A Video Game Odyssey: How Magnavox Launched the Console Industry

What was the first video game console? If you said the Atari 2600, you would be wrong, but we’d forgive you. After all, the Atari was early and widely sold. It also had the major features you expect from a video game. However, there was an earlier console available. the Magnavox Odyssey.

This system was black and white, had two wired controllers, and while it didn’t quite have cartridges, you could select from one of several games. The system seems inexpensive today at $100 (not including the optional light gun). However, adjusting for 1972 currency value, that’s equivalent to about $600 today.

It was not an impulse buy, and the differentiation between games was mostly an exercise in imagination. But the the Magnavox Odyssey nevertheless brought computer technology into the home and that was exciting. It proved a market existed for home video gaming, and served no small part in the success of Atari.

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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.

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Hackaday Links: February 5, 2017

A lot of people around here got their start in electronics with guitar pedals. This means soldering crappy old transistors to crappy old diodes and fawning over your tonez, d00d.  Prototyping guitar pedals isn’t easy, though, and now there’s a CrowdSupply project to make it easier The FX Development Board is just that — a few 1/4″ jacks, knobs, pots, power supply, and a gigantic footswitch to make prototyping guitar pedals and other musical paraphernalia easy. Think of it as a much more feature-packed Beavis Board that’s still significantly cheaper.

How do Communicators in Star Trek work? Nobody knows. Why don’t the crew always have to tap their badge before using it? Nobody knows. How can the com badge hear, ‘Geordi to Worf’, and have Worf instantly respond? Oh, we’ve argued about this on IRC for years now. Over on Hackaday.io, [Joe] is building a Star Trek com badge. The electronics are certainly possible with modern microcontrollers, but for the enclosure, we’ll have to review a few scenes from Time’s Arrow and The Enemy.

[Alois] was working with an Intel Edison on a breadboard. He was generating a signal, and sending it through a little tiny breadboard wire to an oscilloscope. The expected waveform should have been a nice square wave at 440MHz. What he got out of this wire was a mess. You shouldn’t use long wires when probing circuits. That little breadboard wire was a perfect radiator for 440MHz, and the entire setup turned into an antenna.

[Douglas] is running a Kenwood TM-D710A as his amateur radio rig. This radio does APRS stuff, but it requires an external GPS and power source to do it right. GPS receivers are now very small and very cheap, so [Douglas] just stuffed a GPS module inside his radio. The module itself is a GP-20U7, a tiny GPS module the size of a postage stamp, and wired it up to a few pads on the radio PCB.

Here’s an upcoming Kickstarter that’s going straight to the front page of Boing Boing. It’s Pong, in coffee table format which we first saw last Spring. Instead of racing the beam, this version of Pong is mechanical. The ball is a cube, the paddles are slightly longer cubes, and the entire game is a highly refined CNC machine. Here’s something from seven years ago that’s also Pong in coffee table format. Pongmechanik is electromechanical Pong, built entirely out of switches, relays, and a few motors.

VGA Monitor Becomes Drawing Toy

We hate to break it to [Rob Cai], but he’s built a VGA drawing toy, not an Etch-a-Sketch. How do we know? Simple, Etch-a-Sketch is a registered trademark. Regardless, his project shows how an Arduino can drive a VGA monitor using the VGAx library. Sure, you can only do four colors with a 120×60 resolution, but on the other hand, it requires almost no hardware other than the Arduino (you do need four resistors).

The hardware includes two pots and with the right firmware, it can also play pong, if you don’t want to give bent your artistic side. You can see videos of both the art toy and the pong game, below.

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Giant-Scale Physical Pong

At first, we thought we were having deja vu, but then we saw this video embedded below. [Thijs Eerens] is a creative technologist (dare we say, a “hacker”?) who builds giant-scale games for a living. For the Lowlands festival in the Netherlands, he contributed to the build of a huge Pong game that looks as big as a cinema screen.

The paddles appear to be controlled by pulling ropes, and the “ball” is driven around on a system of wires and stepper motors. Code running in the background tracks the player paddles, drives the ball, and keeps score. From the video, there seem to be sound effects involved. It looks like a lot of fun.

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EMF Fire Pong

One of the installations that consistently drew a large crowd after dark at EMF Camp 2016 was a game. This wasn’t a conventional computer game though, instead it was a line of gas jets along which a pair of players had to bat a jet of flame between them at ever-increasing speed until one player missed the return. This was the Fire Pong game created by members of Nottingham Hackspace, and though there seems to have been no online write-up of it as yet they have posted enough pictures of its build for us to deduce something of its construction.

A network of gas pipes and jets with all valves brought out to a clearly labeled control panel appears to control the gas flow through solenoid valves connected to a relay board driven by what appears to be an Arduino Pro Mini. The bats are huge for theatrical effect, but contain accelerometers to sense player swipes and send the information back to the gas control circuits. A pair of much larger flame generators indicate the end of a rally, and the score is displayed on a large LED scoreboard. There is very likely to be more to the system than we can glean from these pictures and a shot of the various components, but as yet we are so-to-speak in the dark on their details.

If you will excuse the quality constraints of a mobile phone camera in a darkened field, a video of the game in action is below the break. There was a significant queue for a turn at the bat, this was one of the event’s more popular night-time attractions.

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Pong In Real Life, Mechanical Pong

[Daniel Perdomo] and two of his friends have been working on a mechanical version of Pong for the past two years. We can safely say that the final result is beautiful. It’s quite ethereal to watch the pixe–cube move back and forth on the surface.

[Daniel] has worked in computer graphics for advertising for more than 20 years. However, he notes that neither he nor his friends had any experience in mechanics or electronics when they began. Thankfully, the internet (and, presumably, sites like Hackaday) provided them with the information needed.

The pong paddles and and pixel (ball?) sit onto of a glass surface. The moving parts are constrained to the mechanics with magnets. Underneath is a construction not unlike an Etch A Sketch for moving the ball while the paddles are just on a rail with a belt. The whole assembly is made from V-groove extrusion.

Our favorite part of the build is the scroll wheel for moving the paddle back and forth. For a nice smooth movement with some mass behind it, what’s better than a hard-drive platter? They printed out an encoder wheel pattern and glued it to the surface. The electronics are all hand-made. The brains appear to be some of the larger Arduinos. The 8-bit segments, rainbow LEDs, etc were build using strips glued in place with what looks like copper foil tape connecting buses. This is definitely a labor of love.

It really must be seen to be understood. The movement is smooth, and our brains almost want to remove a dimension when watching it. As for the next steps? They are hoping to spin it up into an arcade machine business, and are looking for people with money and experience to help them take it from a one-off prototype to a product. Video after the break.

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