A Look Back at Video Game Innovation: Spacewar!


In 1962, Spacewar! was developed by three men at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the DEC’s PDP-1 computer located on site. Though it seems primitive today, it was a giant leap forward in gaming technology for years to come.

Steve Russell, a former research assistant at MIT, Martin Graetz, a research assistant at MIT, and Wayne Wiltanen, a research assistant at Harvard, would get together and collaborate from their fictional "Hingham Institute" as Graetz and Wiltanen were living on Hingham Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Here they came up with their "Theory of Computer Toys," indicating how to deliver a good demonstration program.

  • It should demonstrate as many of the computer's resources as possible, and tax those resources to the limit.

  • Within a consistent framework, it should be interesting, which means every run should be different.

  • It should involve the onlooker in a pleasurable and active way -- in short, it should be a game.

Following these guidelines, Spacewar! was soon made. A simple game where two players take control of spaceships and race toward each other with a limited amount of fuel and weaponry as they shoot at each other with a set amount of torpedoes. Don't worry if you panic, pun intended; there is a panic button in the game or better known as "hyperspace" that lets you warp to a random location on the map if you run out of any other options.

When I look at modern games, it's humbling to think about the likes of games like this that make those new titles possible. Linked below is a website where you can try out Spacewar! with a friend, feel free to try it out and let us know what you think!

Play Spacewar! here.
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