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Embrace the colour clash!
April 23, 2012 9:39 AM   Subscribe

The ZX Spectrum's chief designers reunited 30 years on, discussing what became 80s Britain's most popular home computer and gaming platform, despite stiff competition from the technically superior Commodore 64.
posted by Artw (59 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Happy St. Spectrum’s Day!
posted by Artw at 9:40 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Emulator Java applet. Horace Goes Skiing y'all
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:46 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Eight cheers for the Speccy, one for each bit!

Obligatory link to my favourite ZX Spectrum game (well, two links; second link goes to a modern remake).
posted by daniel_charms at 9:48 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


C64 > Speccy, in every way possible.

That is all.

I am now going to read a bunch of Zzap!64 back issues.
posted by metaxa at 10:09 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


C64 > Speccy, in every way possible.

Except for it's huge price;slower processer; bulkier, uglier form factor and smaller software library.

Oh god, I haven't had this argument since 1985, there's a chance I may break out in zits and get awkward around any nearby girls.
posted by IanMorr at 10:15 AM on April 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't think "technical superiority" has any meaning for computers of this low spec.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:15 AM on April 23, 2012


Oh, folks will argue anything...
posted by Artw at 10:16 AM on April 23, 2012


"Technically superior Commodore 64"?

"C64 > Speccy, in every way possible."?

Those are fighting words, especially in defence of an overrated beige brick.
posted by Skeptic at 10:22 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


C'mon, take it outside, guys.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2012


Ah, that was the final link in the OP. Bah :P
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:27 AM on April 23, 2012


The article does give the Speccy the edge in terms of graphics due to a marginally faster processing speed, particularly in the area opf 3D games. Hmm. Having sat in front of both of the things for a huge percerntage of my adolescant life I have to say i never really saw this manifest. What I did see what the massive edge hardware sprites gave the C64 - even without using the blockier 3 colour mode they avoided the color clash the spectrum suffered from.
posted by Artw at 10:31 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


And bothwere better than the Beeb, which was for posh kids.
posted by Artw at 10:34 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Spectrum was neat, but I'm honestly amazed it was considered a competitor. Did it even have a disk drive?
posted by GuyZero at 10:36 AM on April 23, 2012


Disk drives, again, were for posh kids.
posted by Artw at 10:39 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Speccy > C64 because its simple architecture made it easy to clone.
posted by daniel_charms at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2012


Did it even have a disk drive?

No, most programs were loaded from cassette tape. There was an interface that took ROM cartridges, but hardly anyone bothered with that.
posted by IanMorr at 10:45 AM on April 23, 2012


In the UK if your were loading data into a Commodore 64 you were most likely using this thing. The Spectrum, in keeping with it's more rough and ready aspect, would just connect to any old cassete player.
posted by Artw at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2012


God this is like watching the origins of the fanboy. I remember debating the merits of the Altair vs. the SWTPC back in the day, but not like this.

From TFA:

a product lifetime of nearly 10 years and selling 5 million units

This should be placed in context: the new iPad sold 3 million units in its first two days, with 55 million total iPads and 315 million iOS devices total as of the end of Q1 2012.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2012


Speccy > C64 because its simple architecture made it easy to clone.

It's fun to see the various precursors to that generation of computers there, like the ZX80 and the ZX81 (which my uncle had, never laid eyes on a ZX80) - as well as thinks like the QL and the Spectrum 128k which inhabited the weird gap between the Speccy and C64 dominating the hardware scene and the Amiga ST and Amiga 500 dominating it. Like the Commodore 128 they were of interesting, but a bit uncommon and weird.
posted by Artw at 11:02 AM on April 23, 2012


Did it even have a disk drive?

According to Wikipedia, there were 'numerous' different floppy interfaces on the Western European market. These were pretty rare in the East, though, so our ZX 48 clone was modded with an external floppy drive by a crafty friend of my father's.
posted by daniel_charms at 11:02 AM on April 23, 2012


I think at some point they may have adopted the 3" disk drive favoured by Amstrad, which was a bit of an oddity.
posted by Artw at 11:04 AM on April 23, 2012


The Spectrum was just insanely easy to understand. A copy of HiSoft DevPac taped from your swotty mate, the Spectrum ROM Disassembly borrowed from the local library, a few evenings and a pad of graph paper, and you could make stuff with this machine. It might not have been very good stuff, but it was your start. All the other machines made it more expensive and more difficult.

Even as an Amstrad CPC diehard (and latterly, game reviewer for several magazines) I still think that the Speccy had just enough for just the right price to have fun. There will never be games like Deathchase or the tweely macabre Apple Jam again. I mourn.

Yeah, and discs never really happened in the UK until the 16-bit machines. There was something to do with high import duties early on in the industry that killed them off for the UK home market. Still, a speedloader on a Spectrum was still faster than the C64's Fifteen-farty-one, heh heh.
posted by scruss at 11:05 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Spectrum +3 had a disk drive from 1987 onwards. It was one of the Amstrad machines - Alan Sugar, who does the THE APPRENTICE TV show in the UK, was the man behind Amstrad, and purchased Sinclair from Clive Sinclair. Hence the Amstrad disk format.

I learned to program (badly, but enough) on the Spectrum, which has given me my career and lots of pleasure. Thanks, Spectrum!

Boooooo-wit! Booo-wzwzwz!

Booooo-wit! Booo-wzwzwzwzwzwzwzwzwzwzwzwz....
posted by alasdair at 11:10 AM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Biggest downside to disks not taking off were that we really didn't get Infocom games - we did have the awesome Level 9 though.

Oh, and we had this.
posted by Artw at 11:21 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think "technical superiority" has any meaning for computers of this low spec.

Sure it does! Maybe in raw number crunching power they were roughly equivalent, but for graphics/sound the C64 stood out. It had the SID chip, which was basically a full synthesizer.

Still, a speedloader on a Spectrum was still faster than the C64's Fifteen-farty-one, heh heh.

The disk speed on the C64 was indeed terrible. I think it was comparable to a 1200 baud modem.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:27 AM on April 23, 2012


Acorn Electron ftw! Also great for the making stuff, it had an assembler built in and everything. I always found it cleaner and better designed than the Spectrum, too.

I might just go now buy a BBC B on ebay to finally get the Mode 7 I deserved. I can finally afford it.
posted by fightorflight at 11:29 AM on April 23, 2012


This should be placed in context: the new iPad sold 3 million units in its first two days

The iPad is the loveliest piece of technology I currently own. I'm astonished by how much I use it and for what, but it's not even the first tablet I've owned. It's just another iteration of some kind of computing device for me and I guess the same applies to almost everyone else who bought it. The 5 million Spectrum units sold were, for the most part, the first computer in those people's homes. If my experience is anything to go by, it was then mostly ignored by the adults, so we suddenly had unlimited access to this thing that was easy to write code for - all the commands were right there on the keyboard. Natural curiosity led kids to figuring out what they did. I don't know if anyone has ever done a study of the legacy of the Spectrum, but there must be millions of people in their mid 30's to mid 40's who are in an IT related job today because the cut their teeth on a Spectrum.

I can't have been much older than 10 the day I broke into the Football Manager code and gave myself more money to buy players. Looking back it's one of the defining moments in my life. It must have been the first piece of proper code I ever really looked at and, while I didn't even know what a variable was at the time and was probably following instructions from somewhere, I had to figure out a bunch of programming stuff just to get to the point where my 4th division team could buy all the top players.

Thanks for the FPP Artw. I'll be wallowing in nostalgia the rest of the day.
posted by IanMorr at 11:30 AM on April 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't know if anyone has ever done a study of the legacy of the Spectrum
Britain has long punched above its weight in the modern games industry, and pretty much everyone puts that down to Spectrums in homes and BBCs in schools.
posted by fightorflight at 11:33 AM on April 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


ZX-81 REPRESENT YO
posted by Tom-B at 11:55 AM on April 23, 2012


Obligatory Hey Hey 16K
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:58 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


That the games you get today, may be very flash But there'll never beat the thrill Of getting through Jetpac

Preach it brother.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:00 PM on April 23, 2012


This should be placed in context: the new iPad sold 3 million units in its first two days

Funny that you should mention the iPad, considering that it has such a similar shape, size and weight as the ZX Spectrum (and yes, neither one has a decent keyboard).
posted by Skeptic at 12:14 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I still feel chuffed that the ZX Spectrum port of Chase HQ was the best of any platform (yes on the 48K rubber keyed Speccy too...)
posted by Bwithh at 12:47 PM on April 23, 2012


That the games you get today, may be very flash But there'll never beat the thrill Of getting through Jetpac

Oh you poor noobs. I think TARG was the first computer game I owned, back in 1976.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:48 PM on April 23, 2012


The Spectrum was neat, but I'm honestly amazed it was considered a competitor. Did it even have a disk drive?

You could store and load programs by way of cassette tape. The Sanyo cassette player that was bought for our ZX81 ended up doubling as a way to record songs off the radio. We were poor, but we were happy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:55 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I think at some point they may have adopted the 3" disk drive favoured by Amstrad, which was a bit of an oddity."

I have the Spectrum +3 with such a drive in the other room, though the power supply disappeared somewhere during various house moves. I also have our original "dead flesh" Speccy in it's Spectrum+ skin as well.

I wonder though, how long before I won't have a TV I could plug either of them into... the TV still has a co-ax connector, but surely they aren't long for this world.
posted by Auz at 1:32 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


This made me smile on Google UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/23/zx-spectrum-st-georges-day?newsfeed=true
posted by Bwithh at 1:49 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Google Doodle doesn't have enough color clash to be realistic.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 1:58 PM on April 23, 2012


I can't remember why now, but I originally wanted a Dragon 32 and even got as far as takin my parents int Boots in Yeovil to buy one. Thankfully however they were out of stock and we ordered a ZX Spectrum 48K instead. Never looked back.
posted by jontyjago at 2:07 PM on April 23, 2012


Oh, and on the subject of C64 v Speccy: Ultimate Play the Game.
posted by Auz at 2:11 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


You could store and load programs by way of cassette tape.

In the case of our ZX81: you could save programs on cassette tape. Loading them again was an altogether dicier proposition.

The Commodore datasette was considerably more reliable, although that was offset by being (a) useless for anything else, (b) slow as a sloth.

As Artw said, disk drives were for rich kids.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:13 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


on the subject of C64 v Speccy: Ultimate Play the Game.

Llamasoft.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:15 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hate the Spectrum for existing first and resulting in the production of shitty ports for my Amstrad.
posted by Jimbob at 2:28 PM on April 23, 2012


As an MSX owner it's appropriate that I join the discussion late, remain aloof from the C64 vs Spectrum debate as the MSX machines were so clearly superior, and secretly feel a little jealous.
posted by BinaryApe at 2:35 PM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Llamasoft."

Not exactly unique to the C64... "In 1981 Minter started independently writing and selling video games for the Sinclair ZX80. He formed a partnership with his mother, Hazel Minter. Together they developed and commercially produced 20 games for the Sinclair ZX81, Commodore VIC-20, Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64."
posted by Auz at 2:48 PM on April 23, 2012


Llamasoft history

I obtained a Sinclair Spectrum to go alongside my Vic-20, and although the Speccy was never really to become the platform of choice for Llamasoft, I set about producing a few simple games for it just to allow us to dip a toe in that market. I did a port of that silly City Bomber game (no question of any Argentinian flags in the Speccy version, I wasn't going near that particular stuff again) and implemented Headbanger's Heaven on there too (curiously enough these days Headbanger's Heaven is easily found for Spectrum emulators but the superior Vic version is nowhere to be found). I also did an updated version of my old PET favourite Deflex, which in the intervening years I'd also programmed versions of for the ZX81 and Vic. The Speccy version was probably the nicest of all of them, with more complex layouts for the various levels, and a large animated llama that would walk across the screen to clear a level if the player took too long to finish it himself.

Dude was on a lot of platforms.

C64 seems to be where he did his craziest metal bashing stuff though.
posted by Artw at 2:53 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jeff Minter has released a ton of iOS games recently. I was playing GoatUp only this morning.
posted by w0mbat at 3:16 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Hate the Spectrum for existing first and resulting in the production of shitty ports for my Amstrad.

Ah, but the one instance of sweet, sweet turnabout made it all worthwhile; I give you Harvey Headbanger (playthrough). Yep, a simple painter game, but with a deliciously silly premise, exquisite gameplay and clever use of the Amstrad's 320x200 mode. Me and my mate Euan used to play it endlessly on the CPC, and he rushed out to buy the Spectrum version. Oh dear ...: crap graphics, no gameplay, rubbish sound. Outwardly I was commiserating, but inside I was like "YESS! MY COMPUTER"S BETTER THAN YOUR COMPUTER!!"
posted by scruss at 3:46 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you this dazzling hoard of ZX Speccy type-in treasures

Hall of Fame here

(I wish they had some of the original magazine illustrations that went along with the program listings... those illustrations were often impressively entertaining and detailed even in hindsight, and were often better works of art than the programs themselves...)
posted by Bwithh at 4:04 PM on April 23, 2012


and here is a nicely curated list of immortal ZX Spectrum classic games
posted by Bwithh at 4:16 PM on April 23, 2012


smaller software library

on the COMMDORE 64?! i'm getting the vapors over here.
posted by radiosilents at 4:42 PM on April 23, 2012


"the Spectrum's vast library, which now exceeds 23,000 titles thanks to the continuous efforts of its cult followers, makes it a clear winner in this category"
posted by Bwithh at 4:50 PM on April 23, 2012


2009 BBC drama about the rise of the ZX Spectrum:

Micro Men trailer
full program on YT

BBC program description:
"Legendary inventor Clive Sinclair battles it out with ex-employee Chris Curry, founder of Acorn Computers, for dominance in the fledgling market.

The rivalry comes to a head when the BBC announce their Computer Literacy Project, with the stated aim of putting a micro in every school in Britain. When Acorn wins the contract, Sinclair is furious, and determines to outsell the BBC Micro with his ZX Spectrum computer.

Home computing arrives in Britain in a big way, but is the country big enough for both men?"

posted by Bwithh at 5:01 PM on April 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


The z80 CPU is still manufactured. A friend of mine in college made a z80 based computer and wrote Pong for it. You could turn off the system clock and single-step through individual instructions, which showed up on a 7-segment display. So nerdy!
posted by miyabo at 7:26 PM on April 23, 2012


Oh God nostalgia flashback!

Deathchase was a game I was weirdly good at. I've no reflexes to speak of, but I managed to level clock it just that once. I still consider this to be the GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT OF MY LIFE.

I actually got a ZX Spectrum for my birthday last year. I've been meaning to buy a big old perspex case for it. Maybe this post will be the kick I need to actually do this.
posted by zoo at 2:16 AM on April 24, 2012


Seconding the wonderful Micro Men and would also recommend this as an interesting counterpart.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 2:28 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Losers.

True geeks learned reverse polish notation and Forth on the Jupiter Ace .
posted by Pericles at 6:22 AM on April 24, 2012


True about the Jupiter Ace. Since the true geeks had no friends to copy games from and play them with, that explains the Ace's stellar success ...
posted by scruss at 11:40 AM on April 24, 2012


Or you could just buy Forth for your ZX Spectrum.

I really wanted a Jupiter Ace. Unfortunately, they weren't giving Aces out as prizes at the Farming Show raffle.
posted by zoo at 1:09 PM on April 24, 2012


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