PDP-1 SpaceWar!

Today I had the unexpected pleasure of playing Spacewar! on an original PDP-1 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. One of the original MIT Model Railroad Club members was on hand - Peter Samson, as well as one of the world's first video game programmers - Steve Russell. Spacewar! is one of the earliest known video games (1961). It was great fun talking with them and finding out how similar, and how different things were then compared to now.

Peter played some Bach he had programmed while at MIT, nice clear square waves with four voice polyphony. Steve talked about tradeoffs made between gameplay and graphics. It's impressive how much game could fit in a 9k of 18 bit words and 100,000 operations per second. The machine you are reading this on is likely a million times faster, with a hundred thousand times more memory!

From left to right, here's Steve, Peter, and me.

Here's the beautifully restored and fully operational PDP-1.

Here's me, caught in the gaze of the PDP-1's monitor. I think it can read lips, but it won't stop me from opening the pod bay doors.

And finally, me vs. Vik Sohal playing Spacewar! Vik tried some tricky toroidal spacwarp tricks, but I think we came out even in the end.

There is a Java based emulator playing Spacewar! here.


Content by Nick Porcino (c) 1990-2011