The world’s first video game is coming to an Analogue Pocket near you. Today, Analogue announced that it’s launching Spacewar!, a game originally designed for the PDP-1 minicomputer that predates Pong by a full decade, on the Pocket as a part of its larger strategy to bring pioneering video games into the modern era.
The original Spacewar! was created in 1962 by a cadre of engineers led by Steve Russell at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Using a PDP-1 minicomputer and a 1024 x 1024 pixel CRT display, Russell and his colleagues programmed a game in which two spacecraft duke it out in the gravitational well of a star. Two controllers were created for the game featuring switches for maneuvering and buttons that were designed to be quiet when pressed so your opponent couldn’t hear when you were firing missiles.
To bring Spacewar! to the Analogue Pocket, Spacemen3, a third-party developer, used the source code from the PDP-1 computer and Spacewar! itself, both of which are in the public domain, alongside OpenFPGA software. Emulating 60-year-old software came with some interesting challenges.
“The PDP-1 had some unique characteristics about it, having a 1024x1024 vector display with a unique way of generating the image,” said Analogue CEO Chris Taber in an email to The Verge. “It was a bit tricky to accommodate this.”
Alex Cranz of The Verge had the opportunity to play Spacewar!
Spacewar! looks a little different on the Analogue Pocket. Lines are crisp and clean with none of the ethereal glow the original green CRT provided. The AI for your opponent is nonexistent, but there’s still something really fun about accelerating toward a star and then using its gravity to whip around it and take out another ship. Decades later, you still really feel like you’re fighting some war in space.
Spacewar! is emblematic of Analogue’s larger mission to preserve and play not only video games of the recent past as with their retro console offerings but also of the distant past, too. Games that were never released commercially like Spacewar! represent some of the lost video game history Analogue is trying to resurrect.
“The purpose of openFPGA is to open up Analogue’s hardware to developers to help preserve video game history ... We’ve kicked off the program highlighting the beginning of video games with a recreation of the PDP-1’s Spacewar!” Taber said.
Spacewar! is launching on the Pocket along with a new software update that adds save states and more.