The early TRS-80s had a system of character graphics for displaying rather chunky-looking graphics on the screen. These characters split the possible character display area up into a 2x3 grid (don't know the pixel size of a character, but this suggests it was something like 6x9) and all the combinations were available.

Some of these systems accomplished this by using a mutant 7-bit form of ASCII with only 64 of the normal characters and 64 of these special graphic characters; they didn't have lower case letters. (Later systems had a full 8-bit ASCII including lower case characters and these same graphics, starting with the Model III. High-resolution graphics was a separate capability that came later.)

The first systems had a display of 64x16 characters, for a full screen graphics resolution (with these 2x3 symbols) of 128x48. Later ones had an 80x24 display, which allowed a graphics resolution of 160x72. This was the system I played Pillbox on.

All monochrome of course. Tandy computers didn't get color until the CoCo years later.

When I discovered the character graphics for the Trash-80 it was a game changer, pun intended. Once I figured out the commands Peek and Poke, I was able to make functional games. There were two commercial games that I had played on the system. One was a shooting game about UFOs and the other was a Zork-type game. Because there were only two other folks who ever went into the computer room that contained four TRS-80 systems, I was able to spend many hours coding instead of getting into trouble. The instructor was a math teacher who didn't have much background on the little Radio Shack machines, so he didn't care as long as the machines were in use when administration folks walked through the area.

I wrote several games that I sold through the back of crappy newsprint papers on cassettes, and I actually made some decent money. Eventually I graduated up to the machines with floppy disks, so that made it even cheaper to sell the games. The ones I remember best (and that sold the best) was Return to Haunted House, Racer X, and Catchbox. Haunted House was a Zork/Nethack mix, Racer X was a racing game that taught me the value of understanding timing in games, and Catchbox was a fun little game for younger kids to teach them about letters and numbers.

Even though the graphics were horrible in terms of today's photorealistic movie epic games, they were still enjoyable with a bit of Pong or Space Invaders nostalgia.

Iron Noder 2017

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