Monday, November 16, 2015

Spacewar Simplicity

Just as videogames were advancing past simple lines like Asteroids and Combat, and moving past more complicated stuff like Space Invaders, and into the world of Donkey Kong and beyond, I had a favorite called Spacewar. I liked its simplicity, two ships made of digital lines, flying along shooting at each other, and occasionally going into 'hyperspace' a la the aforementioned Asteroids. Little did I know it had a long and storied history.

The game was originally developed in 1961 by MIT students, inspired by the Lensmen series by E.E. Smith. Two spaceships, the 'needle' and the 'wedge,' maneuver around the gravity well of a star, and try to destroy each other with ray weapons. Based on a simple joystick, there were a few options - thrust, fire, turn left, turn right, and of course hyperspace, that last of which would teleport your ship elsewhere on the screen.

I used to love it, and remember one such machine at the arcade at the Atco Raceway, which we always called The Drag. My friends thought it was boring, and had moved on to the more complex games of the early 1980s, but I always had a soft spot for Spacewar. Apparently Atari made a version of it for the 2600 called Space War, but I don't ever recall seeing it, and therefore never obtained one. I might start looking now that I know about it.