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2018-07-01 22:30 - Flashback

Flashback #1 : 2010-2013, the Casio years

In an attempt to document my evolution in the environment of computer science, I decided to write a series of flashbacks, where I dive into the traces of my past. Unfortunately an important part of my programs and games has been lost, because I wasn’t proud enough to keep them, or simply forgot to copy all my files when changing computers.

In this first flashback, I will come back to my entry point in the world of computer science: how I learnt to program on calculators, my games, andd my relationship with the community of Planète Casio.

The beginning

How everything began

I don’t have any precise date, but everything began in 2010. I was 13, and I was in secondary school, in 3ème, which corresponds to Year 10 in UK, 9th Grade in the US.

One evening, I came back from school, and on the table there was a programmable calculator for high school, which belonged to my aunt Élisabeth who had recently obtained her baccalauréat and was not using it anymore. My older brother Paul was had just entered high school and already had his own more recent model, so I took the calculator. It was an old Graph 35+ (the equivalent of fx-9750 in English) generation 2 (those sold nowadays are generation 6). Cf photo below.

Graph 35+

With that calculator in hand, I began to randomly explore the different menus and features. When I discovered there was an app to create programs, I was curious because for me programming was some kind of fascinating dark magic. So I began to program in a trial-and-error way with as my only source of information a reference manual of all the commands available on this model of calculator. But I had no knowledge of even the basics of algorithms. That lead me into writing very simple programs and inelegant constructions.

For example, among my first programs you can find: a Jeopardy-like general knowledge quiz (with extremely redundant code…), some programs to cheat in mathematics exams, a very slow Snake game, etc… I lost most of the programs I’ve done in my beginnings, actually.

Arrival in the Casio online communities

I discovered by chance the existence of communities dedicated to calculator programming on the Internet. If I remember well, the story is that in a program that somebody transferred on my calc, or that I saw on somebody else’s calc, there was a reference to the website JeuxCasio (Casio Games). So I landed on this website in January 2011, the first traces of my activities trace I found on January 23th, 2011.

From there, I discovered quickly the existence of another more active website, Planète Casio, which I joined on January 26th, 2011.

To publish my first programs online, my calculator having no USB port, and the specific cable being very expensive for the young boy I was, I copied my programs by hand in the software which is normally used to transfer and export them.

For my birthday in 2011, I was given a high-end calculator to be able to work more comfortably on my programs, and finally be able to transfer programs without having to copy them by hand (actually, in the meantime I had found an allternative consisting in transferring from calc to calc on my brother’s calculator, and then on a PC from the latter).

Thanks to all the content offered by the volunteers of the community, I could for the first time read tutorials and learn more seriously programming.

First more elaborated games

The programming language natively available on calculators is the Basic. For those who don’t know it, let’s say it is a language which is easy to learn for beginners but very limited in terms of programming and performances.

In fact, I believe this language is not a very good entry point in the world of prrogramming, compared with a language like Python which is now more and more used in education (and that’s good!), for having the advantage of being easy to learn yet extremely elegant and powerful in terms of possibilities (it is, by the way, a language I use in my current job, and also the language that powers this website). Hum, I’m digressing.

The language being limited, games are slow and the display of graphics relies on hacks like using tools intended for statistics graphs. Yep, we are writing our graphics as statistics graphs.

So my first games were quite simple:

Game in Basic

Success story

Bye Basic, let’s try C!

To make nicer games, one must make a big effort and learn a harder programming language, C. This also implies programming no more on calc but on a PC. The resulting apps then benefit the power of the calculator’s native apps.

This language was my first contact with programming how it is outside of the world of calculators, the language being very different from Basic which is a bit an alien among other programming languages. And for the first time I used tools to write and debug my programs, that are similar to what is used in “real life”. But once more I’m digressing, sorry.

The first great achievements

My first game that achieved a relatively big success, that I could even call notoriety, in the Casio world, were adaptations of existing mobile games, and original creations.

For example there’s Starwars 3D, a 2.5d experience (2d pictures that I reduce to create perspective and a feeling of depth):

Starwars 3D

Or Angry Birds with more than 11.000 downloads (despite bad physics, which is sad for, well… a game based on physics):

Angry Birds

There’s also Mipjabok, an original creation and one of the games I spent the most time on, with its numerous and large levels:

Mipjabok

Engagement in the site’s staff

Planète Casio is entirely managed by benevolents, and all of its content is free. The idea is that you benefit from the experience of “elders”, and then it is your turn to help the new members. Quite naturally, I wanted to give back the time that was given for me (which played a big role in what I’m doing today).

In autumn 2011, already quite active in the everyday life of Planète Casio, I entered the staff as an editor, to write news, articles, and I also launched and animated a monthly contest of the best game chosen by the community.

In autumn 2013, in an era of renewal of the team after a few administrators left, I took the role of administrator, which is a mix of community management, relations with partners, and technical administration of the website (hum hum, those who had to do that too know what I’m talking about). I kept this role for a long time despite my decreasing activity, stopping only when there was a renewed team that I fully trusted.

End of an era

If creation of games for calculators was for me a good entry point in the world of programming and game development, I was, though, less interesting in the particular technical challenge, than in the creative process. That’s why I didn’t stay longer. Even if I continued to stay around for a few years, I have not created any interesting content on calculators after 2013.

I moved to new horizons, and some of these things will be the topic of the next flashbacks!

I want to take some time to thank all the people in the community who helped me to progress both on the technical aspects and in terms of values, by selflessly creating content and showing creativity.

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