Monday, March 09, 2009

In memory of the Spectrum!

I'm a big Speccy freak. For those who don't know what that is, and quite possibly disturbed by the possibilities such a term could possess, I can assure you I make no reference to any bizarre spectacle/glasses fetish. Nay, this isn't a plug for (and I pray such a site doesn't exist and that I've not just given them an unwelcome promotion), but the ZX Spectrum - or as it was affectionately know - the Speccy.

It was a simple 8-Bit 48K British computer that I grew up with. It had the memory capacity of a medium size Word document and some fantastic games - it was also responsible for some very dire ones as well. Very dire - but it was the beginning of the gaming age - mistakes would be made. I think you can forgive it for its more than occasional mishaps. And it did only have the memory capacity of a medium sized Word document.

The graphics were all in monochrome - if the game makers were sensible - as there was a tendency for coloured graphics to merge in passing creating what was affectionately known at the time as "colour clash". Some managed to bypass this ugly problem (Brainache on the left as a perfect example), but those that were smart, kept their colours static and distant.. or simply the same colour.

It was an innocent era, where coders fought against the limitations of the machine and players embraced the most simple successes (see successful escapes from the perils of colour clash).

For a comparative, I will point our contrasting Atlantic beach-huggers with the Commodore 64, the Spectrum's arch rival. With it's blighted 64k and smug escape from the colour clash calamity of the Spectrum, there was much spitting and hissing between fan groups. For younger fans, may I point you towards Nintendo/Sony as a comparison. For those of a generation in between, Amiga and Atari St 16 bit computers is another worthy comparison. While the Commodore 64 was technically a superior machine, I personally found its more colourful visuals blotchy and garish - and quite often, never quite as playable as the Spectrum.

I will dare to place one particular game on this aged 8-bit machine above its 16-bit rivals successor, the Amiga. Renegade, in my experience, has never been topped in its coin-op conversion (another term rarely used these days, I assure you it has little to do with any sexual fetish between currency and operations, but arcade machines) than on the Spectrum. The Speccy was an amazing machine.

In its golden era, the coders were managing to cram some amazing amounts of gameplay into this tiny bastard. The Sentinel was a block 3D environment (though admittedly you didn't "roam" in this game, but transferred across the board to different perspectives) with 1,000 levels. Remember: 48k. Incredible. Elite was out on the Spectrum, and we remember how big that was. And roaming block 3D DID manage to get a Spectrum publication with Driller being the ground breaker.

Amazing, amazing machine. I think I'll follow up with another entry on the Spectrum, but for now, may I tell you what prompted this article:

Sunday March 08, 2009
Cutting edge Biohell game for ZX Spectrum

Can you believe it? Read on.. SFX reports:

Author Andy Remic is publishing a computer game based on his latest novel Biohell… for the ZX Spectrum. Surely it's just an amusing promotional ploy, but speaking as Spectrum fans since youth, this thought fills us with a certain anachronistic excitement. We interviewed Remic about the book a few weeks ago, and he didn't mention his 8-bit ambitions, so what's the deal?

"When I finally finished the novel Biohell and it hit the shelves, I thought to myself: what do I do next?" says Remic. "There's of course the follow-up novel, Hardcore, to complete but I was eager to pursue an advanced gaming angle. I’d recently been approached by three large games developers who were interested in the idea of Biohell, but I decided against the glitz and glamour of worldwide gaming domination, and instead set out to develop a 48k Spectrum adventure myself."

He continues: "You always remember your first computing love affair, and mine was a sleek black little Spectrum number. It was October 1984, and I got my Speccy along with Ultimate’s Knight Lore for Christmas. It changed my life!"

We know where he's coming from, there's a lot of love and nostalgia for the Spectrum out there that we share.

The Biohell game will be a graphical text adventure in which you'll play Franco Haggis, utilising guns and bombs to progress across a nano-molecular zombie-infested city. It features "a full range of 8 (yes 8!) colours, advanced textual parser and many advanced Spectrum features".

The Biohell novel is set on a planet entirely covered with a city teeming with corruption, guns, sex, and designer drugs. "Humans are upgraded by the injection of microscopic nanobots, courtesy of a new technology," continues the official summary. "But when this heads onto the black market, millions of people inject themselves with pirated biomods - and transform into zombies. The Combat K squad are dropped into this warzone to uncover what's turned the planet into a wasteland of murder and mutations."

Incredible if true (and I'm sure it is).

May I finally point you towards the best Spectrum resources in the world.

The website contains a whole host of Spectrum emulators and ROMs (legal and endorsed) for you to try. May I recommend Renegade, Sentinel, Nether Earth, Batman: The Movie, Chaos, Mercenary, The Wild Bunch and The Hobbit as great wide-ranging examples of the wonderful Spectrum era!