[TUHS] Gaming on early Unix

ron at ronnatalie.com ron at ronnatalie.com
Sat Dec 7 02:19:12 AEST 2019

We were big into “Adventure” when I first started on UNIX.    It wasn’t until someone handed me the Fortran source code did I find we had missed a few things in it (like the rusty rods with black stars).


Rogue was a popular one later.   


Later at BRL we got a copy of “Empire” from PSL.   The good thing about that game was that your amount of activity was limited to one hour a day and however many BTUs (Bureaucratic Time Units) your capital generated.    However, people would print maps near the end of their session and then spend hours planning the next day’s activity.   Finally, the lab management had us shutdown.


There was another multiplayer game called “Search” that would result around 4:30 in the afternoon someone yelling “Search Up” which was everybody’s cue to join in the game.


Then we got SGI workstations.   The flight simulator had a dogfight feature but it used some networking that didn’t work on our network (I think it was XNS broadcasts).   Fortunately, the source code was available so I hacked it to communicate via TCP/IP to a central server (which had its own “air traffic control” display for my own benefit).    At 4:30 everybody would head off to an SGI workstation and we’d have many people flying.

We had the problem of people hanging out around the runway (where new players appeared) and nailing people as soon as they showed up.   I wrote an automated “anti-aircraft gun” that shot at people who hung out around the airfield.


I was at a meeting (probably IETF) and the NASA AMES guys (who had tons of these workstations as well) found out about my work and made me FTP it to them right then and there.    There went NASA productivity.


BRL had a vector graphics system in the early days called a Vector General.   They were left over from a project with the Cyber mainframe that never worked.   The labs had three or four of these things, each a PDP-11/34 with the Vector General, a card reader, a printer, a DQ-11, and a 50K modem.   At a loss for what to do with them, we put UNIX on them.   Mike used the system to develop the BRL CAD package.    The printers got used for other purposes.   The card readers pretty much were trashed but we kept one to convert old COMGEOM decks.   We actually used the DQ-11/50K modem things to extend the BRLNet (and ultimately the BRL gateways).

One evening, Mike and I decided to write a game for the thing.    We decided to simulate the “Asterioids” arcade game.   Mike did the graphics work and I wrote the game logic.    We spent all night writing it and then went home in the morning leaving it running.     By the time we came in later in the day, several of the BRL researchers (physicists and aerodynamics guys) had hacked on the game logic to make it more realistic (conservation of momentum and all that).


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