"War Games" IMSAI 8080 - Computerphile - nzwargamer.net

“War Games” IMSAI 8080 – Computerphile

Computerphile
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A teenager in his bedroom playing Global Thermonuclear War ‘online’ via his IMSAI 8080 in the classic movie War Games – Jason from the Centre for Computing History shows us their IMSAI 8080

N.B. To clarify, both Jason and Sean have seen War Games. At the time of filming neither had seen the film “Ready Player One”, which was not yet released.

(War Games features in the Ernest Cline book “Ready Player One” – whether it survives the transfer to the big screen remains to be seen)

Computer that Changed Everything:
Atari VCS 2600: Coming Soon

This video was filmed and edited by Sean Riley.

Computer Science at the University of Nottingham:

Computerphile is a sister project to Brady Haran’s Numberphile. More at

58 Comments

  1. I hope it is in the movie but a lot of the 80's references have been turned into 90's references sadly.

  2. You guys should cover what the people of the homebrew computer club did in the 70's 😛

  3. It wasn't long after the Altair debuted in Popular Electronics that ads for the IMSAI appeared along with peripherals. Computers came to dominate the magazine so much it changed its name to Computers and Electronics.

  4. Cool bit of kit right there. Well done for picking up the "ready player one theme" to get the youth interested in computer science (at least thats what I would hope).

  5. This video really needed a demonstration or something….. if this channel was more than just interviews they'd be giving Linus Tech Tips a run for their money. As is apparent in a video like this, there is so much wasted potential.

  6. So, there's two links and 2 video clips at the end of the video. The link on the left goes to a discussion about Facebook. However, the clip above seems to be from some game. Does anyone know if that was from a released video?

    EDIT Ok, looks like that link is supposed to go to a video about the Atari 2608 (Unsure, might be 2600), but that doesn't seem like it's published.

  7. I highly recommend watching the videos from "IMSAI Guy". He explains what the boards do and also a little bit of programing.

  8. Actually for the synth voice part, it was an actor reading his lines backward and modified voice

  9. It is completely realistic for a kid to have such a fancy setup in 1983. What would happen is that someone with a lot of money would buy the machine when it came out (1975 for the IMSAI itself, a little later for the disks, extra RAM, etc) and use it for a while before buying a much newer and better computer (like an IBM PC in 1981, for example). Nobody would want to buy their old computer, so they would either just throw it away or give it for free to someone who showed interest, like the character in the movie.

    An external box for speech, like a Votrax, could take input from the same serial interface going to the terminal and generate the voice without any help from the computer's processor. Of course, the fact that the voice could be heard in NORAD even though the box was in his bedroom back in Seattle is a bit of artistic license 🙂

  10. Here's what I want to know: How did Matthew Broderick auto-dial with an acoustic couple modem?

  11. As making PCBs at home isn´ t too much of an issue and as far as I know, the Imsai/Altair were made mainly off-the-shelf compomemts that are still available today, I start thinking: Are there plans for these? I guess having one might be fun! All one would need is a case for the boards, the switches can easily be 3D printed. I like that idea, really.

  12. I operated early Prime computers, such as the 400. In practice, loading the boot sequence was not a hassle. After the first few times, it gets ingrained in motor memory. Similar to getting in a car, putting on the seat belt, checking the mirrors, pressing the clutch, starting the engine, windshield(screen) wipers, releasing the parking brake, etc. The PDP-8, which my HS leased, was a different beast. It took about a half hour for the instructor to load enough code to get the paper-tape on the teletype working, and load the Basic interpreter into memory. Then he had to delete the trig functions to provide enough memory to actually load a small program.

  13. Ooh those switches on the front remind me of the power switch on my old Philips P3302 (80286 16 MHz). That power switch was a few sizes larger even and it made the most satisfying clunk when flipping it 🙂

  14. You already had the Speak & Spell out in 1978, so the chip from that could have been hacked into a computer by the time of the movie.

  15. That was my first computer! I had to put it together myself. I drove to CA and picked it up at the factory. I wrote programs on those toggles. Mine had 24k, 1×8” floppy disk and I used a DecWriter printing terminal in 1975.

  16. 4:23 It's K9! The body's different, but that head is definitely K9! Clever illustration.

  17. It would be good to see one of these machines with a terminal connected because until he talked about it, I assumed that they must have done everything via the switches.

  18. The IMSAI 8080 would have been nearly 10 years old by 1983, so it’s plausible that David Lightman would have acquired a hand-me-down from an older geek friend, or bought it used.

  19. So what did the backplane do? How did it connect the 100 connectors per card to the connectors on the other cards?

  20. After watching war games for the first time I went home and tried to hack my c64… 2 years later I got my first modem and was totally blown away about the fact that I was sitting there on the living room floor with my beloved computer that was communicating with another computer located far away across the country.

  21. About the speaking computer: Anyone remember Dr. Sbaitso, by Creative Labs? Used to have fun with that on msdos asking it maths questions with very high number outcomes. "Eight octillion, seventy-two septillion…" etc. Lol

  22. I was looking at a 1983 computer magazine today which had an ad for speech synthesizers for as low as $149. This was the same year War Games came out, so it was certainly possible to have one. My grandfather bought a TI 99 4/A in 1984 after they were discontinued (and thus had a huge price drop). It included a hardware speech synthesizer which was used by a lot of games.

  23. I feel like watching War Games again. Miss all the fun stuff that happened
    during that era. Does anyone remember phone phreaking?

  24. lurch/wobble/zoom, sorry, but that camera work makes me ill

  25. I'm curious about the 404 error on the wall in the background. Is that a joke for use when a display has gone missing?

  26. 3:14 Well, considering that the movie was released in '83 and the IMSAI 8080 first came out in '78, that means that it was a 5 year old computer. That doesnt seem too unreasonable to me. 5 year old computers, especially used ones, are pretty inexpensive, especially when talking about what is basically a clone of the Altair.

  27. " Malvin: I can't believe it, Jim. That girl's standing over there listening and you're telling him about our back doors?
    Jim Sting: [yelling] Mister Potato Head! Mister Potato Head! Back doors are not secrets!
    Malvin: Yeah, but Jim, you're giving away all our best tricks! "

  28. I believe the computer generated speech in Wargames was produced by a TMS5220 chip (the same chip used in the Gauntlet arcade game).

  29. When I saw the movie, I thought that box was the modem or an I/O controller, the way he did a basic sequenced power on on the switches.

  30. 4:23 OH WOW! YouTube constantly triggers ancient memories in my brain, which is one reason I love it. I remember that specific page of that specific magazine so clearly. Now that I look at the illustration, it strikes me that there are two cultural references going on there, both of which are very dated now, to different degrees. I wonder how many younger people looked at it and missed them completely? 🙂

  31. Had the Altair. Purchased from a former Mits employee. It ran CPM, wordstar, etc. It had 4 eight inch disc, terminal. I had it hooked up to a huge DEC printer. I wish I still had it.

  32. I've made many detailed videos about the IMSAI on my channel IMSAIGUY. It even talks!

  33. The voice of Joshua was John woods voice. The director had him speak each word of a line reading them in backwards order. Then they cut and spliced them in correct order, and added an effect to it.

  34. I wish I could find one of these even gutted.

    Even switches for the IMSAI are outrageous.

  35. I own one of these. I lusted after them in the pages of BYTE magazine in high school and it was my computer in Assembly Language class in college. Of course I did my programming homework in my dorm room on a TRS-80 and transferred it over to the IMSAI, but it was a beautiful thing. A year later the CS department did a deal with the devil IBM and replaced all the IMSAIs, Cromemcos etc with boring IBM PCs. They sold all the IMSAIs for surplus. I bought mine for $25, so David Lightman could have easily afforded this stuff. It's been a very long time now and I haven't booted the IMSAI since 2004. The caps are no doubt toast by now, so I'll need to replace them to get it going again along with my Amiga 1000 and Atari 800. The TRS80 I sold to buy a ring. It was 1981.

  36. lordinateur imsai 8080 pour war game movie cool

  37. That movie must have gotten Apple pissed because the kid didn’t have an Apple II.
    Almost every computer appearing in movies since then is from Apple.

  38. In 1983 the unassembled parts kit IMSAI8080 was $699 and the fully assembled was $931 which adjusted for inflation in 2020 is $1608 and $2,396 respectively.

    It was very much a luxury item as the minimum wage was a meager $3.35 an hour

  39. the first ad I sw for IMSAI was PE in 76. at that time I was using IBM System 3 MOD 10 while the match depart had HP 2000 C. it was insane what we were doing on these machines using 2.2MB disk drive and 32KB of memory. We programed in BAL, Fortan, COBOL lvl 1 and RPG II. The HP had 10MB packs and 64KB. with 32 user and programed in BASIC. While we talked about having computers on our desk with as much power as IBM 370 and disk driver the size of credit card. We dream of GB of drive and MB of memory. by 79 TI had the TI-990 with 1MB memory and 200MG drives. By 89 they were 32MB memory and 200MB 1" by 5.25" running at 1GH. the system 3 ran At 1MH. Try writing a program in 16K to print PI to endless number of places. to print on 132 Column line printer. we got 6 pages after letting it run for a week.

  40. So in the future when you guys quit sending data to other planets and grow up the data will go through the electric plug so frequency doesn't hurt the immune system of the planet brain frequency animal frequency plant frequency it's a living process

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