Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 (pp. 2-3)

Our cover-to-cover experiment continues, with a look at pages 2 and 3 of the Acorn Software Products catalog for Fall 1981.  (Click to enlarge the images below to see more detail.)

Page 2 brings back a lot of nostalgia-clouded memories about the vagaries of early personal computer storage, and how difficult it sometimes was to get a mass-produced tape to load or a diskette to hold its data.  Quality Assurance was also a fairly new concept, judging from the bugginess of many software products released in this era.  So Acorn Software devoted an entire page to the novel idea that their products might actually load successfully and work as advertised:

There's quite a lot of now-obsolete detail here about how Acorn's cassette tapes and diskettes were duplicated and manufactured.  The vaunted Autoload concept also provided a degree of copy protection, which made the quality guarantee more important because the original media couldn't easily be backed up.  Acorn's products are not readily available in the online Internet archives today, so the approach apparently worked (or sales were never that solid to begin with.)

Turning to page 3, we get back to this blog's ostensible raison d'etre -- the start of the catalog's Entertainment section:

David Feitelberg's Lost Colony is a textual command line-based simulation that sounds a lot more intriguing than it probably was in actual play -- later games would present similar ideas in more compelling form.  But the catalog copy calls an early gaming trope into service that I had almost completely forgotten.  See, we're supposed to imagine that the TRS-80 computer is a control console, and that our decisions are sending real people and real robots out to hunt for resources as we try to colonize a faraway planet.  So the humble Radio Shack home computer becomes a far-out futuristic sci-fi interface device, affecting the future of our species, not just some magnetic bits stored in RAM.  Nobody tries to convince us that a game isn't just a game anymore; I kind of miss it.

And then there's Space Invaders Invaders from Space by Carl Miller... hmmmm... what could that possibly be?  It's as though some invaders showed up, and they came from space, so they're probably extraterrestrial in origin.  And they "drop bombs, move around and try to overrun your bases."  Man, that sounds like a great idea for a game!  I wonder if anyone ever thought of that before?  Oh, wait, Acorn must be aware of something similar already on the market -- the description mentions "other games of this type."  At least it has full sound effects for even more enjoyment, still a novelty on the TRS-80, which had no built-in sound equipment.  Users had to hook up a little battery-powered speaker to the cassette-output line to hear anything.

Next weekend - pages 4 and 5.

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