How does our computer work? Well, most of us might know that our computer uses electricity to represent ON or OFF states, where an Off state would be the binary digit 0 and an ON state would be the binary digit 1. With multiple states, the zero’s and ones can represent numbers and letters, etc. this information or data as we call it will be processed by the computer, and output of some sort would be given.
Simply put the computer takes information as input, stores it, processes it, and then outputs it.
But what if you ask your 6-year-old kid how a computer works, the answer might be something in the line of… Well, inside the computer little people are living going about doing their own thing, living, relaxing, enjoying, and keeping the computer alive – and standing by to do tasks the user might ask them to do.
This could have been the concept behind David Crane’s simulator Little Computer People from 1985. Crane who co-founded Activision with Alan Miller back in 1979, is probably best known for his 1982 hit game Pitfall for the Atari 2600 (which sold over 4 million copies).
The idea for Little Computer People was bought from a developer outside Activision. The original name was Pet Person which was based on the name Pet Rock – A craze from the 60s where people would go out and buy a stone and treat it as a pet – manual included of course.
Little Computer People
Little Computer People was released in 1985 for the Commodore 64, the simulator is considered to be one of the very first if not the first life simulators predating simulators like The Sims by decades.
The simulator being far ahead of its time would, unfortunately, end up being a short-lived tale, but that doesn’t take away from its very unique design features and simulation innovations.
The “game” has no winning conditions, and only one setting: a sideways view of the inside of a 3 story house. After a short time, an animated male character will move in and occupy the house. He then goes about a daily routine, doing everyday things like cooking, watching television, or reading the newspaper. Players are able to interact with this person in various ways, including supplying food (to keep him happy and healthy), entering simple commands for the character to perform, playing cards and word games with him, and offering presents. On occasion, the character initiates contact on his own, inviting the player to a game or writing a letter explaining his feelings and needs.
Each copy of the game would generate its own unique character, so no two copies would play exactly the same, in fact, every copy of the game had its own unique serial number. This number was then used to generate the personality, appearance, and behavior of the Little Computer Person, specific to that floppy.
The documentation that accompanied the game fully kept up the pretense of the “little people” being real, and living inside one’s computer.
Two versions of the game existed for the Commodore 64: the disk version, which played as described above, and the cassette version, which omitted several features (and was considered crippled). On tape versions, the Little Computer Person was generated from scratch every time the game was started up (and not only on the first boot, as with the floppy version), and thus did not go through the “moving in” sequence seen on other versions. Also, on cassette versions the Computer Person had no memory, and did not communicate meaningfully with the user; and the card games, such as Poker, could not be played.
The original US floppy version for the Commodore 64 on the left, released as almost a science paper explaining the research that had been carried out that led to the discovery of the Little Computer People living inside our computers.
On the right the 1986 release Little Computer People – Discovery Kit, also disk version for the Commodore 64
I would consider both items pretty rare today.