Villordsutch celebrates the 35th Birthday of the ZX Spectrum…
Today marks the 35th Birthday of one of the United Kingdom’s greatest pieces of technology, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. On this day the 23rd April back in 1982 this 8-bit machine with its rubber-keys and a massive 16K or 48K of RAM appeared and no matter what the haters tell you, over the past three decades it has never truly gone away.
From the collective minds of Sir Clive Sinclair and his team, along with the design skills of Rick Dickinson, the ZX Spectrum was a small, compact, beeping machine with limited colours that achieved colour clash amazingly well. This “Educational” machine was aimed at making the 1980’s youth smarter, and it was promptly backed up with numerous titles like Survival, that helped us understand ecology as we played the role of a wild animal until we died, Make-a-Chip which taught the user about circuit design, and Ballooning which helped us understand ermmm hot-air ballooning.
Sir Clive wanted us – the youth – to become smarter thanks to his new computer, and we did, at convincing our parents that the ZX Spectrum was for homework when it really wasn’t. As – thanks to the ZX Spectrum – a tidal wave of Bedroom Programmers delivered a mass of games to our machines.
Classic titles like Manic Miner, 3D Deathchase and Chuckie Egg instantly sprung up in amongst the many thousands on ZX Spectrum titles that were buckling the shelves within shops up and down the country. Not only were small independent games shops selling these 8-Bit wonders, but they were getting pride of place in the top shops of the day like John Menzies and Woolworths.
Fantastic, colourful hand-drawn covers on the cassette boxes beckoned us to hand over our cash. In the early days software houses like Mastertronic were winners in the pocket money sales with their £1.99 budget releases, though admittedly a lot of the games were a bit poor. You looked for your favourite major software house on your birthday – like Hewson or Ocean – when you had that bit more money to spend. This games machine was amazing, though somebody wasn’t happy.
As rather excellently dramatized in Micro-Men which starred Alexander Armstrong as Sir Clive Sinclair and Martin Freeman as Chris Curry, this followed the rise and fall of the 8-bit industry, and the feud that appeared between friends and colleagues on the different sides of the 8-bit fence. It also had the classic line bellowed Sir Clive Sinclair, “Jet Set Fu*king Willy!”
However, the beast was unleashed and games where appearing from bedrooms and software houses left, right and centre. The UK gaming industry in the 1980’s exploded, teenagers were earning more than their own parents with one published game, more than Mum & Dad could possibly hope to earn in a year. Ocean Software were securing major Hollywood tie-in licenses, US Gold were jetting across the globe, the Oliver Twins were in Las Vegas, or Skiing on a snowy mountainside or accidentally setting fire to a cliff. The games industry in the 1980’s was big – you wouldn’t won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it was.
And then pffft! In strolls the 1990’s and the rise of the 16-bit machines! Nobody wanted the 8-bit, colour-clashing ZX Spectrum anymore. It was the decade of pointing and laughing at the lonely souls like myself, people who continued to purchase Your Sinclair up to and including its final issue. Gone was the era of the cassette, the screeching tapes, the conflict of which is best Crash, Sinclair User or Your Sinclair and azimuth alignment. We were told to go to the loft and fade away with our machines.
However, like the phoenix from the ashes the ZX Spectrum and its community didn’t stay hidden in that loft for long, with numerous programmers across the globe continuing to deliver software for the machine, the Spectrum still today has a strong following. Games no longer need to be loaded via cassette of course, you can use an SD Card for instant access with the DivMMC expansion added to your machine, but if you do like your games to screech then Cronosoft, Monument Microgames and Bum Fun Gaming are delivering new titles on classic cassette.
Not only this we have new machines too, though granted the Elite Bluetooth ZX Spectrum Keyboard may have ended up on the rocks, but we’ve had the release of the Sinclair ZX Vega, the upcoming release of the ZX Vega+ and the soon to be launched on Kickstarter, ZX Spectrum Next.
Of course, finally there is the ZX Spectrum community that is keeping the machine alive, held together by Joe and Josephine Public who are putting into their love: time, effort and money. Along with this there are also key players from the gaming industry are involved in this community too, making sure knowledge isn’t lost, giving information and time to groups, people and events. Some of the said Public and Key Players have also worked together to deliver some excellent books on the ZX Spectrum.
If you have chance to celebrate this special birthday today and you don’t actually have a ZX Spectrum, why not download an emulator like FUSE to Spectaculator. Then get a game from perhaps Bob’s Stuff or maybe Andy John’s Ooze, or if you’re really feeling daring perhaps a classic like Skool Daze from World of Spectrum. Whatever you do celebrate an amazing piece of Great British technology and remember the hashtag for today is #HappyBirthdaySpectrum
Happy Birthday ZX Spectrum, and thanks for the memories.