Hey! You, over there! Ever wonder how moral you are? Don’t look at me like that. It’s a straightforward enough question, and easy enough to answer. Isn’t it? No?
Well, never fear. I have a BBC Micro program here which will tell you ALL you need to know. Published by Collins Soft in 1985, The Real You contains 16 tests to – and I quote the back of the packaging – “inspire you and challenge you to discover who you really are”. And one of those tests is simply titled: Morals.
The test consists of 50 questions, and I thought I’d run through some of the most interesting ones here. Feel free to download a copy and play along at home1, though the below gives you enough of a flavour, I feel.
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April Fools’ Day tends to get a bit of a bad rap these days. Every year, my Twitter feed gets more and more filled with complaints about how lame it is. As someone involved in a few April Fools over the years, I admit I find myself getting a bit defensive about it. My argument: it’s easy to get hung up on the “prank” aspect of it, with a roll of the eyes, or a scowl. The very best April Fools take the prank aspect as a starting point… and do something interesting instead. The real joy in most good April Fools gags is them going off and doing something else entirely.
The best example of this that I’ve been involved with was pretending the script for the Red Dwarf movie had been leaked. Sure, of course we were trying to fool people into thinking it was true. But beyond that, the actual script extracts we wrote as part of it… kinda have their own interest. They certainly set my mind thinking as to how a Red Dwarf movie would work – which ends up being far more interesting than the actual prank itself.
Still, I get it. Perhaps the internet does make the day lose a bit of its lustre. These days, as soon as you wake up on April 1st and check online, you’re inundated with EVERY WEBSITE DOING A FUNNY. It can get rather wearing, especially when there’s so much crap about – and as you’re automatically on your guard, the whole thing is far less fun. In the old days, it was different. The April edition of a magazine might plop on your mat, way before April 1st… and maybe, just maybe, catch you unawares. The whole thing had a… less mechanical air.
Which leads us to this article. Some of my favourite April Fools growing up were in the pages of Acorn User and The Micro User; two Acorn computing magazines I was absolutely besotted with. I thought it’d be fun to take a look at some of the April Fools they ran over the years. It’s not a complete rundown of every single one they ever did – just a sample of some of the more interesting ones. Neither are they all gold: I’ve not cherry-picked just the really good ones just to make my point. But it’s a nice reminder of the days when April Fools gags were given just a little time to breathe.
It’s also perhaps a reminder that some of the best April Fools gags are often ones targeted at a very specific audience, rather than a general one. By their very nature, April Fools are a bit self-indulgent – and they’re one place where in-jokes can run riot to very good effect. (Another reason why I think some of the Red Dwarf ones I’ve been involved in work so well.) If you don’t have the background knowledge required for some of these, they’ll inevitably fall rather flat. I’ll give some notes as we go, but that’s very much Worth Bearing In Mind.
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Emotional Public Domain Software.
That’s what the opening title of the program reads. This is BBC Micro public domain disc BBC PD #171, “Something About Me”. The catalogue description reads: “…by Oliver Debus. A personal anthology of graphics, digitised images and scanned pictures.”
And that’s what we get. Dated 1989 in one of the program files, you can download the disc image file from 8BS – but I’ve captured a video of it below, to save you the trouble of emulating. (Contains brief, low resolution nudity.)
At first pixellated glance, at a slideshow of 320 x 256 black and white photos, this might seem far removed from anything teenagers are doing now. But come on – pictures of yourself, of famous people you like, of things you’re interested in, of silly cartoons, all with captions – sent out into the world for other people to see?
This is just a 1989 version of Tumblr. How fabulous.
Here’s something rather silly I’ve put together. Anyone up for a bunch of 8-bit versions of popular TV and film themes, taken from a load of BBC Micro games? I CAN TELL YOU ARE, HELLO YOU.
Some of the pieces are really well done – I especially love the opening version of the Match of the Day theme – and some… aren’t. What the bloody hell is that interpretation of Play Your Cards Right?
Download “Four Channels” (13MB MP3, 11:06)
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It is a truism that fandom has hugely changed over the last twenty years. My favourite example of this is Red Dwarf Series 1: it was only released on VHS in 1993, five years after broadcast. Before then, it was only passed around as grotty nth-generation off-airs. Meanwhile, Red Dwarf X was released on DVD a week-and-a-half after the final episode – and on iTunes throughout the run.
Another thing changed from that time is public domain software libraries. Gone are the days where you could order floppy disc upon floppy disc full of fascinating stuff, and have to wait excitedly for it to arrive. I distinctly remember wanting to order nearly every disc from that BBC Micro public domain library; I could only afford a handful. Now, everything is just a click away.
Out of the whiz-bang demos and, erm, mouse drivers, one disc in particular I did manage to order sticks in the memory. That was BBC PD Disc #165 (formerly a Mad Rabbit PD disc), Red Dwarf Documents – “Answers to ‘Frequently asked’ questions about Red Dwarf, a complete episode guide and other text files of interest to the Red Dwarf fan.” (Proper Red Dwarf fans will realise that the disc number should clearly have been #169.)
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From the June 1987 edition of A&B Computing:
And here was me thinking it was just ports which used such tactics, and homegrown BBC Micro games were a paragon of virtue…
Sometimes I feel I do nothing more than to waste my life tediously pointing out that just because something is old, it doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Sometimes, however, even I have to admit that society has moved on. Slapping hot girls on the arse with no warning is no longer an acceptable part of society, and nor are public domain libraries. Going through a catalogue, selecting your discs, filling out the order form, writing out a cheque, popping it all in the post, and waiting for a week has been replaced by the simple click of a mouse.
However, going through yet another of my boxes recently, I found my old paper catalogue for BBC PD; a BBC Micro public domain library. It’s catalogue no. 15, from June 1993; vague memories tell me it was the penultimate one before the library closed down, but I can’t confirm. As I can’t find any scans online, I thought some of you might find it interesting. As ever, apologies for the bad state of the source material and my terrible scanning:
BBC PD Summary Catalogue No. 15 (PDF, 32MB)
Sadly, the library closed down before I could order more than one set of discs. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, however, most of the library is available from 8bs.com – search the page for “BBC PD Library”. (The disc-based version of the catalogue is also available.) Finally, I can hear all that music removed for copyright reasons…
In my early teens, access to hardcore porn was a rarity. There was a Joy of Sex on the top shelf which I used to “borrow”, and Cosmopolitan ensured my life would follow its usual route as a sitcom character. Unfortunately, I did spend time writing a BBC BASIC program which would ask for my name, and then provide random dirty responses to my one-handed tapping. This is quite possibly the saddest thing anybody has ever done ever, and I certainly won’t be digging it out of the box of discs upstairs any time soon.
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I love easter eggs in games. This Gamespot article mentions some great ones – and I’m a sucker for this one in San Andreas – but I’m still a BBC Master man at heart. With that in mind, here’s one of my favourites – from 1989’s Repton Infinity.
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