Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The glorious past of the ZX Spectrum

I recently recieved a £20.00 amazon token from Cilip for introducing someone. With this I bought Race for a New Game Machine, The: Creating the Chips Inside the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, The Ultimate History of Video Games, Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution, Arcade Mania: The Turbo-Charged World of Japan's Game Centers: The Turbo-charged World of Japan's Game Centers. I've started Race for a New Game Machine, but was so boring. I therefore started reading The Ultimate History of Video Game, which is much better, but very American orientated read.
It seems there's little been little written on the ZX Spectrum, the object that started my love of PCs and especially games. The only area of coverage of the Spectrum's history was the BBC program last year.
I was first given a computer in 1983, a ZX 81, which had 1 K of memory and an awful keyboard for gaming. To this could be added a wobbly 16k expansion pack, which often caused the machine to crash. A tape recorder and television would be required to load the game. The tape recorder had to have clean heads and be at the correct tone to load the game. The best game was Forty niner in my opinion. Due to the 16k memory, some of the games were fairly rudimentary at best.
Whilst at school my peer group had access to these relics and a few BBC computer. If you were fortunate enough, and your father was a teacher, you could perhaps take this home at the weekend and play Chuckie Egg on it.
To me, the Spectrum was a revelation. I was a teenager and this machine was what most of my peer group was using. The spectrum, not only created a buzz about the games from British companies, that seemed to be sailing a wave f a future service industry based economy. These companies included Imagine software based in Liverpool. Ultimate based in Ashby De La Zouch. Ocean software based in Manchester. Gremlin Interactive. Each one had a different platform of gaming they represented.
Ultimate, usually had the most aesthetic and colourful games. These included Atic Atac, was an arcade adventure game in a haunted house. The best arcade adventures came from them.
Ocean, often got Sega and sports games, including Match day and Daley Thompson's decathlon. Many a joystick would be broken playing these games.
Imagine was best remembered for its incredible demise which was caught on a BBC documentary.
The Spectrum boom also created British programmers who hacked games for the Spectrum and became rich as teenagers. People such as Matthew Smith who created Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy. In the early 1990's he disappeared and ended in a commune in Holland.
On top of this, the Spectrum created other careers. For example a weird thing called 'game journalism', with Magazines such as Crash which was a Spectrum only magazine, and used some incredible art work by Oliver Frey. The writing was usually witty and tongue in cheek. Perfect for teenagers.
Another interesting thing about the Spectrum was the politics of the games reflected the period. For example, in 1984 Gremlin produced Wanted: Monty Mole. A mole in platform game in which character had to escape flying pickets and King Arthur [Scargill], at the height of the coal miners strike.
Another political aspect of gaming was the company Automata UK. All there games were non-violent, reflecting the still often cited claim that games create violent individuals
In 1984, with my first months wages I could afford my own Spectrum. My adventure's from now on in would always be based around a computer.

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