Posts Tagged ‘zx spectrum’

The Land of Make Believe

29 January, 2014
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“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
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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*

As a Doctor Who fan my mind is elsewhere today but just wanted to post this

14 November, 2013

Mattyongames approves of Speccy Jam.

Abbaye des Speccy

31 October, 2013
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Painting the town (trees) blue (red) (ah fuck it)!

A ZX Spectrum conversion of the brilliant indie platformer Abbaye Des Morts is a thing that’s happening. And just to show there’s more sweated-over code than hot air a demo has been released.

Hopefully the rumours of extra rooms and features for a 128K version will prove true…

Magic, Knight

19 October, 2013
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Spellbound takes place in some kind of medieval fantasy castle. But it still has a working lift. Well, mostly working.

Partly because David Jones is remixing the first Magic Knight game, Finders Keepers, and partly out of nostalgia I’ve been playing a bit of the “windimation” Magic Knight titles for the 128K ZX Spectrum recently and playing them again makes me realise something: there’s nothing quite like them before or since.

If you don’t know the Magic Knight games then here’s a quick primer: there are four of them – Finders Keepers, Spellbound, Knight Tyme and Stormbringer. Rumour is that there was to be fifth game in the series complete with twist ending about the identity of Magic Knight but it never appeared. Finders Keepers I’ve talked about before but following that game the series took a completely different turn.

In the last three games the player controls Magic Knight once again but this time he is thrown into three much more story-based adventures with a mixture of action gaming (especially in Spellbound and Stormbringer) with puzzles and object manipulation in the arcade-adventure style. Magic Knight can perform dozens of different actions which are accessed, cleverly, through a window-based command system accessed by pressing “fire”. Amongst these actions are spells, explaining our hero’s odd name. Magic Knight isn’t alone in these later games either, they are inhabited by various weird and wonderful characters who, strangely, only move when MAgic Knight is off-screen. Along with the window-based command system the non-player characters are one of the things that makes this series unique for its time. Magic Knight and the NPCs have statistics with things like strength, magic level, food level and tiredness. This system seems to have been designed specifically for Spellbound, which revolves around looking after the wellbeing of various mythical/historical characters, but was used in all of the last three Magic Knight games. Because of this, characters can get grumpy and unco-operative or just fall asleep. It’s quite a simple way of creating an environment that feels “alive” but it works.

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S3 E3! Do you see?

If you’ve not played any of these games then I’d urge you to try them. They were released for a wide range of computers but the definitive versions are the 128K ZX Spectrum ones (there are also cut-down 48K versions which the conversions to other platforms were based on, even the Atari ST version of Stormbringer!). They’re flawed games in many ways with high difficulty and occasional frustration, Spellbound‘s need to keep its cast of characters in good health whilst dodging bouncing balls and solving puzzles being a prime example. And the puzzles themselves can be a bit obscure. As an example (and this really isn’t a spoiler because you don’t want to fanny around finding this out on your own) you learn quite early in Spellbound that Magic Knight doesn’t have enough strength to complete the game so he needs to recharge it. The solution seems to be a bottle of “restorative fluid” found early in the game. But to make it work you have to, erm, give it to a certain character then take it from him and you magically get your strength back. This was considered an acceptable puzzle in 1985. There are also a number of “instant death” rooms, a dirty trick even back in the ’80s and unacceptable now. All I can say is save often.

But even though these games can be frustrating, they’re also clever, intriguing and like many great games of the era give a real feeling of achievement when puzzles are solved and new areas and characters are “unlocked”.

My personal favourite is Knight Tyme which has a sci-fi theme, although I’d suggest playing Spellbound first to get a “feel” for the series. Give them a go, they’re not perfect but they’ll reward a bit of time spent with them and, like I said, I think they’re pretty unique.

Finders Keepers revisited

15 September, 2013
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Just one of many Finders Keepers rooms with a badly-designed monster pathway (sorry, David).

On the heels of Colin Stewart’s re-working of his excellent 1985 title Frank-N-Stein, David Jones has announced on the World of Spectrum forums that he’s looking to re-mix the same year’s Finders Keepers, the game that introduced Magic Knight to the world.

Finders Keepers is a very clever little game which mixes platforming and maze-game styles with a bit of object manipulation. It also features a trading system whereby objects can be sold to in-game salespeople and more expensive items can be bought with the money made. I seem to remember David saying that this was all part of an attempt to give the game a mildly educational edge.

For all its good qualities, it’s also a flawed game with some frustrating elements and badly-placed monsters (common in games that use energy-depletion rather than one-touch-to-lose-a-life mechanics) which David is looking to fix as part of the reworking. Looking forward to it.

Outrun Europa – now with added colour

8 June, 2013

ImageIf you’ve not seen it yet this World of Spectrum thread is an excellent example of a kind of videogame arcaeology and restoration.

For those who don’t know the story, Outrun Europa was originally heralded in the ZX Spectrum press with fairly impressive-looking full-colour screenshots. When the “finished” product appeared it was in black and white, much to the disappointment of Spectrum owners who had had a gutful of monochrome games around the time and had been looking forward to something more colourful. A year or two ago someone on WoS played around with the code and discovered that the colour data was still there but had just been removed. The thread I’ve linked to is the result of continuing work to dig-out the colour version of Outrun Europa apparently hidden in the original code and to create a working, playable full-colour Spectrum version as may have been originally intended.

Footie Manager Revisited

17 June, 2012
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“Ball Ball Ball! Footie Footie Footie!”

Now here’s something interesting, and just in time (well, nearly) for the 2012 European Championships. “Modding” (as it is now known) is unusual in 8-bit games, with the exception of Jet Set Willy an editor for which was released back in the era. But here we have someone who has taken one of the most popular footy management games ever, the original 1982 Football Manager, and essentially “modded” it as Football Manager Revisited to add brand-new features as well as up-to-date teams and squads. Nice one.

More information and downloads here.

“Birthday time! It’s birthday time!”

23 April, 2012

On the 23rd of April 1982 the British company Sinclair Research unveiled the ZX Spectrum, a follow up to their highly-successful ZX81. It was initially intended to be called the ZX82 but was renamed to reflect the fact that the new machine had colour graphics.

Despite being intended as a simple home computer for hobbyists and other tinkerers, it quickly became popular as a gaming machine, received a 128K upgrade with a vastly improved sound chip in 1986, and managed to remain commercially viable to games publishers until the first years of the 1990s. It remains hugely popular, especially in Europe and Britain in particular, with an extremely large and very active online fan base many of whom continue to program games for it, churning them out at a rate which seemingly dwarfs releases for many other retro platforms.

(and, yes, I owned one back in the ’80s)

Amongst those new ZX Spectrum games released today to celebrate 30 years of the ‘Speccy’ are More Tea, Vicar? (an aburdly-titled but rather-good shoot ’em up from Jonathan Cauldwell) and The Lost Tapes of Albion by Dave Hughes, who’s also responsible for Endless Forms Most Beautiful, one of my favourite new ZX games of the last year or so.

You can play them on a Spectrum emulator (of which there are literally dozens, do a google search; I recommend SPIN for Windows) or, if you’ve got the know-how, on a real Speccy. Here’s to another 30 years.

Frank-Me-Not-Again-O-Something

10 September, 2011

I don't like having to fanny-around with GIMP making these "montage" pics. I hope you all know that.

Well, this is odd. Not that long ago I wrote a post about two games I had recently discovered and grown to love: one of these was the superb iThing game Forget-Me-Not and the other was the 27 year old ZX Spectrum platform/action game Frank N Stein. Apart from having eerily (are you sure this is the appropriate word to use? – Imaginary Ed) similarly-structured names these are both excellent pick-up-and-play titles. And, weirdly, I’m going to tell you about them both again or rather about updates to both of them. That’s right, both.

First we have the excellent, if not entirely surprising, news (which reached me via Stu Campbell) that Forget-Me-Not has been ported to Windows and Mac-OS based machines for free. It’s probably my favourite game of the year so far and if you even slightly like videogames you have absolutely no excuse to not download a copy and learn to love it as much as I do.

The second, rather more interesting, news is that Frank N Stein creator Colin Stewart has been busy slaving over a hot Spectrum (or, more likely, emulator but let’s not destroy the romantic image) and has produced a brand new version of his 1984 game. That’s right, 27 years after it was originally published to cries of “It has lots of little additions (like ice patches) that make it better” and “Overall, a good game” from CRASH magazine we have a brand new update of this classic platfomer with new features and extra levels. Stewart isn’t publishing the game until the 14th of September – exactly 27 years since its original release, but he sent a review copy to the Retro Brothers who have an exclusive review of the new version here.