A Brief History of Pong

Where shall we start? In an expansive mode, one may do with the first primate who suddenly found throwing a rock and hitting its companion quite amusing. Do we see any hint of a pong like activity on the walls inside pyramids? Galileo and projectile motion (1638)? Newton and his apple (1666) ?

The actual pong game (aka table tennis) seems to have originated in 1880s by British officers in India South Africa. An English man named James Gibb brought a celluloid ball from America around 1900, and apparently came up with the name of ping-pong. It was registered as a trade name, however, by someone named John Jaques. Given the prominence of Asian players in Olympic games, it is quite shocking to see these British and French names pop up instead of Xiao Ping and Show Ming's. (Well, we are pretty sure it indeed was invented in China thousands years ago in a disguised form...)

Fast forwarding, Homo Ludens makes an ominous turn when MIT students start their space war on PDP-1s(1962). Nolan Bushnell (1972) makes a Faustian step with Atari Pong which transformed his initial 250$ into 28 million. After this, the story loses luster as subsequent developments in computers and game consoles recklessly sacrificed simplicity in favor of somewhat predictable attempts at re-creating reality in pixels and reduced dimensions. (in the face of Finding Nemo, this is an unfair criticism, and yet how many computers and hours Pixar devote to create a fleeting few seconds of beauty?) Endless variations on the initial spark followed with bells and whistles of all variety. So much so that by year 2003, it didn't seem like a stale idea at all to revisit the original on the most advanced operating system in history.

A Brief History of Math Game House and Its Pong Project

Math game house was formed in 1999 by a family whose members had interest in physics, education, computer design, and games in whatever form. It was originally intended as and still is a local educational institution to help children learn mathematics. Now it has a software development team, which brought out iStorm and iChalk in 2002. The idea of writing a pong game was not originally in the plan. Early 2001, the head programmer was still recovering from the traumatic, unfortunate turn of events for the US the previous winter and was looking for a toy projet as diversion. Learning Cocoa which just came out as part of the brand new OS X sounded like a good idea.

One afternoon during a break, the father tried to annoy his son, who was busy playing Warcraft on his computer, by bragging that he could write a game like that in a day or two. What he really meant was about the Platonic essence of such a game, (say a few geometrical figures moving on the screen) not all those zombies and knights charging with profound purpose in a medieaval landscape. After some provocative bantering, the wager was set.(What was he thinking?)

In a desperate move to save face, the father worked really hard over a weekend, so much so that the son turned around to help and they came up with a crude pong game, named quite imaginatively myPong. (still available for download) That is how the software branch of Math Game House came about, and it has since produced iStorm and iChalk in a more serious mode.

Free Politik Edition

Time flies. It is now 2004. Another tortuous passage looms over the horizon. Rather than waiting to be depressed by the unfortunate turns of events in coming November, we decide to take an early vaccin well in advance... We could have settled on reading Mark Twain. But at the end, we had other things in mind.

So, we have fun turning the heads of some well-known people in politics into paddles. Mind you : Some of them, we have deep admiration for. Some others, we find wicked delight in imagining the small pain a ping pong ball may induce on their foreheads.

But seriously, we would like the player of Pong to spend fraction of his or her conscious mind thinking about the issues and price to be paid for not engaging oneself actively in the political discourse.

Someone points out that the complex emotion that may be induced through playing with those paddles will hurt the sale of the game. Even though we tried to represent both parties in a fair and balanced manner, people on the left and the right may project their emotion onto the game play and thereby mistakenly attribute bias to its makers. Potentially, it could easily alienate half of the otherwise happy pong players. So, it makes a stupid business sense. It doesn't feel right either to seek profit at the expense of public figures.

Nobody can steer the political current by will. To the benefit of both sides, we should have as often as possible moments of reflection on the vital issues as they affect everybody, especially the future of our children. As it is not everybody's most favorite activity, what if it can be subversively insinuated during a fun and cool activity (such as playing rendezvousPong) ?.

We thought about business, civil rights and obligations: We decided to forget about our ambition to repeat Bushnell's success by making the new version free. We hope this will partly make up for our guilt over not having made significant contribution to NPR or PBS, which feature prominent people with keenest political articulation. That we sadly lack. So, here we go, throwing a tiny pebble hoping to create a ripple in the corner of the vast American mind. At least the tiny community of partisans which still use Macs and have not lost the sense of humor.

Copyright 2002-2004 MGH