Spacewar! A Conversation with Steve Russell and Peter Samson
Steve Russell and Peter Samson, key developers of Spacewar!, the first digital video game, will join John Sharp, curator of Spacewar! Video Games Blast Off in a conversation about their early experiences with game design and the enduring influence Spacewar! has had on the game industry since its creation in 1961–62. Russell will participate by video call from the Computer History Museum, home of the only working original PDP-1 computer (the platform for which Spacewar! was created).
Steve “Slug” Russell is a programmer and computer scientist, and was the key developer of Spacewar! on the PDP-1 along with fellow MIT students Martin Graetz and Wayne Wiitanen. Inspired by his tutor Marvin Minsky’s “Three Position display” and the science-fiction novels of E.E. Smith, Russell created an interactive demonstration that would show the advanced capabilities of the PDP-1 computer. The game premiered at the MIT Science Open House in 1962, and has since had an enormous influence on the past 50 years of game development.
Peter Samson has had a wide-ranging career in computer hardware and software. As a student at MIT, he wrote the pioneering “Expensive Planetarium” star map display for Spacewar! which accurately represented the constellations of the night sky. Samson also developed pioneering software for real-time digital music synthesis, and has worked in the fields of 2-D and 3-D animation, software distribution, and virtual reality.
Both Steve Russell and Peter Samson are docents at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, where they demonstrate and help to maintain the world’s last working PDP-1 computer (pictured above).
John Sharp is a designer, art historian, and educator. He has been involved in the creation and study of art and design for over 25 years. Sharp is a member of the game design collective Local No. 12, which focuses on games as a research platform, and also a member of the Leisure Collective, a group dedicated to the intersection of games, narrative, and art. Sharp is the Associate Professor of Games and Learning in the School of Art, Media and Technology at Parsons The New School for Design where he co-directs PETLab (Prototyping, Evaluation and Technology Lab), a group exploring games and their design as a form of social discourse. He is also a partner in Supercosm, where he focuses on interaction and game design for arts and education clients.