Category Archives: Feature

Caught in the Micronet

Micronet 800

Some things in life seem lost in the mists of time, but since I returned to my roots by taking up retrocomputing a few years ago, so many fond memories have come back to me, often with a feeling of regret that the subject of those memories is no longer with us.  One such subject is Micronet 800 – and my own active involvement in that much-loved and much-missed online system, as a co-editor of one particular section – 16/32.

For those who have never heard of it, Micronet 800 was an early online information provider on Prestel, British Telecom’s interactive Viewdata system, which, beloved as it was by travel agencies and public libraries, was in many ways Britain’s web before the World Wide Web.  Micronet 800, which was provided by Telemap Group, a part of EMAP, was aimed at the 1980s personal computer market, and was an online ‘electronic magazine’ that gave subscribers computer related news, reviews, general subject articles and downloadable ‘telesoftware.

It coexisted with dozens of independent and mostly free text-based ‘bulletin board’ systems which were dotted about the country.  But unlike these boards, Prestel and therefore Micronet 800 was usually available at local call rates – in the days before cheap telephone calls and broadband internet!

Prestel

Users would log onto the Prestel network and enter the Micronet 800 home page by entering *800# (hence the name) on their modem or computer. Most Micronet 800 members would have their default main index page set to page 800 automatically.  The Prestel system used an asymmetric 1200/75 system – 1200 baud download speed, 75 baud upload.  As there was no high resolution graphic content on Prestel (it was all done in text and special characters, the display was just 24 lines of 40 characters, with seven colours and very simple block graphics), the slow data rates mattered little.

By May 1986, I had become an Atari 520STFM user (I later also owned the original 520ST), and my enthusiasm was such for this wonderful computer (the poor man’s Macintosh!) and online communications, that I decided I wanted to give something back to the Atari community, and so I decided to offer my services in editing on Micronet 800.  And so it was that, with my assistance, a whole new area for ST users began to open up on Prestel.

16/32 Micronet Directory Entry, from members magazine Logon, issue 12, Summer 1990

Continue reading Caught in the Micronet

Advertisements

Going retro down in Wolvo

The start of the queue at Dunstall Park
The start of the queue at Dunstall Park

A little over a week ago a remarkable event took place in Wolverhampton, which turned a racecourse into a Technicolor time machine. And as you might expect, the conference centre at Dunstall Park really did seem bigger on the inside!

The happening in question was Revival 2014, a computer and console games expo with a difference – it might not have looked out of place back in the 1980s or 1990s, for this was something very special – a ‘retro gamer’s’ time warp.

Revival banner

I have to admit to being more than a little retro myself, having started both ‘serious’ computing and gaming back in 1982 at the start of the British home computer boom, and I am glad I spotted an advertisement for this second event in the now-annual series while reading the latest issue of Retro Gamer magazine.  I was determined to be there or be square on Saturday 9 August, the first day of the two day show.  As it happens I was unable to make it on the Sunday, which is just as well as I would have gotten a soaking due to the rain, but fortunately the Saturday weather was perfect, especially for sitting outside eating lunch in the glorious sunshine.

You have entered the Platformer Zone...
You have entered the Platformer Zone…

The event, which filled the racecourse’s foyer, bar and biggest function rooms, was headlined by legendary US computer games designer John Romero, a rockstar-like programmer equally known for his long hair as well as game titles like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Dangerous Dave and Quake to his credit – and he certainly had fans following him around and asking for his autograph all day.  He even gave a very interesting and well-received Q&A session about his career and work as part of a packed programme of talks by seminal games makers and journalists from the British scene.

John Romero (centre) meets fans
John Romero (centre) meets fans

Behind the scenes of Revival 2014, though, the real powers that be were busy corralling computers and gang-mastering arcade games, with the vital assistance of some important partners and exhibitors, not to mention a substantial number of dealers in retro and arcade goodies both esoteric and popular. Continue reading Going retro down in Wolvo