Quick intro this time, because I don’t really know much about the Atari ST, but there’s a huge trove of public domain software for it from the archives of Page 6, as well as magazine archives!
Now is the beginning of a fantastic journey!
Aah that’s a screen I haven’t seen in a long long time.
1982 saw the founding of the Apple II computer magazine-on-disk Softdisk. Soon after Softdisk Publishing produced disks for other home computers too. One of them, Big Blue Disk, has gone down in history as previous employer of some of the original principals of id Software, especially John Carmack and John Romero. But another of Softdisk’s legacies was their Commodore 64 product, Loadstar, probably the longest-lived Commodore 64 software publisher. They published C64 software from 1984 to 2007. And most, if not all, of it is available online!
Loadstar is yet another of those computer gaming stories that must be told, and I’m in a pretty good place to tell some of it, because I beta tested for them for many of those years, and sold programs to them as well. Yes, several of their releases bear the programmer name John “The Mad Gamer” Harris. You have to understand, this was long before the word gamer reached common usage. In fact, as someone who may have primacy over the use of the term, I hereby forbid its use by anyone with misogynistic, anti-trans or racist intent. It is so decreed, hey-nonny-nonny!
Loadstar was lots of fun. Every month they’d send you two disks in the mail with several new pieces of Commodore 64 software on it. Under the watchful eyes of Fender Tucker and Jeff Jones, and later on Dave Moorman, it’s not that they grew an empire of Commodore programs, but they did manage to sustain that platform for a small but avid userbase for far longer than you’d have thought possible.
I plan to start doing Loadstar reviews eventually, but in the meantime, you can try out some of the later issues of this important piece of computing history at the site linked below. Note that you’ll have to have a means of running C64 software to use them, of course. The emulator VICE is known to work well. And if you want to hear the words of Fender, Jeff or Dave yourself, all three are on Facebook.
This is another huge topic that I should come back to later, but in the meantime here’s an article, mostly about the British type-in scene, from Wireframe Magazinne last year. It mentions the longest type-in game ever, Axys: The Last Battle (Youtube), an Amstrad program that had to be printed in five successive issues, and what it calls the best type-in game of all, Crossroads from COMPUTE!, although I’m dubious about that claim, there were lots of type-ins. It’s definitely great, though. It’s worth a read if you have the time, although who has enough of that these days?
The Rise and Fall of Type-In Games Listings (Wireframe)
Overseeing the early days of computing was Compute! Magazine, properly stylized with an exclamation point. They got their start as The PET Gazette, changing over to Compute as their focus spread into more types of home microcomputers. Compute stuck around as a multi-platform for some time, but ultimately spun off a couple of manufacturer-dedicated magazines. One of these was Compute’s Gazette, whose name harkened back to those PET-exclusive days. It focused on Commodore machines, and would then outlive Compute itself by some years.
The early years of Compute magazine are joyous. They’re filled with esoteric data, geeking out over low-level coding matters, and lots and lots of type-in programs. But it is depressing to me, reading over the early issues, knowing how numbered are its days. This whole genre of computer magazine, that encouraged users to type in programs, that offered coding tips, sometimes even offered add-on disks of software, is now only a memory. We are all poorer for it.
The writing on the wall for this style of magazine could perhaps be seen as early as September 1982, when Compute published an article about a great new upcoming product from Commodore, the Commodore 64. Not because of the style of the article or anything specific about the computer. Just that, by being so greatly popular, the C64 greatly expanded the magazine’s audience, which would inevitably steer it towards becoming more “mainstream,” which ultimately would be the death knell for a publication like this.
Still, it’s fun to look back on. Here is that article in image form, or you could find it on the Internet Archive, where the archives of Compute live on, for a time.
An extra, from that issue, is an ad for one of Microsoft’s first peripherals, a memory card for the Apple II:
Gaming Alexandria is a treasure, and lately it’s been uploading scans of 80s/90s Japanese game magazine PC Engine Fan to the Internet Archive! Even if you can’t read a word of it, the artwork and screenshots alone make it a joy for the eyes. If you remember and love the look of the early days of Nintendo Power, when its layout and illustration were done by Tokuma Shoten publishing, you should appreciate these.
The PC Engine, a.k.a. Turbo-Grafx 16 (a much worse name really), sits at a sweet spot between old-school pixel art and 16-bit splendor. It was arguably a less capable system than Sega’s Mega Drive/Genesis, but it could show more colors, and its games looked a lot more vibrant in print. To a kid in the U.S. at the time, it exuded a strong sense of anime coolness, and I can’t help but feel a bit of that old excitement.
I have to stop myself from filling this post with page after page. Here’s a few choice examples:
Gunhead, a.k.a. Blazing Lazers (August 1989):
Double Dungeons (July 1989):
Beast King’s Chronicle, a.k.a. Altered Beast (July 1989)