Showing posts with label zx spectrum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label zx spectrum. Show all posts

Sunday, 26 September 2021

A VIC-20 kid remembers the ZX Spectrum

Following my personal tribute to Sir Clive Sinclair, I thought it would be fun to invite Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, to comment on his legacy from the perspective of a Commodore VIC-20 kid. Incidentally, Star Trek's William Shatner promoted the VIC-20 as the 'wonder computer' of the 1980s.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Sir Clive Sinclair was many things, a gentleman, an inventor, a knight of the superhighway. More than that, he was a herald of the future, offering a glimpse of shiny new tech.

Yes, we laughed at his Sinclair C5 when it was released in 1985. This one-man electric vehicle looked goofy and flimsy as if it would topple over in a stiff slipstream breeze. It was expensive and unsafe. But it was a herald of the electric vehicles and hybrids we have today.

Sinclair was no two-bit Tesla. He was a prodigal innovator in his own right, developing calculators, pocket radios and digital watches, always mindful of selling, if not successfully marketing, his gizmos. His premade personal computer, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, was designed as a low-cost alternative to the Commodore PET and was released in 1982. The PET cost approximately £700; the ZX Spectrum retailed for an introductory price of £125 (£175 if you wanted 48K of RAM!). It was the first chance for many to have a computer in their home, long before such science fiction became science matter-of-fact.

I was a Commodore VIC-20 kid and I loved my little machine but the ZX Spectrum had the best look, the best ads, and unique games: Chequered Flag, Magic Meanies, Dark Star, Dukes of Hazzard, Zombie Zombie, Stonkers, Styx, Vampire Village… some of them were text-only but they all had intriguing names and illustrated covers.

The ZX Spectrum wasn’t just for playing around. Colour support (in 16 varieties!) helped coders to create their own programs. Within two years of its release, thousands of games had been created for the system, which cornered almost half the UK market for home computers. Sinclair conquered the video game world – temporarily, at least.

There would be other computers, vehicles and gadgets. But the ZX Spectrum was the machine I would nip over to a friend’s house for, the one that had me goggling over print ads and dreaming of King Arthur’s Quest. Sinclair will always be fondly remembered for his entrepreneurship, his innovations and the risks he took to achieve his dreams.

What are your Sinclair ZX Spectrum memories? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

ZX Spectrum of possibilities

The passing of Sir Clive Sinclair, the British inventor and entrepreneur who was instrumental in bringing home computers to the masses, at the age of 81, has reminded me of the joy of discovery.

Christmas 1982 was all about the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K, Horace Goes Skiing and Disney's Tron (available on Disney+)! Not to mention Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial breaking the collective hearts of cinemagoers the world over.

The first time I saw a computer in person was at dad's lighting shop in Truro. The Commodore PET looked like something out of Star Trek and captured my young imagination. Soon after, a BBC Micro materialised in middle school. However, having our own 8-bit home computer (a year after my folks bought a VCR so I could record The Five Faces of Doctor Who) was transcendental!

Computing leaned into an insatiable appetite for learning, buoyed by a reading age of 16 (I was 10).

Hours were spent and lost inputting basic code from the pack-in manual and Crash magazine at weekends. Although my coding skills fell far short of any lofty ambitions I may have had to create Tron's Master Control Program (MCP), programming helped to take my mind off of weekly rehabilitation from a life-changing brain injury.

This was further compounded by a diagnosis of asthma (after my parents sought a second opinion), which saw me missing weeks of schooling (not for the first time) until preventative medication was prescribed.

And games! So many games in the age of Atari!

Most notably from Ultimate Play the Game AKA Rare. Plugging in the Currah μSpeech peripheral unlocked voices in Atic Atac years before Atari's Gauntlet gobbled up my allowance at the arcades! Titles such as Knight Lore were revolutionary. And Ocean's Daley Thompson’s Decathlon culminated in the premature demise of lesser joysticks.

I would go on to own a Sinclair ZX Spectrum+ (the beloved original handed down to a younger cousin who soon broke it), Commodore 64 and all things Apple thereafter. But nothing will surpass discovering that little 8-bit home computer, with the rubbery keyboard, filled with infinite possibility under the Christmas tree in 1982...

Thank you, Sir Clive Sinclair. RIP.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

ZX Spectrum Vega+ crowdfunded in 48 hours

The ZX Spectrum Vega+ portable games console has been successfully crowdfunded on Indiegogo within 48 hours. This underscores an insatiable appetite for retro gaming and enduring fondness for the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which ignited a lifelong computing passion for a generation (myself included).

Although I, and many others, ultimately moved away from Atari consoles, it was still all about gaming in the 1980s and there's 1000 games built-in to the new device including 8-bit gem "Skool Daze". The ZX Spectrum spawned the Sabreman series, which is included on Rare Replay for Xbox One.

The new handheld console has been designed by Rick Dickinson, a leading industrial designer, who oversaw the ZX80, ZX81 and ZX Spectrum.

I'm looking forward to reviewing the ZX Spectrum Vega+ later in the year.

What are your memories of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Elite: Dangerous ain't like dustin' crops, boy!

Elite is one of the defining video gaming experiences of the 8-bit era. Rob Wainfur jumps into the cockpit of the sequel, Elite: Dangerous, and boldly makes the jump into hyperspace...

Guest post by Rob Wainfur

Way back in 1984, like many Star Wars fans I was craving more from that galaxy far, far away. Return Of The Jedi was a year old and little did I know this was the beginning of the dark ages in regards to Star Wars. I was never one for the expanded universe, instead getting my Star Wars fix from my Kenner figures. I would make up my own Star Wars story usually consisting of the Empire attempting to take control of a broken down Millennium Falcon situated in the middle of my bedroom. The Emperor would unleash his latest super weapon, Big Trak. This would be my Star Wars fix and had been for a number of years.

In 1984 I had my first computer, a Sinclair Spectrum 48K complete with those unique rubber keys. A whole universe of untapped gaming was in front of me and one game in particular literally had a universe to play in, Elite.

The game, written by David Braben and Ian Bell was a space trading game. An open ended game where you are first armed with a basic ship and just 100 credits to your name. The aim of the game is up to you. Get more money or become famous. Fight for a faction or show no mercy to any side. The game was your game and you could make any decision…from a certain point of view. The game had hundreds of planets normally with a space station in orbit. Here you could dock your ship, (easier said than done without a docking computer) trade and pick up missions.

What has this got to do with Star Wars I hear you say? Well I filled in the gaps. To me I was a scoundrel with my own ship just like Han Solo, trying to make a living, smuggling goods, shooting first and generally being a scruffy looking nerf herder. This game had given me exactly what I was craving. A universe where I could fly a space ship and do what I want. Being 12 years old at the time filling in the gaps and making it Star Wars related was easy. I even played my Star Wars album on my record player while playing the game. I’m smiling as I type this. I forgot about that little detail until now.

I thought the whole setup was just amazing. This little black box connected to my 14” portable TV, tuned into channel 8 (it was rumoured that this would give you the best picture) was giving me a whole universe to play as a Han Solo type character in my own bedroom. But with all this amazing technology around me, being the dreamer I was and still am, I wondered what these games would be like in the future. “If we can do this now imagine what we will be playing in 30 years time.”

Fast forward to the present and only this week my question from 30 years ago has been answered. I finally managed to get my hands on the new Elite game called Elite: Dangerous. As you would expect it boasts next gen graphics, a wonderful soundtrack performed by a full orchestra and instead of hundreds of planets there are millions of systems each containing numerous planets, anomalies and space stations. It really is mind boggling and for the first time in a very long time I am amazed at how big a video game is. Another big difference to its 1984 cousin is now you’re not playing on your own. Everyone else playing the game is sharing the same universe. If you see another ship in the game, chances are it’s another player. You want to dock at a space station? Get in line and wait for the space station to give you a slot. Other players will watch you as you dock and back seat drivers giving you advice as you get it wrong. Exactly what happened to me last night. Have you ever tried parking a car in a space while being watched? It’s twice as hard.

It’s become a known fact that video games over the years have become a lot easier to play and finish. All too often the game is willing to hold your hand and guide you through a particular difficult part. Thankfully, Elite: Dangerous is still as hard and even more daunting than its 80’s counterpart. The game once again gives you a basic ship and some credits and it’s up to you to go out there, choose a star, straight on till morning and see where it takes you. There are a few tutorials but to be honest a lot of the fun is finding out what each button does and achieving small tasks such as docking, flying and navigating are as rewarding as any mission I’ve done in a game. There is combat in the game but it’s not essential at first. I’m too scared at the moment to take on any combat missions. If you lose your ship you end up back at your home base and you get punished. Your new ship will cost you and you’ll probably end up owing money for the new ship at first. So the will for self-preservation is higher than any game I’ve played in a long time.

My first job involved coffee. Some workers had decided to strike due to a lack of coffee on board a space station. My job was to go out there and find some coffee and bring it back. In exchange I will get 9000 credits. Instantly I thought of Captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager “There’s coffee in that nebula” or in my case the next system. I plotted a course, left the station and hyper jumped to the next system to grab that coffee. It sounds easy and to be honest it was but I had to plot a course, leave my current station, hyper jump, come out of hyperspace and dock twice. It was remembering all these procedures and putting them all together. I had a sense of achievement completing my very first mission and Janeway along with her disgruntled co-workers could smile again now being full of caffeine.

Elite: Dangerous is a game that will last and with so much to explore I will be playing it for many years. Not since Skyrim have I been able to say that. There are already updates and mods for the game including voice control. The game is compatible with the Oculus Rift too (A virtual reality headset). This makes me smile and once again I have to wonder what this kind of game will be like in another thirty years?

If you've ever fancied owning your own space ship, taking to the stars and making your own adventures with the possibility of adding your own Star Wars then Elite: Dangerous is for you. I'll see you out there amongst the stars...

Rob Wainfur
Facebook: Thebeardedtrio
Twitter: @thebeardedtrio

Have your own Star Wars story to share? Please get in contact.

Monday, 4 October 2010

ZX Spectrum: Elite Collection for iPhone

ZX Spectrum: Elite Collection (iTunes) went live on the App Store last night (GMT) and is cheaper than a budget game from Mastertronic.

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was among the first mainstream home computers in the UK, similar in significance to the Commodore 64 in the USA; the C64 was the main rival to the ZX Spectrum in the UK market during the early 1980s - Jack Tramiel, best known as the founder of Commodore, initiated a price war that would culminate in the collapse of a pluralist computer industry, supplanted by Microsoft hegemony.

Load. It seems only yesterday that school friends and me wrestled for control of the Kempston Competition Pro Joystick as we competed against each other in Daley Thompson's Decathlon.

During the European heyday of the ZX Spectrum, UK-based software house Ultimate Play The Game reigned supreme! The Sabreman trilogy Sabre Wulf, Underwurlde and Knight Lore was characterized by innovative game design and replay value. For three consecutive Christmases I was as enthralled by the Sabreman saga as any featuring Hobbits and Jedis! Ultimate Play The Game faded into the ether and became Rare. But, that's another story.

My top ten video games for the ZX Spectrum (in no particular order):

*Knight Lore
*Atic Atac
*Sabre Wulf
*The Hobbit
*Tir Na Nog
*Avalon The 3D Adventure Movie
*Ant Attack

In just a few short years I would succumb to the "breadbox" charms of C64 with its Sound Interface Device (SID), and cancel my subscription to Crash magazine. However, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K marked the beginning of my home computing odyssey...

The inaugural ZX Spectrum: Elite Collection (iTunes) includes gaming gem Chuckie Egg, developed by Nigel Alderton. Elite Systems, a successful UK-based software publisher in the 1980s, promises further free updates.

Speaking about the App, Elite Systems MD Steve Wilcox said, “The media and consumer reaction to the announcement, in late September, of Apple’s approval of ZX Spectrum: Elite Collection has been extensive and enthusiastic. Our concerns now are to ensure that both groups understand that Vol. #1 of the App is a work-in-progress, a rough diamond if you like and that we’re committed to developing the App (eliminating some of its more obvious shortcomings and adding new features) over the weeks and months ahead...

If we're to achieve our goal of offering (and enabling others to offer) access – via mobile and wireless devices – to many of the thousands of fantastic ZX Spectrum games, we need to restore some order to the market and adjust expectations amongst developers, publishers and players."

Aside from the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 (iTunes). Which classic 8-bit home computers would you like to see emulated on the App Store?

Saturday, 23 July 2005

Hayle & Herbie Goes Bananarama

Ventured into Hayle today. Our usual 2 hour drive from Exeter was extended to a 4 hour crawl. School children are now on their six week summer holiday and this is the busiest weekend before the August Bank Holiday! Took a detour, discovered a charming vista in the secluded Colliford Lake. Drove down to Hayle harbor and ate my first genuine Cornish Pasty in years! Philps Bakery's notion of 'medium' equates to 'extra large'. So, there'll be no need to eat for the next fortnight.

Have you heard Long Hot Summer from Girls Aloud? This track is taken from the forthcoming movie Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005). It elicits favorable comparison with Bananarama's Wow! recording sessions (1987). Another infectious tune from this group's superior pop canon.

In the mood for a slice of Sega arcade nostalgia infused with the Love Bug? How about Up'n Down (1983)! In 1985 the Commodore 64 8-bit conversion from US Gold was a show-stopper for invidious ZX Spectrum-owning friends. Beguiling rainbow bright isometrics and the Sound Interface Device (SID).

Wednesday, 8 December 2004

All I Want For Christmas

In keeping with the spirit of the upcoming holidays. The following list features all my computer and video game hardware owned to date. Most of which were received as gifts at this time of year!

*Atari VCS 2600
*Binatone Mk6 Game System
*ZX Spectrum 48K
*ZX Spectrum+ (same as above, but with 'improved' keyboard)
*Commodore 64 and 1541 Floppy Disk Drive
*Nintendo Game & Watch (various Mario titles)
*Sega Megadrive (Genesis)
*Atari Lynx II
*Super NES
*Apple Macintosh Performa 5200
*iMac DV SE
*Sega Dreamcast
*PlayStation 2
*LCD iMac G4

Over the years I purchased innumerable video games from The Fuse Box. During my teens the store, an independent brick-and-mortar retailer located in Exeter's Sidwell Street, was a treasure trove - Rescue on Fractalus!* and Koronis Rift, displayed on the in-store monitors, held me spellbound - before its untimely closure and the advent of etailing. Somewhere in the attic of our house is a dusty old cardboard box that contains Atari, Commodore and Spectrum games (cartridge, cassette and diskette formats) in their original packaging! I've no idea whether or not my Commodore 64 still works (1992 being the last time it was used) and the first ZX Spectrum was passed on to a younger relative only to meet an untimely demise.

Watching Back to the Future II (1989) I noticed Nintendo's PlayChoice-10 in the Cafe 80's scene (a veritable advertising blitz). To reiterate comments made in a previous post. PlayChoice-10 provided Nintendo with a platform to profit from the lucrative arcade market, and uniquely showcased NES titles including Mega Man 3, Super Mario Bros II and III before their home cartridge launch. PlayChoice-10 existed for 5 to 6 years and was briefly superseded by Nintendo Super System. MAME emulation of PlayChoice-10 is not yet 100% accurate, but all known titles are available including The Goonies.

nVIDIA is to produce a bespoke GeForce GPU for Sony's PS3 after Microsoft allied itself with ATi. Combined with an IBM PowerPC G5 processor and possibly OpenGL, the PS3 shares APIs with Apple! Curious said Alice. In a contractual twist, that inspires literary allusions to the one ring, IBM will power all three next generation consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. Can you say NDA?

*Rescue on Fractalus! was the first time I'd ever seen the Apple ][ logo. Little did I know that years later the Apple Macintosh would have a profound impact on my creative life.