Atari's Pong game to reach new heights

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PHILADELPHIA

Philadelphia is getting ready for a supersized game of Pong -- on the side of a skyscraper.

The classic Atari video game will be re-created later this month on the facade of the 29-story Cira Centre, where hundreds of embedded LED lights will replicate the familiar paddles and ball.

Organizers expect hundreds of onlookers as gaming enthusiasts use giant, table-mounted joysticks to play from afar. The players will be standing on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a site that offers an unobstructed view of the office building from across the Schuylkill River.

"Pong is a cultural icon, cultural milestone," said Frank Lee, the Drexel University game-design professor behind the concept. "This is my love letter to the wonders of technology as seen through the eyes of my childhood."

Despite the buzz the idea has received since being announced Wednesday, Mr. Lee said it took five years to find people willing to make it happen. He eventually met kindred spirits at Brandywine Realty Trust, which owns the Cira Centre, and at the online news site Technically Philly.

Now, what might be the world's largest Pong game will be played April 19 and 24 as part of Philly Tech Week, the news website's annual series of events, seminars and workshops spotlighting the city's technology and innovation communities.

"This is one of the best things I could imagine that could make people aware that there's something happening here, and bring more people into the fold," said Technically Philly co-founder Christopher Wink.

Mr. Wink estimated about 150 people might play over the two days -- most will be chosen by a lottery, but some spots will be reserved for younger students enrolled in science, technology, engineering and math programs.

In a gaming era of lifelike graphics (think Call of Duty) and colorful characters (think Angry Birds) it's hard to imagine how the pixelated Pong qualified as revolutionary when it was introduced in 1972.

The black-and-white arcade game used simple block shapes to simulate two paddles and a ball; the object was for players to hit the ball so their opponents could not return it. A home version paved the way for the game console industry.

At the Cira Centre, the game will be re-created using hundreds of lights already embedded in its north face. The tower stands by day as a gleaming, mirrored edifice in west Philadelphia, but each night it illuminates the skyline with colored, patterned displays.

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