I wrote the following text in 1998. I found the original version, written in French, on some old backup CD. I thought it was an interesting read so I translated it (as well as I could, sorry for any obvious mistake), edited it a bit, corrected a few facts, and there it is.
The story begins long before the advent of the Atari ST. It begins with my father, in Troyes, around… 1982? 1983? I discover the Apple II and it turns my life upside down. 1982? I am 8 years old. The Apple fascinates me. I am mesmerized by this strange object that sits on the desk of the so-called Red Chamber, as my grandmother calls the room. Everything fits, everything comes together to make that machine mysterious, alluring, irresistible. The room, first. It looks like a library more than a bedroom, and it is usually forbidden for my brother and I, young kids, to go there. Too many fragile things we could break. Too many dangerous objects we could hurt ourselves with – in particular some paper cutters looking like daggers. The atmosphere that prevails is almost mystical. The shelves are full of old books that seem to come from the depths of time. I imagine ancient grimoires full of magic formulas. In a corner between two encyclopedias I have already spotted something a few years before, during one of my rare forays into this place: collections of photographs by David Hamilton. Bilitis, that kind of stuff… Obviously fascinating for a small child who is said to have been born an adult.
Adult. The machine that sits on the desk, facing me, belongs to the adult world. I want to enter this world. I do not have fun at all playing with my classmates. I want to change my world, and the Apple is the gateway to… something else. The unknown. And that machine is made even more attractive by an additional fact: even the grown-ups seem to mistrust it, and fear it.
So here I am, sitting at the Apple’s keyboard. My father shows me how to insert the 5 1/4 floppy disks into the drive. Then it is simple: you turn the power on, you wait. To see what is on a floppy disk, you type CATALOG. To load a game, you type BRUN followed by the name of the game… Easy peasy.
I gradually discover the available games. I destroy Sneakers frantically with my paddle. I have a hell of a hard time landing my LEM on the moon. I fight necromancers and various other goblins in Sortilèges. (Goblin? I do not even know what it is, but they are probably evil!).
But I am curious. Much too curious. I use up the games, and I try to see a little further ahead, like an explorer in a hostile territory, what else lies on the disks, what else lies beyond… I discover new programs, curious names. (“Le Chat Mauve”? I still have no idea what it was, but the name stuck with me.) I run random programs. Sometimes they crash, sometimes they just do things I do not understand. I can type CATALOG with my eyes closed but that’s about all I can do on Apple!
Sometimes my father comes play with me, becomes my wingman in the fight against the infamous Sneakers, or my rally teammate. I always suspected my dad to be a big kid. Magic moments where nothing else matters than defending Earth, or improving our lap times.
And suddenly… what happens? A crash? I do not remember. Still, my father types a new command: LIST. And then it starts scrolling: a hellish, impossible pile of incomprehensible characters. I learn with dismay that this is the program’s “listing”, and it is necessary to type all that stuff to ultimately get Sneakers or Frogger on the screen.
I find it hard to accept, hard to fathom. How can this terrible imbroglio of hieroglyphs generate anything but a headache? It is the little nudge that changes everything. The question that was about to haunt my days from then on. This is how it all started.
Armed with some new magic incantations (how to display the listing, how to modify it… - I can modify it! Oh creative joy!) I walk up and down the source code of Sortilèges (Spells in English, a text adventure game). And I discover, delighted, that when I modify the texts in the listing, they are also changed in the game after a RUN! So that’s all it takes? Programming is not hard! I feel dizzy. I can do so many things… In fact I suddenly realize that this way I can create anything and everything I want, it is only limited by my own imagination. Too many options, too much, too fast. I am overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, by the sheer amount of possibilities. I think I leave the room a bit discouraged. The holiday ends, I go back to my mother’s place, near Paris – my parents are divorced.