If you're a child of the '80s like me -- one who grew up with home computers rather than consoles -- then you may well have some fond memories of programming using the BASIC language.
Most 8-bit home computers had BASIC either built-in or provided on a cartridge, allowing absolutely anyone to write programs for their computer. BASIC's chief advantage was that it was extremely easy to learn due to its simple syntax, but it was also very flexible, allowing for everything from complex games to useful software to be created. Its only real drawback was the fact that it was an interpreter-based language -- while this meant that programs could be run immediately without having to wait for a compiler to create an executable file, it also meant significantly slower performance than software written using harder to learn but more efficient languages.
These days, learning programming is a little more difficult and not quite as accessible due to the fact that your average home computer doesn't tend to ship with an easy to learn programming language straight out of the box. Sure, there are freely available development kits for a variety of different languages, but few of them have the elegant, easy to understand simplicity of BASIC.
A new release for Nintendo's DSiWare service is bringing this programming language back, however, this time to DSi and 3DS users. Petit Computer from SmileBoom is a full BASIC interpreter for Nintendo's handhelds, allowing you to put together programs of up to 520,000 characters, run them and share them with other users via wireless communication. The software also supports the use of QR codes to transfer information from one place to another using the DSi or 3DS camera.
Petit Computer is surprisingly powerful, as some of the bundled demo software will demonstrate. It's possible to put together fully functional games using the software, ranging from top-down maze games to simple first-person dungeon crawlers or side-scrolling shooters. The software comes with pixel art tools to assist with the creation of sprites and background graphics, but also provides a bunch of prefabricated art and sound assets for users to get up and running with creating their masterpieces as quickly as possible.
For those who have never used BASIC before, there's an extensive downloadable PDF manual here, and the software itself features a system whereby commands will be automatically suggested as you start typing them. Don't be under any illusions here; while BASIC is one of the most easy to learn programming languages, there's still a learning curve -- but the nice thing about the fact that the language has been around in one form or another for over 30 years is that there are now a lot of people out there who know a vast amount about what's possible to do with it, so if you're struggling, chances are you'll be able to find some help online.
In the meantime, there's plenty of fun to be had in 10 PRINT "HELLO" 20 BEEP 30 GOTO 10, so have fun with that, and we'll see you when you successfully graduate to making the next Gorillas.
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