The Development of Multi-Player "Space War", circa 1968


Sender: John Oliver
Subject: 2-D text editing and interactive games

At 01:41 AM 8/3/96 -0700, you wrote:
>Sender: Les Earnest
>Subject: CM
> J.C.R. Licklider and Doug Engelbart. ...
>While Engelbart's group did do some pioneering work, they were not the first to do two-dimensional editing. A display-oriented timesharing system called Zeus was developed at Stanford University by John McCarthy in the 1964-66 period based on a DEC PDP-1 computer with 8 or so Philco CRT displays attached and included a 2-D text editor called TVEDIT. I'm sure that Engelbart's group knew of that work inasmuch as they were located just two miles away and visited occasionally.
Sometime around 1967 or 1968 the Astronomy department at UCLA purchased some absolutely wonderful "TV Typewriters" whose proper name escapes me. A box about the size of a large home mail box contained enough core memory to store 16 40 character lines of text. A keyboard and a standard TV set were connected to the box. Everything typed showed up on the screen, and there were cursor keys, delete, etc. When the "Interrupt" key was pressed, the entire contents of the core was shipped downstairs to a 360 (either mod 90 or mod 91 ... I forget), and swapped with whatever the channel adaptor had waiting. This allowed 8 card full screen editing. The operating system was URSA and allowed all the expected functions ... file operations, text listing, display of output etc. The display was bit mapped and one of the most powerful functions was the ability to switch to graphics mode and preview the output of a CalComp plot on the screen instead of waiting for hard copy. I alone probably saved a tree as I debugged the figures for my dissertation. I must confess that one of the most interesting uses of these terminals involved "Space War" ... The URSA system provided for message exchange between user processes ... Courtney Seligman and I modified Space War to be interactive. Each of two users started up their own copy ... the copies exchanged all status info about 10 times/sec (when the system was not heavily loaded). Of course, each copy only displayed the appropriate info for its user (unless JPO or CES typed "zap" in which case the code picked up the coordinates of the enemy and used them as the firing coords ... "How'd he do that? I thought I was out of range!") Late at night one could find most of the astronomy graduate students in two clusters, at opposite ends of the "bull pen". One terminal at each end would be running Space War ... another would be in Calc ... Whoever had the con would be blindly banging commands in as fast as human fingers could type, based on instructions shouted by the commander, after consultation with the navigator.

When I arrived at the University of Florida and discovered that my access to computing was a keypunch and card reader, I was crushed ... It was not until the advent of the 6502 and the TIM and then KIM that I really got back on stride with computers.

-- John Oliver