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jingof 
When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 7:19:20
#1 ]
Regular Member
Joined: 8-May-2007
Posts: 497
From: Jingo Fet is from "A Galaxy Far, Far Away"

Something occured to me the other day that I think is pretty interesting. I don't know - some of you may have recognized this long ago, but for me it was a kind of "aha" moment. So, I wanted to share the experience with people who, like me, probably grew up with Vic-20, C-64, C-128, Amiga, and how I think much of the fun in computers got lost along the way.

I have a 11+ year old that loves games to an almost unhealthy degree. Recently, I decided to see if I could get him interested in something a little more cerebral. I wanted to get him a computer, but felt like a PC would just be more of the same - gaming, surfing etc. So, I bought him a used C-128 from E-bay with some manuals. I told him it was a "computer just for kids to make games with".

He dubbed it his "game-making computer", and started typing in the program listings from the manual to see what they would do. Some of his friends came over, and thought it was "so cool" that he had a kid's game making computer that he could hook up to the TV in the den, sit down with it in his lap, and make his own games. One kid in particular took an interest in it and wanted to know where he could get his, how much his parents would have to pay, and then he sat down with my son and started reading the program out loud while the other typed.

Boy did that bring back memories...

They had a lot of fun entering the BASIC programs, and seeing what they did - move sprites, draw connecting circles, playing sounds, printing something on the dot-matrix printer etc. Then, one would ask "how does that work?" And they would read the manual to try to figure it out.

To my surprise, the kids saw it as a kind of XBox that they could make and share games on. I didn't tell them it was an antique. They seemed to be ok with the blocky graphics because it made it easier to draw sprites etc and probably felt more like a computer for kids anyway. They talked about making their own games so they could show their friends - but "competing with Halo 3" didn't seem to be a hang-up for any one of them.

I just found this whole thing interesting - because with all the advancements in computers and consoles, kids miss something fundamental today that we all grew up with: a system that not only plays games, but gives you a complete but limited environment to create, learn and explore. Something a kid can get their head around.

Our XBOX was the C-64, and you could play or make games. Today's XBOX has locked that programming capability up tight and in that regard, it is half the machine the C-64 was. Kids can't exercise their creativity or inquire about how things work. Not because they aren't interested, but because Microsoft and Sony haven't licensed them to be inquisitive.

You might say the PC or Mac is there for that. But today's desktops are an ocean of terms and technologies that I think intimidate most kids, and keep them in perpetual surfer/gamer/mp3 downloader mode.

As a result, I think computers (and certainly consoles) are more distraction than educational tool anymore. Parents used to buy computers for kids to learn about, explore and exploit, be creative, develop problem solving skills, etc. I'm sure some of you can relate to fond memories from the 70's and 80's with your C-64, Amiga etc. Staying up late, listening to music, learning to program in assembly, reading math books to figure out the equations needed to make 3D games work etc. Computers were fun in part because their scope was limited enough to make such endeavors possible for a 13 year old. But it seems this original purpose is now lost.

I wonder if a story like the Oliver Twins, or David Simons of Simon's BASIC fame could even happen today:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzjPLAz2eN4
http://www.hdtvarcade.com/hdtvforum/index.php?showtopic=8094
http://www.lemon64.com/?mainurl=http%3A//www.lemon64.com/museum/list.php%3Flineoffset%3D54%26genre%3Dmanualmisc

So, PC's, Macs, Linux, etc. have evolved to a complexity that shuts most kids out of all but the Internet browser. Meanwhile, consoles decided to shut kids out of making games or exploring the system, because a mind-dumbed, Carpal Tunnel teen is a paying customer camped out in the Halo 3 line on launch day. To me, this is why the fun left computing. And part of why I'm hoping to see the Amiga stage a comeback.

I dunno, maybe I'm way off base, or just nostalgic. Maybe you know lots of kids and teens that spend more time making their own games or programs then they do camping out for new game titles on launch day. Or maybe it's a who cares. Why should 13 year olds be flexing their creativity and problem solving through programming or learning about computers?

Anyway, I'd appreciate thoughts, opinions, or evidence to the contrary...


Last edited by jingof on 14-Nov-2007 at 07:27 AM.
Last edited by jingof on 14-Nov-2007 at 07:22 AM.

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whose 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 7:51:30
#2 ]
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Joined: 21-Jun-2005
Posts: 882
From: Germany

@jingof

Yes, I watched the same with the kids in my family environment. The younger ones are still willing to do some nice experiments without seeing "stunning 3D graphics" as a must.

But I think that the parents often are the real problem. They don´t really care about such "effects", the only important thing with a "children´s computer" is to have the children busy in a convenient manner. So, XBox, PS2/3, Wii and such are first choice, because there is "stunning 3D graphics" parents see as a must have (by marketing), the children are simply playing and not asking questions (which would be inconvenient)...

The outlocking of self-made programs is a marketing choice. Micro$oft & colleagues cannot be interested in "anybody´s" programs running on their machines because of the name licensing scheme.

That would be a point for the Amiga (in any flavour), because there is no such a licensing scheme (no need for it yet) and the programming itself isn´t utterly complex (respectively shouldn´t get this complex, because complexity isn´t needed at all and even not Amiga like).

Problem is: most of the people aren´t interested in giving their children some "old" machines to sharpen their intelligence with, just because of the marketing babble around today´s machines. You can watch it here, e.g. most people are focused on 3D graphics as a must have, totally ignoring the fact that we lack even some badly needed 2D programs and games.

"Well, 2D is old" is one of the most used arguments. Is it really? I don´t think so. Even really old computers aren´t "old" in the sense of the word. They are smaller (and hence less complex), but the technique is nearly the same as today. Even the, in the meantime, much more complex Amiga system is "old", but not in the sense of the word, and I think it could be used very well for educational purposes, just like the good old C64 could. Sadly, we simply lack the people willing to use it in this way...

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Teddy 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 8:10:06
#3 ]
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Joined: 29-Nov-2003
Posts: 395
From: Belgrade, Serbia

@jingof

Ahh, that brings back fond memories.

I can remember like it was yesterday when I typed the first program listing in BASIC on my C-128. That feeling when you tell the computer to do something and it does it. The desire to figure out how all of it works and the sensation when you've successfully solve a logical problem.


I think that you are right about all. Today the level of all sorts of technology just got too complex to be entered with that child curiosity. That is what made computers fun, the desire to explore and learn new stuff.

I can also say that I admire the way that you got your kid interested in creative thinking.



edit: darn typo

Last edited by Teddy on 14-Nov-2007 at 10:14 AM.
Last edited by Teddy on 14-Nov-2007 at 08:12 AM.

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jingof 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 8:18:52
#4 ]
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Joined: 8-May-2007
Posts: 497
From: Jingo Fet is from "A Galaxy Far, Far Away"

@whose

>>> The outlocking of self-made programs is a marketing choice. Micro$oft & colleagues cannot be interested in "anybody´s" programs running on their machines because of the name licensing scheme.

Yes, I agree. Good for Microsoft, bad for kids.

>>> Even really old computers aren´t "old" in the sense of the word.

Old computers are not necessary. Newer, more powerful computers could be "packaged" in such a way that they are simple, yet powerful.

I think the complexity comes into play when you try to support every concievable option under the sun. A limited scope can be established for a more powerful system. It's just a difficult sell, when you have 2 equally powerful systems, one with thousands of options and another with much less. People buy options, which means they also buy complexity.

>>> That would be a point for the Amiga (in any flavour),

Right, maybe a low end amiga that values simplicity over options would be a good thing.

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voyager2007 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 8:22:57
#5 ]
Regular Member
Joined: 5-Sep-2007
Posts: 432
From: Germany

I know the problem well, but from the perspective of myself: When I was a kid, I wrote hundreds of games on the VIC-20. On the Amiga, I made hundreds of music pieces. But nowadays, after getting home from work, I cannot find enough time to make games or music, using contemporary technology. That's why I'm working on making computers easier. I try to come up with the most simple, yet most powerful designs. I want to write a BASIC-like environment, for instance, that's as easy to use as that of an 8-bit computer. I've made hundreds of prototypes just for that, and I'm slowly getting there.

Young people nowadays often use Java, C# or Python, but these languages are still more difficult to learn than a BASIC-like interpreter. You can just fire up the BASIC and start typing away in it. Portability is also an issue; it needs to run at least on Linux and Windows (and perhaps MacOS X). People might also want to share their work online with other people, so at least automatic packaging or installer creation are a must also.



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CodeSmith 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 9:03:52
#6 ]
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Joined: 8-Mar-2003
Posts: 3045
From: USA

I'm in agreement with the general sentiment, but I disagree about some of the details. I program for a living, and when I get home, I want to forget about garbage collector efficiency, COM interop marshalling issues and the myriad of things one has to handle nowadays. That's why I'm drawn towards the amiga and the C64, the simplicity more than makes up for the basic hardware and cramped address space.

On the other hand, I disagree about MS, Sony etc giving kids nowadays a raw deal. You forget that the XBOX and the PS3 are *not* the descendents of the C64; they are the descendents of the 2600, the NES and the Megadrive. Back then it was just as impossible for some kid to write code for his NES as it would be for me today to get hold of an XBOX devkit. There is no real spiritual descendent to the C64 any more, because one cannot buy a computer any more that boots right into a friendly programming language environment.

I think that voyager2007's post is an excellent example of what went wrong. He agrees with conventional wisdom, saying that says portability is an issue. But why? back when we were hacking pacman in our C64s and A500s there were literally dozens of different OS, and we didn't care at all if our C64 Pacman worked on the neighbor's Spectrum+. Why is it now a requirement that my yellow dot gobbler run on Windows, Mac and Linux? That is *precisely* the difference between now and then. He (and pretty much anyone) sees it as a normal, expected thing that programs should be portable (using standard libraries like SDL and OpenGL), and that they come with an installer script. All this is good, but it also adds complexity to the process of writing software. Today, software complexity is seen as a normal, expected thing, and that is precisely why you can't just sit a kid in front of visual studio or Eclipse and expect him to hammer out the same sort of things he can in front of a C128. Just think of the amount of work needed to set up a rendering context and draw a simple line on the screen using DirectX, OpenGL or SDL vs setting a video mode and drawing a line using BASIC 7 on the ol' C128.

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ikir 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 9:18:31
#7 ]
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Joined: 18-Dec-2002
Posts: 5646
From: Italy

My Mac and my Amiga are still fun everyday! Easy and they what i want to do.

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TrevorDick 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 9:28:21
#8 ]
Elite Member
Joined: 30-Dec-2004
Posts: 2635
From: Wellington

@jingof

Interesting read!

TrevorDick

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jingof 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 9:32:30
#9 ]
Regular Member
Joined: 8-May-2007
Posts: 497
From: Jingo Fet is from "A Galaxy Far, Far Away"

@CodeSmith

>>> You forget that the XBOX and the PS3 are *not* the descendents of the C64

A console can choose to be open or closed. It's a marketing and business decision having nothing to do with lineage. XBOX, PS3 share the same licensing scheme as the megadrive, SNES etc. But that doesn't imply descendency, just common licensing approach.

And it is Microsoft's/Sony's choice to draw the license up that way.

That's their choice and I'm not condemning them for it. I'm just making the same point you did:

> > > > >"There is no real spiritual descendent to the C64 any more"

And I think this missing option is very unfortunate..

>>> Today, software complexity is seen as a normal, expected thing, and that is precisely why you can't just sit a kid in front of visual studio or Eclipse and expect him to hammer out the same sort of things he can in front of a C128

Right, but I did not say that.

I'm not saying kids should be able to use Visual Studio or Eclipse. Those are profession environments with necessary and expected complexity. Agreed.

Are you saying since those environments have "expected" complexity, a non-professional, reduced, child-friendly environment must have an equal amount of complexity to the professional tools? What's the relavance of professional tools when we're talking about something that is made specifically to be "kid or novice friendly"?

>> I think that voyager2007's post is an excellent example of what went wrong.

I think voyager's point was to make a simple environment that works on those platforms. Therefore, portability is build-in and no additional complexity is required to get that portability. So, I think that was a different point than you made.

Last edited by jingof on 14-Nov-2007 at 09:34 AM.

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Rudei 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 9:46:08
#10 ]
Elite Member
Joined: 20-Nov-2002
Posts: 3560
From: Dallas, Texas

@jingof

Very nice, and I can see your point - I think computers were more fun back then. I guess it smarts of an unrealistic alternative to the C64, Atari 800, Amiga, Acorn, Amstrad etc.

These days there are many distractions on your PC, Mac - kids can download stuff, chat to their friends. In the "good old days" the most you might be connected to was a BBS and possibly IRC.

Easy to get distracted via the internet etc, when it was just one kid (or two) in front of a computer with a spec/manual typing stuff in, I'd say things were a lot simpler, quieter and easier to get motivated into programming things for yourself.

I'm not blaming the internet, I'm simply stating that there are more distractions on the devices most kids could potentially use to code these days. And which kid wants to code in C+/#, or java straight away without coming through a less complex language - I'm sure there are basic languages on these machines, but then there is a the rigmarole of downloading/installing - it's not like you can get them from kiddies computer magazines.

I'm sure someone will post several links to disagree for the sake of it (that's the usual trend on these Amiga boards), but you've got to admit, the hard evidence points towards there not being many bedroom coders these days - last success I can remember on a grand scale was Andy Davidson with Worms through the Amiga Format/Team17 competition.

Rude!

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jingof 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 10:05:00
#11 ]
Regular Member
Joined: 8-May-2007
Posts: 497
From: Jingo Fet is from "A Galaxy Far, Far Away"

@ikir

Are you saying you're a teen and can speak on the subject authoritatively, or just that you think computers never lost their "fun"?

>>> Easy and they what i want to do.

But that sounds like you're talking about using a computer. I'm mostly referring to writing your own programs. That's what's hard, but word processing, Internet browsing etc. Those things, I agree are easy - if that's what your refering to. Do you write programs or games?

Last edited by jingof on 14-Nov-2007 at 10:10 AM.

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Will 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 11:15:05
#12 ]
Member
Joined: 23-Jun-2005
Posts: 67
From: Lincs, UK

@jingof

You don't think it's more a case of us changing into adults.

Like has already been mentioned in this thread, back when I was younger you either had a console or a "real" computer (ie one with a keyboard). Real computer users poured scorn on console users who were doomed never to be able to do anything "useful" with their consoles because they didn't have a keyboard (although, secretly we wouldn't have minded having a console AS WELL AS our real computer). I don't think that has really changed, although, as we are all richer, we tend to find both types of machine in many families now.

Back then you could be really impressed with moving a sprite around on the screen in "Easy AMOS" while the pros used SAS C or DevPac4. There are still equivilent products these days on PCs.

What has changed is that we, as adults, have less time to experiment, so we need our results to be faster. We've already done the early "wow, I can do this on my computer" stage so now we expect our results to be more impressive (which takes longer and is more hard work) and we're now on the internet, so, no matter what you do, chances are someone has already done it, just better.

Hmm, that's a long waffle for me.....

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Tomas 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 11:22:37
#13 ]
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Joined: 25-Jul-2003
Posts: 4286
From: Unknown

@jingof
Nice to hear! Though maybe they would have even more fun with a amiga running Amos or some similar basic language

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Tomas 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 11:24:43
#14 ]
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Joined: 25-Jul-2003
Posts: 4286
From: Unknown

@jingof

Quote:
Yes, I agree. Good for Microsoft, bad for kids.

In the end it is bad for everyone... Some of these kids is those who end up becoming professional game programmers and even microsoft would have earned on that sometime in the future. A bunch of bigger game companies started out as a hobby project which evolved.

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Gleng 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 11:58:48
#15 ]
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Joined: 12-Dec-2004
Posts: 1071
From: Blighty

I love my Mac, my Linux box, and my Wii, but sometimes they feel more like appliances than computers. Even though Linux is completely open, its complexity can be a barrier to those wishing to understand the system fully.

A simple operating system, bundled with Python and PyGame would make an ideal system to bring back some of that tinkering appeal to modern hardware.

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Manu 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 12:03:03
#16 ]
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Joined: 4-Feb-2004
Posts: 1561
From: Unknown

@jingof

I liked your post. Reminded me of myself when I tried to get that sprite balloon
in the C64 manual to look right ( Damn numbers they are so hard to get right )

Maybe this could be something Amiga could explore more if everything
got on track again. The "make your own game" computer in the kids room.

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Rudei 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 13:00:08
#17 ]
Elite Member
Joined: 20-Nov-2002
Posts: 3560
From: Dallas, Texas

@Will

Quote:
don't think it's more a case of us changing into adults.


No mate, we're not talking about us now, we're talking about kids now. There was a definite us and them camp even back then when consoles were in their infancy but what I think is that the "us" camp, being the now kids of today, has dwindled because of a lack of either incentive or appropriate tools with which to write simple code on, given the distractions that exist today,

Rude!

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Ferry 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 13:17:53
#18 ]
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Joined: 26-Aug-2003
Posts: 660
From: Valencia, Spain

@jingof

Very nice reading, food for thought.... In fact, I think it's our fault, as adults, because when we buy all this new technology to our kids is because we know what's behind it, 'cause we learnt, back when we were younger, how computer things do work, and many times we think our kids will be able to see the same technique, the same advance that amazes us. Of course, they don't, simply because they don't have the same technological background we have. How should they get that connaissance? Of course, the same way we did: from the very basic concepts up, starting with how a computer works, and all those little ancient machines -Spectrum, Vic-20, C-64, Oric, Amstrad, etc.- were perfect for this task: a simple, ready-to-run BASIC interpreter, with no other distraction: no fancy background and icons, no startup sound, no instant internet connection. Code or die, I'd say...

All the fancyness is in part the cause of the current console-phobia...

Saluditos,

Ferrán.

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Laser 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 13:19:50
#19 ]
Regular Member
Joined: 19-Jul-2003
Posts: 333
From: Norwich, UK

I think it is also to do with expectations...

Back then, even the "professionals" produced stuff that looked feasible. We could (however misguided it may have been) aspire to creating games and demos approaching what was commercially available.

Nowadays all the commercial stuff is produced over the course of years by huge teams and is so totally beyond the bedroom coder that a young kid will not bother. He sees his friends playing 3D flashy games, he wants to play them. Why would he want to practice making a coloured block bounce around the screen? We, having lived through that age, know that it can be rewarding, but that experience has gone and is no longer appropriate. It is like proposing learning programming by entering raw hex POKE tables - you just wouldn't bother.

The amateur could use the modern equivalent of 3D Games Construction Kit, but we've already established the learning curve for a child is then too steep. Everything to do with modern computer programming is now too complex and cliquey for a child to approach in the way we did. Just look at the way people will jump on you for using techniques they perceive to be outdated, code that's difficult to port, GUI's that aren't skinnable, etc.

It makes you wonder if, some years in the future, the world will be full of people who know how to use computers and program in Java, but nobody will have the skills to recreate such things from the ground up.

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Metalheart 
Re: When computers were fun...
Posted on 14-Nov-2007 13:34:37
#20 ]
Elite Member
Joined: 21-Aug-2003
Posts: 2967
From: Somewhere in the Dutch mountains....

@jingof

I agree completely with you !!

Maybe this can be achieved with a modern computer (Amiga) and a programming language (Hollywood) constructed in such a way that when the computer is swiched on it boots directly into an editor to write a hollywood script.
And when for example the F12 key is pressed it would run that hollywood script.
F11 for saving that script to disk and so on.

Or something along that lines...



my 2Ects

Martin

Last edited by Metalheart on 14-Nov-2007 at 01:35 PM.

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