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Classic Games (Games) Moon Space

Forty Years of Lunar Lander 136

Posted by timothy
from the simulation-nation dept.
Harry writes "2009 marks not only the fortieth anniversary of Apollo 11, but also four decades of the iconic, omnipresent Lunar Lander, one of the first simulation games ever written. The first version was written by an Apollo-crazy high school student; among its countless descendants are the classic Atari arcade machine and versions for practically every other platform, from the Apple II to the iPhone. We're celebrating with a look at the game's origins, history, and significance — including an interview with creator Jim Storer, who hadn't given the game a moment's thought since he left high school, and wasn't aware of the phenomenon he spawned."
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Forty Years of Lunar Lander

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  • USA!! USA! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:03AM (#28756437)
    I would like to take this moment to remind everyone how fucking cool America is for landing on the moon.
    • by copponex (13876) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:14AM (#28756559) Homepage

      Remember that when there's a Starbucks and a strip mall in the Sea of Tranquility.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by A. B3ttik (1344591)
      America... FUCK YEAH!!!!

      McDonalds, FUCK YEAH!
      Wal-Mart, FUCK YEAH!
      The Gap, FUCK YEAH!
      Baseball, FUCK YEAH!
      NFL, FUCK, YEAH!
      Rock and roll, FUCK YEAH!
      The Internet, FUCK YEAH!
      Slavery, FUCK YEAH!
      Starbucks, FUCK YEAH!
      Disney world, FUCK YEAH!
      Porno, FUCK YEAH!
      Valium, FUCK YEAH!
      Reeboks, FUCK YEAH!
      Fake Tits, FUCK YEAH!
      Sushi, FUCK YEAH!
      Taco Bell, FUCK YEAH!
      Rodeos, FUCK YEAH!
      Bed bath and beyond FUCK YEAH!
    • I grew up watching this stuff as a kid. The America we had back then is a far cry from that we have today. Gone is the self reliant take responsibility for one's self and actions. Now we have the wealth envy its not fair someone who works harder has more stuff crowd that can only relive the accomplishments of past generations because all they have nothing to show for themselves (mainly because it would require DOING SOMETHING)

      when all the money is sucked up by wants there really isn't much for doing some

      • by eln (21727) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:48AM (#28756889) Homepage
        The biggest difference I can see between now and 40 years ago is the number of kids who won't stay off my damn lawn. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about.
      • by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:10PM (#28757197) Journal

        That, of course, is a popular delusion. Its not that we aren't materialistic and selfish now, but we were just as bad back then. And 50 years before that, and 50 years before that, and 50 years before that ...

        Human nature is human nature. It hasn't changed recently. There are a few times that we have still been able to do really cool things when we put our minds to it, and have good leaders. But, there isn't any real cultural difference today that would prevent it from happening.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by A. B3ttik (1344591)
          Selfish and Materialistic is okay... so long as you are willing to earn it yourself.

          In fact, it is GOOD, as it drives the economy.
      • by mcgrew (92797) on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:13PM (#28757227) Homepage Journal

        Gone is the self reliant take responsibility for one's self and actions.

        Gone is Lyndon Johnson and his "war on poverty". Gone is the entitlement AFDC which guranteed generational welfare, replaced by TANF which gives only temporary help to folks with kids. Gone are business owners who gave a shit about anything but money. Gone are corporate ethics, replaced by Enron ethics and Bernard Madhoff ethics. Gone is the late Walkter Cronkite, replaced by Fox, apparently your only news source.

        Now we have the wealth envy its not fair someone who works harder has more stuff crowd

        Unemployment in Michigan is over 10%. You need a job to work.

        mainly because it would require DOING SOMETHING

        You're not impressed by those little Martian robots? I sure as hell am.

      • by dcollins (135727) on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:27PM (#28757431) Homepage

        "I grew up watching this stuff as a kid. The America we had back then is a far cry from that we have today. Gone is the self reliant take responsibility for one's self and actions. Now we have the wealth envy its not fair someone who works harder has more stuff crowd that can only relive the accomplishments of past generations because all they have nothing to show for themselves (mainly because it would require DOING SOMETHING)"

        Just the opposite -- I think the main problem is that nowadays we no longer feel it necessary to PAY our fair share for our DEBTS.

        Indeed, let's return to those halcyon days of our youth. Let's re-establish the top income tax rate at 77% as it was in 1969 (instead of today's pittance 35%). That will solve many of our problems, as it did for our parent's and grandparent's generations, who were not such belly-achers as we.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_the_United_States#Tax_rates_in_history [wikipedia.org]

        • by Bigbutt (65939)

          Huh. I just took a look and I see your numbers. A little deeper shows:

          1954 rate Income 2008 Equiv.
          up to $2,000.00 20% up to $75,000.00
          $2,000.01 - $4,000.00 22% $75,000.01 - $150,000.00

          Looks to me like we're paying a bit more than we were back in 1954.

          Top income tax rate is:

          $200,000.01 or more 91% $7,500,000.00 or more

          There isn't a specific page for 1969 though. Still, it seems that comparing levels closer to my pay shows I'm paying 33% compared to 22% back in 19

        • Indeed, let's return to those halcyon days of our youth.

          When dinosaurs roamed the earth and slide rules were all the computer that a "real geek" needed.

      • We'll be moving off your lawn now.
      • I grew up watching this stuff as a kid.

        How much has the change been in the American people and how much has the change been in the picture of America popularized by the mass media?

        The image of the can-do take-charge American is an old one. See A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court for an example from over 100 years ago. It is easier to believe that a particular self image has become less popular than that a culture that existed for over a century suddenly evaporated. That change is also importa

      • by drsquare (530038)

        Anyone else notice the irony of a right-wing anti-socialist rant that praises one of the most expensive, pointless socialist projects in history?

        Of course, giving money to poor people so they don't starve to death or so their children don't die of treatable conditions is terrible, let's funnel the money to military contractors instead so they can build man toys that good on TV.

      • by Damvan (824570)
        You are under the false impression that the harder you work, the more money you make. You actually think that the CEO for Goldman Sachs worked, say 1 million times harder than a agricultural worker who earns less per year than the CEO does per hour?
    • by selven (1556643)
      No they didn't, you liar.
    • I would like to take this moment to remind everyone how fucking cool humanity is for landing a man on the moon.

      And if we want to give credit where credit's due - let's remember how fucking cool NASA were.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I would like to take this moment to remind everyone how fucking cool America is for landing on the moon.

      It's amazing what you can do with German rocket technology.

    • Other things aside, it just seems that NASA and the media make it all too easy to forget that it was the Soviets who made a major contribution to this success by having landed their Luna 10 there three years earlier and thus proving that it was physically possible to land on the Moon's surface at all. I wonder if the US would send people to the Moon without being reasonably sure if the surface was firm enough to support a lander.

      Here is the complete timeline of the Luna missions: Luna Missions [usra.edu].

      • The Soviets were not the only ones sending probes to the Moon. We sent the Ranger series of probes [wikipedia.org] to the Moon during the 1960s to take pictures. This accomplished two major goals:

        1. The probes impacted, and failed immediately upon impact. This proved that the lunar surface was indeed solid rock.

        2. The probes provided high-detail imagery to give planners a better idea of how rough landing it would be, and to allow them to pick an optimal landing site.

        Now, I won't discount the impressive success the Sovie

        • A failure upon impact at 2.68 km/s cold not prove anything, only an actual landing of an unmanned probe could. I am surprised, actually, that NASA gave the green light to the Apollo 11 mission without trying to send an exact copy of the lander on an unmanned landing mission first and, instead, simply trusted the information obtained by the Soviets who landed a probe of a completely different design and who, I am sure, were not eager to share with NASA all the details of how things went.
  • by mcgrew (92797) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:11AM (#28756537) Homepage Journal

    It was in the early eighties, and I had a TRS-80. Bought a Moon lander game for it at a Radio Shack and it sucked donkey balls, so I wrote my own. The difference between my moon lander and radio Shack's was the same as the difference between a violin and a fiddle.

    What's the difference between a violin and a fiddle?

    People LIKE fiddle music!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016)

      Bah. Most of my friend hated my lunar lander version. as you burned fuel your mass dropped so the thrust that worked last burst would be different for the next.

      if you burned it all to the last drop, it would become a major PITA to land it because your mass was significantly lower.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mcgrew (92797)

        A lot of commercial games make the same mistake - trying too hard for realism. When you're writing a game, the #1 thing you want is for it to be FUN. Not too easy, not too hard.

        • by u38cg (607297)
          So how many games did you write that lasted forty years? ;)
        • TFA refers to it as a "simulation game". The idea is to appreciate the complexity of something as you take the controls and appreciate your natural reverse engineering process as you identify each new subtlety. It's one thing to read about how a pilot spent hundreds of hours in a cockpit, but especially so by contrast when you put the craft in your own unskilled hands.

          Besides, most of the things in life that I remember best I learned by trying something and failing.

      • I forget which version did this, but when you pressed a certain key you got a high negative thrust and your fuel went up. So if you had room and were low on fuel, you could accelerate towards the surface and gain some fuel. I think it was the version for the Commodore PET.
    • I started making a Lunar Lander style vehicle in LittleBigPlanet. Had forgotten all about it until I saw this article! I was still experimenting with designs of vehicles and hadn't actually gotten round to creating different levels for it..

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by sbeckstead (555647)
      Unsophisticated People LIKE fiddle music!

      There fixed that for ya!
      • by mcgrew (92797)

        You mean like Yehudi Menuhin? [wikipedia.org] His accomplishments, pasted from wikipedia:

        • 1965 Yehudi Menuhin was awarded the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh, Scotland
        • In 1965, while he was still an American citizen, he was made an honorary Knight of the Order of the British Empire. This entitled him to use the postnominal letters KBE, but not to style himself Sir Yehudi. After Menuhin gained British citizenship in 1985, his knighthood was upgraded to a substantive one, and he became Sir Yehudi Menuhin KBE.
        • 1968 got Nehru a
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gEvil (beta) (945888)
          "Fiddle music has more notes and is played faster, that's the only difference."

          Man. Imagine if Paganini had been a fiddle player instead of just a violinist...
      • Oooh ouch the dreaded -1 disagree mod.
      • As a moderator I could have just modded GP as off topic, instead I chose a comment. Stepped on toes no doubt.
    • by mqduck (232646)

      The difference between my moon lander and radio Shack's was the same as the difference between a violin and a fiddle.

      So you rewrote the game yourself and made it exactly the same, but played it differently?

  • by HalifaxRage (640242) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:13AM (#28756551) Journal
    As a child I kept searching for the version that let you land on the planet of those evil space invaders for an epic fight to the death - spacewar and asteroids were a poor facsimile.
  • ...creator Jim Storer, who hadn't given the game a moment's thought since he left high school, and wasn't aware of the phenomenon he spawned.

    Yeah. It's always strange when a geek escapes the darkness of the computer cave to explore the big blue room and doesn't come back. Worse, if he does come back, he'll discover that he's become stupider than before.

    • by u38cg (607297)
      Except he went on to become a CS prof...
    • by mcgrew (92797)

      Yeah. It's always strange when a geek escapes the darkness of the computer cave to explore the big blue room and doesn't come back. Worse, if he does come back, he'll discover that he's become stupider than before

      Guilty as charged, your honor.

  • Currently on a boardwalk somewhere in England, Hack-a-Day posted this link last week: http://www.lushprojects.com/lunarlander/ [lushprojects.com]>http://www.lushprojects.com/lunarlander/
  • by TheHawke (237817) <rchapin.pelicancoast@net> on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:35AM (#28756749)

    The main reason why you took manual control of the vehicle.... XEROX built the on board computer! And it broke... (tisk)

  • disney quest has one (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    last I was there, a few years ago, disney quest (a 5 story arcade in orlando, with a retro section), had the original game. My friends were playing all the "cool" games while I camped out at Lunar Lander all night. It was one of the few open....

    • by Hatta (162192) *

      Last I checked, there was one at the Space Center in Huntsville, AL. That was always one of the better parts of my visits there.

  • Wow. (Score:4, Funny)

    by sootman (158191) on Monday July 20, 2009 @11:51AM (#28756935) Homepage Journal

    My first memory of this game was seeing the Atari version at the Exploratorium. I never knew that the original was text!

    HERE ARE THE RULES THAT GOVERN YOUR SPACE VEHICLE:

    (1) AFTER EACH SECOND, THE HEIGHT, VELOCITY, AND REMAINING
    FUEL WILL BE REPORTED.

    (2) AFTER THE REPORT, A '?' WILL BE TYPED. ENTER THE
    NUMBER OF UNITS OF FUEL YOU WISH TO BURN DURING THE
    NEXT SECOND. EACH UNIT OF FUEL WILL SLOW YOUR DESCENT
    BY 1 FT/SEC.

    Reading that, I was expecting (3) to be "It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue." :-)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I was playing Luner Lander on a PDP 11-34 back in 77 or so. Hunt the Wumpus was available too but I never figured out how to shoot the crooked arrows. The best game was Trek and I played that all through high school. I once wrote a text based Battlestar Galactica game and before I knew it other studens would copy the code, change 3 characters (not lines) of code and get a A. I must admit, the teacher was generious cuz I spent tons of time writing login simulators and reviewing the results of "anonymous" sex

      • by Haxzaw (1502841)
        You are a little older than me, apparently, I played it on a PDP 11-70 beginning around 1979. The reams of paper we went through was amazing. Star Trek was our favorite, but lunar lander was great.
  • Copying the original text Lunar Lander was my first experience with BASIC. I just typed the program in from a copy of Creative Computing in I think Applesoft BASIC. I was great at typing it, not so good at playing it.

    My arcade video game experience started with Computer Space around 1972 so I was in the right generation to take part in the video game madness of the late 1970s and early 1980s. I really liked the Atari Lunar Lander and still miss the wonderful sharpness of vector graphics.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In the '70s, my Dad brought home a teletype terminal with an acoustic coupler from work. He let us play Lunar Lander. It was a Honeywell timeshare system.

    After each game, you got a comment. When you crashed, it might be "What was that flash, Wilber?"

    And my favorite, when I finally got it right, "Like a honeybee alighting on a nectar filled hibiscus."

    Them was the days.

    madmac

  • I remember playing it a few times in the early '70s, late at night, on one of our CDC 6600s. It existed as a 'diagnostic test' on one of the maintenance boot tapes. (It threw the operator's console into graphics mode, so there was no background, play anytime version.)
  • ..How many times I wrote that game on my little Sinclair computer as a kid. Probably my first game, and first completed, functional program.

    It was too annoying saving it onto tapes so I usually just reprogrammed it when I felt like playing. :)

  • by coolmoose25 (1057210) on Monday July 20, 2009 @12:39PM (#28757627)
    I remember playing the line graphic version of the game on a stand up console in the arcade. It was one of my favorite games. The version I remember was a line graphic one, with the craggy outline of a landscape, and different size "flat spots" you could land on. The smaller ones gave you more points. The game was replaced, probably by Donkey Kong or Pac Man and I remember being pissed off at the time that I could no longer play it (this was Pre-Atari 2600).

    In college, I took an advanced CAD course where we wrote CAD software. There was a hodge-podge of machines there, from a Dec PDP-11 to a Harris 800. Lots of DEC Rainbow machines with the dust covers on them because they used the 80186 chip which wasn't /really/ PC compatible. We also had one Silicon Graphics IRIS machine. It was the hot rod of the bunch, but single user, so you had to wait your turn.

    Anyway, we finally got an open ended assignment on the SGI machine, so I decided to write the Lunar Lander game on it - with the original as my design reference. I did a pretty good job of it too - as a mechanical engineer, I was able to use Newton's laws to accurately reflect the behavior of the LM... it obeyed Newtonian mechanics (no - it didn't take into account the weight of the fuel burned but neither did the original to my understanding).

    I got all done and most of the people who looked at the rendition had not ever seen the original game. So they complained that I hadn't taken advantage of the 3d graphics the SGI machine had. It was like drawing a picture in Kindergarten and having the teacher tell me my grass was the wrong color. Only one other guy understood what I'd done - copied a real live arcade game from scratch. When they asked him what he thought, he just kept playing it and said "Awesome!"

    The other funny thing was that at the end, nobody went back to look at the modeled objects... they all went back to play the game.
  • Well, I wrote also a lunar lander. Here is a page with screenshots:

    http://seed7.sourceforge.net/scrshots/lander.htm [sourceforge.net]

    Greetings Thomas Mertes

    Seed7 Homepage: http://seed7.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]
    Seed7 - The extensible programming language: User defined statements
    and operators, abstract data types, templates without special
    syntax, OO with interfaces and multiple dispatch, statically typed,
    interpreted or compiled, portable, runs under linux/unix/windows.
  • Workbench Lander? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by argent (18001) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Monday July 20, 2009 @01:58PM (#28759045) Homepage Journal

    Doesn't everyone succumb to the lure of the Lander? Our entry in the BADGE killer demo contest was a version of Lunar Lander that ran on the Amiga Workbench... with the terrain being whatever windows you happen to have open at the time...

    I can't find a screen shot or even a copy of the program on google now, and while I have a box of Amiga floppy disks at home I doubt I could find anything that would read them now. I know it was on Fred Fish's disk collection, if someone has a copy I can load into UAE I'd appreciate it.

  • When I was a freshmen in the dorms, 1981, one of the guys there wrote his own version that featured an actual lunar lander module. It was attached with nylon line and pulleys to a stepper motor so that it would descend from the ceiling at the appropriate rate.

    At the time most of us were impressed because very few people at the time, especially students, had micro computers much less the ability to interface them to the real world.
  • by Eil (82413) on Monday July 20, 2009 @06:55PM (#28763273) Homepage Journal

    I'm surprised nobody has linked to it yet, but there's this guy who made a physical Lunar Lander arcade game. No flashy vector graphics here! You control an actual model of a lander using real gauges and everything.

    Lunar Lander [lushprojects.com]

  • Ok, so this is pretty cool because in the section where they are interviewing Jack Burness about the GT-40 version, he mentions me!

    >>> Years later, a co-worker told Burness that the reason he got into programming was because he had played Moonlander as a teenager.

    I had helped to video tape a symposium on stereochemistry at Wesleyan University, and the room that we put the video equipment away happened to have a GT-40 vector graphics system in it. Some students were playing

  • My family moved from Philadelphia, PA, to Concord, CA, in 1976. I was only five and my younger brother was only four. My mom and step-dad weren't looking forward to two little kids, bored out of their minds on a long car trip (and even longer waits in gas lines). So my older brother, who had just gotten a brand new HP calculator for his birthday, wrote a lunar lander game on it that we could take turns playing in the back seat. When I try to explain to my kids about playing "computer" games on a calculator
  • I'm not sure exactly when it got written, but I know that the lunar lander program written for the CDC Cyber 6600 console [google.com] was at least contemporaneous with the 2D lunar lander referenced in the article -- and the Cyber version was 3D. It was really hard to land that LEM without running out of fuel.

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