Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Old School Gaming

There's a blog I follow. The latest post is over at - http://jeffro.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/game-design-supplemental-books-and-other-materials

He blogs a lot about role-playing games and tabletop games and gaming with his kids. Today's post, though, talks more about old school computer games. No, not the NES or SNES - I'm talking REALLY old school. Text adventures on a computer back in the day when you had to type the code in yourself old school...

His post really brought up a ton of memories and I started to comment, but decided I had enough floating around in my brain to make my own blog post... This was going to be about memories and a day trip Vanessa and I took a few days ago, but I'm going to expand on this today and take that up next time...

My first introduction to computers was in the 9th grade. Mr. Bill Myers, one of my favorite teachers of ALL TIME (and sadly I can't tell him that as he passed away shortly after I graduated high school in 1985) brought his TRS-80 Model IV to school. He had written some BASIC programs for teaching math and wanted to give an intro to computers to kids that might otherwise never see such a thing.

When math class was over he and I talked a bit and he showed me the basics of BASIC (no pun intended) and it clicked with me! When he had a free period and I had P.E. (small school - 7th through 12th grade in one building - it was not uncommon to have extended P.E. or "go to the gym" on various days) I went back in his room to explore some more. He introduced me to Scott Adams' text adventure games. Wow. This was a new world for me...

Soon after I met the guy that would become the bass player for The Bare Basics. He was taking classes at Dyersburg State Community College on computer sciences and had a TRS-80 Color Computer. He showed me some stuff and again I enjoyed it, so that year my dad bought me a TRS-80 Color Computer II with extended memory. It had the additional 16k for graphics and hooked up to a television. I dived right into BASIC as well as bought the TRS-80 adventure games on cassette.

This was about the time I was reintroduced to a friend (Craig) who introduced me to his cousin (Brent) who introduced me to his cousin (Chris). The four of us would go on to be longtime friends and gamers, and it's these three guys (and Brent's son Jonas and my son Kyle) that meet with me every week on roll20.net for Edge of the Empire.

Anyway - Craig had a Commodore VIC 20 and I think Brent did too. Chris had a Commodore 64 and Brent would later get one of those as well. I was the odd ball with the TRS-80, but it also meant that we all had exposure and access to more than one platform. Sine we were playing RPG's, it was common for us (at least I remember Brent and I doing this) to develop character generators for the games we were playing. Since BASIC can generate a random number it was really as simple as a spreadsheet is today to assign the variables a random number and then have the computer calculate those variables and show them as different stats.

Now I admit today that I'm partial to the tactile feel of dice and the physical act of "rolling dice," but at the time this was a giant leap in programming and understanding how computers work in regard to random number generation, variables, showing data on the screen, etc.

One other thing in relation to Jeff's blog entry... I well remember the days of typing in line after line of code just to have the program error out and have to go back through the code to find the problem. If you've ever seen Jurassic Park and heard the programmer talk about the "lines of code" to find a problem, that's a real thing. As far as typing in text adventures, you would think that you would "see spoilers" - but I remember there was a trick of encrypting the text by doing a shift of characters, very much like the way geocaching.com encrypts the hints. Since you're typing in what looks like random characters you don't know the "keywords" you are typing in. Yes, you could cheat, and I had one game that you couldn't beat because there was a typo in one of these words. I had to find and fix the typo to be able to complete the adventure, but the programming adventure was fun in and of itself. :-)

Man - I've not thought about that stuff in a long time... a long time. I guess I really have been a geek for longer than I've realized. :-)

It's New Year's Eve - be well - be safe - be happy!


Brent W. York said...

Just to clear up one small factoid -- I started with a Sinclair ZX81 (the UK version of the Timex-Sinclair 1000, predating it by a year or so). Then Craig got the Vic 20, then I got a C64. I didn't remember Chris having one of those, but maybe I just missed it.

I still have the C64 and all the stuff that goes with it, BTW.

jimmylogan said...

Yeah, I remember you having that, but I thought that by the time I met you Craig already had his 20... Not sure.

And I seem to remember Chris having one because he had a game on it that he showed me, and he also had a "decision" program on it that would ask you for pros & cons then tell you what to do. :-)

Weird the things we remember huh? :-)