To celebrate the two-year anniversary of Game Mag Weaseling, I thought I'd attempt something that I haven't had the stomach to try in at least 16 years: type in a game from a computer magazine.

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For those of you who lack the benefit of being my age or older, some explanation might be useful. Throughout the 1980s and early 90s, program listings in BASIC or machine code were a regular staple of many home computer magazines. Bearly all home machines back then ran BASIC as a sort of "operating system" and were much simpler in design than modern PCs, so it was easier for even average users to learn a computer's innards, produce a decent game, and send it off to magazines for fame (sort of) and fortune (around $100 if they were lucky).

I was browsing through the November 1987 issue of Ahoy!, a whimsically-named magazine devoted to the Commodore 64 and 128, when I came across Paper Route, the description of which you can read above. What a jolly-looking game, huh? Sprite animation, smooth scrolling, and a musical score! Why should I spend $24.99 on a game at Kmart or Games'n Gadgets or Kiddie City when I can just type this program in and get one for free?! Damn, this mag's the best $2.95 I ever spent! (Ahoy! also sold a diskette with the month's programs ready to load for $8.95 a pop, but if I had that kind of money I'd go buy McD.L.T.s for all my friends and have money left over for a Hi-C Ecto-Cooler!)

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Thing is, though, you can't just go typing stuff willy-nilly. First off, as the Paper Article article implies, I'll need a program called Flankspeed to type in this 100% machine-language program. You can't program the Commodore 64 in assembler right out the box -- only BASIC, which is easy to learn as programming languages go but arse-slow compared to machine language. So that's where Flankspeed (and programs like it in other magazines) come in; it's a BASIC program you use to enter machine code listings.

Of course, you've got to type Flankspeed in before you can use it...and here's where the Achilles' heel of all magazine type-in programs suddenly becomes obvious. Simply put, you make typos when you're typing program code into a computer, especially one like the C64 which isn't quite fast enough for speedy touch typing. That is where Bug Repellent (and, again, programs like it in other mags) comes in -- it's a resident program that provides checksums for BASIC lines as you type them into the computer, letting you know immediately when you've mistyped a command. So before I can type in the game, I gotta type in Flankspeed...and before I type in Flankspeed, I should really type in Bug Repellent to make life a little easier for myself.

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So let's boot up the C64 and use these archaic commands to make the screen black instead of the eye-stressing shades of blue it defaults to. (I have trouble remembering whether I've fed the ferrets yet all the time, yet I remember how to do this by heart.)

The colors to my liking, it's time to type in Bug Repellent. Man, typing in a BASIC program is hard work...especially because the C64's keyboard layout doesn't match a modern PC's exactly, so I have to do a bit of searching around the keys to find things like - and +. And then that little machine-language bit at the end encapsulated in DATA statements...ugh. It only took an hour-ish to type this in and I'm already getting bored.

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Bug Repellent is typed in and saved to virtual diskette, and amazingly it runs flawlessly the first time. I am some kind of video whiz. This makes Flankspeed a little easier to deal with, even though it's a far longer piece of BASIC code -- as seen above, I get checksums after every line to compare with what's printed on the magazine page.

So after another hour of data entry, I have my machine language entry program saved and ready to run. It's time to type in the game itself! Woo!

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Arrrgh!

Paper Route is a little under 4K of pure machine code, which means I have to type in about three pages' worth of hexadecimal numbers. These listings are also checksummed, so if I screw up a line, I get prompted to retype it by the program and we're all good to go.

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Which is good, because I screw up. A lot. The C64 didn't have a numeric keypad, so I'm forced to invent a strange alternate form of touch-typing where I have one hand on the row of number keys and another on the left side of the keyboard, where the A-F letters are. This is cumbersome, but you get into a groove eventually, especially once the program section of the code ends and the more patterned and repetitive graphic and sound data section comes along.

An hour and a half later, I have Paper Route on diskette. Whew. With bated breath, I reset, load the sucker up, and...well, see below:

I hearby pronounce this musical score the official theme song to Game Mag Weaseling.

Thanks for your support over the last two years! I hope for many more!

[Kevin Gifford breeds ferrets and runs Magweasel, a site for collectors and fans of old video-game and computer magazines. He's also executive editor at PiQ magazine.]