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Were you BASIC?


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For those of us who are of a certain age and started our gaming journeys in the 80s micro era, did anyone do much programming back then?

 

Whenever you listen to retro podcasts or watch retro videos on YouTube or whatever, people always seem to open with something along the lines of "I got a Commodore 64 / Speccy / Amstrad with a few games and obviously immediately started messing about in BASIC to see what it could do".

 

I never did this, both my C16 and C64 were just games machines. I vaguely remember typing something into my 64 out of Zzapp that didn't work and I immediately gave up. I don't think ever tried anything else.

 

Am I the odd one out here? Did everyone else at least give BASIC a go?

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Yes I got a Speccy winter of '83 and was messing around typing in and learning some BASIC - interesting making it do things you'd created. Did the same with other machines C-64 was quite unfriendly in comparison with a whole bunch of poking about to get it to do anything.

 

Think it was partly down to not having much cash and natural curiosity. Ended up spending most of my adult life coding the damn things 🤣

 

Oh and never got to make the perfect woman (Weird Science) or hack into WOPR (Wargames). Fun era 🤣

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A combination of not having much money and terminally unpopular home computer choices (started well with the ZX81 but followed that with the Dragon 32 and Commodore 16) so I had nobody to copy games from, meant messing about in BASIC was my main form of entertainment in those days. I was never any good at making my own games though, my crowning achievement being a space invaders imitation with just one invader. Instead I used to create random geometric patterns with whatever graphics commands were available. I was making my own screensavers, basically (pun not intended!). IIRC the C16 had a built in assembler so I even dabbled in a bit of assembly language too but only ever to make pretty moving patterns.

 

I then discovered girls, forgot everything I’d taught myself, and never went back to it again.

 

Edit: since posting this I've been rummaging in the memory hole and remembered that either the Dragon or C16 could play music from the tape deck through the TV speaker, and at the same time return some parameter based on what was playing at any given point (probably the volume I imagine). So I realised I could use that parameter as an input to the pattern generator and have it react to the music, which turned the screensaver into a rudimentary music-driven lightshow and o my god I think I invented the iTunes visualiser 20 years early.

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Absolutely. I used to get out BASIC programming books from the library when we went with primary school and spend my lunchtimes programming on the old BBC Micros. And I used to love messing about with magazine programming listings on my Speccy at home too. There's no question if it weren't for those days I wouldn't have ended up programming games as a profession. That's where it all started. Good times.

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I spent loads of time on my Atari 65XE messing around with basic.  Mainly typing in the listings from magazines and books of the time.   There was also this amazing bit of software that I must have gone through loads of times 

 

 

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I remember typing some ridiculously long stuff in, that invariably didn't work due to some mistake I'd made in the middle. But I never understood what I was actually doing, or what any of it meant. Certainly not something I was ever really interested in working out back then.

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I did, but it fairly quickly became apparent that I didn't have the patience to get great at it, and even though I loved computers and was sure I wanted a career that involved working with them, I wasn't going to be a programmer. 

Luckily it turned out that just about every career was going to involve working with them and most people wouldn't need to program them. 

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I made a bad football management game for the CPC, and a bad Klax clone that didn't recognise diagonals. I blame my Dad, really - he was really taken with the machine when we initially got it, though I don't think he really progressed beyond type-ins. But seeing that games could be created just by typing stuff in led me down the rabbit hole.

 

I never did get the hang of assembler, though. After years of mucking about with BASIC, I moved on to DIV Games Studio and its sequel on the PC for a bit, before discovering Blitz 3D and being enamoured with that but never really producing anything. XNA arriving shifted me on to C#, and led to Rasternauts, and not a great deal else, but I've always been noodling.

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I'm a bit later on, going through the 80s too young and too poor to have a computer, to hitting the 90s with an Amiga. 

 

It didn't really come with anything good built in. But the coverdisks on magazines were amazing. Personal Paint, Octomed, Imagine 3D, Wordworth, all sorts. 

I spent a lot of time messing with them. The first magazine I got had MovieSetter on it and I'd spend ages on that. 

 

I wouldn't be a games programmer today if it wasn't for free copies of AMOS. I had a good time with Amiga E too, as no one ever seemed to give away a proper C compiler.

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39 minutes ago, yakumo said:

Cad9CcSWwAESdJc?format=jpg&name=900x900

 

Was to advanced for my little brain.

 

I read that! I remember getting it from the library. As I say, I was poor so "no computer needed" was important. 

 

This was my bible. 

 

cover-ultimate-amos.jpg

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11 minutes ago, AK Bell said:

 

I read that! I remember getting it from the library. As I say, I was poor so "no computer needed" was important. 

 

This was my bible. 

 

cover-ultimate-amos.jpg

I didn't have a computer either with only access to the archimedes computer during lunch.

 

Tried again with the Atari St with STOS Basic buying it from WH Smiths. Again gave up after a day.

 

image.png.68e5ca18c349736a413465c0358c008a.png

 

 

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29 minutes ago, yakumo said:

I didn't have a computer either with only access to the archimedes computer during lunch.

 

Tried again with the Atari St with STOS Basic buying it from WH Smiths. Again gave up after a day.

 

image.png.68e5ca18c349736a413465c0358c008a.png

 

 

 

I think the big failing with STOS and AMOS was that the manuals didn't explain programming basics, let alone how to make games, they were just language reference or examples that were written assuming you already understood what they were and how they worked.

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Just now, matt0 said:

 

I think the big failing with STOS and AMOS was that the manuals didn't explain programming basics, let alone how to make games, they were just language reference or examples that were written assuming you already understood what they were and how they worked.

 

 

At the time I just thought I was just too dumb. I saved up to buy it and it was one of my biggest regret when I was young, but then it did come in a big box. 

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Definitely. Made loads of really crap games on the Spectrum. Tried to do the same on the C64 but found the BASIC a lot less accessible. Dicked around with an Expert cartridge instead, changing sprites in games etc.

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I started out on BASIC on the VIC-20 using books from the library (including the space book linked earlier). I also bought magazines and typed in listings.

 

I learnt from typing stuff in and it not working which then gave me a rudimentary grasp of the concepts. I then tried to adapt listings and also tried to adapt listings for other computers.


Then I got a c64 and the bug continued despite games being more readily available. I did O level in computer science which involved producing a BASIC program so I did one on the C64. I also helped out two friends, one with an Atari 800 and one with a Beeb and I soon learnt that the BASIC concepts and constructs were interchangeable and you just needed to learn what the equivalent commands were.

 

Then I got a job writing COBOL and I did a few days introduction but really it was just repurposing my knowledge of loops and conditional statements to another language. At around this time I got an Amiga and AMOS and I got a dodgily coded utility onto the PD scene to no fanfare.

 

It basically gave me a "career" in programming (Im no programmer anymore). I thank those computers and books and the "diary" columns of Jeff Minter and Andrew Braybrook in Zzap that gave me the impetus even though I wasnt talented enough to do assembler and coding to the metal.

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On 07/02/2023 at 07:51, Camel said:

Definitely. Made loads of really crap games on the Spectrum. Tried to do the same on the C64 but found the BASIC a lot less accessible. Dicked around with an Expert cartridge instead, changing sprites in games etc.

Everyone back in the day used to say that the C64 just wasn't as good for learning to program in BASIC as the Speccy. I never tried C64 BASIC, what was the actual difference?

 

I know AmigaBASIC (designed by Microsoft I think) was crap. Was it similar to that 

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I had some of the books pictured above and wrote simple programs on my Dragon 32, but I think by the time I got a Commodore 64 it was pretty much a games machine.

We also did BBC basic in school, and before that used a Commodore PET at Primary School, though that was just loading programs rather than doing anything creative.

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31 minutes ago, Anne Summers said:

Everyone back in the day used to say that the C64 just wasn't as good for learning to program in BASIC as the Speccy. I never tried C64 BASIC, what was the actual difference?

 

I know AmigaBASIC (designed by Microsoft I think) was crap. Was it similar to that 

No not the same, AmigaBasic was way more friendly, still rubbish but friendlier.

 

THe problem with commodore basic can be laid at the feet of PEEK and POKE. Commodore BASIC did not have any "draw" command - the bbc and spectrum could draw circles and shapes and fill etc which facilitated simple games and utilities the Commodore had no such niceties. Similarly it had no commands to play music or tones or sound of any kind or check for joystick inputs. If you wanted graphics/sound/joystick input you had to use POKEs and PEEKs. SPrites were brilliant but to use them you had to use POKE routines to insert values into memory locations which would then be used as sprites. Same for sound - very powerful sound chip but you had to push values into memory locations to make it make noise. You could then move sprites using, you guessed it, more POKE commands. Many C64/Vic20 and other commodore listings had massive data statements at the end which were poked into memory and that was about it (for reference PEEK was used to find out what the value was at a certain memory location useful for collision detection).

 

Now some have said that this opaque version of BASIC was unfriendly but helped people to learn assembler as with POKEs you were basiclaly doing what you would do in assembler which is put values into memory locations. It didn't work for me but going from Commodore BASIC to any other BASIC was easy for me as I started on the most restrictive BASIC so I found all these extra commands when I coded on anything else that made my life easier :D

 

 

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3 minutes ago, Clipper said:

No not the same, AmigaBasic was way more friendly, still rubbish but friendlier.

 

THe problem with commodore basic can be laid at the feet of PEEK and POKE. Commodore BASIC did not have any "draw" command - the bbc and spectrum could draw circles and shapes and fill etc which facilitated simple games and utilities the Commodore had no such niceties. Similarly it had no commands to play music or tones or sound of any kind or check for joystick inputs. If you wanted graphics/sound/joystick input you had to use POKEs and PEEKs. SPrites were brilliant but to use them you had to use POKE routines to insert values into memory locations which would then be used as sprites. Same for sound - very powerful sound chip but you had to push values into memory locations to make it make noise. You could then move sprites using, you guessed it, more POKE commands. Many C64/Vic20 and other commodore listings had massive data statements at the end which were poked into memory and that was about it (for reference PEEK was used to find out what the value was at a certain memory location useful for collision detection).

 

Now some have said that this opaque version of BASIC was unfriendly but helped people to learn assembler as with POKEs you were basiclaly doing what you would do in assembler which is put values into memory locations. It didn't work for me but going from Commodore BASIC to any other BASIC was easy for me as I started on the most restrictive BASIC so I found all these extra commands when I coded on anything else that made my life easier :D

 

 

 

I think I've probably told this story on here before years ago, but there was a lad a few years ahead of me at school who was very "good at computers" and also lucky enough to get a C64 very early in its life. He was frustrated by the lack of proper commands for graphics, sound etc. so he wrote his own utility to extend the command set, which he called BC Basic (his initials were BC) and advertised for sale in the classifieds at the back of a few computer mags. A few years later I heard that Commodore had bought it from him outright so they could bundle it with the machine but I have no idea whether that was true or not.

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14 minutes ago, Darren said:

 

I think I've probably told this story on here before years ago, but there was a lad a few years ahead of me at school who was very "good at computers" and also lucky enough to get a C64 very early in its life. He was frustrated by the lack of proper commands for graphics, sound etc. so he wrote his own utility to extend the command set, which he called BC Basic (his initials were BC) and advertised for sale in the classifieds at the back of a few computer mags. A few years later I heard that Commodore had bought it from him outright so they could bundle it with the machine but I have no idea whether that was true or not.

there were definitely basic extensions, Simon's Basic springs to mind. I got my c64 fairly early in its life so I didn't have anything bundled and after I learnt it the hard way I didn't invest in a basic extension.

 

Could have been that one

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simons'_BASIC

 

He was 16 in 1983 and wrote the extension. David Simons is his name

 

EDIT - ignore me just seen his initials were BC :D

 

BC basic gets a mention here as a cartridge released on c64

https://www.lemon64.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=52210

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Clipper said:

No not the same, AmigaBasic was way more friendly, still rubbish but friendlier.

 

THe problem with commodore basic can be laid at the feet of PEEK and POKE. Commodore BASIC did not have any "draw" command - the bbc and spectrum could draw circles and shapes and fill etc which facilitated simple games and utilities the Commodore had no such niceties. Similarly it had no commands to play music or tones or sound of any kind or check for joystick inputs. If you wanted graphics/sound/joystick input you had to use POKEs and PEEKs. SPrites were brilliant but to use them you had to use POKE routines to insert values into memory locations which would then be used as sprites. Same for sound - very powerful sound chip but you had to push values into memory locations to make it make noise. You could then move sprites using, you guessed it, more POKE commands. Many C64/Vic20 and other commodore listings had massive data statements at the end which were poked into memory and that was about it (for reference PEEK was used to find out what the value was at a certain memory location useful for collision detection).

 

Now some have said that this opaque version of BASIC was unfriendly but helped people to learn assembler as with POKEs you were basiclaly doing what you would do in assembler which is put values into memory locations. It didn't work for me but going from Commodore BASIC to any other BASIC was easy for me as I started on the most restrictive BASIC so I found all these extra commands when I coded on anything else that made my life easier :D

 

 

Interesting, and yes I had always felt that the leap from BASIC to Assembler was more straightforward on the C64, mainly because C64 BASIC was far more technical! Lots of my friends with C64s dabbled with assembler, but hardly any with Spectrums did so. 

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9 hours ago, Anne Summers said:

Everyone back in the day used to say that the C64 just wasn't as good for learning to program in BASIC as the Speccy. I never tried C64 BASIC, what was the actual difference?

 

I know AmigaBASIC (designed by Microsoft I think) was crap. Was it similar to that 


Partly what Clipper posted but also for me it was the difficulty in manipulating character blocks. You had to use weird symbols to represent positional instructions and it was all so ugly and unfriendly.

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