This week’s episode of Extra Credits contained a mind-blowing blast from the past. This:
I would say I saw this image for the first time at some point in 1979 or 1980, which would have made me 8 or 9. I remember it so vividly because this image is what made me want to learn to program. Or rather, it made me aware that such a thing could be done. Way back in one of my oldest posts, I said:
I was 8 years old when [the Sinclair ZX80] hit the market. At the time I knew â€" on some primal level â€" that I needed to get my hands on a programmable personal computer. However, I had trouble explaining to the adults around me why I wanted it. I already had an Atari 2600, after all. Doesn't that play the games you want? What I wanted was a computer that I could program. I wanted a machine that I could understand and eventually bend to my will, but I couldn't get anyone to buy me such a thing.
I know it sounds insane; what sort of parent wouldn't buy a computer for their kid? But you have to remember, this is 1979 we're talking about here, and the utility of home computers wasn't a universally recognized truth. For a kid living in a home with a blue-collar father and a mother who worked in an environment where “computer” meant big-iron mainframes operated by gnomes, a computer was a strange thing for me to ask for. It was like a kid asking for his own cement mixer or printing press. What on earth would I use that for? Computers were expensive, and a sensible adult would fear that it would just be treated like a puppy: obsessed over for a week and ignored thereafter.
I haven’t thought about this image in decades, but the moment I saw it the whole thing came flooding back. The above is an advertisement from a catalog that came with all Atari games. This is how they advertised games when the industry was still too poor to afford television spots. (And of course the internet as we know it was almost twenty years away.)
I spent hours* studying this image. I examined that little screen in the lower left. Was that really what computer code looked like? How did it work? Or is this code just a mock-up, like the obviously nonsense “dear computer” crap on the other side of the page?
* Hours as measured by a ten-year-old. So, like, five minutes maybe? You know how it is.
I’m glad I didn’t get Atari BASIC. It required a special controller so you could type, and the thing looked awful. (It was tiny, even for a kid. And it wasn’t a proper keyboard. The keys were in alphabetical order. I’m sure it was torture to use.) Going by the quality of their other titles at the time, I’m sure Atari BASIC was crap. And of course, there wouldn’t have been any way to save – the Atari 2600 didn’t support any storage devices at all.
Still, it was amazing to see the image. It was the spark at the beginning of a very long fuse.
Also: A high-res scan of a 30 year old catalog? Where did they GET this image? Amazing.
If Star Wars Was Made in 2006?
Imagine if the original Star Wars hadn't appeared in the 1970's, but instead was pitched to studios in 2006. How would that turn out?
The Biggest Game Ever
How did this niche racing game make a gameworld so massive, and why is that a big deal?
Games and the Fear of Death
Why killing you might be the least scary thing a game can do.
Silent Hill Turbo HD II
I was trying to make fun of how Silent Hill had lost its way but I ended up making fun of fighting games. Whatever.
Even allegedly smart people can make life-changing blunders that seem very, very obvious in retrospect.