The Tomy Tutor And I

A frank, somewhat biased discussion of my favourite computer
plus what I've got, and what I'm looking for

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[Yours truly and my original Tutor.] << Taken with a webcam attached to my Power Mac, with my original Tomy Tutor in its original box

When my parents got the Tomy as the family computer way back in 1983, I was instantly hooked. I could draw pictures with it. I could play music on it (if I could only read the notes :-). I could program it to do my evil seven-year-old bidding!

Now, decades later, I'm using a Macintosh. Tomy's computer division died (or self-destructed) mere months after we got our little two-tone purple and white gem. Why don't I have a Tomy Tutor Model 2000 here instead, rather than a Power Macintosh and my indefatigable Commodore 128?

I won't mince words -- Tomy blew it. This could have been the computer that made it. Tomy had going for it the wonderful hardware and multimedia technology it possesses, with (for 1982) fabulous graphics and a kick-butt CPU. If you haven't read the specifications on the 9995 CPU on the Hardware page, by all means do so and marvel at how the Tomy OS cripples this powerful bit of silicon. Mind you, this wasn't really Tomy's intent to build a powerbox (it's just irritating that they had the tools and architecture to do it, and didn't). Tomy built a machine that would painlessly introduce kids to computing without running the risk of crashing the machine, while assuring parents that there was nothing they could do to the computer (well, in software at least) that would permanently fry the firmware. In this task, they largely succeeded. Tomy BASIC isn't the world's most standard or benign dialect of BASIC but it was designed to be a snap to comprehend, and when I went on to bigger and better things on the Commodore 64, the principles I learned on the Tomy in general held true on the bigger platform.

This was Tomy's real problem though -- this system has no expansion options. Once you have exhausted all that BASIC offers, though it offers a lot, you have no assembler (nor option for one), no direct system access to work on more complicated tasks such as leveraging those lovely 9918 graphics modes, and no documentation on any of it. You can't even dump ROMs in software because there is no provision for access to them in BASIC. All of this makes sense if you're trying to keep a 5-year-old's grubby little fingers out of the operating system where they don't belong. But was Tomy really that stupid as to believe I'd be writing 10 PRINT"HELLO" :: GOTO 10 forever? It breaks my heart to think that with the proper tools, I could get the 9995 to be the centrepiece of a fabulous, rock-steady multiprocessing OS. Context-switching in hardware! Software-triggered interrupts and instructions! And the 9918 could do a nice GUI too. But you can't do it! And that means an instantly limited lifespan.

(I gripe about this in my commentary on the Myth-Marketing-Muddle page too, which you may also find instructive.)

Compare this with the Commodore 64. Not only could you get your hands dirty in the guts of the operating system from the minute you turned the machine on, Commodore actually encouraged this practise with things like the Programmer's Reference Guide, the last word in technical documentation on any platform, where every location and every last bit in them is mapped out for you in detail. And armed with this data, people have created hacks for the C64 that have expanded it far beyond its original designers' intentions with new, software-driven graphics modes, digitised sound, ... all possible through an open architecture and (with minor exceptions) well-designed hardware. Just think of all the expansion packs, assemblers, programming tools, loaders, utilities, operating systems and more this kind of approach to computing makes possible.

Yes, the Tomy Tutor was truly a Real Computer For People Like I Was. I wish I could get this thing into the 21st century with me like my Commodore 128. As it is, it's still fun to play with SCELL hacks now and then, and play a game of Traffic Jam when I'm bored, but shame on Tomy: this computer could have been solid gold.

Cameron Kaiser

My collection and trade list

updated 26 January 2009

Tomy hardware I own:

Tomy cartridges: (USA unless noted) I'm willing to trade: I'm presently looking for:

If you collect for other systems, I always have extra Commodore 64 hardware -- ask with specifics. And, if none of this interests you at all, I'm always willing to purchase outright -- though please name your price if you want to sell me something as it's very hard to "oh, just make me an offer" these days. That at least gives me something to work with. Yes, I can arrange, and I have arranged, overseas purchase arrangements and can draw up international postal orders. If you're exporting from Japan, I prefer items sent via EMS mail. We can set up the details easily.

No, I'm not interested in trading/buying for other systems (I have too much Dreamcast, Intellivision, VCS and (especially) Commodore 64 stuff already).

If you're interested and want to talk turkey, please send me mail at

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