Happy 25th Birthday ZX Spectrum

That was my first machine. Awesome hardware, and great to hack around in.

Also: Star Raiders on cartridge!

A number of the folks who put that machine together went onto the Amiga.

Well I’m 26 and I remember gaming on an Atari 2600, so I don’t think remembering the Spectrum is going to make you old.

And the Commodore was just a plain better machine than the Spectrum and the Amiga better than both. Can’t speak for the games though, I had an Amstrad. Poor machine, never stood a chance.

My very first personal computer was the Dragon 32. It wasn’t particularly successful and I eventually moved on to the ZX-81 (briefly) and then to the ZX Spectrum 48K. Good times.

Yeah sure the C64 may have been a better machine technically, but, as we all know, the games maketh the machine and I reckon the Spectrum trounced the C64 in this area - so many classics (loads of shite too, but hey - it was cheap and easy to program!). Of course the Amiga was superior technically, although I remember Crash! magazine holding out for years arguing that we didn’t need no steenkin’ 16 bit computer for great games. In its later years developers were able to wring some incredible feats out of the humble Speccy.

Before I became a zoologist, I seriously considered getting into computer games programming. I wrote a bunch of exceedingly wretched BASIC games on the ZX81 and Spectrum, eventually started to learn Z80 assembler, and finally produced a few half-decent games (BASIC with Z80 routines to speed some things up) that I nearly got published. Ah, to reflect on a life that could have been! Little did I realise many years later someone would resurrect some modded versions of Jet Set Willy on the intarnet that I thought were lost to my gran’s infamous computer game clearout of '88 (“Oh those old things? I didn’t think you needed all that stuff so I threw it out!”).

Let’s not forget Sir Clive’s other great contribution to humanity, the Sinclair C5:

It may be over two decades old, but it will outrun a pack of Segways. (What a chase scene that would make.)

You’re clearly lying - it was impossible to make the ZX81 go taptaptap… it was more like a soft sploinky sound, when you depressed the weird keylike indentations in the rubbery surface.
I’ve told the story before, but my first ZX81 almost melted because I, just like you described, spent hours typing a game and had no medium to save it on. Left the computer running over night, and the next morning it had melted through the top plastic.

I also remember the 16K ram pack costing almost as much as my very first harddrive (52 MB for my Amiga in '89).

The Spectrum was pants and only nationalistic pride and the fact that is was cheap made people pick it over the C64, which had more and better games. Only a few quirky titles from the UK didn’t make it to the C64. Some greats, but most was best half forgotten in their headache inducing garish 16 colours.

If you want to sing the praise of UK computing, then don’t forget the BBC Micro - if Elite hadn’t been ported to the C64, I would have had to buy a BBC.


(And it’s only 15 colours. Black and Black Bright only counts as one, unless we’re getting philosophical. It’s even worse than you paint it. And colour clash! And rubber keys! Man, it was crap, in a skillo-funky kind of way.)

You’re right about one thing which makes people love it. It WAS dirt cheap. People who weren’t rich could buy it. This is actually centrally important. This lead to less middle-class people making games in the UK than in the US, and the games which were spectrum-classics specifically came from that mindset.

This cultural basis lead to British games culture being significantly different to the US and Japan.

(And everywhere else, for that matter. So you’re right - it is a degree of national pride here, but it’s more mild annoyance that part of culture is being rewritten. The Spectrum was important in shaping all that. A huge chunk of what’s unique about the climate is rooted there - the BBC probably takes responsibility for the other section. There’s a straight line from Skooldaze to - say - GTA, philosophically speaking These sort of ideas are deeply British. That is, Spectrum-derived.)

Best computer ever!


Little Big Planet is being made by a small British studio - did they start on the Spectrum as well?

Maybe if you chewed your fingernails down to pink, fleshy nubs or something, then hell yeah! But I always manicured my nails properly, I thank you, and they always made a clicking / tapping noise on the keyboard membrane.

A standing ovation to you sir. I’m fully behind letting people know just how fucking important the ZX Spectrum was to gaming, despite its UK-centric appeal. It had repercussions, dammit, and it deserves to be remembered. Hey, it’s the Speccy’s birthday and all you other computers can go to hell!

Holy shit! Quick, insert winking smiley here RIGHT NOW!

Honestly dunno. Mark Healey was at Lionhead in the lead up to Rag Doll Kung-fu. Earliest credit on Mobygames is circa the Amiga.

Actually, no, he taught himself on the C64 it seems, as noted in a Gamasutra interview*. Got his first job at codies when he was 19.



Thanks for everything Sir Clive.

I’d known he’d been ill for some time, but sad to hear the news. I really owe a large part of my childhood to this man’s personal computers. I’m getting my hands on a Spectrum Next at some point, the legacy lives on!

My first gaming addiction, 3D Monster Maze, in 1981 on Sinclair’s ZX81 (the precursor to the ZX Spectrum). Normally equipped with a massive 1 kb of RAM, you had to install a gigantic 16 kb RAM pack onto the motherboard’s edge connector** to play this titan of gaming. Still scarier than Dead Space.

(this is an emulator, the original ran at about 3 fps [no I’m not exaggerating] but also didn’t have that graphical corruption)

** resulting in the infamous “RAM pack wobble” where if you pressed on the keyboard too hard (very easy, as it was a flat membrane) the entire computer crashed. Happy memories.

Sir Clive infamously disliked that his computers were being mainly used for games. He saw them as tools, useful for home banking, education, creativity etc. But I doubt he can begrudge their success as a result. And besides, we ended up doing all that stuff as well. I’m sure I remember someone at school handing in an essay they’d printed out with a ZX Printer, which was… well, it was a thermal printer about as wide as your standard store receipt. If you left your print-out too near the window, it would turn black.

I LOVED 3D Monster maze, and like you remember the dreaded RAM pack wobble. Press a teensy bit too hard on the keyboard and there was this split second “uh-oh” detectable change on the screen overscan area before “crash!”

Those were the days.

The Next is amazing. I have one and have had a programming renaissance. You are in for a treat! You can have the old 48k machine, or flip a switch and have a next gen spectrum with hardware sprites and scrolling and 256 colours per pixel. It is tons of fun to program on - yes, even in BASIC!

Looking forward to getting it. I backed the second KS revision, the main issue at the moment is supply delays of certain parts due to COVID. It’s probably going to be 2022 before I get it. But I’ve waited this long, another half year or so is fine.

I made several games in BASIC back then, even started to learn z80 assembler - nothing flash, just display routines that were much faster than BASIC at the time. Would be fun to get back into it.

I discovered the existence of something called the ZX Evo thanks to FPGA mixing.

It’s pretty interesting, although I don’t think it features the extra advancements of the Next (though I may be wrong).

Too many modern Speccies to keep up :0

Today I learned there are Spectrum games on Steam.

Indeed. I remember loving this one back in the day! Forgot all about it until now. I might just get the original file and load it on my ZX Spectrum Next.

I remember Penetrator had fire and thrust on the same key. Pretty awkward! Funny the things you remember :)