From Bedrooms To Billions tells the story of all the computer programmers from the late ’70s and early ’80s, who, literally, wrote these programs in their bedrooms and how, originally, programming back in the day was done to become a better programmer, rather than making money.
The youth of today may not realise that when home computing first began, you didn’t buy them off the shelf, you had to put them together yourself, starting with building early computers such as the Nascom 1, which had 1200 joints which needed soldering together! Then, computer users of the day were trying to get the ZX80 to work properly, followed by the ZX81 with the similarly-terrible keyboard. And when we see that machine, it’s hooked up to a Ferguson CRT TV, the like of which I had up until only 3 years ago! By then, the picture was starting to go and it was timeto say goodbye, but my Dad had bought the 26″ set in 1983 and so it had lasted almost 30 years.
Then they move on to the ZX Spectrum, which was my computer of choice… well, I got one because my grandad worked for Century Communications at the time and they were meant to all connect to the mainframe over the phone line rather like Prestel. That never came to be, and he had no use for the machine so he gave it to me. I later remember that they made a game out of Frederick Forsyth’s novel, The Fourth Protocol. To play the second part of the game, you had to access it with a password, given only to you at the end of part one, obviously. However, I was impatient and couldn’t do it, and even bought the book to try and figure out what the password would be…. turned out it was Tiptree, the name of the publishing company, so nothing in the text of the book!
All that said, I wish I still had my Spectrum, but I remember selling it, with a load of games, for a mere £40. I was venturing into 16-bit territory then with an Atari ST.
I wish I’d learned to code properly when I was younger. I did a University course which was partly in computer science, but all that basically taught me, from 1990 to 1993 – or at least all I paid attention to – was the introduction to me of the internet. From there on, I learned about making web pages in .shtml, and finally changed over to a WordPress format in early 2011. Unfortunately, the old-style pages won’t covert easily to WordPress, not least because I have changed the outlay of each page between the two styles, so any auto-converted pages look a mess and I had to delete them – and each one needs a proper going over with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) anyway, there wasn’t really any positives to this auto-converting process… and if anyone’s feeling bored and wants to help me out, please offer your services.
From Bedrooms To Billions then moves on to the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64, plus their rivalry to the point where companies wanted to know which was the most popular computer when, for example, Ocean were advertising for programmers, but it doesn’t venture into the territory of which computer was better, as that’s a personal opinion. And in any event, it was the Speccy 😉
Then onto the the 16-bit world of the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga in the late ’80s, and eventually towards the PC as prices fell for those – but with games being developed for PC along the way and being pared down for the ST and Amiga as they weren’t as powerful (something we’re seeing today between PC and the PS4/Xbox One); before the marketed diverged between PC games and consoles like Sega Master System, Sega Megadrive and Super Nintendo, then to the more recent consoles of the ’90s and beyond, big business taking over and then how things are coming full circle as programmers can again sell games to the games players via online downloads, taking it out of the hands of big business.
The film also takes in the success of Microfairs, where games were sold in public, following the rise and rise of mail order. And then, coming into the high street starting with a shop in London called Buffer before, as I remember all too well, the games proliferating into the likes of WH Smiths and Boots, as well as the pencil-moutasched prat in the latter who sneered at you if you had to return a game for it not loading in properly. All he cared about was – if the game worked in-store, it was tough luck.
There’s also the software house successes, the failures and the companies which folded, and a more in-depth look at key players like Imagine Software, Ultimate Play The Game and Ocean Software.
Go to page 2 for more thoughts on the film, plus the extras.
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.