There were some interesting tweets the other day about programming role models when we were kids, or, more specifically the lack of them. The generation I’m talking about grew up with the BBC Micro, a computer that I credit for getting me where I am now. Growing up in the Middle East meant limited television and playing inside during the hottest parts of the day. Imagination and playing with friends staved off boredom, as did a fair few hours playing computer games.
I’ll be honest here, mostly I’d go round my friends house to play computer games. He had a Commodore 64 a much better games. Of the games I had for my BBC only Repton 2 and Elite were really any good.
Elite was, in some respects, the best game ever written. This may not be immediately obvious if you look at it in a modern context. The graphics are clunky, the sound is lo-fi and the game relied heavily on your imagination. Look at it in the context of what computers could do in those days and it was a technical tour de force.
As a young kid I was able to fly, trade and fight my way across thousands of planets spanning 8 galaxies. I could upgrade my ship and compete in what felt like a living, breathing universe. This was not a game on rails, this was a sandbox you could explore. Yes, you had to bring your own imagination, but as a kid of 10 I had that in bucketloads.
The fact that Braben and Bell were able to make my lowly BBC simulate all that was astounding for me. I wanted to know how. I was inspired to explore, and learn. And through that exploration I taught myself to program. It means that as the current incarnation of Elite pushes technical boundaries once again, I have a good appreciation of how it’s been done. I can also contribute to the community in the form of joystick maps and video tutorials. The very fact I could afford the gaming rig I use to play Elite: Dangerous is directly related to learning to program and taking the career path I did.
So I would argue there were programming role models when I was a kid. David and Ian, I salute you.