Welcome to another Quick-Bits article. I’ll be doing a proper and more general write-up on Leo Christopherson, one of the wizards of the dawn of personal computing, in the future.
Tandy Corporation had in 1975 established its computer division in an effort the create an affordable and accessible product that would capitalize on the slowly emerging market of home computers. The company had witnessed an increased number of customers in its stores showing an interest in computing and many were starting to look for transistors and other electronic equipment for use with their hobbyist computer kits.
Don French, a buyer for the company’s consumer electronics chain of RadioShack stores, believed that RadioShack should offer a fully assembled and versatile personal computer, that could be used in everything from hobbyist programming to applications and bring computing power to people’s homes and businesses, and more importantly to the many customers who frequented the company’s stores but didn’t have the technological skills a computer kit required.
Up until now, computers outside the realm of more or less useless hobbyist kits had been inaccessible, big, and expensive mythical computational behemoths used by businesses and academic institutions for batch processing and data crunching and very much out of reach to the general public. With technological advancement rendering electronic components ever smaller and cheaper the computer was about to become accessible, useable, and truly personal and Tandy invited itself to the party with its relatively cheap but also rather limited TRS-80 introduced in 1977, the same year as Commodore International and Apple Computer each presented their take on a personal computer.
While Apple Computer’s Apple II was technologically superior especially when it came to games as it unlike its competition offered not only graphics but also color-producing capabilities, the TRS-80 would take advantage of RadioShack’s large and established retail footprint with well over 3,000 stores nationwide, reaching a much wider and more general audience. Despite minimal expectations and subpar hardware capabilities the $600 TRS-80 sold like hotcakes and would come to play an instrumental part in the personal computer revolution.
While the TRS-80 wasn’t created with games in mind they quickly became an important part of the computer’s ecosystem. One of the early adopters that would challenge the limited hardware of Tandy’s new computer was Leo Christopherson, who not only proved to have a mind for programming but an eye for animation as well. Christopherson would quickly establish himself as a name in TRS-80 software, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible in terms of graphics, turning the otherwise graphically and gaming-wise uninspiring TRS-80 into an interesting and capable game machine.
One of his innovative games was the 1980 title Duel-N-Droids.
Leo Christopherson’s Duel-N-Droids was picked up by Acorn Software Products, which specialized in early TRS-80 Software, and published in 1980
Duel-N-Droids continued Leo Christoperson’s tradition of putting giant, well-animated characters on screen. The TRS-80, unlike the Apple II, had no graphics or color capabilities and it had no way to address individual pixels. By using blocks of pixels, rudimentary low-resolution black-and-white-only images could be produced.
By using rapid flickering of black and white, Christopherson was able to simulate two distinct, flickery shades of gray on the CRT screen – Shown here as only flickering as I’m using an emulator (it’s illustrated on the cover artwork).
Christopherson was also a musician and was one of the first to incorporate music into programs’
Sources: TRS-80.org, Smithsonian, InfoWorld…