Fresh off a strong and successful 1977, Atari’s Video Computer System was in a good place. Hundreds of thousands of units had been sold; the company’s home game design team continued to grow and was getting more experienced. Having exhausted most of Atari’s top-tier arcade titles, those same developers had to get creative on what to make next. One of those designers, Ian Shepherd, seemed to have decided to look backwards for inspiration – about 15 years backwards, specifically, to one of the very first video games ever designed: Spacewar.
Outer space has been a part of video games almost since their inception. One of the earliest computer games, Spacewar, came about in part because its designers were fans of pulpy science fiction stories such as the Lensman series. Spacewar went on to serve as inspiration for the first commercial arcade game, Computer Space, providing the first glimpse of the setting for public gaming consumption by having players shoot down UFOs within a time limit. Spacewar and the television series Star Trek inspired a text-based fan-made Star Trek computer game in 1971, with players jumping from sector to sector seeking out Klingon ships. But 1977 would prove to be an inflection point for a couple reasons.