A Nostalgic Digital Model Railway

“SuperSolaris”, “TropicHeat” and “Genesis21” – names of my old hobby games

A few days ago, I accidentally found some old and very simple computer games on my Mac again, which I had initially written in a Basic language to be run on Unix/Linux. It made me smile when I remembered the many hours which today seem wasted by writing these little programs. Wasted because I invested so much time into something which had absolutely nothing to do with my studies or my job today. They were mostly classic 1980s style arcade games in which you could fly spaceships in a 2D environment just like when I was a child.

Moreover, I did never really share these games with anyone – just showed them some friends and family for fun. There were two reasons for that. Firstly, they were not really pretty enough to show off on any internet platform (even though, the feedback from professional programmers might have been hilarious). Secondly, somehow I enjoyed working on these old school computer games on my own – just like someone takes care of his model railway in the basement where he can control each and every train just the way he likes to, i.e. without external influences or constraints.

When I now looked at those games again, it became clear to me that programs like these are definitely a thing of the past. Not so much because they resemble 1980s arcade games – I think that’s something people still enjoy playing. It is more because today’s games are often connected to the web. The most popular ones are being played online against global competitors. Games which are simply bound to your personal computer are less attractive to most people. And by playing simple games on social networks for example, we are of course all leaving digital traces, thereby contributing to the eternal memory of “big data” as critics would say.

I found that interesting because I then remembered that a good friend of mine in school had once told me when we were 15 or so that he expects the future world of computers, programs and games to be completely “outsourced” to central servers – which is of course exactly, what happened later.

My friend told me that back in 1999 or 2000 and he surely was no visionary when he said that, since ideas like that had been in the tech journals for years. However, he was a member of a group of people which loved their computers just like other people love their motorcycles. They were computer addicts who configured their “machines” (as they called their Macs, Amigas, Suns etc.) individually and who loved the beauty of a self-produced program running smoothly with beautiful graphics and effects (these programs were called “demos”).

They shared their programs only at conventions and presented them on stage. Yet, these demos were never supposed to be shared online and seemed somehow connected to their respective machines, just like the model railway which is running in your basement only. There were no digital traces left online, these games could have nearly been called “secrets” which got even more precious because there was a lack of access to them.

It would be pretentious would I describe my small games as professional “demos” in that sense. Yet, since they only ran on my computer and needed a lot of time and love to be built, I consider them as a memory of that time, where most joy did not come out of perfect interaction based on standardized programs but out of individual software running on individualized hardware.

The only problem is that I currently have troubles to build up again an environment in which this old Basic language can be executed again and that this should not be something which consumes my time for work and research. So perhaps the only thing which will remain from this old digital railway are the screenshots on top of this page, which I took after finishing the respective games. You could call that an unwanted “lack of access” as well…