SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums

(A transcription of the text and scans of photos from a 1972 magazine article about the legendary space combat computer game. Stewart Brand, Rolling Stone.)

October, 1972, 8 PM,
at Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laboratory, moonlit and
remote in the foothills above Palo Alto, California.
Two dozen of us are jammed in a semi-dark console room
just off the main hall containing AI’s PDP-10 computer.
AI’s Head System Programmer and most avid Spacewar nut,
Ralph Gorin, faces a display screen which says only:

THIS CONSOLE AVAILABLE.

He logs in on the keyboard with his initials:
Click clickclickclick click.


L1,REG

CSD FALL PICNIC. SATURDAY 11 AM IN FLOOD PARK . . .


He interrupts further announcements, including one
about the “First Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics” at 8 PM, with:
CLick (“run”)
clickclickclick
(“Space War Ralph”) click (“do it”)

R SWR.

WELCOME TO SPACEWAR.
HOW MANY SHIPS? MAXIMUM IS 5.



Click: 5 (Five players. This is for the first familiarization
battles in the Spacewar Olympics,
initiated by me and sponsored (beer & prizes) by Rolling Stone.
Friends, I won’t be able to explain every computer-technical
term that comes by. Fortunately you don’t need
them to get the gist of what’s happening.)


KEYBOARD BUTTONS? (ELSE REGULAR). TYPE Y OR N.

"Yes" Click Y


THE STANDARD GAME IS:

1 CONSOLE, 2 TORPEDO TUBES, (NORMAL) SCORING, NO PARTIAL DAMAGE,
NO HYPERSPACE, KILLER SUN, SHIPS START IN STANDARD POSITIONS.
TYPE Y TO GET A STANDARD GAME.

Ralph wants other features. "No."

Click: N

HOW MANY SPACE MINES DO YOU WANT?
CHOOSE FROM ZERO TO 4.


Click: 4

PARTIAL DAMAGE?

Click: N

DISPLAY SCORES?

Click: Y

TWO TORPEDO TUBES?

Click: N

RANDOM STARTING POSITIONS?

Click: Y

Immediately the screen goes dark and then displays: Five different
space ships, each with a dot indicating torpedo tubes are loaded,
five scores, each at zero, a convincing starfield, and four space mines
orbiting around a central sun,
toward which the spaceships are
starting to fall at a correctly accelerating rate.

Players seize the five sets of control buttons,
find their spaceship persona on the screen,
and simultaneously turn and fire toward any nearby still-help-less
spaceships, hit the thrust button to initiate orbit before being
slurped by the killer sun, and evade or shoot down any incoming enemy
torpedoes or orbiting mines. After two torpedoee are fired, each
ship has a three second unarmed “reloading” time.
Fired torpedoes last nine seconds and then disappear.