Jaw-Dropping, IC-Free Pong on an Oscilloscope

Pong may not be much anymore, but it’s the granddaddy of all video games, and there’s still a lot to learn by studying its guts. And what better way to do that than by having it all laid out before you as you play? All it takes is 200 discrete transistors and two large handfuls of passives tacked to a piece of copper clad board to get a version of Pong executed without a single chip that’s playable on an oscilloscope.

Clearly a labor of love, if not an act of temporary insanity, [GK]’s realization of Pong is a sight to behold. Every scrap of it is circuits of his own design, executed dead bug style, apparently because [GK] enjoys life on hard mode. The game itself is surprisingly playable and you can even play against the machine. The video below is a little hard to watch, what with some glare on the oscilloscope CRT, but we’ll cut [GK] plenty of slack on this one; after all, it looks like this whole project was pulled off in one marathon weekend build session.

We’re still busy poring over the hand-drawn Forrest Mims-style schematics, which by themselves are almost a complete course in analog design. A lot of the circuits remind us [GK]’s bouncing ball simulation, which we covered a while back.

40 thoughts on “Jaw-Dropping, IC-Free Pong on an Oscilloscope

  1. If one was to do this, Pong would be the best bet with nice straight lines you can make with constant current sources and caps. But given the sounds, and the date, I’m skeptical :-)

      1. It is very believable. Posted to the eevblog mid-March. (Schematics for each module as well)
        I even believe the part about it being built in one weekend. If you were to pause building a dead-bug circuit of that complexity you would lose your place and be forced to trace through from the beginning.
        I don’t see how he got the ball to be round instead of a point.

  2. I actually attended an Atari TTL repair seminar when video games were just new. Pong was a TTL board about 10 inches by 18 inches. Pulling this off with discreets is quite a feat. Kudos!

    1. One thing that strikes me about this build is that it runs in X-Y mode on the CRO. The earliest one I pulled apart were TV raster.

      So was the original pong raster or X-Y? If they were raster then this build is likely a first ever.

        1. The arcade version of Asteroids was a lot later than PONG even though Asteroids existed on early computers in a computer lab – I think Asteroids was the first game with a with a graphical output but it was never available to the public in it’s earliest form.

          PONG however entered the computer game arena at the beginning of commercial arcade like machines, suspect it was one of the first.

          If PONG was raster then this build is an unique build, a first ever, unlike the original!

          +10 to the designer, a true achievement indeed.

          1. At this point it’s all a blur in my memory. Need to consider I worked on video games from early seventies through about 78. So four decades plus. Recall there was one I liked that was similar to asteroids called Tempest, but don’t recall much about it.

          2. You’re thinking of Space War, which was a two-player game with two player controlled Asteroids-like ships going at each other. It was originally developed on a minicomputer at a university and played on an oscilloscope. There was no single-player mode. There was an arcade version which infamously did not use a microprocessor, but a very large TTL circuit. It was vector (X-Y) as were Asteroids, Tempest, and a number of other early games which could not have been rendered with the computers of the day on a raster display. Arcade Pong was always raster though. (I remember, I was there.)

        2. Asteroids and Battlezone were vector XY tubes, as well as that crazy thing with a stick figure creature coming up out of a hole. The graphics had to be simple (and no hidden lines) to keep the vertex count low enough for refresh.

    2. In 1979 I bought an old used tabletop Pong machine, from, of all places, a local tennis club. It had not one, but SIX TTL boards about 10″ x 18″! All 74xx series discreet logic gates. NANDs, NORs, Fiip Flops, Shift Registers… No processor of any kind and and nothing more than the simplest of logic chips. It was not produced by Atari. I kept it, and it continued to work for many years until I decided it took up too much space and threw it out.

    1. I sourced all of those on Abebooks.com, mostly from book dealers in the US. For just about every title searched there was more than one dealer with a copy to sell. There’s not a lot of competition to collect these old titles remaining out there, so one could build a similar collection with just a little hunting around on-line, and much cheaper too if residing in the US. International shipping set me back probably four or five times the sale price of the books alone.

  3. Supervised the construction of 1000 Video Volley TV game kits in the mid-70s. They came as TKD kits from the USA. Even in those days they weren’t built with discretes. All I can say is … dafuq?

  4. ahhhh… beauty… it’s projects like these that make me smile the most because:

    a technical challenge at start,
    a proof of perseverance and patience (required for both building and tuning),
    and a work of art when finished !

  5. Nobody commented this but after watching the video a question came to my mind,
    It’s really possible to win when playing against the machine in this pong? Because It looks like the right paddle si fixed to the vertical position of the ball., and that would made this game impossible to beat.

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