My first computer was a ZX Spectrum. It was a 48K model, I think, with rubber keys. You had to plug a tape recorder into it to load games from cassettes. This took minutes, accompanied by a screeching noise and a screen border that flashed primary colours. I’m remembering this now and it seems like prehistory, but back in the day this was the moment that computers really started to enter UK homes.
I eventually upgraded to the 128K model, with a built in cassette player. I think this may have been when I learned the only bit of code that I know, other than WordPress HTML tags (which don’t count):
10 Print “Hello!”
20 Goto 10
This made ‘Hello!’ scroll up the screen forever, or at least until you stopped it. There are kids reading this thinking that this is the most pointless use of processing power ever encountered, but trust me, back when I was young this was awesome. It meant that the computer did what you told it to do. I swear, when the time comes to prevent the Technopocalypse, that bit of BASIC is really gonna come in handy.
And the games! Horace Goes Skiing (little blue man skis down a slope, but first he has to get across a busy road without getting run over!), Manic Miner (Miner Willy has to collect gems without getting killed by bizarre monsters!), Jet Set Willy (Miner Willy gets rich, throws a party, but then has to tidy up his mansion before he goes to bed!), Horace and the Spiders (Horace and some spiders!)… They were primitive and buggy (I’m not sure it was actually possible to finish Jet Set Willy) but they were addictive. Angry Birds makes them look like finger-daubed cave paintings, sure, but you’ve got to remember that this was all shiny and new and we loved it.
The next generation of games was my favourite, especially the stuff put out by Codemasters and the Oliver Twins. I pulled a few all-nighters trying to complete the Dizzy games – you can play Treasure Island Dizzy here. The Play button on my cassette deck fell off, and I had to load games by sticking a pencil into the mechanism. You can’t do that nowadays…
Times moved on, PCs became more advanced, the internet took over and games now look like movies. But the Speccy is worth remembering, as a herald of today’s networked world, and as gateway into technology and gaming and programming. On St. George’s Day, don’t forget to say happy birthday to a bit of technology of which Britain can be proud.
PS. I’m now going to be singing “Just Another Manic Miner” all day…