The Birth of the Arcade Image 02

Compendium: The Birth of the Arcade

The Birth of the ArcadeIt would seem a bit tiresome to continue to discuss more firsts for the video game industry, but once again it is unavoidable as both Galaxy Game and Computer Space achieve milestones in video game history.Galaxy Game was an attempt to emulate the game Spacewar! which had been developed during the 60’s. Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck set about creating a version of Spacewar! for the newer PDP-11 computers with the original game being built on the very first in the series of PDP computers. The computer was coupled with a vector display and housed in a casing that included a coin slot. This is what stands this game out among the rest, as it was the first coin operated video game and signalled in the beginning of the video game arcade. Whereas prior to the rise in popularity of video games, arcades or penny arcades as they were called housed slot machines, love testers and pinball machines. Galaxy Game was complete by 1971 with Bill working on the programming and Hugh building the electrical components, the final cost of the build was estimated at $20,000. It cost ten cents to play a game or twenty-five cents for three games. When it was installed in the coffee house at the Tresidder Union in Stanford University where Bill Pitts had studied it was a huge attraction. It was originally set to be named Spacewar! the game it was based upon, but at the time war was an unpopular topic in universities with the Kent State shootings taken place the year previous, hence the two decided to rename it Galaxy Game. The game remained on campus until 1979 with the cabinet’s components becoming damaged from over use. The game remained in storage until it was restored in 1997 to be displayed at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

The Birth of the Arcade Image 01

“Costing $20,000 to manufacturer and at 10¢ per play, Galaxy Game wasn’t the most cost effective endeavour”

Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck weren’t the only one who were inspired by Spacewar! and looking to create their own version. At the same time Nolan Bushnell who would later form Atari and create the well-known arcade classic Pong, was working for Nutting Associates on a marketable version of Spacewar!. The game was popular but was limited to Universities and computer departments that could house the machines it was built on. Nutting Associates who were established as an arcade game manufacturer in 1965 wanted to make a clone of Spacewar! built for the arcade and tasked Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney with making it so. It took Bushnell and Dabney two years to develop the game although the pair had being musing on the idea for several years prior to approaching Nutting Associates with the idea. Computer Space as it was called was released in November of 1971 only months after Galaxy Game had been installed at Stanford University.

The Birth of the Arcade Image 02

“Even from the start the video game industry knew the value of sex appeal to sell their games”

Again like Galaxy Game it was based off Spacewar! and was a coin operated machine. It featured similar gameplay mechanics although now with the addition of a score and relatively fluid animations for the spaceships. The game initially sold 1,000 units, but due to the firing of the company’s sales director and the overall complexity of the game. Sales started to drop and the game was deemed a failure with only 1,500 units sold in all. Bushnell himself explains the problem “Sure, I loved it, and all my friends loved it, but all my friends were engineers. It was a little too complicated for the guy with the beer in the bar.” Even though comparatively the games sales where low by today’s standards it still stands as the first commercial distributed video game. It set Bushnell and his colleagues on their way to forming Atari and creating Pong a year later, forming the basis of the video game industry that we know today.

Posted in Video Game Compendium and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>