back to article Retro Microlympics concludes with possible reopening dates for UK computer museums

The UK's cathedrals of geekdom are set to reopen in May as The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) celebrated the successful conclusion of its retro-themed Microlympics. By all accounts, the Microlympics event (which had various age groups play a variety of retro games on a BBC emulator) was a great success for TNMOC as …

  1. knarf

    What lockdown has done to me

    Now have two C64 and a BBC Master. Never had some much fun since the 1980s

    I never knew the strength of old 8 bit computer community, there is even new games getting published.

    Weird how it easier to get kit from the 1980s than it is getting a new xbox x, ps5 or even a new Ryzen 5 series chip.

  2. AMBxx Silver badge


    I reached Elite status back in the 80s. Sadly, I was too impatient and applied for the certificate when I was merely 'Deadly'. I'm sure my parents still have it somewhere!

    Less said about my abilities on Revs the better. Fine on the lower skills as you could rejoin after crashing. I don't think I ever qualified at the higher levels.

    1. deshepherd

      Re: Elite

      I'm in the same boat/krait having reached Elite status but only getting the Deadly badge. IIRC there was a deadline for requesting the badge (application via post in those pre-internet days) and I ran out of time to get as far as Elite by the date. I also seem to recall that once getting to Elite things got a bit "samey" in the game ... I eventually hyperjumped through all 8 galaxies and returned to Sol and was a bit disappointed to find that this didn't trigger any special event! Anyway, by then I think Revs was beckoning

      1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

        Re: Elite

        I seem to remember Elite as being a bit of a miracle for the size of the playing area, considering the entire game was contained on a single 100kb floppy disc (IIRC)! Not having Easter Eggs was forgivable for what they managed to achieve with what they had.

        My Elite play style -------------->

        1. MrBanana Silver badge

          Re: Elite

          It was a clever trick, the playing area was the code itself. They used the microcode that ran the game as the data that defined the universe.

          You have to do stuff like that back in the 8-bit world. I wrote a program for the BBC Micro that could scan a PCB, find the component locations, then after swapping the scanner for a drill, it would make the holes (badly - it wasn't really designed for a drill head). The biggest problem was a large enough buffer for all the image data. Solved by drawing the PCB image on the display, and using direct access to the screen memory as my buffer. I could even make the hole finding algorithm visible by changing the colour map on the screen.

          1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

            Re: Elite


            "It was a clever trick, the playing area was the code itself. They used the microcode that ran the game as the data that defined the universe."

            Not quite.

            They used a trick to generate stuff by noticing if you used the same seed on a random number generator, you ended up with the same numbers, hence all you need is the seed number and an algorithm to generate stuff, rather than have a mountain of data . ....

            1. cshore

              Re: Elite

              There's a brilliant chapter in Backroom Boys by Francis Spufford which goes into considerable detail about the sheer wizardry that went into writing Elite. The book is worth it for that chapter alone but is a spiffing read anyway.

              1. AdamT

                Re: Elite

                Yes! Buy this book and read it.

                (and weep after you've read the chapter on how the UK had orbital launch capability and then just gave up)

            2. Dangermouse 1

              Re: Elite

              The term "procedural generation" gets used a lot these days, wrt modern games, but I think a lot of people don't realise it's not such a new concept!

          2. ThomH

            Re: Elite

            Belated: could you possibly be thinking somewhat more of Exile than Elite? Most of that map is procedurally generated, but a lot of the graphical building blocks — wall textures, for example — are just bits of the code, repurposed.

            According to the authors, that's one of the reasons the Amiga conversion was so difficult. Sixteen times as much RAM, great, but it's a game with a large collection of assets, and at Amiga-quality graphics you're not going to find a set of program bytes that looks close enough to a wall.

        2. deshepherd

          Re: Elite

          The main limitations of Elite wasn't just the 100kB floppy (actually, most people played the game off casettes) but that the BBC model B "only" had 32kB of memory (actually, that was huge at the time) shared between program and the mem for the display. The highest resolution "mode0" graphics (640 x 256 B&W only) wanted for the front view window used 20kB of this so with other overheads in the RAM left not enough space for the program .... so they progammed a timer to generate an interrupt as the display process got half way through the screen and on the fly reprogrammed the graphics controller to switch to mode5 (160x256 4 colours) to have a coloured control panel/scanner - and as this mode used 10kB for a full screen the combination used 15kB (10kB for half a mode0 screen and 5kB for half a mode5 screen) which enabled the program code to have an extra 5kB! (Its incredible to remember quite how small the RAM was back then ... and how wasteful modern programming is able to be as it can assume that a PC has 8+GB of RAM and TBs of SSD/HDD!)

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: Elite

            The disk space was actually more restricted than 100K.

            The original disks (if you bought one) was marketed as a "Dual 40/80 track disk" that would work on a single stepped 40 track drive, and both single and double stepped 80 track drives.

            IIRC, it did this by fiddling with the number of tracks that were recorded, and having 6 of the 80 tracks (or three of the 40 tracks) near the beginning of the disk that were non-standard formatted, which allowed it to work out what the type of disk drive was for. I think that the track number was actually written into the sectors, allowing the program to seek to a track, and read the track number, which then allowed the program to work out what type of drive it was.

            This meant that the program actually fitted into 37 of the 40 tracks.

            As a side effect (or maybe it was the original intent), this made normal disk copiers fail to copy the disk.

            Again, if my memory serves me, these 6 tracks were formatted with 128 byte sectors rather than the normal 256 byte sectors.

            I remember that Acorn User published an advanced track-by-track disk copier that directly accessed the 8271 controller registers to implement a 'universal disk copier', although it assumed that the disk format was uniform across the whole disk (it checked the sector size and number of sectors on track zero, one and two, and then applied the format to the entire disk).

            I took the basic 8271 programming procedure from that article, and used it to analyze an original Elite disk, and then wrote my own track-by-track copier that read the format and data of each track, formatted the same track on the new disk with exactly the same sector sizes, and then wrote the data. It was horrendously slow, because it only worked a few tracks at a time because of the limited memory in the system, but it created 100% playable Elite copies (and I believe that it would have coped with any valid or even some invalid disks, as long as they kept within the capabilities of the 8271).

            The 8271 was an obsolete chip before Acorn chose to use it in the BBC micro. and it had severe limitations. The WD 1770/2/3 controllers were significantly more capable, but weren't compatible. They did appear in later BBC Micros (I think in the Electron and either the B+ or the B+128, and all later systems). Some vendors who provided 1770 controllers for the original BBCs also built a 8271 emulation into their adapter and DFS that allowed programs that directly accessed the 8271 (like the original Elite disks) to work, but not all did that, meaning that old versions of Elite would not work on BBC micros with some vendors 1770 disk controllers. I don't believe that the Acorn 1770 DFS did, making it a poorer (even if it was an original Acorn design) version than some of the third party ones.

            Of course, later versions of the Elite disk would work with WD1770 or Intel 8271 controllers, and I think that Acornsoft actually offered a disk-swap for people who upgraded their machines.

            1. MrBanana Silver badge

              Re: Elite

              Very fascinating. Or you could just copy the cassette version with two tape decks.

              1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

                Re: Elite

                Actually, the cassette version was limited compared to the disk version.

                The disk version had something like 6 or 8 galaxies to play, whereas the cassette version was just limited to one. In order to get to the other galaxies, it was necessary to buy a galactic hyperdrive, and IIRC there were rumors of other elements of game play you could be thrown in to when using it, but I did not get that far. I think I stopped when I got dangerous, because I did not have the time to take it any further.

                The best way of playing Elite on the BBC was with a 6502 second processor and a Bitstick, because the game was written IOCTLly correct and ran in the second processor, and the BBC just became a display and I/O processor, running the game in full four colour mode 1, rather than the mode3/5 hybrid mode (yes, it was mode 3 with the interline gaps removed). I believe that you could also do this if you had shadow RAM in your system (like a B+ or B+128), but you would not have had the extra smoothness of the 3MHz processor playing the game and the BEEBs original processor concentrating on the graphics.

                The Bitstick was just the best controller, having an excellent feel, and enough buttons to control the weapons, and putting the throttle on the stick twist.

      2. not.known@this.address

        Re: Elite

        I think you might be confusing two different games - Elite didn't have Sol (or Earth), although I think Frontier may have(?).

        But if you want to revisit the Good Olde Days but with a bit of extra excitement and variety thrown in, I recommend Oolite - although it's been around a few years, there's been a lot of updates and there are plenty of add-ons/add-ins to keep you going... plus you're no longer restricted to just the Cobra 3, there are a variety of Starts ranging from the original Cobra 3 with 100Cr at Lave to an upgraded Cobra 3 with 1000Cr at a TL12 Industrial world or even the "Broke Adder" start with a stripped-down Adder (Pulse Laser, 2 tons cargo capacity) and 0Cr at Lave...

    2. druck Silver badge

      Re: Elite

      I managed to become Elite after much night and day space trading action, and accumulated 1,000,000.3 credits according to my certificate. I started off on the Acorn Electron, and later bought the enhanced copy for the BBC Master, to finish visiting all the 8 galaxies

    3. Justin Clements

      Re: Elite

      You actually reached Elite? That was a heck of a grind.

      I got to Deadly, had a cloaking device, wiped out everything in sight but the grind to get to Elite was just too much.

      1. ThomH

        Re: Elite

        Per Ian Bell himself, one can become deadly with 'only' 2,560 kills. Elite status requires more than double that — 6,400 kills. On the BBC original, all kills are equally weighted so that really does mean 6,400 kills.

        That's a grind I never completed.

  3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    for the add!

    hey top tip , start new Elite game, leave "Lave" do a 180 and hyperspace into the spacestation.

    presto . Elite status,

    some may call that a shortcut ... or worse . but hey!

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: for the add!

      Well that's spoilt Elite then.

      For Hungry Horace fans (Spectrum only I think), walk half way into the bell, then away again. Repeat until bored. Ringing the bell makes your score shoot up and if you don't consume the bell, it can be used as many times as you like.

      Ruins a good game though.

      1. Justin Clements

        Re: for the add!

        For JetPack fans, sit your man on the top right ledge, nothing can get you. Then leave it for 48 hours and see what score you achieved lol

      2. KittenHuffer Silver badge

        Re: for the add!

        That's only the bells that you can approach from above or below, which was only available on one of the screens IIRC. The bells that were approached horizontally would only score 'once'.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: for the add!

      Sorry, I must be very slow - what precisely does "hyperspace into the space station" involve?

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: for the add!

        well , my memory is hazy too , theres a hyperspace function which you can engage.

        and also a kind of docking sequence animation when you dock (maybe only on some versions)

        so once the "animation" starts , but before fully docked , hit the hyperspace!

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: for the add!

          Okay, but the hyperspace function requires a target. The instructions made no mention of setting that.

          As for docking, there's a very brief "loading screen" sort of affair as you complete docking - are you saying that if I tapped "H" during that - whatever it was, about a second I think - I'd have got instant Elite?

          And does it only work at Lave, or can you do it anywhere?

          1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

            Re: for the add!

            all valid questions, but my memory is weak..

            Its interesting to do it though

            there are 4 "special missions" to find in the game and this trick brings you straight to one of them.

            AND! - the color scheme changes to reflect that.

            The only solid fact i can give you is this is on the spectrum version, i cant confirm if it works on any others.

            Maybe theres a youtube of it

      2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: for the add!

        Sorry, I must be very slow - what precisely does "hyperspace into the space station" involve?

        ooh , wait , got a better answer:

        It involes pissing off thousands of militant Star Wars fans and giving them further fuel to rail pointlessly against the Disney dynasty and wail about how its not as good as when they were kids to the point that even the director will lable his target audience "manbabies" , so dissappointed is he with the toxic vitriol spewed from the internet nerd clans.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon