Thursday, February 19, 2009

My 15 ( times 300,000 ) Minutes of Fame

To be accurate, this should called my "... Minutes of Anonymity".  In 1980, I was moving from the record store business into some kind of software (I had no idea exactly what that would entail or how to proceed.)  I had just licensed a small utility program for the Apple II to a small publisher in the area (The Image Producers, Northbrook, IL.)  They had a new client with a new computer and needed some programs written.  It turned out to be the new Color Computer from Radio Shack.

The computer was based around the Motorola 6809 microprocessor (I still think that was probably the best 8-bit processor ever designed.)  It was outfitted with a whopping 1K byte of memory (that's right, 1024 bytes); and half of that was used for the screen display.  Programs had to fit into 4K of memory (that's right, 4096 bytes) that would be in a ROM cartridge.

To begin, I took a train trip out to Oregon to visit my parents (lots of reading time when riding the rails from Chicago.)  I took the sketch of the game design (by Al Baker and others) and the technical manual for the 6809.  By the time I got back, I had taught myself the instruction set by coding (only on paper) most of the code needed for a Forth system (Forth is a relatively obscure stack-oriented, RPN notation language.)

I dove into the game and after many long nights (I could only work on the development and test hardware at nights since we had to share these rare resources), the game emerged.  Super Bustout was one of the first three software titles available when the machine came on the market.

I was being paid by royalties (and advances against) so by the time the game had run its course, I knew I had provided some fun (I hope) to around 300,000 machine owners.  Given that some would never play, and some would play quite a bit, I'll go with the total given in the title.

My name was never on the game so it was just another game by some programmer in a basement somewhere.  But it bought me a new Compaq luggable (one of the first IBM clones) and a new used car (my first ever, I was only 31 or 32.)   

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