Spacewar!, the first known digital video game ever made, is now available on the Analogue Pocket thanks to the new PDP-1 Core developed with openFPGA.
FPGA, or field-programmable gate array, is a type of integrated circuit that can be reconfigured after it’s manufactured. openFPGA, on the other hand, is the “first purpose built, FPGA driven hardware and ecosystem designed for 3rd party development of video game hardware.” It was also “created specifically for preserving video game history.”
spacewar! is obviously a big part of video game history and a 3rd party developer has “painstakingly recreated” the game released on the PDP-1 in 1962 by developers at MIT using public domain open source code for openFPGA.
Using openFPGA, a 3rd party developer “Spacemen3” recreated the PDP-1 and Spacewar! using the original source code in the public domain. You can play it today on Pocket with openFPGA by following this guide here: https://t.co/XFS3ARmaUe pic.twitter.com/ut6N6Ovois
— Analogue (@analogue) July 29, 2022
Video game preservation has always had a big question mark next to it, especially with companies like Nintendo planning to shut down its Nintendo 3DS and Wii U eShops and making it even harder to play older games. Hopefully, with this new development, fewer games will be lost to the history books.
spacewar! was inspired by science fiction books written by EE Doc Smith and developed by a group of MIT students who wished to make a space simulation video game. It was a space shooter and a 2-player versus style game that featured “orbital mechanics around a gravitational star.” It was developed to be played by custom “control boxes” that were essentially also the first video game controller.
The PDP-1 had a 1024×1024 CRT vector display and Spacewar! itself used it to the fullest with its “beautiful blue and green phosphors, trailing, bursting, and decaying amidst modernist hexagons.”
The developers behind Spacewar! also created certain criteria that a computer game should meet, and they are as follows;
- 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.
Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, played Spacewar! and was so inspired by it that he would go on to create Computer Space, the first commercial video game and arcade game.
If you have an Analogue Pocket and would like to try Spacewar!, check out the support page that walks you through all you need to know to check out this important piece of history.
For more on Spacewar! and the early days of video games, check out our look back at the history of Atari.
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Adam Bankhurst is a news writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamBankhurst and on Twitch.