The world’s first ever video game, Spacewar, has just been ported to Pocket. The developer behind the console, Analogue, made the announcement yesterday, noting its commitment to preserving pioneering video games by making them playable in the modern era. Spacewar was originally designed for the PDP-1 minicomputer way back in 1962, a full decade before Pong. The minicomputer itself was created several years earlier in 1959.
Spacewar was created by a cabal of software engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, most notably Steve Russell. They made use of a PDP-1 minicomputer and a CRT monitor to craft a video game pitting two spaceships against each other inside the gravitational well of a star. The team even made a pair of purpose built controllers for the game featuring switches for maneuvering and buttons for shooting missiles.
According to Analogue, “Spacewar was the first space shooter, a two player versus style game based in outer space featuring orbital mechanics around a gravitational star. It was programmed to be played with custom ‘control boxes,’ arguably the first game controllers for a video game.”
“Spacewar influenced video game history in countless ways, one in which was the group of MIT students that created it. These students developed perhaps the first philosophy to guide the creation of a video game,” Analogue said. “They held that a computer game should satisfy the following three criteria: it should demonstrate as many of the computer’s resources as possible and tax those resources to the limit, it should be interesting which means every run should be different, and it should involve the onlooker in a pleasurable and active way.”
The game was ported to Pocket by a third party developer, Spacemen3, which made use of the source code from the PDP-1 minicomputer and Spacewar, both of which are currently in the public domain.
Spacewar is part of a project on the part of Analogue to preserve both new and old video games by keeping them playable. “For decades, dedicated software developers have tirelessly worked to preserve video game hardware within the constraints of software emulation. We believe Field Programmable Gate Arrays are the next step, the pinnacle of preserving video game hardware for the future.”
The company recently released a new technology based on FPGA called openFPGA. Analogue notes that “openFPGA is the first purpose built, FPGA driven hardware and ecosystem designed for third party development of video game hardware. Created specifically for preserving video game history to develop, play, explore, and study for scholarly purposes.” This comes alongside a brand new version of the console's operating system.
“Analogue is dedicated to creating passionately focused reimaginings of video game hardware throughout history. We still feel like we’re just getting started. For the first time, we’re opening up our hardware to third party developers.” In other words, welcome to the new era of old games.
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