Next Friday, April 19, Lee’s vision of a playable building will become a public reality. Thanks to Lee and a dedicated team of coconspirators, Cira Centre will become the world’s largest version of Pong.
“I was driving down Interstate 76 going toward Center City, essentially downtown,” Lee told Polygon in a recent interview about a drive he’d taken five years ago. “I saw the Cira Centre building. This was at night, and the lights were lit. Those LED lights are embedded into the building — they’re part of the design of the building.”
West Philadelphia’s first office tower was designed by Cesar Pelli, whose architectural prowess is on display in dozens of buildings from Abu Dhabi to London to Tokyo. Embedded into its structure, Cira Centre includes 1,500 decorative LED fixtures that illuminate the building’s facade. Since its opening in 2006, those lights have been programmed to celebrate holidays, Philadelphia sports team accomplishments and more.
For Frank Lee, a random drive five years ago past Cira Centre’s LEDs served as the inspiration for his upcoming Pong project.
“For whatever reason, I saw in my mind’s eye … Tetris shapes outlined by those lights, falling and twisting and rotating,” he said. “That, for me, became the start of this long five-year journey to make this game.”
Atari’s seminal video game will come to Cira Centre thanks to five years of work by Lee, co-founder and co-director of Drexel’s Game Design Program. The technical wizardry wouldn’t have been possible without recent help from Marc Barrowclift, a sophomore in software engineering, Gaylord Holder, a senior system administrator and computer science professor Santiago Ontanon. And the world’s largest Pong console wouldn’t be happeneing without the approval of Brandywine Realty Trust, the company that manages the building.
All but about six months of Lee’s five years was spent trying to convince the company to let Lee get to work. It was a meeting earlier this year between Lee and Jerry Sweeney, president and CEO of Brandywine, that made the project possible.
Lee explained his reasoning to Polygon as he did to Sweeny. It begins with his history as a gamer, where he believes that Pong has always played a role.
“Pong is part of our culture,” he said. “Pong lives in every game that came since then. If you get down the tree of the life of the video game, it will lead at the root to Pong. Pongwas the first successful commercial game.”