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pong building

A Philadelphia skyscraper became the world’s largest video game this weekend when a Drexel University professor used the building’s giant lights to display a working version of Pong.

Frank Lee

Above: Pong on a skyscraper? It came from the mind of Drexel professor Frank Lee — and it’s something he’s been planning for five years.

Image Credit: Drexel University

The video game appeared in a playable mode on the side of the 29-story Cira Centre building in Philadelphia. It was part of a kick off for Philly Tech Week coming later this month, and it was the dream of computer science professor Frank Lee.

Lee said in the video below that he had been planning the gigantic version of the 1972 Atari game for the past five years.


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“The idea for the project came to me when I was driving down I-76,” said Lee, the cofounder of Drexel’s video game design program. “As the sun was going down, I saw the sparkly lights at the Cira Centre. In my mind, I saw Tetris shapes falling down. That was the genesis of trying to create a game using the Cira Centre lights.”

The building has 20 pixels-by-23 pixels in its matrix of lights. That’s very limited, and Lee figured out how to make Pong work on the 437-feet building. He got in touch with Gerard Sweeney, the chief executive of Brandywine Realty Trust, and he gave Lee the green light. He also got help from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Knight Foundation.

The players controlled the game from a spot across the Schuylkill river from the Cira Center. The weekend display drew hundreds of spectators. Lee and his Drexel colleagues Gaylord Holder, Marc Barrowclift, and Santiago Ontanon wrote the software that works with Cira’s Color Kinectics program. That is how they control the 1,514 light-emitting diodes on the building’s side.

The sponsors are holding a community Pong tournament.


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