Saturday, June 1, 2013

Pong Legend Confirmed

I wasn't planning on doing a post today, but I came across some new Pong-related info that I wanted to share. Last time, I discussed one of the many legends about the game (though I think it was actually a true story). This time, I'm going to talk about another one that is perhaps lesser known. One of the stories about Pong is that after they put it on location at Andy Capp's Al Alcorn noticed that a certain group of gentlemen were arriving at the bar early in the morning to play the game. Alcorn thought this was strange, since they were practically the only customers (who goes to a bar at 9 AM?). When he asked Bill Gattis about it, Gattis told him that they were engineers from Ramtek. In an interview, Nolan Bushnell claimed that one of the bar's owners was Ramtek's VP of finance.
            Well, today I not only confirmed that Nolan's memory was right on the money but I even got a name. The May, 1977 issue of RePlay had an article on Ramtek that included a number of tidbits that I found interesting (thoughI may be the only one).

First up is this:
"But its founder Chuck McEwan is proud to note that if it weren't for the input of capital earnings from their early video game days, the slow and costly development of Ramtek's graphic equipment (familiar from operating rooms to the NASA Space Center) may never have made it at all."

Hmm. So it looks like at least some equipment as NASA was funded by video game profits. (and yes, NASA did use Ramtek displays, as this link demonstrates:

Moving on, we have this:
"A friend [of Chuck McEwan] Tom Adams (now the firm's finance vice president) had a small interest in a Northern California club called Andy Capp [sic] ... which just happened to have one of Atari's early 'Pong' games. McEwan and Adams were fascinated by the machine, as they were by the amount of play it en joyed. As an electronic engineer, McEwan thought his Ramtek Corp. could make a device like that, and the rest is history".

 So now we have a name to go with the Alcorn/Bushnell story - Tom Adams. And he was a part owner of the bar and Ramtek's VP of finance, just like Nolan said (of course, I think that Bushnell interview was done in 1975, so you'd think he'd get it right).

 McEwan even defends himself against the claim that he copied Pong:
"Remember now, I knew Nolan Bushnell personally and he knew we were going into this venture right from the start. Ramtek didn't "steal" Pong…it was completely designed as its own game, meaning we didn't buy a Pong and knock it off part by part. Ramtek's Volly, which was our first piece, was a Volly, not a Pong as happened to Atari in so many other instances. It was video tennis and because we were already TV-computer oriented, it was a good game and we sold a heck of a lot of them."

There were a few other interesting bits of info in the article (such as McEwan's claims that Baseball was the first video game with animated characters and Clean Sweep the first to offer a free game - both of which I doubt). I've added the info to my earlier post about Ramtek.

Finally a few pictures.
Here's Chuck McEwan

And here's the Ramtek plant
Finally, here's the Ramtek production line (in this case, turning out the non-video piece Horoscope)



1 comment:

  1. Nice to see another confirmation of the story along with more elaboration. We have the similar one in the book, but how we were told it by Al was that Nolan/Ted/Al received a call from Gattis the next day about some business looking types there to play the game and not drink, and after digging they found it was Ramtek.