Compys of Our Youth

8 03 2010

Thought I’d kick off a Return To Normalcy around these parts after a brutal but highly enjoyable 2XP weekend in City of Heroes with some geekery. Inspired by Kotaku’s thread about Your First Computer or Game Console.

In my case, it was three systems.

1. Timex-Sinclair 1000, aka the ZX81. This thing was barely a computer. It had maybe 1k of memory, 4k with the expansion pack that dangled precariously from an exposed bit of circuit board in the back. Programs were entered in BASIC, using a put-70-pounds-of-pressure-on-it membrane keypad where every key represented like four different things, ranging from a letter to an arcane glyph to a bit of code. We had a bunch of games on audio tape, some of which were purchased from little plastic baggies hanging on pegs at the local software shop. Considering I was, what, five or six? I did a surprising amount of actual coding on this.

2. Apple //c, the allegedly portable computer my LJ icon hails from. In elementary school and junior high, basically you existed in a continuum of Apple products. The schools had Apple ][e’s, ran Apple edutainment software, Apple word processing, etc etc. So, an Apple at home made a lot of sense. This was my first serious gaming rig, both for playing games (Karateka, Adventure Construction Set, Infocomics) and writing my own limited CYA games in BASIC.

X. Nintendo Entertainment System. I didn’t have one. The prevailing thought in my house was that having a pure gaming system would be Redundant since the Apple played games, and Destructive since clearly it would turn me into a mindless zombie with bad grades. I ended up “friends” with a few people who otherwise were abusive to me just so I could play some actual, honest to goodness Nintendo. I kinda regret not being right there as the video game cultural revolution exploded around me, but I did soak up some of it on the fringes.

3. EDIT: Atari 400/800. Apparently we owned this. I remember using one, and I remember Miner 2049er and so on, but I can’t recall exactly WHEN we bought it. It certainly doesn’t stick out in my mind in the same way the Apple //c did.

4. IBM 286 AT 16mhz 640k EGA with a 12 meg hard drive. My first PC, and at the time, a beast of a machine. So lightning fast it had a TURBO button on the front, which would drop it down to XT 8mhz levels, in case you couldn’t handle the speed. Of course, Moore being who he is, this was rapidly replaced by a 386 and then a 486 and so on, but that first machine did some amazing stuff and lasted us a good long while.

Ever since then, it’s been a plethora of PCs. I finally got my first dedicated game console in a Gameboy (which saved my sanity at the hospital, and in college, I bought a PlayStation 1 and even a used Super Nintendo with my own money because finally I was allegedly an adult and could own one. Since then I buy all my own gear and I’m up to date on the culture. Although my PC is looking a bit rough around the edges…

This blog post consisted entirely of geeky, useless navel gazing which contributed nothing to your life satisfaction. Enjoy!

EDIT: Appended the day’s twitters. Some good stuff in here, I think. I hope.

  • 09:06 A little workaday “humor” for you today in webcomic form, as we start earning our keep. bit.ly/daQmzF #
  • 12:55 Music video + viral video = Awesomegasm. Most’ve you have probably seen it already, but…. OK Go. bit.ly/d9cCug #
  • 13:01 I’m pretty sure Mr. Period and the Punctuation Gang kicked this inbred guy out of the tree fort ages ago. bit.ly/5Vb5uz #
  • 13:39 Felt a burst of nostalgia, and took a five minute break to discuss computers of days gone by in my blog-o-phone. bit.ly/aUltEA #
  • 18:30 Once again, I’m over a year old on the Hot New Funny Trend. I only JUST TODAY heard “I’m On A Boat”. Bought the album. Funny parody hiphop! #
  • 00:01 Grab it while you can before a lawyer shuts it down — the TRON Legacy trailer in high definition. www.program-glitch-esc.net/ #
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22 responses

8 03 2010
jengagne

Great summary. :D But wait, what about the Atari??
RE: Nintendo… “kinda regret”? Sounds like a big one to me, considering how much this still bothers you! I suspect hindsight is making your feelings on this worse, alas.
What I mean is, although it sucks because you REALLY wanted that in particular… I can also see why Mom and Dad didn’t get a Nintendo considering all the other loot.

8 03 2010
cmdr_zoom

First Game Console: Atari 2600. My brothers and I went in on this together, pooling our Christmas money, and it provided us with endless hours of entertainment c. 1980-1985.
First Computer (School): Apple ][+, circa 1983. I learned BASIC on this thing, played lots and lots of games (including the immortal Oregon Trail), fiddled around with a Koalapad, wrote a D&D character generator… I still have my very first floppy ever (Elephant Memory Systems), though the edges have long since cracked with age and brittleness and it’s held together by tape. Fortunately, I have disk images of it and other floppies from that era, for use with an emulator. I also have an actual ][+ in my closet, with monitor and disk drive, should I ever feel like digging it out.
First Computer (Home): Commodore VIC-20. Like your ZX81, barely worthy of the name. The C-64’s annoying little brother. Mostly used for laboriously typing in programs from magazines and experimenting with poking color values and patterns into memory.
First Computer (PC): 486 25 MHz, 4 Mb RAM, 150 Mb HD, purchased in 1990 or so. The CPU was an “SX”, which was a DX chip that failed certification. The OS was DOS 6.2 and Windows 3.1. It didn’t even have a sound card at first; then I got Wing Commander and a 16 bit Soundblaster.

8 03 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Did we actually OWN an Atari, though? I can’t even remember. I know I played a bunch at relatives homes, but the only game console I remember as a fact that was in our house was the Sears Pong 7-in-1 clone.

8 03 2010
jengagne

Yeah, we did. In between the pong machine and the various Apples. I think it overlapped with the Timex.
That’s where we played Miner 2049er and Lemonade.
And Lemonade is the game that sparked my long-term interest in business, particularly our newfangled digital flavor thereof! :D

8 03 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

No, hang on. Lemonade was the signature game of the Apple //c, not the Atari 2600. And Miner 2049er was on the Atari 400, not the Atari 2600.
(Oddly, the Atari 400 is actually a personal computer, or at least an early approximation of it, while the Atari 2600 was the 70’s era game-only console.)
Dangit, I need to KNOW now. I’m gonna call mom. I’m reasonably sure we never physically owned an Atari 2600.

8 03 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Okay, got off the phone with mom.
Our upgrade path was:
1. Sears Pong
2. Timex-Sinclair 1000
3. Apple //c
4. Atari 400 and 800 (didn’t use them for long)
5. IBM 286 AT
So, no, we never actually owned a 2600. We played it a lot at relatives and friend’s places, though.

8 03 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Ahh, add-on sound cards.
I remember getting my first one — an Adlib. FM synth, basically the same chip available in cheap cellphones now, but the music was glorious to mine ears.
(I also heard a Sierra adventure game running on the pinnacle of audio tech for PCs of the day, an honest to god Roland MT-32. It sounded amazing. I mean, it still sounded like a cheap wedding band on stage, but it sounded like a BAND and not like a CHIP.)
The Soundblaster came later, when games like Wing Commander started supporting digital sound reproduction. Dr. Sbaitso got many an amused play in my home.

8 03 2010
Anonymous

This is interesting mostly because I’m too young to ever experience any of this. Very cool.

8 03 2010
raigne

I have tried to figure out which Tandy we had. I am pretty sure it was a 1000, just because the 2000’s look a bit bizarre to me.
It was my first computer and my first gaming platform. I didn’t own a console of any kind until I got a gameboy color when I was about 11 or 12. Probably explains why I am still mostly a PC gamer, though I do still have portables.

8 03 2010
meredy

First computer was the TRS-80 Color Computer 2. Nothing like a big white keyboard you hooked up to a TV, and programs on tapes that you played into the system with a tape recorder to make you appreciate computers today!
Still, I cut my teeth on various forms of BASIC, and how many gamers nowadays can really claim that? :P

8 03 2010
lirazel

First home computer: Apple 512 KE. Bought it second-hand for $800, and thought I was cooking with digital gas because I carried files back and forth to work on one of those little hard-sleeved floppies.
I have never owned a gaming system, but I did stay up all night once playing the original Sim City on the original Nintendo that belonged to the Wonder Offspring. Does that count?

8 03 2010
jengagne

Ah, well, what do I know. XD My point is, I know you wanted a Nintendo and still wish you had one… but we did have a lot of console and computer swag! Especially compared to your average random kids during that era.

8 03 2010
jengagne

We actually played with punched computer cards as kids. (not feeding them into computers, but…) Yeah, we’re old.
I convinced some math teachers to let me take tests using a slide rule.

8 03 2010
vulpisfoxfire

Hee. Lessee…had one of Pong consoles (don’t remember what one in particular.), an Atari 2600, a Sega Master System and a Genesis before I moved out on my own. First computer was a C64, followed by an Amiga (the poor 128D I had never got used, because it showed up at the same time as the Ami), followed by my descent in Microsoft H*ll starting with a 486. I did occasionally get to borrow a IIe or the sole C64 from Jr. High over long holidays, though (being in good with the Comp. Sci teacher, and knowing more BASIC than was being taught in *both* years to the point of the sole purpose of being in the class being to learn the *other* languages taught in the last grading period of the years (LOGO the first year, Pascal the second) and ending up an unofficial teacher’s aide for the class as a result helped with this task a bit. ;-) ).
Ah, the Apple IIc…technically speaking, the *computer* was quite portable. Problem was, the monitor that you needed to use it with *wasn’t*. :-)

8 03 2010
tozetre

You can buy a NES in a pawn shop for like $5 these days. I recommend not doing so, however, because it will shatter your nostalgia like a brick in the teeth.
The //c WAS portable. We even had the soft carrying case for it!
That we never used!
Because it wasn’t actually portable!
srsly though. //c carrying case. Actually made a decent laptop bag in the late 90’s.

8 03 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

I’ve got an NES now, actually. I ebayed up one and a bunch of games. It didn’t bust my nostalgia, because as noted, I rarely got to play NES. I still dig it. That doesn’t mean I play it every day, but I’m proud of my cart library and I pull ’em out now and then for kicks.

8 03 2010
tozetre

:O SHOCK.
I guess I never really got into NES. I mean, I had one, but… well, probably I just got the wrong games. I <3 FF1 forever, but I never found anything else I liked even a little.

9 03 2010
raigne

My experience with NES is confined to Duck Hunt, which I played at one of my cousin’s houses when I was about 5 or 6. Stepbrother had a sega genesis, which I didn’t get to play until I was a teenager and he didn’t want it anymore.
I’m just about the only person I know who was exclusively a PC gamer during her formative years…

9 03 2010
pyromaniac_ks

Oh I was too. Unless you count the old Commodore 64, which was… technically a console, I guess. That predates PCs (and, indeed, PC gaming) by a bit though, so.
I still recall playing the original Prince of Persia and Settlers on the old 386 (later upgraded to 486 with one of those 386-socket-486-upgrade-chips they had) with the Turbo button.

9 03 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

The C64 was a pretty badass machine; a fully featured personal computer which also had good enough graphics and sound to work as a game machine. The only thing holding it back was the ridiculous load times from diskette.
A friend of mine had a C64, and I swear we spent three times as long loading things as we did actually playing video games on it. Since his game library was 95% pirated and he only played each game maybe once or twice, we’d keep loading, getting confused since we had no instructions, getting bored, picking a new game, loading…

9 03 2010
cmdr_zoom

ah, Sierra adventures. Loved them, miss them (LucasArts, too). Pity the whole genre just imploded, like space-fighter sims a bit later on.
Let’s see, stuff I left out of the original comment:
My favorite Atari cartridges included Adventure, Berserk, most of (the original) Activision and Imagic’s catalog… I even liked the infamous E.T., believe it or not.
I actually skipped over the NES/SMS and SNES/Genesis eras entirely, mostly for lack of money and/or interest. I’ve since gone back and tried many games from that period via emulation, though. I re-entered the console arena with the PSx (got it to play Final Fantasy 7; still have it and a dozen games, mostly RPGs and racers) and then the Dreamcast (for Skies of Arcadia most of all). I took another hiatus after the PS2 (for which I also have about a dozen games). I suppose I’ll eventually get back into it, but for now all my gaming is on the PC (and mostly the same games, over and over).
MAME and Visual Pinball with PinMAME let me play all of my old arcade favorites. If you’d told me back in ’82, or even ’92, that I could have an entire arcade on my desktop…
After that 486, my next computer was/is a Pentium 100 MHz, which was built for me by a good friend who came to a bad end. That’s reason enough to hold on to it, but I use it for old games that run best in Win95/98 or even DOS (though DOSbox is catching up fast). Next was a 500 MHz machine, whose other details and eventual fate I don’t clearly recall; and then one or two others leading to my current machine, an Athlon 64 with about 2.3 GHz and 2 gigs of RAM, running WinXP. It’s getting a bit long in the tooth, and I’m planning on another upgrade in the very near future.

10 03 2010
marthrin

My chain of systems was:
Apple ][e
My dad brought this home from school and I discovered I liked programming more than Saturday morning cartoons…
Timex Sinclair
The models we got kept dying, we took them back to the store 3 times before giving up.
Colecovision
Intellivision
Night Stalker in the Alaskan Night was just creepy…
Atari 2600
Aquarius
Kind of a TRS-80 compatible, eventually wrote my own assembler in basic, and then assembly on it. Oh, and it had Tron.The *good* Tron, with deadly discs, mototcycles and everything!
Commodore +4
I rewrote many C64 games to make them compatible with this beast. Got a lot of experience programming off of it.
Unisys CTOS
I got this just before I went to college, my dad found it at an auction, for $50 I think. Got a heads up by learning C on that thing.

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