Let Machine Learning Code An Infinite Variety Of Pong Games

In a very real way, Pong started the video game revolution. You wouldn’t have thought so at the time, with its simple gameplay, rudimentary controls, some very low-end sounds, and a cannibalized TV for a display, but the legendarily stuffed coinboxes tell the tale. Fast forward 50 years or so, and Pong has been largely reduced to a programmer’s exercise to see how few lines of code can stand in for what [Ted Dabney] and [Allan Alcorn] accomplished. But now even that’s too much, as OpenAI Codex can generate a playable Pong from just a few prompts, at least most of the time. Continue reading “Let Machine Learning Code An Infinite Variety Of Pong Games”

Resurrecting PONG, One Jumper Wire At A Time

Between 1976 and 1978, over one million Coleco Telstar video game consoles were sold. The Killer App that made them so desirable? PONG. Yep, those two paddles bouncing a ball around a blocky tennis court were all the rage and helped usher in a new era. And as [Dave] of Dave’s Garage shows us in the video below the break, the bringing the old console back to life proved simpler than expected!

Thankfully, the console is built around what [Dave] quite aptly calls “PONG on a chip”, the General Instrument AY-3-8500 which was designed to make mass production of consoles possible. The chip actually contains several games, although PONG was the only one in use on the Coleco.

After removing the CPU from the non-functional console, [Dave] breathed life into it by providing a 2 MHz clock signal that was generated by an Arduino, of all things. A typical 2N2222 amplifies the audio, and a quick power up showed that the chip was working and generating audio.

Video is smartly taken care of just as it was in the original design, by combining various signals with a 4072 OR gate. With various video elements and synchronization patterns combined into a composite video signal, [Dave] was able to see the game on screen, but then realized that he’d need to design some “paddles”. We’ll leave that up to you to watch in the video, but make sure to check the comments section for more information on the design.

Is a breadboarded PONG console not retro enough for you? Then check out this old school mechanical version that was found languishing in a thrift store.

Continue reading “Resurrecting PONG, One Jumper Wire At A Time”

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.

A vacuum tube computer next to a part of its schematic

This Colossal Vacuum Tube Computer Plays A Mean Game Of Pong

It doesn’t happen often that we report on new vacuum tube based computer designs. Today however, we’re pleased to introduce to you the Fast Reliable Electronic Digital Dot Computer, or Fred.Computer for short. It’s the brainchild of [Mike] who also brought us ENA, which we featured earlier.

Fred is a new design that reuses the parts that made up ENA. It has an 8-bit CPU, 16 bytes of RAM, 256 bytes of NVRAM, and runs at a clock speed of 11.3 kHz. With its 560 tubes drawing a total supply current of about 200 A it also provides a fair bit of heating to [Mike]’s study. The main logic is implemented through NOR gates, built from 6N3P dual-triode tubes sourced from Eastern Europe. These NOR gates are combined into more complex structures like latches, registers and even a complete ALU. A total of sixteen machine code instructions can be used to write programs; clever design allows Fred to perform 16, 32 or even 64-bit calculations with its 8-bit ALU.

A PCB with many reed relays
Need some RAM? There’s sixteen bytes right here.

An interesting addition is a new RAM design based on reed relays. [Mike] realised that relays are actually very similar to digital transmission gates and can therefore be used to make a simple static RAM cell. If you thought relays were too slow for RAM cells, think again: these reed relays can toggle at a mind-boggling 700 Hz, making them more than fast enough for Fred.

The main I/O device is a console that contains several pushbuttons as well as a 12 x 8 LED display. All of this makes Fred a fully-functional general-purpose computer that’s even capable of playing Pong (video, embedded below). [Mike]’s website is full of interesting detail on all aspects of vacuum tube computer design, and makes delightful reading for anyone tempted by the idea of building their own.

Can’t get enough of vacuum tube computers? Have a look at this 1-bit MC14500 implementation, marvel at this modern interpretation of an adding machine, or find out how IBM designed its logic in the 1950s.

Continue reading “This Colossal Vacuum Tube Computer Plays A Mean Game Of Pong”

Pong In Hardware… Virtually

We are big fans of the Falstad circuit simulator. Sure, it isn’t perfect, but there’s nothing else like it when you want to whip up a simple circuit. But we were blown away when we saw a more or less complete hardware implementation of Pong in Falstad. No kidding. Starting with the original schematics, there are multiple pages that show each sub-circuit and even a playable subset that you can play the game in your browser.

But wait… you probably noticed there’s no CRT display in the simulator’s component menu. That’s true, there isn’t. However, you can write JavaScript to interact with a running simulation, so the display is a simple bit of JavaScript that samples signals at predetermined points and does the appropriate drawings. There’s even audio output for the sound effects, although that is built into the simulator.

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Old School Mechanical Pong Still Amazes

[Tom], of the YouTube channel ThingsTomLike, found a very sweet little mechanical Pong clone at a thrift store. It came in broken, but in only fifteen minutes of your time, [Tom] manages a complete teardown and repair. (Video, embedded below.)

The game works by balancing a lightbulb on the end of a pivot arm that projects a “ball” onto a screen, while players move their paddles up and down to hit the spring that surrounds the light assembly. The ball arm gets periodically kicked by a DC motor and cam assembly, which makes it careen wildly back and forth across the screen.

It’s a marvel of simple, no-IC engineering. Ironically, it might have been cheaper than making it out of silicon at the time, but viewed from today’s economy, just the human labor in adjusting that counterweight so that the “ball” floats would blow the budget.

Why a screen and lightbulb? Because it’s emulating Pong, a video game, the new kid on the block. But even 45 years later, we think it has got a charm all of its own that the cold digital logic of Pong lacks, even if the gameplay suffers.

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Hackaday Links: February 13, 2022

If you need evidence that our outwardly peaceful little neck of the solar system is actually a dangerous place, look no further than the 40 newly launched Starlink satellites that were just clobbered out of orbit. It seems that the SpaceX launch on February 3 was ill-timed, as it coincided with the arrival of energetic plasma from a solar storm that occurred a few days before. The coronal mass ejection followed an M-class flare on the Sun, which was aimed just right to hit just as the 49-satellite addition to the Starlink constellation was being released. This resulted in an expansion of the upper atmosphere sufficient to increase drag on the newborn satellites — up to 50% more drag than previous launches had encountered. Operators put the satellites into safe mode, but it appears that 40 of them have already met a fiery demise, or soon will. Space is a tough place to make a living.

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