Adventures in personal computing. Scott Adams.
When David asked me to do an article for the tenth anniversary issue of Creative I knew I couldn't refuse. As the original microcomputing magazine and the first licensee of my Adventure games, Creative has always held a special place in my heart. Not only that, but David Ahl is one of those people you instinctively like from the beginning. I knew I couldn't say no, but that still left me with a bit of a problem.
In the past I have almost always refused requests to do magazine articles (interviews I always give, articles I rarely do) because I have found that for me, writing (other than computer programs and Adventures) is like trying to pull teeth. But what the heck, here we go...
David has given me free rein on what to discuss here in this auspicious issue, so I decided it would be only right to go back to the early days of this industry. Keeping in mind what I said about pulling teeth, I ask your forgiveness in advance if I tend to ramble.
I, like many pioneers in the microcomputer industry trace my roots back to the time when there was no industry. My first exposure to microcomputers still stands out vividly to me today. I can remember that one of the instructors at FIT, the college I was attending, brought in a little black box he had developed. It was a 4004 microcomputer with 256 bytes of RAM and a dozen or so switches on the front.
The 4004, one of the earliest of the microcomputer chips, was later superseded by the 8008 and the 8080, which grew into today's 8086 processor, I remember looking at the simple programs he was able to put in through the switches on the front panel and thinking that if this was a microcomputer, you could keep them--what a waste of time! I had been using mainframe computers since 1968 when I was in high school and couldn't conceive of ever wanting to own of these simple toys.
Looking back, I see my first true commitment to micros came a while later. My brothers Eric and Richard and I were living in a house in Melbourne, FL, while attending FIT. Richard was an EE major and was fascinated by new technologies. He picked up some bit slices for an IMP-16 microcomputer. A bit slice micro was rather interesting; instead of having the whole computer on one chip, you would hook together many chips to increase the power of the CPU.
Richard went ahead and built one of the earliest 16-bit hobby computers ever assembled. He had, I believe, about 1K of 16-bit memory, a TV as a monitor, a keyboard, and a cassette port for data storage.
My own love of computers had always been in games (my first major program was a tic-tac-toe program written in APL/360 at North Miami Senior High School), so when I realized that Richard actually had a working machine, I decided to see if I could program some sort of game into it. Hooked on Micros
I wanted to do a real time arcade type game (remember this was in the early days of Pong and other revolutionary programs), so I decided to do a space war game. What I came up with was a precursor of a very popular game put out by Atari many years later--Asteroids. Not having any software for the machine, I had to write the program in assembly language and then hand assemble it. It was a labor of love. Once I had the game up and running on Richards's computer, I knew I was irrevocably hooked on the micros!
Here at last was a computer that allowed me to do with computers what I loved the most--write and play games. And all from the comfort of my own room. My next step was to get my own machine. I didn't want to follow quite the route my brother did, as I was more interested in programming the computer than in designing it, so I tried to find a kit. (This was long before Heath introduced the first Heathkit computer.) At that time, the only computer system on the market was the MITS Altair, which used the 8080 microcomputer chip.
I got a copy of the machine language commands for the machine and instantly disliked it. After working for years on the large mainframe computers with their 32-bit instructions and even on my brother's 16-bit machine, I felt the opcode set on the 8-bit 8080 was a big step down. But then I got a copy of Radio Electronics magazine and things started looking up.
In the back was a small ad for a Sphere microcomputer kit, which used the 6800 microprocessor and had 4096 bytes of memory and a 512 byte ROM monitor all for the low price of $650. It seemed the perfect machine for me. Later I discovered that mine was the very first order Sphere received for their computer.
The 6800 (precursor to the 6502 and 6809 so popular today) was also an 8-bit micro, but it had a much more powerful instruction set than the 8080. After many months, my kit finally arrived. By the time I sold the machine years later, I had written an assembler, a Basic and a large number of games and increased the memory space to an unbelievable 32K. Reading Matter
About the time I received my Sphere, I realized that I was really hooked on microcomputers, so I started looking around for further reading materials. My collection of Byte magazine starts at issue 2, October 1975, and my first issue of Creative Computing is the Sept-Oct 1976 issue, Vol. 2 Number 5. Looking back at those early years of Creative Computing it is fascinating to see how the industry has changed.
In the Sept-Oct '76 issue, there were 98 pages; there were so few companies to advertise back then that there is not even an Advertiser's Index in that issue (the first Index appears in the Jan-Feb 1977 issue). There were fewer than 15 pages of ads, most of which were for Creative Computing itself.
Back then $400 would get you a kit with around 2K of memory, no keyboard, and a TV monitor hookup. You could spend around $700 to add 16K of memory, $200 for a keyboard, and $400 for an 8K Basic. Compare that with today's prices for a 16K assembled computer with keyboard and Basic built in for under $100! Remember also that eight years ago the dollar really went much further than it goes today. It will be really fascinating to see what the next ten years bring.
In the Nov-Dec 1976 issue, Creative Computing ran a two-page list of all known computer stores in the country. Without having to resort to other than normal type, the fewer than 100 stores were easily listed. At the end a promise was made to update and publish this list twice a year. Imagine a similar list today and the size of the book needed to hold it. I expect that by the year 1990 computers will be available as readily as record players are today and not just here in the high tech U.S., but worldwide.
The 1950's were the age of the atom, the 60's the jet age, and the 70's the space age. Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that the 80's will be regarded as the dawn of the computer age? Thinking about the articles to be written for the 20th, 50th and even 100th anniversary of Creative Computing leaves the mind numb! Watch out; computers are here!