Friday, 10 June 2011

Retro Tech: the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k.

When the world was only in 48k

Rubber keys, 5 minute loads, cassettes, pokes and Elite.

I should start this post along the lines of "Sir Clive ruined my life!!" because his addictive little invention cost me a bloody fortune back in the early 1980's. But I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to say it was the beginning of something wonderful. For many of my ilk, it was the dawn of videogaming.

A couple of years earlier, I had been bought a Grandstand Ping Pong console which came with a basic light gun and this had kindled my new found interest in anything to do with videogaming. This was the next step. The Spectrum was at the cutting edge. I was 19. It was 1982. Late November. I had just been bought a ZX Spectrum computer as an early Christmas present. It was THE must have gizmo back then. Not that there was much competition for Sir Clive's new baby; I recall there only being a BBC B computer in WH Smiths computer case. But I didn't want a computer to learn how to "compute" No, I wanted it to play the new vice, games!! Real games that you could play on your colour telly. Games that came on tape. Right at the forefront of this new entertainment was the ZX Spectrum.

I bought my first two games in a small back street game shop. There were no posters in the window or in store and the games were on tape with the cassettes packed in what looked like old crisp boxes. At that time, only a handful of games had been released but one was to become an instant classic.

It was called Manic Miner. At heart, it was a simple platform game done with verve, outlandish and cunning design, and absolute replayability. There were only 20 screens. Twenty screens of torment. I never did get past "the Vat" The game was written in his bedroom by a sadist called Matthew Smith who went on to write a more devious and larger sequel called Jet Set Willy. Being colour blind, getting that game to work was a right laugh I can tell you. The other game I bought was called "3d Sedab Attack." by Hewson, a meat and potatoes pov shoot the baddies space ships or else game. Basic, but wonderful back then when both games had only 48k to play with.

The thing I recall the most is the shop being packed with kids and teenagers. Against the far wall the owner had set up a couple of tables with a Spectrum, BBC B and a Dragon each connected to a portable television. People crowded around about 5 deep to see the games being played. It was fantastic. I still remember that day with a smile. I was there. At the start...


As Electric Pix grows, I want to talk about some of the great retro computers and games I bought and loved all those years ago. Machines like the Commodore 64, the Atari St and games like Atic Atac, Dungeon Master and the brilliant - and never bettered - space trading sim, Elite.

End Transmission.

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