Random Game Wednesdays: Pong (Atari Flashback Classics Vol 1)

One of the gifts I received for Christmas this year was a copy of Atari Flashback Classics Vol 1 for the Xbox One. It includes over 50 old Atari games, some from the arcade and some from the 2600. As these were all games that I didn’t have any way of capturing footage of previously, I thought it would be fun to let the random number generator pick one to talk about on the blog this week. Unfortunately, the game it chose is so basic that I can’t imagine actually being able to write about it for more than a couple paragraphs. Well, let’s give this a shot.Although not entirely true, Pong is often cited as the first video game. As one might expect from a very early example of a new technology, there isn’t a whole lot to it. There’s only one screen that you ever see, there aren’t really any characters, and there isn’t even a title screen. This is literally as simple as you can get within the confines of this medium. But as I said before, that’s totally understandable and not meant to be an insult.

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The intention of the game was to simulate table tennis. Honestly, though, I feel like it plays closer to air hockey. A small square bounces around the screen, ricocheting off  of the edges. Each player, or the computer, controls a vertical bar that can only move up and down. The player has to hit the square with their bar to make it go back towards their opponent. If the player misses the square, the other player is awarded a point.

I played the game entirely single-player with the difficulty set at medium. The computer controlled opponent seemed incredibly good, much better than you’d expect from “medium”. In fact, the only times that I won a game, I honestly felt like I hadn’t earned it. A couple times, I would luck out and score a point. And then, for whatever reason, the way the square gets auto-served back into play was just too much for the computer player to handle. The square would bounce up, my opponent’s bar would move up slowly, miss, and I’d score a point. This would repeat multiple times until I had eleven points, the default amount needed to win the game.

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Most of the time, however, the computer player was a complete nightmare. He always lined up shots perfectly, to a point where I started to wonder if it was even possible to score a point. A couple times, we got into a war of attrition, with the square bouncing back and forth in a straight line. During these instances, the computer player will not move. So, if you don’t move either, the game will simply never end. I did find, however, that this was the best situation to actually manage to score a point. By moving just slightly above the path of the square, and then slamming your bar into the top of it when it slides by, you’ll send the bar flying in a diagonal direction, and the computer player won’t react fast enough.

And that’s Pong. Honestly, despite the ridiculous challenge from the computer player and the overall simplicity of the game, I still had a lot of fun with it. Now, I’m not saying that out should run out right now and grab a copy of Atari Flashback Classics Vol 1 immediatly or anything, but if you have an interest in early video games, this is a great way to see them. I’m not sure how the rest of the collection holds up just yet, but Pong is a fun little distraction and is pretty neat to play in 2016.

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