This is the one hundred second entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
Another random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has bounced into view. It’s Dual Pong, by randomness_dj_p (AKA Paul M. Fulllard), and it’s messing with my intro formatting by not having a tagline in the bundle. But I bet that if it did, it would say something about Pong.
As you may have guessed, Dual Pong is a riff on Pong, the 1972 game that was Atari‘s first, and one of the earliest arcade video games. A classic inspired by table tennis, it saw two players (or one player versus an AI opponent) moving paddles up and down on opposite sides of the screen to bounce a ball back and forth. Fail to return the ball, and one’s opponent scores a point. The ball’s trajectory is different if it bounces off the edge of a paddle rather than the center of the paddle, so players can exert some control over where the ball goes.
Dual Pong seeks to add extra nuance and skill to the game of Pong, by giving players even more control over the ball’s trajectory. Separate keys or buttons (Dual Pong supports both keyboard and gamepad controls) let players choose whether a shot will be a standard shot, a reverse shot with an angle mirrored from that of a standard shot, or a straight shot which fires directly forwards from the paddle. There are also “powerful” versions of each of these shots, which launch the ball with extra speed, perfect for slamming a point home through a gap in an opponent’s defense. Oh, and there are two balls in play at once, conveniently changing color to indicate which paddle hit them last. The balls can even collide with each other, creating new opportunities to score.
This all sounds cool in principle, but I had a very hard time putting it into practice. Choosing shots is tricky because the extra key must be pressed exactly at the time of the hit, which meant I often failed to send the ball where I wanted. Powerful shots are so fast that I was completely unable to react to them, and even standard speed balls were hard to catch. The field of play is smaller than in classic Pong, so there’s less time to read the ball and get one’s paddle into position. On top of that, play felt rough, the motion of paddles and balls jerky rather than smooth, and many times it looked like a ball passed right through a paddle to score. There isn’t much to Dual Pong’s story mode — it’s basically just a tour through each game type — but I resoundingly lost every match on my first attempt. Trying again, I only managed to win one game, and that was the doubles game in which my AI coach played as my partner and scored most of the points.
It’s a shame, because a more polished version of these ideas could be cool. I’d prefer if players could simply hold a button down to choose their next shot, rather than having to time an extra button press while already frantically positioning their paddle. Making shot calling easier would do wonders for strategy, especially in unusual game modes like the 4-player Battle mode which places paddles on all four sides of the screen. The itch.io page for Dual Pong lists other features that sound cool, like an adaptive AI that adjusts to players’ skill levels, but it was hard to tell if this was working for me since I kept losing anyway. Apparently there are 16 possible ball collisions, based on the trajectory and speed of the two balls? I never saw a single ball collision while playing, but it sounds like they could make for interesting matches between skilled players. As is, however, I had little desire to improve. Sometimes game developers have spent so long testing and tweaking their game that they forget that new players need to learn their game from scratch, and will not be able to jump in at a high skill level right away.
If you’re a seasoned Pong veteran looking for a new challenge, however, you might want to take a look at Dual Pong. If you can get past its rough presentation and feel, I suspect there’s a strategic core that ace Pong players will enjoy. After you’ve won all the trophies in the short story mode, you can set up games against AI or other human players easily, either in a standard Dual Pong game, a doubles game where each player gets half a paddle to cover half the screen, a four player free for all in which each player guards one side of the screen, or a classic Pong game with only 1 ball. That should be enough to keep Pong fans happy for a while. If you missed it in the bundle, Dual Pong is sold for a minimum price of $1, but at the time of writing it’s half off, so you need pay no more than fifty cents (unless you want to).
That’s 102 down, and only 1639 to go!