WarGames "ASCII" Drawing

The movie WarGames does quite a good job of portraying early microcomputer use. When the main character, David, gets access to the WOPR mainframe he plays the "Global Thermonuclear War" game. The game starts with a pretty decent piece of ASCII art. Take a look:

I tried to re-create that and got a decent approximation yet it didn't look nearly as good:

 ,------~~v,                               _--^\
 |'         \   ,__/||                 _/    /,_
/             \,/     /         ,,   ,,/^        vv-__
|                    /          |'~^                   \
\                   |         _/                     _  /^
 \                 /         /                   ,~~^/|
  ^~_            /          |          __,,  v__\   \/
      '~~,  ,~\ \           ^~       /    ~  //
          \/     \/             \~,  ,/         
                                   ~~

   UNITED STATES                   SOVIET UNION

Searching around I found a transcript of the session but it did not include the artwork. And elsewhere there are quite a lot of details on the computers used in the movie but nothing about the actual drawing.

Watching the video more closely it became clear that many non-ASCII characters were being used. And, incidentally, the spaces between characters were being printed instantaneously. An understandable and minor oversight in their simulation of data coming over a modem.

Offhand I thought they may have been using special graphics characters on the IMSAI. It appears the IMSAI had many third party video board options available. The one you could buy from them doesn't come with any graphics characters that match what we see in the movie but you can program your own. It still doesn't match up, the documentation (PDF) says it works with a 7 x 10 character matrix while the display shown is clearly 8 x 10 (look closely at the "Y" and "W" characters). Additionally, the "L", "Y", "t" and "g" characters are clearly shaped differently.

There are enough details that I'm sure an IMSAI expert could figure out what video board was used. Assuming the the video output came from an IMSAI. There is some suggestion this is the case, but if not I expect it was some kind of contemporary CP/M machine.

Instead, I decided to try and recreate it. After many viewings of the scene in slow motion I figured that these set of graphics characters reasonably matched those on screen:

Using them we can create a reasonable facsimile:

Some tweaking of the characters might improve things -- it looks pretty rough along the south-west part of the United States where the characters aren't joining up properly. Maybe those require other characters defined.

The extra dots on the right side of characters is an oddity. My theory is that there were a bug in the character generator software used and were left in because it gives the display a little pizazz and makes it looks a little more like true ASCII, somehow. Such are the ways of movie magic.


George Phillips, August 1, 2015. gp2000 -at- shaw.ca