DescriptionGalaxy Game is a conversion of one of the earliest video games ever produced, Spacewar. Released in September of 1971, it is the first known arcade game - beating yet another Spacewar conversion, Computer Space, by mere two months. The game was never mass-produced and was only available at the Tresidder Union Coffee House at Stanford University.
With monochrome vector graphics, Galaxy Game is a space shooter where two players try to blow up each other's spaceship. Besides firing, players can rotate their ships left and right, thrust forward, and jump to hyperspace, reappearing at a random (potentially dangerous) location. Both ships have a limited amount of fuel that is consumed over time and as the players use their engines and the hyperspace ability. A ship explodes when it runs out of fuel.
One of the most interesting gameplay elements of the game is the gravitational pull caused by a star in the middle of the screen, which both players must avoid colliding into. However, this feature can be disabled by setting one of the machine's control switches.
The game also features a single-player mode for practice.
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DevelopmentThe first unit of Galaxy Game took three and a half months to create, and its total hardware costs were around $20,000 USD. A second version of the game was built with better hardware that could power multiple cabinets, and its costs went up to $60,000 USD.
HardwareThe game ran on a PDP-11/20 computer with 8 Kbytes of memory and an optional hardware multiply/divide unit. The cabinet also included a point plotting display interface, and a Hewlett-Packard 1300A Electrostatic Display. One single computer could power two machines and, with the later upgrade of the display interface in the second version, up to 8 machines could be controlled by a single PDP-11.
Game titleAs the game was a re-implementation of Spacewar, it was originally intended to retain the same name. However, being 1971, the designers were concerned with the reaction to the term "war" at the Stanford University campus. They decided to name it Galaxy Game instead.
ReceptionThe game was very well received by the community, with 10 to 20 players around the machines on the busiest nights, sometimes waiting for their turn for over an hour. Each game cost 10 cents, but three games could be played for 25 cents. Although successful, both versions of the game barely recouped their hardware investment.
RetirementGalaxy Game remained in operation at the Coffee House at Tresidder Union until May of 1979. The display processor had become very unreliable and the machine was removed and disassembled. The main hardware was stored for 18 years and, in April 1997, the opportunity arose for the machine to be featured, in working condition, at the Computer History Exhibit of the Stanford University. With the work of some generous volunteers, Galaxy Game was brought back to life and made available for visitors in December 1997. In the Summer of 2000 it was transferred to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. A decade later, in August 2010, the museum loaned the game to Google, for display (and use!) at their headquarters.
Related Web Sites
- Computer Space and the Dawn of the Arcade Video Game (An article on the history of Computer Space that contains some interesting information about Galaxy Game.)
- Galaxy Game at Arcade History (Additional information about the game including a cabinet picture and a (real) screenshot.)
- Galaxy Game at Stanford's Computer History Exhibits page (Lots of interesting information about the game, covering its entire lifetime.)
- Galaxy Game at The International Arcade Museum (Various information about the game, including some cabinet pictures.)
- Galaxy Game's Wikipedia page (Additional information about the game.)
- Stanford Alumni article from Bill Pitts (Bill Pitts shares his memories from his time as a Stanford student and the story of Galaxy Game.)
- The Golden Age Arcade Historian (Blog entry with an in-depth interview with Bill Pitts, one of the creators of the game.)