Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Freenis: Oldest School

Like I said, I have spaceships and laser weapons on the brain. So here’s the freenis, a Java version of one of the first-ever videogames, Spacewar, made from the original, early 1960s computer code.

Honestly, this game is not that much fun to play. It's pointless with one player, and even with two players crammed together over the keyboard, the appeal is short-lived.

But the game is incredibly important in the history of videogames. And here’s a little of that history for the young’uns:

Spacewar was created over 1961-2 on the campus of MIT. A group of young, rather nerdish men in the school's Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) put it together on what was then amazing high-technology: a computer called the Programmable Data Processor-1 that was about the size of an automobile. (The TMRC was one of the incubators of hacker culture; members coined the term "hack.") One member, Steve Russell, was inspired by the $120,000 computer to create an interactive game. With help and motivation from Alan Kotok, a senior TMRC member, Russell spent six months and 200 hours making a two-player game in which each player controlled a spaceship and fired torpedos at the other player's ship. Other members of the TMRC then added their hacks: Pete Sampson added a background of stars; Dan Edwards helped program a star in the foreground with gravity that influenced the movement of the ships. The final version was finished in 1962.

Some people cite a 1958 game called Tennis for Two as the first videogame. A digital version of tic-tac-toe called OXO or Naughts and Crosses from 1952 also sometimes gets a nod. I suppose it depends on which aspects of games the historian finds important.

(Much of the above information about Spacewar comes from Steven L. Kent's excellent history of videogaming, The Ultimate History of Video Games.

No comments: