Welcome to part 2 of my history with computers.
Let’s start getting to a much more robust part of my computer using history. The Commodore 64 certainly was the seed, but this machine was what really catapulted my interest. It’s the first “Real PC” I used growing up. Technically, like the Commodore and the next chapter, this computer belonged to my parents, but my friends and I used it a lot for quite a few things, beyond just gaming.
Though we did use it for gaming.
Visually, it was actually kind of a downgrade from the Commodore. The C64 connected to a small color TV (which would eventually be my bedroom TV, with a big chunky couple of knobs on the front.) The Franklin has a monitor, with two colors, black and green. It had two whole 5.25″ drives in it, no 3.5″ disk drives and certainly not a hard drive. It did have a cool dot matrix printer though, which I’ll touch on a bit more in a bit.
It’s worth sidetracking a bit during this time period, and worth mentioning my out of state but fairly frequently visited grandpa had a Tandy 1000 machine, with a color monitor, and that was totally amazing. It pretty much overlaps with this same era of my home PC use and my grandpa was the source of essentially all programs and games I had at home. I have no idea where he got them, but I made copies of most everything he had and his disks were all copied from somewhere. Mostly I remember playing two titles on my grandpa’s PC, along with my brother and cousins. King’s Quest 1, which we never could figure out, but it was fun. And Leisure Suit Larry 1.
Now, Leisure Suit Larry, for the uninformed, is an old, “adult” game series. We did not know this, and we never did reach any of the old content, because like King’s Quest, we make some progress, and the game was funny, but we never did get past a certain point. Specifically, we never did figure out the door password (it’s Ken Sent Me), so we never could progress the plot beyond drinking at the bar, gambling at the casino and buying booze and “lubbers” at the convenience store. The age gate on this game was that it would ask a series of questions that “only adults would know”. So my cousin and I would load the game, then go to the kitchen where out parents were hanging out, and ask them the questions, to get the answers.
Anyway, I don’t believe either of these games worked on the Franklin PC we had at home, because it wasn’t EVGA.
There were others, but the two most notable games we played at home were The Ancient Art of War and Simcity. One was an early sort of RTS game, the other was well, Simcity. Both are notable here because they had user created content. Simcity is all about user created cities. Even with the limits of the game, I remember building out mirrored cities sometimes, then using the disasters to pretend they were at war. Simcity also had some DRM, because you had to enter the population of a city from a sheet of paper based on some hieroglyphs. My friend actually owned the game, so I would just, call him up and get the numbers, I also had a selection of them written down in a notebook, and would just close and reload the game until the random city was one I had marked down.
I also would use that sweet printer to print maps, because it was a feature of the first Simcity. You could print out your city, and it would spit out I think 16 sheets of paper that you could tape together in a 4×4 block of paper sheets and have a huge cool map poster. I may have one buried somewhere too. I would then color in all the zones with the correct colors with marker to make it look cool. You might wonder how I knew what the colors were, well, my grandpa had that TANDY 1000 and my friend had a color PC, so I was aware the game had colors, I just, didn’t get them.
Ancient Art of War let you make custom maps and missions. Which was so awesome and I spent a lot of time making maps. Assuming the data hasn’t been corrupter, I have copies of those maps somewhere, maybe I’ll post them. There were several other games I played a lot that also had user generated content. There was a golf game where you could make courses with dinosaurs and play as Jack Nicklaus. And me back then, had no idea what the Joker Guy (Jack Nicholson) had to do with golf but ok whatever. There was a baseball game called Earl Weaver Baseball where you could do custom teams, and I would make teams themed around video games, like a River City Ransom team, and a Mega Man team where every player had maxed out stats (because robots are perfect).
I think my point is, that this was part of the birth of my interest in digital creation. But not just for games.
During this time period, my dad was going to college through his job, and getting a degree in Computer Science. I have no idea what a Computer Science degree in the 80s involved, but I remember going to the graduation (vaguely). Or at least him graduating. At some point though, presumably because he was learning it as part of the curriculum, he taught me a bit of BASIC computer programming.
I would have been like, 8 or 9 at this point. I showed my friends how to do it as well, and we would make silly little useless programs that would print out funny patterns scrolling on the screen. Or “super secure password” systems, along the lines of:
10 IF password="SECRETPASSWORD" THEN
30 PRINT "SECRET DATA"
70 PRINT "NO WAY LOSER"
90 END IF
I have no idea if that’s actually valid BASIC code, I pulled up a guide to IF/Else in BASIC and cobbled it together.
The point is, it was fun. And it was my first experience with actual programming.
Then there are the newsletters my friends and I would produce using a program called Newsmaster. I have this vague idea that this was the “start” of my writing desire and the newsletters we made, were the precursor to The Chaos Xone, my first website which evolved into Lameazoid.com. These were simple 1 page video game themed “newsletters”. You can actually read these here (Issue 2, Issue 3, Issue 4, if you want, translated into HTML. They are, as basic as you would expect for something produced by 10-12 year old kids.
But that was yet another growing seed of interest. So much started with this machine, a real actual PC with actual useful programs. This doesn’t even touch on the part where it was an 80s IBM PC, which meant booting to DOS, on a floppy, because there isn’t any hard drive in it at all. There was no Windows, it was all a CLI interface. Yet another skill and seed learned from this machine.