The Computers Behind the Stories

Friday 10 Dec 2004

While reading Apple Confidential 2.0 recently, I realized that I was actually dealing with personal computers in their early stages. Then I thought about how this applied to my writing. The result is this week's posting: a brief but detailed history of what computers have been used to work on "The Adventurers" over the years.

It actually all started in the late 1970s. Before I had a computer, I had video game systems: Atari PCS (later retitled "Atari 2600") in 1979 and Colecovision in 1982. My brothers and I saved up and got a Commodore 64 in 1984; this one was actually a real computer which you could use for programming as well as playing games. I once spent several months writing a game program best described as "BattleTech" meets "The Road Warrior" meets "Damnation Alley." The player would roam a post-holocaust world, complete with monsters, weapons/ammo/supply caches, bandits, and strange natural phenomena. I conceived and built a huge world for this to take place in; it was composed of an 8x8 grid of smaller 8x8 grids (thus 4096 grids total) each of which contained an enemy to fight, someone to talk to in order to learn something, ruins containing a weapons cache, an environmental effect to see and/or deal with, or empty space. Each grid space was unique and had co-ordinates and a type code, the latter taking the program to the appropriate subroutine to let the player deal with the contents of that particular grid. When the encounter was over, the player would then choose which direction to move, and the process would begin again. This game had fluctuating stats for armor, damage, attack power, fuel, ammo, and such. It was about 80% done when I ran up against a wall: the Commodore's 64 Kb of RAM could no longer handle the ever-increasing complexity of my program. I didn't have the time to figure out a workaround, and thus it was that my first and only software gaming program died while I was in the eleventh grade. C64 specs: ~1 MHz MOS6510 processor, 64 Kb RAM, no hard drive (one 5.25" floppy drive.)

Anyway, back to writing. Before I DMed the campaign that was written up as episodes 1-143 of "The Adventurers", I DMed a primitive, much less-organized campaign for my brothers, in our hometown. This took place from 1985-1989 and its characters have appeared in my stories: Lord Marcus, Yod Ironbeard, Kup Swiftfoot, Tarl, Eyer, and a few others. From 1988-1989, some notes for this campaign were kept on a KayPro II computer which my father bought and quickly gave to me (I was the only one in the household who even tried to understand how it worked and what it could do.) This computer was also used for early record-keeping of the "Adventurers" campaign. KayPro II specs: 2.5 MHz mZ80 processor, 64 KB RAM, no hard drive (two 5.25" floppy drives.)

At the same time I was using the KayPro, I got my first computer-related job. It was 1988 and the IBM PS/2 Model 80 was brand-new. For a couple of years, I used these to create and organize my writing files, and eventually threw away the KayPro and became a Windows 3.1 user. Oddly enough, the first few stories were written using a DOS program called SEE.EXE which was about as simple as text editors got in the late 1980s. IBM PS/2 model 80 specs: 20 MHz Intel 80386 processor, 2 Mb RAM, 70 Mb hard drive.

Even when 486 processors came along, I still had to use the model 80s at work. In 1992, I wrote about twenty stories over the December break using an early portable which I'd checked out to take home: a Compaq portable 386. I still used SEE.EXE at this time. This computer was leading-edge for a portable, at the time; we'd bought a handful of these in 1987 for use as mobile troubleshooting units, but that need had changed by 1992, and these Compaqs were just sitting around. Compaq portable 386 specs: 20 MHz Intel 80386 processor, 8 Mb RAM, 40 Mb hard drive (and it was under 20 lbs!)

By 1994, I had permanently checked out a PC for home use: an IBM PS/2 model 30. It was smaller, slower, and weaker than the others, but it had a fixed spot at my home desk for a year, and dozens of stories were written on it. IBM PS/2 model 30 specs: 8 MHz 80286 processor, 640 Kb RAM, 20 Mb hard drive.

The Compaq got given back in 1995 when I bought my own computer, the first of four I've purchased in the last ten years. These more recent ones have already been mentioned in rants over the years, but here's a summary:
  —  5/1995 - 8/1998: Packard-Bell 4000 (?) (90 MHz Pentium processor, 32 Mb RAM, 80 Mb (?) hard drive)
  —  2/2002 - 1/2003: Dell Dimension 4400 (1.7 GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512 Mb RAM, 40 Gb hard drive)
  —  10/2002 - 10/2004: Apple iBook 12" (700 MHz G3 processor, 640 Mb RAM, 20 Gb hard drive)
  —  10/2004 - present: Apple PowerBook 15" (1.5 GHz G4 processor, 1 Gb RAM, 80 Gb hard drive)