For the first time in weeks, I had a spare hour to myself last night – and it just happened to coincide with the screening of “Micro Men” on BBC4, a dramatization of the Acorn vs Sinclair personal computer wars of the early 1980s. Particularly poignant for me, because I wrote two of Acornsoft’s early BBC Microcomputer games – in fact, the “Arcadians” retail box appeared on-screen once, as did an “action” (hah!) shot of my not particularly strong chess programme.
So, from the point of view of someone who was vaguely involved, was it any good? Well… I’d say basically yes: but what I most enjoyed about it was neither its depiction of Hermann Hauser’s transition to turtlenecks near the start (though admittedly reasonably accurate), nor its “they’re clever people, I’m sure they’ll think of something” (with the ARM processor feature list on the whiteboard behind) gag near the end, but instead how the drama stayed true to the basic business conflict circa 1984-1985. That is, that the two companies were so jealous of the other’s success that Acorn foolishly moved downmarket (with the Electron) while Sinclair foolishly moved upmarket (with the QL), at a time when both should have been hunkering down to weather the storm.
All the same, the sad truth was that neither company was really in touch with either its corporate customers (most of whom were in financial trouble) or its end-users (most of whom had got the bug for computer games but had nowhere to go with it). If the “curse of the science park” is to concentrate too much on what you’re making while not really listening to what’s going on outside (i.e. all “push” and no “pull”), then looking back at it all you’d have to say that both Acorn and Sinclair were thoroughly cursed. Oh well!