First Class!
July 11, 2012 3:35 AM   Subscribe

First Class was a titanic "electronic" tea time BBC general knowledge quiz show in the late 1980s, presented by heartthrob Debbie Greenwood (now a regular on QVC UK) with the aid of a BBC Micro called Eugene. Two teams of teenagers represented their schools as they battled for supremacy playing a random selection of arcade games like skateboarder 720 degrees and Hypersports, the ultimate prize an Acorn Archimedes. Now, the nail-biting encounter between Armthorpe School in Sheffield and Montagu School of Kettering is on YouTube [parts 1, 2 & 3]
posted by feelinglistless (16 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Reminds me of Nick Arcade, perhaps most notable for having contestants almost certainly selected for their near-total unfamiliarity with video games.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:19 AM on July 11, 2012

Qualifications: Willing to play a crap arcade machine port on an 8-bit micro using completely the wrong joystick and while wearing big glasses and a pastel jumper.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:35 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh god I loved this as a kid. I wanted to play Skateboarder and Paperboy more than anything else on earth.

Not long after (I think) a mate finally got an Amstrad CPC and Paperboy and playing that made us feel like we were bigtime.
posted by garius at 5:37 AM on July 11, 2012

Looks far earlier than 1988!

I'd love to know what the kids in that are doing now.
posted by DanCall at 5:54 AM on July 11, 2012

Ah, Hyper Sports. One of the few classic arcade games I still play. I have a Wii controller without a Wii just so I can play this, Super Basketball and Track and Field on my iPad.
posted by Huck500 at 5:58 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is amazing. Look around you. Just look around you.
posted by Conductor71 at 6:39 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd love to know what the kids in that are doing now

Going on an entirely un-scientific personal survey of my colleagues and the kind of people I end up drinking with after conferences, if:

1) You were born between 1978 - 1982 (I was born in 1980)
2) Desperately wanted to be (or were on) First Class and Knightmare
3) Instinctively know what to do when faced with the following:
**** COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 ****


Then you're almost certainly either running a Web Team or managing IT Systems
posted by garius at 6:55 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Does it matter that the Armthorpe School is not in Sheffield, but in Doncaster, more than 20 miles away? Next people will be calling the New Jersey Jets the New York Je— oh, never mind.

Montagu School is not in Kettering either. It was, but it no longer exists.
posted by ubiquity at 7:33 AM on July 11, 2012

Of course, being a geek, I totally focused on the Acorn Archimedes, not the contestants or the girl.

That was quite a machine! Very impressive CPU for the time. It was sort of a hybrid between a Mac and an Amiga -- the slots and the color of the big Amigas, but the total dependence on the CPU of the Mac. It didn't have any of the custom chips the Amiga did for graphic manipulation, so it wasn't too hot at gaming, but I bet it was a real workhorse for other stuff. It looks like a fairly amazing computer for when it was shipped, so I bet the loser was super disappointed.

Why, oh why, did the PC win? Stupid market.

Anyway, fun post, sorry to make a beeline for the totally wrong thing.
posted by Malor at 7:36 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Things ended up working out pretty well for ARM, Malor.
posted by phl at 7:43 AM on July 11, 2012


The Archimedes was well ahead of its time. The reason it never got the games was because of the lack of market penetration outside the UK. Those games it did get showed that the RISC architecture put it streets ahead of the Amiga and ST in many ways, especially in polygon-based games.

Zarch, for example. (SLYT)

Compare and contrast with the ST and Amiga versions, called 'Virus'.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:08 AM on July 11, 2012

Acorn Archimedes computers were indeed great machines for their time. I've got one in the loft at my dad's place that I picked up out of a skip about 10 years ago. Worked then, not sure whether it still would now though unfortunately.

Archimedes machines lingered in UK classrooms (at least in the Home Counties) far longer than they probably should have, due to underfunding in the early 1990s though. Sadly this means there's a lot of people my brothers age and younger who will always think of them as being laughably rubbish computers (they weren't. They were just old).
posted by garius at 8:13 AM on July 11, 2012

Oh wow. I used to watch this as a kid. Thanks for the post. I wish I'd learned to program as a kid.
posted by TheDonF at 8:37 AM on July 11, 2012

Growing up I felt everything British is better; knowing this show existed would have done absolutely nothing to abate that feeling.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:38 AM on July 11, 2012

GallonOfAlan: I remember playing Virus on the Amiga 500, and the Archimedes version you link there is enormously faster. You could still play it, but the framerate on the Amiga was pretty awful. Zarch there is smooth and quick -- it looks like it's running 60fps, though trying to peer through the YouTube veil makes it a little hard to tell.

That said, the lack of other acceleration hardware would have made it difficult for the Archimedes to keep up with the Amiga in any kind of 2D, fast-action game, which were pretty common at the time. I'd tend to say that the Arch was accidentally good at a new game type that was invented just to take advantage of its superior CPU, where the Amiga was deliberately good at most 2D stuff. It had a truly amazing set of custom chips.

But, yeah, that's a very clear demonstration of just how much faster that early ARM chip was. Calling it 'streets ahead' might be an understatement.

How much did they cost, though? Maybe it would be fairer to compare that machine with an Amiga 3000? I suspect the 68030 in the 3000 would have kept up very nicely. In 1987, a fairly complete A500 would have cost about $1K, and the A3000 shipped in 1990, at about $3,000. (although you also wanted a $1,000 NEC Multisync to take full advantage, and then with more RAM and a hard drive, it could be $5K very easily.) I'm unclear on what version of the Archimedes that game is running on, so I can't check when it shipped, how it was configured, or how much it cost. So it's kind of hard to compare.

But I do have to say, that is slick as heck.
posted by Malor at 9:52 AM on July 11, 2012

The Archimedes could do arcade style games at 320x256 with 256 colours which was better than the typical 32 colours of the Amiga at the same resolution - but without hardware sprites etc it couldn't match the smoothness. The 3D games were fantastic though and also didn't suffer as much from the fact that there wasn't enough of a market to pay for really good pixel art for most games.
posted by tomcooke at 12:28 PM on July 11, 2012

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