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Unlicensed games (it was: learning to program computers)

I think it was in 1988 when I got my first computer, a Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2A. I had some games, but I quickly discovered that it was much funnier to create my own games than to play to games created by others. And that's how I began to program computers.

I was particularly obsessed with a game about the movie Tron. I had a cassette tape (this link is for those who were born in the age of the iPod and the Blu-ray) with a game inspired on that movie. I think I got the tape from my uncle. Unfortunately, the game was for a different model of computers, so I didn't had a chance to play it.

Some years later, probably in 1991, a PC arrived at home. It was a 286 CPU with a monochrome display. I still have that venerable machine at home, and it still works. There was a BASIC interpreter (QBASIC) included in the operating system, therefore for me it was very natural to move from Spectrum's BASIC to the MS-DOS' QBASIC.

In November 1993, I completed the first version of a game called "Tron". I was trying to develop from scratch a clone of a game I haven't seen! My only source of inspiration was, apart from the movie, the label of the cassette case. "Tron" (the game) was multi-player (2 players shared a single keyboard) and it included some hand-made sprites for the explosions, and even a couple of sound-effects recorded with my own voice and played using my first sound card, a SoundBlaster Pro. I still have the source code of that game. It contains 1,000 lines of BASIC. Fifteen years have passed since 1993. Then, I was an untrained, very young programmer, and now I'm older and wiser. But I must say that I'm a bit astonished by myself. The code is neatly formatted, elegantly structured in subroutines and profusely commented.

Approximately at that time, I was learning a much more powerful programming language, C. A Spanish magazine distributed PCC (links welcome!), a small shareware C compiler. However, I decided to use BASIC again for the second version of my game. The first version was very successful, providing a lot of fun with my friends, although I think I never distributed the software. Therefore, it was quite natural to make an attempt to create a better game. By then, I had a 486 with a colorfull SuperVGA display. The new version was completed by mid 1994, and contained 2,000 lines of code. It included an installer, and I vaguely remember giving some copies of the game to my friends. Among other improvements, the game supported 4 simultaneous players (using a single keyboard! can you imagine how to put 4 hands of 4 different people over the same keyboard?), AI-controlled players and it had nicer graphics and sounds. It even included a title image that I created using a primitive release of POV. This image was inspired by the label of the tape I mentioned above. I silly named the new game "Tronator" (probably inspired by the movie Terminator II). As before, the code has a surprising quality for an untrained developer. Interestingly enough, the book on Design Patterns by the GoF was published approximately at that time.

The second version of the game was also incredibly successful, and we spent many, many afternoons and week-ends playing to it.