A blast from my past – game programming for the TRS-80

Not many people know how I got started in computers. What fun I’ve had building this post!!

Way back in high school, my older brother’s friend brought a CompuColor to high school as a science fair project or something. I hadn’t really bought into any career / future vision to date, but this computer thingie was pretty cool, so I got hooked.

My very first real computer was the TRS-80 – it was either that or a stereo system, Mom thought I was slightly misguided, but Dad (thanks!!) encouraged it. Sure, I started with the game playing (Missile Attack or something like that); bought the books of code listings (found this – I owned this book, wow! What cool drawings) and keyed in BASIC programs. I started getting into “game theory” and the concept of programming, wrote some graphical loops that took random walks across the screen, captured history, all sorts of fun thought-processes.

Mom was still convinced it was a really expensive ($1000 for 16K of RAM and a cassette deck – monster box) waste of time, until I told her I sold a game! I was playing with my random walk moving dots games and got the idea to create an electronic Pachinko machine – not the most challenging game in the world, but I ended up selling / licensing / something the distribution rights to Programma International, out of Los Angeles (founded by Dave Gordon, a tough reference to Google, citations embedded here, here, here). I remember driving into LA to sign contracts with these guys, in office space typical of your mid-90’s Internet startup, and was tickled pink when I saw my name on a plastic baggy-package at the local computer store (Commodores and Apples at the old ComputerLand, but Radio Shack for the main machine).

I think I wrote another game for those guys too, but can’t find the name, and Super Pachinko was really the only one that made any money. My mom stopped bugging me when the royalty checks came – heck, I basically made enough to just about cover the cost of the computer, but I was hooked forever.

I found this site recently, and I’ve submitted my humble effort for inclusion – hopefully I’ll get added to the pantheon of stars …

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.