Monday, 14 July 2008

Computer games on vinyl

Whilst trawling through the collection trying to find my weirdest records to post on here, I came across this little flexi-disc 45. Where it came from I'm not quite sure. I definitely don't remember buying it so I'm presuming it must have been tucked away in an album I'd bought at some point. Anyway, what I thought to be, the strangest record in my collection, turns out to have a perfectly reasonable explanation for it's existence...

Remember Sinclair's ZX-81 or ZX Spectrum? Pretty much the first commercially successful home computers in the U.K. I was 7 years old when the Spectrum came out and can remember going round a friends house to play games on it. He was one of the lucky kids whose Dad worked with computers and was always up to date with the latest technology. What I specifically remember though, probably more than the actual games, was the f*cking awful sound it made when loading. I hated it. So to find, what I thought was, a record duplicating that sound seemed pretty amazing - and in a very bad way. Turns out that this 'record' actually is software. I only remember games coming on tape and later on 'floppy disc', but after a quick Wikipedia search all was revealed. They were called 'Floppy-ROMs'...

In August 1976 at the Personal Computing show in Atlantic City, Bob Marsh of Processor Technology approached Bob Jones, the publisher of Interface Age magazine, about pressing software onto vinyl records. Processor Technology provided an 8080 program to be recorded. This test record did not work and they were unable to devote more time to the effort. Daniel Meyer and Gary Kay of Southwest Technical Products arranged for Robert Uiterwyk to provide his 4K BASIC interpreter program for the 6800 microprocessor. The idea was to record the program on audio tape in the "Kansas City Standard" format then make a master record from the tape. EVA-TONE made "sound sheets" on thin vinyl that would hold one song. These were inexpensive and could be bound in a magazine. Bill Turner and Bill Blomgren of MicroComputerSystems Inc. worked with EVA-TONE and developed a successful process. The intermediate stage of recording to tape produced dropouts so a SWTPC AC-30 cassette interface was connected directly to the record cutting equipment. The May 1977 issue of Interface Age contained the first "Floppy-ROM", a 33 1/3 RPM record with about 6 minutes of "Kansas City Standard" audio.

There's me thinking it was some proper computer nerd business. For those kids so obsessed that they'd happily just listen to the sounds of a game loading!!! Twat.

I played this record to my daughters on one of those "you don't know how lucky you are..." tips the other day. Explained to them how we had to sit through about 10 minutes of that noise until we could eventually play the most basic computer game for as long as possible before it crashed. They didn't really care and told me to turn it off.

Sinclair ZX-81 'Galactic Hitch-Hiker' (1982 Your Computer flexi-disc 45)

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