Saturday, August 27, 2016

New Info on Galaxy Game

I’ve been too busy to post much lately, but I did want to post a quick note about some new information that has recently emerged about Galaxy Game (the two-off game created at Stanford in 1971). 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, a number of people had claimed that Galaxy Game, and not Computer Space, was the world’s first coin-operated video game. This seems to be based on the claim in Tristan Donovan’s book Replay that the game was put on location in September 1971, a month before Computer Space debuted at the 1971 MOA show and about two months before it was “released.” As I also mentioned earlier, I don’t find this line of argument entirely convincing, given that Computer Space was location tested before it made its debut. Goldberg and Vendel claim that it was first tested in August, a month before Galaxy game – though I think this is based on the recollections of Ted Dabney and/or Nolan Bushnell. 

Well, some new information has surfaced that sheds further light on the issue. Donovan’s date was (I believe) based on an interview with Bill Pitts, the game’s programmer and co-creator. While a number of people have interviewed Pitts, including me several years ago, it seems that no one had interviewed Hugh Tuck.

Recently, Alex Smith of the They Create Worlds blog/podcast interviewed Tuck. As luck would have it, Tuck still had the business plan for Mini-Computer Applications, the partnership he and Pitts formed when they were peddling Galaxy Game to investors. There weren’t any major revelations in the document, but it did give some more solid evidence for the game’s dates. According to the document (which was written around February 1972), Pitts designed and built the game interface from July to November 1971. It then notes “In late November, the first game was installed in the Chess Room of the Tresidder Memorial Union at Stanford University. Simultaneously, an ad was run in the Stanford Daily Newspaper stating the name of the game and location.”
So according to contemporary evidence, the game was not put on location until late November 1971, after Computer Space had debuted at the MOA and well after it was first put on location for testing. And it seems that it was very late in November at that. The business plan mentions that when the game was put on location, they put an ad in the Stanford paper. The paper (the Stanford Daily) has an online archive dating back to 1892. I did a search for Galaxy Game and the first ad I found was in the November 29, 1971 issue, which actually contained two:

The November 23 issue also has this personal ad, which was repeated in subsequent issues.  "Atlas" was probably Hugh Tuck, whose family owned a company called Atlas Heating and Ventilating.

Of course, one could still argue that Galaxy Game was "released" before Computer Space,. Computer Space is believe to have started shipping to distributors in November, 1971 - though the date is unclear and it may not have been until December. And it likely would have taken ome time for the game to make its way to distributors to operators to locations. 
As I mentioned in my earlier post, however, I think this argument is a bit dubious because Galaxy Game, which wasn't a commercial product and was not sent to distributors at all, didn't really have a "release" date.