How the space war launched a revolution

PDP-1 terminal playing computer space on a blue background

Sixty years earlier this month – in April 1962 – a group of hobbyists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released their groundbreaking computer game. space war! on the DEC PDP-1, paving the way for the video game revolution. Here’s a look at its origins and influence.

Duel in space

What is a video game? Do you need a TV and video signal for viewing, or a digital computer to handle the game terms and rules? Should the screen be real-time and interactive, or is periodic output from a teletype acceptable? All of these questions and more have hindered technology historians in defining the “first video game” as they looked back at the first and most influential artworks.

While some primitive visual computer games appeared in the 1950s, the game that arguably first defined “video games” as we know them today—a real-time fantasy simulation on a dynamic electronic screen—appeared in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1962 in that The year, a group of Harvard employees and MIT students led by Steve Russell was created space war!A real-time simulation of mass wrestling in space. Unlike the computer games that preceded it, space war Push the player into a tense virtual game world far beyond previous computer simulations of checkers, pool, baseball, tic-tac-toe or other intensely realistic pursuits. No, this was something completely new: an action-oriented fantasy video sport. A video game was born.

Dan Edwards (left) and Peter Samson (right) play Spacewar circa 1962-63.
Played by Dan Edwards (left) and Peter Samson (right) space war circa 1962. MIT Museum

at space warYou play as a spaceship (“wedge” or “needle” shape) flying in a star field. Your goal is to launch missiles at your opponent’s ship from the front of your spacecraft. As you play in this virtual universe, there is physics at work: your ships are rushing and moving with momentum and inertia, and in the center of the screen is a gravitational star that pulls both ships inward at all times. (If either ship touches the star, it either explodes or spins, depending on the game version.) The result is an acrobatic dance between thrust, momentum, and gravity as your ship circles the screen, trying to time the perfect missile launch at your opponent.

A group of Harvard employees and MIT students began to develop space war In late 1961 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The hobbyist group used the university’s $140,000 (about $1.3 million today, inflation-adjusted) DEC PDP-1 computer system, which included a high-end DEC Type 30 CRT monitor—a key piece of the puzzle that made the dynamic visual nature of the space war possible. Steve Russell developed the game in the PDP-1 assembly language, in deep collaboration with Wayne Wiitanen, Alan Kotok, Martin Graetz, Dan Edwards, Peter Samson, and others.

Initially, players controlled the game with keys on the PDP-1 PC console, but later, Robert A. video game controllers) that can be installed on each player’s lap. The group also added scoring to make competitive matches more exciting.

Spacewar ad from the April 1962 issue of the Decuscope newsletter.
An April 1962 advertisement that describes space war as a sport. Dec

After completing the game in the spring of 1962, Dan Edwards and Martin Graetz announced Spacewar in the April 1962 issue of the DECUSCOPE newsletter, which was aimed at users of DEC computers such as the PDP-1. thus, space war He became popular at MIT, and students lined up to play. University employees had to limit gaming sessions to night or off-hours only, as it began to interfere with other uses of the expensive machine.

space war effect

After not too long space war DEC appeared, and the game began to be used as a demonstration program for the capabilities of the PDP-1. While the PDP-1 was not widely distributed due to its expense (and the additional expense of the optional CRT system), other programmers began translating space war To work on other computer systems with CRT monitors. The game spread among universities across the United States.

Comptuter Space Arcade Bulletin.
computer space (1971) taken from space war And turned it into a single player game. Notting Associates

a fan of specior was Nolan Bushnell, who encountered the game at Stanford in the late 1960s on a PDP-10 computer. After working on a halfway carnival, he thought it would be a great coin-operated arcade game (other people had a similar idea and came up with Galaxy game).

In 1970, Bushnell and his friend Ted Dabney began developing an arcade game inspired by space war named computer space For Nutting Associates, it was released in late 1971. While their game was only single-player and did not technically use a computer, it was the first ever commercial video game and the first arcade video game. Less than a year later, the duo founded Atari, which released the highly successful game bong In November 1972, to stimulate the video game industry around the world.

In 1972, Stanford University hosted the world’s first video game tournament, ushering in the age of esports we live in today. It is also arguably the first original computerized “sport”, space war Inspire gamers to hone their reflexes and skills in action-oriented games like the professionals of the modern era Smashing Competition.

While Spacewar itself waned in popularity in the late 1970s with the advent of new video game diversions, some new titles were clearly influenced by it. In 1977, Cinematronics . was released space warsvector arcade game locker that played different shape of files space war. In 1979, Atari released the Arcade hitter title asteroids, which borrowed an inertial ship in a deep place but added space rocks to explode. In fact, the ship used in asteroidsInspired by the “wedge” in Spacewar, the symbol has become the most widely used navigational pointer in technology today. Somehow, that little navigational triangle on your screen started in 1962 with space war.

How can you play Spacewar today

Although Spacewar is now 60 years old, it is still fun to play if you have a human opponent (the game does not have a single player mode). Thanks to Norbert Landsteiner’s comprehensive website: werk, you can run an accurate simulation of Spacewar in your browser. It even simulates the original long lasting phosphor on a CRT monitor.

The space war is simulated on the Masswerk website.
screenshot from space war It is emulated in the browser. Bing Edwards

To get started, simply visit Mass: werk’s website in a modern web browser. Player 1 rotates his ship left or right using the “A” and “D” keys, then shoots with “W”, pushes with “S”, and runs a superspace with “Q”. Player 2 uses “J” and “L” to turn left or right, shoots with “I,” pushes with “K,” and activates trailing space with “U.”

space war It might feel cramped at first by modern standards, but if you’ve played it for a while, you’ll notice that it’s rather stylish, which is likely why it proved so popular during its heyday. Enjoy, Merry Christmas video games!