Except from the Important Failures in Videogame History article in the second issue of The Gamer's Quarter
TENNIS FOR TWO
Let's move six years ahead, to 1958. Nolan Bushnell is starting to notice that he likes girls. William Higinbotham, head of the Brookhaven National Laboratory's Instrumentation Division, is thinking about how to entertain the people who will be touring the place in the fall. So, he does something that he thinks is fairly obvious. He puts together a little electronic circuit to play tennis on an oscilloscope. It takes him three weeks.
You could probably be forgiven if, from the description, you think that Tennis For Two was a sort of proto-Pong. However, when you look at the gameplay footage that's available, you can see that it was really quite different -- think Scorched Earth-style ballistic physics, in realtime. The controllers had a knob and a button; the knob controlled the angle that you would hit the ball at when you pressed the button.
It's a simple game that, when looked at with modern sensibilities, has many flaws. There's the fact that, if both players felt like it, you could keep the ball in the air just by continuously smacking the button. There's the fact that it doesn't do any scorekeeping. It may not have actually enforced any of the actual rules of tennis, for all I know -- it may well have been possible to just keep hitting the ball to yourself and never try to make it over the net.
These problems are all overridden by one simple fact -- it is fun to bounce a ball with your friends.
Since it was a custom analog computer, and since it's fairly obscure, no one has yet developed an emulator of Tennis For Two. I decided, for this article, that I would take it upon myself to write a remake that you can play with your friends over the internet. The mouse doesn't work nearly as nicely as the knob (as anyone who's played Kaboom! on a 2600 can attest), but even 47 years later, it is still fun to knock a virtual tennis ball around.