Many people who see this screenshot will laugh. How can such a simple game provide any entertainment value? Look at those horrible stick-like graphics! And those so-called sound effects--bleah! That's what I thought (well, not in those exact words--"sucks" comes to mind) when I finally got the first Pong-style system I owned, by Radofin, working. Since I began my obsession with videogames when the Atari 2600 was king, I never even knew these systems existed. Sure, I'd seen "Pong" in the Video Olympics cartridge for the 2600, but I never thought anyone would make a whole system dedicated to one game. Little did I know, that for its time, this unit was amazing.
I began to play it. The sliders were a bit jumpy at first, but only due to years of neglect--a few minutes of "wear-in" had them working well. Maybe this system was no longer amazing to anyone, but it became addictive. It was so simple: move the paddle (the "big blip") to hit the ball (the "little blip"). I tried to put myself into the mindset of the original owner who bought the system "way-back-when." Wow, I can control pictures on my TV screen! Wait until my friends see this! So my friends came over, and we played it for a while. And it was fun, for a while. Then the fun wore off, just as it did for most owners of these systems, and we went back to playing Atari 2600 games.
The very first home video game system was the Odyssey [picture courtesy of Matt Brady] of 1972 which, while simple graphically, used overlays and interchangable cartridges. The cartridges were simply jumper sets to choose games on the system and did not actually contain program ROMs. The dedicated pong-style systems mentioned above came next (a flood of them starting 1975), and were mildly popular.
There were many attempts to build a better mousetrap--err, a better ball-and-paddle system. For example, the first systems like the Atari Pong unit are all one piece, but later models spawned off separate controls, such as the Radio Shack TV Scoreboard. Eventually, the interesting permutations ran out and game producers scrambled to come out with more games per unit. At the left is the Sears Telegames IV. Not only did it support four-player b&p games, in color, but it included handlebar grips on the unit to control a motorcycle in a game called Stunt Cycle. Coleco, producer of many dedicated ball-and-paddle systems, introduced the Telstar Arcade. It used interchangeable cartridges, but like the original Odyssey unit, these cartridges did not contain ROM programs but rather a simple set of jumpers to make different games on the main unit. Producers saw that the life of single-game game units was very short, but even multi-game units still lacked a key component: expandability.
Dennis Brown, dgbrown (at) pixesthesia (dot) com, creator and maintainer. E-Mail me with corrections and additions. All contents copyright 2006, Dennis Brown. All trademarks are properties of their respective companies.