Era of first computers

The games have been a part of work with computers from the very beginning. The human nature is from its basis playful and already huge room computers in the sixties have been a subject of playing of that closed group of programmers who has access to them and then a possibility to create alone simple games for themselves. Also after slow, gradual penetration of personal computers to the inhabitants of Czechoslovakia in the eighties the computer games have been taken as one of a couple of those things, which these computers managed to do – although the access to the videogames has been embarrassed with the people; so it is also now.

The era of these computers, which begins in the Western world substantially sooner, has found the communist Czechoslovakia being unprepared.  The need of computers although so accented by schools, factories or IT amateurs has been not recognized by cadres of command economy, and this also in spite of the fact that the interest in technological directions grew also among students also among employers in this period. The personal computers and their creators met with a lack of interest up to unwillingness of the KSČ while they have being became a subject of interest of people and more progressive media like for example Mladý svět (Young World), Televizní klub mladých (Television Club of Young People) or later the magazine Mikrobáze (Microbasis).

On the Czechoslovakian market where the demand for computers and microchips in general far away exceeds the supply where also the most banal goods is in short supply and when importing the West goods has been possible only through a complicated system for the sake of nonconvertible currency (or by means of individual import), this engineering is preferred for the industry and school system. Utilization of computers for entertaining purposes has been then not current; almost nonexistent market has been substituted by enthusiasts encountering in computer clubs under the auspices of state predominantly apolitical organizations like „Svazarm” or Socialist Union of Youth”. This amateur´s computer scene has been, in a certain sense, distinctively separate in „meddling-in“ into the hardware, copying the software and by writing and dissemination of programmes. The country has especially these hobby clubs to thank for creating the terms for dissemination and playing of first computer games.

Despite this the computers managed gradually to get to Czechoslovakia; foreign instruments like Sinclair ZX Spectrum, later competing Atari or Commodore but also domestic Didaktik from Skalica which has been in fact a copy of ZX Spectrum; what has also meant that it was compatible with the games created for its English predecessor. PMD, a Piešťany display minicomputer, developed in secret by Roman Kišš in Piešťany Tesla, has been further of the first microcomputers. The PMD became immediately a commodity in great demand, and this also in spite of the fact that it was immensely expensive and for the sake of closed boundaries also by several classes more inferior than the West electronics in that time. From the PMD became almost at once a political project and Kišš has been not allowed further in developing the computer. Together with computer Maťo and IQ 151 it has been really the first computer made in Slovakia. Game consoles were substantially less widely used but the products of Soviet Electronics, particularly „Nu pogodi”, have been surprisingly popular.

The first of these games are an evidence of inventiveness and playfulness in spite of technological difficulties. At the beginning also their paper versions, pre-stage properties of the games have come-out which shall still only come. So in 1981 the ABC of young technicians and natural scientists” publishes a simulation of computer game „Moon landing”, a paper model into which a card with programme commands was slid-in. These „analogous“ versions reflected also a reality that at the beginning the computers have been a commodity, which all aspiring programmers not got to, and the learning of programming language by writing on the paper has been a quite current thing.

Also resemblance of computer games, which were played in that time, is already heavily imaginable today. With some of the games a graphics on monitor have fully absented; the game instead of that by means of a printer drew the happening with pencil on two arms. For instance a ballistic game Plivátko (Spittoon) has been as such where the player regulated intensity and direction of spit. Other ones displayed the game exclusively with the aid of text; as in the case of Star Trek where the player entered the numbers according to that where he wanted to move over and in this way „to discover” the space.

At the beginning the games were then disseminated like remaining programmes; they have been manually rewritten and like this copied from device into device later they have been transferred by dint of cassettes. In the first half of the eighties it comes to a stabilization of informal and unofficial distribution of cassette copies of West games. The text games „Moon landing” or the mentioned Star Trek have been gradually expelled by games which offered a new audio-visual experience; onto the market the games like Manic Miner or Atic Atac got, steadily predominantly in shape of  exchange meetings of enthusiasts. In the eighties the people not only played the computer games but they also created them. In that time many copies of foreign games (from reason of released comprehension of authorship), continuations, new games with take overn action heroes have arisen but also quite new games did so; for instance text games of Michal Hlaváč (Super Discus, Sherlock Holmes: Tree Garridebs), of Martin Malý (Katanga, Demon in Danger, Nick Carter), games by group „Golden Triangle“, i.e. František Fuka, Miroslav Fídler and Tomáš Rylko and many of other ones.

The games are a separate theme for those ones which have directly reflected the political situation by their theme or mechanics and they passed through unnoticed; something what it is possible heavily to imagine at other medium before fall of the regime. After events of Palach´s week (brutally suppressed non-violent demonstrations in January 1989) a game Indiana Jones at Vencel´s square has arisen in which this hero is a witness of the events and he runs away subsequently from the square to the airport whereby he must fight his way through the members of the ŠtB and People´s militias. Further example can be P.Ř.E.S.T.A.V.B.A. by Miroslav Fídler (who confessed to the game only after the Gentle Revolution and he programmed it deliberately so nobody attaches this authorship to him), which is a satire onto the communist regime and the player burns Marx´s Capital in it; he blows up a Lenin´s sculpture; and after passing-through this he will get an invitation to actual oncoming demonstration.

Rise of some first gaming rooms is further phenomenon, which has been out of law in that time, where the man could play for 2 Czechoslovak crowns a game – mostly at the console. But stone shops and clubs have been controlled by the state thus these gaming rooms had quite unique form; they travelled in caravans sometimes with wandering circuses and sometimes in solitude. The consoles have been in this shape, as a matter of fact, of the ungambling gaming machines with games like Pong or various pinballs. But there is substantially little known about this „caravan culture“.

In spite of deficit technology this period has been surprisingly fruitful for games, especially, if we take into consideration such thing that these authors have been amateurs also in the sense that unlike the capitalist countries the videogames have not been comprehended with us as a starting industry and they did not bear a promise of gain. Though the computers price alone has depreciated in the course of years, it was constantly a question of multiples of average salaries; and the sufficiency of finances has not been even a guaranty of purchase. Despite these economic and logistic reasons enough people was found who identified this new technology like something, on which the future will be dependent, and they dedicated to it their personal time and means. Together they created almost unorganized and unstructured computer scene either already by founding the associations and clubs (as Prague computer club of Sylva Prokšová, born  Vošahlíková or the first Atari club of Oldřich Burger), by magazines and journals like the independent i.e. technically illegal Spectrum of David Herl and Ondřej Kafka (later ZX Magazine being published up to 2005) or magazine of cultural underground „Vokno” of František Stárek, which utilized computers and printers for dissemination of this samizdat or they have spread a positive awareness about computers and videogames as it has been done by an actor, musician, composer, humorist and last but not least a great fan of new technological trends Jaroslav Filip for instance in his programme „Computers for playing”.

Gaming happening in the eighties is well caught up by a book „Labyrinth of computer games” (Bludiště počítačových her) by author Bohuslav Blažek, edited by programme StarTexter for computer Commodore 64; pixelled, angular retro font has been designed to the author by his son that means that in his case the form reflects contents and the book is freely available today and propagated with consciousness of the owner of copyright.