Intro To BASIC – the aftermath

Debunking De debunking TMR’s “About Introduction To BASIC – part 6”

I actually learnt the fundamentals of Microsoft BASIC (1977 version), enabling me to program text only applications and games. I was very upset to find out from this, or from a few more books that I couldn’t use the built in BASIC for the very things I bought the Commodore 64 to do.

And this neither the fault of the book or indeed the C64 for that matter, the failing was with the author on a number of levels when he failed to make an informed purchase. And no, despite the claim he didn’t actually learn “the fundamentals of Microsoft BASIC” because we can see from his other posts that he struggles to make valid comparisons with other dialects, had he actually learnt it there wouldn’t have been any brushing aside of fundamentals like the string handling in other BASICs when he was making comparisons.

These were to compose music and write interesting commercial software, with colour, graphics, and music, such as games.

We have to ask where the author’s collection of “interesting commercial software“  for the Amstrad CPC  is at this point; surely if the only thing preventing him from becoming a software superstar was the C64’s basic that should have changed overnight when moving to the Amstrad.

It’s worth noting dear reader that trying to write commercial programs (regardless of if they were interesting or not) in BASIC was never going to happen during the author’s self-imposed 1984 to 1985 window in the UK; anything he actually produced would have been up against other bedroom-developed assembly language programs and, since the publishers only took a small fraction of the games they were submitted, the odds of getting anything in BASIC to market were all but zero.[1]

TMR had the cheek to point out that the Commodore 64 outsold most other computers on the British market!

It isn’t “cheek” to point out facts, not that the author would know that.

This happened because when people who wanted to learn programming in 1984 bought a Commodore 64, by and large they had no idea what a mess they were getting themselves into! All they knew about was that it had lots of software generally available from shops, while Dragon and Oric software was thin on the ground, or even mainly by mail order.

And yet a huge number of people got a C64 and learnt to program on it, so there doesn’t appear to have been any “mess” to worry about apart from perhaps the one in the author’s head. The would-be programmers wouldn’t have been the people worrying about the variety of software in the shops either, that’s more something for the people not interested in programming who purchased a computer to play games, do their taxes, word process or whatever. As noted elsewhere dear reader, these were the majority of computer purchasers who had no intention of learning to program so BASIC was unimportant to them.

This was thanks to ” The A-Z of Personal Computers ” with their filthy lies, and the lack of warnings or any outcry about the antiquated BASIC on the C64 from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), as well as the consumer magazine “Which?”, or the computer press in general.

Which tells us a huge amount doesn’t it dear reader? Apparently all of these organisations (including the well-respected Which?) didn’t see an issue with what The A-Z of Personal Computers published since they didn’t exercise the powers they had to intervene and/or draw attention to the supposed “filthy lies”.

TMR failed even once to mention the amazing Music Macro Language developed by Microsoft, extended with some additional work by Yamaha. This is because it’s totally superior to the C64’s list of PEEK and POKE commands.

No dear reader, your correspondent “failed” to mention it because he has no experience of using the Music Macro Language and, since he isn’t a musician despite having music credits on games and demos over the years, doesn’t feel qualified to just read about the aforementioned language on the internet just to take guesses at its functionality. And of course your correspondent isn’t required to quote or respond to more than a fraction of the bilge written by the author.

Of course, I could soon have been well away writing monophonic tunes using the Sinclair Spectrum’s BEEP , command, or the Dragon’s PLAY command. After this, if I’d had a Dragon computer, then I could have copied or even written a 6809 neo 16 bit multitasking Assembly language routine to play three note polyphonic music on the Dragon 32! Of course, I never ever managed to program any polyphonic tune I’d written myself on the C64!

Apparently the Dragon 32’s BASIC PLAY command magically makes jumping to a “neo 16 bit multitasking Assembly language routine to play three note polyphonic music” easy despite even the term alone being mere hyperbole. The author hates this fact, but those POKEs that he incessantly whines about would have given him a better grounding in producing assembly language sound routines than the Dragon’s PLAY command from BASIC.

TMR also made the false claim “The difference between BASIC dialects means that knowledge picked up on one machine doesn’t work on others when it’s bespoke commands as well; the author has apparently forgotten that he demonstrated this point whilst trying to claim that the Spectrum used the PEN command and later had to admit that, as a former Amstrad CPC owner, he was “confused”.” I must reply by pointing out that although colour, graphics, and sound commands were often different on different computers, they were often the same or very similar. There’s not much difference between the BBC and Amstrad Locomotive BASIC DRAW command, especially because Amstrad’s Locomotive BASIC is actually a rewrite of BBC BASIC for the Z80 processor!

So they were simultaneously “often different” and “often the same or very similar”… good to see the author hasn’t started making sense or thinking through his “logic”.

The DRAW command might be similar, but as the author mentioned those two BASIC dialects handle screen co-ordinates differently so translating a program from one machine to the other requires a complete reworking of all DRAW commands and the values assigned to any variables dealing with them. And that’s just the one command, others which share a command like PLOT are significantly different (with the BBC requiring three arguments to the Amstrad’s two) and in some cases a completely different command handles the job.

So, as your correspondent claimed, the “difference between BASIC dialects means that knowledge picked up on one machine doesn’t work on others when it’s bespoke commands” because it is demonstrably true and the author is lying when he describes it as a “false claim”. And although it would be possible to translate programs written for one dialect to another, that can’t be done by a novice at the level of experience we’re discussing because it requires knowledge of both BASIC dialects to do – see the author and his getting “confused” over the PEN command again.

The Commodore 128 has an extra video chip called the VDC, which has a 16 colour palette, where ONE of the colours is different from the VIC-II chip. This means that it can only display 16 colours at a time.

If the author were right that’s still seventeen colours rather than sixteen being displayed since both of the displays are running simultaneously and his “point” is debunked. But the author is wrong and should take a proper look at the VDC palette since it’s more like the Spectrum than the C64 with two shades of magenta or cyan and no darker brown colour, there is far more than just one colour different.

As for C128 demos which claim to use more than 16 colours, but don’t run on C128 emulators, running them on emulators wouldn’t prove anything, because it’s possible to make emulators with additional features not available on the computers they’re emulating.

This is just the author being an idiot. The demos work on a real C128 and it is only under emulation that they don’t because the no emulator currently supports these specific features of the VIC-IIe. There are no “additional features” in the emulators being discussed at any point here.

I’ve got a real C128 sitting next to me at the moment, although I need to get a new video lead for it, as well as a special VDC lead which can display the output in colour.

Your correspondent also has a real C128 sat next to him which isn’t in need of a video cable; currently its displaying an image with eight shades of grey (well, there’s actually at least one more subtle variation on top of that but we’ll call it eight distinct shades) including black and white rather than the more common five available from the standard VIC-II palette. This particular “demo” (for want of a better word since it merely has a converted picture from the internet, a scrolling message and some music playing) hasn’t been released but that’s because your correspondent only wrote it as a testbed for something more difficult.

These techniques apparently only work on CRT-based displays like the ones that the C128 was designed for use with and more recent displays struggle to “keep up”, but your correspondent has a bit more experimentation to do before being more definitive.

I know it’s possible to create optical illusions which make it look like classic computers have more colours by switching between 2 or 3 colours very quickly.

It is indeed. It’s also possible to produce mixed colours by interleaving two with the same luminance such as purple and orange or dark green and light blue on every other scanline which produces several PAL blended colours without flicker. But that isn’t what we’re discussing here.

I look forward to TMR sending me any C128 demos that use more than 16 colours!

Your correspondent looks forward to the author doing his own bloody research. The demos are out there, as are notes about the techniques used and it’s only his shoddy researching of the subject that means he’s unaware of them.

I’m not aware of any Spectrum emulation software for MSX1 computers, but I’ve certainly heard of Spectrum emulators for the Tatung Einstein and Memotech MTX computers, both of which use the same Z80 processor, graphics chip, and sound chip as MSX1.

There is also a Spectrum emulator for the C64 but, notably, no other 8-bit computer has a working C64 emulator. The author said that the computer doing the emulation must be at least as powerful, if not more powerful than the computer it’s emulating” so if nothing else from the 8-bit computers has the option to emulate the C64…?

Of course, there were plenty of British micro computers in the early to mid 1980’s which had superior specs to the Sinclair Spectrum, depending on your opinion, such as the Oric-1/Atmos, Dragon 32/64, Memotech MTX range, Camputers Lynx, and Elan Enterprise 64/128, but these were wiped out, because people weren’t told enough about them and didn’t read up on the specs, so they didn’t understand why they should pay more for a computer than the asking price of a Sinclair Spectrum!

The information was certainly out there and a couple of those systems have been covered in depth by various publications both paper and online which are at least in part based on that information – in fact much of the author’s web-found “knowledge” is from the 1980s. As for the comment about “superior specs […] depending on your opinion”, the author’s “opinion” on at least a couple of those machines isn’t actually built on experience of using them.

I think it’s no coincidence that MSX2 wasn’t even released in the main English speaking countries of Britain, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. It seems like a conspiracy!

The original MSX didn’t fare particularly well in most of those territories so the decision not to spent significant amounts of money trying to import and sell the MSX2 in those same weak territories will primarily have been a commercial one. These conspiracy theories the author offers to “explain” why the shape of the computer market doesn’t match what he believes it should have been are nothing short of ridiculous and only serve to demonstrate just how out of touch the author actually is from reality.

At some stage after this, I read about a lot of “grey imports” of Atari ST and Amiga computers, so obviously the lack of “grey imports” for MSX2 was due to lack of computer press coverage explaining to people why MSX2 was a “C64 killer”, the most advanced type of 8 bit computer so far with its photo realistic 512 colour palette, up to 256 colours on screen at once, graphics resolution of up to 512×212, even more advanced BASIC than MSX1 and bank switched RAM, with 128K RAM for video alone, as well as up to 256K system RAM.

And yet the author has previously claimed that “only 48K RAM was really needed for 8 bit computers” so why would anyone need 128K of video RAM let alone 256K unless he was completely and embarrassingly wrong?

The lack of interest on the grey market is for one very obvious reason; people wanted the new 16-bit systems and what was, essentially, another 8-bit was never going to be anywhere near as enticing; the Amiga and Atari ST were the “next big thing” so the early adopters wanted them as soon as possible.

Of course, the Sinclair Spectrum was an amazing computer when it came out in 1982, and had an equally amazing new version Sinclair BASIC, including commands for colour and graphics, but even Sinclair’s partner Timex felt the need to upgrade it for the US market AND the Portuguese market, although Portugal was considered to have a lower standard of living than Britain at that time.

This sentence debunks itself; an “amazing” computer that, when it was considered for distribution in other countries, had to be significantly upgraded can’t be called “amazing”.

Several years later, after a lot of complaints about software piracy on all computer platforms, there was a lot of hype about new Japanese games consoles, which used cartridges to try and prevent piracy. There were new marketing strategies to get round the linguistic censorship.

The cartridges for these consoles were localised so the text was translated and the program fixed to run on PAL systems; the supposed “linguistic censorship” didn’t apply to the majority of console games and your correspondent was one of the many importing systems; he still owns an original Japanese 50Hz-converted Megadrive and all of the cartridges he purchased at that time. The complaints about piracy all came from the industry rather than users.

Finally, TMR said “In other words the author has absolutely no idea what he’s commenting on since he apparently can’t tell the difference between MSX1 and MSX2 graphics after singing their praises. The probably comes as little surprise to you dear reader as it does to your correspondent.” Actually, most of the additional MSX2 screens…

And off the author goes spouting some “web found knowledge” rather than demonstrating any ability to actually tell the difference. The palette alone makes MSX2 software reasonably easy to recognise but the author simply doesn’t have the required experience.

That’s the end of this de debunk! I won’t do another debunk of a de de debunk TMR might write, but if he dares to do this I will mention it later, to stop him having the last word. Look forward to another post soon.

Your correspondent will indeed “dare” to post again because that’s one of the stated goals of this blog, to point out the errors in the author’s writings. The author has absolutely no obligation to respond in turn so has basically admitted that, if he were to do so, it’s because he is just a child who has to have the last word. Your correspondent has noted that he can on occasions be childish, so has no issues with dealing with ignorant, mewling babies such as the author.

[1] It wasn’t entirely impossible of course but by 1984 there were just the last dregs such as Cascade’s Cassette 50 to come out and very few people would describe the games included on that compilation in positive terms.

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