Happy St. Spectrum’s Day!

By John Walker on April 23rd, 2012 at 5:30 pm.

Aw, he doesn't look a day over 29.

As it is only appropriate for the entire internet to point out, the ZX Spectrum is 30th years old today. (If you don’t count the ZX81, which apparently we don’t.) And so it further seems only appropriate to write a nostalgic piece remembering that rubber-keyed lovely. Except, well, I was four. And my memories of being four are mostly about Mr Men books. I remember one being in our house, I remember the rubber keys, but honestly, after that, I’ve no way to know if I’m just invented memories based on my far more acute recollections of the 128K that came out four years later. (This is brilliant. I’m the oldest on RPS, and for once I get to feel too young.) So instead I’ve asked around. Asked old people.

It’s that or I reel off lists of clichés, like telling you how I remember the white Tippex line on the volume wheel of our tape cassette player, so the games would load correctly. So let’s, well, let other, older people do that.

One of the oldest people I know is Stuart Campbell. You may have read about him in history books – a cloudy figure who made his high-haired name in the days of Spectrum magazine Your Sinclair. But you probably didn’t know he ran a software company developing games for the Speccy when he was still a teenager.

“The software company I formed with a friend got paid by the government through the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, in late 1983,” explains the ancient Scot. Scorpion Software created nine games during their existence, before terminating the business upon the discovery of drink and girls. And what did they earn from this year-long enterprise? “Very, very little,” wheezes out Mr S. Campbell. “We spent most of it on Cadbury’s Flakes, and a book on machine code that I still haven’t read.”

So how does this 30th birthday, if you don’t count the ZX81, make him feel? I’ll bet it’s old. He must feel old. “It makes me feel like aggressively and belligerently counting the ZX81. Why wouldn’t you?” Which is a reasonable point. But I’ll go with: Because it doesn’t have “Spectrum” in its name, and thus doesn’t earn the affectionate, cloying nickname, “Speccy”. Is that the reason? “I blame the Jews,” came the reply, a mist forming over his eyes. Then he snapped back to the room. “The ZX81 was the real breakthrough, but it doesn’t get nearly so much credit.”

The two systems combined, it seems fair to say, were a pretty definitive part of the life of the Old Man of games journalism. “Incalculably vast,” he says. Then waking up from an impromptu nap adds, “Except you could probably calculate it if you had a Spectrum. It was sort of like a first taste of the internet. I used my Speccy to work out things mathematically that I could never have done with pen and paper or even a calculator. It was a crude illustration of the power of accessible technology. Also, Horace And The Spiders.”

It’s hard to think of someone older than Splash Damage‘s Ed Stern. Responsible for writing stories and sitting in the corner with a blanket over his lap, he too started with the ZX81, and was then forced to play on Spectrums at friends’ houses. “The very notion of a ‘home computer’ was still sort of astonishing,” he shouted at me while looking around, confused. “Everyone knew proper computers had enormous reel-to-reel tapes, and made clacking noises. So the little, creaking black plastic thing didn’t seem quite plausible at first.”

It was certainly quite the revolution. And there was more to it than simply their being a computer in your home. There was something special about that computer. “Character,” says Campbell. “Everything about it had a friendly feel, from the crisp, clear OS design to the simple BASIC that wouldn’t let you enter lines of code that didn’t make sense. There was a very British, very chummy and clubby vibe around it, from the Big Brother figure at the head of the cult (Uncle Clive) to the magazines that sprang up around it. The C64 just didn’t have that.”

“It was important because it was the one with an erotic rubber keyboard,” says Kieron Gillen, a man too old to write for RPS any more. “I mean, it wasn’t the first home computer. It wasn’t even the first computer normal people could afford. It was the first good computer which normal people could afford.” But surely, I asked the ancient man of comics, it felt primitive compared to the arcades? “Oh yeah,” he creaked. “But it was different. Because it was in a home, for a start. There was an element of arcane-proto-PC stuff to it. Getting a game working on the Spectrum was a feat akin to magic.” Go on, tell us about that old timer. “You connected it to any old tape player, with an octopus-like web of cables. If it didn’t work, you fiddled with the sound levels. You had to program words in to make it work…” I lost him for a moment here, as he stared out of the window, a single tear rolling through the creases of his cheek. “And the nature of the games were different,” he finally continued. “The idea of an extensive adventure you lost yourself in was kinda insane.”

First owning a Commodore 16, there was no game that Gillen could remember was worth playing on that beige creature. “Conversely, the Spectrum was a gateway to everything. It had a crack at everything. You played arcade games. You played strategy games. You played games which you had no idea what genre they were, as people were just fucking making it up as they went along.” But why? “Because the Spectrum was so much cheap. It meant that all sorts of people could use it. Both as consumers and as creators.”

Was it more significant than, say, the NES? “More significant is very subjective term,” says crotchety pre-pensioner Stuart Campbell. “In terms of relation to the modern games industry, the NES is clearly vastly more significant in almost every measurable sense. I think the influence of the Speccy, and the other 8-bit machines, is only starting to return now, in the shape of the indie/smartphone markets.” That’s presumably more in the sense of their accessibility, rather than their content? “I mean that it opened doors for creativity in a way that consoles never did and never can. And not just in the obvious ways, in terms of development. The 8-bit machines made a vast range of games viable and accessible. When shops are full of games costing £1.99 rather than £40, and when playgrounds are full of kids swapping C90s of copied stuff, gamers get exposed to an enormous breadth of originality and invention that doesn’t happen with console games.” Which, he argues, in turn leads to people exploring and innovating for themselves, both as consumers and creators. “Almost every indie game you cover on RPS, and all the stuff I love in the App Store, had its genesis in the 8-bit home-computing era.”

See, that's what a Spectrum really looked like!

There’s no one alive older than my dad, currently writing a diary series on Grimrock for us. He cleared up some of my hazy memory of the time. “I bought a 16K Spectrum in 1983 from WH Smiths for £95,” he recalled, through the mists. “It was after the price reduction so it must have been a Christmas present (that we could barely afford).” Aha, so I would have been five when this stuff I can’t remember happened. My memories kick in when it comes to the 128K, which I’ve just learned for the first time we got early. My dad was writing reviews for Electrical Radio Trading at the time, and we were sent an advanced build of the 128K to review in 1985. “No one ever asked for it back,” says my dad, and it died in around 1990.

Personal memories of the machine are many and varied. I’m fully expecting to read yours below. One of mine is extremely specific. A black box with red keys. Which was hard to explain until I blew the dust off my father and asked him to explain. “1985 I was given a DK’tronics Keyboard by a patient who was importing them. This was a black case into which the Spectrum motherboard and power supply could be put, and it had plastic keys that behaved like typewriter keys.” He then started rambling about ZX Printers, aluminium rolls, and terrifying burning smells, before having a well earned nap. But waking him and propping a mug of Horlicks in his hands, I dug a bit deeper to find out just how early he planted the adventure bug in my brain. It turns out, seemingly, almost before there were adventure games.

“I had read about adventure games, and not knowing anyone daft enough to play Role Playing Games in the living room, looked for computerised versions. After reading Ian Livingstone’s “Warlock of Firetop Mountain” and a ZX81 listing in ZX Computing Magazine, I thought that I could write a program based on both.”

That was the magic of the 80s. What Stuart was talking about above, that iPhone-like ubiquity of it being possible to develop. My dad continues, “It grew it into a randomised mapless “adventure” called Warlock that ZX Computing Magazine bought for £30 and published in 1984.”

And of course there’s one other rather key accompaniment to the Speccy. The magazines that told us to call it a Speccy. While no one in their right mind read Sinclair User, names like Crash and Your Sinclair will come up again and again. For Stuart Campbell, he was reading both before he started writing for the latter. Kieron, slightly younger but still extraordinarily old, was reading the same. “The Spectrum was the gateway to me falling in love with the games press, hence everything,” he says. “I came into the Spectrum slightly too late for prime-time CRASH, but Your Sinclair was blooming.” And the same was true for me, albeit a couple of years later still. Without YS I’d be nothing, just a jelly on the floor.

So thank you, Spectrum. Thank you for existing, for being the PC’s great grandfather. And may the 23rd April forever more be known as St. Spectrum’s Day. Celebrate by playing some Speccy games right now!

Oh PS, I said to Stuart, there’s no way I can use that line about the Jews. I’m chopping it out. “Then I withdraw my consent!” came his cantankerous reply. I explained that I didn’t think that would make any difference. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyers, Goldberg, Cohen & Rosenthal.”

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91 Comments »

  1. the_magma says:

    the sentinel, tir na nog, lords of midnight, knightlore, skool daze, commando, way of the exploding fist, TLL, boulder dash.

    that is all.

    • wu wei says:

      Well said.

    • Jay says:

      Great games, all. I’ll see those and raise you Rebelstar, Ant Attack, Chaos and Deathchase.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jubaal says:

      Aye, all quality! Don’t forget Saboteur too. You could punch dogs and everything (Not that I condone dog punching!)

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Zaxxon. Getting that effing plane to line up with the hole is much harder than it should be in isometric view

      • Premium User Badge

        El_MUERkO says:

        Sabateur was amazing!

        My friends and I were 4/5 when the 48k came out, luckily two of my friends older brothers got them. Our parents would take turns driving us to school, I well remember getting a few games of jet set willyin before jumping in the car. Golden days!

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      Doomdark’s Revenge
      Cybernoid
      Aliens – best music evaaaaaaaah!
      Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Welcome to the Pleasuredome
      Horace Goes Skiing
      Cobra
      IK+

    • Joe Duck says:

      Alien 8, Highway encounter, Taipei, Dambusters, Psion Flight Simulator, Everyone’s a Wally, Abu Simbel Profanation, ELITE

    • slight says:

      God I’d forgotten all about TLL! Also, later, Dizzy!

  2. DrGonzo says:

    Brings back some fun memories. But I don’t like the suggestion of the App Store being like this. Pc and the indie scene here is very much like it. But mobile games are still entirely crap. Every few days now my flat mate comes in and shows me yet another shite and unimpressive game on his iPad. They are completely the opposite kind of device from a spectrum, expensive and snobby.

  3. westyfield says:

    You guys are so old. I remember my first gaming platform… the PS2.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I had a DK Tronics keyboard for my Speccy! It was ace!
    Then someone drove a forklift through it when we sent it off to get an Interface 1 fitted. Gutted.
    Never really did find a use for the Microdrive though. And I remember borrowing a grown-up friend’s Speccy printer. You know, those crappy old things that printed on thermal bog roll?
    GET OFF MY LAWN.

    • Premium User Badge

      MerseyMal says:

      Same here. I remember having to painstakingly stick the transfers, with the letters & commands on, onto each key. Over time most of them slid off, but by then I was able to press the correct key by instinct.

  5. Lobotomist says:

    Yay! Now I am happy :D

    I wish every day is Spectrum day, just like when i was a kid :D

    Thank you Sir Sinclair

    To celebrate, lets everyone post their favorite game.
    This is mine : Target Renegade

    • Kefren says:

      Fantastic music in Target Renegade, and a great co-op game (that would devolve into a battle between the players!)

  6. frenz0rz says:

    ““It was important because it was the one with an erotic rubber keyboard,” says Kieron Gillen, a man too old to write for RPS any more.”

    I thought he was only a couple of years older than you John? Are… are you OLD too?

  7. Prime says:

    *salutes with tear rolling down cheek*

    I owe my gaming everything to this astonishing little computer. I was there right at the beginning. The right age to appreciate it and exactly the right age to fall in love with it. Those rubber keys. That devilishly sexy black plastic and rainbow design…and the games. Oh dear sweet monkey christ, the games:

    BMX Racers. The Sentinel. Chaos. Gauntlet. Starglider. Target Renegade. Laser Squad. Myth. Bionic Commando. Ocean software’s Batman and Robocop games, Bounty Bob. Last Ninja. Carrier Command. Chase HQ. Trantor…such glorious creativity, such amazing times.

    God I miss that little machine!

  8. leeder krenon says:

    the greatest computer ever made.

  9. Phantoon says:

    Rock Paper Shotgun: The only publication to feature quotes from the dinosaurs!

  10. leeder krenon says:

    Think I might have typed in and played Warlock, the screenshot on the WoS page looks familiar.

  11. seamoss says:

    I read the whole article and still don’t understand this sentence:

    “the ZX Spectrum is 30 years old today. (If you don’t count the ZX81, which apparently we don’t.)”

    Why would you count the ZX81 (or, for that, the ZX80 before it)? They were different machines.

    …as for the memories, I could write a book with them. Suffice it to say, I’m doing what I do today (professionally as a Unix admin, programming, and, not least, playing computer games and “wasting” my time reading RPS) all because of my 48K Speccy. Even though I basically failed my A-Levels at the time because I got my new copy of Knight Lore the day before the exams started…

    For all you younguns that want to get a taste of a much more pure computing era it’s all here for the taking. And if you do want to partake of it, here’s how: The ZX Spectrum on Your PC (the second edition was released just a few days ago, I’m sure not coincidentally).

  12. felisc says:

    (clicking kieron gillen’s name links to splash damage. i was expecting a picture of kitten or something, but no, just a mislink)

  13. Premium User Badge

    Colthor says:

    Huh, you didn’t celebrate the IBM PC’s 30th birthday, did you? Back in August? No. Hmph.

    (We had an Electron, but my mum once gave Clive Sinclair a lift.)

    • Meat Circus says:

      Who had a PC? PCs were for rich kids whose parents hated them.

      • Jay says:

        A mate of mine had a fairly early PC. I remember looking on, dumbfounded as they used their insanely expensive system to play what looked, moved and sounded like a markedly worse version of Rick Dangerous. And a worse version of Rick Dangerous is a grim thing indeed.

      • pertusaria says:

        Americans had PCs. I grew up with piles of floppy disks. My parents were not rich (but my dad worked as a programmer, so had to have a PC “for work”) and I’m pretty sure they didn’t hate me.

        • Premium User Badge

          jrodman says:

          As an american who grew up gaming in the 1980s, I distinctly remember that all my friends had Commodore 64 computers, and we were people with money (a neighborhood of upper middle class whiteys — i say whiteys to complete the picture of boringness here).

          Only one friend of the family had an ibm compatible, and it was an IBM PC Jr which my mom and their mom fought with for many hours to try to get working at all. What a terrible computer.

          Years later, in the late 80s, the PCs were taking over for sure, but I’d venture that by 1989 the best years of the speccy had passed.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Bad people.

        If IBM clones hadn’t come along and ruined everything (and, er, Atari management weren’t so utterly, totally completely clueless that they made decisions like headhunting Amiga designers for the Jaguar who then made the tooling to develop for Atari’s console only run on Amiga computers), by now we’d all be living on magical castles on the moon with computers that got to the desktop the moment you flick the switch and don’t blast you with noise and hot air and not once would you have to grumble about graphics driver instability.

  14. Meat Circus says:

    I am affectionately cuddling my childhood with my brain BACK IN TIME.

    But we should also remember the true meaning of St Spectrum’s Day: as we remember how Sir Clive valiantly gave his life that the English might have rubber buttons free of religious persecution.

  15. jonfitt says:

    Happy 30th Speccy.
    .
    It’s difficult to relay the magic of playing games in that era, now that they are ubiquitous and easy to play and obtain. I read about every single game that graced the pages of Your Sinclair, and checked and rechecked the mail order price lists. Nothing was out of scope. Nowadays there are so many games nobody can be aware of them all.
    You don’t have to pray to the machine gods that level 5 will load off the cassette successfully and not fail leaving you to start level 1 or quit. That’s character building right there.
    .
    In a jumpers for goal posts way, you can’t really reproduce the place in time whereby you’d get a box with some hand drawn artwork which would then be your sole key to deciphering what the blue blob that was jumping on you was supposed to be.
    It all looks like crap now, but it’s not just nostalgia to say that your mind filled in the blanks like it does when you read a novel. The brain works like that, but it needs to be conditioned to do so. I think that’s an impenetrable barrier to playing many old Speccy games, that later machines don’t have.
    .
    I guess what I’m saying is that while NES games will be ported and emulated forever, the Speccy exists as a formative experience for a lot of people that is very important, but is an artifact of the past.
    .
    Well that was pretty rambling and incoherent. Where are my slippers?

  16. Meat Circus says:

    No, but seriously, you attribute-clashing, screechy-loading, Kempston-interfacing, rubber-keying idiot of a machine. Oh, how I loved you. I may have eventually abandoned you for the futuristic promise of the Amiga, but you were my first true love.

    Computers in those days had soul. /wipes away a solitary tear

  17. rustybroomhandle says:

    Wow, it’s like reading the story of my life… including the bit about being old. First home computer was a ZX81 and then got the Speccy not too much later.

    My first games were Mugsy and The Hobbit.

    Bah, I’m off to go find me one of them newfangled emulatorywhatsits.

    EDIT: Also, youngins… I see your DRM and I raise you one LENSLOK. Ahhh yeah, the stuff of nightmares.

    • DrunkDog says:

      Ahhh, Lenslok. This was actually defeatable by employing a cunning exploit known back then as “squinting”. I also became quite proficient at taking apart a code wheel and photocopying the bugger, then re-assembling it with a paper-fastener. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

  18. dogsolitude_uk says:

    Crumbs, I remember unwrapping a ZX81 one Christmas, and being really excited because I didn’t even *know* you could have a computer that small. I’d seen ORAC in Blake’s 7, but that was SF.

    The Xmas afterwards I remember having asked for a Spectrum, because it had colour and sound, and not being sure if I was going to get the 16k or 48k version (there was, IIRC, a £50 price difference). I tell you what, when I saw that white circle on the end of the box saying ’48k RAM’ I was pretty happy!

    I didn’t get into games until a year after that, when someone bought me Helichopper in the Firebird £1.99 range. Once I discovered you could get games for £1.99 I became a devotee of Mastertronic and Firebird games, and as I grew older I started not eating lunch at school and hoarding the money to buy more expensive games (which looking back on it can’t have been that healthy… I don’t think I ever told my Mum…).

    Anyway, I had a Spectrum for a good 8 years until finally getting an Atari ST. My favourites were Jet Set Willy (and any other platformers I could map in my Maths exercise book), Heartland, Mercenary, Cholo, Elite, Sentinel, Spellbound…

    Towards the end of the 80′s the limitations were really starting to show, but I guess that’s understandable: imagine having the same graphics card for 8 years.

    Oh, and I remember people complaining about shoddy ports and crappy arcade games back then too. ‘Game Over’, notorious for it’s naughty poster with a boob on it, suffered from dreadful attribute clash and was nowhere near as good as the CPC 464 version. But being a Spectrum user you kind of got used to having worse graphics and sound than everyone else…

  19. Xanadu says:

    Doomdark’s Revenge. The first strategy fantasy game to take up a hundred hours of my life. The biggest world ever crammed into 48k.
    Drawing maps for text adventures.
    Atic Atac. Still marvellous on an emulator today.
    Avalon. Dun Darach. Knight Lore. Jet Set Willy. Games that were meant to be hard.
    Pimania. About time indie games gave real treasure for a prize.
    Skooldaze.
    Writing my own levels for Dungeon Master. Who says mods are recent?
    Games that focussed on being games, rather than graphics.
    30 years? Seems like yesterday.

  20. sinister agent says:

    “aggressively and belligerently” are surely implied, Stu?

    When shops are full of games costing £1.99 rather than £40, and when playgrounds are full of kids swapping C90s of copied stuff, gamers get exposed to an enormous breadth of originality and invention that doesn’t happen with console games.

    Oh hell yes. The speccy and to a lesser extent the amiga were the reasons I scoff at the pointless ghetto attitudes of so many gamers today about different genres or even platforms. The Speccy had none of that nonsense – playing a shooter, an adventure game, a puzzler, and a platformer all in the same afternoon was practically a requirement.

    • Jay says:

      So very much this. I do miss the days when Bubble Bobble was as much of a blockbuster as Carrier Command, and they were just What You Played. The idea that you were only ‘hardcore’ if you stuck to, I dunno, Target: Renegade or something just wasn’t there. Possibly because of the lower price barrier, and possibly because near enough everything kicked your arse all the time.

      • Temple says:

        What gaming mostly taught me was that I was not very good at gaming. I think the 48k saved me a lot of money in the arcades as a child as I knew I was just not good enough.

    • Vurogj says:

      Oh the genre hopping, I remember it well.

      Platformer – Chuckie Egg
      Flip screen shoot em up – Cybernoid
      Scrolling shoot em up – Uridium
      Text adventure – Seabase Delta
      Graphical adventure – Lords of Midnight
      Sports sim – Hardball
      Sports management – Football Manager
      FPS – Mercenary
      Construction/Time Management – Colony
      City builder – Sim City
      Beat em up – Way of the Exploding Fist
      Space sim – Elite

      And that’s just 10 minutes of my old memory thinking without even checking any other websites. I’m not sure if I even play that many genres now.

    • bill says:

      It was a requirement because once you finally got the tape loading cables to work properly you had to play as many games as possible before your mum bumped it with the vacuum cleaner and you became unable to load games again for the next month. ;-)

  21. Premium User Badge

    James G says:

    Ahh, despite being a young whippersnapper of 27 (Although people still often tell me I look about 12) I have fond memories of the Spectrum, although I started on the C64, which my parents got before I was born, and consigned to the loft (allegedly due to technical issues). I came home from my first day at school demanding a computer, and my parents rescued the C64 from the loft. Not long later it bit the mortal coil. However, having three young children at the time my parents no longer had quite the same level of disposable income (although obviously more than many, I’m not pretending this was any kind of hardship), so I spent the late 80′s and early 90′s with a series of second hand spectrums. Graduated to an Amiga 600 when I was eight. I’m pleased to have had my gaming roots in that era though, an I’m actually not sure you need to unearth dinosaurs to find others with similar experiences.

  22. Temple says:

    Wait, John is the oldest and is too young to remember the speccy?
    I am so old :(

    Love people listing all the games I never got to play because the frickin’ volume control/tone control/head alignment was off.

    Also, still have lots of the Crash magazines. The Lunar Jetman cartoon was legitimately funny.

  23. belgerog says:

    I think it’s worth mentioning that there’s a BBC documentary about Clive Sinclair, called “Micro Men”.

    • Jay says:

      ‘Documentary’ might be stretching it a bit, it’s more like a biopic that takes a few liberties with the source material. It is however splendid and I’ve happily watched it more than a few times.

      There’s a few technical gripes here and there that might bother the more hardline types, but I think it’s more important that they got so much right. And I’ll gladly admit the ending chokes me up a bit. A great little film, I thought. If you have an interest in the era you’ll almost certainly enjoy it.

  24. tomnullpointer says:

    Reading this i had to dig out the old speccy form its box in the loft.. Here it is..
    with original horizons tape, star quake map and jetsetwilly pokes taped to the back of the cassette

    https://twitter.com/#!/TomNullpointer/status/194486404640800768

    • Temple says:

      Starquake was probably my favourite, it just seems like the peak of it all.
      (Deathchase was the simple pleasure beast)
      You’d think I’d like Metroid coming from there, but it never grabbed me the same.

  25. killias2 says:

    It’s times like these that make me appreciate how über-British this website it.

    I mean, Jesus, I didn’t even hear of the ZX until like 4 years ago or so, and I still tend to read it as “Zee-Ecks” rather than “Zed-Ecks” Spectrum.

    What can I say? I grew up on the NES and the Apple IIe. The Apple IIe was probably as close as it gets to an equivalent for me. The games were cheap, and my dad made a bunch of little games just for us.

    ..then we got two DOS PCs around the time I turned 7. And we found out one of them actually had Civilization installed. And Doom. And a bunch of other great games. And Windows 3.1. Then we got the internet a couple years later. I think you can all guess where this leads.

    • dogsolitude_uk says:

      My g/f’s from the States, and like you she had a SNES. And a NES. Or something like that. As I felt she had missed out on a significant part of gaming, I spent a happy morning showing her Jet Set Willy.

      Fnar.

  26. Taro says:

    I’ve always liked that tagline that RPS uses “Gaming made me”… well it’s true enough for me, and in many ways, my Spectrum made me…

    When I was 15, I taught myself Z80 assembler (in part so I could hack the save games of Kentilla). I also learned to program in Basic, Pascal, Logo, and Forth, all on the Spectrum. Now, 20 years of successful IT career have come and gone, and I think there’s a significant credit due to that little rubber-keyed black box.

    And I know it, too… having cured myself of most of my pack-rat tendencies, I still couldn’t bring myself to throw away my old Speccy, or the box stuff with old issues of Crash, Your Sinclair, and even Sinclair User. Still have my “Elite” novella and rules manual, probably the lenslok too, and a ton of other stuff. *sniff*…. nostalgia

    One other thing to note… as others have said, the sheer amount of imagination and gaming goodness that was squeezed into the old Spectrum games, especially considering the limitations of the hardware, was nothing short of staggering.
    Imagine if today, game developers could summon up the equivalent amounts of … whatever it takes to do that, pushing our current hardware envelope, with all the graphics and sound resources and… the whatnot. Especially the whatnot. That would just blow everyone’s mind, wouldn’t it?

  27. Derek Williams says:

    How I miss Your Sinclair. The magazine that changed my life after my mum bought it for me by accident instead of Sinclair User.

    Back in the early days of the Speccy my uncle Trevor’s machine was something I used to borrow quite a lot. He had a briefcase full of boots C15 tapes with copied games on. How I longed to own one myself. Then around 1988 I finally got a +2 and the first game I loaded on it was Exolon which loaded a bit different to how the way to which I had been accustomed with the 48k, so I assumed 128k machines loaded a different way. Mightily impressed I was.

    That machine kept me going until about 1995 when I eventually moved onto Amigas because of Amiga Power due to the likes of Stuart Campbell and Jonathan Nash writing for it.

    I still love a game of Chaos or Rebelstar or maybe Robocop. So many many happy memories and those magazines literally changed my life.

    Long live the Speccy!

    Also this article was delightfully written and brought back the feeling of Your Sinclair and AP. Which is nice.

    Zucchini!

  28. Brun says:

    What is this thing? The first gaming machine I had was an SNES, followed closely by a Windows 95 Compaq PC.

    • Temple says:

      Get off the lawn. Go on. Git!

    • westyfield says:

      SNES? Get out of here, granddad!

      • Torgen says:

        Intellivision is the God of the original consoles. We even had the voice module.

        “Bee sevunteen BAWmer!”

        • Fumarole says:

          Atari 2600 here.

        • LionsPhil says:

          ARMOUR BATTLE is the best multiplayer game ever written.

          Also, the Atari 800XL was way better than all this nonsense from Mr Electric Tricycle. (Or the Beeb, but ISTR those were expensive buggers—which makes it kind of funny that the uber-cheap Raspberry Pi is trying to draw parallels to them with its model naming.)

  29. FunkyBadger3 says:

    You see:
    Thorin
    The Pale Bulbous Eyes

  30. NailBombed says:

    I first laid hands on a ZX81 when I was four or five. It was all about Mazogs, Philosopher’s Stone, The Hobbit and 3D Monster Maze (and others which are now sadly forgotten). My folks never upgraded to the proper Speccy as they reckoned I’d never come off it.
    Considering I’m now into my 32nd year of gaming, they were probably right. God how I wanted a ZX Spectrum… or C64… or even an Atari 2600. Thank smeg some of my mates had those.

  31. wodin says:

    I was ten. My dad had a BBC B Micro 32k…the porsche of the day…A year playing Elite everyday..only for the save tape to get chewed… a whole year of my short life dedicated to my space adventures…..never has an 11 year old raged at the world as much as me that day.

  32. wodin says:

    I remember when games would get better and better as time went on even though the tech stayed the same. Nowadays this doesn’t happen, mainly because tech moves along at such a rate there is no need to work out how to get the best out of what you’ve got.

    Also your imagination played a huge role coupled with general ignorance with regards to games and what they could do, thus a game was like some magic portal where anything could happen. I used to sit and day dream about a game and what may happen further into it. These days you already know what it will be like and it’s limitations before you’ve even bough it.

  33. ayo says:

    Code Name M.A.T pilot reporting in sir:-) Original Spectrun owner oh yes:-)

  34. ayo says:

    And yeah i,m older than your dad

  35. captain nemo says:

    I loved my C64, but Bomb Jack on the Spectrum was the biz

  36. wodin says:

    Oohh I remember buying Warlock on firetop mountain. It blew my young mind back then.

  37. GreatUncleBaal says:

    Played a bit of Thanatos today on my phone to honour the day; it still looks rather lovely to me, and still surprises me how well animated it was for the time. Used to love grabbing the sea serpents and dragging them for miles.
    Also, Werewolves of London; a horribly broken game but I loved it as a kid, not so much for trying to complete it but just for buggering about in lycanthropic ecstasy – once managed to get about a dozen armed police to chase me off the main game screen and into the menu underneath.

  38. squareking says:

    If you have an iPhone, you need this app in honor of the Spectrum’s b-day:

    http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/zx-plectrum/id477244691?mt=8

  39. Risingson says:

    I’m 34 now, so I am OLD. I remember the ZX Spectrum 48k my father brought from a trip to UK, and the first tape he took, which, of course, was a compilation of pirated games. My first game? Jumpin’ Jack Flash. And yes, everything you say: the mystic behind those games, the impossibility of finishing most of them, the long, very long loading times while the speccy was on the floor, the dreaded r: tape loading error , changing tapes at the school breaks with my friends (years later they would be pc disks), the NEED to have all games, to play them all, to understand just a bit of them. Lots of afternoons playing Gauntlet 2, the first time I finished Manic Miner. The first Spectrum +2A. And suddenly, a PC, with Prince of Persia in it, and the world changed for me.

    • wodin says:

      34 ain’t old. You hwre a bay when I was flying around space in Elite. Or blasting away at Defender, or going on adventures with Erik the Viking or Bilbo Baggins.

  40. Drake Sigar says:

    At least from now on when I hear Kryton say “This old baby’s crashed more times than a ZX81″ I’ll know what he’s talking about.

  41. MrStones says:

    Ah the Speccy. One of my earliest memories is learning how to tell the time on some game my dad programmed for me, that and postman pat the video game
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_b_WMDo4X-M

    Good times

  42. Ergates_Antius says:

    All rise for the singing of the Speccy Anthem.

    Dooooooooooooooo Crrreeee
    Doooooooooooooo Crrreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
    Dooooooooo Crreee
    Do Cree
    Do Creee
    Do Crrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  43. Premium User Badge

    Sinomatic says:

    I only had a Dragon 32. I feel all left out.

  44. Skabooga says:

    I decided to have a little fun with the Speccy emulator, but all my arrow keys were randomly remapped, and the up key got lost in the jumble. Somehow, though, I get the feeling that my encounter with it broke down with technical difficulties more closely emulates the true Speccy experience than getting them to play correctly on the first try.

  45. bill says:

    I had a speccy, and it had some awesome ideas (the way it was so easy to code your own games).

    I feel nostagic for it, but if i’m honest i’d have to admit it was mostly crap. the keys got stuck. The audio contacts got damaged easily making it a nightmare to load games – which took hours.

    They shops with 1000s of games priced at 3 quid were very comparable to the app stores of today… but also in the way that 99% of the games were shit clones and possibly in the way it lead to such devaluation that there was actually a video games crash.

    I was probably a little too young to appreciate it, and my parents didn’t really know what to do with it… meaning they bought me some games, but they were almost all awful games.
    – Airwolf: Impossible to get past the first screen.
    – the living daylights: trying to shoot black enemies hiding in black rocks on a mostly black screen.
    – some endless dungeon crawl that was just recycling the same enemies again in different colors. (it may well have been the hallowed Dungeon Master, but if it was then i was too young to appreciate any of it’s merits at all).
    – ghostbusters with it’s trial and error gameplay and sudden death if you crossed the streams.

    I mainly spent all my time playing Space invaders (which came with it i think) and Crystal Castles.

    I wish someone would make a modern equivilent though – an accessible Raspberry Pi that taught kids to make their own games.

  46. Premium User Badge

    MerseyMal says:

    It was not just having to adjust the sound level to avoid a reset or the dreaded R Tape Loading Error, 0:1 at the end of trying to load a game…sometimes you had to find a small screwdriver and align the cassette recorder’s azimuth!

  47. BobsLawnService says:

    No love for Psytron? What the hell is wrong with you people?

  48. Arbodnangle Scrulp says:

    Blutnik tum yaya karpathia! The red kipper flies at midnight!

    Torremolinos!

    Bored of the Rings! Written by my hero of days past, Fergus McNeill, along with Robin of Sherlock.

    So much of my sense of humour as an adult has been shaped not only by the genius of Python but also of the existential absurdism of many game programmers on the speccy.

    Plus, I blame the sodding rubber keyboard for ruining my typing skills. Bashing in listings from the back of magazines only to find printer errors caused my OCD. Over time the print on the keys wore off but as others have pointed out, by then you knew which key was what.

  49. Mario Figueiredo says:

    The Speccy meant also the introduction of game stores. Complete with very quaint illegal copy backrooms. Boy, did I love going to those places. They were magical places at the time and a completely new experience for a 15 year old skipping school.

    All I needed was to carry some money and a 90 minute virgin cassette. Of course, I also would leave with originals. Most of my collection was originals. There were plenty of games on the shelves. But it’s quite interesting to notice how back in the 80s, software pirating was an open activity that wen hand-in-hand with the act of selling legitimate copies.