“The digital game”

When Atari released Pong in 1972, the instant popularity of this electronic version of table tennis would give birth to an entire video game industry. But what if you wanted to play this game on a road trip or in a school cafeteria? The solution was a small handheld alternative called Blip. Released by Tomy in 1977, Blip was portable and provided quite a challenge – and, although it wasn’t technically a video game, it sure looked like one.

Blip was a handheld device, about the size of a paperback book. Each side of the playing surface contained a row of three buttons and a “serve” switch, and each button lined up with the three potential spots an opponent’s ball might land.

All you had to do was predict which slot the red dot was coming toward, hit the corresponding button, and the LED-illuminated ball would reverse direction. Because the ball was capable of a wicked curve (one that would make Sandy Koufax proud), these predictions were anything but easy. A larger knob served as a mechanical timer and the game automatically kept score for you until the timer ran out.

Tomy promoted Blip as “a digital game,” and by all outward appearances, it certainly looked like a video game at first glance. There was only one problem – with the exception of the red LED light, the game was entirely mechanical, relying on little motors to move the ball around. Here’s a great video that shows the inner workings of this faux video game:

Regardless of how it worked, Blip caught the attention of millions of children, who begged for one for Christmas in 1977. Unfortunately, its popularity was short-lived as better handheld electronics games, such as the iconic Mattel Electronic Football arrived on the scene around the same time. Still, just about every former kid remembers the first time they saw Blip and were captivated by the idea of taking an electronic game anywhere they wanted.

If you have fond memories of wanting Blip for Christmas, or would like to share your experiences playing this frustrating little game, we’d love to hear your recollections in our comments section.

4 Responses to “Blip”

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  1. smittykins says:

    One thing the commercial didn’t tell you–that thing was LOUD! But it was still fun.

  2. Lori says:

    I had this game. It was really fun to play! I wish I could buy it again, though.

  3. Paul Gee says:

    One of the clever parts of the design was the movement was semi random. If you look at the video closely you can see the led movement jumps a few times. This was achieved buy having teeth missing in some of the cogs, so when they re-meshed it was not always in the same place. You had to have fast reaction, but it was fun to play. I would love to meet the mechanical designer. Just brilliant.

  4. Ryan says:

    I have a picture of my sister and me playing my Blip, on our shag carpet, with our Ramones haircuts. Loved my Blip!

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