Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Where credit is due.
The ruddy faced guy with the scruffy beard at the left is Al Alcorn, software engineer. The paler, somewhat less scruffy guy leaning proudly on a Pong arcade machine is Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari. It's completely understandable why Bushnell should beam so broadly standing next to a Pong machine, because it was the start of his tremendously successful business, which he sold to Time Warner for a bundle before it crash and burned.
Small quibble, though. Al Alcorn invented Pong. He was the first employee of Atari. Nolan Bushnell invented Computer Space a year earlier when he worked for Nutting Associates. Computer Space is the game in that odd looking red metal flake painted piece of plastic on the right.
You have to be a waaaay old school nerd like me to remember Computer Space. It was the very first coin operated video game available to the public. It was not a big financial success. It had four buttons that let you turn a spaceship left or right, apply thrust or fire a missile. When it came out in 1971, no one had ever played a video game, and the learning curve was just too steep. Eight years later when video games were a big part of the culture, the four button control system was the basis for Atari's big hit Asteroids, which while similar in control had a lot better and more involved game play.
The plastic that Computer Space was packaged inside is still a cool looking object. It's what people thought the future would look like in 1971. In the 1973 movie Soylent Green, which is set in the distant future of 2022, there's a Computer Space cabinet in the corner of the luxury apartment of the murdered rich person.
Back in the real world, Pong comes out a year later in 1972. The learning curve is not steep. Here's the learning curve for Pong.
"Okay, so what am I supposed to... oh, never mind. I get it."
1972 is The Stone Age in the video game world. If anyone references Pong nowadays, it's just to show how archaic it is. It's not that long ago in human terms. Famous people born during the heyday of Pong include stars Jason Statham, Idris Elba and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and has-beens like Dana Perino, Ginger Spice and Liam Gallagher. Athletes born in 1972, including Shaq, Manny Ramirez and Zinedine Zidane have all seen better days.
Just a little reminder that 1972 was a very different time, from an old person who was actually there and still remembers it.