Panther (1975 video game)

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Designer(s) John Edo Haefeli
Platform(s) PLATO System
Release date(s) 1975
Genre(s) Vehicle simulation game
Mode(s) Team play

Panther, a battle tank-driving simulation named after the Panther tank, was one of a handful of early first-person computer games developed by John Edo Haefeli and Nelson Bridwell in 1975 at Northwestern University. The game was developed for the multi-user interactive computer-based education PLATO system and programmed in the TUTOR programming language and utilized scalable vector graphics called linesets. A 1977 development of Panther, with more refined graphics, was named Panzer, the German word for armour and tank.

Nelson contributed the original concept of a tank combat game, which was inspired by Brand Fortner's Airfight, Jim Bowery's Spasim, and an unfinished tank game effort of Derek Ward. Nelson also provided the Panther tank artwork, the vehicle motion, view, and damage equations, and a significant fraction of the original code. John was a highly capable TUTOR IV programmer who created the overall game framework, providing key features such as team selection and messaging that turned the concept into a working game, later adding a number of refinements.

Version A (1975) of Panther has recently been restored to active status on the Cyber1 CYBIS-based (a PLATO descendant) system, with direct permission of the developer.


The game play is what is commonly known today as team deathmatch. There are two teams, Squares and Triangles. The object of the game is to destroy the opposing team's base. Game play is straightforward; the player selects a pseudonym and a team, traverse the terrain looking for enemies to destroy on the way to their base. Perspective is maintained by the use of scalable vector graphics and visual interest is enhanced with special graphics for explosions using a custom character set to accomplish limited raster graphics animation.

When players enter the game their tanks are placed randomly in the playing arena near their bases and are temporarily camouflaged to allow time to orient themselves with the current map and state of play. The initial view of the game is in "on-board" mode, which is a first-person perspective of the arena. The other main view available is the map which shows the 5 mountains (Crag, Nixon, Og, Pathos, and Red) which vary in size and placement each time a new game is started. On the map view players can see all of their team members positions and can see enemies only when they are within range. Messaging between team members is available and broadcast-style messages (insults) to the opposing team are also allowed. Team coordination and cooperation is critical to winning in this game as each player has different skills, some players are better at hunting down and killing enemies (or at least engaging and distracting them), others are good at hiding and sneaking to the opposing base to begin bombardment. An interesting capability of the game is that players can donate ammunition and fuel to other players in order to facilitate their role in the game. Ammunition and fuel are loaded at the player's base.

The graphics for the initial version of Panther was very simple, compared to modern combat simulations. The world was a flat, planar desert surface, and the only features were the views of the tanks, and a static horizon line across the middle of the screen. The tank views consisted of a selection of either side, rear, or front views of the turret and body, magnified according to distance. Hidden view elimination was a very simple 2D process of not displaying more distant vehicles where the view was possibly blocked by a closer vehicle.

These limitations were in part because the Plato IV system, simultaneously shared by hundreds of users, provided very limited computational bandwidth and memory.


  • Combining 3D arcade-style tactical warfare with strategic multi-player communication and planning, while allowing deceptive communication with enemy. (Unlimited players, historical peak over 50 simultaneous players).
  • Use of a "community random number seed" to generate a common terrain for each scenario, down to rocks, trees, visibility, and other features (via hidden mode key) via storage-less algorithm.
  • Virtual binoculars extensible to 360 degree view on a planar surface.
  • Real-time system within a real-time system, tracking all changes without user intervention across all control and information displays.
  • Hidden line removal of occluded objects.
  • Attention to physics of trajectory, accuracy, and vision considering source and target speeds, direction and distance, with compensation for curvature of Earth.
  • Reasonable performance on a 1200-baud vector terminal and 10 TIPS (thousands of instructions per second) CPU limit on the mainframe-based PLATO network supporting up to 1000 simultaneous users.

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