It was in the nature of hackers to try and improve everything they can. For example, Spacewar wasn’t done when it was released by Slug Russell. There was much more that he and his fellow computer geeks intended to do with the game. Subroutines were altered and the concept of a central point of gravity was added to give the game more strategic implications. By taking inspiration from science fiction novels, like “Doc Smith”, a panic button that allowed them to “jump into hyperspace” and avoid danger by placing the ship in a random location. The variations were endless. Any improvement a hacker wished to make was welcome. The social pressures urged for hands-on improvement and encouraged this kind of mischief.

Hackers were so engaged in the mind-boggling concept of this tweak in the system that they were using an expensive computer to play the world’s most glorified video game. (Nice to know that some things never change.) The game was played a lot and for some it was addictive. While nobody was able to officially sign up to use the machine, every free moment was used to play some variation of this game. Hackers would run tournaments, arriving with a Coke in hand and money on the line. Russell added a new routine that would help keep the score of total games won. The only issue was the discomfort of utilizing the switches to control the ships.

Kotok and Saunders returned to the TMRC room and scrounged up the parts which would become the first computer joysticks. These controllers were thrown together in an hour of inspired construction. The control box was made of wood, with Masonite tops. Each had a few switched to control the rocket’s rotation and thrust and a button to send the ship into hyperspace. The controls were silent to allow the players to hide their tactics from their opponents. As the fury of the programming phase began to die down, some lost interest in Spacewar. Others would develop a killer instinct and devise new ways to utilize the game to destroy their opponents.


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