on Wednesday, June 3, 2009

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the final quarter being dropped into the world’s first commercial video game, for it was in May of 1979 that Galaxy Game was removed from the Coffee House café at Stanford’s Tresidder student union. I spent a good part of five years feeding coins into Galaxy’s wondrous console, and in return it taught me and several other Silicon Valley denizens valuable lessons that laid the groundwork for much of what we have done since.

I met Galaxy Game in the Summer of 1974. My family had just moved to Palo Alto and I had no friends, so my brother and I rode our bikes around the Stanford campus looking for things to do. I was in 8th grade and the bowling alley got boring quickly, but next door, amidst students and lattes (also a novelty at the time) stood two large consoles, side by side, with odd-looking little black screens. Behind those screens sat a DEC PDP-11/20 powering a riveting game built on a simple concept: use a joystick and a couple of buttons (one for torpedoes, one for hyperspace) to destroy the other spaceships. Best of all, unlike its descendants such as Asteroids, Galaxy was a multi-player game. Those opposing spaceships were controlled by the people sitting next to you, and if you won the game you kept your quarter.

I knew a good deal when I saw one, so I hung around the Coffee House and got to know the game’s co-creator, a Stanford grad named Bill Pitts. That's how I got my first job in high-tech: in exchange for keeping the consoles clean, I got a few dollars per day and a bunch of insider tips about how to play. For example, if your torpedo was on course to destroy an opponent’s ship and that opponent escaped into hyperspace, you could follow him there, shoot again, and destroy him. Imagine the face of a graduate student who thinks he has outwitted that annoying kid, only to find when he releases his finger from the hyperspace button that his ship is nothing but fragments of white floating randomly into the blackness of space. Nothing on Wii matches it!

Galaxy's lessons have stayed with me. Its design was simple and easy to use but with the depth to satisfy the most committed players. Its on-screen dashboard fed players real-time information about fuel, torpedoes, and location, my first inkling that data is critical to making smart decisions.

Finally, in Galaxy achieving your goals sometimes required a jump to hyperspace. My opponents thought hyperspace was a last resort, a refuge from a losing path. I discovered that it was a way to win — high risk and scary, but with a huge payoff. So when in doubt, press the button and make the jump! At worst you’ll lose a quarter, but at best you’ll rule the Galaxy.
-From Google Blog
Posted by Jonathan Rosenberg, SVP, Product Management, Google.