Al Alcorn

San Francisco-born and Berkley-educated, Al is a Silicon Valley pioneer who has been on the leading edge of countless major tech-industry developments.


Inventing 'Pong' Before Video Games Existed with Creator Al Alcorn

Jul 1, 2021
Al Alcorn

Inventing 'Pong' Before Video Games Existed with Creator Al Alcorn

In this episode of Before IT Happened, our host Donna Loughlin talks to electrical engineer and gaming legend Allan “Al” Alcorn, who helped build the modern video-game industry. He was both an early employee of Atari and the creator of Pong, one of the first commercial video games to ever find its way into our homes. He gave Steve Jobs his first job in tech and was an informal advisor during Apple’s early days. Later, he helped launch the first tech incubator and advised scores of young entrepreneurs as they developed their new technologies.

Listen now and learn firsthand how this Silicon Valley legend managed to disrupt numerous industries starting in a time when a personal computer was still a far-fetched dream.

Before any world-changing innovation there was a moment, an event, a realization that sparked the idea before it happened. This is a podcast about that moment — about that idea. Before IT Happened takes you on a journey with the innovators who imagined — and are still imagining — our future. Join host Donna Loughlin as her guests tell their stories of how they brought their visions to life.

Jump straight into:

(02:00) - Al Alcron “The Disruptor” and how he became a career troublemaker - “I was always interested in how things work. I was taking things apart and breaking things and fixing things.”

(04:30) - Studying electrical engineering at UC Berkeley in the 1960’s - “My inspiration was coming from my head. I was just fascinated by what could be built and what could be done.”

(09:22) - Al’s first job and how it led him to meet eventual video game developer Nolan Bushnell - “He seemed to me more like an entrepreneurial type. He was a young man right out of college and he wanted to invest in stocks and things like that, which is not something that normal people did.”

(13:58) - Building a Pong - “I guess the moment was when we put it out on location and somebody actually came up that didn't know me and played it.”

(19:04) - Working with a young hippie kid named Steve Jobs - “All of a sudden this kid shows up and he had this passion and enthusiasm, and I figured: God, he's gotta be cheap if he's that age and he's a hippie, we'll hire him!”

(26:52) - Bringing arcades into the home: The video game console - “Nolan had always defined Atari as more than just an arcade company and from day one it was supposed to be a home game.”

(30:34) - Al’s career in the world’s best technology incubators: Apple, Silicon Gaming, etc. - “What I’m proudest of is that I was allowed through my career for whatever reason to disrupt a bunch of industries.”

(36:15) - User experience and how it’s evolved through video games - “Pong is one of the few, if not the only video game ever produced that required two people, there's no one-player mode and I think one of the reasons for success was that women could play it.”

(40:54) - Al’s hackathon for kids and how he looks to inspire them - “We want to simply give them the opportunity to be successful and create something in that field. Either a game in software, sodder up a board, create an environment, do a 3D printing, anything.”

Episode resources

Connect with Al Alcorn through LinkedIn

Learn more about Pong in the World Video Game Hall of Fame

See Pong on display at the MoMA in New York City

Code your own Pong game

Read Al’s interview with the Computer History Museum

Read more: Al Alcorn, Creator of Pong, Explains How Early Home Computers Owe Their Color Graphics to This One Cheap, Sleazy Trick

Before IT Happened is produced by Donna Loughlin and Studio Pod Media with additional editing and sound design by Nodalab. The show coordinator is Deanna Morenci and the Executive Producer is Katie Sunku Wood. All episodes are written by Jack Buehrer.

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