The History of Computer Gaming Part 3 - Enter Stage Right....
The History of Computer Gaming - Part 3
- by Marty "Retro Rogue" Goldberg

The Development of BASIC

While the timesharing research was going on at MIT, research at Dartmouth was beginning on not just making computers more accessible to students, but in making programming more accessible as well. First, Math Dept. Chairman John G. Kemeny and Professor Thomas Kurts wrote a timesharing system for the GE 225 mainframe. With that out of the way, they began implementing a computer language on the system that they had been carving out for several years.

Not every student had the time of the MIT hackers, let alone the desire to get that much in to the guts of the computer. Assembly language was certainly the most powerful language, since it's directly associated with the natural binary machine language of the computer. However, for larger programs it can become ungodly to manage and debug. Higher level languages started appearing in the late 1950's, which refers to programming languages that use a format closer to natural speaking (in our case English) rather than the terse, purely logical assembly language. Kurts and Kemeny had some ideals in mind for their language:

  1. Be easy for beginners to use
  2. Be a general purpose language
  3. Allow advanced features to be added for experts (while keeping the language simple for beginners)
  4. Be interactive
  5. Provide clear and friendly error messages
  6. Respond fast for small programs
  7. Not require an understanding of computer hardware
  8. Shield the user from the operating system

BASIC founders John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz

They named their language BASIC - Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. And on May 1st, 1964, they achieved their stunning demonstration of the new language and timesharing system when they had two programs written in BASIC running simultaneously on the GE mainframe.

The language was to change the face of computing for many years, and would go on to become the main programming language used on microcomputers (yet to be invented) and in grade schools for many years to come. Besides the goals above, the best thing about BASIC as well was that it was a compiled high level language, which meant that code written in it would run on any machine that had a basic compiler for it. Not always so with assembly. GE liked the language enough to include it in software distributions with their mainframes. By 1970, the language had been expanded and tinkered enough that there were some 20 different versions on mainframes and mini's. Together, timesharing systems and BASIC set the stage for the average programming student to write some wonderful games, which in turn could be easily enjoyed by many - and in most cases widely distributed.

NEXT:Star Trek and a Wumpus....

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