When were gamers actually born? What started the video game craze that everyone is so hyped up about? Most people tend to think that Pong in ’72 is what birthed the whole video game craze, but that is not it. However, almost a whole decade earlier, Spacewar! had pooped into existence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Steve Russel with the help of Bob Saunders and Steve Pinner had developed this amazing brain child. Ironically, when it was first developed, t was meant to showcase academic computer power and programmatic brilliance, rather than for the good old plain fun that video games bring forth.
The gap between fun and cool demonstration was bridged by Steve Russel when he said this about the game: “Somebody had built some little pattern generating programs which had made interesting patterns like kaleidoscope. Not a very good demonstration. Here was this display that could do all sorts of good things. So we started talking about it, figuring what would be interesting displays. Wedecided that could probably make a two dimensional maneuvering sort of thing and decided that the naturally obvious thing to do was spaceships.”
The Soacewar! game featured two spaceships, a thin rocket –the thin needle- and a fatter rocket which is the wedge. The intention of the game was for one of the space ships to destroy the other while utilizing a fire able torpedo in an epic space dogfight. The ships being constantly sucked into the center of the screen by the massive gravitational pull of the star, was the main catch of this game, that plus the fact that one limited fuel to maneuver their ship. The dogfight was always a constant fight between getting pulled in by the star and dodging the enemies’ missiles which was all the fun.
With all that mischievousness, charm and fun, all wrapped in one package, Spacewar! was spread to more schools and institutions with computer installations and hence it was the first game that had actual copies of it going round for people to play. Before the birth of Spaceship, games were only played on the machines they had been programmed on.
Spacewar! was incredibly respected. On any research computer that had programmable CRT throughout the 1970s, one would be sure to find the game on it. As crazes and fads go, people could not seem to get enough, and computer geeks used the same mechanics to make a new bunch of games like; computer space and galaxy game. Even asteroids which were created in 1979 paid homage to Spacewar by modelling its ships after the original designs featured in the game. The game was so well regarded in gaming circles that it earned a spot on the “game canon”.
Henry Lowood started a list with the intention of having the Library of Congress archive important cultural video games of all time. This request was accepted by congress and to this day, it has been archived.
Spacewar! is one of the most significant games of all time. Its design still has a great impact on modern day games and in how technology today is utilized. If you are a gamer, think about all the games available on your laptop computer, your iPad, your cell phone or even gaming arcades it is important for you to reflect on all the design choices that were made possible for you to experience what it is.
Imagine what it would have been like without people like Steve Russell and his team who came up with the dream and ideology to make computers do more, and for people to interact with them on a different spectrum. Those are people we should appreciate every time we use technology.
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