Happy 25th Birthday ZX Spectrum

Acorn Atom was mine. Oh yes the power the power.

Long live the speccy though, what a great great machine.

I have several painful memories of typing in hex code on my ZX81, usually with the same outcome. Taptaptap for about two hours with my mum dictating the codes, until somewhere near the end I’d press a key just a leeetle bit too hard, the 16k RAM pack would wobble, the computer would crash, and my mum realised that I really did know how to use expletives. Even when it worked, the end result was usually so underwhelming that it hardly seemed worth the effort, but somehow it was the anticipation of it all (like Christmas) that made it all worthwhile!

My favourite ZX81 games were 3D Monster Maze and Mazogs. Then one day I visited a friend who had his new ZX Spectrum. Not only was he playing Maziacs (the Spectrum update of Mazogs with incredible high resolution graphics!) but he had the latest Malcolm Evans game 3D Escape with high-res dinosaurs chasing you around a maze of hedges.

A week later, my ZX81 was consigned to the cupboard and we had our first Spectrum with Manic Miner and Halls of the Things! If I ever got to use a time machine, this is the period I would transport myself back to in an instant.

Saboteur, Bruce Lee, Jetpac (thanks XBLA!), Karateka … good old days.

/salute LOAD “” (which was 3 button presses on the rubber keyboarded one)

All the smart kids had Memotech RAM packs, which were form fitting and didn’t wobble, and were built like tanks, like all Memotech’s stuff.

The 8-bit machine Memotech did back in the day (the MTX) was my first bad case of computer lust, alas unrequited.

My current great joy is somehow convincing the Escapist into letting me write a load of Spectrum-game name-checking articles which I’m SURE must be lost on the US audience.

Best computer ever!


THE best 8-bit home computer, you limey bastards. Built like a tank, full-stroke keyboard, 48K RAM, 256 colors, 4-channel sound, 4 joystick ports, sprites, hardware scrolling, modular OS, universal serial I/O bus, yadda yadda etc.

[sticker of Calvin wearing a Chickenhead T-Shirt pissing on an Atari symbol]

Oh yes… happened to me many a time. What was worse was that juuust before it happened there was a slight change on the screen surround (overscan area) and you’d get that sinking feeling and then pop, all gone!

My favourite ZX81 games were 3D Monster Maze and Mazogs.

3D Monster Maze… yup a real classic. The scare factor from that crude ASCII/ASCII-graphic dinosaur was great - even if kids these days would look at it and laugh hysterically.

After the ZX81 I went to the 800XL… great great machine.

Well apart from the games that would take 45 minutes to load and then, only then, right at the end of the load sequence, decide they’d had a read error and spit the dummy. A hacked and ‘sped up’ floppy disk drive (single sided) sorted that problem out. LOL

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.