Pong is back, big time

Posted: April 05, 2013

MOST SEE a glass skyscraper with sparkling lights. A Drexel University professor saw a screen with pixels.

Dr. Frank Lee and his team announced plans Wednesday to transform the 27-story Cira Centre in University City into the world's largest Pong game.

Organizers anticipate hundreds will gather on the Art Museum steps across the Schuylkill to watch and line up to play April 19 and April 24 during the third annual Philly Tech Week.

The idea is deceptively simple: remotely commandeer the roughly 20 by 20 grid of LED lights tucked into the building's facade - usually used to display static graphics like the Phillies logo - and allow players to go head-to-head in the arcade classic using controls ripped from old-school cabinet sets.

"It's hack art; we're hacking the existing space," said Lee, the founder of Drexel's game-design program.

He and his Drexel engineering team partnered with Technically Philly and Brandywine Realty Trust, the owners of the Cira Centre, to make his dream a reality.

"I was driving east on (I-76) at night in 2008," he said. "As I was looking at the lights - in my mind's eye - I saw little Tetris shapes falling, and that started this journey."

The team anticipates fewer than 100 people will get to try their hand at the 437-foot-tall game console, which may also run Snake. They've set up a lottery at ph.ly/Pong that hopefuls can enter until April 12 to secure "golden tickets."

The site's co-founder, Christopher Wink, counted more than 200 applications less than a day after their announcement.

Sophomore software engineering major Marc Borrowclift, who helped code the game, is more used to the dazzling graphics found in today's titles.

Their Pong project won't exactly be a high-res affair, but the team doesn't think that will matter to the crowds.

"They're like an icon, it kind of transcends being an older game," Borrowclift said


On Twitter: @jad_sleiman

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