Christmas 1981

More from CVG December 1981. Here we have the ‘Christmas Parade’ of all that’s best in handheld gaming. I remember seeing the LED Grand Prix game, and I definitely remember playing with Big Trak at my friend Darren’s house. Big Trak was a programmable truck which could remember a short sequence of moves and replay them, not quite as exciting as it appeared on the TV ads, but certainly head-and-shoulders above any non-programmable trucks…

In the same issue we see an advert for a Game & Watch. Really the first ‘pocketable’ computer game, with an LCD screen and annoying bleeps. Produced by Nintendo, but here appearing under the brand name of CGL, each model featured a single game [this one is a sort of 'Lion Taming' game] and a clock. The promise of ‘Game A’ and ‘Game B’ was a bit of a con, since ‘Game B’ was exactly the same as ‘Game A’, but slightly faster. However, despite these limitations, ownership of a Game&Watch in the early 80s guaranteed you’d be the most popular kid in the playground…

At last. A watch that's fun.

At last. A watch that's fun.

Computer & Videogames, issue 2, December 1981

Computer & Videogames (CVG) appeared on the scene at the tail end of 1981, it was a glossy monthly magazine of listings and game reviews, at odds with the existing ‘serious’ monthlies.

It promised to be all about fun and playing videogames! In reality this meant typing in pages of illegible listings and reading about things that were only sold in shops miles and miles away…

Solve The Cube!

The magazine that makes computers FUN FUN FUN!

Cover art is essential when trying to sell a magazine on a crowded shelf, and generally speaking CVG had excellent cover art. However, even now, I’m not sure the ship-sailing-the-treacherous-waves image screams ‘videogames’ at me.

The picture alludes to a listing for an inpenetrable tactical war game for the Tandy TRS-80. No one I knew had a Tandy, though I remember playing with the one they had stuck to the counter in the Tandy shop in Exeter, at least until the manager used to tell me to get lost.

While the cover art was usually pretty good, inside it was a different story. CVG featured some quite astonishingly poor drawings, some of them easily qualify for the ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ category. For example this treat:

The Damsel and the Beast

The Damsel and the Beast

There’s lots to love inside the magazine, giving us a wonderful glimpse into the world of consumer entertainment technology of twenty-six years ago. Below are the ‘Games News’ pages in full, featuring such treats as ‘Rhino’ (“requires Acorn Atom, 10k of memory and a floating point ROM’), the above illustrated ‘Damsel and the Beast’ (which promises “a brave hero sworn to save the wretched by vociferous damsel”, but I fear may fail to deliver on the target platform of 16K ZX81), and the clearly Copyright infringing ‘Startrek’ (featuring Klingons with ‘super-fast firing lasers’.)

The magazine cover also promises to help us ‘Solve the Cube’, so tying nicely into the Rubik Cube craze sweeping the UK at the time. Unfortunately to solve the cube you needed a 40 column Commodore Pet – again a machine no one had – and required typing in 537 lines of code. I’m not sure what’s stranger – the idea that someone could condense the solution to a complex three-dimensional puzzle into 8k of BASIC, or that someone might in fact take the time to type it in…

Solve the Cube

Twiddling with a pet

More to come from this issue shortly…

Bomb the bass

The eighties also saw computers entering the realm of music. As a sometime electronic musician myself, I’ve long had an interest in machines that emit bleeps, squawks and pops and much of my early computing life was trying to coax interesting noises out of machines ill-designed to produce them. In coming posts we’ll look at quite how tricky that was…

However, here we have a review of a ‘proper’ musical computer the Roland TR808, not the first ‘drum machine’, but certainly the most influential. At the time of release in 1982 the machine was criticised for the ‘heavy’ bass drum sound [see the review below], but by the late eighties, with the emergence of Acid House and techno, the TR808 and it’s little brother the TB303 bassline became legendary – that very ‘heavy’ bass sound being precisely the feature which made the machine so desirable. In fact the 808 is still highly sought-after even today, changing hands for prices in excess of it’s (not inconsiderable) original 1982 price, something that cannot be said for much of the technology featured on this blog.