New Life for Old Games on the Children's Machine XO


If the One Laptop Per Child project is to be a success, it has to look at previous computers that have gone down in history... For me, growing up in the 1980s in the UK, I see many parallels with the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

It was the lowest cost colour home computer, it had a huge following among school-children, was tiny compared to most computers of the time, and had a rubbery keyboard.

Two things seemed to drive the popularity of these machines - they were easily programmable at home, and they had great games on them. The Children's Machine XO is easy to program (the source code for each activity is available for the user to modify), but as yet, OLPC activities are mostly of an educational nature.

So what can be done? I would urge anyone reading this to think back... What were the games that inspired you as a child? Then contact the designers and ask them to consider rewriting them for the OLPC.

That's a scary granny!

One game that sprung to my mind was Granny's Garden, originally written for the BBC Micro. This was an engrossing, sometimes scary (for small children) adventure game involving maths and logic puzzles.

So please, if you know anyone who has written a great game for children, contact them and urge them to re-version it for the OLPC. Even if the game was commercial initially, converting the game to Linux for the OLPC would probably not harm the market in the developed world significantly (who mostly use Windows and MacOS), and may open the game up to new markets who would otherwise never have seen it.

I emailed the publishers of Granny's Garden with this suggestion, but have so far heard nothing.

Other games that spring to mind - Dizzy, Elite, Manic Minor, Jet Set Willy, Chuckie Egg, The Hobbit, and I'm sure you can think of many more. Of course, there are copyright issues with many of these games, but some are "abandonware", and others could maybe issued under creative commons licenses?

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Good idea! I remember when I got my ZX Spectrum in 1982. I played "The Hobbit" for weeks until I had finished all puzzles. And the I even read the book because of the game.

Maybe it would make sense to have an emulator on the XO, so the games would not have to be rewritten. There are emulators for the ZX and C64 for Windows, so I guess it would be possible for the XO, too.

There is still the copyright issue, but maybe the game authors might "donate" when they hear it is for a good cause.

There is certainly a parallel to those ages and our first home computers (sigh!).

This article especially reminds me of the BBC Micro (which I still own since 1982!). It was made by Acorn Computers Inc (UK then acquired by Olivetti). Since its early roll-out it was sponsored in the UK by the BBC (hence its name) and the Ministry of Education there.

A lot of education titles had been developed on the BBC Micro, since it has been the "official" Micro installed across the UK schools. There already do exist some BBC emulators for PC, running most programmes and educational games quite successfully.

Maybe our UK friends could give us more info on that idea.

Yannis (Greece)

Well I think they should attract mobile game developers and not really looking at some old games ports.
If OLPC will define some good programing environment with good support for one of modern language (maybe Java Micro Edition, or maybe some version of Mono) the games will pop up very soon.

I will do it myself, but the only information I found on Wiki page you mention is: "The machine will run Linux, X, and Gnome." This is not much :(
If you like to do it as a hobby, or you are IT student this will put you off compliantly.

The environment must be well defended with dedicated language and clear API for graphic, sound, network etc. Testing environment (maybe some IDE) should run in all distributions of Linux, and maybe also on Windows and Mac.

I think Java ME for mobiles is good example how it should be set up. Actually it should be easy to adopt Java ME on OLPC. They can choose of course different language, but they will need to create some similar environment.

We must remember it is XXI century. There is a lot developers and companies who will support this project (specially in open-source but not only). If you give them tools and good specification, they can create a lot of good applications, not only games.
I have the feeling what OLPC concentrate too much on hardware and neglect software developers community. I hope it will not be a reason of failure of this project.

As you said there was a lot of OS's in 80's and 90's. They all died not because of hardware price but because there was not enough good software on it.

Those 16 colors games on ZX Spectrum were just cooool! :)

There's a few OSS educational games that are very customizable - has TuxPaint, TuxMath and TuxType. While they projects are a bit dormant right now, they are still functional and modifiable with different backgrounds, stamps for tuxpaint, and word sets for tuxtype. These might be a bit too "fat" to run on the OLPC, but with renewed activity could be slimmed down a bit.

For those who don't remember the Spectrum, lets just hope the XO doesn't end up too like it...

As one of the designers of the SAM Coupe version of Manic Miner (Miner as in man who digs coal - not Minor as in young adult :)) - I'd love to see the original game appear on the OLPC ... it's appeared on so many formats over the years: from the monochrome ZX81, to the Commodore Amiga - so the OLPC should easily handle this :)