Computer Games in Ancient Times: Hammurabi

A little piece of non-serious news for holidays.  Several weeks ago, I found in the Internet one of the oldest computer games in the world. The program called Hammurabi was written in 1968 for the first minicomputer PDP-8. ‘Mini’ then meant ‘as small as a fridge’, there were neither monitors nor floppy disks yet, only punched cards and tapes were used for data storage, and the teleprinter was the only input-output device. The title of the game was originally written with one m, as the file name was to be no more than eight characters long. A modern port of the game (in JavaScript) can be found, for example, here:

The gameplay from today’s point of view looks rather primitive: no graphics, the program prints text messages, the user should only put in correct numbers in correct fields. The game is made as a kind of model of a city in Mesopotamia, the user plays the role of its king, his task is to manage the limited resources well, to save and increase the city’s population and wealth.

Your reign lasts ten years, with a year being one turn. At the beginning of each turn you are told how many people starved last year, how many new people came to the city, the total city population, how many acres of land the city owns, how many bushels of grain per acre you harvested, how much grain the rats ate, the total amount of grain in store and the current price for land in bushels per acre. In the form below, you are to put in three numbers:

  • how many bushels of grain to allocate to buying (or selling) acres of land (enter a negative amount to sell bushels);
  • how many bushels to allocate to feeding your population (each person needs 20 bushels of grain each year to live);
  • how many bushels to allocate to planting crops for the next year (each acre of land requires one bushel of grain to plant seeds, and each person can till at most 10 acres of land).

When you press the Make It So! button, the new turn begins.

The crop capacity of the fields and activity of rats change each year (no artificial intelligence, just random numbers), prices for land change, too, between 17 and 26 bushels per acre. As to my experience, resources are never enough. Besides that, your city will suffer from the plague at least once a game and will lose a half of its population. At the end of the game your rule will be evaluated and you’ll be ranked against great figures in history 😉 (If only the inhabitants don’t overthrow you before ten years are over 😉 )

Nothing extraordinary, as you can see, but without this simplest game there would be neither SimCity, nor The Settlers, nor many other modern games. Have fun 🙂