An alumnus of the class of 2001 and current staff member writes, "Spacewar! is one of the earliest known digital computer games. Steve "Slug" Russell, Martin "Shag" Graetz and Wayne Witaenem conceived of the game in 1961, with the intent of implementing it on a DEC PDP-1 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After Alan Kotok obtained some sine and cosine routines from DEC, Russell began coding, and by February 1962 had produced his first version. Dan Edwards added the central star, i.e., gravity, and Martin Graetz added hyperspace. Peter Samson added the "Expensive Planetarium" star display. Kotok and Robert A. Saunders built the game controllers. Many of the creators were members of the Tech Model Railroad Club.

"DEC apparently used Spacewar! for factory testing and shipped PDP-1 computers to customers with the Spacewar! program already loaded into the core memory. Thus, Spacewar! may be the first publicly distributed computer game.

"(Description cobbled together from Wikipedia. See links for more details.)

"Spacewar! had a significant impact on the digital game industry, directly inspiring the first commercial coin-operated videogame, Computer Space by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. In addition, it showcases a distinctly MIT-flavored approach to game design in attempting to simulate a complex system to create a compelling fantasy experience. Finally, as described in the article below, the game made its presence felt in the halls of MIT.


by D. J. Edwards, MIT
J. M. Graetz, MIT
[Decuscope, vol. 1, no. 1, April, 1962, pp. 2-4]

If, when walking down the halls of MIT, you should happen to hear strange cries of "No! No! Turn! Fire! ARRRGGGHHH!!," do not be alarmed. Another western is not being filmed -- MIT students and others are merely participating in a new sport, SPACEWAR!

Planned and programmed by Stephen R. Russell under the auspices of the Hingham Institute Study Group on Space Warfare, SPACEWAR is an exciting game for two players, many kibitzers, and a PDP-1.

The game starts with each player in control of a spaceship (displayed on PDP's scope face) equipped with propulsion rockets, rotation gyros, and space torpedoes. The use of switches to control apparent motion of displayed objects amply demonstrates the real-time capabilities of the PDP-1.

Also displayed on the scope is a central sun which exerts a gravitational influence on the spaceships. The entire battle is conducted against a slowly moving background of stars of the equatorial sky. The object of the game is to destroy the opponent's ship with torpedoes. The computer follows the targets and participants have an opportunity to develop tactics which would be employed in any future warfare in space.

Your editor visited the MIT Computer in Room 26265 and can verify an excellent performance. She learned that the best "Aces" had only a 50% chance of survival. Enthusiasm nevertheless ran high and the battle continued while young Mr. Russell tried to explain his program.

"The most important feature of the program," he said, "is that one can simulate a reasonably complicated physical system and actually see what is going on."

Mr. Russell also said that symbolic and binary tapes were available. Please contact Mr. Russell for additional information.!
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