My Computing History: Part 1

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of reading the computing journey of Retrotech Chris in his book of Nostaligia, which you can find on his site here. It was an interesting read about how he became interested in computing and his journey through to now as a retro computer collector and youtuber.

I’ve been documenting parts of my computing history here on my blog for a long time, but have never really told the story as a whole and have surely missed some parts. So today I begin to tell this story.

For much of my youth we didn’t have much in the way of technology, basically just a TV with two channels, some battery powered toys, and an electric train set. This was partly because of where we lived, which was a farm in rural Australia. It was the 1980’s which had a terrible drought, so my parents were struggling, but as kids things were good. We were free to play outside in the dirt in a way kids don’t do anymore.

There were some instances I got to see computers in action at school. Like many schools we had Apple II/e computers, and at one point we had an Atari 800 computer in our class room. These were usually used to play educational games such as Where in the World is Carmen Sandeigo, but there were also some fun arcade games.

It was very early 1990 when Dad bought a computer for running the farms accounts, it was a Twinhead Superset 590, which is basically a PC clone with a 386sx running at 20Mhz, with VGA and 1Mb of memory. It ran MS-DOS 4.01, which seems to be disliked, but for us it seemed to work well enough. Dad got it with windows 3.0 and a productivity suite called Open Access. It had a 40Mb Seagate hard disk and both a 5.25″ and 3.25″ floppy drive.

We didn’t have much in the way of games at first, I think the first thing we used was vpic, which is basically just an image viewer. As simple as it was, it was pretty amazing, as the most sophisticated thing we had up til that point was a TV. But soon after my older brother brought home Simcity from school, he got it from the schools XT computers so it ran in a monochrome CGA mode.

There wasn’t much of a software market out in the bush, but there were some games we did buy commercially. The first one being Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego and the Combat Action game pack. We also bought some games second hand from one of my older brothers high school friends, the one I remember most fondly being Kings Quest IV.

Gaming obviously is fun, but it isn’t what sparked a life-long love of computing for me. Programming in GWBasic is where it really began, not long after we first got the computer. My Dad gave me a book for learning to program in BASIC called 30hr Basic that helped me learn the ropes, but unfortunately being for the BBC micro computer it couldn’t teach me everything that GWBasic could do. It was enough however to start experimenting and start making the first simple games I made.

Numdrop gameplay

One of the first ones was called Numdrop. Something many learning programmers do is try to clone something pre-existing. We had been playing a Tetris clone called Nyet, and that is what I had wanted to clone, however lacking enough knowledge I couldn’t figure out how to make shapes fall. So I came up with the idea of dropping different numbered pieces. The mechanic for removing blocks is basically larger numbers crush smaller ones. It was simplistic but it worked. My older brother helped me out with the timing mechanism.

Another game I made was a clone of the Windmill software classic Digger. I didn’t manage to get the game mechanics working the same here either, but it did turn out to be a playable game. The very first video I made on my youtube channel is about it, I’ve embedded it below.

My parents used to get a mail out catalog of books that they used to receive on a regular basis. As kids Mum and Dad would let us pick books we were interested in, and luckily for me the official Microsoft GWBasic reference guide turned up in the catalog. My parents ordered it for me, because by then I was quite invested in learning more. It is an extremely useful book, I learned how to finally do proper graphics, which up till that point I had only experimented with.

The first game I made with this new knowledge was Jump. Which is an extremely simple “platform” game. It didn’t run particularly fast, but it did work reasonably well. I’ve also made a video about it here.

These three games were only the tip of the iceberg, I made them and many other small games and programming experiments over the first 3 years of computing. I probably spent more time programming than I did playing games! I’m quite fortunate that I did save most of them as it’s something I can now show my own children. I lost one due to a bad floppy disk unfortunately.

I think this is a good place to leave things for today, next time I’ll cover my early teenage years where I move up to using Qbasic and some more DOS gaming.

2 Responses to “My Computing History: Part 1”

  1. 1 RetroTechChris
    August 21, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    This is wonderful!! So glad that you took the time to do this as well, it will be a great thing to reflect back on in the years to come!!

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