The Mystery of the 2 Player Machine
Dating the Computer Space 2-player version.
While I was looking for the origin of the “Video Game” name and its use, opposed to the “TV game” name in the arcade industry back in the 70’s, I stumbled upon something that looked like an anachronism, and decided to investigate further: The release date of the 2-player version of Computer Space (2pCS).
Almost everywhere on the internet, it is said that the 2-player version of Computer Space was released in 1971.
I think that it’s an impossible release date, but I also think that it could have been released in 1973.
The arcade game flyers
I’ve found out that Atari Pong, released on November 1972, was the first game to have something like the “video” word on its flyer (ref. Arcade Flyer Archive ).
This flyer is the first publication ever, having video terminology for a game.
In fact, it looks like nothing was ever clearly and strictly called “Video Game” before mid-1973.
On the Atari Pong flyer, words like “Video Skill Game” and “Video Technology” were used, but not exactly “Video Game”.
The earliest known flyer with “Video Games” words on it is Space Race from Atari, released in July 1973.
Some other arcade games released in 1973 (from which we don’t know the exact released month), had “Video Games” written on their flyers. They are:
1- Champion Ping Pong from Mirco Games,
2- Soccer from Ramtek,
3- Table Tennis from Nutting Associates,
4- And maybe Gyro-Pong from ML Electronics.
Nutting Associates’ Computer Space Ball (1972-73?) flyer had only a “Video Display” description on it, but on the Nutting Associates’ Table Tennis flyer (12/1973?), you can read: “Video Action Game”, “Coin Video Game”, “Video Entertainment”, “Video Display” and “Video Game Technology”.
As you can see, there’s a dramatic evolution in the video terminology in 1973.
It is useless to say that the original One-player Computer Space flyer has no “video” words on it.
Amazingly, the 2pCS flyer has precisely the well-defined “Video Game” name on it.
The “Video Game” name, combined with the fonts used, the overall flyer design and the simplified descriptions meant for accustomed people, compared with other flyers, make me think that the 2pCS flyer found on the Arcade Flyer Archive’s website was released in 1973, between Computer Space Ball and Table Tennis.
Now the questions are:
1- Was that flyer the first and only one done for the 2pCS game?
2- Was that flyer released at the same time of the cabinet?
3- Is it possible that Nutting Associates (NA) released 2 or more different flyers for that game?
There’s no evidence that the 2pCS game had 2 flyers, so the flyer’s release should be nearly the same as the arcade cabinet.
In order to test this assumption, I checked the 2pCS manual…
The arcade game manual
The 2pCS manual, looks like an updated 1971 Computer Space but a 1973 2-player edition.
(See the manual here:)
Here is what I’ve found after examining the 2pCS manual:
1- When the first Computer Space was released in 1971, there was not much documentation with it. Most of it came later.
2- There was no 2-player version in 1971.
3- The 2-player version was released in 1973.
So all schematics about the 2pl. version are dated from October 1972 to May 1973, and the troubleshooting guide is dated April 1973.
Why would Nutting publish that kind of documentation twelve or eighteen months after game release?
(1) October-November 1972, this is exactly when Pong spawned!
But other proofs are needed…
Other facts and references
According to Steve Kent, “Bushnell also continued working on a multiplayer version of Computer Space, which he hoped to sell to his old employers at Nutting Associates” (The Ultimate History of Video Game, Three Rivers Press, 2001, P.38 ).
That means no 2pCS before at least June 1972.
And according to computerspacefan, Nolan Bushnell never built the 2pCS.
“Nolan was asked at a retro gaming convention a few years ago to sign a 2-player Computer Space and he did say he felt bad since he wasn't responsible for the 2-player unit”.
If you check all the pictures available on the computerspacefan.com site, you’ll never see the Syzygy name on the 2 player version, nor Atari’s... (http://www.computerspacefan.com)
And we can see some interesting dates from the SN30447 machine.
So we’re sure now that 2pCS was released after June 1972 (and we have serious hints of a 1973 release).
Then give Nutting another 3-4 months before they could build and sell the 2pCS, then it’s already October-November 1972!!!
I think that Nutting Associates took most of the year 1972 trying to sell Computer Space (first version).
The 2-player version was an easy way to re-use first version’s parts, but they wouldn’t have made an expensive gamble again on a new version of Computer Space. Not before Atari Pong release.
The Atari Pong testing in October, and successful launch in November is maybe the only thing that could save Nutting; they needed cash badly to survive after the Computer Space huge flop.
Nutting needed a winning video game release, something like Pong, something like Computer Space Ball.
Seeing the Pong success could be the kick needed to start the 2pCS development, but Nutting couldn’t pass by the chance to get his own Pong either.
Dating Computer Space Ball
Nutting was not able to copy Pong and build his own game within a month after Pong’s release. It took about 4 months before Allied Leisure released Paddle Battle, and they got help from Universal Research Lab (URL), who analyzed Pong board, and build their own Pong clone. Paddle Battle is maybe the first Pong clone ever.
So it’s obvious that Computer Space Ball is not a 1972 Pong clone.
Many references on the internet say that Computer Space Ball was released in 1972, but to do so, Nutting had to buy a Pong license from Atari, and very quickly.
Would Atari have licensed Pong within a month after official release (11/1972), while they’re now starting to make big money? Possibly, before 1975, jukebox and pinball distributors had location exclusivity, and Bushnell was aware of that, then it’s possible for Atari to make some money on an unavailable distribution route through Nutting Associates.
Did Bushnell still hope to sell a multiplayer Computer Space version to Nutting, back in November 1972?
Did Bushnell feel that he owed something to Nutting? Well, he was the only one who was able to make them build an over-enthusiastic 1500 Computer Space units…
Was there an unknown kind of deal between Syzygy and Nutting when Bushnell and Dabney left?
Could that deal have later turned to be for a Pong license (Computer Space Ball) instead of the 2-player Computer Space?
Then Computer Space Ball could be the first licensed video game in history.
But we still need more info about that game, needs some more investigations!
Does someone ever found the Computer Space Ball manual?
The birth of the “Video Game” name is clearly 1973, so the 2pCS flyer is dated 1973.
The flyer is usually released 1 or 2 months before, not after the arcade game.
The manual has also pages about 2pCS design dated late 1972 and early 1973.
Even with a successful licensed Pong, Nutting would have to wait a little bit (only a month?), to see how well Computer Space Ball was going, before releasing the 2-player Computer Space.
Then it’s already the beginning of 1973…
Thanks to Computerspacefan,
to Dan from arcadeflyers.com and to arcadedocs.com