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Father of Pong bounces back

Nolan Bushnell, who redefined the concept of games when he invented Pong a generation ago, plans to make a triumphant return, this time through the Internet.

Nolan Bushnell, who redefined the concept of games when he invented Pong a generation ago, is planning a triumphant return to the business tomorrow, this time through the Internet.

The flamboyant 52-year-old entrepreneur will team up with a New York company called Aristo for coin-operated games for restaurants, bars, and other gathering places. Bushnell hinted to CNET last month that he was planning a major project, but he and his press agents had decided to refrain from public comment until this week.

"We have something that I believe is going to make a real impact," Bushnell told CNET in an interview today. He said limited tests of the new games will begin this month.

Bushnell's reemergence is an important milestone in the history of video gaming, which, in his daughter's bedroom more than two decades ago, he helped create with his invention of the first mass-market game, Pong. The founder of Atari and later the Chuck E. Cheese chain of children's entertainment centers had faded from the public eye in recent years, but he had vowed to make a comeback.

Bushnell said the new games, which will be less violent than many of the most popular hits now on the market, will be aimed at attracting more women players. "We've all searched for the magic game to bring women back to game playing," he said.

The new line of products will debut in September at an industry trade show, the Amusement and Music Operators Association in Dallas. They will include:
--TeamNet, which allows two teams of up to four players to compete against each other in sports and other games. Players can be present in the same location or in separate places through an Internet connection.
--TouchNet, a system of coin-operated games played by onscreen touch that can accommodate 8 to 12 people simultaneously. Players can compete against each other or a computer, and customers also can chat in voice rather than text messages through Internet connections.
--MusicNET Plus, a jukebox that provides access to thousands of titles via an Internet connection. The product also lets customers buy merchandise from their favorite bands or tickets to upcoming concerts and events.

Aristo's systems run on Pentium-based computers and use Microsoft's Windows NT client-server systems.

But another Bushnell project, interactive gaming and dining centers called E2000, has been postponed. Streak Technology of San Jose, California, is expected to be one of the machine's makers. Another company, Wave Interactive Network, is expected to offer a technology that helps collect money used to play the games.

While he looks forward to coming back into the industry mainstream, Bushnell said he will miss the years of anonymity, when as he put it, "you can go to a restaurant and not be bothered."