View Full Version : Happy 40th Birthday to Pooter Games

30th Jul 2001, 18:08
It is now 40 years since the first computer game SpaceWar, apparently based on E E Doc Smith's SciFi series.

They had 30 line display and 9 (yup nine) Kb of memory.

quote from BBC website
'Most computers at that time were huge, expensive machines tended by men in white coats who defended their whirring, clicking charges with all the high-minded zeal of, well, zealots.

But the appearance of computers such as the TX-0 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) changed all that.

It used transistors instead of tubes as its computational substrate, had a cathode ray tube output device and was programmed via a keyboard that produced printed tape with which to feed the machine.

But best of all, as far as fledgling computer boffins who flocked to it were concerned, the computer could be programmed directly.

No longer did they have to deal with an arrogant, white-coated intermediary. Instead, they could pull up a chair and play around. They could hack, experiment, and show off their programming prowess. They could play games.

Enter the vortex

Well, almost. Before they could play games they had to create them.

The task fell to a group of proto-geeks enthused by the possibilities of the shocking amounts of computer power suddenly available - about that of a modern day palmtop computer.

The informal group, some of whom were students at MIT, included Dan Edwards, Alan Kotok, Peter Sampson, J Martin Graetz and Steve "Slug" Russell.

All were huge fans of science fiction, especially the space operas of cereal chemist E E Doc Smith who, as Mr Graetz notes, "wrote with the grace and refinement of a pneumatic drill".

The stories of Doc Smith typically revolved around a group of spacemen who, armed only with ray guns, brains and spaceships, blast off into the ether to tackle a cosmic criminal cabal.

Giddy with the power of the TX-0 and another MIT computer, a DEC PDP-1, the group decided to recreate the galactic vista of Doc Smith's work using the 30 line display and mighty nine kilobytes of memory available on the PDP.

So, that summer, they went to work. Slug Russell did most of the grunt work involved in programming the game, which simply had to have the name Spacewar!.

War is actually rather too grand a name for a game that pits two rockets equipped with missile launchers against each other. But the contest is made more interesting by the black hole at the centre of the screen that gradually sucks the ships in unless they use their thrusters to escape its insidious pull.

The trick is to work out how to use the gravity well created by the black hole to slingshot towards your opponent and unleash a barrage of missiles before heading off screen to safety.

You can play the game yourself, since a web version of it has been recreated by three historically minded programmers.

"Spacewar! was a marvel of getting more from less," says Barry Silverman, one of the team who put the game online. "The code size for Spacewar! was two kilobytes, yet they created a game that is still quite playable."

Golden Monkey
30th Jul 2001, 18:16
The link to the <starwars>fully operational</starwars> computer game which this article refers to is as follows. It's a two player game which should work in most browsers as it comes packaged as a Java Applet. Great fun.

I would paste this as a working link but UBB code doesn't seem to be working.


Feeton Terrafirma
30th Jul 2001, 18:24
And I thought I was old cos I used to play the original Star Trek on a teletype terminal pluged into a DEC PDP 11-05 in the mid '70's. :eek:

30th Jul 2001, 18:44
Yes, a goodie.

For those who run ROM emulators, you can have the ORIGINAL running on your own computer.

I myself have that, a few other oldies, such as Reactor, omega race, gravitar, lunar lander, and much more ... :D

Hi Velvet, how was your weekend?


30th Jul 2001, 23:48
Back at BA, LHR, we got the VAX11/780 to run the 737 sim (the 757 was going to have TWO Vaxes!) and someone got "Dungeons & Dragons" for the VAX - great test-based game, and we had reams of printouts pinned all over the place to record the discoveries of the previous shift, as the VAX multi-processed D&G with running the sim. Those were the days! - Real hardware, much better then the vacuum tubes (valves) that ran the VC-10 sim!

Now I run an Athlon 750 in the office (slowest machine I could get!!) and I wonder how that compared in terms of processing power with the VAX-11/780. I also think it might just beat the Plessey XL4 that I used to work on - punch-tape input, real discrete transistors, and a whopping 16k of memory in the "advanced version" at RAF W.Drayton.

Ain't we moved on - or is it just that we need all those MFlops to run WinDoze!

30th Jul 2001, 23:57
I was also involved, a few years later, with an offshoot of "Bally", who brought out the first Video Card Game machines. These played Poker and Blackjack ( and a very crude "Dog Race") on an Intel 4040 - a precursor to the 8080, which became the workhorse, along with the Z80, of the "office PC".

Various companies copied our ROMS, and I could always tell the "clones" due to the little nick out of the side of the Ace of Spades that was an original coding error when I was working on it in Reno, that didn't get noticed prior to production!

Shight - I'm getting old!!!

Send Clowns
31st Jul 2001, 00:22
Umm, I think that a palmtop has rather more processing power than most computers in 1980, vastly more than a 1961 computer. it is just very inefficiently programmed. Remember Citadel on the BBC Micro? How on Earth did they fit all that into the 7k available after OS and screen memory was taken into account?

Hersham Boy
1st Aug 2001, 11:44
I can remember playing 'games' (we hadn't seen Quake back then!) on a ZX-81 that my class built as a project at Primary School. Ahh- the memories... that fantastic keyboard, the (huge!) 16K RAM pack that you had to sellotape to the back of the machine in case it moved and the whole thing crashed...

Later, I had a ZX Spectrum at home... 48K! Jeez - it was like a supercomputer!

Has anyone got any other emulators for things like Hungry Horace and Manic Miner (remember the incessant tune)?


henry crun
1st Aug 2001, 13:10
HB: I've still got an emulator for jet set willy somewhere, it was one of the better spectrum games.

The Hipster
1st Aug 2001, 13:21
Personally, I was a Commodore man. (The stunning Vic 20!!)

Waiting 20 min to 1/2hr for a tape to load, then have it crash with seconds to go! D'oh!

Great adventure game on there called "The Tomb of Drewan". Class!

And all the Llamasoft games by Jeff Minter on the 20 and the C64.

Eeh! When I was a lad!

1st Aug 2001, 13:32

And, for those who are interested in these things:

I believe the Space Shuttle runs off of a computer with 48k of memory.

Actually, that's not quite true. It has 5 computers, each with 48k of memory. 4 of them all run exactly the same software, and, as well as running all of the Shuttle's systems, they also constantly check on each other trying to detect problems. If a problem in one computer is detected, that computer is shut down and the Shuttle continues to run on the other 3.

So what's the 5th computer for? Well, NASA contracted two differenct companies to write the software for the Shuttle. Both companies got exactly the same specification, and they both wrote the software independantly. The 5th computer runs the software which the second company wrote - it sits there watching the other 4 computers, highlighting any problems it detects. If human operators agree with highlighted problems, the 4 main computers are switched off and the 5 one takes over.

It's also possible to reprogram the computers completely, while the Shuttle is in flight, from the ground.

The idea of a ZX-Spectrum running the Space Shuttle is actually quite amazing! I'm sure there are people around here who can correct me if I'm wrong on any of this...


Tartan Gannet
1st Aug 2001, 13:46
Can one still buy Elite for a computer more up to date than a 386? I had an old EGA version of Elite on 5.25" floppy disks. Of course even if I transcribed it, it wont run on my modern kit. Is there a high graphics all bells and whistles version for a decent Pentium with a good sound and graphics card, or has this classic gone the way of Pong, Donkey Kong, Battlezone, Pac Man, etc? BTW I hear that the latest MS Flight Sim is "los cajones del cano" as is their Flying Scotsman Train Simulator, anyone out there tried these?

The first computer I ever got my hands on was an ancient Apple. Two very slow 5.25" external disk drives, Colour TV as monitor, no HDD of course and when I upgraded it from its original 16kB or RAM to a massive 64kB WOW! This of course was in 1981. Not a lot of use as very few applications available and Im NOT a programmer, Im a hardware man. My first true PC was an Amstrad 1640, with a 20Mb Western Digital HDD and 640kB RAM and EGA graphics. I added an external 3.5" disk drive, only 750kB of course. Jurassic Computers. I never did get involved with the various Sinclair Machines, or Commodores, or the famous BBC B, its been IBM PC Compatible Machines all the way with me. Currently using a Compaq Armada Laptop, but am waiting to take delivery of a Pentium III 750MHz desktop. I will go for a 1.5GHz machine when the price drops towards the end of this year or may build my own.

Finally, I dont want to rain on anyone's parade but I feel this thread may get moved to the Computer Forum.

tony draper
1st Aug 2001, 14:02
I read that the Shuttle used 386 based computers becaause the large size of the processor made it less prone to cosmic ray damage, I do believe they have upgraded to 486 based systems now.
Yeh, started with the commador 64, rememeber the hobbit, used to drive me crazy always one point I could not get past,so just used to type, "Eat Gandalf"that used to confuse the bugger. :eek:

1st Aug 2001, 14:41
TG, not sure about Elite, but SOHCAHTOA on the computer forum was asking on the 26th about a yoke to use with Elite, so it might be worth asking him?

Feeton Terrafirma
1st Aug 2001, 15:40

16K of RAM? What luxury you had. The PDP11-05 (multi user mini computer) that I mentioned had a huge 4 K words of core memory.

A little later I designed and built a data logger for automotive use. It was based on the brand new gee wizz Motorola 8 bit 6800 cpu with 2 k ROM and 2 k RAM AND a audio cassette 300 bps data interface!! I wrote the operating system in hex and key punched it into a ROM burner. All 2K of it. No mistakes allowed.

Now those were the days when it took you 2 weeks to load the program into the burner and check it, when in the same 2 weeks today with an object oriented language like C++ and a cross complier you could design, write, check, fix, and burn the the OS in about 1/2 an hour and it would only need 64 megabytes of RAM to run :)

[ 01 August 2001: Message edited by: Feeton Terrafirma ]

1st Aug 2001, 16:16

Is entirely possible that the Shuttle has been upgraded from 386 to 486-based processors. However, it certainly wasn't equipped with a 386 when it was built, since it pre-dates the 386 by, well, several years!

Either way, just goes to show you how much you can do with so little power, at least by modern standards.


Hersham Boy
1st Aug 2001, 17:07
Big Respec' Feets! I can picture you now with Charles Babbage's counting machine and a 200ft roll of punched tape re-chipping your HSV's EPROM!

I have found myself a ZX Spectrum emulator and a shedload of games (the Ultimate ones are still great!) and plan to do little other than consumer Vin Rouge and shoot-em up tonight...

Does anyone recall the 'big brothers' to the Vic20 and mighty C64... the PET and the CBM (?) Now THAT was kitsch computing!


Hersham Boy
1st Aug 2001, 17:11
And moving off-track slightly... I had a money box shaped like a PDP11 as a kids. My dad worked for DEC at the time and this was one of the many benefits to No.1 son... hehe.