A Successful Failure: The TI-99/4A Turns 40

My family had one of these when I was 12 or 13. The games I remember include a Pac-Man clone called “Munchman,” but I think I remember learning BASIC, blocky computer graphics, word-processing, and using a speech-synthesizer.

The TI-99/4A was a great computer to learn on. I remember making a Star Trek combat simulator (based on the text-only battle games that were popular at the time), and I remember being incredibly frustrated, that in order to get a “+” sign, you pushed “shift” and the “=” button; but that in order to quit a program, you pushed “function” and the same “=” button.  The “function” key was right next to the “shift” key, and the “quit” action was immediate — no confirmation dialog box.  I was amazed that the designers made it so easy to accidentally exit out of a program.

Though I spent hours and learned a lot on that machine, our model started smoking and died. We traded it in at the store for another model. I believe that after I took a summer computer camp between 7th and 8th grades, I asked if we could trade in the replacement and get an Atari 800. (The store took back the TI-99/4A with no fuss — I presume because of the recall mentioned in the article.)

I have a strong memory of a computer synthesized voice saying “I am a TI-99/4A computer,” but I also remember playing quite a bit with the Commodore 64 “Software Automated Mouth” program. For the TI the voice synthesizer was a physical add-on, and I don’t think we owned it.

In June 1981, Texas Instruments released the TI-99/4A, a 16-bit home computer and gaming platform that became a huge cultural success in America after selling 2.8 million units, although it resulted in a business loss for TI. Forty years later, here’s what made it special. —HowToGeek.com