The Fun Of Basic Programming On The Timex Sinclair 1000

Another part of the videogaming phenomenon of the early 1980s centered around being able to own a personal computer system, since with them you could not only play videogames but you could also program your own on them. Of course, there were very few who could own personal computers since most of them were still in the $300-plus price range. And even for those who could, very few could know how to use machine language in order to create the same (or similar) awesome games that could be played on a regular videogame system at the time. Fortunately, there were books featuring a vast number of different game programs that could be typed in using a programming language called BASIC (Beginner's All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) so others could possibly learn from them how to create their own games, however simplified they may be from those done in machine language.

The Timex Sinclair 1000 computerOf the computers I have owned or have played with, the one that totally deserves any mention from me would be the Timex Sinclair 1000. This notebook-sized computer, which my father bought for the family in 1982 following getting the Atari 2600 as a Christmas present, was a wonderful learning tool that got me interested in learning how to program games. Not that this was the first computer that piqued an interest in me in doing so -- the honors for that go to Radio Shack's TRS-80 Model 1, a black-and-white personal computer that found most of its homes on business and school desktops -- but the Timex Sinclair was one of the few among those that sold for $100, a price that made owning a personal computer attractive for the person or families that wanted to own a computer but couldn't afford the pricetag on things like the TRS-80 type computers.

A sample Timex Sinclair 1000 program listingGranted, the Timex Sinclair 1000 was very limited as far as capabilities for personal computers at that time period went. It had no more than 2,000 bytes of memory for program storage, which could be extended to 16K or even 32K. It had black-and-white graphics which were very blocky at best. It had no sound capabilities for either music or sound effects. It had a flat membrane keyboard that is so small that only kids could use it without any problem. And it also required an ordinary cassette recorder to save and load programs. What it did have, despite its shortcomings, was an easy-to-learn version of BASIC that, given time and some good books on programming the Timex Sinclair 1000, would allow a user to learn how to develop his or her own programs,including games. This is just a mere sample of what a BASIC program on the Timex Sinclair 1000 looks like being listed on the screen.

Timex Sinclair version of FroggerAs far as preprogrammed games are concerned, however, that kind of software for the Timex Sinclair 1000 was hard to find. You would have to look through special newsletters like Syntax ZX80 (which covered programming the Sinclair ZX81, the British version of the Timex Sinclair 1000, and its predecessor, the Sinclair ZX80) just to find independent vendors that could provide gaming software, and most of it was on tape. Timex itself released a few games like Chess, Flight Simulation, and Frogger, the last one of the three which my father bought for our Timex Sinclair 1000. It's not a bad version of the original arcade game, mind you, considering that because of the big blocky graphics they had to split up the screen into two screens: the street screen and the river screen. Still, with the amount of printed game programs that appeared in books and newsletters, one could never get bored with the amazing amount of gameware that otherwise was not readily available for this small personal computer system.

The Coleco ADAM computerUnfortunately, a few years later, the Timex Sinclair 1000 became an unusable personal computer system, and the books that I have collected for it became somewhat useless. Around 1985, I had taken the unexpected plunge into buying the ADAM Family Computer System, which is basically a ColecoVision with 64K memory, a modified tape drive that worked with almost the same speed as a floppy disk drive, a full-stroke keyboard, a built-in word processor program, and a daisy-wheel printer that could only print out typewritten text. (The Timex Sinclair had a printer that could print out graphics, but it used very small strips of special paper, and we never bought one for ours.) Its version of BASIC was better in that it allowed for programming the ColecoVision game controllers to be used with games programmed in its BASIC, but even though I did do some interesting conversions of Timex Sinclair BASIC game programs on the Coleco ADAM, they could never really match the black-and-white simplicity that made the original versions really sing on the computer they were meant to run on. On the other hand, the ADAM computer was more suited for the text-style game programs like Eliza (a really weird psychoanalyst-style conversation game) and Hunt The Wumpus (an adventure-style game).

Fortunately, in the age where even classic personal computer systems are emulated on a Windows-operating PC or a Macintosh, whichever you happen to own, all is not entirely lost for the tiny little computer system that could. There are at least a few good emulators for the Timex Sinclair 1000, including one called (what else?) the ZX81. If you ever wanted to see how fast your existing computer can run Timex Sinclair software, ZX81 does the best job there is in doing that -- it can run in either normal processing speed (meaning normal in the days of the Timex Sinclair 1000) or turbo speed, all at the press of the plus sign keypad key. Another good emulator of that system is the NO$ZX81 (meaning "no cash", as in freeware), which lets you toggle between the normal operating system and the debugger mode, which lets you set up how you want the emulator to run, including reversed color video mode (black background with white characters instead of a white background with black characters). Gameware can be found wherever there are Timex Sinclair/ZX81 emulator sites (copyright problems are almost nonexistent in this case since the majority of programs you can find are typed up from books and newsletters). The quality of most of these games fall probably along the level of even the less interesting of Atari 2600 software, which is a mild way of stating it, but there are some real gems to be found.

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