Designer: Larry Rosenthal
Added to my collection: 2000
Total Lifetime Investment : $450 (approx.)
Sale Price: $225
Current Condition : Sold
The roots of Cinematronics' Space Wars can be traced back to the very first (well-known) video game ever created--Spacewar, a mainframe computer game created by Steve Russell at MIT in 1962. Cinematronics' version wasn't the first time the game had been translated to an arcade machine. The first arcade video game, Computer Space, was released by Nutting Associates in 1971. (Computer Space was the brainchild of Nolan Bushnell, who went on to found Atari a year or so later.) Atari went on to release its own take on Spacewar, 1978's Orbit.
One of the things that makes Space Wars unique is that it is the first arcade game to use vector graphics. This display method, which draws straight lines that connect into hollow polygons rather than creating shapes by turning individual pixels on and off to form shapes, was capable of producing graphics much more crisp and defined than normal raster displays (the more common monitor type). Vector graphics (also known as "XY" graphics) were all the rage for several years during the late '70s and early '80s, but fell out of favor because the monitors themselves proved to be unreliable, and because faster processors made rendering filled polygons on raster displays more feasible.
The game play of Space Wars is fairly straightforward. Each player controls a spaceship--one that looks a little like the Enterprise from Star Trek and another that is a stylized triangle. In the center of the screen is a star whose gravity affects both the ships and their missiles. Numerous options are available to control the gravity and play conditions. Each game is timed, and the ships have limited fuel and missile supplies. The object is to shoot your opponent more times than he shoots you before time runs out. (There is no single player option--you have to play head-to-head.)
There were about 30,000 Space Wars games made. Three different versions were available--the Cinematronics upright version (one of the biggest cabinets of its time), a smaller upright released as Space War under the Vectorbeam label (Vectorbeam was the name of the vector monitor technology itself), and a cocktail version. The game was one of the most popular in its time, and remained on the top 10 best games list until 1981.
When I got into the arcade game collecting hobby, I made a list of games that I wanted--the games that I remember most fondly from my high school and college days. Of the fifteen or so games on the list, Space Wars was the most rare. Because of its size and the unreliability of its monitor, most of the games are either dead and buried or just plain dead today. I just happened to find mine on ebay, and I got it for a really reasonable price. Of course, the shipping was expensive, but those are the breaks.
Of all the games I own, this the one requires the most restoration. First, it was in need of cosmetic refurbishing. The right side was missing its graphic, which I replaced by creating a template off of the left-side graphic and repainting the cabinet. Also, somebody apparently thought the original cabinet allowed too little elbow room for the players, and cut two triangular sections out of the sides near the control panel. I cut new particle board to fit these areas and replaced them prior to repainting the cabinet. Check out the renovation pics below!)
Post-sale note: Despite the work I put into the game to get the cabinet looking good, I never got the game working (for more than a few minutes, that is). It sat dormant in the garage, gathering dust until I finally sold it on eBay (at a sizeable loss) to make room for new games.
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