Another year almost gone and another Christmas fast approaching.
From the very early 1980’s Christmas in the our house has meant two things, firstly Mum’s turkey dinner, the highlight of the year, where we eat to excess and then fall asleep in front of a James Bond Film or more recently an Only Fools & Horses repeat.
Secondly, Computers / Consoles. As kids the yuletide was always the time to upgrade our tech and invariably we did.
So excuse me while I reminisce *Cue Dream Sequence*
1982: Atari 2600
My fascination with computer or video games goes back to the early 1980’s when one Christmas, Kriss Kringle decided to leave me an Atari VCS, with it’s timber panelling and iconic joystick, I played ‘Combat’ until my eyes were sore, I loved my Atari, it got me hooked, addicted would be a better word, and I’ve never looked back.
Then came Christmas 1983, to my family and most others, the early 80’s was the dawn of the home computer, difficult for today’s youngsters to grasp, but until this time owning a computer or being able to fit one in your house was, well in today’s thinking, the equivalent of Telepathy!
Making the choice of home computer was difficult, right now you essentially have two choices Mac or PC, but back then you had dozens of competing start up companies claiming that their computers were going to be the next big thing, for some this would turn out to be the case, but the majority were most definitely not. I’ll let you decide which category our first home computer fell into.
1983: Oric Atmos 48k
That’s shocked you hasn’t it, I’d wager that you thought we’d have gone with the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64, well I bet the bloke in Tandy who sold it to my Dad still has a smile on his face after that sale!
Produced by Tangerine, yes, I know it sounds decidedly dodgy now, but Apple weren’t exactly pulling up trees at this point (that’s a lie), the Oric Atmos was the replacement for the imaginatively titled Oric 1. What set the Atmos apart was the excellent build quality, no rubber keys here, and the impressive number of on-screen colours, essentially it looked like a typical laptop keyboard looks now, but with orange keys here and there.
To a young gamer like myself the thought of a home computer didn’t excite me, if younger readers imagine this, newsagents sold books of code, the size of the Argos catalogue, so that you could spend hours in front of a portable tv typing line upon line of BASIC into your home computer, sometimes it worked, often it didn’t, my Dad and Brother did this religiously.
One such BASIC programme was called ‘Fisherman Sam’, they programmed it for the 6yr old me and I loved it, the boring computer could play games, so the Atari was forgotten about, now all I wanted to play was ‘Zorgons Revenge’ or ‘Xenon 1’, I must have gone through a fair few tape decks loading up those games!
What No Hard Drive?
What’s that I hear you cry! A Tape Deck? Yes, in short unless you were rich, to load anything onto a computer you had to buy a separate tape recorder from which a tape would be played into the computer and if you were very lucky something would happen, this was fraught with problems and tape wear was a common issue, hence copying games became common place and the accepted norm. The sound the loading of the tapes made was and still is the sound track of my childhood, not quite as good to listen to as Duran Duran, but very close!
So with the Atari consigned to the loft, a grave yard for many failed hobbies and ventures, now I wanted my own Computer, so I saved up my pocket money to buy my next offering (who needs Santa now eh?!?)
1985: ZX Spectrum 48k (Second Hand)
Much like the footballer Claude Makelele, in late 1985 I had decided the best way forward was to go sideways and so I bought a second hand ‘Spekky’ I found advertised in the local classifieds, essentially because my mate had one and he could lend me literally hundreds of games. The problem with the Spekky was the keyboard, it had rubber keys like a giant calculator, so typing code was hardly ever done, this was a gaming computer, with ‘Football Director’ and ‘Spy v Spy’ quickly becoming my favourite games. I even developed a method of management in Football Director where if I didn’t blink while watching a match (Essentially a White screen with the team names written on it) I had less chance of conceding, sounds bonkers now.
And so, happy with our line up of tech, for the next few years we concentrated on enjoying our home computers, swapping games and asking for replacement tape recorders instead of computers at Christmas, all until 1987, Spectrum, now owned by Amstrad, launched a home computer twice as powerful, with more colours, better graphics, proper keyboard and a built in disk drive. So we just had to have one…
1987: ZX Spectrum 128k +2A
The +2A was a thing a beauty, as if Michael Angelo himself had sculpted his vision in black plastic, okay a slight exaggeration, but to us it was as good as computers were ever going to get and we had one. It was backwards compatible too, so I meant I could play my old favourites on the new computer, as well as new games with vastly superior graphics, such as ‘Combat School’ which was such a big game it came on two tapes!
The +2a was a wonderful machine, I used it for gaming and my brother for programming on it’s superior keyboard, so all was well until sometime in late 1988 when a school friend invited me to his house to play a game called ‘Rocky’ on a new games console he got for his birthday. I’ll never forgot when I first saw the graphics, they were brilliant, really brilliant and from that moment I wanted one…badly!
To Be Continued…
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