I grew up during the dawn of personal computing. When I was 10, my parents bought me a TRS-80 Color Computer. It was amazing. It could do anything. All you had to do was write a little program in BASIC, enter the “run” command, and watch it go. Cool.
These days, we all know how limited personal computers were back then. But at the time, the possibilities felt limitless. We got a top-of-the-line computer, tricked out with 64 kilobytes of memory. The basic model only had 16 kilobytes. Yes, kilo- as in 1,000. Nothing is measured in kilobytes these days.
As if that wasn’t awesome enough, you could type in programs and save them to cassette tape. Anyone born after the year 2000 is probably wondering what a cassette tape is. Let’s just say it’s a slightly less antiquated form of storage media than punch cards. (Punch what?)
So I got this new computer and a subscription to the Rainbow, a magazine dedicated to the TRS-80 Color Computer. The Rainbow started as a black-and-white, text-only, one-page newsletter, printed on physical paper. Before long, the Rainbow evolved to a full-fledged magazine, with advertising and printed in color. Ooooo.
The best feature of the Rainbow was programs, printed out and ready for you to type into your computer and run. Some programs took up about a page; others a full three-to-five pages. Usually after hours of typing, running the program resulted in…Syntax Errors. That means you typed something wrong, and it was up to you to review your typing, character-by-charater, to find the offending typo, or missing line, or whatever you did wrong.
So now you have a taste of what it was like back then. Fully do-it-yourself computing was the bomb. This was my hobby from the age of 10 until, well, I’ve never stopped. But these days, and for the last 25 years, I get paid for it, too.
But no one has ever paid me to write games. I know it’s possible to get paid for that, although from what I have heard about the gaming industry, I would not want to subject myself to that kind of abuse, no matter the pay.
Returning to the point of this post, let me tell you why I want to write software games. At about the same time that I got my first computer, stand-alone video games were all the rage. Games like Pac-Man, Tempest and Donkey Kong were popping up in highway rest stops and the arcade area of my local roller skating rink.
I grew up in upstate New York, the Syracuse area to be exact. When I was 10, my family went on a four-week road trip to see the western United States, as far west as Arazona, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. It was one of the most memorable times of my life. In particular, I remember stopping for gas along the highway and seeing Donkey Kong. Holy cow, Donkey Kong! It’s the greatest. It’s incredible. I want to play it. “Can I have a quarter?”
Now a quarter was not really so much money in those days. I didn’t grow up in the 1920s, for Peat’s sake. However, at this point in life, I can appreciate that playing Donkey Kong enough to really scratch that itch might have cost a small fortune. My parents chose to save money for my college education instead.
But I had this computer at home that could do anything if I just learned how to program it. So I remember being told that if I could code it, I could play it. From that moment on, I was hooked on programming, as a hobby, to satisfy my itch to play games.
My parents might quibble with some of the details, but that’s how I remember it. Meanwhile, my itch has led to a great career that eventually brought me to Silicon Valley, the Mecca of computer-oriented high-tech. Life is good.
These days, people pay me to program serious applications: for insurance, for hotel management, for online business, and so on. Now, before my career is over (with luck some 10 to 15 years from now), it’s time to start a new chapter and write for fun and profit.
What drives you to do what you do? Leave a comment or send an email to dave at happyspiritgames.