The output was showed in a 35×16-pixel cathode-ray tube display. This game was never very popular because the EDSAC computer was only available at the University of Cambridge, so there was no way to install it and play it anywhere else (until many years later when an EDSAC emulator was created available, and by that time many other excellent video games where available as well…).
1958: Tennis for Two
“Tennis for Two” was created by William Higinbotham, a physicist working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. This game was made as a way of entertainment, so laboratory visitors had something funny to do during their wait on “visitors day” (finally!… a video game that was created “just for fun”…) . The game was pretty well designed for its era: the ball behavior was modified by several factors like gravity, wind velocity, position and angle of contact, etc.; you had to avoid the Poker88 as in real tennis, and many other things. The video game hardware included two “joysticks” (two controllers with a rotational knob and a push button each) connected to an analog console, and an oscilloscope as a display.
“Tennis for Two” is considered by many the first video game ever created. But once again, many others differ from that idea stating that “it was a computer game, not a video game” or “the output display was an oscilloscope, not a “raster” video display… so it does not qualify as a video game”. But well… you can’t please everyone…
It is also rumored that “Tennis for Two” was the inspiration for Atari’s mega hit “Pong”, but this rumor has always been strongly denied… for obvious reasons.
“Spacewar!” video game was created by Stephen Russell, with the help of J. Martin Graetz, Peter Samson, Alan Kotok, Wayne Witanen and Dan Edwards from MIT. By the 1960s, MIT was “the right choice” if you wanted to do computer research and development. So this half a dozen of innovative guys took advantage of a brand-new computer was ordered and expected to arrive campus very soon (a DEC PDP-1) and started thinking about what kind of hardware testing programs would be made. When they found out that a “Precision CRT Display” would be installed to the system, they instantly decided that “some sort of visual/interactive game” would be the demonstration software of choice for the PDP-1. And after some discussion, it was soon decided to be a space battle game or something similar. After this decision, all other ideas came out pretty quick: like rules of the game, designing concepts, programming ideas, and so forth.
So after about 200 man/hours of work, the first version of the game was at last ready to be tested. The game consisted of two spaceships (affectively named by players “pencil” and “wedge”) shooting missiles at each other with a star in the middle of the display (which “pulls” both spaceships because of its gravitational force). A set of control switches was used to control each spaceship (for rotation, speed, missiles, and “hyperspace”). Each spaceship have a limited amount of fuel and weapons, and the hyperspace option was like a “panic button”, in case there is no other way out (it could either “save you or break you”).
The computer game was an instant success between MIT students and programmers, and soon they started making their own changes to the game program (like real star charts for background, star/no star option, background disable option, angular momentum option, among others). The game code was ported to many other computer platforms (since the game required a video display, a hard to find option in 1960s systems, it was mostly ported to newer/cheaper DEC systems like the PDP-10 and PDP-11).
Spacewar! is not only considered by many as the first “real” video game (since this game does have a video display), but it also have been proved to be the true predecessor of the original arcade game, as well as being the inspiration of many other video games, consoles, and even video gaming companies (can you say “Atari”?…). But that’s another story, arcade games as well as console video games were written in a different page of the history of video games (so stay tuned for future articles on these subjects).