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Grand old days of the ZX Spectrum February 24, 2009

Posted by baldricman in General, Tech.
Tags: , , , , , ,

I was bumming around on the interwebs a little last night and this morning, and stumbled across yet another site selling old-school computer game-inspired t-shirts… one of which alluded to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. (I forget the site now, apologies)



Anyway, I started following the thread, as it were, and came across a few great sites that really got the memories flowing. I think I was about 6 or 7 (my brother can probably confirm) when my Dad brought home the amazing gift from his parents (the Spectrum had been released in ’82). Some of you may remember the beast: a small black keyboard with rubber buttons (which was actually the computer), a natty, totally non-gay rainbow over the corner, it plugged in to a portable TV set for its display and made use of a standard tape-recorder for storage (plain old RCA 3.5mm audio jacks nogal). The ZX Spectrum was the first in its range to boast colour-capable display (7 colours, x2 levels of brightness each, plus black, made it a “15-shade” machine!) Later on, the ZX had a contender in the Commodore 64.

(For some of the details on the Spectrum, check out this wikipedia page on it)

The ZX was where I first started playing with ‘puters, making use of it’s BASIC language (built into the 16K ROM) to write those silly adventure games (“You are in a room…etc…. Type ‘N’ to go North, ‘E’ to go East…….”) But of course the best were the truly inspiring games that we used to get on tape, such as 3d Tanks, Formula 1, and the memorable Jet Set Willy. 

Jet Set Willy - casette cover

Jet Set Willy - casette cover

So anyway, after not much effort at all, I came across THIS, which has got to be the coolest site on the nets today. Its basically an online emulator for pretty much every ZX Spectrum game ever! So cool. I found actually using the old key setups to be quite tiring – remembering that most old games, pre-mouse era, were designed to use both hands on the keyboard. Therefore you didn’t always get the old “AWSD” setup for your 4 directions (partly because there usually weren’t that many directions) but instead you would have had something like “A”and “Z” for up/down and “O” and “P” for left/right.


Anyway, check it out, and let me know if you remember this fine old relic!


1. Allen - February 24, 2009

I think our spectrum arrived in 1984. Our grandparents had just finished their overseas holiday and brought it home as a gift for our Dad.

A few pedantic corrections, though: The tape player was connected with mono 3.5mm jacks (standard small headphone connector), not RCA connectors, and the two finest games we had for it were 3D Tank Duel (battlezone clone), and Chequered Flag (Formula One themed driving game – it would need other cars to race against to qualify as a racer ;). And as for JetSet Willy: to this day, I still find myself humming along to the little speakers endless loop of If I Was A Rich Man in glorious warbling 1-bit beeps. BEEEEEEEP, BEEP BEEP BEBEBEBEBEEP BEEP, BEBEBEBEBEEP BEEP, BEEEEEEEP etc

Best of all, we had the top of the line, totally awesome high-spec model which had a stunning 48KB of RAM (which, together with the 16KB ROM, used up the entire 64KB address space.

The poor thing finally died when I bought a slightly used ZX Printer (little electro-thermal printer, sort of like a fax machine except the paper was foil coated), and hooked it up. One screen full of random flashing colourful characters later (those old computers had FAR more interesting XXXX screen’s of death), and it was permanently broken. From that day forth, while it would still power up, and sometimes even succesfully load programs, the display would gradually corrupt, and it would crash randomly. RIP, brave little speccie!

baldricman - February 24, 2009

Oops, thanks for the corrections Allen, much appreciated (especially the RCA one, that was a brainfart on my side on confusing 3.5mm and RCA, for some reason). I’m quite sure though that it could have only arrived post ’85 or ’86, but thats not important I guess. At the very least, I only remember starting to use it around ’86 or so!
I also remember that damn printer. It seemed so cool when it first arrived, but quickly turned into what was probably my first piece of hated hardware! (The first in a long, illustrious list that still grows rapidly today)
RIP indeed.

Allen - February 24, 2009

I’m pretty sure it was before 1985, because it arrived while we still lived in Newcastle…

2. Jon Calder - February 24, 2009

I think this was before my time. Actaully, it’s obvious it was before my time – I was only born in 1986. I was probably still in nappies when you were “gaming” on your ZX Spectrum.

3. baldricman - February 24, 2009

@Allen: ah, ok, in that case I clearly wasn’t allowed to touch it when I was 3…. go figure?

4. Deems - February 24, 2009

@baldricman – our first was the C64 – also did my first BASIC programming on it. We got ours in 1985, second hand from a friend of the family. *Massive* floppy drive and a tape drive, with a colour CRT.

Games I remember are NASA Space Simulator, Ghostbusters, Trolly Wally, Trashcan Man, and some others that slip my mind now. The nice thing about the tape-drives was the easy with which you could, “borrow” games from friends, you know, to “try before you buy” 🙂

Our C64 also died a slow and painful death. ROM started getting corrupted, no one had spare parts to replace it. Yeah back in the day it was the original blue screen of death, since the OS screen on the C64 was blue and when the memory went it would show garbled characters on screen, and sometimes it would boot with less than the 32K of RAM (a sure sign it was on it’s way out).

C64 then gathered dust and I converted the CRT, since it had RCA (yes Kev, RCA not 3.5mm) jacks which I plugged in to an old Betamax VCR which I used as a tuner, et voila, TV in my room 🙂

Deems - February 24, 2009

Oh, and Spy vs Spy (all time favourite), how could I forget (hangs head in shame).

baldricman - February 25, 2009

Ok ok guys, its not my fault ‘they’ didn’t come up with a niftier name for the 3.5mm jack, ok?
(And if you post a name for it, I’ll probably delete your comment, just so we’re clear.)
*mumble mumble*

5. Allen - February 25, 2009

I called my 3.5mm jack “Steve”…

baldricman - March 2, 2009

erm, thanks for commenting…. *sigh*

6. Retro Brothers - June 3, 2009

The Speccy had some truly great games (and some truly awful ones!) Who can remember Way of the Exploding Fist, 3D Starstrike, Green Beret, Scuba Dive, Harrier Attack, Chequered Flag, Starion, Elite, Manic Miner, Technician Ted….

baldricman - June 3, 2009

hey Retro, thanks for those, I definitely remember Chequered Flag and Manic Miner.
Well, they don’t make ’em like they used to, eh? 🙂

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