My first computers

Brad Feld wrote a couple of days ago about his first computer, which was an Apple II, with a whopping 64K of RAM. Kind of brought back memories for me…

The first computer I worked on was a Commodore VIC-20. How I did it I can’t remember…but when I was 14-ish years old (1983 or so?), I managed to score myself a job writing educational games for the VIC. I remember my mom would drop me off at this company’s office on the way to work, and I’d toil away filling up the 3.5K of RAM. These were the days when you wrote in BASIC, and when you ran out of memory you started to go through and change your variable names from “num” to “n” to save two bytes. :-)

As I recall, I made $100 for each game that was completed and accepted, which was to me a whopping boatload of money. I wrote three games over the summer, and bought a bike.

My next computer was a Texas Instruments 99/4A, which I believe had 16K of RAM. Oh, how I would torment my poor VIC-20 friends with my expansive wasteland of unused memory. Pretty sure I had to sell my Atari 2600 game console to afford this guy – but whew!

I remember writing a “Frogger” game on the TI-99/4A, which was (relatively speaking) a piece of cake because the TI had a sprite engine, which let you make an object and tell it to move (as opposed to calculating new positions on a timer). Wow…the world was my oyster with this baby.

After I wrote the frogger game (which probably took a week or two), I was so excited I wanted to send it to one of my friends, who also had a TI. Now, back in this day, the high-tech storage was cassette tapes, and it was actually a modulated audio recording that was written to tape. So I get this great idea…I called my friend, told him to hold his cassette microphone up to the phone receiver, and I’d play the recording to him over the phone. I mean, we don’t need no stinkin’ modem, right?

Well, wrong, as it turns out…that didn’t work nearly as well as I’d hoped. Like, not at all. Oh well, just had to beg mom to drive me over there with a copy of the tape. :-)

My next computer was a Franklin. I forget the model number, but it was an Apple II clone with 64K of RAM. And it had a floppy disk drive, which would hold something like 160K. Omigosh!

From there, I went to a 80286-based system from CompuAdd, and the rest is basically a history of Intel processors. But the fond memories – the ones that I look back on and see my future career starting from – are the ones of the VIC-20 and the TI-99/4A!

5 thoughts on “My first computers

  1. Tom

    The Vic-20 had 3.2k of RAM, not 3.5 (either way it’s less than the size of most of the emails in my Inbox). On mine I wrote a full blown, self scoring 4 player Yahtzee! game, but needed the 8k memory expansion module to make it fit…and that was after I took all the spaces out of my BASIC code. And I’m pretty sure you had a Franklin Ace, and a not-small amount of software download off of BBS, just like I did when I moved from Vic-20 to Apple ][e. 1200 baud was just where you wanted to be back then.

    They should port Loderunner to the Xbox IMO.

  2. Nick Bradbury

    Your early computer experience is somewhat similar to my own. I started off with a cassette-based 4K TRS-80 Color Computer, and I also earned extra money by selling games (my first published software was a Frogger-ish game called “Possum Run”).

  3. SEO

    My first was a Vic-20 as well, but sprite heaven was going to the C64 and then to the C128 with it’s SPRDEF command.

    With the transfering games, yeah it didn’t really work over the phone due to the way it handles the modulation. We had 300 baud modems patched in to 2M FM amateur radios and sent them that way.

    There were 4 of us in a 5 Mile radius who could send code this way.

    Then there were the EPROM boards with toggle switches on the keyboard so we could boot in to “modified OS’s”.

    Them certainly were the days, thanks for the memories.

  4. Dui

    Hey Greg,

    This sure does bring back some happy thoughts for me. I’ll never forget the day I got my C64. It was one of the happiest memories in my childhood. I hurried to learn some Basic quickly so I could build a D&D game with it. It actually became a local hit. lol

    Good times pal. Thanks for that.



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