Reintroducing the PDP-1

Reintroducing the PDP-1

Bob Savelle checks out a PDP-1 CRT, 1963. Image reference: Computer History Museum

For decades, dedicated software developers have tirelessly worked to preserve video game hardware within the constraints of software emulation. We believe FPGA is the next step - the pinnacle of preserving video game hardware for the future.

With openFPGA, it's in your hands now.

Dan Edwards and Peter Samson playing Spacewar! on the PDP-1 Type 30 Display.
Dan Edwards (left) and Peter Samson playing Spacewar! on the PDP-1 Type Display. Image reference: Computer History Museum

Spacewar!, the First Video Game

In 1962, the first known digital video game, Spacewar! debuted on a PDP-1 at MIT and started the beginning of video games.

Inspired by the Science Fiction books written by E.E. Doc Smith, a group of MIT students programmed a PDP-1 computer to make a space simulation video game.

The first shooter and the first game controllers for a video game

Spacewar! was the first space shooter - a 2 player versus style game based in outer space featuring orbital mechanics around a gravitational star. It was programmed to be played with custom 'control boxes', arguably the first game controllers for a video game.

Spacewar! gameplay

The aesthetics of Spacewar!

Spacewar! leveraged the PDP-1's 1024 x 1024 CRT vector display to artfully make use of beautiful blue and green phosphors, trailing, bursting and decaying amidst modernist hexagons.

Alan Kotok, Steve Russell, Martin 'Shag' Graetz play Spacewar! at the Computer Musuem, Boston.
Alan Kotok, Steve Russell, Martin 'Shag' Graetz play Spacewar! at the Computer Musuem, Boston. Image reference: Computer History Museum

Spacewar!'s Impact on Video Games

Spacewar! set forth fundamental characteristics that would become the standard in video games. Pushing technology and hardware to the maximum limits. Physics, simulated, realistically and playfully. Interactively. Combat based game play with shooting as a core mechanic.

Spacewar! influenced video game history in countless ways, one in which was the group of MIT students that created it. These students developed perhaps the first philosophy to guide the creation of a video game:

They held that a computer game should satisfy the following three criteria:

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

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

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

Sometime later, a young Nolan Bushnell, at the University of Utah, who went on to found Atari, spent hours playing Spacewar! and through its inspiration, created Computer Space, the first commercial video game and arcade game.

Engineered for User Interaction

DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) released the PDP-1 (Programmed Data Processor-1) in 1959. The PDP-1 was the first commercial computer that was engineered with a focus on interaction with the user.

When you see Orion coming around for the second time, you know you've been playing too long

— Peter Samson on the realistic star display he wrote for Spacewar!

Play Spacewar! on Analogue Pocket now, with a PDP-1 Core developed with openFPGA.
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Dan Edwards and Peter Samson playing Spacewar! on the PDP-1 Type 30 Display.

We had a dream of interactive computing. Normal computing was considered big, expensive, awesome, beyond ordinary people. Interactive computing was exciting and fun, and people could interact directly with the computer.

— Ken Olsen, co-founder of DEC

Ken Olsen and Harlan Anderson, DEC's two co-founders, in front of the DEC PDP-1 computer system. Image reference: Computer History Museum

* References:

† Analogue's Development program was created to further video game hardware preservation with FPGA technology. Analogue Developers have access to Analogue Pocket I/O's so Developers can utilize cartridge adapters or interface with other pieces of original or bespoke hardware to support legacy media. Analogue does not support or endorse the unauthorized use or distribution of material protected by copyright or other intellectual property rights. The Analogue Developer program features a 3rd party created PDP-1 core with the first video game ever created, Spacewar!. PDP-1 and Spacewar! are both in the public domain.