GWBASIC1The GW BASIC for C64 startup screen

I’m sorry for not making any posts recently. Unfortunately, I got bogged down with debunking TMR’s debunks of my earlier posts and wondered how to make a particularly scathing de debunk.

To keep it short and sweet, I did an article about a version of GW BASIC for the Commodore 64. This version of GW BASIC wasn’t available for the C64 when I owned one and was struggling to the verge of a nervous breakdown to work out how program that computer, but my point was that it could and SHOULD have been available for the C64 as very similar versions of BASIC were available for other computers before I got my C64 in 1984.

Microsoft had versions of their BASIC available for various computers, including computers using the 6502 or compatible processors. They released a BASIC for Atari 8 bit computers called “Atari Microsoft BASIC”, which was available on cartridge as well as disk.

You can bet that Microsoft were eagerly awaiting a phone call from Commodore and could have ported their 6502 BASIC onto the Commodore 64 before it went on sale to the general public, but Jack Tramiel was too mean to pay them a royalty for each C64 sold with this BASIC!

Some 8 bit computers which had a BASIC similar to GW BASIC were the Tandy Colour Computer/Color Computer or “Coco”, the Dragon 32, Dragon 64, Spectravideo 318, Spectravideo 328, and of course MSX.

MSX BASIC start screen

The friendly MSX BASIC V1.0 startup screen

I will never forget the long hours of therapeutic sessions I spent typing and modifying short programs INCLUDING GRAPHICS onto MSX computers using their GW/Tandy like BASIC at John Lewis department store in Oxford Street, London! I think I’d have preferred a BBC Micro, but my Dad said it was out of the question at £399, so I investigated the MSX computers costing between £200 and £300.

The MSX BASIC commands included the amazing SCREEN (n) for selecting any of the text or graphics modes, LINE (x1,y1)-(x2,y2),[colour],[b for box or bf for filled box] , CIRCLE(x,y),diameter,[colour], commands for defining and positioning sprites, and even interrupt commands such as ON INTERVAL GOSUB, ON SPRITE, ON STICK, ON STRIG, instead of the Commodore 64 obscure IRQs which I never understood because they involved PEEKing and POKEing myself half to death!

I eventually decided against having an MSX as my new and only computer, because the sound chip they used was the General Instruments AY-3-8910 instead of the AY-3-8912 or another superior chip. According to my extensive investigations into MSX BASIC, as well as MSX games music, probably written in Z80 Assembler, the 8910 chip could play three notes at a time, but all three notes had to have the same sound, although any of them could be mixed with noise to produce sound effects, including percussion. This meant it wasn’t much good for playing electronic music, because two channels or instruments would sound the same, although there could also be some distorted percussion on the other channel, so this played a big factor in me buying an Amstrad CPC664 instead, with its slightly more capable 8912 chip, which had three channels of sound that could all sound different to each other when playing simultaneously.

John Lewis department store also saved some people from the fate of buying a Commodore 64 by pointing out that it only had 38K RAM which they could use in BASIC programs. Some more memory was available to Machine Code programmers, but they knew that hardly anyone would program in Machine Code, although everyone was being encouraged to program in BASIC by the BBC campaign, and the manuals that came with almost all computers themselves.

Of course, everyone should be encouraged to PROGRAM computers instead of being brainwashed into avoiding programming them. This is the attitude behind the current Raspberry Pi computer, which has a version of BBC BASIC called Brandy BASIC, as well as a version of Sinclair Spectrum BASIC available for it. You can also choose which case to have and what kind of keyboard to use, a bit like the original Spectrum. Users are encouraged to program in the language Python, which doesn’t mean “OMG, not another language to learn!”, but is quite familiar, like an interpreted and simplified C with some BASIC syntax, which can be run under an interpreter and compiled only if or when you want to. IMHO it’s streets ahead of Visual BASIC, which is where Microsoft lost the plot of their earlier excellent work with BASIC.

The Raspberry Pi also has some retro gaming emulator packages available for it, such as Retropie and Chameleon Pi, but of course you can also actually program these emulators in BASIC. These packages both include a menu system giving access to emulators for computers including the Amiga, Apple ][, classic Apple MacIntosh, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8 bit, Commodore 128, Oric 1, Oric Atmos, MSX and Sinclair ZX Spectrum, also the cheap and nasty Atari ST (a MacIntosh/Amiga knockoff) as specified by Jack Tramiel, as well as the Commodore 64, and Commodore VIC-20, but at least you don’t have to try and program the last two! These emulators also include several games consoles, but I’m not concerned with these here, because this blog is about PROGRAMMING! I think the Raspberry Pi has now sold about 4,000,000 units, so that makes it as successful as various 8 bit computers and more successful than some.

In the near future you can look forward to some posts about two very stressful BASIC programming books published by Commodore which I read in 1984 and how really disappointed I was to find out that, after reading them and doing all the programming exercises, I still couldn’t program music or graphics on my Commodore 64. This was a form of torture!

Jack Tramiel is dead now, but I think his sons Leonard Tramiel and Sam Tramiel should be boiled in oil for their conspiracy in the C64 plot to get unsuspecting consumers to buy a computer without a built in language which supported its hardware! Hanging, the electric chair, or lethal injection are too good for them. Usually I’m against the death penalty, due to lack of conclusive evidence, but I think that these two have confessed various times and even bragged in public about their crimes. Some examples of this are that Sam Tramiel is quoted on as saying “When I was at Commodore we were building 400,000 C64s a month for a couple of years.”, which obviously means that they mass produced C64s in advance before luring some more mugs or suckers into their con or racket. Both Sam and Leonard Tramiel also failed to take out display advertising with a slogan saying something like “Don’t buy my Dad Jack Tramiel’s Commodore 64, buy a computer not made by Commodore instead”. They didn’t volunteer their endorsements to other companies such as “The incredible Atari 800 with the unique Atari BASIC supporting its hardware, as recommended by Leonard Tramiel, son of Jack (Commodore) Tramiel”, or “The Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K – ‘With all its BASIC commands printed on the keyboard, you can see how easy it is to program, unlike the Commodore 64 thought up by my Dad’ says Sam Tramiel”. If I’d got an Atari 8 bit computer instead, then the very first program I typed in could have drawn a lightning bolt complete with sound effect! How amazing this would’ve been.

I refuse to stoop so low and get bogged down by de debunking any debunk of this post by TMR, but I will be making more posts about GW BASIC for the C64, Tandy/Dragon BASIC, and MSX BASIC whenever I feel like it where his debunks may or may not be mentioned!

Posted September 9, 2014 by C64hater in Uncategorized

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