Computer games in school – Part 2
Shortly after I finished writing the previous post, my mind started thinking ‘what have I forgotten?’. As it turns out, I’d forgotten quite a bit about primary school antics including one specific game that Michael Gow promptly reminded me of on Facebook.
Primary school started fir me in 1989 and ended in 1994, during that time the only technology I was allowed to access was some of the finest British Microcomputers available at the time. My trusty ZX Spectrum 48k lived at home and provided me my earliest gaming experiences including the legendary Hobbit, Jet Set Willy and Skool Daze; Killigrew School on the other hand provided me with something not dissimilar but different enough to be exciting, the BBC Micro.
The BBC Micro was the only model of computer our school had and by midway through my primary education, was old. Permanently attached to a bright red, steel framed computer desk the beige box with its instantly recognisable red function keys sat directly below its cumbersome CRT monitor. On the same shelf as the monitor was the giant, clunky 5 1/4 inch drive used for reading all the software the school owned. This alone was enough to blow my mind coming from a household that relied on loading games from cassette tape. Surprisingly most teachers at the school didn’t really know how to use the BBC usually resulting it the dust cover remaining on and power off. Myself, Richard, Michael, Martin and a couple of others had worked out how to load the disks so this typically resulted in it being used when we were around.
So where do I begin with my memories of computer games at primary school? Seeing that it was already mentioned on Facebook, let me talk about Podd.
The game was called ‘Podd’ if my memory serves me and the task was simple, try and get Podd to do as many things as you could. The game was coded with 120 verbs that Podd would understand with each having a corresponding animation (as seen above with some using the same animation i.e walk, run etc). The idea was to teach children various verbs that they could use in their writing or verbal skills. As you may have noticed, my writing isn’t particularly great so the game didn’t work wonders for me!
The game was given as more a treat than anything with children being allowed to play it on successful completion of class work and a like. I’ll be honest, when you realise that Podd won’t do half the things you want him to (rude words from an 8 years point of view anyway) then the word ‘Explode’ was used more often than not. This caused Podd to swell up and then explode in glorious 8 bit fashion. It was more fun pretending to dive for cover than watch him explode, this should give you an idea of how good the game really was..
This wasn’t strictly a game but when you consider the entertainment we took from this little orb of technology, you’ll understand why I have included it here. The Turtle was a piece of hardware connected by ribbon cable to the BBC Micro. This would require the entire desk to be moved to the centre of the classroom where a large enough flat surface on the floor could be found for the Turtle to roam free. Ok, so it didn’t quite roam free but instead followed the instructions you entered in to the Micro prior to telling it to run. To draw a square you would have to tell the Turtle every time you wanted it to turn and how much by, how far to drive forward and how many times to repeat this. If you got it right then you got a good mark from the teacher, if you got I wrong, no one cared as it was funny watching it go mental.
For those of you that may be interested, a square should be:
Exciting stuff huh!
Around 1993 the school upgraded to 1 or 2 modern computers. As far as I can remember these were either a 386 or 486 PC running Windows 3.1 but honestly, I can’t really remember them that well. They had been donated by companies that supported the school and were, as far as we were aware, top of the range. What I do remember from these dates is learning how to do flowcharts thanks to a piece of hardware that Mrs Childs (our headmistress at the time) friends had allegedly developed.
The Smart Box was an external piece of hardware you hooked up to your PC by serial connector. This in turn was then controlled by a piece of software called Flowol that allowed students to create flowcharts that would access the various Inputs and Outputs of the Smart Box. There were various things you could plug in to the Smart Box including Thermometers, Light bulbs and light sensors but the thing I remember the most was a set of traffic lights. You were often told by the teacher you had to make the traffic lights work as you would expect them on the road, this was obviously easier said than done but eventually most of us managed it.