Heber's Richard Horne Brings Back the Classic Computer Space Arcade Cabinet — Via 3D Printing

With few of the 1,500 units — designed by the co-founders of Atari a year before Pong — remaining, a full-size replica is the way to go.

Gareth Halfacree
1 month agoRetro Tech / Games / 3D Printing

Heber's Richard Horne has brought back a piece of video game history — creating a convincing full-scale 3D-printed replica of Computer Space, the first arcade game from Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney.

"Computer Space was designed and launched in 1971 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, manufactured by Nutting Associates," Horne writes of the original machine. "The original cabinet was moulded from fibreglass and wood and made for Nutting by a hot tub manufacturer. Resin and fiberglass along with glitter were used for many of the run of around 1,500 machines."

When a rare arcade cabinet is out of reach, what can you do but model it for 3D printing — at full scale? (📹: Arcade Archive)

Based on the 1962 computer game Spacewar!, written for use on a Digital PDP-1 minicomputer, Computer Space proved too complex for a coin-operated arcade audience — but paved the way for the founding of Atari and its breakout success with the far simpler Pong in 1972, a machine so popular that the test unit "broke down" after being fed so many quarters it overflowed.

A failure to meet the commercial expectations of its creators doesn't mean that Computer Space has no place in the history books, but original machines are hard to come by these days — and with its iconic metallic blue cabinet with its flowing lines, it's not a game you'd want to just jam in a generic cabinet.

Horne's replica, built for the Arcade Archive museum in Heber's Belvedere Mill, dispenses with the fiberglass of the original — produced for Nutting Associates by a hot-tub manufacturer — in favor of large-scale 3D printing. "In December 2023 [I] sculpted a replica cabinet shape based on images of the original machines," Horne explains. "Scanning a real machine was considered and investigated a year before, but that was not possible at the time.

"Fast forward to January 2024 and the 3D print farm at Heber was put to work printing just under 100 sections of this machine, 3DGloop was used to bond the parts together and after showing to the rest of the team, the machine was filled, sanded, painted and had a blue glitter-resin coat applied."

The finished build used 100 parts, carefully glued together and finished to avoid seams. (📹: RMC - The Cave)

While the replica machine in question can be seen — and played — at the Arcade Archive in Gloucestershire, UK, it could likely soon have friends: Horne has released the 3D-print files on Printables under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, making it possible for others to follow in his footsteps and build their own — if they have the patience to print and assemble the 100-piece model, of course.

More information on the project is available on the Retro Collective blog.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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