This article tells the story of Danderma, a female blogger from Kuwait and author of the book "The Chronicles of Dathra, a Dowdy Girl from Kuwait" (of which a second volume has recently been published). On her blog she writes a lot about books, shopping, travel, and local cuisine, but also about MSX in her Blast from the Past series of posts.

Find out how the life of a Kuwaiti family changed when the Sakhr computer arrived and how MSX inspired Danderma to become a computer engineer. You will find out that MSX was so popular that its games were once played on a TV series. In fact, it was hard to find someone that didn't own an MSX at the time! In a nutshell: a must-read!

Accomplishment

When I was first asked to contribute to MSX.org by writing this article, I asked about the deadline. I was told to take as long as I wanted which worked to my advantage. You see, I was in the middle of playing King's Valley 2 on my MSX emulator – blueMSX if you are wondering. I wanted to write this article just as I have finished playing it, the long awaited ending of the game occurred an hour ago.

It took me 24 years to finish the game. 24 long years. Of course I wasn’t playing it on a daily basis but ever since I discovered the emulator a few years back I’ve been trying to finish up the games I’ve loved before. Believe me, there is nothing that screams accomplishment as much as finishing something you have started two and a half decades ago.

How it all began

It all started one stuffy summer evening as I was playing with my brother and sister in the bedroom they both shared. We were sprawled on the chocolate brown rug, Thundercats action figures scattered around, busy saving the Barbies who were visiting this foreign kingdom, when my father walked in with a box in his hands. Baba announced it was a “Computer”. The words “Sakhar – MSX” where written on its smooth grey surface. The year was 1987.

At first the games he produced were “Educational”. The Arabic Alphabets Game Alef Ba'a Ta'a (ABC), some game about learning Math? The third –and thankfully last- about shapes and colors. They were very fun, I doubt anyone other than the Arab world had them though as they were in Arabic with Islamic style pistachio green sticker designs on the cartridge. We played with them, various games all educational, the way a computer was supposed to be used in Utopia perhaps. Eventually my father produced a fourth cartridge: The Castle!

Oh you remember The Castle very well, don’t you? I won’t even assume otherwise. The Castle was, hands down, the most popular game in Kuwait. We called it “The Princess and the Key” and we played it endlessly. My father was hooked to it as well, which was a bit daunting watching a 36 year old man playing The Castle with a bunch of open mouthed children on either side of him. As it was summer break, I clearly remember waking up late in the afternoon to find my father happily telling me that he had arrived at a new stage in The Castle last night and he would play the thing from the start until the point he had reached playing all night long. He even had a big paper divided into a 100 squares and he drew, by hand, every single stage he arrived at. Those were the days pre the Print Screen button.

I loved my childhood in the 80s. Days of intense heat being cooped inside eating Alphonso mangoes and playing on the MSX. Everyone had different versions of the MSX –it was called Sakhar which roughly translates to Rock in Arabic-. We cherished those games, The Castle 1 & 2, Rambo, The Penguin, The Circus –which appeared in a local TV series where two spinster sisters were playing it-, Knightmare, King's Valley One & Two, King and Balloon! And many many more.

I remember the games being very expensive back then, around $36 perhaps? My parents didn’t believe in spoiling children with an endless supply of toys and games, so we only got to buy a game per Eid from the money that were given to us as a gift by the family adults –Eid is the official Islamic holiday, we have two Eids per year-. I still remember the last game I bought, something called Alcatraz perhaps? I remember that it was very weird and we couldn’t really understand it, someone roaming around different prisons with bad graphics. I never liked that game, but it was the last one I bought before the gaming world was taken over by the Sega and we were spending most of our times playing on it.

Labeeba, or the first steps towards a computer engineer

I loved my MSX so much, I spent hours and hours playing with it. I remember eating my meals on it –we were allowed and it was a bad idea, food particles were dropping between the keyboard buttons!- So what if the games where in English and we didn’t speak a word? We learned to make do, we actually understood that the word “Continue” meant, well, continue. Sometimes when it was quiet, I’d remove the cartridges and open up the MSX alone, navigate and get to the blue screen that I never knew what it was for. I’d hit the buttons randomly and then hit enter. I blame a Japanese cartoon I had seen right about that time regarding a kid hitting several buttons on a pc then a little creature would appear with pink hair and braids for hands and she would suck him into the screen and show him everything there was to know about the world. She was called Labeeba “The intelligent one in Arabic”. I wanted to know the combination that brought out Labeeba, surely she wasn’t just a figment of some artists imagination now, was she? She was on TV and everything. No matter how long I hit, Labeeba never appeared. But my insatiable appetite to know why there was a blue screen with commands, and how was I supposed to use it, never left me. It was there and then that I had decided I wanted to know everything there is to know about that little box of wonders I loved so much, and what’s better than a degree in computer engineering to help me understand the thing inside out? Yes, I’m a computer Engineer by the way. Yes, because of the MSX. Can I get anymore attached to it?

I still get the shivers when I see that Blue Screen with the MSX logo coming up on it. I still cannot contain my excitement whenever I load a new “cartridge” in the emulator and know that I will be having fun, pure old times fun that for some reason no other gaming console was able to recreate. I still get elated as I finish one MSX game after the other, it's like ticking things of the list of things you should have finished eons ago. The best feeling of them all? The one where I know, when I start that MSX game, that I can play for as long as I want to my heart’s content without anyone daring to ask me to stop because it’s too much damaging TV rays on my eyes, that other children want to share in the playing, or threatening to hide it away if I don’t get good grades. It's me, the MSX emulator, and the game time and it's all mine, and mine alone.

Addendum - A short Q&A

Q: Just out of curiosity: why MSX? why not another system?
A: Why my dad never bought anything else? I dont think many much else was available. I remember my Aunt having the Apple where we played a horrible pixilated game of Sindbad flying on a magic carpet. I guess the IBM was around too, but non offered clear graphics and ease of use as the MSX.

Q: Can you tell something about the popularity of MSX in Kuwait?
A: Well, every single cousin of mine, and believe me I have a lot of cousins, every single cousin had one MSX at home. Also my classmates. In fact I dont know anyone who didnt have the MSX! It was the IT gadget of its time.

Q: How about the Castle map, did it survive?
A: Sadly there is no way to find my fathers map. Many things were lost when our house was stolen in 1990 when the Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait. My fathers best friend had salvaged the MSX, TV's, video, and tried his best to hide the cartridges and video tapes, but the rest is history.

Q: Wait a minute, isn't it Sakhr - and not Sakhar?
A: You see Sakhr is the traditional Arabic -and the more correct- way of pronouncing the name. Sakhr means rock by the way. Sakhar is how we pronounce the Arabic word Sakhr in the Kuwaiti language. You won't say it sakhr unless you are talking in official traditional Arabic like say on Arabic speaking TV. So to us it's always Sakhar but either way you can say Sakhr -or Sakhar as pronounced in the Kuwaiti dialect- that way it would be more accurate.

Comments (19)

By anonymous

incognito ergo sum (109)

anonymous's picture

06-01-2013, 19:11

Very interesting read; thanks for sharing your story with us Danderma! Smile

The last game you bought, was it perhaps Alcazar?

I notice you only speak of cartridges. I guess that means that diskettes and data cassettes weren't used or just weren't common? If they were, they might've also helped understand the 'blue screen' and what it was used for. :)
I think it is funny that back in those days the "Blue Screen" was a source of joy, while nowadays for many people who use that other MicroSoft operating system, it is a sign of frustration. ;-)

I'm curious, is the Sakh(a)r still a topic of conversation that sometimes pops up with people of your generation?

Would you mind writing some more articles or blog posts about the MSX games you finish? Would love to read some more. :) I guess I should've read about your blog more carefully so I would've noticed that Blast from the Past series / posts tagged with 'MSX'. I guess I was expecting it as a category. ;-)

By mars2000you

Enlighted (5468)

mars2000you's picture

06-01-2013, 19:09

A very nice story Smile

I begin to understand why as blueMSX co-developer, I've requests to emulate more specific Arabic machines, such as the AX-500 for example ! Wink

By FiXato

Scribe (1513)

FiXato's picture

06-01-2013, 19:16

Also, I must say I totally understand how it feels to finally finish a game you struggled with in your childhood.
For me that game was M.A.S.K. III: VENOM Strikes Back, because as a child I could never figure out how to get past the rocket of the first level.
Another game I couldn't understand how to play till many years later was Ghostbusters.
I realise there still is another game I should finish, which is Search for Mum.

By jltursan

Prophet (2126)

jltursan's picture

06-01-2013, 19:20

Nice story indeed!, thanks for sharing it with us!

I own two Sakhr machines, an AX-170 and an AX-330. Cool ones!.

I'm not sure about the differences between Al-Alamiah branded ones and the Sakhr ones. AFAIK Sakhr branched out from the first; so they must be the same. In fact, the only logo I know is from "Sakhr", never seen other.

By B4rret

Supporter (10)

B4rret's picture

06-01-2013, 20:36

Wow, nice storySmile
A question. The cartoon you called Labeeba, could be the one appears in the beginning of this video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmYpH7hHoUE

By nanochess

Master (218)

nanochess's picture

07-01-2013, 02:05

Thanks for sharing your memories Smile. I almost could feel the magic of your childhood Smile

By bronzesun

Rookie (29)

bronzesun's picture

09-01-2013, 03:04

WoW cool stoy Wink It was the same in Saudi We was playing msx while eating and our cousins gathering and playing and exchange each either the cartridges It was wonderful days
B4rret yes,it is

By ray2day

Champion (445)

ray2day's picture

09-01-2013, 17:32

Nice to hear you have so good memories on MSX.
I like the Arabic games and MSX machines.

http://www.raymondmsx.nl/verzameling_arabischemsx_eng.html

By anonymous

incognito ergo sum (109)

anonymous's picture

10-01-2013, 13:24

Danderma,

You can buy back eveything (and then some) right here : http://haraj.com.sa/111729884 (do scroll down to see the pictures). Amazing collection for sale there.

By danderma.kuwait.7

Supporter (10)

danderma.kuwait.7's picture

10-01-2013, 22:00

FiXato wrote:

Very interesting read; thanks for sharing your story with us Danderma! Smile

The last game you bought, was it perhaps Alcazar?

I notice you only speak of cartridges. I guess that means that diskettes and data cassettes weren't used or just weren't common? If they were, they might've also helped understand the 'blue screen' and what it was used for. :)
I think it is funny that back in those days the "Blue Screen" was a source of joy, while nowadays for many people who use that other MicroSoft operating system, it is a sign of frustration. ;-)

I'm curious, is the Sakh(a)r still a topic of conversation that sometimes pops up with people of your generation?

Would you mind writing some more articles or blog posts about the MSX games you finish? Would love to read some more. :) I guess I should've read about your blog more carefully so I would've noticed that Blast from the Past series / posts tagged with 'MSX'. I guess I was expecting it as a category. ;-)

Yes yes that's the last game I bought! I never really understood what it was all about or how to finish the maze. I just kept wandering from one castle to another shooting spiders and checking the map!

In answer to your question, yes indeed. Whenever MSX topic is brought up everyone starts reminiscing about the good old days :)

By danderma.kuwait.7

Supporter (10)

danderma.kuwait.7's picture

10-01-2013, 22:01

Metalion wrote:

Danderma,

You can buy back eveything (and then some) right here : http://haraj.com.sa/111729884 (do scroll down to see the pictures). Amazing collection for sale there.

Thank you! I wonder if they deliver to Kuwait?

By danderma.kuwait.7

Supporter (10)

danderma.kuwait.7's picture

10-01-2013, 22:04

mars2000you wrote:

A very nice story Smile

I begin to understand why as blueMSX co-developer, I've requests to emulate more specific Arabic machines, such as the AX-500 for example ! Wink

The Arabic applications and usage was quite a big thing back in the day. I don't however remember using it much aside from the three or four game I've played with back then. The drawing program and the calendar that came with the MSX by default came with Arabic commands though!

By danderma.kuwait.7

Supporter (10)

danderma.kuwait.7's picture

10-01-2013, 22:09

ray2day wrote:

Nice to hear you have so good memories on MSX.
I like the Arabic games and MSX machines.

http://www.raymondmsx.nl/verzameling_arabischemsx_eng.html

The MSX you have in that picture was owned by two of my cousins. Ours was bigger, all grey, and the keyboard layout differed. I had another black MSX that I bought in 1993 or 1994 under the guise of using it for my "computer class" in high school. Also, another one of my cousins had a black one as well that came with a mouse too, the only one I've seen with a mouse back then.

Do you have any Arabic games?

By danderma.kuwait.7

Supporter (10)

danderma.kuwait.7's picture

10-01-2013, 22:09

bronzesun wrote:

WoW cool stoy Wink It was the same in Saudi We was playing msx while eating and our cousins gathering and playing and exchange each either the cartridges It was wonderful days
B4rret yes,it is

Good old 80's days!

By danderma.kuwait.7

Supporter (10)

danderma.kuwait.7's picture

10-01-2013, 22:12

FiXato wrote:

Also, I must say I totally understand how it feels to finally finish a game you struggled with in your childhood.
For me that game was M.A.S.K. III: VENOM Strikes Back, because as a child I could never figure out how to get past the rocket of the first level.
Another game I couldn't understand how to play till many years later was Ghostbusters.
I realise there still is another game I should finish, which is Search for Mum.

I never played the Ghostbusters on MSX but I remember playing it on Sega Genesis if I'm not mistaken and we never figured out how to kill the ghosts or suck them with the vacuum thing! The only thing we knew how to do was how to upgrade their ghostbusting gear I suppose!

By danderma.kuwait.7

Supporter (10)

danderma.kuwait.7's picture

10-01-2013, 22:13

nanochess wrote:

Thanks for sharing your memories Smile. I almost could feel the magic of your childhood Smile

You're welcome. It was indeed a very happy time. I'm glad to be born in the computer games era!

By danderma.kuwait.7

Supporter (10)

danderma.kuwait.7's picture

10-01-2013, 22:15

B4rret wrote:

Wow, nice storySmile
A question. The cartoon you called Labeeba, could be the one appears in the beginning of this video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmYpH7hHoUE

The very same one! The boy seems to be hitting R.O.C.K only! Not that hard to try and hope for a miracle!

By danderma.kuwait.7

Supporter (10)

danderma.kuwait.7's picture

10-01-2013, 22:18

jltursan wrote:

Nice story indeed!, thanks for sharing it with us!

I own two Sakhr machines, an AX-170 and an AX-330. Cool ones!.

I'm not sure about the differences between Al-Alamiah branded ones and the Sakhr ones. AFAIK Sakhr branched out from the first; so they must be the same. In fact, the only logo I know is from "Sakhr", never seen other.

Sakhar was the name of the computer range. Al-Alamiah was the store selling it and the developer of the Arabic system. Its like Apple and the Lisa for example, Apple is Al-Alamiah and Sakhr is the Lisa.

By snout

Ascended (15187)

snout's picture

20-02-2013, 20:18

For those interested, Danderma published a new blast from the past, this time about The Castle.