Odyssey will not impress you.
This experience isn't as much for the old schoolers as it is for the ancient schoolers. For those of us who like to live in the past every now and then and remember what was, this system is perfect, acting both as a nostalgic reminder of our past, and a concrete icon of how this industry and hobby we all now know and love got its start. Once you get past the perks we all benefit from in modern gameplay, it can also be quite fun.
I mean, you forgot to mention the first REAL video tennis game made in the 50's by Ralph Hignbotham (I know that's spelled wrong), or Space Duel and Univac and Adventure Cave....and the Eygiptian abacus! Man those guys could make a decent F-1 racer using just stones with holes in them!
Lest you think I'm coming down hard on you, I LOVED your review, it's length didn't bother ME!.. but..er...I've heard gripings here that they may be a tad long. Ed it.
BTW, I'm a classic gamer but I couldn't see paying $300 for a working O1 console when Atari's VIDEO OLYMPICS/2600 has a Great pong, and a single player version for about 2 bucks!
[QUOTE=Alienblue]Nice tome, dude, you really go in-depth here....maybe a little teeny bit over your head?
I mean, you forgot to mention the first REAL video tennis game made in the 50's by Ralph Hignbotham (I know that's spelled wrong), or Space Duel and Univac and Adventure Cave....and the Eygiptian abacus! Man those guys could make a decent F-1 racer using just stones with holes in them! [/QUOTE]
I actually didn't need to mention games that were not created for home consoles or home play. After all, the subject was the "the world's first pong on the world's first video game console".
The Tennis game you are referring to was created using, if I remember correctly, a radar display. This actually looks and acts more like a tennis game than a pong game, because it's view is from the side rather than over the top, and returning the ball could be done at any point once it passed the net. It was created in 1958, and was certainly brilliant but it wasn't what we know as "Pong". Additionally, neither it nor the preceding Tic-Tac-Toe game created using a CPU on a light display, were home games. What we know as "Pong" from Atari was created from the experience of seeing the Odyssey's "Table Tennis" in action, not those preceding games.
Here's a good chronology for these things: http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blcomputer_videogames.htm
Here's a good listing for the first video tic-tac-toe game:
Here's a good listing for the first video tennis game:
As you can see, there is some dispute on whether the tic-tac-toe game is first, or the video tennis game. Given the chronology, I'd have to side with the tic-tac-toe game (called "OXO").
Have you ever asked yourself, though... WHY Tennis? WHY was tennis the first major home game instead of tic-tac-toe or a maze game? I mean tennins is not the most popular sport in the world, yet R.H., Baer and Atari's founder all bet on it. I'd say most people who played pong probably never played a REAL tennis or table tennis match! Just thinkin....
you ask why Tennis? Probably because it would be easier to program with addicting play, IMO.. much more
then 'tic tac toe' that can be done with a pencil and paper.
Or a dull football, or baseball game with hideous graphics and control. Tennis is easy to mimic with leaving many elements out including human beings. Well, to say Tennis is not as famous as other sports is pretty silly.
I think we all know Billy Jean King, Bobby Riggs.
Andre Agassi anyone?? Noone? ...
Back to you...PING!
[QUOTE=Adamant]As an owner of the Odyssey, would you mind explaining how the other games available for the system worked? I've seen pictures of the overlays, I've read brief descriptions, and I've even played a couple of them myself (without access to overlays, rulebooks, boardgames, scorecards, chips and whatnots, making it pretty much impossible to figure out what one is supposed to be doing), but I've never actually found anything explaining how these games are actually meant to be played.[/QUOTE]
I have been thinking about a good way to list these games and how they are played. I do plan to have mini-reviews on each of these games, but for now I don't have the time to do it in the time-frame needed to answer this post. One thing I can do however is put up a bunch of PDF files of the manuals. Here they are:
Mind you, I don't know the legalities of listing these. I got these from another site that warehouses video game manuals, but since that time I haven't been able to find that site. I originally intended just to point you there, but since it seems to have disappeared, I figured I'd just relist them. If someone complains, I'll be more than happy to remove them.
lol... Well, yeah Skiing and a race game would be an interesting first game. Skiing might suffer from extreme primitive design though. This is a bit different from the
"Maze, Tic-tac-Toe" ideas,so ... there's no urge for
me to question these next ideas. I can still say that PingPong/Tennis is popular enough for a first game,
most people know about it even if they haven't played it.
And, Skiing and Racing are somewhat less done then
the average number that play a simple game of
Tennis or Pong.