A little computer called the Spectrum...

This is my first blog at Giant Bomb. I've blogged elsewhere in the past, but it's been a while. I aim to cover a variety of subjects in my blogs. Everything from what I'm playing at a certain point in time to what I think about the latest gaming trends. I'm very passionate about games, so I enjoy writing about them.

...oh, and I'll try and throw in some humour here and there...can't forget that...

As this is my first blog here, I thought I'd talk about how I started gaming...

'You loaded games with tapes?!'

I first got into gaming thanks to my dad. He owned a ZX Spectrum + 2. The difference from the original Speccy (yeah, us fans call it that) is that it had a built-in tape player for loading games and 128K of memory instead of 48k. With the original, you had to plug a bog-standard tape player into it. Never had the pleasure of using the original, but my dad had one. Heck, he even had a ZX81 at one stage (the pre-cursor to the Spectrum), but I digress...

The Speccy + 2 in all its glory!

I was only three years old when I first played on one. It was 1988 at the time, so the NES had been out for three years already (although I was unaware at the time). While NES owners had their games load in an instant, I had to wait 5-10 minutes (sometimes longer!) for a game to load by tape. Whilst it loaded, it made some of the weirdest noises known to man. It was basically a modem dial-tone on acid. I can still hear the noises like it was yesterday. There was also a moving striped border while this was going on. Sometimes cyan and red, sometimes blue and yellow (although a few titles had different colours, if I remember correctly). Some games were even fancy enough for a picture to slowly appear on the screen whilst it was loading. Maybe it was to give the players something to look at while they patiently waited.

After the +2, the Spectrum + 3 was released. This used 3-inch floppy disks. I briefly borrowed one from a cousin. The disks could hold more data the loading times were a lot faster. Other than that, there wasn’t a great deal of difference.

Pros :D

Back in the 80s/Early 90s, the Speccy was a widely supported platform in the UK. You could say it defied the limited features of the system, most notably the graphical capability. I was a bit late to scene (the Speccy appeared in 1982), but there was still a lot going on. A lot of British developers actually started off round about this time. Codemasters and Rare (then known as Ultimate: Play The Game) are two of them. There was also a number of magazines covering the Spectrum, including Sinclair User, Your Sinclair and Crash (each of which had their own demo tapes).

Here are just a few of the games I played back then. You may be interested to know that most of these games were coded by programmers in their own bedrooms.

Manic Miner/Jet Set Willy

Willy coming face to face with a duck, a demon and some kind of floating skull. Typical day, then...

The player assumed the role of Miner Willy (yeah, I know...). The aim of the game was to guide Willy through a series of increasing challenging caverns. Enemies ranged from penguins to moving telephones. You had to collect all the items in the cavern and escape before his oxygen ran out.

Jet Set Willy was a very similar game, but it gave the player a huge building to explore instead of one screen at a time. After Manic Miner, Willy became rich and owned a massive mansion. However, he had a big party, made a mess and was refused entry to his bedroom until he cleared it all up. I’m not quite sure why he was refused entry to his bedroom in HIS OWN HOUSE, but it’s probably best not to think about it too much. The enemies were even weirder this time round (I seem to remember one of them being a floating Queen Elizabeth I head). Like Manic Miner, I never completed it.

...and the best bit about these two games? The ‘Game Over’ screen saw Willy get crushed by a giant foot. Classic.

Dizzy

For this screen, you had to use a plastic rainboat to 'kill' the raindrops. Yes. KILL.

One of the most famous franchises to grace the Speccy featured the adventures of an egg with arms and legs (just ask Yahtzee). The series was published by Codemasters and created by the Oliver Twins (who run Blitz Games).

The aim of the game was usually to save Dizzy’s girlfriend, Daisy, from the clutches of a villain (usually the evil wizard Zachs). In short, Dizzy had to go through the game world, find items and use them where they were needed. The games had a lot of variety in them, which is what made them special at the time. I remember a cool screen in one of the games which was upside-down. I had to work my way through it with a mirror placed on the carpet near the TV. How many games allow you to do that?!

Dizzy was so popular that it sparked off various spin-offs, such as Fast Food (a Pac-Man clone), Kwik Snax (its sequel) and Dizzy Panic (a puzzle game where you had put shapes down the right chutes). I seem to remember there being a mixed reaction to these games.

Cons D:

I was patient enough on the most part (I didn't know any better at this stage), but there was one major problem with the loading method. If a game tape had one single scratch or kink in it, it was enough for the loading to completely fail. If this happened, I would have to rewind the tape and start again. Not a problem for most games, but extremely frustrating for games like Saint Dragon and New Zealand Story. They took forever to load.

Another problem with this method is that bigger games required further loading once a 'level' or 'world' was completed. If you died during a later part of the game, you would have to rewind back to a certain spot on the tape to start again. While many games offered a specific number for the tape counter found on old tape players, the Spectrum + 2 didn't have one. As you can imagine, playing games like that was fun. A LOT OF FUN.

But I have mostly good memories of the system. It was like no other platform I’ve used since...

I have a lot more to say about the Speccy, but that seems like a good place to stop. If anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask. In future blogs, I may cover my experience with other old platforms (and believe me, there’s a lot of them...).

Thanks for reading,

Adz

6 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by AdzPearson

This is my first blog at Giant Bomb. I've blogged elsewhere in the past, but it's been a while. I aim to cover a variety of subjects in my blogs. Everything from what I'm playing at a certain point in time to what I think about the latest gaming trends. I'm very passionate about games, so I enjoy writing about them.

...oh, and I'll try and throw in some humour here and there...can't forget that...

As this is my first blog here, I thought I'd talk about how I started gaming...

'You loaded games with tapes?!'

I first got into gaming thanks to my dad. He owned a ZX Spectrum + 2. The difference from the original Speccy (yeah, us fans call it that) is that it had a built-in tape player for loading games and 128K of memory instead of 48k. With the original, you had to plug a bog-standard tape player into it. Never had the pleasure of using the original, but my dad had one. Heck, he even had a ZX81 at one stage (the pre-cursor to the Spectrum), but I digress...

The Speccy + 2 in all its glory!

I was only three years old when I first played on one. It was 1988 at the time, so the NES had been out for three years already (although I was unaware at the time). While NES owners had their games load in an instant, I had to wait 5-10 minutes (sometimes longer!) for a game to load by tape. Whilst it loaded, it made some of the weirdest noises known to man. It was basically a modem dial-tone on acid. I can still hear the noises like it was yesterday. There was also a moving striped border while this was going on. Sometimes cyan and red, sometimes blue and yellow (although a few titles had different colours, if I remember correctly). Some games were even fancy enough for a picture to slowly appear on the screen whilst it was loading. Maybe it was to give the players something to look at while they patiently waited.

After the +2, the Spectrum + 3 was released. This used 3-inch floppy disks. I briefly borrowed one from a cousin. The disks could hold more data the loading times were a lot faster. Other than that, there wasn’t a great deal of difference.

Pros :D

Back in the 80s/Early 90s, the Speccy was a widely supported platform in the UK. You could say it defied the limited features of the system, most notably the graphical capability. I was a bit late to scene (the Speccy appeared in 1982), but there was still a lot going on. A lot of British developers actually started off round about this time. Codemasters and Rare (then known as Ultimate: Play The Game) are two of them. There was also a number of magazines covering the Spectrum, including Sinclair User, Your Sinclair and Crash (each of which had their own demo tapes).

Here are just a few of the games I played back then. You may be interested to know that most of these games were coded by programmers in their own bedrooms.

Manic Miner/Jet Set Willy

Willy coming face to face with a duck, a demon and some kind of floating skull. Typical day, then...

The player assumed the role of Miner Willy (yeah, I know...). The aim of the game was to guide Willy through a series of increasing challenging caverns. Enemies ranged from penguins to moving telephones. You had to collect all the items in the cavern and escape before his oxygen ran out.

Jet Set Willy was a very similar game, but it gave the player a huge building to explore instead of one screen at a time. After Manic Miner, Willy became rich and owned a massive mansion. However, he had a big party, made a mess and was refused entry to his bedroom until he cleared it all up. I’m not quite sure why he was refused entry to his bedroom in HIS OWN HOUSE, but it’s probably best not to think about it too much. The enemies were even weirder this time round (I seem to remember one of them being a floating Queen Elizabeth I head). Like Manic Miner, I never completed it.

...and the best bit about these two games? The ‘Game Over’ screen saw Willy get crushed by a giant foot. Classic.

Dizzy

For this screen, you had to use a plastic rainboat to 'kill' the raindrops. Yes. KILL.

One of the most famous franchises to grace the Speccy featured the adventures of an egg with arms and legs (just ask Yahtzee). The series was published by Codemasters and created by the Oliver Twins (who run Blitz Games).

The aim of the game was usually to save Dizzy’s girlfriend, Daisy, from the clutches of a villain (usually the evil wizard Zachs). In short, Dizzy had to go through the game world, find items and use them where they were needed. The games had a lot of variety in them, which is what made them special at the time. I remember a cool screen in one of the games which was upside-down. I had to work my way through it with a mirror placed on the carpet near the TV. How many games allow you to do that?!

Dizzy was so popular that it sparked off various spin-offs, such as Fast Food (a Pac-Man clone), Kwik Snax (its sequel) and Dizzy Panic (a puzzle game where you had put shapes down the right chutes). I seem to remember there being a mixed reaction to these games.

Cons D:

I was patient enough on the most part (I didn't know any better at this stage), but there was one major problem with the loading method. If a game tape had one single scratch or kink in it, it was enough for the loading to completely fail. If this happened, I would have to rewind the tape and start again. Not a problem for most games, but extremely frustrating for games like Saint Dragon and New Zealand Story. They took forever to load.

Another problem with this method is that bigger games required further loading once a 'level' or 'world' was completed. If you died during a later part of the game, you would have to rewind back to a certain spot on the tape to start again. While many games offered a specific number for the tape counter found on old tape players, the Spectrum + 2 didn't have one. As you can imagine, playing games like that was fun. A LOT OF FUN.

But I have mostly good memories of the system. It was like no other platform I’ve used since...

I have a lot more to say about the Speccy, but that seems like a good place to stop. If anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask. In future blogs, I may cover my experience with other old platforms (and believe me, there’s a lot of them...).

Thanks for reading,

Adz

Posted by Levius

I remember being shown Lords of Midnight by my parents, that game must have been amazing back in the day, and is still interesting today.

Definitely going to give it another look if the iOS port is released.

Online
Posted by AdzPearson

@AmatureIdiot: I vaugely remember that game and other text-based games for the system. Unfortunately, games like that didn't really grab my attention back then (I was pretty young at the time), so I don't know a great deal about them. If I ever get the time, I'll probably have a look at some. I can see myself doing a nostalgic Speccy playthrough one of these days...

Posted by CashBailey

Wow! A blast from the past.

The Spectrum was utter crap but it was still better than the Amstrad.

C-64 forever, bitches!!

Posted by AdzPearson

@CashBailey: Speccy...utterly crap?! GET OUT!!!

...neh. To be fair, the Spectrum was technically crap even at the time. I can't argue with that. The NES and even the C64 pumped out better graphics and sound. I think the reason it lasted until the early 90s was that it was cheap to develop for and the games were sold for about £3 each. That and some of the ports were surprsingly good considering the hardware constraints (Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands, for example).

After the Spectrum, I had a C64. I think played it for about 1-2 years before my dad bought the Amiga 1200. I thought it was a pretty cool system. I loved playing with the 'Shoot-Em Up Construction Kit'. Closest I ever got to that on the Speccy was a level editor for Boulder Dash. It was a better system than the Spectrum, but I didn't stick around with it for too long, which is probably why I hold the Speccy in higher regard.

...the speech program on the C64 was cool, though...

Posted by Navyseils

I had one of these too!

I played my atari more often simply because it had almost no load times, but I had a bunch of Spectrum games that I loved. Can't remember them much, I was very young.

I still have my spectrum, and it's (as of last year) in working order. I'll need to dig out the big bag of games sometime and have a wee nostalgia session.

Luckily I also have a few old CRT tvs in a cupboard too. I'm not sure it would be easy to hook it up to my current system.

Posted by AdzPearson

@Navyseils: Wish I still had my second Speccy (the first one was killed with orange juice by some idiot...*whistles innocently*). Unfortunately, it's now lost in the midst of time... :( All the Speccy mags I had are gone, too (there was loads of them!). A great shame, but we ran out of room to keep them. The Spectrum itself survived a bit longer, but we lost the cables for it eventually.

One of these days, when I have enough space for a retro gaming room (a long-running dream of mine), I may actually buy another one. The prices on eBay aren't too bad.