Squeezing the most out of hardware

How learning to program a 1k machine helped John Lindley get the most out of a machine

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We often look back through rose tinted glasses at the rubber keyed, tablet sized ground-breaking computer that was the ZX Spectrum. But Katchr Senior Dev, John Lindley scoffs, “It was like Watson compared with the ZX81” (its predecessor). Whilst the Spectrum initially weighed in at a whopping 16k, the ZX81 came with a more austere 1k. But this was in no way a glorified calculator, as John discovered, with a lot of hard work, it could be programmed.

Like many excited computer kids of his time, John bought learn to code magazines from the local news agent and began a lifelong journey. He’d spend hours contorting his hands into what would look like one of today’s expert gamer kill moves, just to activate a special function key. And to use the word “key” when referring to the ZX81’s somewhat rudimentary keyboard would be nothing short of an exaggeration. This machine had a flat plastic board with the individual keys printed on. It took physical strength to program this machine and John fondly remembers developing square fingers (the true sign of a button masher).

It was amazing what you could get out of one of these computers and 1k wasn’t so much a disappointment as a challenge. When it came to games, a slight suspension of disbelief was required as any sort of modern game characters were merely asterisks and other fancy keyboard icons. But, wow, could you turn that stuff into an exciting downhill skiing game.

In many ways John feels his own son is missing out on this joy when learning computer science at high school. “Kids should be learning to build games first” he muses, remembering the hours he spent learning basic coding and the logic that went with it.

For coders like John, the maximum potential of hardware is expressed through its software and we are reminded of how PS1’s Metal Gear Solid pushed the machine to its absolute limits and it showed with a game that was ground breaking and spectacular.

Unsurprisingly, John also expressed a love of making things with his bare hands afterall, that’s what coders do in the digital world… they build entire worlds.
John Lindley (pictured), Lead Developer at Katchr.
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