Sunday, September 30, 2012

Celebrating 30 Years of the ZX Spectrum

Well this is going to be a *slight* departure.

I have been asked to contribute to an article (see here) on the 30th Anniversary of the ZX Spectrum by a local paper and this triggered a trip down memory lane (not to mention a wasted lunchtime looking through the Spectrum archive at World of Spectrum).

Ironically I never actually owned a Spectrum having had parents who brought into the whole "BBC is educational, Spectrum and Commodore are for Games". I was lucky(?) in that I had a group of friends one of which had a Commodore 64 (let's call him "Ian"), the other started with a Spectrum 48 (let's call him "Matt"), then the 48+ which had a "proper keyboard", then went on to a 128+2 and finally stuck with the Spectrum right into it's death throes with the SAM Coupe* (yes, I know *technically* the QL should be in there somewhere but I don't think I ever met anyone who owned one of them!).

On the plus side this always meant that at least two of us could agree that the other's machine wasn't the best! The hours (and hours and hours) we wasted arguing over that one!

As you can imagine, 30 years ago, the games could be described at best as "primitive" by todays standard and while Ian, with his Commodore 64, was blessed with two joystick ports AND two joysticks to plug into them I was stuck with my BBC and a single joystick which worked so rarely that it was just quicker to use the keyboard and finally Matt had a special expansion plug in (Interface II?) at the back of his Spectrum for a couple of joysticks but it was a little loose so occasionally you would knock it and the entire machine would just spontaneously die. Fun times.

Nevertheless my fondest computer-related memories of that time feature some of the classic games on the Spectrum. Whilst the graphics were poor some of the games are absolute classics you could play for hours on. Here's some of the ones I can remember (in no particular order);

Cobra (Ocean Software Ltd)
A sideways scrolling shoot-em-up based (very very loosely!) on the Sylvester Stallone movie of the same name. This is one of the rare examples where the simplicity of the Spectrum graphics actually made for a more enjoyable game than the graphically superior version on the Commodore 64. Luckily this game is available on the World of Spectrum website (click here).

Twin Kingdom Valley (Bug-Byte)
Now this one is a real classic but I'm guessing it's not going to be to everyone's taste! It's a text (ok, there's a few graphics) adventure game. The reason I really liked this one is that the world is populated with Elves, A Giant, and an Innkeeper who were all your friends, and Gorillas, Dragons, Castle Guards, Trolls, Witches, Sand Lurkers, etc who definitely weren't.

Your aim was to collect all the treasure and leave it in your hut (pictured below) but the bit of the game I really enjoyed was helping the Elves and the Giant rid the world of all the "evil" people (you could arm them and they'd help you in a fight). Excellent game and, if memory serves (it may now) D, N, N, N, W, W, S will get you from the metal grate to the cliff edge - if only I'd had that kind of recall during my exams!

Again this title is available from World of Spectrum - click here.

Target Renegade (Imagine Software Ltd)
A successor to the incredibly popular Renegade but introducing multi-player. An absolutely fantastic beat-em-up game where you went through several levels defeating adversaries in order to get rid of the "end of level baddies".

The Spectrum keyboard was pretty small so as you can imagine it would become quick complicated for two people to hammer way on the keyboard at the same time - add in to that the game would actually multi-load (when you completed a level you'd need to wait 2-3 minutes to continue and when you died you had to rewind the tape!) and you'd think no-one would enjoy it but we literally spent entire weeks getting through it (which we did eventually!). Fantastic game!

Here's the link on World of Spectrum.

You might also want to try out the original Renegade here.

Bubble Bobble (Firebird Software Ltd)
A really nice arcade conversion that massively benefited from allowing two players to play simultaneously. You could bounce around popping monsters on this one for ages, sadly at higher levels it just became a complete nightmare to play so while we used to play this one for absolutely ages it's actually one of the few I've not been inclined to play again via an Emulator.

Still, great memories.

And it's available here on World of Spectrum.

And finally (otherwise I'll be here all night);

R-Type (Electric Dreams Software)
Possibly the best (well, with Salamander) shoot-em-up ever. You could pick up power-ups as you went along and there were end of level baddies. Does it get any better than that?!

Sadly while World of Spectrum has a page for this game (here) the makers have specifically denied them the right to distribute it. Still it's good to know that the game has been saved for posterity, even though until the Copyright formally expires I won't be able to access it!

Well that's it, just a simple pick of a few games from my youth. If you're interested in finding out more then I'd recommend browsing the World of Spectrum Archive, especially the Best Games page.

In 30 years I wonder what my kids kids will be playing?!

*- Whereas my progression from BBC directly to A3000 (an Acorn Archimedes) then to a Risc-PC before moving on to the more-familiar PC (and now a MAC). See? It's not just Jeremy Clarkson who can waffle on about old cars - computer geeks can do it too!
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