Once upon a time, life and video games were simple (well, video games were, anyway). Forget all those advanced graphics, MMO worlds, Twitch streaming, more flossing Fortniters than you can shake a controller pad at.
Two joysticks, two solid white lines, and a block boop-boop-ing back and forth across the screen.
That was Pong.
That was the beginning.
From Mario to Madden to Master Chief to MMOs, we’ve come a long way since then.
This is the story of that journey, from the earliest days of Pong to present day simulators so realistic you can use them to predict the outcome of the biggest sporting events on Earth.
The Birth of a Legend
One of the recurring storylines you’ll hear about the people associated with Atari, Apple, and many of the titans of the early days of computing back in the 1970s is that of the “garage computer hippie.” We’ve all heard the story of how Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak cooked up the first Apple prototypes while working out of their garage. The story with Atari is similar. Given how computing and programming was even more of a niche subfield back then, it should come as little surprise that we see the same humble beginnings at play in the birth of Atari.
Or, we should say, Syzygy, the company’s name before it adopted the world-famous moniker we love and associate with delightfully simple joystick-based games and graphics today. Alan Alcorn and Nolan Bushnell came to Syzygy while the latter was working on a product called Computer Space. When that ran into problems, and the company’s future prospects became less certain than Alcorn was originally led to believe, they had to come up with a hit game that would be inexpensive and comparatively easy to program and play. The company wanted something that would take fewer than 20 chips to run.
Necessity is often the mother of invention. There’s a definite elegance to simplicity done well. Both are at play in Pong. The need to create a game that was inexpensive to make and easy to program and build produced a game elegant in its simplicity – and it caught on like wildfire. In fact, it became so popular that it quickly spread beyond those first arcade machines and Atari units, creating a glut of Pong machines in every size and shape with varying degrees of quality and some of those units becoming rare collector’s items today.
From There to Here
Pong was, is, and always will be a classic, but what about the gaming craze it helped spawn? That glut of substandard machines and games helped lead to the infamous Video Game Crash of 1983, something that nearly killed video games until a little game called Super Mario Bros. came along two years later.
When video games picked up again, they took off in many different directions, with most sports games remaining cartoonish and simple. They may not have been quite as constrained as that 20 chip limit placed upon Alcorn, but simulator-level realism was hard to obtain in the era of 8 and 16-bit gaming.
We have come a long way since then; however, as games like the FIFA and Madden series for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC being among the most realistic ever developed. They are so realistic, in fact, that simulated Super Bowls and World Cups are regularly looked at to help “predict” the winner. That’s a big help to gamers of a different stripe on sites like Unibet who are looking for the latest edge when it comes to sports gambling. In addition, the technology put into these games and sites has also contributed to hundreds of different types of slot games.
From the first blocky white Pong graphics to realistic rendering and predictive performance today, gaming has come a long way since the 1970s with a bright future ahead of it yet.