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When Pong was released back in 1972, I don’t think anyone expected people would still be making modifications to the classic formula more then 35 years later. While the game got a much needed reboot on the Playstation in 1999, with enhanced 3-D visuals and power-ups, it’s unfortunately considered by many to be too simple for today’s high end consoles.
With the advent of the iPhone, and a new desire for bite sized gaming experiences on the go, the world has seen a new reemergence of simple games like Pong. Independent developer DC Software Arts is not ready to sit idly by and let people play the same old boring version that was released almost four decades ago. They have spiced things up with their own interpretation on the classic title named The Art of Pong.
Texas based DC Software Arts believes that “there is an art to the classic game of Pong.” There is a lot of truth in their statement, because what they have essentially done with their new iPhone game is enrich the Pong experience with a bunch of colorful and creative artwork. They’ve even made some slight modifications to the actual gameplay itself, though for the most part it remains unchanged. There is only so much you can change about Pong after all.
Most of the artwork in The Art of Pong comes in the form of the 14 colorful background themes that fill the screen during matches. These range from hand drawn images of beaches and flowers to professional photographs and images from the Hubble Telescope. Many of the themes even include different animations, like fish swimming around in the ocean.
Each background is also accompanied by its own creatively designed paddles, balls, and sound effects. A great example of this is the beach theme, which allows the player to use surf board shaped paddles to knock around a beach ball while waves are lapping along the shore in the background. One of my personal favorites is a blank canvas where the ball is actually a paint brush that covers the screen in beautiful colors as it moves back and forth.
Besides adding some artistic flair to the game, DC Software Arts has also provided some user controlled options to modify the gameplay experience. Players can choose to either take on a computer controlled character, or they can go head to head with another person. If they really want to see some crazy fast action, they can let the computer battle itself.
The real fun comes in taking on other people, which is easily accomplished by laying the iPhone down on a flat surface before starting a game. Players can then choose how many paddles they have, how large the paddles are, and how fast the ball moves for them. They can even enter their name, allowing the game to track their lifetime statistics.
When it comes to the actual gameplay formula, nothing has really changed in 38 years from the original Pong to this new version. Players still use paddles to hit the ball back and forth, which unfortunately gets boring if you do it for too long. Things do get more exciting the longer a match continues, thanks to the ball moving faster and faster. Every once in a while the ball even curves a bit as it moves, deviating from the expected straight path, but unfortunately the game is still as simple as ever.
When DC Software Arts started creating The Art of Pong, they weren’t trying to revolutionize the game. They were simply creating a building block from which to launch their new company. While many independent developers tend to be young entrepreneurs trying to make a name for themselves, DC Software Arts was actually started by two retired NASA engineers, Clifton Grim and David Lavin.
With the help of Dave’s wife Carol, and Clif’s wife Terry and son Chris, the team began designing The Art of Pong in May of 2009. Dave and Clif actually met many years ago at IBM when they ended up sitting beside each other on their first day on the job. Dave even introduced Clif to Terry, and the three eventually went on to work together on the Space Shuttle at Cape Kennedy.
Working for NASA, on a project as big and complicated as the Space Shuttle, Dave and Clif learned the importance of high quality code. Their goal when starting DC Software Arts was to “continue this commitment to high quality” in their new company. They chose The Art of Pong as their first project because they actually coded their own version of the game back in the 1970s.
The great thing about Clif and Dave is that they work extremely well together, and they feel they’ve put together an excellent team whose goal is to create successful iPhone applications. What’s even more important is that they are truly a family who understand each others strengths and weaknesses. When they need advice they reach out to other family members, like Dave’s son Mark Lavin and his wife Beth. When I interviewed them for this feature, they even asked me for advice as what I thought might be an interesting iPhone application that others would want to use.
Now that Clif and Dave are done with The Art of Pong, they have moved on to design other iPhone applications, but they hope to return at some point to create more iPhone games. More information about their current and future products can be viewed at their company website, dcsoftwarearts.com, including their newest application: Bill Split OCR.
The Art of Pong can currently be purchased on iTunes for $0.99. While it is an extremely simple game, it does put a more artsy spin on the classic formula, which is more than I can say about most of the boring iPhone Pong games out there. It’s also created by a family of hard working individuals who are just taking their first steps into the cut-throat world of game design. With a little luck and a lot of love, DC Software Arts will hopefully be successful in their future endeavors.