Begun in 1958 by an international committee, the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery), ALGOL was a hugely influential series of algorithmic programming languages. Culminating in ALGOL 60 in 1960, later languages were heavily influenced by ALGOL’s concepts for lexicon, structure, and syntax. It’s considered the first of the so called second-gen computer languages, and was the first to introduce the block structure. For a time in the early 1960s it was the predominant language in Europe, and today most modern code is a descendant of ALGOL.

Space War

spacewarSpace War may be the most important computer game ever. The first version was developed for the PDP-1 at MIT in 1960. The game has been under essentially constant development since.

The first CRT display was a converted oscilloscope used to play Space War. The first trackball (and thus, the first mouse) was a Space War control at MIT. It is said that Ken Thompson salvaged a PDP-1 and created a new operating system, now called UNIX, so that he could play Space War.

The gameplay was inspired by E. E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman novels. Two players go head-to-head, each controlling a ship in interstellar combat, trying to blow the bejeezus out of each other. There is a sun in the center of the playing field that exerts an inverse-r-squared force on all objects on the screen. A talented player can aim torpedoes such that their trajectory is deflected by the sun’s gravitational force until it intersects with the other player’s ship.


pdp1From the PDP-1 handbook, 1960

The Programmed Data Processor (PDP-1) is a high speed, solid state digital computer designed to operate with many types of input-output devices with no internal machine changes. It is a single address, single instruction, stored program computer with powerful program features. Five-megacycle circuits, a magnetic core memory and fully parallel processing make possible a computation rate of 100,000 additions per second. The PDP-1 is unusually versatile. It is easy to install, operate and maintain. Conventional 110-volt power is used, neither air conditioning nor floor reinforcement is necessary, and preventive maintenance is provided for by built-in marginal checking circuits.

PDP-1 circuits are based on the designs of DEC’s highly successful and reliable System Modules. Flip-flops and most switches use saturating transistors. Primary active elements are Micro-Alloy-Diffused transistors. The entire computer occupies only 17 square feet of floor space. It consists of four equipment frames, one of which is used as the operating station.