To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be very many pieces of notable electronic hardware related to games produced in Sweden. For the most part, we’ve imported computers and consoles from other countries (in the early days, they were sometimes rebranded with Swedish names), with early home computing mostly being done on things like Texas Instruments, Commodores, Spectrums and Amigas, later giving way to Macintoshes and IBM PCs. However, one notable exception to this in the early days of personal computers was the ABC 80, a machine wholly designed and manufactured in Sweden, and often considered being one of the early driving forces behind “computerizing” the country. It was never really big when it came to gaming, but many young Swedes in the 80s, who would go on to game development careers, had their first encounters with computing and game programming on it.
The ABC 80 was the result of a collaboration between three different Swedish companies. There were the two early computer companies DIAB (short for “Dataindustrier AB”) and Scandia Metric (unrelated to the Swedish insurance company Skandia), who partnered up with Luxor, a successful manufacturer of radios, music equipment and televisions. The agreement was that DIAB would develop and construct the electronics (they had previously designed another computer in 1976, the Seven S, with very limited success), Luxor would produce the screen, keyboard and shell and manufacture the final product in their factory in the city of Motala, and Scandia Metric would produce software and documentation. This collaboration would eventually have some difficulties and disagreements when, for instance, Luxor started producing software as well, but generally it seems to have worked quite well. The Luxor name is written on some models of the machine, and it’s sometimes referred to as the “Luxor ABC 80”. The name “ABC 80” is sometimes said to stand for “Advanced Basic Computer for the 1980s”, but this is possibly a “backronym”.
The computer was released at the tail end of 1978, having been demonstrated at an exhibition in Stockholm earlier in the year with a simple, non-graphical game, “Månlanda”, a variant on the lunar lander genre (possibly the first home computer game made in Sweden). It soon had an impressive commercial success in Sweden, selling as many as 55000 units during its lifetime, and at its height supposedly having a market share as high as 70% in its home country. It was apparently also somewhat popular in the neighbor Finland, with one of the most popular games for it, a Pac-Man clone called Glipp, being developed by the two Finns Michael Widenius and Kaj Arnö. The success led to a number of upgraded and expanded models being released, called ABC 800, 802, 806 and 1600 respectively. Due to some legal wranglings, another Swedish company, Facit, was also allowed to sell the ABC 800 and ABC 806 under the names Facit DTC and Facit DTC 2, leading to a somewhat hostile and bitter competition between them and Luxor.
In 1984, Luxor was bought by the Finnish company Nokia, supposedly because they wanted Luxor’s successful distribution chain. In 1986 the new owner decided to end manufacturing of the ABC machines, most likely since they weren’t compatible with the up-and-coming IBM PC systems (a few years earlier the ABC 80 had actually been advertised with the slogan “Who needs IBM compatibility?”). However, as with many computers, software and games continued to be developed for the ABC 80 for several years after manufacturing ceased.
The ABC 80 was in many regards a fairly simple machine. It had the ever-popular Z80 processor, and a respectable 16 kB of both RAM and ROM. It used a variant of BASIC as its programming language (one notable difference being that it used the “currency sign” ¤ instead of the dollar sign, perhaps to make it seem less American), though it was also possible to program in machine code. The text in the operating system, and in the majority of the software, was entirely in Swedish. It was originally sold with a specially made black and white television to use as a screen (perhaps not surprising since Luxor was a successful TV manufacturer), though later models had an adaptor for hooking them up to any television. The resolution could be either 40 characters on 24 rows, or 78 by 72 pixels, all in black and white (later models apparently had color, though most games I’ve seen are in monochrome). The sound capabilities were very primitive, mostly being used for occasional beeping sound effects. Storage was initially done on cassette tapes, though later a diskette drive was released. Amusingly, the later ABC 1600 model had a mouse with the pun-tastic name R8 (pronounced “R-åtta” in Swedish, “råtta” is Swedish for “rat”). The ABC 80 has been described as being very durable, with most copies apparently working fairly well even today.
Most sources I’ve found suggest that the ABC 80 wasn’t very common among Swedes as an actual home computer (though it was marketed as having a fairly affordable price at the time), having most of its success being used in businesses, industries and, perhaps most importantly, schools. It was apparently a very popular machine in early Swedish school computer labs, and it was often here that young people would come into contact with it, often as their very first encounter with computers. In that way, it is perhaps comparable to the BBC Micro, the mainstay of British schools in the 80s.
As previously stated, the ABC 80 was never a big gaming machine, but even with its graphical and audial limitations there were some fairly interesting and well-made games for it, some of which I will describe in future blog posts. There were quite a few text adventures, but also several action-based, arcade-inspired games doing their best with the limited resolution and monochrome palette. Many young Swedish game creators made their first simple experiments and creations on the computer, but most of them soon moved on to more advanced imported machines such as the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.
Few of the games were actually sold in stores (though Luxor did release a series of compilations called “Spelpak 1”, “Spelpak 2” and “Spelpak 3”), most of them were distributed for free by copying between friends, or via the computer club “ABC-klubben”. This early Swedish computer user group sent out cassette tapes (later diskettes) to its members at somewhat irregular intervals (sometimes five times per year, later only one or two), containing graphics, software and games. At one point they were the largest computer club in the Nordic countries, and they exist to this day, though nowadays their focus is on computers other than the one they were originally named for. Interestingly, Swedish Wikipedia claims that they also distributed simple programs via local radio in Stockholm, which you had to record on cassette to use on the computer, though I can’t find any source for it. It’s not entirely implausible though, since I’ve found one article describing something similar being done in Finland.
The ABC 80 seems to be somewhat forgotten in Sweden nowadays, mostly known among hardcore computer geeks, and then usually only as an early curiosity before the arrival of bigger and better things. I myself was born after its heyday, and it was only in recent years that I heard about it, having previously mostly heard 80s gaming memories talking about Commodores, NESes and the like. This is not to say that it’s completely obscure. In fact, there are several excellent resources about it on the internet, including a few different emulators (the one I got to work is called ABCWin2), and a large number of programs and games available to download (for example on this Internet Archive page). Of course, setting up the emulators and running the games is probably pretty difficult if you don’t know Swedish, since the majority of the documentation, not to mention the games themselves, are in that language.
More English-language information: