My video gaming history (Part I)

My love for computers started with video games and the desire to create something for others to enjoy. Pictures at first, then games and animation. Unfortunately as my many childhood passions did not get much needed support or I was not able to find a proper mentor to hone and develop my skills, I had to stray from creative path into more practical one. But that is a story for another time. Nevertheless the journey, as most of us come to realize as we age, has been great and influenced a lot that came later.

In the mid-80s I joined an after-school computer class held by our physics teacher. We were working with ZX Spectrum (in Slovenia press called it “mavrica”, meaning rainbow, after a strip of rainbow colors in the down right corner of the device) and learned how to create pixel character sprites and some simple BASIC programming. Around the same time, I got my first computer, which was ZX Spectrum, but it was second hand and didn’t work well, so we returned it after a week. During that week I typed in a classic Snake game from a local computer magazine (trick I learned at my cousin’s who had it for a few years already). ZX Spectrum used a standard cassette player to load the software into its memory via tonal sound. Years later a friend told me that local student radio station sometimes used to broadcast pirated games at night. You only had to record it on a cassette tape and then load into your Spectrum by playing it back. Those were essentially the first pirate torrents. By the end of 80s local flea market was full of people selling cassette tapes with music and video games, which later evolved onto CDs and DVDs.

ZX Spectrum 48K

Already before I got that defected Spectrum, my best friend and his brother got Commodore 64 (C64), which became my biggest wish. Another friend from the neighborhood had ZX Spectrum. We used to gather at one of those two homes and play video games the whole weekend and some afternoons. Mostly we played arcade and sports games. Also a Formula 1 manager was very popular as we liked to watch real F1 races on TV.

I think it took about a year until my parents finally bought me a brand new C64 (smuggled across the border into Yugoslavia by a family friend from Germany). It came with a cassette player and a joystick. The graphics, memory and especially sound were far superior to Spectrum. A few years after that my father got me a floppy disk drive which made loading and recording so much faster. There was no need to rewind and forward anymore. At some point my father brought home from work an EPSON printer (impact dot matrix printer) because C64 had an LPT adapter to connect it and a few programs with appropriate support. I played around a bit with a DTP (desktop publishing) software, but by that time my days of self-publishing comic magazine from early elementary school was over. More on that some other time.

Commodore 64 with power adapter

On my own I enjoyed arcade and adventure games as well as driving (Test Drive 1 and 2, Grand Prix Circuit) and flying simulators (Project Stealth Fighter). Lucasfilm Games revolutionary point & click adventures like Manic Mansion (1987) and Zack McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders (1988) were my favorite. At that time I was not able to complete many games due to the fact that saving your position was not implemented. Every time you had to start from the beginning. I did manage to complete Loom (1990) by LucasFilm. Not well known, but one of the more unique and interesting adventure games of its time because it incorporated music note challenges as part of the revered exploration mechanic of this studio.

Loom (1990, Lucasfilm Games)

The C64 came with a user guide that included some basics in the BASIC programming language. Even though the book was in German, language I didn’t understand at the time, I could figure out some of the things by following code examples. With those basic commands like PRINT, GO TO, RETURN and IF THEN, I managed to make a beginning of a text adventure game including ASCII graphics that were printed on the side of C64’s keyboard keys. I also explored some music composing functions of the operating system.

C64 welcome screen that burned into my eyes throughout the second half of the 80s

Never after that I tried out and used my computer for so many different things. Just to copy and run games required knowledge we obtained by trial and error… C64 really was a revolutionary and extremely versatile home computer of the 80s and it left me with a lot of fond memories.

In part II, I’ll talk about how my love for C64 almost lead me to its successor Commodore Amiga at the very end of 80s, but then my father brought home my first PC instead.

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