As a bedroom programmer myself, I deeply relate to this book! Britsoft: An Oral History (here), published by Read-Only Memory, is a derivative of the 2014 documentary From Bedrooms to Billions documentary (written and directed by Anthony & Nicola Caulfield), not to be confused with the 2020s The PlayStation Revolution. Alex Wiltshire masterfully put together a compendium of tidbits and other recollections of those who learned programming in their bedrooms and contributed to the development of the British software industry in the 80s-90s. Well, to be accurate, I should say the gaming industry. We are indeed talking about iconic titles such as Elite, Populous, Commando, Attack of the Mutant Camels, etc. The book distills the recollections of 35 interviewees – programmers, but not only along its ~400 pages. This surprisingly light book, for its size, is organized into a handful of significant sections (less than ten). I enjoyed reading the short recollections in random order. The same way I loved jumping from definition to definition in my illustrated dictionary when I was a kid.
Although I didn’t take the gaming development path, these memories resonate with me. So, what is a bedroom programmer? Simple. It is someone who tamed early and primitive computers in their bedroom 😊. That, assuming you had a TV in your bedroom, of course. So, in my case, it was the Livingroom when the TV was not in use. Using such a computer meant writing programs in BASIC or machine language, tediously entering endless listings published in magazines to learn debugging and new coding tricks, or playing a game from the abovementioned list. Again, that’s assuming you had a popular computer – I had a DAI, which had only a trickle of games (here).
I know some read into bedroom programming the opposition between amateur and professional developers, the nascence of free software, or some other sociological clues. But I’ll stick to KISS and my recollection 😊. Even if you never wrote a single line of code from your bedroom, you certainly played at least one of the games the interviewees of this book created. For $40, I don’t regret buying this very well-made book.
From the publishers’ website, here is the list of the interviewees: Peter Molyneux, David Braben, Archer Maclean, David Darling, Jeff Minter, Charles Cecil, David Perry, Geoff Crammond, Julian Gollop, Julian Rignall, Dino Dini, Mo Warden, Rob Hubbard, Martin Kenwright, Fred Gray, Martin Galway, Mel Croucher, Mike Montgomery, Rod Cousens, Sean Cooper, Malcolm Evans, Steve Turner, Tim Tyler, Nigel Alderton, Jon Hare, Gary Penn, Eugene Evans, Oliver Frey, the Oliver twins, Peter Stone and Richard Leinfellner, Chris Anderson, Shahid Ahmad, Andrew Braybrook, Geoff Brown.
To illustrate today’s post, I cannot resist using the illustration by Rachid Lotf (https://rachidlotf.com/) – a commissioned work by Alex, who asked me to recreate his childhood bedroom.