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Obituary: Alan Kotok, Computer Developer, Video Game Pioneer

Kotok, 64, was the chief architect of DEC's PDP-1 minicomputer, which in turn was used to develop Spacewars, considered to be the first video game.

W. David Gardner

June 5, 2006

1 Min Read

Alan Kotok, a computer pioneer who worked on the development of early Digital Equipment Corp. computers and the first video game, died last week.

Kotok, 64, worked with a group of Digital employees, and MIT students in the early 1960s as they first developed Digital's PDP-1 minicomputer, which in turn was used to develop Spacewars, considered to be the first video game.

Although his pioneering work in Digital's computers and in Spacewars was not considered particularly important at the time of their development, in retrospect the work eventually spawned great businesses.

Kotok lived in Cambridge, Mass. He was chief architect of Digital's PDP-10 timesharing machine, a version of which was used by Bill Gates and Paul Allen to develop their first software program for Microsoft. Spacewars was the leading edge of what has become a video game industry. At its launch, Spacewar featured two spaceships that fired missiles at each other.

In the altruistic spirit of computing at the time, Kotok and the game's developers distributed the game's source code at no charge. At first, it was played on large mainframes at American universities. "The only money I made from Spacewar was as a consultant for lawsuits in the video game industry," Kotok once told an interviewer.

Kotok was a key developer on Digital's PDP-1, considered by many to have been the first minicomputer, and PDP-8, which propelled the minicomputer class of computers into widespread use in the 1970s.

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