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Acorn and Amstrad (filfre.net)
77 points by mmastrac on July 8, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

The Archimedes' performance was astonishing at the time. It was amazing to see Zarch [1] in 1987, when games were mainly sprites [2] (with important exceptions like Elite).

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNXypBxNGMo

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0T03sFX_yM

I remember seeing a spiritual successor of that game (helicopter though, I think) on an Amiga in the early 1990s. It was still impressive.

Also, just noticed that the UI of Wasteland (1988) [1] in that video looked hugely like Infocom's Battletech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception (1988) [2] but I can find no documented link or engine reference.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasteland_(video_game) [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BattleTech:_The_Crescent_Hawk%...

The helicopter game was probably Zeewolf (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zeewolf)?


The UI of Wasteland is also heavily inspired by the Bard's Tale:


Virus was a port of Zarch to Amiga and ST. I don't recall the amiga version but the ST one was much less smooth than the Archimedes and would bog down with a couple of agents onscreen.

Zarch was the first game I played where a mouse was mandatory.

This brings back lots of memories - my first computers were the Acorn Electron and the A3000 (never realised they were the 'posh' end of the market until now), and I still remember my Dad letting me install the RAM upgrade in the A3000 despite what was undoubtedly an internal worry that he'd just opened up what was an expensive piece of kit at the time to his clumsy, all too eager son :)

I also remember programming my first games (space invader clones) in BASIC on the A3000 (and the A3020s we had at school) - fun times.

I always thought the whatever text editor that was used on the Archimedes had a very intuitive copy/paste, if I remember correctly you could move a "second cursor" around and then pressing a key it would paste the current character in the "copy cursor" at your current location

This would make it really easy to do something like duplicate a line while changing some things, just move the copy cursor to the line/variable/thing you wanted to paste and modify, then hold the copy key until you got to where you had to change something (at your current location the characters from the other line would appear), type what you wanted, then back to the copy key for the rest of the line

Seeing my best friend at the time use it it seemed really cool, some days I think of trying to write a minor mode for emacs that lets you do that...

This copy and paste mechanism was also part of the Amstrad CPC (the first computer I've personally owned), with shift + cursor keys you could move the second cursor and there was the "copy" key.


thanks for the additional data point, interesting that this was so widespread but ended up more or less disappearing as a copy/paste paradigm

The copy/paste function was already there in the Beeb and the Electron.

really? interesting, wonder why it seems no other editor has something similar, or at least I don't think I've ever seen it elsewhere

Yes, confirmed the bbc and the electron already had this.

Interesting tidbit: it matched the data on the screen with the font in graphics mode, which meant that if your graphics intersected anywhere with text you wanted to copy that it stopped copying on corrupted characters. There was too little memory in those machines to keep a 'backup copy' of what was in the character cells of the screen, so the copy key function had to recover the screen contents directly.


You can see the keyboard here, the copy key is bottom row, rightmost key.

Introduced on the Acorn Atom - I still have my Acorn Atom, I taught myself to program on it. Built in BASIC and 6502 Assembler (which could be mixed!) and I also bought AtomForth as well. Great piece of kit.

Ah yes, you are right, the Atom had it too.

Vim has a limited form of this: control-E and control-Y in insert mode copy the character on the previous/next line (both in Emacs/Vim look for extensions about "multiple cursors" if you're interested in this feature). I remember the line editor of the CPC used to edit Basic programs also had this feature.

I use multiple cursors in Emacs all the time, but it's a really different workflow from this type of editor, with this it's like having two independent cursors, one for insert and one for "copy from here", you can switch between the two and move them around (don't remember if you could search on the copy cursor, but it would make sense you could) when you press the copy key they both move 1 char to the right and the char from the copy cursor ends up at the insert cursor, in skilled hands this can make some typical coding "copy this line and modify it slightly" quite fast

Really surprised it didn't catch on in other editors, I wonder if it could be done in emacs by having a command that copies a char from mark to point and moves them both right, as well as a different cursor to put in mark, since you can already exchange point and mark it seems this should make this functionality feasible

Me too, the A3000 was a fantastic piece of kit, I just wish I'd put more effort into leaning to program instead of playing Pandora's Box and Chocks Away.

Yes, I too spent most of my time playing games - the James Pond series was a particular favorite, along with a side-scrolling shooter with awesome music...anyone remember the name of it?

Edit: It was Nevyron: https://youtu.be/jOwhIlMoZZs

The intro music still sets the spine tingling :)

Ah yes, I remember Nevryon too. And Cataclysm, that was amazing for the time https://youtu.be/VMlZ2MwYvuA

You can get James Pond on the iOS App Store.

My first memories of using a computer was playing Stunt Racer 2000 on my Dad's Acorn, good times.

Our first computer was an Amstrad CPC464. A cousin dropped a jam sandwich onto it and the E key became terminally stuck down, rendering the entire thing impossible to use. As a fledgling nerd, I was devastated. Devastated!

I saw the PCW as a different kind of thing to the Archimedes, it was an appliance rather than a general purpose computer. My sister ran a theatre box office off a PCW spreadsheet (each day's bookings printed out, signed and put into a ledger and a copy saved to one of the chunky non-standard 3" disks). I used PCWs in the College library to write handouts and cut stencils for a Gestetner duplicator.

Later when encountering an Apricot PC running Aldus Pagemaker on Windows (Or GEM? Can't remember now) I recognised it as the same kind of thing as the Archimedes. As was the funny little monochrome Macintosh.

I'm a bit old for the Sinclair thing.

Some technical details...




The A310s were built like tanks and were very fast for the time... unless you wanted to do floating point calculations. You could get a podule with a floating point extension unit on it.

Frankly i suspect that most GPC users today would be as well served by an appliance like the PCW. And to some degree that appliance is what Google has ended up making in the form of Chromebooks.

I loved my CPC6128 so much. By age 7 I'd hacked my sister's ghetto blaster so we could feed it in to the Amstrad as a tape drive.

I've actually been considering getting one for my kids to play with - the simplicity of having basic right there and having physical disks gives a great way to explore what's really going on.

I think the Raspberry Pi can run RISC OS, which also has BASIC right there.

BASIC on an Acorn was my introduction to programming.

I was aware that the machine was very expensive. All games played better than on my friends' computers, and it could even play video and render 3d models (in 1991!) so my friends pestered their parents, but it was too expensive. Ours were all second hand, my dad taught students how to use them, but couldn't afford a new one.

This article misses that Sugar lucked out on Mark Eric Jones , Roland Perry, Locomotive Software and William Poel (Maybe others I missed). The CPC though cheap had a very clever circuit design and surprisingly good software. He wasn't so lucky for later products. The AmsEmailer springs to mind.

If anybody is looking to spend some time soaking in nostalgia, there's a small community at /r/amstrad /r/acornarchimedes and /r/acornelectron

In case anyone is interested, there is a really good (imo) film from the BBC about the forming of Acorn and it's struggle against Clive Sinclair called Micro Men.


Amstrad development is still very much alive. This is a short demo I prepared of unit tests running on the CPC:



"...didn’t give a sht whether there was an elastic band or an 8086 or a 286 driving the thing"

There actually was an elastic band in the disk drive: I remember replacing it twice in my dad's PCW9512 when it wore out.

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