Pirates of the 90 C’s.

Strange how we always think that modern technology is making everything smaller in size but bigger in capacity and that all the tech from days of old was big, bulky and obtrusive.  In the vast majority of cases that is the case, our tech is getting smaller and smaller to the extent that I can carry the equivalent of  a mini computer/phone/games machine in my pocket without even realising that it is there.  However, look towards our beloved consoles and the portabilty of their media and it is a very different case indeed, the standard DVD box is the preferred method of storing games nowadays.  The boxes are pretty sturdy and offer a sleek method of storing and transporting our games, but wait!  Go back some 25 years and the boxes were, gulp!, smaller!  Of course, I am referring to the wonder of the cassette tape, you do know what a cassette tape is, don’t you?

Sleek and deceptively large
Sleek and deceptively large

I would imagine that a great many of you have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever regarding the eight track cassette of long ago so my focus starts with the advent of something truly wonderful.  The cassette tape was introduced in the early 1960’s primarily as a method of recording spoken word, most commonly in a dictaphone role, during the early 1970’s with advances in technology, most notably Dolby noise reduction, the tape became a method of storing music.  At one point in its all too short life, the tape was the biggest selling format of music, outstripping even LP’s. The Sony Walkman further marked the popularity of cassettes, allowing you to take and listen to them anywhere.  The 80’s also heralded the advent of home computers and it was cleverly chosen to store the required media on tapes. For the initial period of sales games came in a single plastic cassette box but as time progressed the cases became more lavish, and expensive.  Small enough to slip into a pocket or school bag it was so easy to take your games with you to a friends house but of course if you wanted to take more than one game you would have to break out the luxury carry case – the carrier bag.  All was not lost though, there was another method for taking your entire collection with you and amazingly it would fit in your pocket without breaking the seams.

The chosen method of playing cassettes.
The chosen method of playing cassettes.

This might amaze some of you but the method for taking all of your cassette based games with you was genius, one cassette!  Imagine if  today you had a collection of say, 50 games, and you wanted to transport them, you would have to look in to a big box or several CD wallets to carry them, and even then it would be quite heavy.  Praise be then that in the 80’s copyright protection was something that wasn’t around, some publishers claimed to use it but failed, all you needed was two cassete players, one of which had to be able to record and you were off.  Tapes came in various sizes according to the length of time they would play/record for, from a C15 all the way up to a C120. The numbers were the total time available and you halved it to get the time on each side of the tape, yup – they were double sided too.  The most common size was a C90 and here I will ask you to do some maths, most games would have a loading time of around three minutes, so how many games could you fit on to one C90?  Put your calculators and fingers away now, of course the answer is around 30 full games although it was known to have up to 60 on some cassettes. Amazing, all of that data on a now defunct format.  Cassettes were incredibly cheap to buy blank and were most commonly used to store music (I still have hundreds) and of course that gave rise to the scourge of decent people – PIRATES!

Avast ye scurvy copying dogs.
Avast ye scurvy copying dogs.

Games never really broke the bank in the 80’s but everyone still likes to get more for their money so the rise in game piracy was huge, although I’m pretty sure that no one who copied games to tape ever thought that they were doing wrong.  The thing is, it was super rare to ever get a single game copied on to one cassette, if you were receiving a pirated game it came with loads more on the tape to fill out the space.  Another factor for the popularity of the pirated tape was in the cost which was anywhere between five to ten pounds. It was so easy to do that people even advertised in the classifieds offering forty Spectrum games for ten pounds, and as far as I know none of them ever had their door battered down by the police in the early hours.  The only downside to pirated games was that they came with no instructions so you often had to sit with a pen and paper and some patience as you loaded the game in and then pressed every button on the keyboard until you found out what the controls were and noted them all down.  No machines had to be chipped to play the games, it was so easy to do, once you had copied all the games on to cassette, which was the time consuming bit, you could easily make as many copies of the master tape as you wanted.  It never occurred to us that there were any illegal acts taking place either in the selling, buying or playing of the games and in all honesty most people never sold the games, just passed them on to friends.  So, if anyone tries to tell you about the great storage capabilities of  Blu Ray or DVD just tell them that you can show them something smaller that can hold up to sixty full games and then whip out a cunningly hidden C90.







4 responses to “Pirates of the 90 C’s.”

  1. Markatansky! avatar

    Oh yeah! Cassette tapes were used for hiding Decepticons weren’t they? 😀

  2. John avatar

    OK Martin, I’m going to out-small you now. Probably no-one will remember them – they didn’t sell too many – but Sinclair introduced a machine called the QL (Quantum Leap) which used a storage medium called the Microdrive. This is doubly interesting for you (and me) as it used the same endless tape loop mechanism as the 8-track! See http://terdina.net/ql/mdv.html for size and pictures.
    I actually had hands-on these when the QL was released and they were actually quite cute – but very slow and noisy!
    I’m so lonely…… 🙂

  3. Martin avatar

    I remember the QL being touted as a business machine and wishing it would be adapted for games. That said I actually never realised it was just tape inside it. Those wee cartridges were really dinky though, it would have been hilarious if Sir Clive had used eight track cassettes instead.

  4. Lasandra Shirkey avatar

    they do appear strong but in true life they look and feel rather low-cost, but on photographs they appear amazing… but for pc laptops hp designs are the best they come… still really tacky and awful compared to macbooks though

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