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The world’s oldest video game is now available on a sought-after handheld game machine — and no, I don’t mean the Steam Deck. Developers have released the iconic 1962 game Spacewar! on the Analogue Pocket. This Game Boy-style device is built from the ground up to preserve the games of yesteryear, but it does have one thing in common with the Steam Deck: There’s a very long wait to get your hands on one.
In 1962, computer scientists at MIT, including Martin Graetz and Steve Russell, created Spacewar! on their brand new DEC PDP-1 minicomputer. This machine cost $120,000, the equivalent of more than a million dollars today. It consisted of 2,700 transistors and 3,000 diodes, and it used a 1024 x 1024 type 30 CRT for display output. Only 53 were made, and one of them gave birth to the first program we would recognize today as a video game.
Decades later, you can play this game on the Analogue Pocket. Well, you can in theory. The $220 device is heavily back-ordered, but that’s a hell of a lot cheaper and more accessible than the PDP-1. As you might expect, the gameplay in Spacewar! is simple. It consists of two spacecraft orbiting a star. Each ship has a limited supply of torpedoes and fuel. The goal is to destroy your opponent or simply wait for them to make a mistake and crash into the star.
A third-party developer known as Spacemen3 recreated Spacewar! for the Analogue Pocket, which was only possible thanks to its OpenFPGA architecture. The game had a unique way of generating images on the PDP-1 vector display, which was a challenge to recreate on modern hardware, but the original source code for the game and the PDP-1 are in the public domain.
Using openFPGA, a 3rd party developer “Spacemen3” recreated the PDP-1 and Spacewar! using the original source code in the public domain. You can play it today on Pocket with openFPGA by following this guide here: https://t.co/XFS3ARmaUe pic.twitter.com/ut6N6Ovois
— Analogue (@analogue) July 29, 2022
The original game was a two-player affair, complete with custom controllers that The Verge notes were designed to be silent so you couldn’t tell when your opponent was starting an attack run. The Analogue Pocket version doesn’t have AI for the other player, but it’s apparently still plenty fun to slingshot around the star and blast another vessel.
To play the game, you’ll need an Analogue Pocket, which is the hardest part — current orders will be fulfilled in 2023. After that, you can grab the PDP-1 and Spacewar! openFGPA files from Github. After loading them on the device’s SD card, you should be able to experience the dawn of video games in the palm of your hand.