The Sega vs Nintendo wars of the 80s and 90s are well documented and are considered to be the thing of legend. Lesser known, but by no means lesser in nature were the home computer wars that were occurring at around the same time. In Australia during the 8-bit era we had the Amstrad CPC vs Commodore 64 war. In other countries you could substitute Amstrad for another computer such as the Apple 2 or add the Spectrum into the mix. In the spirit of these childhood playground arguments I am writing a companion piece to Mike’s "Childhood Memories of the Fond Kind (Commodore 64)" article, coming at it from the point of view of the Amstrad owner.
I was introduced to Lord Alan Sugar’s mighty beast at the age of 7. My junior primary school had 2 Commodore 64s that were rarely used, and my computer experience up to that point was limited to moving a cursor around a maze that was taped on to the monitor. Prior to starting at the primary school we were given a tour of the grounds. Upon entering the school’s computer room I was hit with a sight so wonderful that I could barely look upon it. There in front of me was a room full of Amstrad CPC 6128 computers.
That black plastic, the uniform monitors, the sleek built in disc drives… how could you not love these machines? During the following year when I started primary school I had my first taste of what it was like to use them.
The first thing I noticed was how much faster the built in 3” disc drives were. I remember sitting at the desk loading my first program expecting a bit of a wait, when “BAM”, the program had loaded. The program in question if memory serves was Kuma’s Fruity Frank (a Mr Do clone). Yes, in our first computing class we played games as a way of introducing us to the computers. When you think about it my computer teacher was a genius. Right from the get go he focussed on the fun aspect of computing and got his students hooked.
As well as Locomotive Software’s version of BASIC the Amstrad CPC used CPM, which was a precursor to DOS. Through CPM we would regularly have “Logo” classes. This involved the little triangle in the middle of the screen known as a “turtle” which would draw to the co-ordinates you entered. It was boring, but if you finished your work early you could play games for the last 5-10 minutes of class. Now that’s what I call incentive!
When your typical 8-9 year old is exposed to something that they really want what do they do? They beg & harass their parents until they get said item. Naturally I was no different and in the December of 1989 my parents relented and purchased an Amstrad CPC 6128, 5 days before Christmas.
We purchased it from Radio Rentals at Port Adelaide which has long since closed down. My Uncle worked there and sold it to us at discount. While I was there I remember seeing a mountain of Amstrad Computer User magazines with Konami’s “Jailbreak” on the cover. I had already been given the previous issue of the magazine with a face hugger from the Alien movies on the cover. I can’t remember where I obtained this from though…
My Uncle gave me a copy of the magazine along with the computer and we went home and fired it up. He assured us that it came with a game, but all I could see were 2 system discs with CPM 2.2 on one and CPM+ on the other. After much digging around I discovered a demo of “Roland in Time”. Sadly it was just a rolling demo, so I still had nothing to play. I suspect my parents were a bit miffed at my Uncle over that one.
Anyway, a trip to Plaza Computers (which also closed down many years ago) fixed that problem. My father decided we would be purchasing a “Sega Ozisoft 6 pak” (no that’s not a typo, they left the “c” out of pack) for $40, so I never got to choose my first game. I guess I was taking my time deciding and he saw 6 games and figured it was a bargain. It wasn’t a bad choice though, as the games that were on the “pak” were:
- Into the Eagle’s Nest
- Shockway Rider
- International Karate 1 & 2
I remember playing “Into the Eagles Nest” more than any other. It was basically an overhead version of Wolfenstein where your character invaded a Nazi castle to rescue the allied soldiers inside and to then blow it up.
At school we Amstrad owners stuck together and I became fast friends with my buddy for many years, James. We played many video games together on the Amstrad CPC, NES and SNES before he moved away during the N64 years. We see each other rarely now, though I think it’s been at least 11 years since we last caught up. This is where a lot of experts have it wrong: Computing was never an antisocial activity. Whether someone is antisocial or not is purely down to the individual, but that’s something I’ll cover more in another topic.
Let’s fast forward to the mid 90s, I forget exactly when. I was in the throes of SNES fandom and when my parents suggested selling the Amstrad I wholeheartedly agreed with them. Yes I was an idiot, I can admit to that now. So the Amstrad was sold to my cousins. A few years later I tried tracking it down, but they had sold it on and the people who they sold it to no longer had it. I have no idea what eventually happened to it.
In 1999 my Mother suggested that I sell my SNES as I hadn’t played it in a while. Remembering this incident I steadfastly refused to do so. It was her suggestion that if I was going to keep it, then maybe I should purchase some new games for it. In that instant the retro gaming collector inside me was awakened. 2 years later I had another Amstrad CPC 6128 as well as the CPC 464 which contained a built in tape drive rather than a disc drive.
My childhood was back and this time it was here to stay!
Mike’s next “episode” will be about games, so to go along with that I will be covering some classic titles for the Amstrad CPC series of computers. Since there are so many I’ll just stick to my favourites. Until next time…