Believe it or not, the first videogame preceding Pong is invented by a physicist working on the Manhattan Project.

Ask anyone the very first video game ever made, and most probably the majority, or if not, all answers will be pointed towards Atari’s 1972 Pong. However, while technically Pong is the first videogame ever to be played on mainstream media, an earlier version was made way back in 1958 called Tennis for Two, as the name suggests, not only this was the first video game invented, but it also is a two-player game.

Dropping bombs, smashing hits!

Tennis for Two was made by William Higginbotham, which is a physicist and a member of the Manhattan Project. Sounds familiar? Sure is, as it was the same project who was responsible for developing and creating the nuclear bombs that soon ended World War II. To add cherries to the top of Higginbotham’s reputation, he is the man in charge of the team who created the weapon’s ignition system.

Let’s drop the talk about bombs and talk about how he came to develop the game (pun intended). It was post-war in the year 1947 when Higginbotham went to work as the head of the instrumentation division in the Brookhaven National Library, and during his tenure, we worked with a computer called the Donner Model 30, also known as the DM30. Typically the computer is able to simulate how trajectories and how wind resistance works on bouncing objects on an oscilloscope, and with that, he thought that with simple programming, he could make it into a fun game, therefore inviting his colleague Robert Dvorak to develop a simple tennis game.

The birth of videogame physics.

Upon the development of Tennis for Two, the game became a smash hit for attendees of the 1958 Brookhaven Expo (still pun intended). As a result, this has driven Gigginbotham to continuously improve on the game so he has more to show at future expositions. The second iteration allowed players to change gravity settings so they simulate how they can play tennis when they are on the moon and even Jupiter. However, Higginbotham never considered patenting either of the iterations of the game which allowed Atari to develop pong 14 years later, a big step for modern world gaming and indeed a blessing for all gamers and enthusiasts.

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