Code the Classics on sale now

TL;DR: we made a fully automated luxury gay space communist type-in-listing book. Buy it now and get it in time for Christmas.

Code the Classics cover

Back in the dawn of time, in the late 1980s, I grew up on a diet of type-in computer game listings. From the BBC Micro User Guide, to The Micro User magazine, to the ubiquitous Usborne books: an hour or two of painstaking copying and a little imagination would provide you with an experience which wasn’t a million miles away from what you could buy on the shelves of your local computer store.

Can you believe they did “Machine Code for Beginners”?

The simple act of typing in a game helped to familiarise you with a programming language (usually a dialect of BASIC), and by making mistakes you could start to understand what other, more intentional changes might accomplish. Some of the earliest games I wrote started off as heavily modified versions of type-in listings; in fact, one of these made a sneaky reappearance on this blog last year.

Fast forward to the present day, and aside from regular appearances in our own MagPi and Wireframe magazines, type-in listings have faded from view. Commercial games, even casual ones, have become much more sophisticated, beyond what you might expect to be able to enter into a computer in a reasonable amount of time. At the same time, tools like Unity remove the need to develop every title from the ground up.

But there’s still a lot to be said for the immediacy of the type-in experience. Three years ago, we asked ourselves whether we could make a type-in game listing book for the modern era. The end result, of which we’re launching the first volume today, is Code the Classics. David Crookes and Liz Upton will take you behind the scenes of the creation of five classic arcade games, and then I’ll show you how to implement a simple Python game inspired by each one.


Substitute Soccer

Developing retro arcade games has been a hobby of mine since those early BBC Micro days, and I spent many happy evenings developing these titles, ably assisted by Andrew Gillett and Sean Tracey. It was important to us that these games be as close as possible to the standard of modern commercial casual games. With this in mind, we invited Dan Malone, famous among many other things for his work with The Bitmap Brothers, to provide graphics, and long-time game audio pro Allister Brimble to provide music and sound effects. I’ve known Dan for nearly twenty years, and have admired Allister’s work since childhood; it was an enormous pleasure to work with them, and we took the opportunity to snag interviews with them both, which you’ll also find in the book. Here’s Dan to offer you a taster.

We’ve pushed the boat out on the production values for the book itself too: think of it as an object from a parallel universe where Usborne made luxury hardbound coffee-table type-in listing books rather than paperbacks.

So although, like all our books, you can download this one for free, you’ll really want a physical copy of Code the Classics to have, and to hold, and to leave on your bedside table to club intruders with.

And while the listings are rather long, and fully-commented versions are available on GitHub, perhaps you should think about spending a rainy afternoon actually typing one in.


Ken Hansen avatar

“we made a fully automated luxury gay space communist type-in-listing book.”


Eben Upton avatar

Basically the is the book that Iain M Banks’ The Culture would give its children to teach them how to program.

Norman Dunbar avatar

I miss Iain’s Culure novels. First Iain then Terry Pratchett – I’m running out of authours!


Eben Upton avatar

This :(

Dan Malone avatar

Moi aussi.. the world is a poorer place without further explorations of the Culture, although there is a rich body of work to refer to. Currently re-reading the excellent Excession – trying to figure out a way to visualize the legendary Sleeper Service – Iain M Banks, you are sorely missed.

Harry Hardjono avatar

I wonder if you can be persuaded to write a book about Design Document. Reading code directly is a pain. Maybe it will help if those are done in sandbox stages, but as fully completed program is a rather arduous process.

On another note, might you also be persuaded to write a book of “Machine Code for Beginner featuring Raspberry Pi”?

Norman Dunbar avatar

Hi Harry,

Do these links help you? is a freely readable book online and is Bruce Smiths book on Amazon.



Harry Hardjono avatar

Thanks for the reply. Not sure that is a good enough beginner version for me, but at least the text looks accessible. I’ll check out the Amazon book later. Reading the reviews looks like it’s going to be good. Thank you for sharing.

Warren Kelly avatar

I learned to code because of those listings (mine were all from Compute! or Compute!’s Gazette) and modifying them to figure out what each subroutine did. I love that I can teach my own kids to code the exact same way.

Jongoleur avatar

Can you believe they did “Machine Code for Beginners”?

Yes, I’ve still got my copy, little robots moving data about pigeon-holes is a very visual and memorable concept.

And quite a few of those type-in programmes in the mags had sections of machine code (held in DATA statements or string arrays) to do things inaccessible to BASIC on the host machine. The Usborn book helped in understanding (a little) what was going on.

We didn’t have the Internet in those days to ask questions!

Rick Zitzmann avatar

I think that this and other books like this one are great. lots to learn and fun to play the games.

I have a problem when I try to down load/run the Python programs that are described in the books. Unless I’m doing something wrong, I can only down load the files (the audio and graphic) one file at at time. Isn’t there a way to down load the entire game with a ZIP like file? Is there something in GitHub that I’m missing?

Mike Cross avatar

You can retrieve all the code using

git clone

PeterO avatar

Postman has delivered mine this morning :-)

Gavin McIntosh avatar

I’m not a gamer but even I have heard of the Bitmap Brothers.
Why has this taken so long.
Have you guys been too busy to have fun.
Secret Lab first product, Pi gamer division?
I hope this becomes the first of many more.

Keith avatar

Link to download ?

Bobbem avatar

The download link is just below the book cover image:

keith avatar

Many Thanks

Kevin avatar

Just received my copy in the post this morning. An object of real beauty, it will be on the coffee table for all to see. The best bit was the sweet aroma of fresh print once the wrapper came off – you just don’t get with a download.

Mohd Tauqeer Akhtar avatar


bahadir avatar

Guys, I just received this book two days ago and had a chance to take a look this weekend.

WHAT an absolute BEAUTY.

Finally a programming book that you enjoy even holding in your hands. And the format of the book’s content is pretty amazing too.

A little history and definitioan of a classic game which is followed by a remake of it with complete code listings.

Just buy a physical copy and thank me later ;)

Now lemme go and write these exact words as my amazon review :)

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