Paul Stovell has, in usual fashion, written a very humourous post about one of his first ever programs.
What were your first applications?
I began programming back in 1984 on a Vic 20 and soon after a Commodore 64. I was quite fascinated by it and a lot of my first programs were made by copying out listings from the computers’ manuals and programming reference guide as well as magazines like Australian Commodore Review and Australian Personal Computer (both of which I have written regular features for!). I experimented with these programs and made tweaks and modifications as I learned more or came up with ideas.
One of my first “successes” was an adventure game, the name of which I have completely forgotten. Game piracy was rampant in my school, albeit mostly via cassette tape although ultimately reaching the dizzying heights of 5.25″ floppy disks. I put my game on tape for some friends and it was well received. It was actually fairly basic; it was a text-based adventure game – which was a popular format back then, especially thanks to Infocom – but only accepted very simple commands like “take sword” and “open door”.
Eventually I wrote another text-based game called Treasure Quest which remarkably saw the light of day on the Internet when emulation became possible. Somebody converted their old games library to D64 emulator images and I was pleasantly astonished to find Treasure Quest available for download many years later. I can’t find the link right now – it seems Treasure Quest is a popular adventure game title – but I did find a screenshot (pictured here) of one of my less ambitious projects from the same era called Maze of Nogard (which was “Dragon” backwards.) It blows me away that someone has run it and made a screenshot! Such dizzying fame preserved on the Internet!
These games were all written in the Commodore’s built-in BASIC v2. I wrote another game using a tool called the Quill which was a great adventure gaming shell that handled all the parsing of complex phrases as well as the mechanics of navigation and inventory management, etc. I put as much effort as I could into textual descriptions of the environment and of physical objects. I tried to put loads of humour in it. I remember making myself laugh when I had a coin as an object in one location but when the user tried to collect it they failed because it was glued to the pavement. I really wish I could remember what I called this game. I think it was something pretty vague like ‘Big Adventure’.
I submitted this game to an Australian computer gaming magazine – whose name escapes me – and they published a positive review of it. Alas, I had just one enquiry. I did end up selling it to the then-popular American magazine, Compute!’s Gazette, while I was at University. That was exciting and although I had been published several times in Australian Commodore Review even while I was still at High School this was undoubtedly the first ever application I sold.
I sold a few more games to Compute! over that year and the next – before it, like most 8-bit magazines, folded. Another was Stepman – my first real attempt at graphics. This game had a little animated sprite jump up and down steps as you attempted to correct mispelled words presented onscreen. There were nifty spirals and shapes as background images. I wrote this using the Commodore 128′s tremendous BASIC v7. The C128 was a brilliant machine. Sadly it never enjoyed the huge commercial success of its predecessor. Stepman was possibly the only widely-distributed spelling game for that platform!
At the end of my first year at University I wrote a typing test to help out a girl I knew who was looking for vacational employment and wanted to improve her typing, as well as rate it. I may have sold that to Compute! too.
Believe it or not, I never owned a PC until after I finished University. All my assignments were typed up on the Commodore 128 and although I did purchase Pascal and C compilers for it, all my programming was on the UNIX-based Gould at the Computer Science faculty. Actually, the Commodore Pascal compiler was rubbish with non-standard syntax. I wrote a letter to the company who produced it, complaining, and they sent me a free version of their C compiler which was very nice (and which was much better.)
My first PC was a ’386 laptop with 2Mb of RAM and a whopping 80Mb hard disk. In fact, the hard disk was so large that it had to be partitioned into three partitions so DOS 3.3 could work with it, having a built-in limit of 32Mb – but I digress.
For my early working career I wrote most everything on VAX VMS and Sun SunOS/Solaris systems. It wasn’t until 1996 that I really got into programming on the PC and I fell in love with Borland’s Delphi 2.0. My Win32 Font Lister – originally released in 1998 – was written in Delphi.
So! What were your first apps?