Pre83 collects programming resources for computer platforms released before 1983. Many of these consoles, computers, and handhelds are difficult to research due to their material scarcity or technical obscurity. When information is available online, it is often tucked away in niche forums or hard-to-find websites. Unless a platform was particularly successful or beloved, popular attention fades and otherwise interesting machines languish in obscurity.
Pre-83 aims to help centralize and curate the most useful technical documentation for its target platforms, as well as offer an entry point for curious creators who might be interested in making new software on old hardware. The point of the site is not to encourage distanced, nostalgic contemplation, but to inspire active, serious research into platforms that still have something to offer for programmers, artists, scholars, and game designers.
1983 marks an important point in the timeline of game-related computing. In the United States, a combination of market saturation, poor software quality control, increased interest in personal computers, poorly-implemented platforms, and supply shortages led to a devastating market crash. Many major and lesser players abandoned the industry. Analysts proclaimed the demise of dedicated game consoles in favor of all-purpose PCs. But Nintendo's Family Computer, released in Japan in 1983, would eventually salvage the home console market when it was marketed in the United States as the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES).
Though hardware generations are a faulty means to categorize computing's history, the post-NES era, or third generation, tends to mark the starting point of ’modern‘ videogame history, save for a few nods to market leaders like the Atari VCS. The first and second generation of consoles, PCs, handhelds, and hybrids are passed over as too primitive or too limited for serious study. But there is a remarkably rich diversity of platform experimentation in the decade between the Magnavox Odyssey and the Emerson Arcadia-2001. With fewer established conventions about what a platform should or shouldn't be, how a personal computer should function, how a controller should look, or what kinds of games were possible, manufacturers had a wider license to try new things.
Finally, setting a limitation on dates also allows Pre83 to maintain a focus that other historical computing sites cannot. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive catalog but a living research project of interesting (and mostly forgotten) machines.
An archive says as much as about its creator as it does its content. Most of these platforms pre-date my personal experience with computing, so they don't invoke much nostalgia, a common myopia for projects like these. I'm primarily interested in platforms that have the potential for new development, perhaps support a small community of enthusiasts, or are otherwise overlooked in computing history. By gathering together programming resources in a single place, it's my hope that they will help guide interested programmers, artists, or researchers to new work.
Right now the site is primarily focused on gathering links to other resources and documenting some key technical features of its chosen platforms. But over time, Pre83 will host more original research, projects, collaborations, documentation, and other related work.
And if you see any notable omissions, check out the list of possible additions or get in touch and let me know what I missed.
Pre83 is designed, curated, and maintained by Nathan Altice, Teaching Professor of Computational Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz. If you have any corrections, suggestions, or hardware to donate, please contact me on Twitter @circuitlions or via metopal.com.
Black and white illustrations are mostly taken from owner‘s or technical manuals. However, the Compucolor II and COSMAC VIP illustrations are by Kelly Crunch.