1961. MIT's uber-nerd crew, the Tech Model Railroad Club, gathers together something hitherto unseen - a computer game, on MIT's new DEC PDP-1 for demonstration purposes at next year's Science department open house.

Contributors to this project include TMRC members Steve "Slug" Russell (the main programmer), Alan Kotok contributing a sine-cosine routine, Peter Samson chipping in Expensive Planetarium to paint starry backgrounds, Dan Edwards (working on the infamous gravity effects), J. Martin Graetz in hyperspace-jump development and Wayne Witanen.

The 9K program is such a hit at the 1962 open house that they have to go back in and hack in a scoring routine to eventually turf off successful players and allow other starstruck gawkers to have a turn. It finds itself disseminated through the ARPANet - not pirated, because they hadn't thought to copyright their work given that it only worked on a handful of $120k machines scattered throughout the country - and DEC actually goes on to use the program to demonstrate the outrageous capabilities of the PDP-1 to potential customers.

Hours of procrastination invested into this game in the basements of computer labs leave their mark on a decade of computer science students, and in 1970 to-be Atari founder Nolan Bushnell starts work on Computer Space, a port of the Spacewar game cobbled together almost a decade earlier and the first coin-op video game, complete with a smoov futuristic cabinet. Regrettably, it's a couple of years too early to click with the consumer quarter and Bushnell goes back to the drawing board, leaving it behind, hitting gold in 1972 with the much-simpler Pong.

This wasn't to be the end of Spacewar, however! Five years later Cinematronics and Larry Rosenthal bring Space Wars to arcades, the first time vector graphics had been seen in such a place. Despite bafflingly featuring only player-vs.-player action, the machine sells 30,000 units and remains in the ranks of the top-10 coin-gobblers until 1980!

Many home conversions follow, as well as updates and bolsters to the original concept like Star Control, but this is more than enough for a write-up on a 40-year-old computer game. (!!)

TheBooBooKitty (surprise!) says: There is also a Vectorbeam version, I have it sitting in my living room, it works, and it really fun. The reason it was two player only was that the entire industry was putting out almost nothing but 2 player-only games at that time,

spaceship operator = S = spaghetti code


A space-combat simulation game, inspired by E. E. "Doc" Smith's "Lensman" books, in which two spaceships duel around a central sun, shooting torpedoes at each other and jumping through hyperspace. This game was first implemented on the PDP-1 at MIT in 1962. In 1968-69, a descendant of the game motivated Ken Thompson to build, in his spare time on a scavenged PDP-7, the operating system that became Unix. Less than nine years after that, SPACEWAR was commercialized as one of the first video games; descendants are still feeping in video arcades everywhere.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

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