In a world where ‘Photoshop’ has become a verb, it’s often hard to remember the lengths one had to go to to generate an image on an early home computer. When you’re working with a machine with only a few K of video RAM the options are quite limited, and of course there was no drawing or painting software available, which meant your masterpiece had to be poked and plotted onto the screen pixel by pixel.
This little gem comes from a November 1982 issue of Popular Computing Weekly and is unique in that it’s neither an ad for hardware nor software, but a pad of paper and a set of pens (“set of seven pens for each computer colour”). Effectively this is a book of gridded tracing paper, which claims to help convert your “illustrations, maps, charts, photos etc” into a set of pixel locations on your 256×192 screen. I never bought one myself, preferring to draw my 8×8 sprites in the back of my maths homework book…
Popular Computing Weekly arrived in April 1982, the first weekly computer magazine in the UK [or anywhere, I suspect]. One of the notable features of the earlier editions was the fantastic cover art which attempted to represent the scenarios of the 8bit games inside. Here’s the cover of issue #1
It’s not quite clear what’s going on, there’s a couple of spaceships, some lightning [always plenty of lightning in space] and a giant ZX81 keyboard. Inside we can find the dazzling description of the game:
In the depths of space surrounding the interstellar shipping lanes of the plaet Urth a desparate battle is being fought. The shipping lanes must be kept clear of space mines being dropped by the evil Zexions.
However, this runs on a 1k ZX81, so perhaps the grand description is rather over-egging the pudding. Below is the code, it should be pretty clear that this is not a particularly complex game, with your ship being represented with ‘<' and the aliens as '.' and '*' - not quite the epic scene hinted at on the cover, but these were simpler times and we used our imaginations...
Computer magazines in the 80s were filled with such listings, and long arduous hours were spent typing them in, desparately hoping that the machine wouldn’t overheat, or the RAM pack fall out before you’d finished.
WH Smiths brought computing to the masses in the UK, there’s no denying it. With a branch in any medium sized town, it was the first place most people saw a real live computer. The device in question was the Sinclair ZX81, a small black plastic rectangle, hooked up to a TV set and glued to a display case. To my 10 year old self it was the future, a field of endless potential. I badgered my parents, and was rewarded on Christmas morning 1981.
The glorious device came equipped with 1k of RAM which would run out before you could actually fill the screen with text. Storage consisted of a tape deck [not included] with which to record cassettes full of screetching code which would take minutes to load. I had mine hooked up to a black and white portable sony tv, and I was as happy as a small boy could be.