XCOM 2002, Extreme
Computing Festival, London, June 9th 2002
When pressed before
the event for a description of what Xcom
2002 was about, organiser Dave Green told me to "Imagine
a village fete run by Daleks". I did and, well, you can
imagine my disappointment when I turned up and found an event
attended in the main by humans. Still that was well compensated
for by the thrill of being able to skip an about-to-get-very-wet
queue by telling the bouncer at the door that I'm a bloke
that wrote a Spectrum game in 1983. I think I'll try that
one again next time I'm queuing for a MacFillet of MacFish
Meal and apple Macpie. The journey from the main door into
the foyer was eventful. A busy Dave G brushed past, motioning
to minions that the queue was pretty well soaked now, so they
could open the doors. I had barely attached my sticky label
when I bumped into James 123, the man with the wearable Spectrum.
I noted immediately that he was not a Dalek and wondered whether
he perhaps wished that he was. I think you can have it done
in Harley street if you've got a few bob, but James has settled
for a Spectrum taped to his arm, and good luck to him I say.
James with wearable Spectrum (the one with the glowing wrist)
I'm amazed at how
many programmers I know who are would-be pop musicians...
it always struck me as a strange trade to make, stage for
keyboard I mean; but count me amongst that number anyway.
Oh yes, I was a would-be Gary le Strange, but wasn't quite
strange enough. I wonder if Gary ever wishes he'd made it
as a programmer?
Gary le Strange
I still harbour
a middling to vague hankering to be on stage, so a couple
of weeks previously when Dave G asked if I would appear as
an ex Speccy programmer in "Tribute to 20 years of the
Speccy", I naturally immediately said no. I have always
been an enormous fan of Leonard Nimoy, and immensely admired
his book "I am not Spock". "I am not a Spectrum
programmer", I told Dave in no uncertain terms. Of course,
Leonard did go on to write, "I am Spock", so I immediately
phoned Dave back and told him that I'd do it, on condition
that he installed a crappy PA system and gave everyone carbon
granule mikes. Dave went one better and installed Alexander
Graham Bell's original prototypes along with Edison's compressed
air audio amplifier. And then left them unplugged.
Left to right: Rupert "Rupert Goodwins' Diary" Goodwins,
Nigel "Chuckie Egg" Alderton, yours "Ant Attack"
truly, Paul "Machine Code Made Easy" Holmes, John
A word of advice to you fledgeling
Speccy programmers who are keen to get into the trade. Bear
in mind that once you've written your hit game you'll have
to be famous once every twenty years, so be sure to keep your
public appearance skills well honed. Although you do get a
full 19 years to practice between speeches, that's also 19
years to get very nervous indeed. One minute you might find
yourself, as I did, standing at someone's stall listening
to the knocking sound a solid wooden prototype Spectrum makes
against your knuckles, the next you are being transported
by the white legs of fear onto a big brown stage which has
hitherto lain concealed to you behind a large mist. I warn
you now, if you ever find a solid wooden Spectrum, take care
before you knock.
The first question Rupert asked me
bounced off my forehead just like the bits of chalk that Miss
Dow used to launch when I daydreamed at school. The amazing
thing about stage fright is that it totally and utterly leaves
you after you have spoken your first word. "Ahem",
I said, and then immediately felt an urgent desire grab the
mike and launch into some kind of improvised talking in tongues
with combined dance routine. I was pretty sure that I could
do better than the rendition of "Rocket Man" by
a certain Mr Shatner which we had just been treated to. Fortunately
perhaps, before I could do any such thing, I was already answering
the question. And really it was nice to be up there, and in
such auspicious company. While Rupert our host was between
questions, Nigel and I were busy exchanging notes on how much
money we had made out of our respective speccy hits, and agreeing
that people who wrote games never made as much as the people
who took them from the people who wrote them and sold them
to the people who bought them. That is, unless you were one
of that rare breed of people who wrote them and sold them
as well. Paul's resume kinda confirmed my fears that I am
slow at coding, (hey, but I'm moving into management, honest!)
and John regaled us with some anecdotes from Quicksilva days.
Then, just before I could get
to my top hat and cane, our bit was over and suddenly, as
if by magic, where once had stood a solid stone wall, now
stood the glittering image of a pub.
Before I could pinch
that Russian clone Speccy and shove it up my jumper John was
back on stage doing some circuit
bending. What's that you may ask? Visit to John's
site to find out! It did involve John prizing open a toy
keyboard, whipping a resonator out, sniping off a resistor
or two maybe, then shorting between a pad or six. The poor
little keyboard was in pain and it let us know audibly of
it's suffering. I'm waiting for the promised CD. Applause
and cheers. I told you all programmers just want to be on
John bending a circuit
Several imaginary beers later my steady
hand wiggled a hoop round a wiggly wire and I won a Chinese
confection, viewed myself distorted on a TV screen, and simultaneously
signed my autograph on a Map of Antescher. Well, honestly
officer, it looked like a map of Antescher at the time.
what you lot look like
If I may get a little fluffy, my lasting
impression of the day was, well, what an interesting and nice
bunch of people all collected together in one big hall! I
even got to meet one or two one might say "fans"
of the game (AA) , and share some conversation of the sort
that often happens on the visitors
page. I think I have a better picture in my minds eye
of what you lot might look like now!
Well done Dave and all you other organisery
type bods for making it happen!
I'm off to practice my guitar!