A Tale of Two (three) Pongs

Created 2 April 2009, updated 1 Nov 2020

When I start learning a new  platform, I have a simple rule: If you don’t know what to do with it, make pong. What I love about pong is that it’s a simple rule set, easy to understand, and implementable on just about anything with a pixel display.  You can generally implement it in a day or less on any platform. And it’s a great example of engaging interaction.  People understand what’s going on right away, and, when implemented well, it’s just challenging enough to keep you engaged for several minutes at least.  That’s good interaction, to me.

I’m a big believer in starting with the application rather than the platform.  I think you do better work when the tools serve the need rather than the other way around.  But sometimes you get stuck with the assignment to learn a particular platform or tool, and you have to make up a project on the spot.  When that happens, make pong.

As an example of this, I built pong for two platforms yesterday [1 April 2009]: an Arduino Mega with 2 8×8 LED matrices (based on my earlier post), and Processing.  Since Arduino’s programming syntax was based closely on Processing’s, I figured it should be possible to port the code from one to the other pretty quickly. It took about ten minutes to go from Arduino to Processing.  In 2020, I updated this exercise to write the program in p5.js as well. Following, I’ll describe the thought process of putting the game together for all three, as a hopeful aid to beginning programmers.

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