What if Atari’s Pong was a Sci-Fi Movie?

Well, there’s a question I’ll bet you’ve never asked yourself. Don’t worry, me neither.

But someone out there on the internet did.

Pong of course is the arcade videogame that started it all – every video game that has come since, was birthed out of Pong, which also happens to be 50 years old this year.

Atari Introduces Pong

Atari’s 50th anniversary has been well documented, including here on the blog a couple of times this year. Check out the video in this recent post for very early footage of Pong cabinets being built on Atari’s factory floor.

The lobby of Atari’s headquarters at 14600 Winchester Blvd, Los Gatos, CA. circa 1973

Pong was the industry’s first commercially successful videogame. “Avoid missing ball for high score” was all people needed to know to enjoy gaming. Simple and clear instructions that informed people how to interact with this new entertainment medium.

L-R: Ted Dabney, Nolan Bushnell, Fred Marincic and Allan Alcorn in 1973 with a Pong cabinet at the Atari offices in Santa Clara, Image: Al Alcorn

Read up on the creation of Pong in this excellent article by Benj Edwards here.

Which leads us to the question asked in the title of this post: What if Pong was a Sci-Fi movie? This was a question that Graphic Designer (amongst other things) Johnny Darrell asked himself recently.

To explore this idea, Johnny used an AI tool called MidJourney. This tool takes concepts suggested by the user, then makes them a reality, via an interactive bot. In a process that took months, MidJourney was ‘shown’ a huge number of images. It then trained itself to make connections, associating the images with words that describe them.

When MidJourney is prompted by a user, the connections work like a brain remembering something. It starts with generating random noise (like an old TV with no signal) and over time looks for patterns in the noise that trigger the connections it has made, changing the noise to match what it thinks should be there. Slowly it “imagines” or “hallucinates” an image out of the noise. In reality, this all happens in seconds.

And so in simple terms, you tell the system what you want to see, and MidJourney will literally generate unique and artistic images that are in tune with what you’ve requested, based on its previous knowledge and learnings. What is presented back to the user are creative, bespoke images, generated using Midjourney’s artificial intelligence.

So when Johnny wanted to generate AI images to show what a film based on the videogame Pong might look like, this is what came back. The result is so remarkable, I had to share them here on the blog:

Click an image to view them in a larger lightbox:

How cool are these? Entirely generated by AI in a Stanley Kubrick late-70s style sci-fi style. The sense of a dystopian Pong world is remarkable. The images bring to mind movies of the era like THX1138, Logan’s Run, Bladerunner and 2001: A Space Odessey.

Johnny even mocked up a movie poster to go with the images:

Click for a bigger version

A slightly leftfield post this week, but I’m sure you’ll agree, one worth sharing with you all!

Huge thanks to Johnny Darrell for allowing me to share these amazing images here on the blog. You can check out more of Johnny’s work here.

See you next time.


Looking for a cool retro gaming read for Xmas this year? Check out my book, Missile Commander:

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Joseph Safago says:

    I really like the kitschy 70’s style the bot came up with. I’d hang a copy of the movie poster in a home arcade, just to troll guests – maybe see if it inspires butterfly-effect conversation. The output from the bot looks like it was pulled right from an entertainment magazine of the era.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Matt Bryant says:

    Equal parts THX1138, Rollerball, Space: 1999 and Cliff Spohn’s Atari box art. Brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. James (UK) says:

    Thanks for sharing this… that was awe-inspiring. I don’t know what I was expecting as I read the opening lines of your post, but that really does look like something else! Regards

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Faust says:

    Damn, I’d watch that in a heartbeat! I imagine the story would be difficult to pull together, but the visuals are awesome. I imagine the story might work if it was a bit bizarre like Brazil as well. We’re nearing an era of Star Trek matter replicator art. “Alexa, make me a SciFi movie tonight, a cross between Kubrick and Gilliam.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Faust says:

    Just had a chance to zoom in more on those pictures. Some of the humans look pretty bizarre. The one with two people running, looks like the AI had morphed genders of two different people. Kinda creepy in its own way!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s