One day, back in 1978 my dad came home with this:
A Radio Shack, TV Scoreboard console. We had been begging my dad to let us play the Atari 2600 console in the TV department at Fedmart on every visit, so he knew we liked video games. However my dad, a notorious cheapskate, was not about to plunk down $169.99 on anything. $19.99 price-point of the TV Scoreboard was more his speed. However, even $19.99 was probably too much. i’m sure this came from the dirt-cheap bargain bin from Radio Shack.
At first, my 8 year old twin brother brother and I were really excited. The idea of having a video game of my own to play was enough to rocket me out of bed in the morning and into the living room to try it out.
Of course, this taught me my first lesson about video games. If no one else was awake, there was no one to play with. The TV Scoreboard had a “Squash” option that let a single player hit a ball against the wall, but I never found that game very interesting. I wanted to play “pong”, and if no one was around, no dice.
When my brother was awake, and we actually played the unit, the second major issue reared its’ head: sound. Like most dedicated “pong” consoles, the limited sound of the TV Scoreboard came from the unit itself, not from the TV. This made the already lo-fi beeps and boops even more annoying than I thought possible. We very quickly learned to shut the sound off, and play in silence. While the “pong” style game play of the unit was solid, nuances (like bad sound) ruined the experience.
The third thing I learned from the TV scoreboard was that “ping pong” games were not really all that much fun. Maybe six years earlier, when Pong first arrived, the game was thrilling, but in 1978, with Space Invaders filling the local arcades, the “ping pong” game play of the “TV Score-bored” (as it came to be known) was just not compelling enough.
Those three lessons: the need for compelling single player game play, the importance of nuances in games, and the need for evolving game play, have colored the design for the Pong game we are making for the Atari Pong Developer Challenge. I hope we can do those hard learned rules some justice with our entry.
By the way, the “TV Score-bored” stopped displaying video after a few weeks, but since the sound came out of the unit and not the TV, I could still “play” it by starting a game and listening for the sounds and moving the paddles. If I managed to “hit” a ball,a distinctive beep would sound, and I felt totally victorious for few seconds. On the other hand, my dad felt “taken” by the “cheap-o” device after it failed do quickly. It would be several years before another video game system entered our house.