It was around 1980, I was 14 and arcades were all the rage. I figured I could save myself some money if I learned how to develop games myself, as quarters went quickly!
I had some simple home game systems, basically Atari Pong knockoffs that were black and white only that I had earned by selling Christmas cards or some other endeavor.
One day, my friend’s dad bought home a Rockwell computer from work. This thing had a one-line LED display and a paper tape print out. We played a game called “Cokes” where you had to guess how many Cokes the computer had.
The game was written in BASIC, but I did not know that at the time, I just knew that the instructions did not look too complicated. I was hooked and wanted to learn how to do this for myself.
I was a typical kid that picked up and dropped interests like they were hot lava rocks. This one, however, stuck with me. I began seeing computers in magazines, and the TRS-80 Model I Level I with 4K of RAM was, I believe only $500, with monitor!
I asked my parents (who were not rich by any standard) if I could get one and my Mom, wary of my waning interests, said that I had to prove to her somehow that I would stick with this one. She could see how important computers were becoming, but it was a lot of money.
I saved up my allowance and we went to the local Radio Shack. They had a book titled “Learn to program with Mr. Computer” This book taught the literal basics: variables, conditionals, expressions, program flow, debugging, etc.
Using some TRS-80 “coding graph paper” I carefully wrote a guessing game program similar to “Cokes” in pencil. I then ran the program using the debugging techniques from the book, keeping track of the state of the variables after each line of executed BASIC.
I must have run that game a hundred times before I felt confident enough to declare to my mother that I had written a working program. She did not know what I was going on about, but I asked for another trip to the Radio Shack.
We went to the store she mom asked the salesperson if I could try out the computer. They said sure, so I sat down and carefully typed in my program. It wasn’t terribly long, but I ran it and asked mom to come play Cokes with me. It worked!
It wasn’t much long after that demonstration that my parents bought my first computer, that Radio Shack Model I Level I, and it was a thing of glory. I could save programs to tape!
I used the graph paper to draw out a space ship (the pixels were rectangular) and wrote a program that animated a space launch, as I believe the Space Shuttle was all in the news leading up to the April 1981 launch.
My grandmother was so impressed that a mere three years later, after her passing, my grandfather bought my first Macintosh for me. And that is how my career was, I guess I’ll say it, launched.
I have not developed a game other than that one, however.