A Few Minutes with Nolan Bushnell - Creator of Pong and Atari

Play A Few Minutes with Nolan Bushnell - Creator of Pong and Atari

The Discussion

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    Common, everyone knows Ralph Baer invented Pong.

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    I still enjoy some of that 8 bit goodness!  Not to mention some of the fun I had on my 800XL.  I even purchased the Atari Classics Volume 1 for my DS.  I should have picked up the Flashbacks when they were out.

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    History of Computer Games ? nice

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    Interesting interview. Much more minutes please!

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    @Jezz:  Hi Jezz, Clearly there is a complex history when it comes to creating anything but it is COMMON knowledge that Nolan Bushnell is the creator/inventor of PONG.  He holds the patent.  Before Pong there was the Brown Box, Magnavox Odyssey invented by Ralph Baer which did offer a paddle and ball game.  And yes, Nolan has repeated the story many times about how he saw Ralph's Magnavox Odyssey game, which needed much improvement and with Al Alcorn created PONG as we know it.  It is no doubt that Ralph Baer is the creator of The Video Game (some would argue it's Steve Russell who programmed Space War) and without him PONG as we know it may never have seen the light of day.  Even the Wikipedia link you attached to Ralph does not quote him as being the inventor of Pong but the Nolan Bushnell page does share the story of how PONG was born.  At the end of the they are all equally fascinating. 

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    Yeah Tina I guess technically you are correct. "PONG" was somewhat different from what Ralph invented. Alcorn did improve the game which is also true. But still... you have to give credit to Ralph for the whole idea. Heck even Alcorn gives the credit to Ralph and not Nolan for the original idea, "And Nolan got the idea from that, but it's like the movie The Producers, because he figured we'd rip off the idea for a game, but so what? It's no good, we're not going to sell it, we'll throw it away, so what harm is there, right? So, it didn't work out that way… they sent us a letter." - http://retro.ign.com/articles/858/858351p1.html

    ... and lets not forget the fact that Atari settled the infringement lawsuit with Magnavox and became a licensee...

    Ralph's own words, "That lawsuit and others that followed it were largely about the interaction between manually-controlled and machine-controlled symbols on screen, like the paddles and the ball in a ping-pong game. Atari’s PONG game – which in any event came about because Atari’s President, Nolan Bushnell, had played an Odyssey ping-pong game at a Magnavox dealership demo in May of 1972 -  infringed that technology and so did all of  Atari’s competitors who copied the Pong game within months of it  first appearance." - http://www.ralphbaer.com/how_video_games.htm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LsRGUODHlQ  -- brown box ping pong

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPkUvfL8T1I -- Atari pong

    But I don't want to minimize at all what Nolan did for video games... the guy was definately a pioneer and did a ton of amazing things!

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    I can't wait for the hour long conversation with Nolan. Thank you, Tina!!! Smiley

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    Tina, I'm sorry but you're mistaken on two points. 1) Nolan was co-creator of Atari. The other partner Ted Dabney, who was forced out of the company by Nolan in 1973, rarely gets credit for those early days unfortunately. 2) He does not own the patent on "PONG", there was no patent for PONG. Patents are generally for technological inventions, not creative inventions which are what copyrights and trademarks are for. Nolan has one patent in relation to PONG technology (3,793,483 "VIDEO IMAGE POSITIONING CONTROL SYSTEM FOR AMUSEMENT DEVICE" and long since expired) that's actually for spot motion technology that Atari Co-Founder Ted Dabney invented and actual PONG creator Al Alcorn expanded on. And even then, Atari (and Nolan et al.) wound up having to take out a full license on a full swath of patents from Magnavox/Sanders for all their PONG related technology - which included anything to do with generating and moving objects on a screen, bat and ball type symbol interaction, and more. Nolan likes to trivialize this nowadays as a "junk settlement", but to those with copies of the actual settlement it is anything but a "junk settlement".

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