As an 11 year old with an interest in computers, what better birthday present could I get but the latest in home computing the Sinclair ZX81. During the 1980’s you could buy computers from John Menzies, which for the under 40’s was a store a bit like WH Smith but with more calculators.On unpacking my new best friend I plugged it into the mains and my old black and white TV, tuned to channel 36, and started typing in some BASIC commands on the plasticky membrane keyboard. After about 10 lines of code I got an out of memory error. Apparently I had filled the 1K of memory. So Dad got me a 16K RAM pack, which was attached to the expansion board at the back and held on with velcro. As long as you didn’t jog the keyboard too hard and dislodge the unit, this extra memory let you type in (and load) much larger programs.
My favourite of these 16K games was called 3D Monster Maze, from a company called New Generation Software, which saw you running away from a Tyrannosaurus in a randomly generated 3D maze. Given the limitation of the computer’s graphics, which were in-built character blocks in black, white and shades of grey only, the effect was amazing.
The game managed to really ratchet up the tension as you tried to escape from the Tyrannosaurus, with the status line on the screen telling you how close the Tyrannosaurus was. A bit like Doom did over 10 years later, the tension while you waited for the monster to appear made the game.
Remember this was a first person perspective 3D game, back when you had to load the game from tape, and the computer would randomly reset at regular intervals when it got too hot. To say it was ahead of it’s time was an understatement.
A great classic from a time when lone programmers working in their bedrooms could release a number 1 selling video game, and proof that you don’t need high definition colour graphics and surround sound to create an atmospheric gaming experience.