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Archives  News  NY Times on First Computer Game: Spacewar! (Updated)  

Thursday, February 28, 2002
NY Times on First Computer Game: Spacewar! (Updated)
11:21 AM | Tristram Perry | Comment on this story

Today's New York Times has a feature article about the very first computer game, Spacewar! The two-player shooter was originally developed by Steve Russell at MIT's computer lab in 1962 for a DEC PDP-1. Though never a commercial success for its developers, Spacewar! went on to inspire hundreds with the possibilities that computers offered, including Apple Computer's founders, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The two Steves apparently used to bicycle to Stanford's artificial intelligence lab to play the game as teens.

The Times reports that computer gaming was as compelling in 1962 as now:

It became so addictive that at the M.I.T. laboratory where it was designed, play was soon banned except during lunchtime and after working hours.
The article provides an interesting look at the game's history and how games in general play an important role in influencing the development of personal computing as we know it.

Update: The first trackball was invented to control Spacewar, and Ken Thompson is said to have created his new operating system on a salvaged PDP so he could play the game — an operating system that became known as UNIX and that today serves as the modern heart of Mac OS X.

You can play the original Spacewar! today on your Mac, emulated by MESS, the Multi Emulator Super System. There is even a PDP-1 emulator written in Java 1.1 that will play Spacewar! in your web browser.

Spacewar! was the basis for the first coin-operated vector graphics arcade games: Galaxy Game, built in 1971 by Computer Recreations around a PDP-11 and installed at a Stanford University coffee shop, and Space Wars, designed and programmed by Larry Rosenthal and mass-manufactured by Cinematronics in 1978. Space Wars is perfectly emulated by MacMAME, the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator.

[Sean Smith contributed to this story.]

New York Times: Spacewar (registration required)
Games of Fame: Spacewar
Monkeys with Wheels: Spacewar
[mame.dk]: Space Wars Information
MIT: Play Spacewar! in your Web browser (requires Java)
FilePlanet: Spacewar binary for MESS (5 KB)
MGF: MacMAME 0.58 (3.9 MB)
MGF: MESS 0.56 (1.4 MB)

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Archives  News  NY Times on First Computer Game: Spacewar! (Updated)