Was There A Programmable PONG Chip?

Students of game console history will reach back into the 1970s for the primordial machines, tracing from the Magnavox Odyssey onwards, and thence via the Fairchild Channel F into the world of microprocessors and the chain of machines that lead us to those we enjoy today. In the early days there was a parallel evolution for a few years of dedicated video game consoles with no interchangeable cartridges or microprocessors, these took their inspiration from the legendary PONG arcade game and used dedicated non-programmable hardware in custom chips to create their video. But was there a programmable PONG chip lurking among all the others? [Old VCR] takes a look.

Many readers will be familiar with MOS Technology as the originator of the 6502 processor used in so many 8-bit home computers. But perhaps many of our attention spans will have passed over another of their products, the MOS 7600 and 7601. These were the chip company’s entry into the surprisingly congested mid-70s PONG-in-a-chip market, and the article investigates the question of whether they might in fact be mask-programmed microcontrollers masquerading as dedicated chips.

It’s a fascinating tour through the mid-70s in terms of games consoles, MOS, and through their eventual takeover, Commodore. The possibility of a mask-programmed PONG chip is explored in detail and discounted, though like [Old VCR], we’d love to see one decapped and reverse engineered. For us a stronger line of evidence comes in asking why MOS would stop at PONG if they had a mask-programmed microcontroller in their catalogue, and that our not having seen MOS microcontrollers appearing all over Commodore’s subsequent products suggests that it may be simply another dedicated PONG chip like all the others.

We’ve seen quite a few variants of this iconic game over the years, but few as impressive as one made from discrete components.