David Rawlings





David Rawlings








The Atari 400/800 Computer system was a superb machine in its day. I had ordered a Sinclair ZX81 by post but had dropped in on the Silicon Centre Computer Store in Edinburgh where the owner was displaying an Atari 800 machine playing Star Raiders. I had to have one but was strapped for cash at the time. He suggested the 400 series, which was due a few weeks later. In the interim the ZX81 arrived through the post. There was no comparison, and back it went to Mr Sinclair for a refund (could never get the cassette tapes to work anyway). A few weeks later the Atari 400 appeared in store and I bought it (did it cost me nearly £400? – I think it did). I became completely engrossed in the machine. Sound, graphics and quality was superb. Atari released it with 16K memory, more than I would ever need at the time, so I thought.

In between playing Star Raiders I got into Basic programming in a big way. Obviously games were the most fun to write. Unfortunately these things take time. I was a final year medical student at the time and finding time between studying or working was difficult. Even took the machine on holiday with me.

First published was “Missile Attack” in Computer and Video Games Magazine in Nov 83. A reasonable Missile Command Clone. Spend a long time in 1983/4 with Atari Assembler and Basic constructing machine code routines that would control PM graphics and do linear scrolling at the same time during vertical. Months of work to get a basic Scramble clone working. However I did not get it finished.

Probing into the machine was great fun. This machine was an invention but making it do what you wanted was a discovery. Articles appeared in magazines as enthusiasts fished out the details of player missile graphics, vertical blank interrupts, unknown graphics options and other features that made the thing work. Atari were notorious secretive about these in the early years. I can still remember many of those peek and poke locations to this day. How sad is that?

Submitted a complex “Caverns of Mars” type game called Mission X to (old) Atari User. This was rejected, but after getting over my disappointment it then appeared in Atari User Vol3 No.4 August 87! Updated to 130XE sometime along the way

Next up MCQ Test – a serious or fun examination or test program which was front page featured in Page 6 Publishing’s New Atari User – issue 38 June/July 1989. I had hoped to get this published in an academic journal with a view perhaps to formal academic use but was sent away and told to convert it to run on IBM PC. Needless to say I didn’t.

Like many users at the time I remember the hours spent typing in huge magazine listings, sometimes only to be disappointed. Basic listings were at best uninteresting but huge hexadecimal or data listings were mind numbing to type in. I then came up with “Krunch” - a hexadecimal machine code autorunning program – published in New Atari User – issue 56 June/July 1992. Reading through my copy of the magazine now I can barely understand how I got this to work.

I bought an ST in 1988 but never got the same level of involvement in it, then moved on to Amiga in 1993 before resorting to a PC in 1995. Did quite a bit of programming after that but purely for fun or work related projects.

The original 400/800 series was way ahead of its time, unfortunately getting a reputation as a “games machine” rather than a “serious computer”. I objected to this. The reason it was a good games machine was due to its superb graphics capabilities.

I now work as a consultant radiologist, still play the emulators but my 400 and 130XE now live in the attic, their spirit kept alive by the emulators. My contributions in Atari user over the years exist as printouts in magazines. My disc drive groaned the last time I tried it and the discs don’t load. I don’t think I can face to try out that pile of cassette tapes.

David Rawlings, March 2005