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My Coding Efforts

Benchmarking BASIC

In comp.lang.basic.misc in March 1997, I posted a benchmarking program to test 19 elements of a BASIC language. Here are the results and program.

Genetic Algorithms

There's a bit of my site here that touches on this fascinating topic.

Space Invaders 1978

In comp.lang.basic.misc, Peter Cooper ran a competition in mid-1996 for retro arcade games written in any version of BASIC (which is fast enough on modern systems to write old games). Unfortunately there were only four entries, but my version of the original Taito Space Invaders, Invaders 1978, came top, which I was pleased with. You can get the game executable for MS-DOS, with source code.

The text file for the game says that I wrote it partly because there seemed to be no other versions that tried specifically to replicate the original as authentically as possible. In January 2002, I came across InvaderX, written by Andy Miles, that is an absolutely fantastic version. It's miles better than mine, and I recommend you get his instead of mine if you want to get as close as possible to the original (short of emulation). InvaderX is at this page, and requires DirectX. It's difficult to believe that it is all original code with no emulation, it's so good, but Andy assures me that's the case. Hats off to him!

Mutant Mole

As a follow-up to Invaders 1978, I got half-way through another retro favourite of mine, Mutant Mole. A much less well known game, it borrowed heavily on Space Invaders, even down to having the same player and Invader graphics, but with a different plot and (gasp!) colour. Due to lack of time, I never finished it. However, you're welcome to the game in its current form. It's playable, and changes up the levels, but contains some bugs and is, well, simply not finished :-) Try it, if you like this sort of thing. If I get hoards of people demanding the full game, I'll try and find time to finish it.

Casio MG-880 Calculator Game

Does anyone remember that Casio pocket calculator of the early 1980s that had a 'number invaders' game on it? It was horribly addictive and very good for making maths lessons go quickly. In February 2000 I wrote a version of it for the PC.

SDL (Simple DirectMedia Layer)

SDL is great and it lives here. If you're not already a guru, it's not obvious how to install it though, and a common bugbear seems to be the lack of step-by-step instructions of how to get it working. If you're having difficulties installing it under MinGW, these steps might be helpful.

My Computer History

It seems kids can write their own network operating systems at the age of 8 or 9 these days. I thought I was a pioneer at 14 when I taught myself BASIC on antiques like the Commodore Pet and the Sharp MZ80B and MZ80K. Those were the days. Just then, the home computer boom happened and I bought an Oric-1 micro. Much cooler than the Sinclair Spectrum, of course. I'd heard of machine code but for a long time (no books or other exposure to it) couldn't visualise what on earth it was. I eventually grasped what it was all about and set about writing a 6502 monitor in BASIC. (Remember monitors? they're what we called programs that let you input assembler instructions one at a time into memory - no source code, variables, labels or directives, just real-time assembly and disassembly of what was in memory. To insert an instruction into an existing bit of code, you had to write a BASIC FOR/NEXT loop to shift the succeeding instructions down by the relevant number of bytes, insert the instruction, and manually correct all relative branches. What we put up with!)

A friend and I wrote two commercial games in that monitor. My friend wrote Grid Warriors, a top-down, Tron-style light cycles game with scrolling window. I wrote Dominator, a left/right shoot-em-up with lots of levels of swirly aliens. Both games were accepted by top software houses of the day - Grid Warriors by Severn Software, Dominator by Tansoft. Unfortunately, during the latter stages of negotiations, the company that made the Oric went bust and the Oric boom was over. Grid Warriors was taken up by another company, and my friend went on receiving royalty cheques for 36p for years afterwards. To my horror, all my cassettes got corrupted (I used to leave them on a loudspeaker - duh!), and Dominator was lost forever. Boohoo! I didn't get over that for quite a while and lost interest in computers.

In the first year at college, Atari STs were the thing, so I blew most of student grant on one. It was all rather disillusioning. I was used to computers like the Oric and the BBC which were well-defined, easily- understood machines. The ST was far more complex and it felt like a big effort learning the complex internals just in order to be able to launch a bit of machine code. I persevered, learned 68000 and wrote some stuff, but never really got gripped by it.

I gaily abandoned computers in my life when I started my placement year (which was, of course, a year of programming). No computer in the house - how grown up! It was a liberating experience, and the first time I'd separated work or study from home life. The placement job was great, writing schools software for the then-new Acorn Archimedes for Newman Software, part of Newman College in Birmingham. The BBC magazines reviewed my programs, and the Times Educational Supplement even said of one program I was particularly proud of something like "every school should have this program". Gosh.

After finishing college and starting work, I didn't have a computer in the house for several years, and spent my time doing grown up things like drinking and discussing the human condition. I couldn't resist forever, though, and acquired a 286 PC soon after buying a house (a Big Thing). That PC was useless for programming (GW-BASIC, Hercules graphics) but it got me onto the Internet with a DOS port of KA9Q. I accepted that computers and coding was in my genes and reverted to type. A few PC upgrades later, and here I am, writing this. Tada!

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