My First Game

My first computer game was a tactical armored combat game. I wrote it in FORTRAN on an IBM 1130. That machine had 16K of RAM and hard disk packs that provided lots of virtual memory. I/O consisted of a Selectric teletypewriter. You booted the machine with the appropriate hard disk in much the same way that you now boot older PCs with a floppy disk -- except these disk packs were 18 inches in diameter and weighed four pounds. The machine itself was the size of a large desk.

I had a set of maps from the Avalon-Hill game Panzer Leader and some lead miniatures of tanks. I placed these on a table next to the computer. The computer would print out coordinates of events and I would move the tanks around the map to reflect the changes dictated by the computer. Then I would enter my own moves according to a precise input format.

The game had a data structure for the map in RAM, and it could figure its way through a hexgrid. It had primitive fog of war, with hidden units maneuvering behind ridges and forests, then surprising the enemy with sudden attacks. It may surprise you that I was able to get so much function into so little space, but remember that most of the RAM consumption of a computer game goes for graphics, sound, and user interface. I didn’t have any of that in this game, just the raw game, so I could get a lot of game into that small space.

The AI wasn’t very good -- I had to give it a 2:1 superiority, but that was enough. I can still recall the intense excitement I felt when the computer, having routed me from a defensive position, pursued my beaten forces all the way across the map.

I started working on the game in May of 1976 and got it running in September (this was all part-time work; I was teaching physics at a community college in Nebraska at the time.) I tuned it during the fall and introduced it to the world in December of 1976. I set up a wargame convention at the college during Christmas break -- I called it Wargy I and invited the thirty or so attendees to come on up to the computer room for a game against the computer. This was novel stuff for 1976, and they seemed impressed with the experience. The computer stomped several of them easily.