Programming Games, Analyzing Games

For many programmers, our introduction to programming was our dad forcing us to write our own games. Instead of the shiny new Atari 2600 game console I wanted, I got a Texas Instruments TI-99/4a computer instead. That's not exactly what I had in mind at the time, of course, but that fateful decision launched a career that spans thirty years.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I remember getting an old Tandy TRS-80 computer with a huge 2KB of ram and poke-ing a whole bunch of assembler into it until I could control a dot on the screen with the keys. I then created a series of random dots that fell from the top of the screen. You had move your dot to avoid being hit by the rain. It was lame. No one wanted to play it. But I was proud of it. Even though it was done in assembler, it felt that I was talking the language of the gods. When I sit back and compare that with what I develop with today my eyes really open up. Complain when we might I have to admit that we’ve come a long way. The abilities that have been opened up to us are beyond anything magical. I wonder what will happen in the next few decades.

I started programming at university. I wrote a multiplayer text game while their. My parents were ignorant of anything computer related.

I remember typing in programs for the Commodore 64 from Compute! and Compute’s Gazette. Many were just machine language print-outs without any code to learn from. Looking back I can’t believe I had the patience to type all that code in just to play some little game. I guess I’m spoiled by the internet but back then it was all sneakernet.

Ah, the good ol’ TI-99 hand-me-down. sheds tear

Anyone else feeling old? lol Good times.

I wonder if interviewers will start asking potential hires to write a simple game in order to test them.

I always get a kick at the advice my folks gave me “Son, stop wasting time with that computer nonsense, that will never put food on the table”. 20 years on, and I make computer games for a living and earn more than both of them combined, and they work exceptionally hard for a living.

Grin what’s in Mike Lee’s quote is exactly how I got into programming. ZX Spectrum was my first computer. I was monopolizing the TV for hours while my siblings and cousins complained that they could not watch TV due to my hobby.

In 1971 in high school, I wrote a Star Trek game in APL…universe was a 20x20 matrix as I recall…Enterprise was represented by “E” and Klingons by “K”. Players could fire phasers or photon torpoedoes and ships would move while shooting…meaning the computer would move the ship while you were planning your shot so you had to guess where the ship would show up for next shot and at a random interval, the Klingon ship would “cloak”…while cloaked it couldn’t shoot.

Best part of the game, it was done on a printer…loved the anticipation of standing over the dot matrix printer waiting for the results of the last engagement to print out…line by line…great fun in my HS computer class!

Wau! How cool that so many guys grew up the same way and ended up doing what they love today.
I still remember my father’s zx spectrum 48k+ with zx microdrive. (
I think it was very similar to how other fathers fixed cars with their son or went to soccer matches together.
Me and my father fixed computers or talked about software. So maybe we diden’t know what to talk about, we could always talk about computer related stuff.
I did a lot of programming with help of magazines etc. and ended up doing a little platform game on my own.

Seems so very different how the young boys and girls learn programming today.

I miss “Reversi”…

I too grew up in this era, my first ‘pc’ was a Amstrad 6128, which I used to type over programs in magazines … very neat. I always ended up trying to improve the game, and adding new features (or cheats :slight_smile: ). I have been a software developer for over 10 years now, so it must have done be some good.

Jef thanks for this post, I love it …


I would love if the Neverwinter Nights (v1) toolset from around 2001 became available for free.

The graphics would need updating, but that was hands down the best platform I’ve ever had for storytelling and hobby game development.

My nick use to be OldManWhistler in the NWN modding community.

Ah, the memories…

1984 or so, and I was 11yo. C64, started to learn basic and realized it was way too “slow” for things I wanted to do. Then I found out about 6502/6510 assembly language, and ofcoz I had to learn that because it was “lightning fast”… My school notebooks ended up with small fragments of assembly routines when I spent more time designing those than listening education :smiley:

And then I discovered “cracking” and demo-scene, started to code intros and demos (and few games) for a decade or more… Still can write c64 irq routines without thinking because did that so often :slight_smile:

My first computer was an Atari 800XL. My dad bought it when I was perhaps 5. I remember him and my mother typing in pages and pages of a BASIC game one afternoon. Then they went for a coffee, planning to find out how to save it to the cassette drive later. Then my little brother camke along and switched it off. Image their reaction when they came back :slight_smile:

However this little thing got me started. First I played the games, then got bored and wanted to know how they work. Back then the computer had a “Break” key on the keyboard, so you could just interrupt any BASIC program and have a look at what it was doing. This led me to where I am today - a professional software developer :slight_smile:

(Ok, I did not start with something really old, compared to what the others wrote, but hey, maybe I am still a little younger ;))

Nope. The computer industry grew up before you

Sorry, I meant the personal computer industry, eg, microcomputers.

Although I can legitimately claim to have grown up with the computer industry (first code in May, 1958), I thrived in the microcomputer era and developing games and other little interactive ditties worked for me too.

I still think that is a great device for novices who are interested enough to work into the fundamentals.

But where are those books and magazines to type code from any more? Is this gone forever or is there a secret stash. I’d like to know for the benefit of novices that I am able to coach from time to time.

Hey Now Jeff,
Nice post. My pop also bought me a TI I was jealous of my cousins had the Atari. I remember writing basic playing games ont the TI such as Parsec. Our fathers made a great choice.

Every programmer has a secret dream of becoming a game developer.

The computer industry grew up…

I’ve read a couple of comments referring, in the past tense, to how the computing has grown up.

Computing- or at least any direct descendant of modern computing- has only existed for about 50 years. Imagine only having the first 50 years of Physics. Any scientific field or engineering discipline come to that.

If Computing (and its industry) were human, they would be teething by about now.

I used the TRS-80 Model I at school to write text adventures. My first computer was a ColecoVision Adam. I burnt the built-in cassette player out loading BASIC all the time. I tried to write a TRON light cycles-Type games, but they all came out like a colorful etch-a-sketch painting. Then my Adam died and I tried to become a marine biologist. It didn’t take and 10 years later I came back to programming