Pong On the Horizon

A classic arcade video game comes to life on Philly's skyline.

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“Cellular/Molecular”
Esther Klein Gallery
April 16 – June 9, 2013

Pong: a word that’s defined a generation of gamers. That word may have since evolved into Halo or WoW, but nonetheless the world’s first competitive video game has made its mark on the world of technology entertainment, and it recently left a mark on our skyline when an entire wall of the Cira Centre was transformed into one massive game of pong.

The Cira Centre, for those who don’t know, is the crystal-shaped building situated next to 30th street station covered and constantly twinkling with LED lights. Anyone who lives in this city must have undoubtedly seen its lights taking the form of different patterns and logos, all depending on the occasion it is honoring. It has been known to portray Eagles and Phillies logos on the night of a big game, but never before has the building been transformed into a game. Drexel associate Professor and Director of the Game Design program in the Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, Dr. Frank Lee, created the project. Pong is thought to be one of the most ambitious projects since the building’s construction in 2005, and is being used to kickoff the annual circuitry celebration that is Philly Tech Week, happening from April 20th to April 27, 2013.

Lee has stated that the game has been in the works for nearly four years. He was inspired by the towering platform for art and media he saw in the walls of the Centre, and after much planning, organization, and programming, his vision is being realized. Lee, along with three other Drexel professors, has been hard at work building the software needed to run such a seemingly simple game.

For any novice programmer or freshman game-design major, Pong is an easy thing to recreate, but it’s a different story to simulate the game using LED lights on the side of a building. To accomplish such a task, one-quarter of the thousand-plus lights must be programmed to move together to create the effect of a moving ball and paddles.
Not only is the project a display of technological prowess, but it is also seen as a work of public art. As a city slathered with murals, it is only fitting that Philadelphia should update its most common artistic medium—the wall, to keep up with the progress of the digital age.

Lucky Philadelphians, who have been chosen randomly after applying for a spot, will have the chance to control the game from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In typical fashion, players will control the game with an arcade paddle, but in this case, the television screen has been magnified nearly one-hundred times to become the largest video game display the world has ever seen.

Pong was developed and released by Atari in 1972 as an arcade game, and while its gameplay may now seem outdated, its use as the subject of Lee’s project will mark it once again as a revolutionary game on the ever-expanding timeline of video games. More information about Philly Tech Week can be found at phillytechweek.com.


Nick Sukiennik is a sophomore Chemical Engineering Major at Drexel University.