When Clove Technology started in 1992, the high point of pocketable technology was the Psion Series 3. With up to 256 kilobytes of RAM, a 3.84 MHz processor and and a black and white screen of 240×80 pixels, its specification wouldn’t impress today. But it was the darling of the British computer industry, and its successors would hold a dominant position in the market till the end of the decade.
No Psion was designed as a games machine. But like all computers, it couldn’t stick to “all work and no play” for long. In fact, Psion themselves were responsible: they soon released their own Chess program for the platform. Other commercial releases included Scrabble, the very addictive Pipemania, and a number of compilations on the proprietary SSD memory card format used by Psion’s computers at the time.
But the Psion wasn’t all about commercial software. It came with a built-in programming language, OPL, a descendant of the BASIC programming languages built into most home computers of the 1980s. OPL was just as easy to program as BASIC, but far more powerful, so that any user with the inclination to write their own programs could eventually produce software that looked as professional as commercial releases. It was inevitable, then, that some users with time to spare would turn their hand to writing games.
The story was the same with successive models. From 1993 the Series 3a, 3c and 3mx had many commercial releases, and in 1997 the Series 5 brought an extra dimension of computing power to the pocket. So much so that well-known games like SimCity were being ported to the platform, probably one of the best and most ambitious games available for any Psion. And with the Internet becoming universal, non-commercial releases dominated; over 500 games were published for the various Psion machines.
Then in 2001 Psion pulled the plug on its consumer PDA development, and stopped production a year later. Where does that leave us in 2012? Over the past decade, most people who used the Psion as a day-to-day device have drifted away to more modern technology. But the Psion machines are still waiting for their day as a retro platform: while machines like the 1982 Sinclair Spectrum have dozens of game releases every year (including a handful of commercial games), the 1997 Psion doesn’t quite manage one release a year.
But it needn’t be all doom and gloom. Psions still fetch a reasonable price on the secondhand market, so they are sought after. They are still probably the most programmable portable machines around, with the OPL language built into nearly all models (and those that lack it can have it installed). So, like many other machines that went out of date, declined, and returned, the humble little Psion might still have its revival – as long as someone keeps the flag flying!
Content compliments of Damian Walker – http://psigamer.cyningstan.org.uk/