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Even if you don’t normally play video games, it’s a sure bet that you’ve heard of Atari’s 1972 arcade hit Pong. You’ve probably even played it, either in one of its many ports or in one of those arcades that also sells beer. But you’ve probably never seen it quite like this.
A crowd of well over 100 gathered near the Philadelphia Museum of Art on Friday, despite rising winds and the looming threat of a thunderstorm. We were all there to play (and to watch) Pong, but not on an arcade cabinet—the version we’d be playing would be played out on the programmable LED lights lining the side of Philadelphia’s Cira Centre, a 29-story office building across the Schuylkill River from the museum. The lights, normally used to display static images or simple looping patterns, had been transformed into a fully interactive game of Pong by Drexel computer science professor (and Co-Founder and Co-Director of Drexel’s game design program) Frank Lee and his team in just a few short months. It’s being billed by the event organizers as the “world’s largest video game.”
But the time spent developing the game was just a small part of Lee’s journey, which spans five years and involves just as much lobbying as it did hacking. We talked to Lee and his team about what it takes to port a game to an office building, and then we traveled down to Philly to try the 437-foot-high game ofPong for ourselves.