The Custom TRS‑80 and Other Mysteries
Adventure games were some of the earliest games written for computers and they were incredibly popular at the beginning of the microcomputer revolution. Despite this popularity, there were only a handful of books that showed how adventure games worked in detail or how to write one. In my opinion, the best book of this type was Writing BASIC Adventure Programs for the TRS-80 by Frank DaCosta. Published in 1982 by TAB Books, Writing BASIC Adventure Programs for the TRS‑80 describes two different types of adventure games, with full listings that the reader could type in to the computer. (Both programs were also available through the mail from the author for $19.95 on either disk or tape.)
DaCosta devotes the main part of the book (the first ten chapters) to Basements and Beasties, a classic text adventure in the mold of William Crowther’s original Adventure. After describing how an adventure game works in general, DaCosta lays out the framework needed for a text adventure.
Olympic Decathlon, sometimes known as Microsoft Olympic Decathlon, was one of the first sports related programs to mix game and simulation. It was written by Timothy W. Smith and sold by Microsoft Consumer Products. The original TRS‑80 version cost $24.95 and was released in 1980. It was followed by an Apple II version in 1981 and an IBM PC version in 1982. Although the program used both the word “Olympic” in its title and the Olympic rings symbol, the program manual makes no mention of a license from the International Olympic Committee. The lack of a license might be why the 1982 IBM PC version was renamed Microsoft Decathlon and all references to the Olympics were removed.
Contrary to what is sometimes claimed, Olympic Decathlon was not based on the similar Konami arcade game Track and Field, but actually predated it by several years. Olympic Decathlon was created by Timothy Smith, a former systems programmer for Burroughs Corporation. Smith wanted to write a sports game, but didn’t want to pick an obvious sport such as baseball or basketball. Instead, he chose to base a game on the decathlon, a grueling two-day competition that is comprised of ten track-and-field events:
Now that the Radio Shack computer project had been approved by Charles Tandy, the question was how many computers to build. Steve Leininger and Don French both felt that 50,000 units was a reasonable number. That figure was considered laughable (literally) by those in charge, who felt that 1,000 units was more reasonable. (A number that seems absurdly low when you consider that MITS sold 1,000 Altair computers in February 1975 alone.)
The 1,000 target was later increased to 3,000. At the time, Radio Shack had slightly over 3,000 stores. It was decided that if the computer failed to sell, the 3,000 units built could be used in the stores to keep inventory.
Actually, French described it as being phrased “when” the computer failed to sell. There was very little confidence in the project in the upper levels of management at Radio Shack. According to a 1981 InfoWorld article, one executive expressed his disapproval to French with this message: “Don’t waste my time – we can’t sell computers.”
There were many unofficial adaptations of the Atari arcade game Asteroids written for the TRS‑80. Super Nova from Big Five Software and Planetoids from Adventure International were considered among the best.
Bounceoids (not “Bounceroids” as some sources state) was an Asteroids-inspired game written by Robert Pappas (author of Frogger and Crazy Painter) and sold by the Cornsoft Group. It took the concept behind Asteroids and gave it an intriguing twist: what if asteroids didn’t wrap around the sides of the screen, but bounced off the sides instead?
Although this might sound like a minor difference, having the asteroids bounce completely changes the gameplay. The same playing strategies that work in Asteroids (some of which also work in Super Nova and Planetoids) don’t work in Bounceoids. In particular, the movement of the bouncing asteroids means that the player must move almost constantly to avoid them.
In the early days of microcomputers, books containing “type-in” BASIC programs were common. But probably the book series published for the widest range of computers was the “32 BASIC Programs” series, written by Tom Rugg and Phil Feldman and published by dilithium Press. (The name dilithium was intentionally lowercase.)
Each book contained thirty-two BASIC programs divided into six categories: applications, educational, graphics, game, mathematics, and miscellaneous. Some of the later books added seven extra programs spread across the same categories.
The text of each book was almost identical, sometimes with just the name of the computer changed. Of course, the programs themselves and the screenshots illustrating each program were necessarily different for each new computer.
The TRS‑80 entry in the series was titled TRS‑80 Programs: 32 BASIC Programs for the TRS‑80 (Level II) Computer. Judging by the publication dates, it was the second book in the series, immediately following the Commodore PET version.
The XLR8er (pronounced accelerator) was a speed-up and memory expansion board for the TRS‑80 Model 4, regarded by many to be the ultimate Model 4 expansion. The XLR8er replaced the Model 4 Z80 CPU with an enhanced microprocessor that offered 256K of additional memory (for a total of 384K) and up to double the speed. The XLR8er originally sold for $299.95 (with memory) when H.I. Tech, Inc. introduced it around 1986, but that price soon dropped to $249.95.
The XLR8er hardware was based on the SB-180 single-board computer project that was presented by Steve Ciarcia in the September and October issues of BYTE and sold by MicroMint. The XLR8er was close enough to the SB-180 design that it was able to accept “Ciarcia” expansion modules designed for the SB-180.
One of the most famous TRS‑80 companies was Alpha Products. If you called technical support at Alpha Products after 1984, you probably spoke to Kevin Tschudi. While working there from 1981 to 1991, he wrote the VS-100 Talker software and Newclock-80 drivers and co-designed the A-Bus system.
In this interview, conducted in August 2011, he talks about his experiences at Alpha Products.
Dan Gookin is a popular computer book author who has written 120 titles that have sold 12 million copies and been translated into over 30 languages. He is perhaps most famous for DOS for Dummies, his 1991 book which became the fastest selling computer book and launched the For Dummies series that continues today. He also maintains the web site Wambooli.
In this interview, conducted in August 2011, he talks about how he started in computers with a TRS‑80 Model III.
William Demas is the author of many notable TRS‑80 games, including Panik, Frogs, Forbidden Planet, and Forbidden City. In this interview, conducted in July 2011, he discusses his TRS‑80 games and experiences.
NEWDOS 2.1, also known as NEWDOS, NEWDOS/21, and NEWDOS+, was the first alternative disk operating system for the TRS‑80 Model I. Introduced in March 1979 by Apparat, Inc. of Denver, Colorado, NEWDOS jump started the entire third-party TRS‑80 disk operating system market. NEWDOS was considered by many to be an essential program for the Model I; it is quite possible that NEWDOS was more widely used than Model I TRSDOS itself.