Spacewar! - Background

Background

Between 1959 and 1961, a collection of interactive graphical programs had been created on the TX-0 experimental computer at MIT. These included Mouse in the Maze and Tic-Tac-Toe.

In the fall of 1961, a PDP-1 was installed in the "kludge room" of the Electrical Engineering Department, and even before its arrival, a group of students at a tenement on Hingham Street had been brainstorming ideas for programs that would demonstrate the new computer's capabilities in a compelling way. "We had this brand new PDP-1," Russell told Rolling Stone in a 1972 interview. "Somebody had built some little pattern-generating programs which made interesting patterns like a 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. We decided that probably you could make a two-dimensional maneuvering sort of thing, and decided that naturally the obvious thing to do was spaceships." Russell had just finished reading the Lensman series by E.E. Smith and thought the stories would make a good basis for the program. "His heroes had a strong tendency to get pursued by the villain across the galaxy and have to invent their way out of their problem while they were being pursued. That sort of action was the thing that suggested Spacewar. He had some very glowing descriptions of spaceship encounters and space fleet maneuvers." Other influences cited by Graetz include E.E. Smith's Skylark novels and Japanese sci-fi tokusatsu movies.

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