Sunday, January 15, 2012

Back to The Valley. (in 8-bit country)

August 3, 1977 was the public introduction of the TRS-80 home computer. Which is as I write this is more than 35 years ago. The most recent episode of this developers life ('Dinosaurs') brought back memories to this first real computer I could get my hands on. The setup as shown here is exactly what my father bought about thirty years ago. A black and white 12" monitor (16 lines of 64 characters), a 1.77 MHz processor and 16KB of RAM. Program storage on a cassette tape recorder which meant loading a decent game would often take 10 minutes or more. And to me it was magic. From the very first time I switched it on and saw the READY> prompt I was hooked. To programming. I remember it started with the sample from the owners manual. No, not the obligatory 'hello world' but a Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion program. And after completing all samples I did a very simple Space Shooter. Written all in Level 1 basic, using all ASCII characters, so you can probably imagine it did not exactly look like "Skyrim' or 'Modern Warfare'...
Then one day I bought the latest edition of 'computing today', mainly because of the cover. Today games actually look like that, but back then those images could only exist in your imagination.
 And programming a real adventure game, with "goblins', 'wizards' and ''barbarians' sounded like an extraordinary challenge.
So I spent weeks typing the the listings and converting the code from the original Commodere PET basic until I had a real working game which eventually I hardly ever played. It showed me that for me the real fun was in the programming itself, which it has been ever since.
The program as I written it has been long lost. It was stored on a cassette which we probably gave away when we sold the TRS-80, and I did not have a printer then to make a hard-copy. But guess what: it's on the internet. It took some searching but finally I found an article by Paul Robson and this one by Tony Smith on .
Both more or less describe the same experience, and on the site of Frank Fraser there is even a full scan of the listings. Looking at the scans I suddenly realized that I probably still had a copy of the magazine somewhere and so I did. The scans shown here all come from my personal copy. Actually I thought my copy would be 'cleaner' than Franks scans. But memory tricked me and the weeks of intensive use also left their marks on the pages, as can be seen in the section where the different graphics are explained.
For a moment I considered trying to rewrite the program using a TRS-80 Emulator. Just to see if I could re-live the excitement of that time. Probably not. And after playing the BBC version (which is included in the zip-file that contains the scans) I found this type of game is still not my favourite.

Lets face it, the most enjoyable part of recovering an old computer magazine are reading the ads. Like this one on the rear. 'Fully expandable to 32K of user RAM' and a 'Full set of upper and lower-case characters'. What else would you ever need ?