Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Spectrum Show #11

The new series starts here - and we're in High Definition too, so remember to use those YouTube controls to get the best resolution.

1984 kicks off and we get all the Sinclair news and latest game releases as Xmas fades away and a new year begins.

We take a look at the Currah Speech Unit, letting your spectrum talk back!

Some old Abbex games get scrutinised with varying results and we look at a newer title.

Best viewed on Youtube.

Currah Speech |Unit

We had all seen movies and television shows that depicted computers that could take, some in realistic human voices, others in a metallic and robotic way, so when a small add-on arrived on the market in 1983 that promised to give your Spectrum the same functionality, I was eager to get one and hear what my micro sounded like.

The unit was quite small, just 7.5 x 8 cm and only 1.8cm thick and offered the added bonus of allowing your Spectrum's sound to be outputted through your television.

Connecting it up was easy, just plug it into the expansion port of your Spectrum, swap the aerial leads and plug in the 3.5mm jack into the Mic socket. The unit had no pass through port, so had to be the last device attached, which could prove troublesome if you had a few other things plugged in.

Once connected and the Spectrum powered up, the copyright message appeared indicating you were read to make your computer talk. By default it was turned on, and so pressing a key would prompt the unit to speak the input command. This could be turned off by using a reserved variable KEYS, for example LET KEYS=0.

The unit used the S$ variable to allow BASIC programming, so anything set within that would be picked up and sent to the speech interpreter. This made incorporating speech into your own games easy. The result was not always perfect and to get it to pronounce things correctly, you had to play around with the various syntax options. You could swap out letters , for example C and K, or you could wrap letters up in brackets to produce a new sound.

A single ‘i’ for example would sound like Ei. As in ‘brick’ but add two in brackets would produce ‘eye’. The same went for ‘o’. On its own it would be ‘o’ as in ‘box’, two would be ‘ooo’ as in ‘shoe’.

A typical sentence could take a while to get just right, changing the letters and adding brackets to get the interpreter to produce the right sound.

‘Hello YouTube, this is your spectrum talking’ would have to be created by using ‘hel(oo) y(oo)t(uu)b (dth)is iz Yor spectrum torking’. Once you get to grips with the different sounds, it soon become easy to get what you wanted, but it wasn't long before the novelty wore off. To be honest I spent a lot of time making it swear, no doubt along with hundreds of other kids, much to the annoyance of their parents.

The unit used up some of the Spectrum's memory, taking up 256 bytes and moving the UDGs and RAMTOP down, the result of this caused problems with several games.

The ability to speak was taken up by many game companies, like Quicksilva, Firebird, PSS and Ultimate, all adding speech to some of their games.  The affects were underwhelming and for me and didn't add anything to the game.

One game though had a trick up its sleeve, Booty from Firebird Software, detected if the device was connected and if it was, game you a completely different game.

Instead of the usual platform based treasure collection game, you got an underwater swimming game!

Currah were acquired by DK'Tronics in 1985 and slowly the unit went out of favour, with DK'Tronics pushing their own speech unit instead. Maybe this was a strategic buy-out, which had the desired effect, and the speech unit slowly disappeared from the market and games.

At the end of the day though, it was just a bit of fun that never really took off, and event today, with the exception of satellite navigation and maybe Apple’s Siri, computers that talk have not really made it into our homes, the only exception being the usage of devices for sight impaired people.

So, to sum up; it’s a bit of fun to mess about with, but the novelty soon wares off, and it will be quickly removed and forgotten.

Watch the video review in Episode 11.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Spectrum Show #10

Welcome to Episode 10 of The Spectrum Show.

This is the last episode in the series, but don't worry, I will return after a short break.

In this episode we go back to December 1983 and take a look at all the Sinclair news announce the Christmas top ten.

The episode is also an Automata Special covering the company and their games.

Best viewed on YouTube.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

AGD Advanced Video Tutorial

I have now added a further two AGD Advanced Video Tutorials to the existing two, making four in total.

The new additions cover random sprite placement & spawning and manual sprite positions & control.

The videos can be found in the AGD Tutorial section - as if you didn't know!

Hope your enjoying these and that we shall have some new Speccy games soon.


Sunday, 14 October 2012

Play Expo Special

This is a very short Spectrum Show Special covering the Play Expo event in Manchester on 13th and 14th October.

There is no coverage of new systems or games, just good old retro and of course the Spectrum.

Previously held in Blackpool, this year sees it move to Manchester to accommodate other areas of gaming and allow for a less crowded experience – or at least that was the idea.

Reports from Saturday say it was a mass of queues and long waits, not helped by power issues, but Sunday, the day I attended, seems much more organised.

Best viewed on Youtube...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Bounty Updated

Bounty has been updated to version 1.1.

This version has many fixes as listed below.

Many thanks to Richard for his assistance.

Fixes and Changes:
Many spelling and grammar fixes.
Fix bug with lift getting stuck.
Fix bug with droid shooting.
Fix several minor bugs with the parser.
Changed a few location descriptions so they make more sense!
Changed the way some elements work (if I told you it would ruin the game!)

Download v1.1
Bounty v1.1

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Lost Games

The discovery of an old hard drive at the bottom of a drawer re-united me with some of the games that I never completed, and I eagerly set about trying to view what condition they were in.

To do this I had to track down my registered copy of Blitz Basic, load up Virtual PC and install it. Then copy all the required files into a folder and then change all the source code to point to it. It was an interesting afternoon that brought back a lot of memories.

Visitors to my old website may recall a video I placed there showing level one of Transmuter, a shoot-em-up based on an old Spectrum game of the same name, this was just one of the games.

Since moving the site to this blog, the video has not been re-instated, so along with my other newly found games I have made a video of all existing game play for the games that still actually run.

Below is a video that shows the following, never completed (and never to be completed) games;

Horizontal scrolling shoot-em-up made as a re-write of the Spectrum game.
Level 1 fully playable. All weapons working. Level 2 half built but would not run.

Gun Law:
First person (in the Spectrum sense) shooter based on the Spectrum game.
Looks to be about 90% complete! Don’t know why it never got finished!

Vertical shooter based in the Spectrum game.
The code was a bit of a mess and only bits of the game work!
Very short video clip!

Transylvanian Tower:
Re-write of the Spectrum game with rendered graphics.
Level 1 completely playable (I think!).
All graphics done. Most of the game engine written (I think!).

After that there is a short slide show of Transylvanian Tower level graphics.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Spectrum Show #9

Welcome to Episode 9 of The Spectrum Show.

In this episode we go back to November 1983 and take a look at all the Sinclair news and Spectrum game releases.

We have an arcade shoot-out, this time we compare all the Spectrum Galaxian clones.

We review some old games and take a look at a newer title.

Hope you enjoy it.

Best viewed on YouTube...

Saturday, 8 September 2012

AGD Video Tutorials

My Old AGD tutorials have been received very well despite not actually completing them. With AGD moving to version 3.0 and beyond, I thought it was time to update them and finally complete them.

I have decided it would be easier to make videos rather than type out all of the stuff in my head. This way you can see how things work, pause the video and work along at your own pace.

I have completed nearly 2 hours of video so far, taking you from loading up AGD to a complete, two-screen platform game. I have plans to extend the series and extra ones to cover the more in-depth features.

The new videos will be appearing slowly over the next week and can be viewed using the tab at the top of the blog.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Toofy In Fan Land

Oh no! Someone has stolen all Toofy’s nuts and scattered them in a strange and mysterious maze in the weird and distant Fan Land.

Toofy must have his nuts and so sets off to Fan Land to retrieve them.

When he gets there though, his world is turned upside-down – literally!

Guide Toofy in search of his forty nuts scattered about Fan Land, and keep an eye out for secret rooms – not that you can see them – they’re secret after all!

Download Toofy In Fan Land Here

Screen Shots

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Spectrum Show #8

Welcome to Episode 8 of The Spectrum Show.

In this episode we take a look back to October 1983 to get all the latest Sinclair news and latest Spectrum game releases.

We go large with Spectrum gaming - 42inch Jetpac anyone!

We review some older games and take a look at some newer titles.

Hope you enjoy it.

Best viewed on YouTube...

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


The galaxy is a rough place and the overstretched Galactic Law Enforcement need as much help as they can get. They of course draw the line at vigilantes, but authorised Bounty Hunters are tolerated.

Bounty hunting is one of the careers with the shortest life expectancy and only drifters, drunks and mad men take it up with the hope of getting lucky.

Welcome to my new text adventure game Bounty.

Download Bounty here.

Bounty was reviewed in Micro Mart Sep 2012 - and given game of the week in the retro section!
The review is here:


Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Spectrum Show #7

Welcome to Episode 7 of The Spectrum Show.

In this episode we take a look back to September 1983 to get all the latest Sinclair news and latest Spectrum game releases.

We have a Spectrum arcade shootout – this time it’s Moon Patrol. Which of the Spectrum versions will come out on top?

We review some older games and take a look at some newer titles.

Hope you enjoy it.

Best viewed on YouTube...

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Moon Patrol Shoot Out

Released in 1982 under license by Williams, this fondly remembered game had many redeeming features and remains a firm favourite for retro fans.

By this time the graphics and sound capabilities of arcade machines had improved from the single coloured sprites and simple monophonic tones found emanating from the early cabs.

The bright colourful graphics with parallax scrolling and lovely animated buggy instantly drew players to it but the main attraction was the jolly tune that played as you manoeuvred along the moon’s surface.

So could any of the Spectrum clones match the arcade machine?

At the bottom of the list, the games that were really bad included Casey Jones from Blaby Computing (left). This game replaced the moon buggy of the original with a steam locomotive, and takes inspiration from the 60’s television show of the same name. Aliens are replaced with hamburgers and the whole thing falls flat on its face.

Several of the games were written in BASIC and because of this suffered from the usual problems of poor sound, jerky graphics and poor control. Escape From Alderon by Magnum Computing obviously goes for a Star Wars spin on things and is truly appalling. Return To The Moon (Tlauli-ran) and Terra Plen (Thrydhent Vision Systems) are also at the bottom of the list due to clunky graphics, poor or totally missing sound and terrible controls.

The mediocre games are at least in machine code and provide the player with a decent experience, mostly. Hoverkrat from Andreas Zallmann Software is a ‘nearly’ game. The pauses in between playing when you lose a life is annoying and graphics, sound and game-play just miss the mark.

Kamikaze Buggie by Tweety Soft moves away from the norm and gives us a weird hybrid between Moon Patrol and Space Invaders. Jumping is almost uncontrollable, the buggy flying around the screen in all directions regardless of which buttons you press. The aliens drop to the ground and scuttle across the land causing further hazards.

A game with great graphics but flawed game-play is Lunar Rover from Data Design Systems. Jumping is based on how long you hold down the jump key and proves very tricky to master, meaning despite the game looking good, it soon become frustrating. The aliens are also missing, being replaced by meteors that fly horizontally across the screen.

Still in the mediocre section we have several games with the same name; Moon Buggy. Anirog’s version (left) is very colourful and action packed but the jumping is tricky. How far the buggy jumps is based on how fast you are going, but there is no indication of this on screen. Guessing the length of the jump usually ends in disaster, causing frustration.

Vision Software’s version lacks many of the arcade features to the extent it is almost a different game. The landscape does not scroll there are just craters to avoid and the whole thing appears to be a variant of Space Invaders. Despite these problems though, it has fast, smooth graphics and decent sound.

Moon Patrol – the unknown game by an unknown author in an unknown year, has some of the arcade features and the game-play is quite good. Sadly it seems unfinished, which is a pity.

Now we have reached the top of the pile, and the two games that will fight it out for the crown.

Moon Alert from Ocean is a great game with large smooth graphics that sadly flicker sometimes. Most of the arcade elements are present, sound is good and game-play is spot on. The arcade’s tanks are missing, replaced by mines and for some reason the music from Indiana Jones is played when you complete a level.

This for me was the best version, but I had never played the other contender.

The official version, Moon Patrol from Atarisoft (left), proves to be excellent, as you would expect from an official conversion. All of the arcade elements are there, even the tune, and the landscape detail is great. Game-play is superb and the only bad point is the lack of sound effects. Despite this though, this is a quality game.

Which one is best?

All of these games are tested and played in Episode 7, with the winner announced at the end of the tests.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Spectrum Show #6

In this episode we go back to August 1983 and take a look at all the Sinclair news and Spectrum game releases.

We have the second part of our game creation feature and there is the usual old and new game reviews.

If anyone wants to help with the making of this show, please get in touch. I am not asking anyone to do reviews, speak or do anything they don’t want to – but I am looking for interesting features that can be based on anything Spectrum related. (Ideally accompanied by pics or video). Of particular interest is hardware (for ideas see episode 2 with the wafadrive feature).


Best viewed on  Youtube...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Spectrum Show #5

In this episode we go back to July 1983 and take a look at all the Sinclair news and Spectrum game releases. We have the first part of our game creation feature and there is the usual old and new game reviews.


If anyone wants to help with the making of this show, please get in touch. I am not asking anyone to do reviews, speak or do anything they don’t want to – but I am looking for interesting features that can be based on anything Spectrum related. (Ideally accompanied by pics or video). Of particular interest is hardware (for ideas see episode 2 with the wafadrive feature).

Enjoy the show…

Best viewed direct on YouTube! (Direct Link)

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Spectrum Show #4

Episode 4 of The Spectrum Show is now available.

In this episode we look back to June 1983 and get the Spectrum news and new game releases.

We also track the evolution of the joystick interface plus the usual reviews of old and new games.

Best viewed direct on YouTube.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Spectrum Show #3

Welcome to Episode 3 of The Spectrum Show. In this episode we look back to May 1983 and get the Spectrum news and new game releases.

We also have another arcade shoot-out and compare Spectrum versions of Asteroids.

We also review some early Quicksilva games and look at some newer releases.


Best viewed direct from YouTube. Click here to go to YouTube

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Asteroids Shoot Out

Asteroids was released into the arcades in 1979, and made a break from the traditional raster based graphics to give the game a stunning and unique look. The new technique was vector graphics, wire-frame objects calculated and drawn in real time to give a neon like feel to the whole game.

Because the arcade machines required special hardware to produce the new style of graphics, home versions struggled to replicate the display. Instead the games companies used different techniques to emulate the game from sprites to custom written, maths-heavy drawing routines.

So – which of the Spectrum clones can claim top dog?

This is an overview of the tests that were conducted, for the full reviews of each game check out Episode 3 (link at the end of this page).

The first game under the microscope is Cosmic Debris (left) from Artic computing. This version of the classic looks very authentic, having vector-like  graphics and all the game elements of the original. The asteroids move around as they should, splitting into smaller chunks when hit and the saucers make random appearances. Thrusting differs from the arcade in that the ship continues to move until opposite thrust is applied, making control a bit tricky.

The sound is adequate but the real let down comes when you lose a life. The screen fills with diagonal lines and you have to press a key to continue playing. There is also no on-screen information like scores, hi-scores of lives.

Next we Meteor Strom from Quicksilva. This game is one of, if not the first, Spectrum games to feature speech, although what it actually says is up for debate. The vectors have been replaced by large raster based graphics that move about in character jumps, and the ship only has eight points of rotation. Having said that, the game does play quite well, but there is still the problem of a continually moving ship is thrust is applied. Not a bad game overall.

Meteroids from Softek doesn’t even try to mimic the vector graphics, instead we get large images – not sprites, just large chunky images that jerk around the screen. Sound is limited and the ship is fixed to eight points of rotation. Thrust moves the ship and the stops it dead with no inertia.

Another Meteoids (left), this time from DK’Tronics fairs no better, with juddering character based images, fixed eight point rotation and below average sound. This game also has a massive problem; when you shoot an asteroid it doesn’t break into segments that move off in the opposite direction, instead it spawns smaller images around the compass points. This means if you hit an asteroid close up, you are likely to die instantly when the smaller objects are spawned.

Next we Planetoids from Sinclair, a game claimed by many to be the best asteroids game for the Spectrum. Again we see the lack of vectors, instead we get smooth moving, solid asteroids and a ship with sixteen point rotation, a huge improvement from previous games. Sound is limited, but the thrust works just like the arcade. There is still room for improvement, but this is the best one tested so far.

Spectroid Storm from Abersoft is a dreadful game that really shouldn’t waste column space. White background, jerking images, poor control, terrible sound and impossible thrust all add up to an easily forgettable game.

One game I missed during this test was Deep Space from PSS, so for completeness, the review is here.
Deep Space is, despite being graphically average, a decent game to play. The small, character based, asteroids move around in eight pixel jumps and the smaller ones are difficult to hit. The ship as fixed eight point rotation and the sound is limited to explosions.

The star filled background is nice and control is responsive, but the size of the graphics lets it down. Thrust moves the ship and then stops, there is no inertia, but we do get the saucers making an appearance. As mentioned before, game-play is nice, giving a good long game, it’s just a pity about the size and movement of the graphics.

To find out the winner, watch Episode 3

Monday, 30 April 2012

The Spectrum Show #2

Episode 2 of The Spectrum Show is now available.

In this episode there is a special feature about the Rotronics Wafadrive, the mass storage device that was the main competitor of the Microdrive.

Also a look back to April 1983 to get the news and top selling games.

Also a look at some early Vortex Games plus reviews of newer releases.

View direct from YouTube for best results.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Spectrum Show #1

The Spectrum Show, or TSS for short, came about for a mixture of different reasons, mainly to get my video editing back on form for a project I have at work, to shamelessly promote my new game and because there is nothing like it for the Spectrum (I think!).

This is really a tester, to see how things pan out, and there is no guarantee there will be more, although I must admit to enjoying putting it together.

The show has many segments including a look back to March 1983, old and new game reviews plus a head-to-head, comparing all Spectrum Space Invader clones.

It runs for just short of fifteen minutes, which I think it about right, and I hope you enjoy watching.

Best viewed directly through YouTube
If I do decide to do more, anyone interested in helping out?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Antiquity Jones

In a dusty room, deep beneath the university, Jones was tidying away some papers when he suddenly became aware of someone else in the room. Turning slowly, the silhouetted figure of a tall, long coated man stood in the doorway.

“So what is it this time?” asked Jones, spitefully.

His last trek for these people had ended in near disaster, and he had been left for dead by the very organisation that had recruited and paid for the expedition.

“Nice to see you too.” The man said, entering the dimly lit room.

“No one invited you in.”

“No, no they didn’t. I will of course leave if you want me to, but then again Mr Jones, you are addicted to this game we play.”

“It may be a game to you..” Jones spat back, rounding on the man.

“Easy.. easy… I’m going. I’ll let someone else take the glory for finding the Chalice of Koo-Ram Kar.”

“Koo-Ram Kar?” Jones had suddenly lost his anger as the man anticipated, and was now taking notice.

“Yes. But if you’re not interested…”

“Were? When?”

“Peru.” The man replied, “a few days ago a tracker says he spotted the perimeter markings of a temple. You know the stuff, shrunken skulls, feather contraptions, hidden pits…..”

“Yes.” Jones sighed, subconsciously rubbing the scar through his trousers.

“The trackers refuse to enter. We need someone of experience.”

“It could be any old temple. There are hundreds in that area.”

The man held out a photograph in a gloved hand.

“The mark of Ko-Ram Kar!” Jones whispered, staring at the picture.

“Yes. There are several of these carved on rocks within the outer perimeter.”

“It’s the hottest part of the year, I’ll need supplies, transport….”

“It’s all in place. The trackers have left supplies at regular intervals; you just have to get there in time. Each pack of supplies will last just long enough to get to the next.”

“And what about the journey back?”

“Good question. If the legends are true, he who holds the chalice will feel no hunger and require no drink.”

“So the success of bringing this back is based solely on legend?”

“Legend researched by you Jones. How many books have you published on this, two… three..”


“Are you saying you lied? Your own research is wrong?”

“No. What I am saying…”

“The plane leaves in two hours. Once in Peru, transport has been arranged to take you to the outer perimeter. From there, you are on your own. Find the temple, get the chalice and get it back to the truck.”

“This time,” Jones asked with an edge to his voice, “do I get to come back?”

“Of course Mr Jones. If you find the chalice.”

The man turned and left, leaving Jones alone once more.


Antiquity Jones (ZX Spectrum)

Screen Shots

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Android Shoot-out Update

My report on the current state of Spectrum emulators for Android tablets has been updated with an extended overview of Unreal Speccy. My previous attempts at getting this emulator working failed, but a recent reply on this blog gave me some pointers that allowed me to get a little further.

My findings are available in an updated PDF and directly in this blog.

Read the Blog version

Android Speccy Shoot-out Feb 2012

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Work In Progress

I have made good progress on the new game, or should I say, the new framework. I have re-written the parser to allow multiple nouns (get, take, collect etc), shortened the code needed to actually run the game and hopefully built a solid framework on which I can simply build my games.

With the complete framework, the file runs in at 6k, that includes the introduction and first location. That is a lot smaller than the previous one, and now all I have to do is add locations, objects, interactions and messages.

My old BASIC game (called Vamp) has been re-worked into a mystery rather than a horror based game and so will have a different name (yet to be decided). The locations remain pretty much the same, as do about 60% of the puzzles. I have added new objects and puzzles as well as re-writing all of the location descriptions.

I have just the last puzzle and end game to work out before I can begin adding it to the base code.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

What Next?

With my previous adventure complete I recently clambered into my dusty attic to locate my old folder containing all of my old notes and maps for my 80’s adventures. Sure enough there it was, still as I had left it – crammed full of detailed maps and drawings.

Armed with that I narrowed down the next game for conversion and loaded up the TAP file to take a look at the locations and objects. The game is pretty basic, in all senses of the word, with some atrocious spelling! However, as with the test project, A Broken Friend, I will need to go through everything and re-write it.

The locations need a good tidy up, the plot needs padding out, additional puzzles adding and a new map generated. The game will not be a 100% copy of the original, more a game based on the same concepts. Long gone are the days of locations described as “You are on a path.”!

I will also have to re-write large parts of the code to put into practice the things discovered during the last game. Whole chunks will need to be re-organised to make things quicker code-wise, easier to play and use less space. A challenge indeed!

Thursday, 5 January 2012

A Broken Friend

Fleg was a young scamp, always getting into scrapes and having adventures, but his most favourite thing was to play on his Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

His mother had bought it for him at Christmas, a few months ago, and he spent all of his spare hours blasting aliens, solving puzzles, jumping on platforms and generally having a grand old time.

Now it was broken and he needed to get it fixed so he could return to some good old classic gaming.

A Broken Friend is an adventure game for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

Download the game.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Progress Update

Work on the new game is going really well and I have progressed quite far into this test project. All of the locations are complete, all of the puzzles and objects are complete and the game is fully playable.

The LOAD/SAVE functionality is also working – something I am relieved at as it was the major stumbling block to getting the game out.

I now have to fully play-test it, checking the spelling, puzzles and interaction before finally going through the game and adding things to the parser that helps the player when required. I was leaving this to the last in case I ran out of room, but at the moment I am ok.

I did have to change the compiler settings to stop the game generating OUT OF MEMORY errors, giving it an extra 4k to play with, which I will use to improve the parser.

Then I just have to think of a loading screen!

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