Guest Columnist: Spacewar! - A Journey Into Gaming History

Guest Columnist: Spacewar! - A Journey Into Gaming History

Today's videogames owe much - perhaps everything - to the dedicated and inventive members of the MIT Tech Model Railroad Club.

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Nice one RAK!

Loads of information I never new in there.

Always good to learn some more about our hobby!

Yeah, well done RAK. I thought you'd get a new title or something though.
If you ever do get to change your title may I sugest asking for 'Autonomous Collective'

A really well-written and well-researched article, made doubly sweet by coming from the community.

I tip my hat to you sir!

If you want to read a more in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the development of Spacewar!, pick up a copy of Steven Levy's Hackers. In that book, you'll see that Spacewar! was developed due to a love of hacking, and the idea of patenting the code was absurd. It was no accident that it was freely available for anyone to read, modify, and rerelease. That was just how software was done back then.

Thanks for the article, another interesting bit of video game history is now lodged in my head.

GBGames:
If you want to read a more in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the development of Spacewar!, pick up a copy of Steven Levy's Hackers. In that book, you'll see that Spacewar! was developed due to a love of hacking, and the idea of patenting the code was absurd. It was no accident that it was freely available for anyone to read, modify, and rerelease. That was just how software was done back then.

Indeed. I've noted elsewhere on the forums that I strongly support open-source software, particularly those programs released under the GNU GPL, partially for this reason of allowing people to read and modify the underlying code. This game would not have had half the resonance it does on me without the ability to download and play it legitimately, and from there try to recreate the memories in my own mind.

Another interesting fact about Spacewar! which I came across while researching: The game was programmed initially so that the controls were mapped to the "test word" switches on the front panel of the PDP-1, but this had a couple of fundamental flaws.

Firstly, the controls were mounted in a way such that one player would have an unfair disadvantage due to an asymmetrical layout. Secondly, and more importantly, these switches were designed to be flipped a few hundred times a month rather than a few hundred times every minute. This, of course, led to component malfunction and the unforgivable sin of rendering that $120,000 computer temporarily useless.

That wasn't something that would make you any friends among the scientists and computer scientists who were using the computer for the purposes of calculation, and certainly not anybody that had to fix the broken components. So, the Tech Model Railroad Club did what they had intended to do in the first place, taking old scraps of wood, switchboard components and wiring and built their own controllers for the game. The MESS emulator that I played the game on allows for both controller and switch control, although thankfully, it doesn't emulate "test word" switch malfunction.

Saw that Spacewar! feature first on User Reviews, you've set a new high-water mark for us to live up to over there.

image

If only all arcade cabinets were as sexy as this one for Atari's Spacewar!

Computer Space

"To facilitate single-player combat a second player comes with every cabinet (NOTE: appearance may vary from picture)."

- taken from the Atari Computer Space press release.

Presumably, this was because the code was too unsophisticated to support any kind of enemy AI.

 

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