Recently, I did a post on the first ten arcade video games. While doing some research on Nutting Associates, I came across some info that led me to make a significant revision to my list. It is far from certain, but there is evidence that the first Pong clone may have actually been Nutting’s Computer Space Ball, and not Allied Leisure’s Paddle Battle. I have seen Computer Space Ball listed with a 1972 release date before, but that seemed clearly impossible to me given that Pong was released in November, 1972. I figured that the date was erroneous (as other Nutting dates are) and that Computer Space Ball had come out in 1973, but was unsure exactly when. The earliest reference I found was an article in the June 16, 1973 issue of Cash Box mentioning that the game was still “going great guns”. While this likely indicated that the game had been out for a least a month or two, and possibly longer, I still wasn’t sure exactly when it appeared.Recently, however, I came across an interview in the August, 1976 issue of Play Meter with Vic Leslie. At the time of the interview, Leslie was the chairman of Cherry Group, which distributed and/or operated Atari games in England. In the interview, Leslie mentioned how he had first gotten into video games when he encountered Nutting’s Computer Space at the MOA show and thought it was a revolutionary game. He also mentioned how he had met Nutting VP Rui Lopes. His next meeting with Lopes provided an interesting quote:
[Vic Leslile] At the ATE in 1973, the London Exhibition, Rui and I bumped into each other again. Actually he approached me and said that he had a different type of game: would I be interested in marketing it in England?...I believe he shipped the machine, which was called Nutting Computer Space Ball, but was Rui's version of Pong. Pong had just been invented a month or two prior to that and hadn't come to England at all at that timeThe ATE was usually (and, AFAIK, always) held in January. This fits in with Leslie’s claim that Pong had “…been invented a month or two prior to that…” If Leslie’s dates and recollections are correct (and they seem to be) and the ATE was in January (as usual), this would indicate that Computer Space Ball appeared very early indeed. It is unclear if the game had already been released in the US at the time of the ATE, but if it had, then it was surely the first of the Pong clones. I’d need some more solid information to pin this down, but I’m highly doubtful that any will appear.
And if the game was out by January, I wonder how Nutting built it so quickly. AFAIK they didn't license the game from Atari (would Atari have licensed it that early anyway?). I think that Steve Bristow had already left Nutting by that point (from what I remember, he left in the fall of 1972 to go back to college).
BTW, Leslie’s opinion of Computer Space is also worth noting.
[Vic Leslie] I was pretty bowled over by a machine there called Nutting Computer Space. I thought it was the most fabulous game I had ever played; I couldn't tear myself away from it. I felt at the time it was going to revolutionize the industry. However, I didn't feel it prudent at that time to purchase because of the technology involved in the game: it was way beyond anything we could handle in England. Even people here in America who were better judges than I were pessimistic about it.On another note, last time I mentioned that Larry Rosenthal gave a talk at the recent CAX 2014. Well, the talk has been posted to YouTube and everyone who reads this blog should check it out:
The introduction is missing, as are the last 15 minute or so but you can see the latter, along with talks by the Defender Team, Warren Davis, Jerry Lawson, and others here: