War Games

From: Anthony Clifton <wirehead_at_retrocomputing.com>
Date: Tue Sep 23 14:09:11 1997

> monitor his modem, which had on it "IMSAI 212A MODEM". Did IMSA, in
> fact, manufacture a 1200 baud modem? He also had an IMSAI labeled keyboard!
Having seen Wargames no fewer than 100 times (I was 14 or 15 when it came
out and I was a nerd) I would like to make several comments:

First, why use a 300 baud acoustic coupler (which strangely seems to
operate at 300, 1200, 2400, 9600, 19200 and 38400 during different
scenes) when you've got a perfectly good 1200 baud direct connect sitting
on the monitor?

Secondly, in the scene when WOPR CALLS HIM BACK and he looks all freaked
and pulls the plug out of the phone, how does the game timer keep
running AFTER he has disconnected from WOPR?

Thirdly, the cheapy paperback book made when the movie came out, based on
the movie, descibes a much more hackeresque computer in his room...it
describes how he put it together with "chewing gum and baling wire" and
how Malvin and Jim Sting helped him with parts and advice and how he
learned more spending one summer with them at the computer center than he
had in a year in Mr. Liggett's biology class.

Fourthly, not directly related but it seems that every few years a
counter-culture type movie comes out that inspires tech-heads to go "Free
the World"

1983 - Wargames - Hackers
1991 - Pump Up the Volume - Pirate Radio DJs (read alt.radio.pirate)
1996 - The Craft - Counter-Culture Religion
> A neat thing: at the end of the movie during the credits they get to
> thanking those who provided technical assistance. The first company
> listed is none other than "CompuPro Division, Godbout Electronics". Very
> cool! Others listed were Televideo, Fischer-Freitas (why does that sound
> familiar and did I get the Fischer part right?), Memorex, Qume, and about
> 10 others.
There's a reason CompuPro was thanked. I read in an article about 10
years ago that the monitor on David's desk was REALLY being driven by a
CompuPro backstage, which was programmed to spew out his keystrokes
whatever keys he pressed. Apparently, they used some memory mapped video
card on which the scan rate could be modified (along with the monitor) to
match synchronization from the film cameras.

All the screens in the War Room were REAL BTW...they were driven by an HP
Vector Graphics generator coupled with a video projector of some sort and
then color was added in post-production. Although my memory of the
article could be a bit off.

Wargames STILL has the most REALISTIC (strangely, enough) computer
special effects (screens, etc) of any movie ever...even with movies like
Sneakers and The Net.
> Anyway, pretty cool flick. It combines elements of hacking, phreaking
> (where he grounds the microphone on the old ground-start payphone, a real
> ball-sy scene since that was a real-life trick you could pull in those
> days) and of course classic computers!

It's important to remember that Wargames wasn't about hacking and
computers. It was about the foolishness of the Cold War. Basically it
says, "Hey if a dumb computer can figure out how stupid it is, why can't
we?" BTW General Berringer's line (something like) "I don't know about
you but I'm not about to trust the security of the nation to a SILICON
diode!" has a real-life origin. There was, in fact, in the late 70s or
very early 80s a false missile launch detection resulting from a fried
passive component like a diode. Somewhere I have an article about it.

In the book, when David walks in while Jim Sting is underneath his desk,
he says "Hey Captain Crunch, I'm from Ma Bell and Boy is she pissed!"

One other thought, another strangely realistic hacking sequence is in
Real Genius (btw just found out that Jordon in Real Genius and Judy in
Revenge of the Nerds were played by the same actress)...it's goofy in
that Ollifeld is trying to break into a government computer trying
passwords of AAAAAAAA, AAAAAAAB and so on...but the error responses are
classic VAX/VMS.

I occasionally have Hacker Movie nights where all my computer friends
(some of whom were REAL hackers but I plead the fifth) come over and we
watch Wargames and Johnny Mnemonic or The Net and Sneakers, etc etc.
(Sandra Bullock in a black two-piece can come over and interface with me
anytime!) =-)

Anthony Clifton - Wirehead Prime
Received on Tue Sep 23 1997 - 14:09:11 BST

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