Lethargic Man (anag.) (lethargic_man) wrote,
Lethargic Man (anag.)


[X*L*C*R logo]

I received a pleasant surprise on Sunday,* when I got an email from my brother Darren telling me he was at the National Museum of Computing (at Bletchley Park), where, he told me:

There's a room full of Beebs... all fitted with a custom ROM of every single game ever released for the BBC...

Well Michael, I didn't realise you have been forever immortalised in this museum!

Congratulations :)

* British understatement, for my German readers: It made my day.

† The BBC Microcomputer, which was pretty much universal in schools, and also in many homes, our own included, throughout the 1980s.

[photo of Darren pointing at a screen showing X*L*C*R, with my name visible]
All photos taken by Darren Grant and used by permission. Click through on this one for a higher-resolution version.

X*L*C*R was a game I wrote in 1991; my school's computer club had the rule that you weren't allowed to play games there unless you wrote them yourself, so I devoted the entirety of my membership of the club to trying to write games. After years of grandiose plans which I was completely unable to implement, I downscaled my expectations, reaching success in the late eighties with a series of games I distributed to my fellow pupils, culminating with X*L*C*R, which was like a cross between Tetris and Snake:‡


‡ See the game instructions (first page, second page) for more detail.

Admittedly, this used all the latest technology of ten years earlier, but that was because I rode the wave of eight-bit technology all the way up onto the beach, until it gave out altogether, leaving me high and dry.

In this case, the major surviving software house for the BBC Micro, Superior Software, was then releasing "Play It Again, Sam" compilations, consisting of two of their own old games, one old game from another software house, and one new game. I sent them X*L*C*R; they replied "We were impressed by the presentation and found it fun to play. Certainly it is unique in its concept"; and agreed to release it on their next PIAS compilation.

When a year later, though, I came back from my year off to find no new releases from Superior, I wrote to them asking what happened; and they replied that the then recession had killed off what was left of the eight-bit market.

And there things remained, until I got contacted out of the blue five years later by a company called ProAction, who had bought the rights to Superior's eight-bit games, and were rereleasing them, for die-hard BBC Micro fans; which is how X*L*C*R finally got released.

ProAction offered me a choice between a lump-sum payment of £15, or 35p royalty per copy sold. Calculating that I'd only need to sell forty-three copies for the second option to work out the better, I plumped for that. Unfortunately, I only discovered later that ProAction had a reputation for doing absolutely no marketing whatsoever. The sum total I ever received was one fifty-pence piece through the post(!).

I still maintain that if I'd written the game a couple of years earlier, I might have made a decent sum; and if I'd written it in, say, 1982, I could have made a small fortune—only, of course, in 1982 I was only just learning to program, and didn't reach the standard required for writing X*L*C*R until a little too late.

[Game over screen]

Darren didn't get very far in the game he just played at the museum, but he couldn't resist resurrecting his eighties nickname to put into the high score table:

[high score table]

...thereby displacing Spencer Shaw from the bottom of the table. Sorry, Spencer, if you're reading!

Darren added:

Meanwhile the curator, a Mark G, younger chap at 27 years old, nonetheless extremely knowledgeable about the old tech, was extremely impressed by your coda:

['That's all from X*L*C*R!' message following machine reboot]

(Back in the days of single-task non-WIMP environments, the way one would exit a game on the BBC Micro would be to press BREAK, thus rebooting the machine. Every game would configure this into a cold reset to wipe the memory, but I discovered that a small amount of memory, no more than a few tens of bytes IIRC, would escape that reset, and how to get code placed there to execute immediately after the reboot. I've never come across any program other than my own which did this.)

In the almost vanishingly unlikely probability that anyone's got a Beeb emulator and would like to play X*L*C*R, you can download the game from my website. Since the webserver can't store BBC file information, you'll need to set the load address manually to &1400, and the execution address to &3E01.

And last but not least, I'm slightly astonished that in a decade and a half of blogging I never before blogged about X*L*C*R.

[BBC Micro logo, blinking] [BBC Micro boot screen]</a>
—Originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments. Please comment there using OpenID or a DreamWidth account (which you no longer need an invite code to create). Though I am leaving comments enabled on LiveJournal for a bit, please don't comment here if you can do so there instead.
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