Atari Pong Development Challenge Diary #3: On The Shoulders Of Giants

By Steve Fulton

We spent the last day of our short trip to Yosemite visiting the Mariposa Grove, an expansive area with a collection of giant Sequoia trees in the southern part of the National park.  As we walked through the grove, crunching through the spring snow in our water-proof hiking shoes, my mind was far away from programming, games, or the Atari Pong Development Challenge.

Mariposa Grove is an odd sort of Redwood forest.  Unlike the overwhelming expanse of giant trees in Sequoia National Park, Redwood National Park, or even the Santa Cruz mountains, the the giant trees of Yosemite are sparse and hard to find.   The long hiking paths meander through the trees as a way of locating the remaining spectacles, which are few and far between.  When you see a giant tree, it stands out against other trees in the forest forming  a striking figure.     Since logging was a huge business in the area in the 1800’s, it was apparent that few remaining giant redwoods in the grove were saved when the National Park was formed.    My mind wandered back to imagine just what the grove might have looked like if every tree was giant.   What a magnificent scene that would have made.

When we reached the Grizzly Tree, one of the few true giants in the grove a thought struck me.    The few remaining giant trees reminded me of the  my heroes, the giants of the early video game industry:  Alcorn, Baer, Bushnell, Crane, Crawford, Fulop, Harris, Jarvis, Logg,  and Robinett  just to name a few.   The industry they built was clear-cut in 80’s and decimated…yet they still remain, standing tall, scattered among the multitudes and throngs of upstart game designers and developers that arrived in their wake.

I’m one of those upstarts.  Not at all famous, and not nearly as accomplished as I’d like to imagine, but inspired by the giant veterans of the video game world  to try to accomplish great things.  For me, the Atari Pong Game Development Challenge comes down to just this: standing on the shoulders of giants and building on what came before to make something new.  The game of Pong might need to be “re-imagined” for a 21st Century audience, but I can’t forget what made it great in the first place.    There was a simple elegance to the instructions that were pasted to the first Pong machines that read:  “avoid missing ball for high score.”     Those words, and the idea that inspired them, are what made Pong a  game great, and in turn, what made video games into a phenomenon that still exists today.     They will guide me as I work to finish my prototype.



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