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Computer Space

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Title: Computer Space  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Pong, History of video games, Arcade game, 1971 video games, Galaxy Game
Collection: 1971 Video Games, Arcade Games, Discrete Video Arcade Games, Multidirectional Shooters, Shoot 'Em Ups
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Computer Space

Computer Space

Developer(s) Nutting Associates
Publisher(s) Nutting Associates
Designer(s) Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney
Platform(s) Arcade
Release date(s) Location test
  • NA August 1971
MOA debut
  • NA October 15, 1971
Official release
  • NA November 1971
Genre(s) Multi-directional shooter
Mode(s) Single player or 2 player
Cabinet Unique design
Display Horizontal, raster, standard resolution, 15 inches

Computer Space is a video arcade game released in 1971 by Nutting Associates. Created by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, who would both later found Atari, Inc., it is generally accepted that it was the world's first commercially sold coin-operated video game of any kind, predating the Magnavox Odyssey's release by six months, and Atari's Pong by one year. It was first location tested at The Dutch Goose in August 1971, then debuted at the MOA show on October 15, 1971, and then officially released in November 1971.[1][2] Though not commercially sold, the coin operated minicomputer-driven Galaxy Game appeared around the same time, located solely at Stanford University.


  • History 1
  • Gameplay 2
    • Scoring 2.1
  • Technical 3
  • Reception 4
  • Clones 5
  • Computer Space in popular culture 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Previous efforts in bringing the experience of Spacewar! to a mass market were centered on the minicomputer paradigm of the college campuses where it originated - that of a central computer distributing software to various remote terminals. Computer Space was innovative for establishing the basic form of all arcade games to come - that of a dedicated computing device built to play only that one game.[3]

Computer Space was the first widely available video and arcade game, although it was not a success. For many, the gameplay was too complicated to grasp quickly. While it fared well on college campuses, it was not very popular in bars and other venues. Bushnell later recruited Al Alcorn and created a sensation with the much easier to grasp Pong arcade game modeled on Ralph Baer's Magnavox Odyssey home system's Tennis game.

Fiberglass cabinets were produced for single-player games in the colors blue metalflake, red metalflake, white, and yellow. The two-player cabinet was only available in a slightly different green metalflake fiberglass cabinet with a wider control panel.


Computer Space screenshot

The player controls a rocket ship using a thruster and a pair of rotational buttons. During game play, the player must evade enemy fire from a pair of flying saucers moving in tandem. The player fires back to destroy the flying saucers by firing missiles at them from the rocket ship. In today's terms, the game would be considered a multi-directional shooter.

If the player's score is higher than that of the saucers at the end of 90 seconds, the player will get another 90 seconds of play, and the colors of the screen would switch to "Hyperspace" (it would switch like a photo negative, from black to white and white to black). If at the end of this 90 seconds the player's score is still higher than that of the saucers, the player received another 90 seconds and the colors will revert to normal. This sequence is repeated indefinitely.


Score is kept as a single digit ranging from zero to nine; for scores ten to fifteen, odd-looking characters would be displayed; once a score of fifteen is reached, the next hit will return the score to 0.


Computer Space uses no microprocessor, RAM or ROM. The entire computer system is a state machine made of 74-series TTL chips. Graphic elements are held in diode arrays. Physical configuration is made up of 3 PCBs interconnected through a common bus. Display is rendered on a General Electric 15" black-and-white portable television vacuum tube set specially modified for Computer Space.[4]


Computer Space performed modestly in the arcade due to the complexity of its controls and a steep learning curve.[5] The game racked up initial orders of 1,000 units through the efforts of Nutting's sales director, but sales collapsed soon after he was fired. In the GSN documentary Video Game Invasion: The History of a Global Obsession, Bushnell explained, "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."[6] In total, roughly 1,500 units were sold. This represented a decent number for a coin-operated game of the period, but as an introduction to a new entertainment medium, it failed to excite the general public.


Computer Space was cloned/bootlegged in 1972 by a game company called For-Play as "[8]

Computer Space in popular culture

A blue Computer Space arcade unit was seen in the original set for the television program The Electric Playground, and was featured in a story they did about the formation of Atari.[9]

Computer Space (white cabinet) was shown in the 1973 film Soylent Green, and the 1975 film Jaws.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Videotopia
  4. ^ Marvin Yagoda (2008). "1972 Nutting Associates Computer Space". Archived from the original on January 30, 2009. 
  5. ^ Martin, Bob. "Space Age Games". Starlog. No.67. Pg.18. February 1983.
  6. ^ Video Game Invasion: The History of a Global Obsession. 
  7. ^ "Genre". Retrieved 2008-08-10. 
  8. ^ "Star Trek Unlicensed". Retrieved 2008-08-10. 
  9. ^ "SN10439". Retrieved 2007-10-22. 

External links

  • Computer Space and the Dawn of the Arcade Video Game - An in-depth article on the creation of Computer Space.
  • - large archive of Computer Space info, including historical and technical information.
  • Computer Space at MobyGames
  • Computer Space at the Killer List of Videogames
  • Computer Space on
  • Computer Space Info
  • Videotopia exhibit
  • The Dot Eaters article on the development of Computer Space.
  • Interview with co-designer Ted Dabney on the RetroGaming Roundup Show
  • Extensive historical and technical discussion of Computer Space on the podcast Insert Coin Reviews.
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