Do a search for Computer Space and you will invariably find the infamous 70's flyer. There was a rumor at one time that the young lady shown in the photo is none other than Yvette Mimieux, the lead actress in the 1960 George Pal film The Time Machine. The rumor floating around seems to imply that the makers of the flyer wanted a model who was both beautiful as well as "space age." However, this rumor seems to have been debunked. Given where Computer Space was developed and the limited budget this machine would have had for advertising, the woman in question was more likely an employee of The Brass Rail bar, a favorite hangout of computer engineers in the Sunnyvale area. Given that The Brass Rail was a strip joint, one can draw one's own conclusion as to the young lady's career history.

 

This picture brings to light one of Computer Space's other unusual characteristics, the elusive Yellow machine.

I say "elusive" because the overall impression one gets from searching the web is that yellow machines were the first made and were only in a limited run. Afterwards, the more common metal-flake blue and red units were put into production. According to good sources on the web (including Jerry Jessop, the owner of the very first Computer Space), only six units were ever made in flat yellow color.

http://www.cyberroach.com/cyromag/14/cge2k21p.htm

http://groups.google.ca/groups?hl=en&lr=&selm=3611c7af.5457563%40news

From what I gather Nolan Bushnell himself has stated that only six yellow units were made.

However, if this is true, these six machines are still very much alive and getting a lot of travel! If you look in the media section of my site, there is a music video by the group Cornershop for their song "Brimful of Asha" which features a yellow Computer Space in the background.

Plus, if you watch the movie Jaws, about 40 minutes into the movie is an arcade scene where a kid is playing a Killer Shark game. Right beside it sits another yellow Computer Space.

The Atari Museum loaned out there yellow unit for a the Game On exhibition in the UK in 2002 (which was very kind of them) http://www.atarimuseum.com/whatsnew/computerspace/

There is, of course, Jerry Jessop's "Serial Number 1" yellow unit.

And if you go to http://www.catver.com/arcade5.htm you will see not only does the owner have four Computer Space machines, but TWO of them are yellow!

Which, in theory, is all six. However, I have found at least two available to buy. Better place your order now! http://www.flippers.com/vid4sale.html http://www.scoreonegames.com/prod01.htm

Now, interestingly, I have heard from a couple of Computer Space owners who mention anomolous "brown" machines. They describe their units as looking like a tan or gold flake finish. I have not seen any pictures of this style of finish and as soon as I do I will post them.

The only conclusion I can draw stems from something I read on the Google discussion groups that described yet another possible first run of units. http://groups.google.ca/groups?selm=eec80632.0206242340.38d93c2c%40posting.google.com&output=gplain

- The first 16 were made in solid colors: yellow, red, blue, green. The rest of the 1500 were produced in silver-flake red and blue.

If this is true, then perhaps yellow was also produced in a very limited gold flake version And it could well be that as time passed and the rarity of these machines was perceived to be greater if they were restored to yellow. This is all speculation, if anyone has any insight feel free to email me.

 

I once had someone ask me what that grey circle is on the front of the machine.

It's a keyhole.

I can only assume that arcade owners who may have had Computer Space sitting side by side with other machines may have tired of having to pull the unit out to get into the back door to empty the coinbox. Perhaps this key unlocked the control panel at the front to allow easier access to the coinbox? If anyone with a keyed unit can let me know if that makes sense, please do.

 

 

Lost relatives

A friend of mine brought an article to my attention about The Nation Science Museum in Japan having a TV Games and Digital Science exhibition back in the summer of 2004.

http://club.nokia.co.jp/tokyoq/weekly_updates/arch/arch-0408.html

The article describes many of the elements of the early history of computers and computer games and, of course, has a Computer Space. However, the paragraph describes a re-launch, stating the curved space-age cabinet was part of a redesign of the machine. To my understanding, Nolan Bushnell himself helped design the cabinet of Computer Space and it was always the curvy space-age look. But in researching this, I believe I found what the author must have mistaken for a first run version of Computer Space. I came across what I can only describe as Computer Space's long lost brother, "Galaxy Game."

It would seem that Nolan Bushnell was not the only computer student to enjoy Steve Russel's Space War game on the PDP-10 (by the late 60's, the PDP-1 had gone through a number of upgrades) and this later version of the mainframe machine was finally getting small enough and inexpensive enough to consider placing into a dedicated console. In the early 197's, such was the brainstorm of Bill Pitts, a recent Stanford graduate and his high school buddy, Hugh Tuck who formed a company called Computer Recreations in June of 1971.

Taking the new low-cost PDP-11/20 machine and connecting it to an HP 1300 Electrostatic Display, they had made something very much like Computer Space, albeit for $20,000. Their revised version of Space War was named Galaxy War. However, since it was the early 70's and events like Viet Nam were displaying the horrors of real warfare on the nightly news, it was decided that the name of this game should not contain the word "war" in it, the name was soon changed to Galaxy Game.

In September of 1971, the machine was placed in the Stanford Union coffee shop and charged ten cents per play. Although Galaxy Game has many similarities to Computer Space, its greater expense to construct and lower revenues (going for a dime a play in one coffee shop did not prove too profitable), the game was not much of a financial success. But the machine remained in service and enjoyed a great deal of play until May of 1979, when the display was beginning to show wear and tear from old age and Galaxy Game was finally retired.

Another machine that could claim to be a long lost relative of Computer Space is the 1973 Atari game "Space Race." This game was the next one developed by the fledgling Atari company after the monumental hit Pong. Although the game play is very different from Computer Space or Pong, being more akin to Steeplechase but with rocket ships, Space Race has many things in common with Computer Space, most notable being the space-age fiberglass cabinet (seen on the left). As you can see, the housing is quite different from Computer Space, but the green silver-flake finish is apparently exactly the same finish used on the two player Computer Space, and this game similarly uses a TV set and simple diode ROM construction. According to some reports, the maintenance manual shipped with Space Race was clearly a Pong manual and you can easily see someone has just scribbled out where it says Pong and written Space Race over it. What I personally find intriguing in Space Race's cabinet design is how it went through two versions. The speckled green fiberglass cabinet is apparently quite a rare version. The more common unit (seen on the right) was a basic squared-off cabinet that, in my opinion at least, bares a striking resemblance to the cabinet used for Galaxy Game.

Space Race is one of the last machines to use the fiberglass design. After it, arcade video games were built of durable wood housings, flattened on the sides. My guess is that the fiberglass cabinet must have cracked easily in typical arcade situations. And admittedly, having oddly-shaped sides on these machines must have made them difficult to line up against a wall, so I can understand why the concept never lasted. A few final machines such as Hi-Way and Night Driver also had fiberglass construction but as these were large driving games, it would seem the benefit for going fiberglass was more to reduce the weight of the machine, rather than any artistic value.

And it would not be fair to leave out Computer Space's older uncle, the game previously built by Nutting Associates before they undertook the space-age machine, Computer Quiz. An Atari collector sent me a collection of pictures of his Computer Quiz machine and he says it is quite the impressive machine. A number of questions snap into place to be illuminated, something like the way a slide projector works. When you press the button that corresponds to the correct answer (all the questions are multiple choice) a beam of light is interrupted, closing the circuit and the game registers a score on the machine. As you can see from the picture below of Computer Quiz'es internal workings, the layout and color of the circuit boards are nearly identical to those in Computer Space.

Recently another machine from Nutting has come to light called Computer Space Ball.

Clearly this machine is another Pong game, and if you listen to the sound of this video clip, the sound effects of Computer Space Ball are identical to those of Atari's Pong. Any references online to Computer Space Ball seem to date this machine to 1972. This is significant in that it is around the time that Syzygy left Nutting Associates and went on to form Atari (see my History section for details). If you look closely at the following page where several Computer Space Ball thumbnails are posted, locate a close up of the control panel and you will see no Syzygy logo on the panel at all. This would indicate that possibly with the advent of Atari's new Pong game being so successful, perhaps Nutting acquired their own version of the same game and packaged it under their own name (a name obviously close to Computer Space). If you also check the pictures of the rear of the machine, you can clearly see the familiar wooden door seen on the back of all Computer Space machines as well. Inside is the same television set used in the other machine too.

It has been difficult to locate any information on this Pong clone so this is pure speculation. If anyone has better info, feel free to email me.

Pictures and video footage of Computer Space Ball provded by www.classicpinball.com

 

Click if you would like to see more detailed pictures of Galaxy Game, Space Race, Computer Quiz, and Computer Space Ball.

 

 

They killed Computer Space!

Seperated at birth? Hmmmm you decide.

http://www.southparkstudios.com/

 

Japanese Computer Space icons

Not long ago, I stumbled across a Japanese webpage which for some unknown reason had these png graphics of both versions of the Computer Space control panel. I have no idea why these were made and unfortunately the URL where I found them is not longer valid. The page used to be http://spitfire.client.jp/stg/history001.html but if you try to go there you get a 404 Error. The root of the page http://spitfire.client.jp is still up and running although since I cannot speak a word of Japanese I have no idea how to navigate back to the link with these graphics. Still, they are very nicely made (unfortunately these are not thumbnails, this is the actual size of the files I found).

It is interesting to note that the second graphic is of a version of the control panel only seen in this flyer. It is concievable this may have been a preliminary idea for how to rotate the rocket which was then abandoned for simpler push buttons because no actual machine has ever been found (other than the one in this flyer) with such a control mechanism.

 

Computer Space's illegitimate cousin

Apparantly, back in 1972, a gaming company called "For-Play" took the internal workings of Computer Space and put it into their own black wooden cabinet and called it Star Trek. This would appear to be the first case of video game cloning. The company did not have the legal rights to the Star Trek name and were pursued legally. As a result, very few of the gaming machines were ever made. Further details can be found at the following links:

http://www.klov.com/game_detail.php?letter=S&game_id=9771
http://www.arcade-history.com/index.php?page=detail&id=3943 (note the familiar picture taken off this very own website)
http://forums.webmagic.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Cat=&Board=UBB3&Number=54310&page=68&view=expanded&sb=6&o=

Click to view fullscreen

 

Computer Space, the movie star?

Apparantly, Computer Space is a movie star. There is a listing for it on the Internet Movie Database, IMDb. Click on the screenshot to go to its listing.

 

The website I-Mockery (http://www.i-mockery.com/) put up a listing of the 50 Greatest Arcade Cabinets in Video History, in which they detailed many cabinets of the golden era of coin operated video games. Everything from ancient Pong to modern Dance Dance Revolution was considered and added to the ranks. Obviously, a beautiful cabinet such as Computer Space would make the list, but just how far up did it score? Click the image below to see the entire list.

 

Happy Birthday Nolan Bushnell

The popular website IGN posted an excellent article at the beginning of February 2008 to celebrate the 65th birthday of Nolan Bushnell. Computer Space is discussed as well as the formation of Atari and what projects Nolan is involved in today. Click on the image below to go to IGN's article.

 

The Game On exhibit has moved to Australia and a Computer Space unit is displayed in the exhibition. IGN has run an article regarding the Melbourne show which has several photographs of the red game. Click on the picture below to be taken to the IGN article. This red unit appears to be in bad shape, its control panel has a couple of holes where "Computer Space" is displayed. The unit also does not appear to be functional however at least the visitor below was allowed to strike a pose next to it. UPDATE: This is the machine converted to a Pong game, already listed in the gallery of this site.

 

Retrospace

A Dutch firm has designed a cabinet for home gaming use that allows buyers to play emulated classic video games in their home. The machine is fully outfitted with licensed games, durable controls, and a high definition (1080p) display. The designer informs he was so impressed with the sleek lines of the original Computer Space that he intentionally echoed its look when he made the Retrospace cabinet. He even replicated the classic poster on his homepage. Click here to visit the Retrospace homepage or click here to see a larger version of the poster below.

Speaking of European connections to Computer Space, an Italian visitor recently advised me of an old magazine he had featuring a coin operated trade show in March of 1972 in Milan. The sellers, a company called TDS, were apparently not even game distributors, instead specializing in other vending machines and coffee makers. He sent the following photograph and a two player machine is clearly visible in the trade show. In fact, TDS was obviously a Nutting Associates distrubtor because right beside the 2 player machine is a Computer Quiz. He will be publishing this image in his book regarding video game history in the near future. His website is www.tilt.it

click image for a larger version

The girl for the Computer Space poster has been making the rounds recently, appearing beside the artist Bassobese on his new single "Computer Space Sauce". Bassobese contacted me and said he was into the funky retro look and the Computer space poster just called out to him as an image. He called the song Computer Space Sauce mainly because "sauce" was the only word he could make out of the letters for Computer Space and he wanted to use the same letting seen in the advertising flyer. Bassobese's website can be found here where you can download the mp3, the myspace site where this image was taken from is here.