If you talk to a certain type of gamer, then old school for them is the NES and other console based systems, and quite often they are really talking about the later mid 90s period of NES, rather than the mid 80s original release. For me though, apart from the true old school gaming period of the 70s (Pong and the home consoles like the Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision, etc..), gaming really took off in the 8-bit home computing period of the early 80s.
In the UK that meant you were in one of a few camps: Commodore, Spectrum, BBC Micro, PC, or ‘others’. In ‘others’ I’m putting machines like the Dragon 32 and Amstrad CPC464, which I always thought were lesser machines! Even the Spectrum owners looked down on Amstrad owners… Apple did have machines in the UK, but my recollection is that there weren’t that many about and I don’t think I knew anyone who owned one. Of all the machines out there, BBCs were mainly used in schools, while a turf war between the Commodore 64 and Spectrum was conducted in the playground…
But the Commodore 64 wasn’t my first computer…
TRS-80 (ours didn't have the fancy screen though and we had to use a TV)
When I was about 7 or 8, we got a TRS-80 and a few software titles on cassette, such as Pyramid 2000, and that was my introduction to gaming. As software was thin on the ground and the only alternative was typing programs from magazines, I wrote my first programs on the TRS-80, much like many people. (I do also remember writing some things on a ZX81 my friend had though…)
This was an interesting, if weird start, but things improved.
The best 8-bit there was...
A couple of years after that, we got a Commodore 64 and the die was cast! In my opinion, the Commodore 64 was technically the best of the 8-bits and superior to the Spectrum, but I’m sure there will be naysayers on that, much like how the PC/Mac argument rages now.
The gaming scene was massive, but also very much a cottage industry and all sorts of weird and wonderful games were coming out. The era of big teams creating games had yet to really start and so a lone programmer, or small team could create something worthwhile. I think this is what made me think I could write a game… (the foolishness of youth…)
Never a big fan of BASIC, I actually programmed more in 6502 assembler on the C64 and on the BBC Micro (same processor) when at school, (although I did do some Pascal programming in my GCSE!), so it was natural that I’d eventually write it in assembler; this was after a little practice on some demos, written both alone and in a small group, influenced by the online scene.
In about 1986 or 87, I bought my first Modem and started using Compunet, which was a bulletin board type service, but with far more functionality and services, among which was a few MMOs, as well as chat rooms & file sharing. Everything was dial up and paid for by the minute, so for a school kid this was an expensive game. It didn’t help that the modem only worked at 1200/75 baud. (that’s 1200 bps up and 75 down, which is somewhat slow compared to broadband which will be in the millions of bps!)
Around this time, once I had the modem, I also started playing the occasional MMO on their own dedicated lines away from Compunet. Obviously, the world wide web had yet to appear, so each service or game you wanted to access had to be dialled into directly. I used EdTerm for this IIRC, dialling into a MMO called Mirrorworld most frequently. As an aside, I think I first used the web in about 1992 or 93, when visiting a friend at Nottingham Uni.; I recall the search engine being Webcrawler and downloading Simpsons episode guides.
A few friends and I wrote various little demos on Compunet, as the demo scene was quite big and supportive on there, and it was a good place to learn how to do stuff, as well as meet collaborators.
So, we get to 1988 and I have decided to write a game…
Somehow, I managed this. It had a title page, scoring system, levels, completion screen and great music from some guys I knew from Compunet.
What was it called? ‘Colonel Chuck’. It was shit.
I think I still have a rejection letter from Codemasters somewhere.
Looking back on it, it was not surprising that it was rejected. I was more interested in the process of the creation, the programming and completion of the project, than the actual game itself. Because of this, very little effort went into the design of the game and it was just a poor ‘simon’ derivative. Even saying it was a ‘simon’ derivative gives it more credit than it is due…
However, nostalgia being what it is, I would still like to see this monstrosity live on for me to gaze at every so often when I want a laugh, so have been looking into transferring it off the old 51/4 inch disk and onto the PC.
Cue problems, which I shall detail later…