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The “Sleazy” Method That Gave the Apple II Color

Al Alcorn, the creator of Pong and the man who gave Steve Jobs his big break in tech, did a fascinating interview with IEEE Spectrum on how he added color to Pong. Alcorn paid his way through college as a TV repairman. While repairing TVs, he discovered a color bar generator that used a “sleazy” method to generate color. Instead of synthesizing phases to generate colors properly, it used a crystal that took advantage of a quirk in NTSC to produce a color bar across the screen. Alcorn later adapted this to Pong to reduce hardware costs—these were the days when the “code” for the game was all hardware. It was a rudimentary system since individual onscreen elements couldn’t be colored—the color of each item depended on its place on the screen. Later, Alcorn showed the technique to Steve Wozniak, who would hang out with Jobs while he was working the night shift at Atari. Wozniak adapted it for the Apple II, and the rest is history.

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