Does anyone have a Quarter?


During the upswing of computers, and all of the cool things they can do for us, the first computer game was theorized in 1961 and then created at MIT in 1962. It was called Spacewar!, made people go bananas, and can be played here as an emulator.

One of the many happy people who played this game was Nolan Bushnell. A young man who got experience the new competition and interactivity of a brand new entertainment. He had spent time working at Lagoon Amusement Park in Utah. There they had the games typical of the time. Games that utilized electromechanical components, relays, transparencies and film projections (games that are still pretty fun when you can find a working one) And pinball was blowing up. But Spacewar! was revealing a whole other world of fun and possibilities.

The computer at MIT was way too expensive to be an option for mass production and to do so for the sake of playing a game was cuckoo! There was team that created a coin operated version of Spacewar! that relied on a computer. The DEC PDP-11/20 minicomputer that cost a whopping $14,000 and a vector display that cost $3,000. Before they even put any work into it. That’s a lot of quarters before you get to a profit.

Bushnell decided that he needed to create a game without having to put a computer behind it. His team of Ted Dabney (engineer) and Larry Bryan (programmer) helped him work towards a game that ended up not needing RAM or a processor. They instead had to engineer a  component that would manipulate the video signal on the TV to create the gameplay.

So, Bushnell pursued manipulating the video signal electronically. He put Dabney on it and that sonuvagun was able to create a circuit board that was able to show a single dot on the TV that could be manipulated using switches. Very cool at the time. He handed it off to Bushnell to follow through with. And Computer Space was on the way.

Bushnell got to work and created the game logic using diodes, transistors and ICs. No small feat. He and Dabney still had to work together to also create a power supply, sound generating circuitry, control panel and the coin thingy. I’ve also just realized that this is crazy long and I’m gonna wrap it up.

After getting the game into its rounded, friendly, fiberglass cabinet onto the market it sold well enough to give the manufacturers, Nutting Associates, cause to continue to support Bushnell. But Bushnell had big stuff planned.

But this post is too long and I’ll come back to Bushnell some other time.