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BassGuitari

Pong IV

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Posted (edited)

[Part 1]

 

Among Atari's lineup of dedicated game consoles of the '70s dwells something of a missing link: Pong Doubles, model C-160. This was essentially the standard Pong unit but with jacks to connect external handheld paddle controllers, allowing up to four players to play Pong instead of only two. However, although a few boxes have turned up (some of these were repurposed to package Super Pong Ten systems), no actual Pong Doubles console has ever surfaced. It is likely that it was never actually released; Michael Current's impeccably researched History of Syzygy/Atari backs this up.

 

As with all the Atari Pong units, there was also a Sears Tele-Games version: Pong IV, model 99717 (Not to be confused with Super Pong IV). Unlike the Pong Doubles, the Pong IV, while still incredibly rare (Current similarly indicates it never shipped), is not a completely unknown quantity. There are at least two videos on YouTube featuring the unit: a brief gameplay clip (in which the system is barely visible) from somebody apparently selling one some time ago, and a French-language takedown/repair video. It is also pictured on the Wikipedia page for Pong, as well as on bojoga.com.br (which also shows some truly bizarre and unique CX30-style handheld controls). The system did also feature in the 1976 Sears Wishbook and 1977 Sears Spring/Summer catalog, alongside the likes of Sears' Super Pong/IV, Hockey Pong, and Speedway units. Other records of its existence are few and a far between, but the small number of units known to exist at least point to a limited release of some kind. Very, very hard to find, but they're out there.

 

You can probably see where I'm going with this. 😜

 

IMG_2849.thumb.jpg.386a42b87da94cbe6569877bfed5a6d3.jpgIMG_2876.thumb.jpg.c478e9439d587601f85db854cb788bd4.jpgIMG_2856.thumb.jpg.5b0de03211618d7db8139b4fd5084c6a.jpgIMG_2850.thumb.jpg.af46762f57a1222cf3c7d4a39a79f619.jpg

 

Yes, by absolute freak chance, I ran across a Pong IV system off-eBay a little over a month ago (I've been meaning to share but haven't had time!). Between this and the Sears Super Pong "Pro Am" I stumbled across a year ago, I must have pretty much used up all my Pong collecting luck for the rest of my life--especially since the shop I bought it from is six states away and typically only does local deliveries (a detail which evaded my attention as I frantically put in my order/payment info as fast as I could), but was gracious enough to make an exception and ship it to me. 😬😅 Beautiful condition, and works perfectly (one jittery paddle aside).

 

I was beyond excited to randomly find myself with a chance to collect a console of which only a handful are known to exist (I'm sure there have to be more out there; we just don't know about them). That was amazing enough! But something else about this system cranked it up from 11 to 12:

 

IMG_2853.thumb.jpg.0168ece9205aaf8cf21b668d1a30ce76.jpgIMG_2855.thumb.jpg.7ad23da82d99aada6c5ed8d878818a7c.jpgIMG_2854.thumb.jpg.fbe6012959d098d81490b06b885fd838.jpg

 

THE BOX! In almost 25 years of collecting, I've never seen or heard of anyone having a box for a Pong IV. This one has definitely seen better days, as a previous owner saw fit to tear the top flap off at some point for some reason, and the foam inserts are long gone, but I certainly wasn't about to nitpick the condition on this!

 

Unfortunately, there was no manual. The French YouTuber I mentioned earlier (EDIT: it's PixelMania - MrShu) has one and showed it off in his refurb video. It's kind of interesting how each instance of Pong IV systems has some piece of ephemera that the others are missing: French-speaking dude has a manual, I have a box, and the system in the Bojoga collection in Brazil has bizarro quasi-CX30-type paddle controllers.

 

EDIT: Note that this system did come with an "Atari" power switch cap. I'm not sure if it's actually supposed to go with it, though, since neither the box or any of Pong IV's catalog appearances depict the system having one of these caps. MrShu's system has one, but none of the other ones known out there appear to. These could be easily lost, but I don't know where else ours would have come from. 🤷‍♂️

 

[To be continued!]

Edited by BassGuitari
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Posted (edited)

[Part 2]

 

I wanted to take a look at the board. Fortunately, this system uses screws with square bit heads (which could have been an issue if I didn't have a well-stocked socket driver set, but fortunately I do) instead of those stupid tri-wing screws the original Pong uses (and Phillips for the battery holder, of course). Unsurprisingly, it's basically very similar to the C-100 board but for the addition of an Atari C010113-01 chip (I guess this is logic for the additional paddles?), some additional capacitors and resistors, and two-pin molex connectors at either side of the board for the paddle jacks. Interestingly, I didn't find any "Atari" markings on the board itself, although it occurs now that I didn't remove the RF shield on the underside; there could be something in there, although that would seem like a strange place to put it.

 

IMG_2862.thumb.jpg.1547d532488fc518a82fcaf77daa2f7a.jpgIMG_2863.thumb.jpg.5b765af2373c553f7c2ad7fc581cf13a.jpgIMG_2864.thumb.jpg.7c6de2566aff92705e64a33e3d1c78da.jpgIMG_2866.thumb.jpg.cdd0ecfcaf096c73782dd7eb5d78c478.jpg

 

Interestingly, the Pong IV appears to share the gray-colored control panels with the Hockey Pong system:

 

IMG_2875.thumb.jpg.03cd7f4a559d4306fd9a8cd05dc776d8.jpg

 

And just for fun, a pic of Pong IV running in its natural habitat!

 

IMG_2873.thumb.jpg.0e018c220a018e8b7f1cca03de3f9831.jpg

 

 

 

 

I love collecting dedicated consoles, and particularly boxed Sears ones. I'm thrilled to now have this in my collection and share this little-known system with the community. Hope you found this informative! 😃

Edited by BassGuitari
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1 hour ago, BassGuitari said:

EDIT: Note that this system did come with an "Atari" power switch cap. I'm not sure if it's actually supposed to go with it, though, since neither the box or any of Pong IV's catalog appearances depict the system having one of these caps. MrShu's system has one, but none of the other ones known out there appear to. These could be easily lost, but I don't know where else ours would have come from. 🤷‍♂️

 

Follow-up again: The '77 Sears Spring/Summer catalog DOES in fact show the Pong IV with a power switch cap. 🤦‍♂️😆

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That's an excellent find, and congratulations!

 

Is it possible that these machines were part of a test-market run that never went to full production?  It might go some way towards explaining the low numbers of them floating around, but also why they look to be final-product quality both in the unit itself as well as the packaging.

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37 minutes ago, x=usr(1536) said:

That's an excellent find, and congratulations!

 

Is it possible that these machines were part of a test-market run that never went to full production?  It might go some way towards explaining the low numbers of them floating around, but also why they look to be final-product quality both in the unit itself as well as the packaging.

Could be, but I'm leaning toward it just being a flop. Sears was selling the thing for $64.95, while for only $14 more you could get a Super Pong with five games and a speed switch, though only for 1-2 players. Or a Hockey Pong (four games + paddle/speed switches, but B/W display) for only $5 more. With only one game, even with up to four players, the value just wasn't there. And at $10 more than the original standard Pong (which, I enjoyed to learn, Sears was still selling in 1977! 😅), I surmise most consumers shopping at that price point probably would have banked that the chances of simultaneously entertaining two or three Pong purists on even an occasional basis were pretty slim, and forgone the extra paddles and saved the ten bucks...unless they basically just wanted an original Pong but with the option to use remote controllers, but that would have to have been an incredibly niche demographic.

 

It just doesn't seem like there was a place for this system in Sears' crowded lineup. 🤷‍♂️ Which Atari must have seen coming when they canceled Pong Doubles.

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This is a super cool find. Congratulations!

 

(I have to say that I keep seeing this thread title and thinking of Pong being drip-fed intravenously. Hospitals on my mind...)

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I play my Atari on the same TV, it is also seen in the movie "The Big Lebowski" early in the film.

 

Cool find on the pong unit.

IMG_2873.jpg

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10 hours ago, jgkspsx said:

(I have to say that I keep seeing this thread title and thinking of Pong being drip-fed intravenously. Hospitals on my mind...)

Great, now I'm doing double-takes. 😆

 

In a Pong drip, does the same drip just keep getting fed back and forth? 😜

 

4 hours ago, chas10e said:

I play my Atari on the same TV, it is also seen in the movie "The Big Lebowski" early in the film.

Dude (ha!), I love this TV. I picked it up because I wanted something more period correct for the earlier systems in my collection ('70s through late '80s), and it works amazingly, even with systems whose RF has given me grief with newer TVs. I swear some of them look almost as good as composite!

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On 3/14/2021 at 11:05 PM, x=usr(1536) said:

Is it possible that these machines were part of a test-market run that never went to full production?  It might go some way towards explaining the low numbers of them floating around, but also why they look to be final-product quality both in the unit itself as well as the packaging.

Thinking about this some more, to your point, I'm starting to wonder if Pong Doubles/Pong IV may have been essentially a byproduct. Apparently (and surprisingly), the second-ever Atari system to get FCC approval was actually what would become the Super Pong Ten*, which of course is a four-player unit. That would have to mean Atari already had developed the logic and components to add the extra paddles to their game/s early on, and that from there they could "work backward" and use different combinations of that unit's features to create different models for lower price points. Like withholding the additional paddles and calling it Super Pong (or changing the dedicated game chip in Pong), or adding the four-player support to Pong and calling it Pong Doubles.

 

*FCC approval for Super Pong Ten was obtained May 31, 1976; regular Super Pong was introduced two weeks later at CES; Super Pong Ten didn't launch until January 1977.

 

Why exactly Atari canceled the Pong Doubles system is unknown (though we can guess that Atari realized it was redundant; maybe Sears demanded exclusivity for Pong IV?), but Sears obviously didn't think it would hurt to try to sell a few of them since it was essentially cobbled together from other games Atari was already making for them anyway (core game = Pong; extra player logic/components = Super Pong IV; case pieces = Hockey Pong). I don't want to say "test market" because it did appear in at least two nationally distributed catalogs, but I don't imagine a whole lot of Pong IV systems were produced in the first place since it likely siphoned from other product lines.**

 

Combine that with poor sales performance, and that's a recipe for an awfully obscure game system!

 

**Or maybe it even resulted from a [leftover] parts inventory/production efficiency scenario where Atari had the situation of, "We don't have quite enough stuff to make this, but we can make that." Granted, it's not as simple as that, for various reasons, but it's an interesting thought.

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This is absolutely terrific; posts like this are exactly why I love these forums! A piece of video game history rescued and given the spotlight it deserves - and with plenty of helpful info for the rest of us, to boot!

Thanks for sharing!

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On 3/16/2021 at 1:48 PM, King Atari said:

This is absolutely terrific; posts like this are exactly why I love these forums! A piece of video game history rescued and given the spotlight it deserves - and with plenty of helpful info for the rest of us, to boot!

Thanks for sharing!

And a heaping helping of conjecture! 😅😜

 

Glad you enjoyed!

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On 3/15/2021 at 11:31 PM, BassGuitari said:

Great, now I'm doing double-takes. 😆

 

In a Pong drip, does the same drip just keep getting fed back and forth? 😜

 

Dude (ha!), I love this TV. I picked it up because I wanted something more period correct for the earlier systems in my collection ('70s through late '80s), and it works amazingly, even with systems whose RF has given me grief with newer TVs. I swear some of them look almost as good as composite!

I love those Pong units, but I definitely want your TV.  Thanks for sharing your finds.

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On 3/14/2021 at 5:50 PM, BassGuitari said:

IMG_2854.thumb.jpg.fbe6012959d098d81490b06b885fd838.jpg

 

THE BOX! In almost 25 years of collecting, I've never seen or heard of anyone having a box for a Pong IV.

 

Go figure that as soon as I say I've never seen or heard of something, I find another example while doing some random googling:

 

IMG_3943_r0yvfr.jpg

 

This was from the National Videogame Museum showcase at E3 2019. Makes sense that if anybody else would have a boxed Pong IV, it would be NVM, though! 😅

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Whilst looking at ebay listings I came across the following:

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Atari-Pong-Console-Model-C-140-With-Instructions-c-1970-039-s-Parts-or-Repair-/402830178350?ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT&_trksid=p2047675.l2557&nma=true&si=56wSaQrrYUfT40zCyMF0OMtKi6o%3D&orig_cvip=true&nordt=true&rt=nc

 

It's clearly Super Pong, however the ninth image is visibly a Pong Doubles box.  Shame about the condition though.

 

As a note the battery lid indicates the console is factory reconditioned.  Would be interesting if this was a Pong Doubles that was converted to Super Pong (pure conjecture).

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Oh man, even in that condition, somebody got that for a steal!

 

It would be very interesting if it was a conversion. To my knowledge, Atari never offered any kind of "upgrade" service on any of their Pong units. Seems like this would have to have been a Pong Doubles board re-populated with the Super Pong chipset (which, comparing the boards, doesn't actually look possible), wired up to the Game Select switch (interestingly, Pong Doubles has a space on its board for the Molex connector for this) and dropped into a Super Pong case. Doesn't seem worth the bother since the converted console is mostly Super Pong parts at that point anyway. In any case, there wouldn't be any way to tell without getting a look at the board.

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13 hours ago, BassGuitari said:

Oh man, even in that condition, somebody got that for a steal!

If I was in the states I would be thinking that too.

 

14 hours ago, BassGuitari said:

Seems like this would have to have been a Pong Doubles board re-populated with the Super Pong chipset (which, comparing the boards, doesn't actually look possible), wired up to the Game Select switch (interestingly, Pong Doubles has a space on its board for the Molex connector for this) and dropped into a Super Pong case.

I'm of the opinion that an Atari Pong Doubles unit would have had the top case removed and switched with a Tele-Games Pong VI and shipped to Sears, with the Atari Pong Doubles top Alamogordo'd (just kidding).  I'll be interested to see the board on this unit, to see what's been done even if it's not a Pong Doubles conversion, just curious.

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