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Black Hole Pong, the history

In 2010 Robert Unwin, a summer student in the Birmingham Gravitational Wave group, had completed eight of his ten weeks in a summer vacation project. His main task of writing a Python script for a simulation package was completed and he had a meeting with me (Andreas Freise) to discuss what to do next. At that time I was experimenting with Processing as a tool to teach my students some basic programming skills and to develop interactive outreach material. We discussed whether there was something quick and fun we could try out in the remaining time and sketched out the idea of making a Pong-like game using gravity instead of paddles.

Robert managed in the two weeks to make a simple prototype of the game, which turned out to be difficult but fun to play. I then spend some time to add better graphics, some basic sound effects and the usual menues etc. The result was still simple and rough around the edges but presentable enough for our purposes. We tried it out for the first time at the British Science Festival in Birmingham in September 2010. Since then we, and other groups in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, have used the game in science exhibitions and other outreach events with great success. The game clearly attracts children better than other exhibits (probably the sight of the Xbox controllers) and provides some simple quick interaction with `gravity’, so that it can be experienced even at a crowded and busy event.

children playing Black Hole Pong at the Birmingham Community Day

Since then we offer Black Hole Pong for download for Windows and OSX at

Since the beginning we felt that the game has potential for more development, in particular we wanted to try to make a tablet version. Also, we thought it would be fun to try creating a single player mode. Of course, this requires a computer controlled opponent, something none of us had done before. Daniel Brown initially converted the game to a Java project with cross-platform export using playn, but ‘playn’ did not feel like the best way forward and development paused in 2012.

In the meantime Unity3D began to offer a free game development kit, including export to iOS and Android, which seemed more powerful and also much simpler than what we used before. So, in 2014 Daniel developed a new prototype using Unity3d. With this we decided to restart the development and to make Black Hole Master.