PONG in a chip
In 1975, Atari and Magnavox started selling
improved systems using integrated circuits. Magnavox used several Texas Instruments (TI) chips, which replicated the design of the first Odyssey, itself based on 1967
transistor circuits. Atari, however, had the smart idea of designing the first "PONG in a chip"
device, but these Atari chips were not available to other manufacturers, thus
limitating the market considerably. Most Atari systems used a different chip
because of the different games and features. Of course, a few discrete
components interfaced the chip to the other parts of the system: the video modulator,
the player controls, etc. These
chips replaced most of the numerous components used in the early analog and digital
systems. Although Atari chips were a smart design, the idea of integrating
complex circuits into a single chip was a common idea at that time, and other
video game manufacturers soon released their own video game chips.
Texas Instruments (TI) had an important role in 1975
since Magnavox asked the manufacturer to design a special chip set for the
Odyssey 100 and later models. Each chip had a special function: paddle generator, collision detection, on-screen scoring, etc.
They are detailed in the table at the end of this page. These chips were the
SN764xx. It was possible to combine these chips to design a customised Ball &
Paddle games, and even a Spacewar game.
Later, TI copied the Executive Games Television Tennis circuits and integrated them into a new chip: the SN76410N. This chip was very unsuccessfull and very few systems used it: Tele-Match 3300R, Ricochet Super Pro (model MT-4A), and Venture Electronics Video Sports VS-5. David Winter asked Glen Dash (who designed the Television Tennis) how this came to his attention. His reply was crystal clear: "The Tennis game was absolutely same, so much that it had the same bugs as my original design".
Because all these chips were unsuccessfull, TI decided to release another type of chip in 1977: the TMS-1955 and TMS-1965, both pin compatible with the GI AY-3-8500, hence a better success.
GI, the low-cost Ball & Paddle genius:
General Instruments (GI) was well known for
designing Large Scale Integragion (LSI) chips. In 1975, GI had a
revolutionar idea: the design of a low-cost chip playing several Ball & Paddle
games, and available to
any manufacturer. This chip changed the video game industry within
a year and marked the end of discrete components systems like the Odyssey 100,
200, 400 and 500 (Magnavox used a GI chip in the Odyssey
300, but this particular system was just an answer to Coleco's Telstar system,
which we will detail later). Even the more advanced discrete components systems
digital on-screen scoring and graphic characters were prone to oblivion. Atari
continued designing its own chips,
playing more games (all in color with digital on-screen scoring).
GI's first video game chip was the AY-3-8500. It played six games: four Ball & Paddle variants and two target shooting games, which all had variable difficulty settings changed using switches. In addition, a seventh undocumented game could be played when none of the previous six was selected: Handicap, a football/hockey variant where the player on the right has a third paddle. Very few systems played this game. The following table shows the AY-3-8500 games:
|Hockey / Football||2|
|Practice / Solo||1|
GI, a huge success:
The AY-3-8500 chip had a huge
success: at least five hundred different systems based around this chip were released
by hundreds of manufacturers all over the world. Some even launched a range of
systems playing three to six games with one or more of the possible game settings.
In reality, the electronic circuitry was same and a small modification allowed
playing the missing games. But this required some technical skills and
eventually the abilty to build the electronic gun (or rifle)
to play the two shooting games. The typical example is Magnavox with the
Odyssey 300, 2000 and 3000, which were all based on the AY-3-8500. Other good examples
are the Coleco Telstar systems, and the Radio Shack TV ScoreBoard systems.
In other words: business and marketing. GI also released several improved versions
of the AY-3-8500: the AY-3-8550, which added horizontal player motion and composite
video output, the AY-3-8510 (four games in color), the AY-3-8512 (same as
AY-3-8500 but in color) and the AY-3-8600 (eight Ball & Paddle variants and two shooting
games). GI also released special color encoders which transformed black and
white pictures into color pictures. Thus, the AY-3-8515 chip colored the
AY-3-8500 games. Same with the AY-3-8615, wich colored the AY-3-8600 and
GI and its competitors:
The story is far from finished. If
GI released the AY-3-8500 in 1976, the competition was already present.
National Semiconductor (NS) released another chip integrating several Ball & Paddle games: the MM-57100 (also released as the MM-57105 in PAL format). NS advertised the chip as playing games with true and realistic colors (the background was green for Tennis, blue for Hockey, and magenta for Squash). This was a major feature which probably helped selling the chip. As a matter of fact, the basic configuration of the GI AY-3-8500, 8550 and 8600 chips delivered a black and white picture.
The NS games also
differed from the GI games. For instance, each player
appeared alternatively in the Squash game when the ball was hit, and the Hockey game showed six square opponents (organised in two groups of three) moving up
and down on the screen. The sound was also different: it was directly sent to
the TV set instead of coming from a speaker in the system. The game selection
was much better: a simple push-button allowed switching between games, rather
than a fragile switch easily broken after too many game selections. The scores
appeared once a player lost the ball, the bats could have three different sizes,
and the ball accelerated once it bounced four times on the players.
Finally, the games could also be played in solo: the single player controlled
both sides of the games using the same controller.
For the release of this new chip, NS launched a small system called National Adversary (model 370). It was not really nice, but played the three games of the chip and sold pretty well. The only problem was the competitive price of the AY-3-8500, which everybody wanted to use when NS released the MM-57100. GI chips were so successfull that magasines published special accessories allowing to convert a black and white picture to color, and even adding two players to play in 4-player mode. Those accessories either used a GI chip like the AY-3-8515 color encoder, or some discrete components which added new features. This was a quick solution for those who bought a system not equiped with a color encoder (their only drawback was a slightly higher production cost, hence a higher retail price).
Although NS had a pretty smart idea by releasing the MM-57100 chip, the increasing success of GI became too high for NS, and facing the situation became more and more difficult. As an attempt to survive this situation, NS released another chip in 1978: the MM-57106 (also known as MM-57186 in PAL format). This one played six different games: those of the MM-57100, plus Wipe-Out (Breakout clone), Flipper and Football. Each game was playable in several variants, giving a total of twenty-three games. This chip was not successful and the only systems known to use it are the Philips N30 and Philips Odyssey 2100, both released in Europe. NS advertised an improved Adversary system (model 600) based on this chip, but no specimen surfaced yet.
The National Adversary by NS, with the three games of the MM-57100 chip:
Tennis (upper right), Hockey (lower left), and Squash (lower right).
MOSTek, another manufacturer well known in
the micro computer market, released a quite advanced line of video game chips in
1977: the MCS-7600 series, quickly replaced with the MPS-7600 equivalents (the
only difference were their package: Ceramic at first, and Plastic just after). Rather than integrating the components of a complete
Ball & Paddle game,
this type of chip contained some circuits to display graphics and generate sound effects,
all of which were driven by a simple processor and a 512-word ROM (Read Only
versions of this chip are known to exist. Each of them contains customised circuits
adapted to the games played. For example, the Ball & Paddle version (MPS-7600-001) plays four games for two or four players and uses special paddle and ball
generators. This particular chip was also released in PAL format as MPS-7601. So
far, only Commodore is known to have used it in a system (model 3000H). Only one
manufacturer used all of the MOSTek chips: Coleco (see the
Telstar Arcade and Telstar Gemini systems). All
others used the MPS-7600-001 chip.
Universal Research and the Car Racing games:
In 1976, Universal Research Labs
(URL) contracted Omnetics to design a quite advanced chip: the F4301. Because the chip was so complex, it could
not fit a single silicon piece and had to be split in two pieces mounted on a
thick film substrate. The F4301 chip played two Ball & Paddle
variants and two car racing games. The car games were a major addition which no other
Ball & Paddle
chip played. The F4301 games could be played by up
to four players ("human mode"), and the Ball & Paddle games could also be played against the system ("robot" mode) with
variable "intelligence" (paddle reaction time).
Interestingly, the F-4301 inherited the Ball & Paddle circuits used in the URL Video Action 3 system. One can
eventually look at the VA-3 circuit board and know what was included in the
F-4301 chipset to play the Ball & Paddle games. URL used the F4301 chip in their Indy 500 system
(also known as Video Action 4, model VA-4), released in 1976. URL also had an
order from Sears, which released that game in limited amount (see the
URL page for more information).
Atari also used the F4301 in the Speedway and Speedway IV systems, both sold under the
Sears label. Some european systems also used this chip: Interton
Video 2800, MBO Tele-Ball VIII, etc.
To face this competition, GI improved the AY-3-8500 and released two new chips
in 1977: the AY-3-8600 and the AY-3-8610. The AY-3-8600 played eight Ball &
(the four Ball & Paddle games of the AY-3-8500, plus four new ones, including basketball
and gridball games) and two shooting games. It added new features such as the possibility to change
the size of each player, the manual or automatic serve, and the horizontal
player motion. The AY-3-8610 was same, the differences between the two chips
As the AY-3-8500 could be coupled to the AY-3-8515 (color picture generator), the AY-3-8615 could be used with the AY-3-8600 and AY-3-8610 to produce a
color picture. Magnavox used the AY-3-8600 and 8615 in the Odyssey 4000 released in 1977.
As technology improved, video game systems became more and more advanced, and also cheaper. However, another major fact started in 1976: the release of microprocessor systems using plug-in game cartridges containing software programmed games in ROM chips. Since these new systems were expensive, Ball & Paddle systems were still successfull. But in 1977, Atari released a revolutionar system: the Video Computer System (Atari 2600). Still expensive, this system did not kill the Ball & Paddle games market until other advanced systems appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s: Mattel Intellivision, Bally Astrocade, Magnavox Odyssey^2 (also known as Videopac in Europe), etc... But this was another story.
Ball & Paddle games to end:
Faced to all these facts, GI
designed new game chips in 1977. Still based on the
same idea (a single chip playing several variants of a same game, and available
to any manufacturer), they played more advanced games. These chips were not vastly sold in the USA (although
Coleco and Atari used some of them), but were very successfull in Europe and
had an important role in the release of early cartridge-based systems. The new
GI game chips were:
Car Race (AY-3-8603): Called "Race", "Grand Prix" or "Course de Voitures", the games consist in a vertical road that scrolls down at an increasing speed (since the driver is supposed to accelerate), and with some opponent cars coming down. Obviously, the player has to stay as long as possible without touching the opponent cars. The sound effects are pretty well done for such a chip. The game could be played by one or two players.
Submarine (AY-3-8605): Called "Submarine", "Bataille Navale", "Warefare" or "Jeux de guerre", the game displays a boat moving on the sea which has to drop torpedos to destroy submarines. The chip played three game variants.
Breakout (AY-3-8606): Called "Wipe-Off", "Destruction Game", "Brix Game", or "Jeux de destruction", the games could be played by one or two players. Ten variations were available. Depending on the game, the brick wall was either solid or made of spaced squares. When the game was played by two people, each player had break the wall of the opponent while protecting his own wall. Although the walls were vertical, the ball would not bounce on the left and right sides of the screen once it had broken enough bricks to cross the wall. In other words, the ball was lost when it crossed the wall, and the opponent scored a point. It was nearly impossible to destroy a complete wall, which made the games pretty hard to finish.
Tank Battle (AY-3-8700): The game is similar to Atari Combat. Unlike the previous three chips which were apparently never used in commercial systems the USA (though they were advertised), this one was used by Coleco in the Telstar Combat system. Atari supposedly released a Tank system too. In Europe, several manufacturers like Occitane and Soundic used this chip in some of their systems. This chip played the most impressive games of the GI chips. It also existed as AY-3-8710, which could be an improved version of the AY-3-8700.
Motor-Cycle (AY-3-8760): Called "Skill Cycles", "Stunt Cycles", "Cycle Race", or "Course de motos", the chip played four game variants, and was used by Atari and Sears in the Stunt Cycle and Motocross systems. The player drives a motor-cycle on three levels. Depending on the variant, the player has to jump over small obstacles, and finally jump over an increasing number of buses as long as the player finishes each level. Some variants are timed, which increases the difficulty. The chip also exists as AY-3-8765 in PAL format.
Other games: GI released more complex chips like the AY-3-8800, playing advanced games like War and Draw-Poker (a card game). The designs of these chips are unknown for the moment, but it is supposed that they are software programmed, since the games were quite advanced. They could use custom circuits and a program like a micro-controller, but this remains unproved. Another rumor wanted that those games be available as separate ROMs for use with the new CP-1610 chip, a 8/10/16 bit microprocessor made by GI and used by Mattel in the Intellivision system in 1979.
There are still a number of obscure video game chips made by various manufacturers. Some may not be Ball & Paddle chips, but it is interesting to know their references. The story of these devices is summarized in the following table. Still incomplete, it contains the information of most of the Ball & Paddle games and derivates released between 1975 and 1979.
The original GI "GIMINI" catalog (1978 edition) covers most, if not all of the GI chips mentioned here. Click here to view it in PDF.
|3659-1C/C2566||Atari||1975||1 PONG game (Atari PONG, 2 player version).|
|3659-3||Atari||1975||1 PONG game (Atari PONG Doubles and Sears PONG IV: 4 player version).|
|C010073-3||Atari||1976||4 PONG variants (Atari and Sears Super PONG).|
|C010073-01/C2607||Atari||1976||10 PONG variants (Atari Super PONG Ten).|
|C010765||Atari||1977||32 PONG variants (Atari Ultra PONG and Ultra PONG Doubles).|
|C011500-11 / C011512-05||Atari||1977||7 Pinball/Breakout games (Atari Video Pinball).|
|AY-3-8500||GI||1976||4 Ball & Paddle games and 2 shooting games (PAL).|
|AY-3-8500-1||GI||1976||4 Ball & Paddle games and 2 shooting games (NTSC).|
|AY-3-8510||GI||1978 ?||Improved version of the AY-3-8500: 4 Ball & Paddle games in color.|
|AY-3-8512||GI||1978 ?||Improved version of the AY-3-8510 with two target shooting games.|
|AY-3-8515||GI||1976 ?||Color picture encoder for the AY-3-8500.|
|AY-3-8550||GI||1976 ?||Improved AY-3-8500 with horizontal player motion (PAL).|
|AY-3-8550-1||GI||1976 ?||Improved AY-3-8500 with horizontal player motion (NTSC).|
|AY-3-8600||GI||1977||8 Ball & Paddle games (PAL).|
|AY-3-8600-1||GI||1977||8 Ball & Paddle games (NTSC).|
|AY-3-8603||GI||1977||2 car racing games.|
|AY-3-8605||GI||1977||3 submarine war games.|
|AY-3-8606||GI||1977||10 breakout games.|
|AY-3-8607||GI||1977||Target shooting games.|
|AY-3-8610||GI||1977||Improved version of the 8600 with 2 shooting games.|
|AY-3-8615||GI||1977 ?||Colour picture encoder for the AY-3-8600.|
|AY-3-8700||GI||1978 ?||Tank battle game. PAL version.|
|AY-3-8700-1||GI||1978 ?||Tank battle game. NTSC version.|
|AY-3-8710||GI||1978 ?||Tank battle game.|
|AY-3-8760||GI||1977 ?||4 motor-cycle games: Skill cycle, Cycle race...|
|AY-3-8765||GI||1977 ?||4 motor-cycle games: Skill cycle, Cycle race...|
|AY-3-8800||GI||1977 ?||Programmable games: War, Draw Pocker, etc.|
4 Ball & Paddle games for 2/4 players (NTSC).
|MPS 7601-001||MOSTek||1977||4 Ball & Paddle games for 2/4 players (PAL).|
|M58816P||Nintendo ?||1977 ?||6 Ball & Paddle games in color (also used with M51342P, M58471L).|
|MM-57100||NS||1976||3 color Ball & Paddle games: HOCKEY, TENNIS and SQUASH (NTSC).|
|MM-57105||NS||1976||3 color Ball & Paddle games: HOCKEY, TENNIS and SQUASH (PAL).|
|MM-57106||NS||1977 ?||23 games (6 different types). NTSC version. Possibly unreleased.|
|MM-57186||NS||1978||23 games (6 different types). PAL version. Possibly unreleased.|
|CR861 (MUGS)||Signetics||1977||Several Ball & Paddle games, one or a few Tank and Helicopter games.|
|TMS-1955||TI||1976||4 Ball & Paddle variants.|
|TMS-1965||TI||1976||6 Ball & Paddle variants.|
|SN76410N||TI||1977||6 Ball & Paddle variants.|
|SN76427||TI||1975?||Wall and Ball generator for Ball & Paddle games.|
|SN76430N||TI||1975?||Merges ball, wall, scores, etc. signals into a color composite signal.|
|SN76431N||TI||1975?||Position generator for two complex characters.|
|SN76432||TI||1975?||Programmable ROM for three complex characters.|
|SN76440||TI||1975?||Special logic IC for the TI Space War game.|
|SN76460||TI||1975?||On-screen scoring generator (scores 0-20 and 'W' for winner).|
|SN76462||TI||1975?||On-screen scoring generator (scores 0-18 only).|
|SN76483N||TI||1975?||Special logic chip for the TI Space War game.|
|SN76484N||TI||1975?||Special logic chip for the TI Space War game.|
|SN76499N||TI||1975?||Color picture encoder (can be used with th AY-3-8500).|
|F4301||URL||1976||2 Ball & Paddle games and 2 car racing games.|
|NTL 600||?||1977?||3 Ball & Paddle games.|
Tennis (AY-3-8500 and following)
|Several games by GI.||
Draw Poker (AY-3-8800)
manufacturers released some systems playing the different
games released by GI. These systems used cartridges containing a GI chip and a number of interfacing
components. Very few of these systems were released in the USA, mostly because the new systems like the Atari
2600 became affordable. However, they were very successfull in Europe, where
those new Atari 2600 systems (and others) were extremely expensive and not yet famous.
The most common systems date the late 1970s, and typical manufacturers are HANIMEX, ITMC, RADOFIN, ROLLET, SOUNDIC, UNIMEX, SANWA, MUSTANG, A10, etc... Some were even same and only differed by the manufacturer label. They all used ten push-buttons to select the games, two detachable controllers, three difficulty switches, and some others like Reset and Power. Most cartridges could be played on different systems, though a few formats existed. The most common formats are the PC-50x the 100x.