and Dabney weren't the only ones to try to market a coin-operated version of Spacewar!.
A more successful effort came in 1977 with Larry Rosenthal's Space Wars. Rosenthal
had been a student at MIT where the original game had been developed, and felt
that he could do a better job than the earlier efforts at converting it for
arcades. However, he demanded a full 50% of the profits, and only the
floundering Cinematronics was willing to accept his demands.
key innovation was developing a special processor, which was cheap to make yet
still sophisticated enough to run the full version of Spacewar!, complete
with the gravity well and two-player dog fighting that made the original so
compelling. It also offered other innovations, such as the ability to take some
damage before exploding. Players could adjust the gravity and inertia of the
game world as well. Gameplay was strictly time-based; whoever had the most
kills at the end of the match won the game.
the game's most important feature was its vector-based graphics, which made it
both more faithful to the original and better-looking than Computer Space's
raster graphics had been.
The essential difference between vector and
raster graphics is that the former are based on lines instead of dots or
pixels. Vector graphics tended to look much sharper than the raster games of
the era. In the end, it was a wonderful adaptation of Spacewar! and
earned rich profits for Rosenthal and Cinematronics.
Atari released Orbit, yet
another raster-based adaptation of Spacewar!. Unlike the previous
effort, however, this one at least offered two-player side-by-side play out-of-the-gate
and borrowed the partial damage system of Space Wars.
Perhaps the only
really interesting aspect of the game is that the ships now looked like the Enterprise and a Klingon Bird of Prey from Star Trek. The
game wasn't a hit and is rarely spoken of today, though a simplified home
version for the Atari 2600 VCS was released in 1978: Space War.
Screenshot from Atari's Orbit.
Box back from one of the many
early home games that took inspiration from Spacewar!,
Fairchild's Space War (1977) for
their Video Entertainment System.
vector skelter in 1979 with Lunar Lander (also discussed in book Chapter
8, "Flight Simulator (1980):
Digital Reality") and Asteroids, two stunningly innovative but notoriously difficult
games. Lunar Lander, as
the name implies, had players carefully landing a lunar module on one of
several moon bases (platforms, really).
What made the game so challenging was
its painfully realistic physics: players had to work hard to generate just
enough thrust to maneuver the lander and resist gravity. Fuel was at an
absolute premium; running out meant almost certain death.
was eventually ported and cloned on home platforms; former Commodore VIC-20
owners may remember the clone Jupiter Lander (1981), for instance. The
gameplay concepts introduced in Lunar Lander would later evolve into the
many "gravity" and "thrust" games of the 1980s, including
Atari's aforementioned Gravitar in 1982.
Screenshot from Atari's Gravitar.