One piece of arcade equipment I’ve always been interested but haven’t written nearly enough about is the Atari Pong Table, an electromechanical take on the video classic from Uruguayan company Calinfer. Initially unveiled as “Table Pong Project” in its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, the concept has since been picked up by UNIS for worldwide distribution and developed into three sleek commercial models. The Pong Table.
The original Pong, Atari’s seminal 1972 table tennis hit, is already timeless in its own right. The title was massively successful, is instantly recognizable, and has firmly cemented itself in popular culture. The Pong Table, though, could immortalize that experience even further. Using trolleys, electric motors, and magnetic fields, Calinfer’s breakout product presents a physical approximation of the video experience on a tabletop playfield.
As I mentioned above, Atari Pong Table is available in three variants: Coffee, Arcade, and Cocktail. The Coffee table (pictured above) is designed for non-coin home use and boasts an aesthetic style inspired by the logo color scheme of the 70’s release. The Arcade table (pictured below) is similar in design to the home version but features an elevated height structure for standing playing and both coin-play and ticket-dispensing mechanisms. (Of course, I hope operators never use the dreaded ticket mode.)
The final variant, the Cocktail table, is my absolute favorite. Featuring adjustable height and a form factor that more closely resemble a sit-down table (as opposed to a coffee table layout), this cocktail model is beyond cool. And unlike the other models, it actually looks comfortable to sit at. I sure hope most operators purchase this version, because the others don’t look as comfortable, even if they are still cool. While the different models are worth mentioning, the most important factor is that impeccable gameplay.
While the underlying gameplay experience in the Pong Table is identical to its predecessor—control your paddle with a knob and try to score on your opponent—the tactile aspect makes it something much more akin to air hockey, like the real-world manifestation of those once intangible pixels. Air hockey, as we all surely know, is a staple of arcades. Whether it’s a simple $1,500 unit or a massive Pac-Man Smash table, the experience is absolutely timeless. Sorta like Pong, right?
That’s why I see Atari Pong Table getting real, real big as time goes on. The product marries the addictive gameplay styles of both Pong and traditional air hockey with the feedback of a actual moving items. Instead of sliding a digital paddle back and forth to hit a digital ball, the action unfolds right before your eyes. Pong Table’s unique, electromechanical presentation is almost like...well, magic.
I think what it really boils down to is its simplicity. In terms of gameplay, the original Pong is about as simple as it gets. But by that same token, so is air hockey. That’s what makes these two concepts such staples in the out-of-home entertainment realm. Bringing the best of worlds together—fun and physicality—makes for a killer combo.
I certainly can’t predict how popular Pong Table will become—in fact, I don’t even know how many locations operate it at present—but I do see a lot of potential. By adapting an age-old video game into a new, yet vaguely retro, experience, Calinfer has produced coin-op’s next big novelty item. It’s like dome sports, basketball machines, or alley bowlers: gosh danged immortal. If the Pong Table takes off in any meaningful way, we could see it in arcades for decades to come. Something that’s just “there,” like air hockey.
Once I generate enough capital, I do hope to add the Atari Pong Table to my route line-up. I’ve got a sweet game room deal at a local restaurant/bar, and it would work beautifully in that environment. However, until then, I hope to support the product in any way I can. Right now, that just means writing a new article. So hats off to you, Calinfer. Y’all made a darn good arcade machine. Let’s see if it becomes the next air hockey.