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Computer Space was the type of gaming that would today be likely described as a multi-directional shooter. The player controls a rocket ship and must evade enemy fire from a pair of flying saucers using a thruster and a pair of rotational buttons. The player fires back to destroy the flying saucers by firing missiles at them from the rocket ship. The saucers moved at the same time and in a similar pattern. This meant there were at least two places on the screen where the rocket could hide and not be hit by the saucers.
The aim of the game was to survive for as long as possible. At the start of the game, the player is given 90 seconds of play. If at the end of this time, the player had obtained a score higher than that of the opposing saucers, they would be awarded a further 90 seconds of play. In addition, the screen colour would change from black-on-white to white-on-black. If the player accomplishes this goal a second time, the colours would return to normal, and this sequence would continue until the player failed to achieve a score higher than the opposing ships, which was the end of the game.
The trick was that the score was always a single digit that went from zero to nine. When the score was nine, the next hit would return the score to 0. So, if the play period was nearing its end and the saucers had a score greater than the player's, the player could deliberately place themselves so that every shot the opposing saucers made would score, in order to force their total back to zero and thereby survive. On the other hand, if the player was slightly ahead, it would be advisable to go to one of the hiding places and wait out the rest of the period.