Computer Space sounds like a third-party PC parts wholesaler, but back in 1971 it was the world's first video game arcade machine. Before Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney went off to start some games company called Atari, Computer Space was their first commercial collaboration -- a full year before Pong. The coin-operated computer game was the first of its kind in arcades, even if it wasn't an explosive commercial success, it managed to sell on par with other arcade machine. A recently christened game museum in Japan had not one, but four of the original arcade machines -- and an extra (unfortunately beige, non-shimmering) machine to play the game itself -- so we touched a bit of gaming history.
The world's first arcade machine
The game is like a one-on-one version of Asteroids without the debris. Controls are similar and simple, although being the first of its kind, there's a learning curve to it all. A pair of buttons rotates a spaceship in either direction, while the other two act as thrust and fire. (The green model is particularly rare, with a pair of joystick controls that actually never made it into arcades.)
There's no RAM, processor or ROM.
Unfortunately, we barely managed to play the game at the museum's launch: Our own spaceship disappeared from the game screen completely after about five minutes' play and the machine was then tagged with an out-of-order sign for the remainder of the press event. (We didn't break it. Promise.)
The machine can't be run through emulation easily on more modern machines because the hardware itself was before the era of microprocessors. There's no RAM, processor or ROM. ROM chips were expensive at the start of the '70s, so creator Bushnell substituted in diodes on the circuit board, laid out in the shape of the spaceship on the circuit board itself. Interestingly, the highest score possible is 15 -- once you go over that, the machine resets. Technologizer has a supremely detailed tale of the game's development, but if you want a taste of the arcade's first video game yourself, then we suggest trying some of the downloadable simulators here.