Nolan Bushnell, studying at the University of Utah, was one of the privileged few who attended a university which could afford the expensive DEC PDP-1 computer system. What took up a significant amount of Bushnell's time was a game called Spacewar! which was developed for that machine.
Figuring there was a market for such entertainment in amusement centers, Bushnell set about creating an affordable version of Spacewar! which could be produced and sold for a reasonable price. With the help of Ted Dabney, Bushnell developed the Computer Space machine, and Nutting Associates, a producer of coin-operated trivia machines, funded the venture.
The result was not commercially successful, but paved the way for coin-operated arcade machines, and lead to Bushnell's founding of Atari.
Features for this game differed significantly from the original Spacewar! model. At first the goal was to make a commercial version of the public Spacewar!, but Bushnell and Dabney's final product presaged Asteroids more, in that it was a single-player game where the player attempted to destroy projectile-spitting saucers. The player had a limited amount of time to destroy as many saucers as possible, and every time his or her rocket was destroyed, this was kept in a tally at the right.
While the game was not commercially successful, it served as a basic model for arcade game design which remained strong for two decades. The machine was introduced at about the same time as the first Odyssey home system was introduced, developed by Ralph Baer and produced by Magnavox. Bushnell's exposure to the Odyssey no doubt influenced his move to create Atari, and was a source of later legal contention between Magnavox and Bushnell, although the Atari home entertainment system went on to be much more commercially successful.
- A custom white Computer Space arcade cabinet is seen and played in the Charlton Heston film Soylent Green.