I can’t believe I haven’t written any blogs about 8-bit computers or games yet! I was looking over my posts today and in the three years since I set up this website, there’s not a single hint of 8-bit love! So I shall remedy that travesty of a mockery of a sham today by creating a whole new searchable category – 8-bit love – and writing a blog post, beginning fittingly with the first ever computer I owned, the Amstrad CPC464.
Now before this computer, I wasn’t a gaming virgin. In late 1983 I was bought a Vectrex and that console is worthy of its own blog post, so I will say no more about it here. However, I yearned for a proper computer. My good friends at the time all owned computers. Paul Silcox owned a Vic-20, Wayne Weston owned a Spectrum 48k, Mark Cooper owned an Oric and John Brooks was a proud owner of the only 8-bit computer to originate in Wales – the Dragon 32. Many parents ostensibly bought computers for their children because they were seduced by the “Mum, it will help with my homework” argument, that echoed throughout every home in the early 80s, even homes that didn’t have children. But the truth of the matter was that once the computer was unpacked, the child would then type in
10 print “Big tits”
20 goto 10
and then run out of the room, shouting happily “I’m a programmer! I’m going to be a millionaire!”
So in the Autumn of 1984 I started my ‘I need a computer to help me with my homework’ campaign. My mother often had shopping catalogues in her house such as Littlewoods and Grattan, mail-order services that were immensely popular throughout the 80s and 90s. This, my thirteen year old mind reasoned, would be a great way of obtaining a computer. My mother was on benefits and had little money and I knew that she couldn’t afford to buy me a computer outright. £299 was an awful lot of money in 1984. I could have bought 900 comics for that amount. So I would leave the Grattan catalogue open, with the Amstrad computer circled in thick red felt-tip, hoping that Santa would surprise me at Christmas.
I had to wait a while as that bastard known as Santa welshed on the deal, leaving me with a Tomytronics 3d Space Attack game, and not the computer I was hoping for. In the end, it was my dear Nan and Bamp who stepped in for my 14th birthday in May 1985 and turned me into the proud owner of an Amstrad CPC464. It came with the infamous 12-pack of games. Infamous because they were mostly crap. But to a 14-year old who had yet to develop a discerning eye, they were all gold. Roland on the Ropes, Oh Mummy, Sultan’s Maze and others, gave me hours of fun.
Once, during dinner break at Llantarnam School, I persuaded my friends Wayne Weston and Paul Silcox to come back to my home in Southville, Cwmbran, so I could show off my new computer. We ran from Llantarnam to my home, which took about fifteen minutes. We then waited ten minutes for the Roland On The Ropes to load. When they asked what sort of game it was, I replied “Neo-despotism” which was a phrase I had picked up from last week’s issue of Whizzer & Chips comic. The game eventually loaded and we played it for five minutes and then ran back to school again, just making it back in time as the bell rang.
Technically, the Amstrad was far superior to the Spectrum and Commodore 64, its two main competitors. The Spectrum, at that time, had very limited colour capabilities and suffered from something known as ‘colour clash’, which meant it couldn’t be set on a mahogany table against a magnolia wall, as it would just look simply awful. You may read other articles stating that ‘colour clash’ was to do with the Spectrum’s idiosyncratic display memory layout and it’s pixel bitmap attributes. But those articles are wrong.
Now I was going to flesh out this blog by also mentioning several games that I bought for my beloved Amstrad, in 1985. However, as I am aware there is a huge market for retro-gaming and a very large fan base out there, I think each game is worthy of its own comprehensive installment. So in the near future you can expect blogs on Manic Miner, Marsport, Jet Set Willy, Sabre Wulf, Elite and a host of other games that I loved during my teenage years.
It was the magical era of computing. In my opinion, those five years between 1980 and 1985 were the golden era when it came to the 8-bits. From 1986 onwards, they still evolved and were still extremely popular, but the 16-bit computers such as the Atari ST and the Amiga, along with the NES console, started to slowly make the 8-bits redundant, though their real death wouldn’t arrive until the early 90s.
But even today, on this sunny morning in July, 2015, I have an Amstrad emulator installed on my laptop and at least once a week I fire it up and play games such as Head Over Heels, Get Dexter and Chuckie Egg, losing myself in the golden glow of memories that still remain, thirty years later.