Elen sila lumenn omentielvo!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oh, now that takes me back!

EDITED: I forgot to actually link Cal's blog. Sorry, Cal!

Cal posted this, and promptly whisked me away in the Wayback Machine to Christmas 1981, when I got one of these for Christmas.


The Commodore VIC-20 was our first personal computer, and my God, did I spend tons and tons of time on that thing. In retrospect, I didn't spend nearly enough time learning to program the thing, although I did figure out how to quite a bit of cool stuff. BASIC wasn't the easiest programming language to work with (years later I would do some work with Modula-2, a langauge similar to Pascal, and I remember thinking many times, "My God, this language makes so much more sense than BASIC!").

The VIC-20 was...well, try and use one now, and you'd get laughed out of the room. It boasted all of 3.5K of RAM, which means that the laptop on which I am writing this post is the RAM equivalent of over 1,600,000 VIC-20s. And the computer offered a screen resolution allowing for just 22 characters! Here's a screenshot I found (on an entire Tumblr devoted to the VIC-20):


And there wasn't any kind of user interface, really; the computer was expecting you to either load a program, or start typing one in. And that would involve BASIC. I wager that everyone who came of age right around that time would remember typing some version of the following into some computer of the day:

10 PRINT "HELLO JAQUANDOR"
20 GOTO 10

And then you'd type RUN, hit ENTER, and giggle as the screen filled up with

HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR
HELLO JAQUANDOR

Fun times, those.

The VIC-20 connected to a regular teevee. At that time, our family color teevee was a tiny thing -- its screen was maybe eleven inches, and probably less than that, so the computer got hooked up to a B&W set for a few years. Also, when the computer was turned on, it would emit some kind of signal that had an unfortunate effect on regular teevee reception in our home, which was spotty already anyway because we didn't have cable at that point and had to rely on a rooftop antenna to get all of three channels -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- from Buffalo. The cable lines hadn't been run up our road yet, so that was it. And if someone wanted to watch teevee while I wanted to use my computer, well, they got a shitty picture. I remember one night my father was watching a football game, with a crappy picture, and he yelped in pleasure when I finally turned off my computer and he could see the game more clearly. Ahh, the electronics of the early 1980s! I don't miss those days, but I do kinda miss the "Golly gee!" aspect of it all.

Later on my parents bought a larger color teevee for me to use with the VIC. They got a deal from a local store on it, because the store had been using that particular teevee -- a 19-incher! -- to demonstrate, of all things, another VIC-20! They turned it on and left it on, all day, every day, so the image of their demo game was burned into the screen. (It was a slot machine game.) That teevee served me well for quite a few years, though, even after it developed an odd habit of "ticking" whenever it wasn't turned on. We called it "the clicking wonder", and that teevee was my primary teevee until I got married and we bought a 25-inch monstrosity.

I ended up using the VIC-20 more for playing games than programming. As a gaming machine, nowadays it's pretty laughable except as a nostalgia trip, but at the time, it was really pretty good. As far as I could tell, its games and gameplay were pretty much just as good as, say, the Atari 2600 game console. A lot of the same games were available, even, albeit with the names changed. (Yes, once upon a time, Space Invaders was fun.) I remember a lot of those games, particularly my first-ever home version of Pac-man, which was a knockoff called Snakman. And believe it or not -- because you can almost always find something pertaining to everything on the Internet -- here's an actual video review of that very game. I have not set eyes on that game screen in nearly thirty years.


Wow. It's funny that he talks about joystick delay, because we had no joystick for a while and used keyboard controls. I still remember what they were: E (up), V (down), J (left), and L (right). Don't ask me why that's stuck in my head for all these years.

In terms of computing history, the VIC-20 was eclipsed by the Commodore 64 a few years later, and meanwhile, Apple was doing some interesting things with its new gizmo computer, the Macintosh.

No comments: