The Usborne Legacy

If you’re in the UK and remember having to type in your computer games from books or magazines back in the ’80s then you almost certainly crossed paths with the Usborne books aimed at young and maturing programmers. Usborne has kindly made a number of them available via their website, downloadable as free PDFs. Click on the covers on the right to view or download. A condition of downloading is not to rehost them, but they’re free for personal use.


The game listings books are great, fully illustrated, providing explanations alongside the code and supplying alternate lines to input according to your computer’s particular BASIC dialect.


The ones aimed at teaching useful programming tips and tricks are full of simple, well-explained methods of writing. Use subroutines! Here’s when an array might help! I still visualise multi-dimensional data-structures like this (robots and all, ha!).


The couple of longform text adventure listing books Island Of Secrets and The Mystery Of Silver Mountain look fascinating. Whilst I’m obviously familiar with multiple-listing publications usually with a mixture of target machine and program length, I wasn’t aware of individual software being distributed this way. Love it! I am definitely going to type one up and find out how wonderfully naff it is when I get the chance.

Usborne produced a number of other books and not just on computers. I do particularly remember one which had tips on how to get more enjoyment/challenge out of computer or arcade games though. Suggestions included:

  • holding the controller or LCD game upside down;
  • crossing your hands so that you’re operating the joystick and fire buttons with the wrong hand;
  • sharing controls with another person (e.g. one on movement, one on firing).

Great stuff!

One of my hobby-horses is the perennial history-written-by-the-winners grumble, where the dominant discussion of computing/gaming privileges the US/Japan over the UK/Rest Of World, consoles over computers and portrays the history of Apple, Atari and Nintendo as the sum of all possible knowledge on the subject. As well as being great nostalgic items (and you know I love me my nostalgia), the value in these books is in how they depict another version of the truth, of kids with two hours to use the one TV in the house to type in and debug a game, just to have a quick go before turning everything off and unplugging it, because you haven’t got a spare tape to record the final product onto. Probably on an Oric or Dragon 32 because you didn’t have a C=64 or Speccy like the cool kids in your class.

Daft rant over, hope some of you enjoy browsing these books as much as I am!


One Comment Add yours

  1. Da22 says:

    I don’t sadly remember these however I do remember their adventure books, escape from blood castle etc


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