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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Videogame Memories 05 | Richard Green aka Mainframe

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I Remember "Pong"

by Richard Green of Geek Out With Mainframe

I'm not talking about having a game console that happened to play "Pong" as well as dozens of other games; not a smartphone app; not a website where you can play it to your hearts delight.

Rather, back in the 70's my Dad came home with a "Pong" home game console that only played "Pong" (o.k. maybe a few other very similar games like handball, but all of them very "Pong"-esqe). It could not play anything other than the games that were loaded in the firmware; no buying more games for it, no upgrades, just "Pong".

I've tried over the years to figure out what model it was, but I haven't been able to find it in various Google Internet searches. The game controllers were wired into the console and only had a slider for the player to use. Most first generation game consoles had a knob, this had a slider. I'm not sure how many buttons and/or switches were on the game console itself, but it had to be minimal.

To watch the game, you connected it to the TV. This was decades before HDMI, so even this was primitive by comparison. TVs had two screws to connect the antennae wires. On the other end of the dual wire run was a large metal modern art sculpture held over the roof line by a metal pole. In order to get optimal reception for the 3 TV channels in our area (CBS, NBC, & Public TV ... that was it where I was) there was a motor that could rotate the pole and hence aim the antennae. In later years when the motor no longer functioned; we sons would take turn manual turning the pole, with the door open so we could hear someone inside let us know how close we were to getting the channel clearly (or as clear as it was going to get. Sometimes this was done in the rain. We also walked to school uphill, both ways. hehe

Oops, sorry for getting off track. Well, at the back of the TV where the two screws for the antenna wire; a small box was fit to allow the game signal to be visible ... at least if the slider control on the box was set to "game". After playing, the box was set so that the antenna's signal could once again be received. Yes, you had to walk up to the BACK of the TV before playing this "Pong". It was just as well, since remote controls were rare at the time. WE walked up to the TV to change channels or change the volume. Yes, we walked up and touched the controls actually on the TV ... it was THAT long ago.

Back to the game. Well, just do a quick Internet search and you can find "Pong" for almost any piece of electronic you probably own. I'm guessing that your toaster is "smart" enough to play this game. Think table tennis broken down to the simplest possible form that it would be recognizable as such. This is just a tad less complex than that. I remember that we could play solo "handball" or two could play "Pong". If there were more features than just turning it on and off, I can't recall them.
In retrospect I think my Dad bought it for us boys, so that HE could play it; but it felt like it was just for us. I was never much of a gamer and I'm still not; I had too many books and comics to read. That and I'm a pretty poor game player.

Other video games came and went infrequently over the years ... I think I remember a Commodore 64 and maybe one other cartridge system before I left for college in 1981. But "Pong" was the first ... for us and for the world. :)

Richard is a mainframe programmer, comic book fan, podcast fan, and Linux fan (esp. Ubuntu). He is also the host of one of my favorite podcasts, the "Geek Out! with Mainframe" podcast where he talks all things geek with my favorite podcast authors and creative types. His podcast can be found here: 


  1. I really enjoyed this one. Richard is a bit older than I am, but I remember these consoles. At one point we borrowed one from our library. I remember playing pong for hours with my bother. they had another one that we borrowed as well that played a version of space invaders. This one caught our attention a little more. Thanks for Sharing with us Mainframe.

  2. Thanks Jeff! I'm really glad you're enjoying these. It's really fun to hear from different ages and about different consoles.

  3. Great story.... Especially since I too had the same game. Not one like it, but the exact same one, because I am Mainframe's younger brother.

    I can add a little extra info too, our Pong had three games that I remember. First was the straight up Pong, second was Handball, and third was a shooting game! We actually had a light gun and shot at the screen. And what was nice about Pong was that it could be one player or two, which came in handy because Mainframe and my middle brother were often too cool for to play with thier little brother, but Pong would.... Lol.

    I still don't understand how a light gun works, I think it must be some sort of backwards engineered tech from Roswell. Come to think about it, most tech stuff might be.

    Oh well too much of a ramble. But thanks for the walk down memory lane!

  4. Tedrx, thanks for the comments! Not too much of a ramble at all, I never knew about the light gun, that's awesome! I'm glad it gave you a walk down memory lane. I wouldn't change a thing about being where I'm at now with my awesome wife and 3 kids, but it is sure fun to remember being a kid myself with no responsibilities, going on grand adventures on the Nintendo :) Thanks for contributing with your great comments!