07
Oct
21

My Computing History: Part 2

In part one of my computing history my family got our first computer, a Twinhead Superset 590. We used it for DOS gaming, and I learned to program on it with GWBasic. In this part I get a bit older, go to high school and continue learning more about computing and programming.

We were still quite into DOS gaming at the time and had expanded the number of games that we played. This was partly due to my older brother starting to buy shareware magazines which came with cover disks. This was really the first exposure we had to the wider world of software and computing. Even though we didn’t get to play many of the games you’d see in the magazines we read them religiously. The cover disks were also a great source of new games to play, even if we could never get the registered version.

The Title Screen

Civilization was particularly popular in our house, with some family members still playing it regularly today! It’s still quite a remarkably addictive game, and it’s simple enough to enjoy, but complex enough to sink your teeth into. Some of the later games in the franchise didn’t quite hit this mark as well as the first, so they haven’t stuck with us as well.

Being a family of chess players, we had to have Battle Chess of course, but also Sargon 4 which Dad always says was one of the better chess programs he’s ever used. He still uses it for practice to this day!

1993 was my first year in high school. They had several proper computer labs with cool machines to play with. One lab had old XT clones which my brother played Simcity on, another had Macintosh classics connected together on a network, and the third had 486 PCs. These computers all had a variety of games on them which were fun to play once done with school work, but finding Qbasic on the 486 computers was eye opening. It was a big change from GWBasic.

QBasic is quite a bit more capable than GWBasic, and has a faster interpreter. However it is mostly compatible and has brilliant online help, so I was able to get coding on it very fast. A few projects I had were moved over to it and gained a number of features. The projects I took on got much bigger with better graphics.

Flight game screen
Flight

I had built a few “simulation” programs in GWBasic that were modeled after Microprose games that we played. Some of the first QBasic programs were adaptions of these, one called Flight being a flight simulator and Sea Serpent being a submarine simulation. Neither have particularly good game play, but when I got older and learned trigonometry I updated Flight a bit with my new knowledge. Being able to use it for something useful made it easier to learn the concept.

Puzzle was another project that started life in GWBasic. I moved it over to QBasic as it started to get too big to work on the older interpreter. The idea sort of came from a shareware game called Squarez that we played quite a bit. You placed tiles down individually, some would stick around and others would immediately activate, you don’t need to make a square. It’s not a super compelling game, but it works, and looks much more like games I was playing at the time.

Puzzle did spawn a more original idea in the form of Mazing. I took the same play field, filled it with random tiles, and placed the player at the bottom with the task of getting to the exit at the top of the screen. Tiles would activate when you move into them, some clearing the way whilst others were traps. As you progress there are fewer nice tiles and more traps and blocks. It wasn’t as complete in the sense that it didn’t have the niceties like high scores and help, but it some ways it plays better as a game.

Underground
The first level.

Two of my favorite shareware games from the time were Xargon and Hocus Pocus. So I decided that I wanted to make a platform game of my own. It is called Bob’s Fury and was one of my more ambitious projects, it involved a lot of graphics and data. My younger brother helped out with some of the graphics and original levels. It played quite slowly on the Qbasic interpreter, and there were some bugs and design issues I never resolved, but it did function well enough to be playable. We made 40 levels for it, so it was quite an achievement considering I was 14 when I finished making it initially.

This is one of the few projects of mine which has lived on. I reused the engine to make a shorter second game called tomb and later in the story I start making a port of it in Pascal which I’m still working on today. It’s evolved a lot since back then, but I’ll save the details for that part of the story.

Bobs Fury game screen
Bob’s Fury Game play.

These weren’t the only projects I made, but are perhaps the more important ones. Looking back I was quite prolific at creating games for QBasic. This was a product of being a teenager with lots of time and passion for creating. It was quite fun and exceptionally educational, it helped me with high school level mathematics quite a bit.

At this point in the story we were still using the Twinhead 386sx and were for quite a while not able to run the latest software and games. In the next part we get a new computer which was quite a leap ahead in terms of capability and I develop more software projects and begin to learn another programming language.


3 Responses to “My Computing History: Part 2”


  1. 1 Chris
    October 8, 2021 at 7:25 am

    I’ve never even heard of Twinhead. We did get some British computer here in the US, and probably a good deal more in Canada, Amstrad, Apricot, and they always seemed to stand out in some ways.

    I’m curious if Canada in fact was a conduit for UK systems that wound up here. On account of Canada’s quasi provincial status, if not so much anymore probably more so in the 80s. I’ve seen english products floating around on Canadian Craigslist.

    As an aside I once saw a bog standard 5150 PC clone with an Atari badge on ebay Canada. It was not expensive, even with shipping back then (2002-2005?), so I was a fool not to bid. I started asking around 5 or more years ago as to what that could have been, all I received was various speculations. Of course someone could have simply stuck an Atari badge on their Taiwanese clone.

    • October 8, 2021 at 2:54 pm

      Yeah Twinhead seems to be an obscure company, they were mostly known later for making laptops, but even then weren’t well known. Someone on twitter recently acquired one that I commented on a while ago, so they are still out there.

      Being in Australia we sort of got a mix of computers systems from the UK, US and Japan. We had a few of our own as well such as the Microbee and Microbyte systems. Dick Smith, a local legend, also sold a number of computers that are less common elsewhere including the Laser VZ series and System 80 computers.

      I think Atari did release a PC clone that could have been what you saw, they made the PC1 – 5. I found a webpage where you can find more details. http://www.ataripc.net/pc1-8088/

      • 3 Chris
        October 8, 2021 at 4:42 pm

        Don’t forget the Wombat. The Dick Smith unit was released over here with the Franklin monniker iirc.

        Yes Atari made pc compatibles which is well known. But the vanilla PC box was and still is a mystery I presume. I haven’t asked around lately. It could have been a canard. Or omgosh an early prototype.


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