Posts Tagged ‘zx spectrum’

Making Willy Harder

27 January, 2016

Fuck your “walk through both kitchen rooms without any of the monsters hitting you”

Everyone who has ever played Matthew Smith’s classic 1984 platform game Jet Set Willy has surely had the same thought –

“What this game really needs is to be less easy. In fact it could really do with being much, much more difficult.”

Well, 32 years after the game was originally published it looks like someone has taken heed because a new ZX Spectrum remix of the original game has been released called Jet Set Willy: The Nightmare Edition.

The goal and map is much the same as the original game but pretty-much every room has been subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, altered to make an already challenging game carpet-chewingly frustrating. In addition to this, there are some other tweaks such as a new “nightmarish” in-game font, extra tunes and a few wee new touches here and there.

Hopefully, these will make up for your pulling all your fucking hair out.

More details and download links at this page here.


2 December, 2015

There’s been a bit of a buzz around the fact that Clive Townsend is


Ninja kicks the shit out of, erm, some kind of troll thing (it’s the ’90s!)

working on an update to his classic 1980s platform-and-stealth ninja games Saboteur and Saboteur 2 (the latter featuring a female protagonist long before it made neckbeards and that Tory blogger with ice-cream coloured hair all angry on Twitter). Doing a spot of online googling about this lead to me discover that there was an unofficial Saboteur game released for DOS-based PCs in the 1990s. No really, it has a site and everything.

I’m intrigued, I’m going to play it and then, in a few days, I’m going to report back. It’ll probably be shite. The knocked-off Mortal Kombat stuff is already making me roll my eyes. But it also might be brilliant because, hey, you never know.

Meanwhile, information on Townsend’s official update can be found a his website here.


“I will not play this game as the image only changes 30 times a second”

25 October, 2015
Let's not mention that kickstarter, tho'

Let’s not mention that kickstarter, tho’

I’m as happy as anyone else (that’s happy, you cynics!) to hear news of a new version of Crystal Kingdom Dizzy for the ZX Spectrum but I can’t help but worry a bit about this…

“will feature a 50fps engine, renewed graphics, more animated sprites”

Oh man, have the Framerate Police got to the ZX Spectrum community as well now?! How will they feel knowing it can never be in HD (“Bro”)?

“Yer PAW!”

4 August, 2015
One of many instances where Rigel's Revenge uses graphics instead of text to

One of many instances where Rigel’s Revenge uses graphics instead of text to “describe” something to the player

I’ve recently been working on a whole load of writing which has just about come to fruition so it’s got me thinkin about another creative project to get my “teeth” “into”. And I’ve decided it’s going to be an IF (Interactive Fiction, a wanky new name for what we used to call “text adventures”) game, one for the Spectrum to be specific, one written with PAW  to be even more specific.

The route that took me here basically started with me sitting on a train from England playing with Spectaculator on my tablet. One of the games that comes with the full version is Zenobi’s Jekyll and Hyde game. Playing it again (IF games work brilliantly on tablets, btw) reminded me not just that I like IF, but that I like ZX Spectrum IF in particular. There’s something about the chunky display, the likeable “click” noises so many Spectrum IF games have when you type and the weirdly attractive pixel art that appeals to me. The 8-bit era has an interesting history of IF, including the first game I can recall having been given a certificate by the BBFC (CRL’s Dracula, in what felt more like a publicity stunt than anything else, was given a 15 certificate; they later released Jack The Ripper, a game which was given an 18 certificate) and a huge and very active homebrew scene, much of it focused around the aforementioned Zenobi software.

I think my affection for ZX Spectrum IF goes beyond nostalgia, though: one of the main reasons I love Spectrum IF is a game that I got round to playing years after I sold my Spectrum – Rigel’s Revenge.

I’m not sure what it was about this game that grabbed me back when I played it via emulation (on an Amiga 1200!) back in 1996. It might have been the atmospheric setting, might have been the likeably pulpy sci-fi storyline, might have been the excellent use of graphics as description as well as illustration. Whatever it was, I played it for absolutely ages, got past lots of puzzles, reached the second load (in the ’80s, a lot of 8-bit IF needed to be loaded in separate parts to get all of the adventure in there) and promptly got stuck. Maybe I should go back to it and try and do it all again, and complete the bugger this time.

Anyway, the Matty PAWed IF game will probably be in development for months but I’ve a few ideas to build on and it’ll be interesting to see the results, especially if I actually get the damn thing finished unlike far too many of my projects…


7 August, 2014
"Plunges into an orgy of violence wielding his trusty"

“Plunges into an orgy of violence wielding his trusty”

That last post? I thought I’d update you. It turns out that Savage has a ludicrous loading system whereby the intro sequence is loaded as a full program which then simply runs. Old man beardy doesn’t just waffled about Savage and how he’s fuelled by gravy or something before it lets you load the main game. No, you have to reset the computer and load and run the main game. I can’t tell this using emulation (where it’s fiddily enough to do this) but if they had both of those programs on the same side of the tape back in 1988 they can get fucked. Seriously.

Anyway, Savage is better than I thought it would be. It’s fundamentally like Trantor: The Last Stormtrooper in that it’s blatantly style over substance with lots of day-glow colour and ludicrous amounts of pixels flying everywhere in a “who says the Speccy can’t do particles?” stylee. But there’s also a reasonably cunning little scrolling shooter in there where the player actually has to think as well as react. For example, certain creatures when shot drop magical barriers which last a few seconds and both protect the player and attack enemies making them fairly essential in a game where the bad guys sap energy fast and just running and shooting mindlessly won’t cut it. Later on there’s also some barrels which can be jumped but if shot drop life-giving green bottles which are useful when fighting the mini-boss waiting in the room at the end of the corridor. And that’s just the first level, level 2 is apparently a bit like 3D Deathchase but with big scary face things and level 3 involves flying a massive bird about (I’m not entirely sure these were all originally part of one game in the beginning, come to think about it). Anyway, it’s basically quite good, even though I can’t get by the bit with the sinking platforms and the lava. Bwah.

The toughest obstacle in 8-bit gaming…

22 July, 2014
"Fired by rage"? You're telling me.

“Fired by rage”? You’re telling me.

…is clearly this old bastard. Every time I try to play Savage he pops up with his fucking white beard and scrolling waffle and I have no idea how to make him go away so I can play the game. I’m sure I’ve been told before and that it’s some kind of emulation quirk or something. And now Savage is this month’s WOS “Game Club” game and I have to find a way past him. Arrrgh!

Something vague about the spirit of 8-bit

26 March, 2014

The second life of the ZX Spectrum is quite something to behold. The ’80s British computer, whose life as a commercially-viable platform spluttered out in the early ’90s after an impressive decade as one of Europe’s most popular home computers, has refused to pass into history more than probably any other retro-platform. Whilst there are people still writing games for the Commodore 64, Amiga, Sega Megadrive etc they are not churning them out at anything like the rate they’re churning them out for the Spectrum. Dozens and dozens of new games are created each year, many of them a bit crap, some of fun and a few of them gems. It’s like the ’80s never ended.


“Copyright 1985”

What I really like about recent release Leonardo’s Lost Last Invention – a three-part game based largely around platforming and arcade action sequences – is that it’s a bit of a mess and yet a mess in a way that works and feels right. The instructions are a little vague, it’s got a few bugs, and it feels dreadfully unfair in places. It doesn’t work all that well as a game but playing it puts me instantly in mind of dozens of games discovered on compilations, magazine covertapes and 60-minute cassettes with “Spectrum Games” scribbled by a friend in biro across the front. It’s flaky and unprofessional but at the same time charming and intriguing and you kind-of want to keep playing it. At least until you get all the bits of the flying machine and make Leonardo fly. That’s cool.

What am I rabbitting on about? I’m not sure. I think it’s a mixture of nostalgia and respect for the amateur and the eccentric; this is a new Spectrum game which feels like an old Spectrum game in a way too few new games for the platform manage to. Regardless, I recommend Leonardo’s Lost Last Invention even though it’s not very good. Go on, take a chance, it’s free.

Trantor: Alas, Stormtrooper

18 February, 2014

Come on in, lads! The atmosphere’s lovely!

I’m generally dismissive of the idea that retro-gaming is entirely about “nostalgia”. To me, that’s like saying that playing Scrabble or listening to The Beatles is about “nostalgia”. There are plenty of games from the so-called “Golden Era” of UK videogaming in the ’80s that I think have aged badly and that time has been particularly cruel to (especially the more ambitious games like the Freescape titles) and consequently don’t play very much. And, of course, there are plenty of modern games I’ve more than enough time for. Steam tells me I’ve spent nearly 100 hours picking flowers, failing to hit scarpering deer, and fighting rotting pseudo-vikings in Skyrim, the sad bastard.

But there are some games where it’s definitely all about the nostalgia and very little else. And one of those games is Trantor: The Last Stormtrooper.

Only a few gaming artefacts from the ’80s give me a proper Proustian rush and one of them is the demos given away on a CRASH covertape in October 1987. This was in the era before cover-mounted tapes were common amongst the gaming magazines, which were later reduced to flimsy pamphlets accompanying boxed tapes with gaudy cover art as the press indulged in an ultimately-destructive arms race of mostly-crap old commercial games given away “free”. No, back in 1987 it was “The CRASH sampler”. It was just a tape, attached to the front of the magazine with sellotape. And, unlike most of the covertapes which followed it, all of the programs on it actually worked. And one of them was a demo of Trantor.


Very nice, now let’s see you actually fire whilst jumping, you posey, well-drawn get.

Trantor is quite an interesting game even if it’s not a small, well-remembered, part of your childhood. The demo (following a loading sequence involving a brilliant comic-book style loading screen which wasn’t used in the final release) opened with a lengthy animation showing an intricately detailed and animated spacecraft descending into some kind of pit. A bloke gets out, gestures to others in the ship and then dives to the ground as it noiselessly disintegrates. Even now it looks impressive, back in 1987 it was fucking incredible. And then the game, oh man. The demo gave us a couple of minutes of gameplay featuring a massive central sprite and colourful scrolling. It all looked ridiculously flash and slick. When the demo ended, the viewer was left with the impressive digitised “4-channel” music playing until the plug was pulled. Wham, bam, thankyou ma’am.

When it came out, I bought it, and played it, and really liked it.

And then, many many years later, I loaded it into an emulator and something had happened. I realised that it’s actually a badly designed mess of a game where random placement of often-essential items makes advancement somewhat arbitrary and awful design, fixated on aesthetics rather than gameplay mechanics, means that many enemies are nearly impossible to avoid and Trantor can’t shoot and jump because it’s important that he stick his flamethrower on his back when running, because it looks cool. Trantor is, in short, an early example of a lot of things that went wrong with videogames over the intervening decades: wow factor, presentation and aesthetic design trumping gameplay and enjoyable game mechanics. It’s Shadow of the Beast, it’s Ryse: Son of Rome.

And what’s worse is that I still “like” it, I still play it far more than I play a lot of much better games, new and old, that are more worthy of my attention and I think it’s a big deal when I manage to get quite far. And that, boys and girls, is not because it’s a good game, it’s because of nostalgia and fond memories of loading a tape stuck to a magazine into a ZX Spectrum +. It happens to the best of us.

If you’re intrigued but unwilling to mess around with “fiddly” emulation to play a sub-par game I’ve only a soft spot for because of a cover-mounted demo from 27 years ago then why not watch this YouTube longplay?

The Land of Make Believe

29 January, 2014

“It’s the grail of Spectrum gaming!”

Mire Mare is a game that doesn’t exist beyond a piece of box art left over from the 1980s and a few mocked-up ideas. Despite claims (noisy and numerous 15 years ago, solitary and muted today) that Rare have a dusty cassette/disk/microdrive under lock and key somewhere with a working version of the game on it all the evidence (see, for example, Retro Gamer‘s reasonably thorough examination of the subject a few months ago) suggests that no such “treasure” exists. If Rare really had hung onto a finished game following US Gold’s purchase of the Ultimate brand (as has been claimed) then the time for the company to make the money they most certainly could from it has surely been and gone several times over. There is no Mire Mare, just like there’s no Loch Ness Monster.

And, to be honest, I’m amazed that it’s taken the huge and highly active ZX Spectrum community as long as it has to do the obvious thing – make their own Mire Mare to fill in the gap Ultimate have left.

If we’re being pedantic, this isn’t Mire Mare, it’s Land of Mire Mare. The decision to go with that name is a wise one on behalf of the designer. This isn’t quite making the claim to be a definitive next game in the Sabre Man series; by sticking “Land of” to the start of its title it’s effectively announcing to the world what it is – a tribute, a tip of the hat. Nothing more.

And, to be fair, that’s appropriate. Despite the familiar-looking title screen and even (for fuck’s sake) the QWERT layout of the control keys, this doesn’t feel much like an Ultimate game. It moves a bit slowly for a start, far from the pace we’re used to, and whilst the graphics are pretty good (Sabreman is instantly recognisable) they’re not quite up to Ultimate’s standards. The gameplay issues are partly explained by this being written using Jonathan Cauldwell’s AGD game-creation software (surely the ultimate example of a modern-day Spectrum utility that could have earned its programmer a pretty penny had it been released in 1987) and is therefore bound to the limits of that software. It also, on playing, has numerous gameplay issues not least the very strange way the weapons seem to “work”: collect, press fire, and Sabreman shuffles forward, animation unchanged, destroying any enemies he touches appropriate to the weapon. Come on, surely we can do better than this. It’s like the (excellent) weapon system from Sabre Wulf was chosen as the inspiration and then the work was left half done.

In fact, Land of Mire Mare is, based on my first couple of games, disappointingly average, without the hook of the classic Ultimate games it’s paying tribute to. There are plenty of nice ideas in there – named screens, “boss” monsters, simple object manipulation, but they’re dragged down by the slow pace, the poor weapon implementation and some notable bugs. It’s a good thing this isn’t the real Mire Mare because, if it was, the air from the disappointed sighs from a legion of Spectrum fans could probably power a small wind turbine. And that’s a shame.

Land of Mire Mare is available at all good forum post announcements (i.e. this one).

Not enough sugar in this jam

7 December, 2013

Actually, can someone do this for the actual Spectrum plz?

Speccy Jam is a brilliant idea, of course. But unfortunately, I’ve not been massively impressed with the quality of the games that have actually come out of it so far. Too many seem crude or half-finished and don’t really work all that well as games – Henry Hedgehog, for example, is a below-average JSW clone whilst Bin Em feels like a two-star smartphone game that happens to the use the Spectrum palette. I really like Water Spears, though, which looks, sounds and plays like an actual classic Spectrum game with happy echoes of the excellent Scuba Dive.

Go here and have a shot of the games yourselves.

And whilst I’m talking the Spectrum indie scene, it’s worth keeping tabs on the Comp Sys Sinclair Crap Games Competition 2013 blog. Cassette Fifty, you have so much to answer for. *shakes fist with free calculator on the wrist*