ACNews #67
01 марта 2017

How it was in Leningrad - Year 1988. First computers

<b>How it was in Leningrad</b> - Year 1988. First computers
                    How it was in Leningrad
                          by AmoNik

                  Year 1988. First computers

My first contact with personal computers appeared in 1988 in
"World of children" (Детский мир) store at Science avenue
(проспект Науки). There was a small corner organized in one of
departments of the store, where rich kids could part with their
money to play unpretentious computer games. I don't remember the
model of the computer, I just remember grey case and slanted
buttons: START, RESET etc. This possibly was ATARI б5XE or
1ЗOXE. The computer itself was hidden under the counter, so you
couldn't touch it with your playful hands. A big Soviet-made
colour TV set stood above.

The games stuck in my memory were River Raid, Ninja,
International Karate, Montezuma's Revenge. You could ask for a
given game if there were no other players. Games were loaded
from tape. The whole amusement was worth one rouble for 10
minutes. There were few comers for such price, mostly children
of sellers played with their friends. The others could watch the
process for nothing. Another obstacle for delivering your rouble
was a group of Gipsy people before the entrance, who sold Donald
bubble gum, one rouble each. It was hard to go by :)

After some time, the same year, a boy from neighbouring school
was transferred in our scholl class. I'm not sure about his name
and the cause of transfer, but we made friends with him. The boy
appeared smart and being just 9 was interested in radio
electronics and programming. Once during a break, I saw a
copybook at his table, all filled with foreign words and
schematics. I wondered what they meant. It turned out to be a
computer program in Basic. The boy explained that he visits a
computer club in the neighbouring school, where they write
programs and play games after that. For nothing. I recalled
"World of children" and willed to play games, too. I offered
myself for the next time, and copied one of his programs, just
in case.

When the day came, we arrived to the club after school, and I
brought my copybook with the program. We went to a room filled
with rows of computers. What they were? Years after, SKCorp
convinced me that they were БК-0010. They certainly were
Soviet-made. They used a small monochrome TV, were joined in a
network managed by some other PC. Once again, I don't remember
the model, it just had very big display with green letters, and
two disk drives inside the case.

I don't remember if we were taught anything but everyone there
(all of them were older than us) was doing something with
enthusiasm. During he first visit I also pretended that I'm busy
typing the program from my copybook. When I finished, I didn't
know what to do and just looked around. A teacher arrived and
proposed to run the program to see what it could do. I agreed.
The program didn't work, maybe I copied it inaccurately. The
teacher asked me where I found it and what I think why it
failed. I answered frankly that I copied it from a classmate and
knew nothing about it. The teacher tried to give me hints about
errors in the program. But I made a wry face, and asked if I can
play games. The teacher laughed genially and inquired for games
I like. I could only describe the games I saw at "World of
children". БК appeared to have no such games, so I was given
some Klademiner, a Lode Runner clone. Platforms and ladders were
shown on screen. Little men ran by them and tried to catch me.
My objective was to collect gold. I don't remember other games.

I visited the club just a few times, until I arrived too late. I
came in, said hello, and went to a wardrobe. When I changed my
footwear, one of older girls approached me and demanded excuse
for being late. I dropped my eyes, and when she went away, I got
dressed back and jumped out of the classroom. I never returned

Alone> We hadn't this in Ryazan by 1988 when I entered school. 
School informatics class taught programming calculators. УК-НЦ 
computer class appeared in 1991 or later, or else I couldn't see 
calculators. Bubble gums appeared possibly in 1991. I remember 
"Donald", "Turbo", "Final 90". Maybe for one rouble, too - I 
never bought them. They were sold in kiosks. It is unlikely that 
they were much earlier, because we played with coins, then with 
candy wrappers, then with postage stamps, before playing with 
inlays of chewing gums. I saw a playroom with computers (not 
arcade machines) maybe in 1991, hardly before, with River Raid 
and Freddy Hardest. 

Well, Final 90 was certainly brought in '90, or else it would
expire by '91 :)
We didn't play anything but inlays and paper carts in my school.
There were a lot of inlays even in '89.

     Years 1990-1991. My first encounter with ZX Spectrum

In the easly 90's I lived in a communal flat in the city center.
Once I noticed that our flatmate unkle Yura used to solder
something in his room in the evenings. He probed into a
disassembled TV set and seemed very enthusiastic. It was a
mystery for some time, but once I was called from the yard by
other kids, they shouted that unkle Yura made a computer and
invited all the neighbour children to play games. I ran with
them to see the miracle.

The miracle was a self-made ZX Spectrum compatible computer,
possibly based on Leningrad-1 schematics. The board was
installed in a compact case, like later Composit cases, but made
from plastic, not metal. The keyboard was solid rubber, not
separate keys. The games were loaded from Radiotechnika tape
recorder with moving tray and a little green screen. The
computer was attached to a small Elektronika colour TV.

We sat in a small room on a sofa and tried to play one after
another, sharing a self-made joystick. A sort of condom
protected the FIRE button (a cap from toothpaste) from going
away from the stick (a tube coiled with insulating tape). This
stick imitated the joystick handle and was inserted in a box
made of metallized glass fiber. Sometimes we broke away the
stick while emotional outburst. It seemed that it was not fixed
in any way and was just inserted in a box tightly. The first
games we played were Pac-man (or Ms. Pac-man), Saboteur, Spy
Hunter, Target Renegade, R-Type.

In quite short time unkle Yura was bored with our games and let
us play rarely. Finally he moved in a new house, and we left
without games.

So my first encounter with ZX Spectrum has finished. I didn't
know at the moment that it was one, because it had no signs of
it at the case, and I didn't ask.

                  Year 1991. Luescher's test

A rich fellow appeared in our class. His name was Alexey
(Lyoha), and he was a son of either producer of "Russian video"
TV channel, or someone close. He had 6000 roubles (worth a new
car), and bought friends between classmates. We followed him and
begged toys from him. He bought us water pistols, chewing gums,
and tiny electronic pianos that we use to enrage our form-master
Natalya Poliektovna. She ran around the classroom and tried to
catch the squeak. But there were too many pianos, and they
squeaked from different places every time. The rich fellow
purchased for himself the most interesting things, such as a
12-colour pen or a pen with radio receiver. An earphone was
connected to its cap, and the guy heard stations in the
classroom. We frequently visited a commission shop at Five
corners, and looked at a set of car models. A big box contained
some 20 of them. Alexey promised to buy them but still didn't.

Searching for new toys, we wandered into Vitebsk railroad
station that had a lot of kiosks with new toys and bubble gums
unavailable anywhere else. Suddenly I stumbled on a computer
complex consisting of a big system module, a big monochrome
(green) display, and a big dot matrix printer. It could be DVK
or ES. For a little fee you could obtain a horoscope for a
month, or determine if your bride-to-be matches you, or conduct
a psychological test. I observed one of such tests, Luescher's.
A probationer sat on a chair and was given a set of colour
cards. He should arrange them in some order. Then the colour
numbers were typed into the computer, and the printer spat out a
big reel of paper with the result. I was impressed and used to
come there after school just to stay near the computer.

We never got car models, and the rich fellow was taken from the
school by his mother, complete with gifts he gave to the
classmates. I wasn't there at the moment, so I kept the piano,
but somebody said later that the guy stole money from his
mother. Some time after that I exchanged the piano for UAZ car

        Year 1991. Computer education club and AGAT-9

In autumn of 1991, when I studied at 7th form, an advertisement
appeared on a wall in school's hall near the class schedule. It
invited everyone to a computer education club, address followed.
I was interested and didn't want competitors, so I removed the
ad and placed it in my pocket.

At given time, me and my classmate Antonych came to the place.
It was House of children and youth creativity of Central
district. I never visited it before. In a room there were four
computers named Agat-9, big grey-blue boxes with monochrome
displays above. Classes were held once a week and consisted of
self-education. We sat 2 or 3 at one computer and ran an
educational program. We read Basic commands description from
screen, wrote then down in our copybooks, looked at examples,
and later answeres the control questions. After the theory began
the practice when we usually asked for playing. Rarely we passed
test works with writing simple programs according to the course.
I remember one of such tasks: we wrote a program that filled the
screen with coloured vertical lines. I didn't understand
programming at the time, so I copied it from another computer,
adding few changes and mistakes to show that I tried myself.

Of course, the most interesting part was games. We were given
floppies with games, and we loaded them by ourselves. The games
were: Lode Runner, Karateka, Xonix, Conan, Moon Patrol, and our
favourite Mario Bros. It seemed that Agat was designed for two's
playing. Its game manipulator consisted of two boxes with a
potentiometer wheel on top and one button on side. You should
take the manipulators in a hand and rotate the wheel with
another hand. So one player controlled, for example, left-right
movement and jump, and another controlled up-down and fire. This
was very absorbing, and we could play one player games in pairs.
A kind of cooperative multiplayer.

Sadly our computer club was soonly closed. In a couple months
the room was bought by some moneybag (we were told so). At the
last class, I begged for a floppy disk with any game. They
didn't give because the disks were bundled with computers so
they were to be returned with computers.

>Can you show Composit case? 
How unkle Yura joystick worked? 
In Ryazan, joysticks were made by Ryazan plant of 
metallo-ceramic devices. They were based on hermetic contacts 
and had two versions. The first version had a ball with stick, 
the ball being installed in a plastic case, and the buttons were 
on either side of the case. The second version was a classic 
aviation joystick with one button on top of the stick and two 
buttons on the case. My father tried to attach the first one to 
Radio-8бRK. I attached the second to Speccy, played a little, 
then removed it - I can't play well with joystick. I played 
mostly Metal Army. 
On the other hand, I saw twins playing Commando at 58-key Speccy 
keyboard :) 

My first Speccy games were Elevator Action, Stop the Express 
and one about a flying robot, with teleports. I have found it 
later but lost again. I even have old drawings of it on paper 
but no title - what is it? In the beginning I loaded games from 
4-track tape reels, using "Romantika" sound center. 

Composit case:

Joystick was made with buttons like this:

Do you remember old toothpaste tubes? They had small caps unlike
new ones. This cap was inserted in a pipe that maybe had a
hermetic contact inside, and a spring. To prevent the cap from
springing out, all the pipe and the cap were covered with a
condom or a finger-stall.

We had very nice joysticks with Composits, clones of Competition
but the keys were yellow, and the socket was a round Soviet
socket. I never played Metal Army :(

               Year 1991. Virtual technologies

December came, and I still remembered Agat-9. I walked by DLT
store and found a computer keyboard on a shelf. I asked the
salesman to keep one keyboard for me and ran home for money. I
was thinking that keyboards are computers, and we just need a
display for it. Later I learned that it was a keyboard for UK-NC
computer. But for the time I was delighted with my loot. I
brought the keyboard at home, and started to play with it. I
imagined that I sat at Agat and typed on its keyboard. I ran my
favourite games in my mind and played them. To make it more like
a computer, I produced a system module from cardboard with two
slots for cardboard floppies with games, and a cardboard display
above, where I drew Agat boot screen (with 5 floppy disks). I
sliced a lot of floppies, inserted them into slots and played
games. I even invited my flatmate Sergey who hadn't seen
computers, and he was pleased with the show. I drew for him game
levels on paper and showed how to play.

               Year 1992. My first ZX Spectrum

I was tired of monotone virtual games, and decided to learn
programming. I went to "Teacher book" shop at Zagorodny avenue
near Five corners, and bought a book about programming
calculators in school. It contained a lot of examples, and I
finished it with great pleasure in spite of having no
calculator. Next I bought a book about programming languages. It
was named like "Basic, Fortran, Pascal". There was a review and
history of programming languages, and the same programs were
shown in different languages. Gradually I understood the idea,
and after some time I started to write my own small programs. I
chose Basic because I had seen it at Agat. I ran programs in my
virtual machine, i.e. in my head. The first program was a
directory of flats in a house. You entered a flat number, and
the program displayed its entrance and floor number. I promptly
needed a true computer to run my programs. I searched for it in

The first store I visited was "Eridan" at Five corners. Across
the entrance there was a commission shop, sometimes containing
brand new things brought in our country from abroad. My friends
and I used to stand there and watch videos. I've seen there for
the first time "Cannon-ball Race" and "Hot heads" comedies, and
also "Terminator". There was a large department of home
computers in the main hall of the store. You could buy there
Mikroshas, Vectors, Soviet Speccy clones, and even stock Atari
800. There were plenty of models, maybe 15 of them. The most
inexpensive, and the most popular, was Dubna-48K. It costed
exactly 1000 roubles, and people actively bought it. So I chose
it. Why? I didn't know about Spectrums. I even didn't know it
was a (loosely-)compatible. It was a good-looking cheap
computer, unlike some Spectrum in nearby commission shop with
few keys that was just the size of video tape. "Ugh, don't
want," I thought and asked mother for money to buy Dubna. There
was no money though. I begged mother to borrow money from her
rich female friend but mother said no, and started saving money
for the purchase.

At the time a friend of mine was given some unit named Hobbit.
It was a Spectrum designed as a game console. It had no
keyboard, just one Reset key allowing the computer to load
programs. The games were loaded from tape. They were ugly but we
still played them. Later this Hobbit was sold, and Composit was
to appear after some time. Before it appeared, I looked for a
computer for me.

Somewhere in March 1992 I walked by Big Gostiny Dvor and found a
small computer department. There were just two models sold:
Spektr-001 and certain Enterprise-128. The latter included very
showy joystick mounted in the keyboard. However, it costed
inconceivably much. Spektr-001 looked decently and costed just
around 900 roubles, even less than cheap Dubna. Gotta buy.

At the time my mother gatheres some money, and we went there
together with my father. Dad served as an attendant, now as an
expert, but it turned out that he saved me from meaningless
money-spending. We came to the store, I pointed to Spektr and
said, "this one". Dad judiciously asked the salesman just two
questions, then we returned without purchase. The questions
were: "With what this Spektr is compatible?" and "Where to find
programs for it?" The first salesman's answer was, "It's
incompatible, it's on its own." And the second answer was, "All
the needed software is included on tapes. There is no other
software." I think somebody trained dad because he is still
novice with computers.

I was upset. Dad said that he would consult a friend. It was
Nikolay Kotov, a family friend and a colleague of dad. At the
time, Kotov assembled Spectrums and sold them at Yunona market.
Once I lived for two days at dad's home (he lived apart), and
took my favourite keyboard with me. I tapped keys and produced
sounds, and my father seeing it arranged about meeting Kotov to
see a computer. The next day we came to Kotov (my keyboard was
still with me). Kotov showed his computer and said it was for
sale, and I could buy it if I wanted. Ance again, it was
Spectrum based on Leningrad-1 board, in a case with power supply
- later I saw Contact-48 and 128 in such cases. While they
talked with dad, I played Joe Blade 2. I saw it was a clone of
that little computer from commission shop, that I avoided. But
in the course of gaming I found out that unkle Yura's computer
was the same, this was good, but I still wasn't sure. We
consulted attaching my keyboard to the computer. As it appeared
possible, I made a decision - I'll buy it, and Kotov will
connect it to my TV.

Later Kotov came several times, did something to the TV set, so
the connection took about two months. During that time I bought
my first Spectrum book in "House of the book" store at Nevsky
avenue. It was named "ZX SPECTRUM for users and programmers",
issued by Piter press. I completed that book and understood that
Spectrum is cool and I couldn't wait until it got worked. No
matter that I hadn't any software. I could write my own.

In July 1992 it happened. After switching a magic toggle in
VIDEO mode, the screen of TV "Raduga 716 D" showed "(c) 1982
Sinclair Research Ltd". I was very delighted and started to
study the keyboard layout. The joy was darkened with news that
the computer costed 500 roubles more. I don't remember the final
The picture also turned to be strange. First, the colours were
wrong - blue instead of yellow, cyan instead of red. I saw this
only when games appeared. Second, there wasn't pure white. It
was something greenish. Black also wasn't clean and looked dirty
grey. Also waves of strokes ran across the screen. The direction
and speed of their movement depended of weather on Mars. Later
appeared that it was interference from the power supply.
Initially I ignored it, busy with typing my programs.

Few days passed in learining the keyboard layout. I had to get
used to command placement and input methods. I had no books
about Speccy keyboard, so everything was learned with
experiment. Some of the commands were new to me, so I
experimented with them too wherever possible. I was missing tape
software but Kotov lended me a book for a time. I don't remember
its name and contents, but it was in Russian and in hard cover.
And type-in programs from it worked well on Speccy. Even the
graphic programs! So the book must be Spectrum oriented. I
remember how I typed a kaleidoscope program from it. It drew
moire patterns on screen with lines in OVER mode.

So I wrote programs for a fortnight, and Kotov was reading my
book instead. Then he asked me for a tape cassette and promised
to introduce me to a friend of his who would copy me various
software. We went to his friend, Sergey Vladimirovich. He worked
in a cooperative store "Analog" that had a motto "Everything for
ZX SPECTRUM". It was located in an evicted apartment house,
Pushkin street, 10. "Analog" resided in apartment 25 on second
floor. Once a week, Sergey Vladimirovich was there after hours.
He collected requests, and the following week he brought ready
tapes. I remember printed pages with games and utility catalogue
hanging by the room walls. While I looked blank at them, Kotov
ordered a lot of programs mentioned in my book. I gave my
cassette, and we went out. Next week we visited "Analog" again
and received the cassette with software. One game (or a game
level) costed 5 roubles, and every utility costed 7 roubles. My
cassette was worth 75 roubles, and the programs on it costed
around 130. Kotov promised me to return a half when I copy the
programs. For this, he ordered copiers Copy-Copy, Copy De Luxe,
Turbo Comp, Copy-86m. The latter was my favourite copier after
some time. But for the time, I wasn't sure I need copiers. I
wrote my own coolest copier in Basic. Something like this:

20 LOAD A$
30 SAVE A$

But it didn't work for some reason and vanished from memory
after loading a file.

Together with an empty cassette Kotov gave me a cassette with
first games. I don't remember them all but my favourite was Rick
Dangerous. I was forced to purchase one more cassette to pirate
these games. The game cassette is lost now, but the cassette
with utilities survived, I even loaded these programs in
emulator from real tape. In addition to copiers, there were: Art
Studio, A.E. Drums, Artist, GensЧ-51, MonsЧ, Musi Typewriter,
Master File v9, Music Box, Rus Tasword, Fonge, TLW 2 and a
couple of Cyrillic fonts. Some of these programs were thoroughly
documented in the book, so I studied them. I drew pictures in
Art Studio. The colours were terrible, so after some time I
unsoldered colour wires in TV looked at monochrome image for two
years or so. Then I called a profi from newspaper advertisement,
and he fixed the colours in 15 minutes.

In the beginning, I was quite satisfied with my collection of
software. I created something mine for some time, but later I
dived in gaming again. I used to visit the cooperative store and
order other games. I brought friends there, they ordered
software for themselves, then we shared tapes. Also in the
cooperative we could discuss Dizzy games walkthrough. First
books with walkthrought appeared in bookstores. Sergey
Vladimirovich bought such books and brought them to the
cooperative store. We started to select games according to these
books. Sergey also brought Dizzy map printed by himself. He
printed game screens on small papers with one-dot printer, then
glued them together. Just at the time we became interested in
Dizzy series, and we asked Sergey how to pass this or that. He
showed self-made maps like that, and sometimes consulted us by
phone, when he wasn't too busy.

Once certain Pasha, a friend of Sergey's, came to the
cooperative, and brought an audio tape with game music. There
was Commodore, Atari, and Amstrad music. He inserted the tape in
the player, and we were were caprivated with music. We asked
where is it from? He explained. Then we learned that Spectrum
also can play music, it required a special sound co-processor.
So I decided that I would attach one. I could do it there,
because they also repaired Speccies and made add-ons. I changed
keys on my Spectrum's keyboard there time to time. They were
breaking because I had no joystick and played on keyboard.

I earned money for sound co-processor with my own hands, when I
worked as a loader at Apraksin yard together with a friend. That
was in 1995. Cooperative store broke up then, but I still had
ties. I purchased Yamaha YM-2149F co-processor at Yunona market
for 55000 roubles (there was great inflation in 1992-1995 -
Ed.), and also payed 45000 for connecting it to my Speccy. I
called Sergey Vladimirovich by phone, and he gave me a phone of
his acquaintance, and that one soldered the device.

The only game with AY music I had was Tetris II by Fuxoft. I was
hearing the music for two days long. My TV was broken (no
picture), so I searched for the game on tape blindfolded,
pressed the menu key from memory, and chose music mode instead
of sound mode.

My first ZX Spectrum 48K served me until 1996. Later it was
disassembled for repairing and upgrading Scorpion with its

> Did Hobbit with 1бKB RAM exist?Хоббит_(компьютер) 
> What happened to UK-NC keyboard? 
> I had Radio-8бRK keyboard (self-made from hermetic contacts 
set) that was disassembled by my father and installed on new 
board with other key labels. Empty board of Radio-8бRK keyboard 
disappeared, and Radio-8бRK itself was given away to Shiru (he 
has a huge collection of old non-Spectrum computers). 

I was sure it was Hobbit. I'll consult the guy who owned it. He
rarely goes online and responds even more rarely. I haven't
found a photo of such Hobbit in the Internet. Its boot screen
showed CPS Compex or something like that.

See this:
bottom of page 73. They just mention Hobbit console.

There might be more than 1бKB RAM, but the bundled games were
small, like Jet Pac. So I'm not sure about memory size.

I still keep that UK-NC keyboard. I removed its keys to Spectrum
keyboard. They match ideally. So I have UK-NC keyboard with
Spectrum keys. I must find it.

Well, the keyboard, namely the keys, are at one of my friends,
Anton Popov. I'll take them and restore the UK-NC keyboard.

OK, I took the Spectrum keyboard with UK-NC keys from Anton.
Unfortunately, the keys hardly can be returned to UK-NC
keyboard, because I drew JCUKEN Cyrillic letters on those keys.

>Were there cassettes with software house labels, and with 
protection? In Ryazan, all tapes were unprotected and had just 
written or typed list of programs as their label. 

We had them without protection. The labels were drawn by
traders. Utility tapes had a list of programs and short
description overleaf. Games usually had some picture from game
sprites. All in all, I have just 4 "software house" cassettes,
i.e. bought in a store. Half of them were bought in 1997, when
the game tape market already disappeared. All the other games
were either ordered in the cooperative, or were copied from
friends (rarely). So I have just 40 games or so. I can write
them down if needed.

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Как это было в Ленинграде - компьютерная история: 1988г. Первое знакомство

Как это было в Ленинграде - 1992-1993 год. Знакомство с Амига

Как это было в Ленинграде - спектрум в Санкт-петербурге в 1996 году

Как это было в Ленинграде - 2011 год. Настоящий ZX Spectrum

Как это было в Ленинграде - 2001 год. Commodore 64

How it was in Leningrad - Year 1988. First computers

How it was in Leningrad - Year 1992-1993. Meeting Amiga

How it was in Leningrad - Year 1996

Темы: Игры, Программное обеспечение, Пресса, Аппаратное обеспечение, Сеть, Демосцена, Люди, Программирование

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