“Clive Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum is a quarter of a century old today. The machine that really launched the UK IT industry hit the streets of a depressed Britain on 23 April, 1982. Dark days, then. But lo, along came bespectacled Messiah Sir Clive Sinclair with the successor to his 1981 release, the black-and-white ZX-81. The ZX Spectrum boasted a visual cortex-melting eight colours at 256 x 192 resolution, blistering 3.5MHz CPU, and crucially, a crisp-repelling vulcanised rubber keyboard.”
Sinclair ZX Spectrum: 25 Today
About The Author
Follow me on Twitter @thomholwerda
2007-04-23 11:50 pmpetera
Your right. I read an article recently about how unapproachable modern computers are from a novice programmer point of view. I’d never really thought about it but modern OS’s(especially Windows)don’t make it easy at all I think.
With the C64 and speccy you were launched straight into BASIC and many of the mags at that time had printed BASIC proggies for you to type in yourself.
Ah, those were the days…..
2007-04-24 12:04 amAlmafeta
I still remember typing in RUN Term…
2007-04-24 7:33 amnielsenj
I still remember our local radio featuring a computer show. Oh the joy of listening to ZX48, C64 etc programs being broadcasted over the air for two hours
And yes, i would record every minute of it to run on my ZX48
Edited 2007-04-24 07:34
2007-04-25 9:42 pmstestagg
You musta’ had good reception. I had trouble getting the ZX to read from a tape-player, let alone a tape recording that was played over the radio!
2007-04-24 8:09 amrenox
>I read an article recently about how unapproachable modern computers are from a novice programmer point of view
It’s not that they’re unapproachable, but that they don’t focus on making it easy for programmers: my first computer came with a BASIC interpreter and a book to learn BASIC..
But now to learn to program, you have to install first the programming tools, which means you have to know about these tools, choose one, etc. which is a significant hurdle.
Still ‘unapproachable’ is probably a too strong term: with Internet, you can find easily advices on how to start programming, and there are many books which explain how to install Python/Ruby and the appropriate libraries and start programming.
2007-04-24 6:43 pmhobgoblin
there is also the gui side of things. sure you can program all kinda of cli programs quickly. but how many have simple ways to build gui interfaces?
thats the one place where visual basic still have its strength. build the gui first, then drop in the code in the background.
sure it may be “the wrong way”, but people are so used to guis that they at times show anything from awe to vampire+sunlight kinds of reactions if you fire up a cli program…
2007-04-24 7:23 pmkonfoo
You can only call it the ‘wrong way’ if you use it outside of its boundaries. VB’s model is one of event driven execution. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided you use it as intended.
For those interested in in remakes of old speccy games like Skool Daze and other classics –
2007-04-24 1:44 pmLaurence
I read an article recently about how unapproachable modern computers are from a novice programmer point of view. I’d never really thought about it but modern OS’s(especially Windows)don’t make it easy at all I think.
I’m not sure I agree, Visual Basic for Windows is, imo, the easiest language for novices to learn for a modern OS.
But agreed with the old vs new comparison. Even VB takes a great deal more time to learn (as well as actively seeking out the IDE to program in).
My first computer, and I have almost all variations of it. Even when it stopped being produced. I was still getting my hands on second-hand speccys.
The emulation scene is amazing for it, and a lot of games producers have made their products public domain.
SOME HOWEVER HAVE NOT, so be careful what you download.
My first computer was a ZX-81. I recieved it as a kit and assembled it myself. I remember when the Spectrum came out as I wanted one very badly. Couldn’t get one here in Kentucky at the time and had to console myself a little later with a VIC 20.
2007-04-24 8:01 amglyj
the good old days !
I also baught a ZX81 as a kit. Then a Huge 16k ram cartridge…
After a while, I sold It. Now I miss you my ZX ! 😥
my computer history:
EXL 100 (infra red keyboard + joysticks)
Commodore 128D (only used the C64 mode… 🙂 )
Amiga 1200 + 68060 turbo card + 32Mo
Amiga dead –> heart broken 🙁 –> no new computer
My first PC : win Me –> switch to mandrake
since then —> pc + mandrake / mandriva
I think people sometimes forget how important cheap and fun computers like the Speccy actually were. Those old 8-bit computers were the systems that introduced a great many people to the wonders of home computing.
People spend ages discussing whether the Mac was more important than the IBM PC, but really both were out of the question for most home users in the early 80s. Even other 8-bits like the Apple II and BBC Micro were a bit expensive for most people. While the Speccy was cheap enough that kids could convince their parents to get them one for Christmas (to help with their education of course).
They may have simply been games machines to most kids who owned them, but for a fair few they were an introduction to programming or hardware hacking that developed into a lifelong interest/career.
One of the nice things about Speccy games is that the simple graphics work particularly well on the small screens of PDAs and smart-phones. I think I’ve spent more time playing Speccy games on modern mobile hardware than on the real thing.
Actually, it’s amazing the gameplay developers managed to pack onto a cassette tape and run on such low-end hardware. Everyone remembers the classic arcade games like Pacman and Asteroids, but there were also plenty of arcade adventures, simulators, even 3D games, all running on a system with less processing power than your soundcard.
Games like Elite, Tau Ceti, Laser Squad, The Sentinel, Carrier Command, Lords of Midnight, etc. The graphics may look rubbish today, but they still compare well with modern games for depth, all in only 48K of RAM.
2007-04-24 12:50 amLuis
Yes, I still wonder how they did it. 48 kilobytes is nothing today, but they managed to create adventure games with lots of screens. My all time favorite was Knight Lore. I must have spent 200 hours playing that game
I can still remember the horrible noise it made when you loaded (load “”) a game from a cassette tape, and it took like 5 minutes !
Oh, the good old times…
2007-04-24 1:45 amValhalla
yes, starting with Vic-20 and then upgrading to the C64 I remember scoffing at my friend and his small rubber thing that made ugly beeps. that was until he called me over to check out this new game called Knight Lore that he bought. that game started a long love for isometric games and although Ultimate never quite got it right again (imo) with Alien 8 coming closest, there were lots of others in the same genre that where great such as Head over Heels, Fairlight, Batman, Bobby Bearing, Quazatron etc.
here’s my Speccy top 5:
1. Knight Lore
3. Head over Heels
ahh those were the days…
2007-04-24 10:19 amSparrowhawk
Well I never thought we’d ever have a Speccy Top 5 on OSNews so I’m not about to let the opportunity go to waste!
1. Lords of Midnight (still may favourite game to this day)
2. Knight Lore
3. Doomdark’s Revenge
4. Elite (althought the BBC version was far better)
5. The Hobbit
The Spectrum was also the first computer I owned (my parents bought me the 16K model despite me hinting heavily that 48K would be so much more useful for school. They’d obviously rumbled my educational gambit straight away!). I had to use my saved up pocket money to buy an additional 32K – well over £100!
I still own 2 Spectrums (Original and Spectrum+), Interfaces 1 and Microdrive, 2 ZX81s bought at a computer fair years afterwards, and the superb QL which despite its many, many shortcomings, was still the most amazing computer to program on in those days.
As a developer by trade, I have Sir Clive to thank for getting me into computing in the first place. And the Spectrum to thank for wasting far too many hours trying to get to the last screen in Arcadia…
2007-04-24 4:43 amkwag
“Yes, I still wonder how they did it. 48 kilobytes is nothing today, but they managed to create adventure games with lots of screens.”
It was “An art”, to program in those days with such memory constraints. Today, programmers BLOAT software!
I remember back circa 1982, I programmed a 32KB Atari 800 computer to emulate a Motorola paging generator (2 tone, 5 tone) and I also generated what was called GSC (Golay Sequential Code) binary format, and outputted the data through one I/O pin on one of the joystick ports
The data was fed to a signal generator, and was used for test purposes in the shop where I worked at, for several years.
The whole program was written in Atari BASIC (plus machine code routines for the GSC generation part), and it fitted in less than 16KB of RAM
Those were the days!!!!
2007-04-24 10:53 amB12 Simon
And 48k was the bling version. I had a 16k, upgraded to 48k but the upgrade blew. I was stuck playing Jet Pack and writing smaller games for ages til I could save up for more chips.
2007-04-24 1:15 pmsbergman27
Yes, I still wonder how they did it. 48 kilobytes is nothing today, but they managed to create adventure games with lots of screens.
By that, do you mean graphical screens?
My idea of a really cool adventure game starts out something like:
You are standing beside a small brick building at the end of a road from the north. A river flows south. To the north is open country. And all around is dense forest.
Graphics are for ninnies. 😉
Then again, I also enjoy the CBS Radio Mystery Theater…
2007-04-24 2:55 pmDave_K
Graphics are for ninnies. 😉
There were some great text adventures for the Spectrum. A few lines of well written prose could create a scene much more effectively than a screen full of blocky graphics. The Level 9 adventures were particular favourites of mine, some of the puzzles in games like Snowball and Return to Eden were pretty fiendish.
As tonywob pointed out, the average game back then tended to be a lot harder than the games around today. That’s definitely true when comparing text adventures with modern graphical games. You didn’t get the same handholding, with tutorials and hints to stop you getting stuck, and without the internet you couldn’t just look up a walk-through. It certainly made completing those games a real challenge, and gave you a real sense of achievement if you actually did it. Of course trying to play text adventures on the Speccy’s rubber keyboard was a challenge of its own…
Actually, there are still some great text adventures being written by the amateur community, using adventure programming languages like TADS and Inform. It’s well worth having a look at the games around today, this archive is a good place to start: http://wurb.com/if/
2007-04-24 4:09 pmarchiesteel
You are standing beside a small brick building at the end of a road from the north. A river flows south. To the north is open country. And all around is dense forest.
Be careful not to get eaten by a grue…
Edited 2007-04-24 16:09
2007-04-24 12:51 amflanque
It’s incredible hey.. every time I remember these years and the computers of the time it brings an big smile to my face. It really was a time of discovery, self learning and idea sharing. The games were not as flashy for sound and graphics, but that’s where our imaginations took over, and were encouraged.
It seems these days if you allow your imagination to wonder some people think you’re a bit strange.. “get a grip with reality.. it’s just a game!”
Thank you for bringing back some very fond memories.
2007-04-24 6:05 amHenrik
Well, 48K was plenty… Anyone remember the 1K (!) chess program (Artic computing) for the unexpanded ZX81?
While it was quite limited compared to the large (!) 16K version, it worked fine.
Those were the days when games cost £1 and were programmed in bedrooms – not the multi-million dollar affairs that flood the market today.
I remember typing in hundreds of lines of code for a game from a magazine into the ZX Spectrum+. Debugging on it was hell, but I loved every minute of it as a computer-crazed 15 year old.
2007-04-24 10:47 amB12 Simon
Exactly the same here. My mum bought me a book of listings from the local supermarket(!) – by the time I’d bashed in and fixed a few games I could write my own!
The Internet’s a great tool for learning these days but those reams of (often broken) BASIC code did it for me!
Now I feel old!
That’s what I typed more (obviously). Only 3 keystrokes and 3-4 minutes! Instant boot (not like today computers).
I remember trying to learn Assembly. I have great memories of that computer and I learnt A LOT.
O days bygone.
10 REM oh so long forgotten memories
20 LOAD “m” ; 1 ; “oldmems”
30 PRINT AT 10,20 “sigh! those rubber keys… I miss them… And the fancy tape propelled microdrive? And the interface 1? Sigh… I still have them somewhere… sigh I was a kiddo back then “
I played this games on the Spectrum, but cannot remember the name.
You are A Skunk/Beaver, running though a Sewery and Trying to reach a train. Gumboots are tyring to get you, and you were equipped with a Gun which shoots Glue.
It was really funny. Would like to play it again in Emu.
Program: Windows Vista
R: Tape loading Error:
2007-04-24 3:47 pmKroc
Found Windows Vista
Please Turn Tape Over
How can nobody have mentioned Miner Willy and his travels yet ? 😉
Manic Miner was a fiendishly hard game when you were 9. Jet Set Willy was simply amazing. Matthew Smith is still a hero of mine. Bloody genius!!
2007-04-24 10:10 amaxilmar
Actually Jet Set Willy (and II especially) is one of the best games ever. It’s not the genre, it is the execution. There are thousands of flick screen platform games out there, but none as well executed and captivating as JSW.
After 25 years, and having finished it numerous times, I still play it, under the impression that are hidden screens and hidden passage ways. It is a haunting game!!!
Edited 2007-04-24 10:11
I remember the ZX-81 made an excellent Frisbee – The Spectrum just didn’t have the aerodynamics for it…was a BBC Micro man myself Model B then Archemides A3000 – Had a teletext adapter for the Beeb that could download programs from BBC Teletext site if you had like 5 hours spare… Elite….spent hours and hours on that game…
I also had an Amstrad CPC 464, which I think was technically a much better machine, but nothing came close to the pure class that the ZX Spectrum 48 had.
I’m so glad that it can live on in legal emulation. With new software releases, no less!
Such a fun computer, with a great community of users and developers. I would love to see something like that released today. A simple computer, with a simple OS, designed for bedroom coders.
2007-04-25 12:29 amSilent_Seer
Perhaps, you would like the GP2X. It’s a handheld console like device. It runs linux and supports the GNU toolchain. Yup, boots fast and made for bedroom coders/ homebrew developers.
It runs lots of emulators for different systems/consoles, you will probably find the Spec in there somewhere. Hope you’ll like it.
2007-04-25 8:04 amgleng
I have one.
Yep, it’s great. Portable NetHack!
Ahh… Spectrum. My first computer.
It had great games… Quazatron, Skool Daze… Then again, DOS era had some really cool games too, which were so much more humane than the current games.
Its BASIC was reaaally slow though…
2007-04-24 9:36 amburnttoy
Best… Game… Ever!!! I’ve “wasted” SOOO much time playing Quazatron both on the speccy and on emulation.
These machines (the 8bit) have a “personality” that we don’t see on today’s computers.
They still rule on the Demoscene !
Long Live ZX ! (and the other 8bits)
I can’t believe that no one is saying anything about Dizzy. Those were the best games for the Spectrum.
2007-04-24 11:50 amBuck
Dizzy right! Dizzy was great.
And I, Ball 2.
Edited 2007-04-24 11:53
2007-04-24 5:03 pmrhyder
Dizzy was one of those games that I’d see at a friends house and wish that I had at home. I was BBC Micro man.
Not that the Beeb didn’t have some nice games of its own.
Does anyone else agree that older games where so much harder than modern games, I never could complete Jet Set Willy
10 LET N=0
20 PRINT “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”
40 IF N = 25 THEN GOTO 60
50 GOTO 20
60 PRINT “OH THE JOYS OF SPAGHETTI CODING!”
Edited 2007-04-24 13:46 UTC
…but they weren’t sold here in North America. There was its equivalent, the Timex/Sinclair 2000, but they were quite hard to find.
I ended up buying a Sinclair QL when it came out, hoping it would be as successful…unfortunately, it wasn’t, and to top it off a burglar stole it from my parents’ house (the idiot…I don’t know what he wanted to do with it, but I’m sure it ended up in an attic or a dumptser somewhere).
Just to prove how wonderful the Speccy was…
Ah sweet memories of buying a 48K Speccy and taking it back the next day to say that’s broken and I want my money back.
Oh I wonder how many people ‘upgraded’ their 16K Spectrum that Christmas in that way? ;-))
My first hack job was on a Speccy…
Then I used to convert BBC B programs to work on the Acorn Electron. Now that was a Spectrum competitor.
This is the one I used to always write in computer shops (Curry’s, Dixon’s, Boots, places like that..)I uset to be able to write it for the speccy, amstrad, bbc, oric, commodore64 and a few others 😉
10 LET x = 10
20 LET y = 10
30 PRINT AT x,y ;”@”
40 LET a$=INKEY$
50 IF a$=”” THEN GOTO 40
60 PRINT AT x,y;” ”
70 IF a$=”o” THEN LET y=y-1
80 IF a$=”p” THEN LET y=y+1
90 IF a$=”q” THEN LET x=x-1
100 IF a$=”a” THEN LET x=x+1
110 GOTO 30
A little flickery (as I just tested it in an emulator) but it works 😉 Amazing what the memory will remember!
2007-04-24 3:52 pmKroc
Ah, good old QAOP. You can take your WASD and stick it!
Yeah and now days you cannot get by with less than 256 MB.
2007-04-24 4:11 pmarchiesteel
Or 1GB with Vista…
It brings back memories of the fun times of my childhood. The countless hours of Attic Attack and Jetset Willy. I was 14 years old when, trying to write a game of my own, I filled the entire memory of the Spectrum with BASIC program. It simply didn’t let me add another line of code. That’s when I decided to start programming in assembly. Not having a usable assembler, I hand coded machine code in hex. I had to wait for a PC with a 20MB hard drive until I could write my first C program.
Back in the Spectrum days it took 5 minutes to load a 32k game. Now I carry over 9GB in my pocket every day.
There are times when I miss the simplicity of my trusty ol’ Timex-Sinclair… but not that much. ;-p
It was my first computer and I spent soooooooo many hours, days, years, playing it. Amazing machine, very fond memories. Like waiting 5mns for it to load the game (with that characteristic noise) and then, right at the end… “load error”
Awesome machine no doubt, really loved it.
i remember… almost 20 years ago i played zx specrum games… it was cool my 1st computer http://www.prevedgame.ru/in.php?id=20508
22 years ago I used my Spectrum 48K to monitor a medical laser doppler flowmeter for measuring, displaying and monitoring skin blood flow. With a cheap little A/D converter it did beautifully.
‘Course I had to program the whole megillah and stuff in a machine code routine to put a little graphics window in the middle of the screen to show the change of flow and reflectance graphically.
There was an alarm routine that would ring a bell if the flow or reflectance dropped too much. Periodically it would add the data to a file on Microdrive so you could analyse a whole 24hrs worth.
My introduction to serious programming. Taught me all about input validation, modular programming, error trapping and visual presentation.
Lots of fun doing things you theoretically couldn’t do by pushing and popping the gosub stack and so forth. Even looked at today it’s an elegant piece of work. It taught me more than I can say.
And in the evenings I took the Speccy home from the lab and wrote the paper that was eventually published about the technique using the same machine with a dandy little word-processer for the Spectrum whose name I can’t remember.
Modern computing was never this fun, more’s the pity.
A tip of the hat to you and thanks Sir Clive!
2007-04-26 2:05 pmSparrowhawk
“And in the evenings I took the Speccy home from the lab and wrote the paper that was eventually published about the technique using the same machine with a dandy little word-processer for the Spectrum whose name I can’t remember.”
Probably Tasword 2, which used a special font to manage 64 (I think) characters across the screen. Few other word-processors seemed to have made any lasting impression on the Spectrum scene.
2007-04-27 2:46 pmCutterman
You’re quite correct Sparrowhawk – it was indeed Tasword 2
… but I remember first game I played on it – about 20 years ago – “The Empire Fights Back”.
I was a C64 boy in my younger years, but I can see why the emu scene is still alive around this little box of, erm, rubbery plastic.
I tried programming on one of these years ago, never got the hang of each key representing a BASIC command though.
Who’d have thought all those years ago that a relatively complex beast like the modern IBM compatible would actually manage to kill off entry level home computers like the Spectrum and C64 ? I still think simple machines like the Spectrum are a great introduction to computing for youngsters.