Other 8-Bit Computers

Within a couple of years of building our Apple ][+ clone, it seemed like almost everyone had a computer. But, almost no one I knew had an Apple ][. My best friends both got Atari 800XL’s. We played a bunch of games on those. I remember playing Conan on the Atari quite alot. Also, one of my friends got a 300 baud modem for his Atari. Sometimes I would watch as he would log onto a local BBS. He would post messages to different boards and I remember he would get into heated arguments about something or other with these people he had never met and didn’t know at all. It all seemed pretty strange but I would see it all again on Usenet a bit less than 10 years later.

Then a computer store opened in our small town. The owner was an Atari fanatic so my friends fit right in. We would hang out there quite a bit and talk about computers. I would get a bunch of ribbing about my Apple from these guys which probably helped to instill a sense of defensiveness about my choice of computer which would often pop up over the next several years. More on that later.

Perhaps looking for more like-minded people, I joined the “London Apple Corps” at some point. It must have been around 1984 or so because I remember someone bringing a Macintosh 128K to a meeting. At these meetings, new software and hardware would be demonstrated, people would ask for help with some problem they were having and just talk about Apple. They sold freeware software and if you knew who to ask, you could also obtain some other not so free software also. Later, I would become the librarian for the user group. This meant that I kept a good supply of the software for sale, making copies of the 5 1/4″ disks as necessary and filling orders.

But more than anything else, people had Commodore 64’s. I hated the C-64. Compared to my Apple, it just seemed slow and clunky. On my Apple, I could draw graphics without incanting peeks and pokes. Just a couple of “HCOLORS” and “HPLOTS” in a Basic program and you could do some interesting things. On my Apple, you can cram 256 characters and tokens on a single line of Basic which was great for making cool and complicated 1 or 2 line Basic programs. On the C-64, you could only have 80 characters on a line which seemed like a serious problem at the time. But more than anything, the performance of the disk drive on the C-64 drove me nuts. I cared because at school, this is what we had.

In high school, we had a grade 11 and grade 12 computer science course. They allowed students who were interested to take the grade 11 course in grade 10 and the grade 12 course in grade 11. However, I was allowed to skip the grade 11 computer science course and take the grade 12 computer science course in grade 10. Oh joy, I get to use a Commodore 64!

For our year end project, we had to decide on something we would write and then code it. I decided to make a “Adventure Writer” and an “Adventure Player”. I created a simple language to describe the locations in an adventure game, the relationship between these places and the objects in the game. The writer allowed you to create these things and save it into a data file. Then, you could run the player, load your data file and play the game you had made. So, I was actually writing two programs for my project, not just one. And, they were the most complex Basic programs I had written and were very long. The disk drive on the C-64 was so slow that the time to load and save the programs was significant. In a one hour period, I would spend several minutes just waiting for my program to load. And if I didn’t start saving it early enough, I would be late for my next class. In the end, I got it done but I did have to go to a friends house one Saturday to work on it.

By 1985 and 1986, things were changing. At the London Apple Corps, there was conflict between all of the Apple ][ users and the new Macintosh users. It seemed more and more time was spent talking about the Mac. Eventually, the user group would split and the die hard Apple ][ users like myself wouldn’t have to worry about the Mac anymore. Also, the Amiga 1000 and the Atari 520ST arrived. At the computer store in town, the Atari fans would extoll the virtues of the ST, deride the Amiga and completely mock the Mac which had no colour at the time and was far more expensive. One of my friends replaced his 800XL with a 520ST and would later upgrade it to a 1040ST. I never met anyone with an Amiga at the time but later in university would meet an Amiga owner.

By 1986, my Apple ][+ clone was just not as cool as it once was. But what would I replace it with. Soon enough I would have my answer.

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