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'Pong' Meets 'Space Invaders' Meets 'Pacman' and It Actually Works

'Pacapong' is the mixed martial arts of retro games.
Pacapong is the star of Ludum Dare 58. Credit: KingPinguin

It doesn't get much older than Pong when it comes to video games, but a challenge to independent developers to reinterpret this relic has yielded some very entertaining results.

Ludum Dare is an online community that hosts regular game jams, in which developers are invited to create different games based on the same theme in a short period of time. Ludum Dare 58 had the theme of Pong.


"Because it offers endless possibilities for all game designers at all levels," Ludum Dare 58's organizer explained. "Think of the theme as a box of features, pick one or pick all and take it into whatever direction you can imagine."


The game jam ended after nine days on March 29 and yielded 230 (and counting) Pong variants.

My favorite of these, and the one that's justifiably getting the most buzz, is Pacap​ong, from developer Dick Poelen. The original Pong is a simple approximation of table-tennis, with two paddles trading a (square) ball until someone misses, earning his opponent a point. Pacapong puts a Pacman maze between the paddles, forcing the ball to take circuitous routes to the other end. If the ball gets eaten by a Pacman ghost on the way to the other end, your opponent gets a free serve.

Space Invaders, another video game classic from the late '70s, also make an appearance if the ball hits the right icon on its way to the other side of the maze, which makes the pixelated aliens descend on your enemy.

And if that wasn't enough throwbacks for you, sometimes Donkey Kong will appear at the bottom of the screen and start throwing barrels at everyone. Missing balls and getting hit will reduce your life bar and the last player standing wins.

It's as chaotic as it sounds, but a lot of fun, and if you've played any of these classic games previously, old muscle memory will definitely help you.

"I'm not sure if I've ever played the real (official) Pong, but Pong is a classic for a reason," Poelen told me. "I think this [Ludum Dare] has had a record number of entries, so you can see Pong still inspires people. And its strong, simple concept is easy to expand upon."


Some other great entries in Ludum Dare 58:

Tetron​g, which mixes Pong and Tetris, has a similar idea, but is much harder to play.

OLED ​Pong, uses a SSD1306 OLED display and an Arduino platform.

Pong K​nights turns table-tennis into a deadly game of deathmatch, with different squares jumping around, deflecting, and firing balls to defeat the enemy.

There are a ton of inventive spins on the Pong formula, all of which you can find on Ludum D​are's website.

Hopefully, the fact that developers aren't charging for these games means that Atari, which originally published and developed Pong, doesn't ask anyone to take them down. The company has been feeling a little litigious lately.