Did I Really Want One of Those? 23. The Cascade Cassette 50 Compilation

50 games, and a calculator watch for £9.99?

15 January 2014: Continuing the subject of electronic atrocities, I was taken aback by my youngest child’s reaction when I brought my Commodore 64 downstairs from the attic. She asked:

‘Where’s the mouse?’
‘Try under the floorboards’ I flippantly said.
‘Strange USB port’ she replied ‘And what do you call this? How do you load a game?’

She was somewhat mystified by the vagaries of the C2N Datasette which I pointed to, and the selection of cassettes. She chose Turbo Outrun. Bad move I thought, especially that horrific multiload. Still better than Fido on Firebird’s Don’t Buy This compilation though.

The computer age began properly in 1983, when the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 rose in popularity. It also coincided with the implosion of the Atari VCS and Mattel Intellivision consoles. Bedroom coders made names for themselves, some made millions with flash offices and folded. Others went on to become global players, and a fair few pioneers went on to make computer gaming a global enterprise. Today, software titles sell as many as, or more than, popular music downloads.

In 1983, the average full price computer game sold for £6.99 on the C64, ZX Spectrum and Atari 800 formats. £9.99 for 50 games – at least on paper – seemed to be fantastic value for money. And better still whilst bundled with a digital calculator watch.

Cascade Cassette 50

Cascade Software was a South Wales software house which moved to Harrogate, North Yorkshire. Though they would redeem themselves with superior titles till their demise in 1989, they would be indelibly linked with Cassette 50.

Owners of ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari 800, VIC 20, BBC Micro or Amstrad CPC 464s were treated to 50 games (or 48 on the Acorn Electron) and a free digital calculator watch. However, there was one problem: each and every one of them were crap. Even for 1983 standards. Plus they were all coded in BASIC. Well, poorly coded, with glitches and truly unplayable. There was a number of duplicated genres, for instance overhead racing games, betting simulations and Space Invaders clones.

Other oddities included a text-based fishing simulator! As well as being held up as an example of ‘How Not To Programme in BASIC’, its spirit lives in the annual Crap Games Competition. Since 1996, ZX Spectrum enthusiasts have coded in BASIC or Assembly Language their crap game, true to the unintended ethos of Cascade’s compilation. In the last eighteen years, this has included a version of Deal Or No Deal? and a Mikie clone entitled Margaret Thatcher: Milk Snatcher.

For £9.99 30 years ago, you could have purchased a BASIC programming book with far-better games. Or use the type-in listings from your favourite computer magazine, purchase Lords of Midnight and still have change for a Wimpy bar meal.

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1983 price: £9.99 (plus a calculator watch).

2013 price: from £1.99 to £7.99 (on eBay – honestly!, checked on the 16 December 2013).

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S.V., 23 December 2013.

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