Bad Influence and the Amiga 1200

Remember TV?  That thing you used as entertainment before broadband?  Back in the 80s and early 90s coverage of anything to do with computing was at best awful, and at worst blaming computer games for the Problems With Today’s Youth.  Of course, we have the internet to blame for that now…

One popular programme that managed to break the mold was Bad Influence.  The first series was in 1992, and it lasted for 4 series.  Presented by well known children’s presenter Andy Crane, and the lovely Violet Berlin, it was aimed at a younger audience and did a great job of showing a little bit of gaming to mainstream audiences at a time when kids who used a computer were very much still geeks.

In many ways it was hugely innovative, and the technical challenges of getting the programme made and out on a Thursday afternoon were probably responsible for many grey if not lost hairs.  As if trying to get games from different platforms recorded in a broadcast quality wasn’t challenge enough, a further innovation ensured the pressure was on.

“Wouldn’t it be a good idea”, I imagine Dan Clapson said to Patrick Titley, “if we had a magazine on the end of each episode.”

“I think you’ve had enough of that, time for home”, I suggest Patrick responded.  In my mind they were in a pub.  And quite a bit of alcohol had been consumed.

“No, listen: we could play black screens of information at 4 frames a second and people could use their video recorders to record it, then watch it back using the pause button”, continued Dan.

“Ah, you’re not going to let it lie, are you?  Go on then, make it happen.  And mine’s a pint.  Oh, and we need to do this quickly so we can’t record it frame by frame – it’ll need to be captured live.”

So Dan, presumably nursing a monster hangover, sets about his task the next day.  Only to discover that finding something that can replay at a guaranteed four frames a second for 50 or so frames may not be the sort of thing to find off the shelf.

So he fires up AMOS, and writes the magazine using print statements on a small program he hacks together as a proof of concept that does the job.  And then next week, does it again.  And the week after.  It’s not a friendly thing to change source!  I think every IT professional will have seen this in one way or another and, despite frequent statements and caveats that a proof of concept is not ready for production, will have seen the proof of concept used in production…

I was a student at Leeds University at this time, studying computer science.  I worked weekends at First Computer Centre, and was (as you may have noticed) a little bit of an Amiga geek.  Dan walks in and asks if there’s anything I know of that can do this.  We try Scala, but the timing isn’t accurate enough – and it needs to be precise.  We try various other things, but none have the precision needed.

So I say, ‘well, I could write something for you’.  They can’t afford to pay me, but will make sure I get something for it…

Cutting to the chase, I write something that’ll do.  It’s not much easier than editing AMOS statements, but the ability to cut and paste is a step in the right direction!  It had two different parts: the editing part, and the playback part.  It’d also import stuff from a text file, and process a simple mark up language… Sounds a little familiar!

The time came to use it for the first time in anger.  I nipped down to YTV to ensure it all went smoothly.  Editing worked fine, playing back worked fine… until the genlock was added, and that then locked the Amiga.  Disaster.

The playback routine was opening a new screen, then using double buffering to blat text onto the screen at the right time.  Unfortunately, the flag for Genlockable had not been set on the screen definition.  Quickly firing up Devpac sorted it out, and the team was saved from re-entering everything into AMOS.  Life carried on.

We ended up in the pub, I believe in Morley, and beer was consumed.  It’s all a bit hazy after that, but when the program went out, I got the chance to send Greetz to my then girlfriend, now wife, Lyndsy.  Oh, and an offer of a job as a runner when I graduated, which was tempting but not really where I wanted to go.  Patrick also wrote me a lovely reference, which I still have and used in my first job.