Saturday, May 30, 2015

Summer 2015 Video Game Guide


Pac-Man T-shirts line the shelves of Target and Walmart, retro gaming conventions are popping up all over the country and the latest Adam Sandler vehicle, Pixels (July 24), is about aliens invading Earth in the form of classic video games.

Despite the increasing interest in early electronic entertainment, the video game industry is still driven by the hot new releases for the current consoles, including the PlayStation 4, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii U and Xbox One.

Here are 10 such titles, some you can play now, others scheduled to hit stores during the coming summer months.

AVAILABLE NOW

Puzzle & Dragons Z + Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition
Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$39.99

If you enjoy match-three puzzlers like Candy Crush and Bejeweled, but crave something with more depth, this combo pack is for you. In both Puzzle & Dragons Z, which is a battle against the evil group Paragon, and the Super Mario Bros. Edition, where you must rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, players use the 3DS stylus to drag and match orbs on the bottom screen to battle enemies depicted on the top screen. By chaining together combos, you can dish out more damage.

Unlike most games of this type, these twin titles are infused with RPG elements, such as world building, team customization and characters that gain powerful new skills and evolve into more advanced forms.

Splatoon
Nintendo Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
$59.99

In this colorful, cartoonish and inventive third-person shooter, you control an Inkling who shoots colored ink all over the game’s various environments. The objective is to cover more territory with your color of ink than your opponent does with his or her color. Up to eight gamers can compete online in four-on-four, squad-based matches, but there’s also a single-player campaign mode in which you solve puzzles, jump on platforms and battle enemies (called “Octarians”) while trying to reach the end of each level.

Weapons your Inkling wields include a gun, a sniper rifle, a giant paintbrush, a giant paint roller and an ink tornado launcher, among others. By transforming into a squid, the Inkling can hide from enemies, swim through your color of ink and go through grates and up walls.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: WB Games
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
$59.99

The third game in the series after The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is an action-oriented role-playing game with lots of magical spells. The disc adds a number of new features to the formula, including a revamped fighting system, combat on horseback and at sea and the ability for the protagonist—a monster hunter called Geralt of Rivia—to wield a crossbow, jump and climb and use an intuitive ability called “witcher-sense.”

Wild Hunt is 30 times larger than the previous games and takes approximately 100 hours to complete, a perfect indoor remedy to those lazy summer afternoons when it’s simply too hot to do anything outside.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
New Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Teen
$39.99

If you own a Nintendo 3DS, but have yet to upgrade to a shiny New Nintendo 3DS, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, the first game that is exclusive to the system, may just push you over the edge. It’s a near-perfect port of the spectacular Nintendo Wii JRPG (Japanese role-playing game), enhanced with 3D graphics and portability (but lacking the Japanese language option).

Since the game lets you save virtually anywhere, and since the item-fetching, creature-battling, command-giving action is fun in short (the bus to work) or long (the car to grandma’s house) stretches, it’s perfect for gaming on the go.

COMING SOON

Lego Jurassic World
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
$29.99 (3DS, PS Vita), $49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One)
June 12

If you played through Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, you might remember the tyrannosaurus during the end credits scene. That was a teaser for Lego Jurassic World, which lets players relive key moments from all four “Jurassic Park” movies, including, of course, the highly anticipated Jurassic World.

Gameplay is similar to previous Lego titles (piece together various items, solve comical puzzles, engage in lighthearted battles), with the added attraction of rampaging through the various environments as a dinosaur. There are more than 20 dinosaurs from which to choose, and you can create original designs by collecting Lego amber and experimenting with DNA.

Batman: Arkham Knight
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
$59.99
June 23

The acclaimed “Arkham” series continues with Batman: Arkham Knight, in which the Scarecrow has gathered a group of super-villains, including the Penguin, Two-Face and Harley Quinn, to destroy the Caped Crusader. In addition to the trademark combat, puzzle, stealth and gadget-using action, the game introduces a welcome new element to the franchise: the Batmobile. The high octane vehicle, which features a unique design specific to the game, is drivable throughout Gotham City, letting the Dark Knight Detective engage in high speed chases as well as military grade battles.

The game also introduces Harley Quinn (via DLC story pack) as a playable character. Wielding a baseball bat, she bashes her way through Bl├╝dhaven to rescue her pal, Poison Ivy.

Ride
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Bandai Namco
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One)
June 23

Despite its boring, nondescript title, Ride is a slick, photorealistic, feature-rich racer. Gamers travel around the world on a wide variety of tracks perched atop a wide variety of motorcycles, including models from such manufacturers as Triumph, Ducati, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki and Bimota.

Selecting from an abundance of parts, components and accessories, you can customize your sweet ride and take on bikers across the nation and beyond in an assortment of online multi-player modes. Riding is much more than simply pushing buttons to steer and go faster—you control many of the elements of real motorcycle racing, such as tucking in on high speeds, pressing each brake individually and leaning forwards and backwards. F1 2014 fans should enjoy Ride.

Legend of Kay Anniversary
PlayStation 4, Wii U
Publisher: Nordic Games
ESRB Rating: Everything 10+
$29.99 (PS4), $24.99 (Wii U)
June 30

Want a budget title that’s entertaining and safe for kids (and adults) to play? Look no further than Legend of Kay Anniversary, a cute and cartoonlike, but action-packed platformer. Released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Legend of Kay for the PlayStation 2, the game has better graphics and sounds, and you can compare you scores with those of gamers around the world via online rankings.
Players control an anthropomorphized, attitudinal cat who uses his claws, a hammer, a sword and ancient ninja skills to battle such sentient beasts gorillas, lizards and rats. Pop culture references and allusions to classic martial art films add to the fun, as do such mini-games as wild boar racing, dragon flying and wolf riding.

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour
PlayStation 4, Xbox 360
Publisher: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$59.99
July 14

The first game in EA Sports’ “PGA Tour” series since 1998 to not feature Tiger Woods in the name, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour features the current number one golfer in the world, fresh off his wins at the 2014 Open Championship and the 2014 PGA Championship. The Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo replace Jim Nantz and David Feherty as commentators.

More important is golfing itself, which utilizes the Frostbite 3 engine allowing courses to be rendered all at once instead of on a hole-by-hole basis. This means virtually no load times between holes. According to the publisher, the Frostbite 3 engine also gives the game “complex, lifelike environments” and spectacular recreations of some of the world’s most beautiful courses, along with unique fantasy environments. Three different swing mechanics and fully customizable gameplay styles add to the fun and strategy.

Madden NFL 16
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$59.99
August 25

In the waning days of August, what better way to prepare for the fall football season than to grab a copy of the latest “Madden” game? The series, which made its debut way back in 1988, is more detailed than ever, promising players such new features as touch and roll out passes, receiver/defender controls and a risk/reward catch and pass defend system.

You’ll have to wait a couple of months to see exactly what all this does to affect the nuts-and-bolts, gridiron gameplay, but in the meantime you’ve probably got at least one of the other “Maddens” lying around somewhere to keep you busy.













Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Fan Expo Dallas – Laura Vandervoort


She’s blonde, she’s bold, she’s beautiful—and she’s coming to the Metroplex.

While Laura Vandervoort’s days of playing Supergirl on Smallville are safely in her past, that doesn’t mean she’s given up flight. This weekend she’s soaring in from L.A. for Fan Expo Dallas, a massive gathering of autograph hounds, comic book collectors, movie buffs and sci-fi aficionados at the Dallas Convention Center.

Vandervoort, appearing with numerous other celebrities, will meet and greet fans, sign memorabilia, pose for pictures and talk about her current TV series, Bitten. She’s the star of the Canada-based show, playing a woman torn between her normal existence in Toronto and her life as the world’s only female lycanthrope in upstate New York.
“I’m not playing a werewolf, to be honest,” Vandervoort says, emphasizing that Bitten is more of a character drama than a horror yarn. “I’m playing Elena Michaels, who happens to be a werewolf—that’s sort of a subplot. Yes, she can fight remarkably well, and she does have animalistic instincts, but really it’s about her and how she grew up and the stuff she’s been through. She just happens to grow body hair and sprout fangs.”
Vandervoort gets paid to appear at conventions, but it’s not just about the almighty dollar—she embraces fandom.

“I enjoy meeting and talking with the fans, and traveling,” she says. “It’s also really cool to see actors that I love watching, that I’m a fan of. You know, like William Shatner. It’s always sort of an out-of-body experience sitting beside them, signing autographs. I’m like, ‘Who the hell am I? This is crazy!’”

While Shatner isn’t scheduled to appear at Fan Expo Dallas, there’s no shortage of big-name guests on the docket, including such luminaries as Carrie Fisher (Star Wars), Nathan Fillion (Castle), Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad). Fans of classic television will get a kick out of meeting Batman’s Adam West and Burt Ward and I Dream of Jeannie’s Barbara Eden and Bill Daily.

Vandervoort may not be a household name like some of the actors mentioned above, but she’s very popular among geeks, thanks in part to her prominent role on the late, lamented V, where she played a “visitor” from another planet. Her fan base is rabid (so to speak), but she’s never had a bad or even uncomfortable experience at a convention.

“Nothing really weird has ever happened, just flattering,” she says. “There are people with tattoos of my face on their body [laughs]. One guy actually had me sign his arm, and he came back three hours later and had tattooed it. But then I thought, ‘That’s the signature I use for legal documents, so wow, I should have changed it.’ So yeah, nothing really weird—just lovely fans.”

Vandervoort was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, where she got into acting at a relatively young age.

“I was about 12 or 13,” she says. “I saw My Girl with Anna Chlumsky, and I loved it. It was the first movie I watched at that age that impacted me emotionally. I was just sort of in shock—it really touched home base. I thought Anna was fantastic. I had a need to be creative, so I asked my parents if acting was something I could try, and they said yes.”

After taking a few acting classes, Vandervoort appeared on such television series as Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark?

“And then I did some Disney Channel movies and that sort of thing,” she says. “I just kept working, and it was great.”

Despite her identification as Supergirl, Vandervoort wasn’t considered to play the part in the forthcoming Supergirl series, which will begin airing on CBS in November. Instead, the role went to Melissa Benoist.

“I was shooting Bitten anyway, so I wasn’t technically available,” Vandervoort says. “But I think they wanted a fresh take on the character, and Melissa is younger. It was a good idea to start fresh with a new actress, because you don’t want actors from Smallville reprising their roles. It would just seem odd. I’m totally happy for Melissa.”

Based on the “Women of the Otherworld” book series by Kelley Armstrong, Bitten airs on Space in Canada, where the second season has wrapped up, and on Syfy in the U.S., where new episodes play on Friday night.

The powers that be have yet to greenlight a third season of Bitten, which has developed a strong cult following, but has had mixed reviews among critics.

“Hopefully we’ll hear something soon about season three,” Vandervoort says. “It’s been a great experience for me so far.”

Fan Expo Dallas
▪4 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Dallas Convention Center
650 South Griffin Street, Dallas
▪ $25-$89, $10 ages 6-12, free age 5 and younger
▪ fanexpodallas.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Summer Reading Guide

Summer Books

This is an exciting year for readers, especially for those who enjoy kicking back and getting lost in a good novel. Many highly anticipated titles are scheduled for release in the near future, including Finders Keepers by Stephen King (June 2), The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera (June 23) and, most intriguingly, Go Set a Watchman (July 14), the recently discovered sequel to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

But what about right now? What hot-off-the-presses books are currently on display at your local bookstore or library, begging you to peruse their printed pages?

Here are seven new offerings you should immediately go grab, or at least add to your summer reading list:

After Birth
By Elisa Albert

Ari gave birth to her son a year ago, but she still hasn’t gotten accustomed to being a mother. She doesn’t suffer postpartum depression, exactly—it’s more like postpartum existential angst, in which she feels that the essence of who she was has all but disappeared. Worse, she feels that her baby is an “oppressive fascist bastard dictator narcissist.” Fortunately, a new friend comes along in the form of a former cult musician who is nine-months pregnant, giving Ari new hope of finding herself. This is a bold, fresh narrative on motherhood.

The Country of Ice Cream Star
By Sandra Newman

For the speculative fiction fan, no summer is complete with the reading of an epic, post-apocalyptic novel, from Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz to Stephen King’s The Stand to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Enter The Country of Ice Cream Star, Sandra Newman’s inventive, fast-paced foray into the genre. After being decimated by a plague, the world soldiers on sans mature adults as everyone dies of a mysterious disease before reaching the age of 20. Ice Cream Star, a bold 15-year-old girl, sets off to find a cure, facing danger and deception along the way.

God Help the Child
By Toni Morrison

At 192 pages, God Help the Child is a book that you might be able to finish in one afternoon at the beach. However, you’ll probably want to linger longer over each lovingly written page, given Morrison’s penchant for penning top-notch prose. God Help the Child probably won’t achieve the widespread acclaim of the author’s more famous works, such as Beloved or Song of Solomon, but it is a fascinating and dramatic story of a light-skinned black woman who is mother to a dark-skinned child.

Memory Man
By David Baldacci

Best-selling novelist David Baldacci has written more books than some people have read, so where should new readers begin? Try his latest, Memory Man, the first installment of a brand new series. Thanks to a football injury, police detective Amos Decker has hyperthymesia, the ability to recall virtually everything with perfect clarity. Decker must solve the mystery of his family’s murder, the aftermath of which he remembers in grisly detail.

The Nightingale
By Kristin Hannah

If you enjoy historical fiction, but it’s been awhile since you’ve visited the genre, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of The Nightingale, a tear-jerking tale of brave two sisters—a married woman and a rebellious teen—in German-occupied, war-torn France. When Nazi soldiers invade their home, each sister must struggle for food, freedom and their very survival. Most WWII novels focus on the men, but The Nightingale is refreshing in its portrayal of wartime women.

The Poser
By Jacob Rubin

Jacob Rubin’s debut novel is a masterwork of comedy and surrealism, set in a fictional version of mid-20th-century America. It stars Giovanni Bernini, a young stage performer who has the ability to mimic his audience members with uncanny precision. His act leaves an indelible impression (so to speak) on his off-stage persona, as well as on the people he meets, including the gorgeous, yet inscrutable singer, Lucy Starlight.

The Stranger
Harlan Coben

Adam Price has it all: two kids, a beautiful wife, a big house and a good job. Unfortunately, a mysterious Stranger comes along and rocks Adam’s world with devastating news: his wife faked her first pregnancy and miscarriage. Why does this mystery man reveal dark secrets to people, and how do said secrets affect their lives? Read the twisting, turning, plot-driven The Stranger to discover the unsettling answers.

Ten more tantalizing titles you can read right now:

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
Gathering Prey by John Sandford
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Miracle at Augusta by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge
The Season of Migration by Nellie Hermann
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Star Trek: The Next Generation: Takedown by John Jackson Miller
The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi



Friday, May 15, 2015

The History of Video Games: The Early Years

The latest issue of Video Game Trader, #32, includes my feature, The History of Video Games: The Early Years. I've reprinted it here for anyone who wants to take a look. If you enjoy the article, please consider purchasing a copy of the magazine from the website or subscribing. Thanks for reading!
As most of you already know, the video game industry has lost one of its pioneers, Ralph H. Baer, the “Father of Video Games,” who did nothing less than invent the concept of playing video games on a television set. According to family and friends, which includes video game historian Leonard Herman, Baer passed away at his New Hampshire home on the night of Saturday, Dec. 6. He was 92.

“Ralph was a generous, fantastic, and brilliant man,” Herman said. “You could spend hours with him and forget that you were in the company of someone his age. He had a youthful enthusiasm and till the end, he spent as much time as he possibly could working on one project or another.”
The project Baer is most commonly associated with is the very first video game console, originally known as the Brown Box, which played simple ping pong- or tennis-type games. Baer licensed his invention to Magnavox, which, in 1972, sold the system as the Magnavox Odyssey, laying the groundwork for the now-multi-billion dollar home video game industry.In addition to various other consumer electronic products, such as a light gun that was the first video game console peripheral, Baer invented Simon, the popular color-coded, beep-emitting, button-pushing memory game that is still being sold today.

Baer, an inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, was a humble, unassuming man, but he did receive prestigious awards for his work, including the National Medal of Technology, which was awarded by President George W. Bush, and a 2008 Game Developers Choice Pioneer Award.While Baer did indeed invent home video games—an incredible accomplishment—he would’ve been the first to admit that other brilliant men played key roles in the early history of the industry. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the origins of the hobby we all love.

Spacewar

Conceived in 1961 and completed in 1962, Spacewar was the first honest-to-goodness computer game. The brainchild of Steve Russell, a student at MIT and a member of the Tech Model Railroad Club, Spacewar is a two-player contest in which each participant pilots a rocket ship around the screen, firing torpedoes at one another. In Steven L. Kent’s The Ultimate History of Video Games, Russell describes the rockets thusly: “One of them was curvy like a Buck Rogers spaceship. And the other was very straight and long and thin like a Redstone rocket.”

Starry, Starry Night

Spacewar is played out against a starry background, with a sun in the foreground. The sun boasts a gravitational field, adding a strategic element to the game. In addition, if a player gets in a pinch, he or she can escape into hyperspace, which makes the rocket disappear and reappear somewhere else on the screen (a risky, potentially fatal maneuver). Obviously, Spacewar birthed an entire industry, computer games, but it also influenced countless video games, including such similar space shootouts as Asteroids, Computer Space (mentioned later in this article), and Space War (an Atari 2600 clone of Spacewar).

Russell’s Roundup

Created on a Digital Equipment PDP-1 (Programmable Data Processor-1) computer (the first of the so-called “mini-computers”), Spacewar, as with many creative endeavors, was not created in a vacuum. Alan Kotok and Robert A. Saunders, two of Russell’s fellow TMRC club members, invented the game’s control boxes, which included a right-left rotation knob, a lever for acceleration and hyperspace, and a button for firing. Peter Sampson refined the starry sky with his “Expensive Planetarium” program while Dan Edwards put in the gravity calculations. Others involved in the development of the game include Wayne Wiitanen, Dan Edwards, Martin Graetz, and Steve Piner.

The Father of Video Games

The first person to conceive of and execute the idea of playing games on a television set (as opposed to a computer) was the late, great Ralph Baer, The Father of Video Games. In 1966 and ’67, while working as a division manager at Sanders Associates (a defense contractor), Baer began putting his plan into action, delegating technician Bill Harrison and engineer Bill Rusch to the task of creating a game device based on his designs. Harrison helped Baer develop a rudimentary technique for transferring images onto a television screen while Rusch specialized in actual game design.

Baer’s Brown Box

By November of 1967, Baer and his assistants were able to demonstrate a fully functional ping pong or tennis game (a precursor to Pong), in which players use paddles to rebound a ball back and forth across the screen. The trio also created a game consisting of two squares chasing each other. In 1968, Baer applied for the first video game patent. By 1969, Baer and company were demonstrating several iterations of the legendary “Brown Box,” a prototype unit that was equipped with a light gun, a console, and two controllers. Each controller had a vertical control, a horizontal control, and a control for putting “English” on the ball.

A Space Odyssey

Baer demonstrated the Brown Box to a number of television companies, including General Electric, Sylvania, and RCA, but it was Magnavox who took the bait. The company reengineered the Brown Box into a more streamlined unit (a futuristic white design), called it the Odyssey, and released it in 1972 (the same year Nolan Bushnell and Al Alcorn brought Pong to the arcades) as the world’s first commercially available video game system. The console retailed for $100, the equivalent of $560 today.

 Unlike subsequent video game consoles, such as the Fairchild Channel F (1976) and the Atari VCS (1977), the Odyssey doesn’t have microprocessors. Rather, it contains transistors and diodes. The games are plug-in cards that essentially reconfigure the system’s internal circuitry to make minor adjustments to the basic onscreen objects, which consist of a pair of paddles, a ball, and a line.

Due to the barebones nature of the Odyssey console (the unit produced no color, no scorekeeping, and no sound), the games were packaged with a variety of extras, such as game boards, dice, play money, tokens, tiles, cards, and/or other  items. The games also came with TV screen overlays to provide color and visual detail. Some of the best games for the console, including Shooting Gallery, Prehistoric Safari, Dogfight, and Shootout, were produced for the system’s Shooting Gallery light rifle.

Computer Space
 
No early history of video games would be complete without mention of Computer Space, the first arcade video game, predating the more popular Pong by approximately a year. Game historian Dave Beuscher of the late, lamented All Game Guide, summed up the origins of this groundbreaking coin-op cab thusly:

In 1970, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, two employees at the Ampex tape company in Sunnyvale, California began to work on a new idea to introduce into the pinball arcades. On weekends and in their spare time, they developed the science fiction video game Computer Space. Players would be in control of an on-screen spaceship and fight enemy flying saucers. The black and white screen on the machine was 13 inches wide. The game featured left and right rotational buttons as well as fire and thrust buttons.
In 1971, Bushnell sold Computer Space to Nutting Associates, a coin-operated game manufacturer. Nutting manufactured a modest 1500 units and introduced Computer Space into the pinball-dominated arcades where it quickly came and went. Bushnell suspected that the concept of Computer Space might have been too complex to attract an audience that had grown used to the simple instructions of a pinball machine.

Pong 
The first commercially successful arcade video game, Atari’s Pong was created by Al Alcorn, working under orders from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. According to Chris Kohler of wired.com, Bushnell got the idea for the game from Baer’s most noteworthy invention.“One of the early Odyssey players was none other than Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, who visited a Magnavox product showcase in the spring of 1972, signed the guestbook, and played the Odyssey,” Kohler wrote. “When he returned to his nascent company, he assigned a project to Alcorn, a young recent graduate of the University of California Berkeley that Bushnell had just hired as one of Atari’s first employees.”

Bushnell publicly and vehemently denied attending the Magnavox event for decades, but finally admitted it at the 2003 Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.

According to Kohler, Bushnell, although a remarkable marketing visionary, has for years had a hard time telling the truth, at least when it comes to video games. Kohler wrote, “To get Alcorn motivated to do great work and keep the costs down, the fast-talking, former carnival barker Bushnell spun up an elaborate lie: Atari had landed a contract with General Electric to produce a home video game machine, he told him, and it had to have a cost of goods of less than $50.”

Alcorn believed Bushnell’s bluff, despite the fact that no one from General Electric ever came to watch Alcorn working on the project, and despite the fact that Bushnell didn’t seem overly concerned that Alcorn was going over budget, so he brought his “A game” (so to speak), fine-tuning Pong as much as possible for a mass market release.

“I was motivated to make it playable,” he told wired.com. “So the little things like the ball reflecting off of the paddle at different angles, I tweaked that up to try to make it as fun to play as I could.”
The cabinet housing the Pong has two analog rotary controllers for maneuvering vertically moving paddles located on the left and right hand sides of the screen. At Bushnell’s directive, Alcorn added scoring and sound to help make it superior to the Odyssey. It is indeed a terrific two-player contest, in which one player to controls the left paddle while the other controls the right. The object is to rebound the ball back and forth across the screen, and, as the simple, iconic instructions on the cabinet dictate, “Avoid missing ball for high score.”

Less convoluted than Computer Space, Pong was immensely popular (the story of the game’s smash debut at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California bar is the stuff of legend), despite not being backed by a large company like General Electric. The game spawned several sequels and countless clones, the latter of which invaded homes in full force. If you’ve ever spent time with Coleco’s Telestar Alpha, APF’s TV Fun, or Radio Shack’s TV Scoreboard (to name just a few), you’ve played a Pong clone.

A Brief Pre-History of Video Games

Prior to the groundbreaking work of Baer, Russell, Alcorn, Bushnell, Russell, and company, other, more primitive steps were taken in the field of playing games on a screen. In 1952, A.S. Douglas created a tic-tac-toe computer game displayed on a cathode ray tube. In 1958, William Higinbotham devised an oscilloscope game called Tennis for Two.

Despite these earlier strides in giving the citizens of the world more screen time, Russell’s Spacewar, Bushnell and Dabney’s Computer Space, and Baer’s Odyssey are regarded as the first computer game, first arcade video game, and first TV video game respectively. And, to give Al Alcorn his due, Pong was the first video game of any kind to become a household name.

Paying Tribute

The next time sit down to play the latest PC or Mac game, drive or ride your bike to the local arcade, or fire up your PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or Nintendo Wii U, remember to give a shout-out to these legends of the industry, who kick-started our favorite hobby long before there were Kickstarter campaigns.

SIDEBAR:
On Feb. 5, at the D.I.C.E. Awards in Las Vegas, Al Alcorn and, posthumously, Ralph Baer, were honored with a 2015 Pioneer Award. Mark Baer, who played the Odyssey with his little brother when they were kids, accepted Ralph’s award on his father’s behalf. Rich Hilleman, chief creative director at Electronic Arts, presented the awards. Leading up to the event, Hilleman said, “Ralph and Al are the very definition of Pioneers. Every publisher, every developer, every platform, and all of the billions of players in the world stand on their sturdy shoulders. I am one of many who owe nearly all of what I have done to the remarkable talent vision of these two giants."