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Space Game


In the late seventies (yes, the 1970s) I was enrolled in an Electronics Engineering Technology program.  There was some minor programming involved.  I had to write my first program on ticker tape but I loved it right away.  I could write some code and then watch the machines do what I asked them to do.  It was just awesome. 

The school had some minor games on the central computer.  One of them was a space game.  No one had personal computers at the time so this was brand new to me.  Just picture yourself at 23 years old being able to play your first computer game.  It was mesmerizing.

We did not have terminals, just teletype machines, so each move we made in the game had to be printed out.  It took a lot of paper.  And now we see the problem.  The school shut down the computer games because of all the paper use.  It was a sad, dark time indeed.

We were all quite upset so in programming class I inquired about the space game only to be told that it was not coming back.  Then I asked “What if someone programmed their own space game?”. 
Our Instructor answered that we would have to obtain the code and that was not likely to happen so I asked “What if someone wrote their own code for the space game?”.

I remember my Instructor’s exact words “If you could do that you would get an A in this course”.  I ask you… who among us would not take that as a direct challenge?

So, I went off to write the code for my own space game.  Within a week I had gone far beyond our rudimentary computer course and had to teach myself the programming language (we used BASIC) from library books.  Of course, I was so focused on the game that my other courses suffered.  This was often pointed out to me by our Head Instructor.

Since the original problem was the amount of paper use I designed my game to use much less paper.  Finally, the space game was ready and I started to play it.  A couple of my friends asked to play it and before long the entire school was playing my space game. 


The folks down at Computer Services noticed that the amount of computer time spiked at lunch and between classes.  When they checked they found that the culprit was everyone playing my space game.  My two friends and I were hauled off to the Head Instructor's office where we got to watch him delete the program from everyone’s account.  But somehow the clouds parted and the sun shone through and the Head Instructor allowed the three of us to keep the game.  He turned to us and, in the sternest voice he could muster, said “If this game gets out again you will all lose it”.  The stakes were high (possible loss of the only computer game I had ever known) so we were careful and did not let the game out for the rest of our time at the school.

So, the big question is... did I get my A?  Well...  I had my program pretty well ready to go when our Head Instructor reminded me that the final project for programming class had to have a flow chart.    Oh yeah... I forgot about that.  Now it is one thing to flowchart a program when you are in the planning stages but going back later was going to be a bit of a nightmare.  Also... did I mention that I hate to flowchart.  It was another sad, dark time.  

Instead of going to all that trouble for a program that was clearly working I just made a new program that calculated standard deviation or something like that.  I have blotted it out of my memory so it might have been something else.  It was all nicely flowcharted and I got my A.  Yaaayyyy.

I had to drop out two weeks before the end of the course due to illness.  I am pretty sure that it was not caused by intense programming, lack of sleep, and poor eating habits but who knows… maybe it was.  I returned a couple of years later and graduated with my Diploma. 

What happened to my program?  Well… I could not take it with me since computers were these big things that only large institutions owned so I never got to play it again. 

Where there is life there is hope.  One of my friends took the program to a University that was a couple of hours away.  He knew a student there and they translated the program into their version of BASIC.  It was a long and arduous process but finally, they got it working. 

Not sure anyone saw this coming… but everyone started to play the game at the university and Computer Services noticed.  Everyone, except the student my friend knew, had the program deleted from their account.  There was another stern warning that if the program got out that it would be deleted from everyone’s account. 

Well… guess what?  The program got out and everyone started to play it again and Computer Services complained and it was deleted from everyone’s account including the student my friend knew.  It was another sad, dark time.

There was one final chapter to my friend’s story.  He found out that the Professor, who had deleted all the copies of the space game, still had a copy of the program in his account.  So, the space game lived on. 

You would think that would be the end of it but being as long winded as I am there is still more.  You may have heard of something called Karma.  Well… many years later I was employed with a college in the Computer Services department.  So, now it was my job to keep people from messing around with the computers.  

Kirk Teaching
I started to take computer programming classes.  I was right there… why wouldn’t I?  After a while I started to teach a few computer classes and when an Instructor position opened up I applied.  I didn’t get the job but the next year I tried again and they hired me as a full time Instructor.  One of the assignments I loved to give out was… the space game. 


Comments

  1. Awesome article. Funny, well-written, a pleasure to read.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you. You are my biggest fan and my inspiration.

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