ZX Spectrum Games

ZX Spectrum Games

24 Sept 2010

Spectrum Games - Moon Patrol - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

ZX Spectrum Moon Patrol
Another classic arcade game here from waaay back.

Atari's Moon Patrol was popular in the amusement arcades and was eventually converted to the ZX Spectrum by Atarisoft. Despite the game being completed it was never commercially released.

Why it was never released is a mystery to me (if anyone knows can you please tell me?!!), but it's fair to say that this version never managed to capture the playability of the original classic arcade game.

How Moon Patrol looked in the Arcades
Moon Patrol (the arcade game) was released in 1982. The game is a shmup of the side view, side scrolling variety.

The player controls a moon buggy, viewed from the side, that travels across the rocky surface of the moon. The player 'drives' it, all the while avoiding obstacles such as craters and land mines. You could also fire missiles upwards and forwards to take out any nasties that would get in your way.

You also find yourself being attacked by UFOs from above and tanks on the ground. This game was one of the earliest linear side-scrolling shoot'em ups and the first arcade game to feature parallax scrolling. How's that for a slice of gaming history?

The top portion of the screen displays a timeline-style map of the current sector, and it also displays incoming ariel threats, upcoming minefields and any attacks from the rear.

The map shows five different checkpoints labeled E, J, P, U and Z. In a similar fashion to racing games, the time spent between each checkpoint determines the amount of bonus points you can score.

How Moon Patrol looked on the ZX Spectrum
The objective of the game was to make right through to the end of checkpoint Z - where the game would switch to a more difficult sector. Complete that one and you have finished the game (I think!)

The problem with this conversion is that it moves along far too slowly. The jumping action is okay as it feels almost like lesser gravity, but the scrolling, buggy and nasties move around the screen far too slowly. The Speccy was easily capable of running a good version of this classic game, it really should have been great.

For me I think it is a real pity that later in the Speccy's life, (when programming techniques had improved), someone did not revisit older arcade games like this one. Can you imagine this game implemented with Jonathan Smith's parallax scrolling as seen in Cobra? Awesome it would have been.

All in all this is a below par version of one of my favourite arcade games.

In the meantime here is a nice and playable version for you to enjoy (Thanks to classicgamesarcade.com):

Arcade Games

It could have been some classic arcade action:

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

23 Sept 2010

Spectrum Games - Munch Man - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

ZX Spectrum Munch Man
This is a real golden oldie. Pure retro gaming with one of the unofficial versions of Pac Man that made it onto the ZX Spectrum.

This one was programmed by Crash Magazine's very own Derek Brewster, and was released by DK'Tronics in 1983.

There were a lot of Pacman games on the ZX Spectrum, and this one is pretty standard and plays well enough. Crap loading screen though.

Munch Man ZX Spectrum
Most of the Pacman game features are present: A nice yellow Pacman (or Munch Man) for you to control; four enemy ghosts coloured yellow, green, cyan and magenta, pac-dots, power pellets and a wrap around game screen.

The only thing that seems to be missing is the bonus fruits that Pacman could eat for extra points.

ZX Spectrum Munch ManOne thing I noticed whilst playing it was the short time that you can eat the ghosts once you have gobbled up one of the power pellets. It is very difficult to eat all four ghosts in one go.

They don't seem to remain in the central ghost pen for very long either!

If you like Pacman then I would say give this one a go. It is not really any worse than the official arcade conversion of Pacman from Atarisoft.

For me you can't beat the original arcade game, and none of the Speccy versions I have played manage to capture the magic completely. Still, for a 1983 game this one ain't bad.

GENRE: Arcade Game (Pacman Game)
DEVELOPER(S): Derek Brewster

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

22 Sept 2010

Spectrum Games - Star Trader - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

ZX Spectrum Star Trader
This classic game was a space trade em up released for the ZX Spectrum by good old Bug Byte software in 1984. They actually had the gall to call it 'The highest plateau yet reached in Spectrum software'!

Now it was a decent enough computer game, but the highest plateu? Not quite...

On start up you would 'enter a galaxy more complex and enthralling than any previously experienced.'

As you may have guessed, the game was in the 'Elite' mould (and came well before that landmark game on the Speccy) and you had to trade, fly and shoot your way around eight planets.

The game switched between wandering around the planets surface buying and selling goods (and eating and drinking to stay alive) and flying across the stars (with some fairly impressive 3D arcade action for the time) to land on another planet to hopefully make a profit.

All enjoyed in the 'most advanced 3D graphics yet attained on a Spectrum.' Ahem.

ZX Spectrum Star Trader by Bug Byte
Star Tradin' across the universe...

A great back story would set the game scene.
A long time ago in a distant galaxy...
Are colonies of men on small inhabitable planets in neighbouring star systems. Over the years these communities have learned to rely on each other for trade.

Marauding pirates have been quick to take advantage of the strong inter-dependence of the planets, and patrol the interplanetary routes.

In fact, it has come to the point where interstellar trading is a risky line of work, though profits, as ever, can be made.

As a result of a recent increase in the pirates' greed (their self-imposed "tax" on captured ships is now 1/4 of the ships cargo), all the remaining traders have left the system. All, that is, except you...

You alone must attempt to vanquish these rogues, whilst keeping the vast interplanetary economy intact. So no pressure then.

There are eight planets to visit and to buy and sell your goods. They each have eight
major industries, which buy and sell goods to you.

You begin the game with an amount of cash and a space ship. You must use your cash wisely, to purchase goods at low prices on producing worlds, so that you may then sell your wares at a suitable profit on consumer worlds. Not immediately easy and gameplay perserverence is required.

Planets with poor supplies of any commodities will suffer from quick inflation, which you may use to your money making advantage. If inflation rises to a chaotic level, social unrest will lead to a complete collapse of civil order; so various people will turn to piracy for as a new source of income.

You have a limited storage capacity in your cargo hold, which you have to keep an eye on. You may only buy and sell your goods during normal business hours, outside of which you will find all shops closed. (They even close at lunchtime!)

The main legal tax on your profits is from the customs officials, who will charge you a sh*t load of duty on your wares. You may try to cheat these officials of their dues (by declaring nothing), but at great peril should you be caught (you are looking at jail time and being 'bashed in').

At the spaceport in Star Trader - ZX Spectrum
To stay alive during the game you must eat and drink at regular intervals (it can get a little annoying to be told you are hungry after eating a pub dinner along with a pint of beer!). Failure to do so will cause starvation, and eventually death!

You may stay overnight at an inn or a hotel to reduce your chances of being mugged, although it still can happen whilst you are snoring away in a holiday space-inn.

You should also take a quantity of food packs to eat during space flight between planets. These food packs can be bought from the local supermarket.

The worst hazard to the game player is being attacked by a pirate band - the height of scum and villany. You may protect yourself though by buying armaments for your ship. You will need
a laser and at least one battery pack to powre up the laser if you intend fight these space bound vagabonds.

This is the arcade portion of the game. The arcade action is viewed from your spaceship front windows, with the enemy craft approaching.

You can move your vessel up, down, right, left and (taken from the inlay instructions was quite something for the time 'so, for instance, if you choose to move left, the enemy craft will drift rightwards past your windows, just like driving a car!'). Amazing stuff I'm sure you'll agree.

If the fight is not going well (as in your shields are fully depleted) you can always surrender and pay the pirates their 'tax'. It can actually work out cheaper to do this rather than buying a lazer and an eight pack of ever-ready. Your shields always have to be repaired too when you land at your destination - so my advice is to avoid space combat and just pay any pirates you bump into.

Watch out for civil unreset on a planet - if society collapses and war breaks out you are immediately killed and the game is over. Keeping the economy secure across all eight planets is no mean feat....

Cheer up you grumpy sod - I'm going to buy something from you!

On Release:
This game was generally well met, but was never considered a must have. It managed to combine trading elements with arcade action quite well, and the menu screens were easy enough to follow. It was quite a popular game, but every Speccy users wanted Elite (I was jealous of my mate and his BBC Micro) - they would have to wait a little longer and this game filled the void for a while.

The Test Of Time:
Well, it's a charming game for sure. Very much a true retro game, this one is quite dated, more so than many other games from 1984. Having said that, there is something that is still enjoyable about playing it. Buying and selling is fun for a while, and the different random things that can happen through the game are both funny and frustrating (such as being mugged and having cash stolen, being thrown in jail, being mugged but being too strong for your attackers, spending a bucket load of cash on food but no matter how much you eat you are still hungry...)

Once you get over trying to use your mouse to make menu selections and get back into old school menu selection then progress can be made. Transport yourself back to a time when eight planets seemed almost limitless and when your imagination made each shopkeeper look different...

It's not quite Elite, but it's a quirky little computer game. Not bad. I always thought the spaceport looked quite cool too.

GENRE: Space strategy game/Arcade Game
DEVELOPER(S): Trevor Hall, Rob Phoenix,Gary McNamara and Joey
PRICE: £6.95 - UK

Classic gaming in the 'Elite' mould...

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

13 Sept 2010

Spectrum Games - Programmer Interview - Nick Bruty

ZX Spectrum Programmer Nick Bruty
Nick Bruty worked as a graphic artist on many classic games on our beloved ZX Spectrum.

A lot of you will remember titles such as the classic arcade games Slap Fight and Out Run, as well as the likes of Dan Dare III: The Escape and Trantor: The Last Stormtrooper.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Nick recently who was more than happy to discuss his days creating wonderful graphics on the ZX Spectrum.

Trantor The Stormtrooper
1:What was the first computer you ever programmed on, and how old were you at the time?
I started with very limited access to a ZX81 at my high school in Livingston, Scotland. I was around 13 and had little idea what I was doing but I was instantly hooked.

However computers were new and my school didn't really trust us with them. Things didn't take off until I received my own 48K spectrum for Christmas a year later. You couldn't tear me away from that thing. I would sneak up in the middle of the night to keep playing.

2:How did you get into the games development scene?
My high school friend David Quinn wanted to apply for a programming position at a company called Softstone.

We were only 15 and really had no idea what we were doing. He was learning some sprite routines from a book and as I liked to play around with art, I made him some sprites for his demo. To my utter amazement and jealousy he got the job.

The good news for me was they liked my art and wanted me to come down to Brighton and try out.After a few weeks they hired me on as a full time artist which although awesome wasn't something I had planned on. I thought I would be a programmer but it all seemed to work out well.

3: How did you Probe Software come about?
While we did quite a few titles at Softstone it eventually went bust. David and I were looking for work and found a local company in Probe Software. They were very small back then, in fact David and I were the only developers in the tiny 2 room office.

Our first game for Probe was a horse racing game called Sport of Kings. I can't remember exactly how many different titles I did at Probe, around 20 I think.

4: What was the first game you worked on that was published?
That would be V on the spectrum based off the original TV show back in the 80's. I remember drawing the animations of the main character Donavon (you know, the Beast Master!) on graph paper and manually converting it to hex to get it into the game. Things were very primitive back then.

5: What did you like about programming on the Spectrum and what was your impression of the machine the first time you used it?
It felt pretty slick coming from the ZX81. At the time I was so desperate for a computer, anything would have been great. I loved how open it was. I knew nothing about code or programming techniques but the machine was so simple you couldn't really break it. I felt like an explorer.

Every day I would learn some new revelation. I felt like Mathew Broderick in Wargames. On my mission to learn the secrets of machine code while my parents had no idea what I was doing. Except I was never going to break into the department of defense with Spectrum basic.

6: And what did you not like about programming on the Spectrum?
The lack of hardware graphical support and having to listen to C64 owners go on about their fancy hardware sprites. It did make us speccy's work harder though.

I certainly had my share of micro drive and tape failures. Saving always felt like a treacherous affair. I would hold my breath while the little drive whirled endlessly away, wondering if it would ever return. Thank god for the Opus Disc drive, although even that could be ropey with the edge connection.

7: How did you create graphics on the ZX Spectrum? What was the difference in creating game scenery and game sprites?
My main art package was The Artist. With no mice or tablets available I used a old Atari VCS joystick to draw with. To get from one side of the screen to the other I had to press left and wait 10 seconds for the cursor to get there.

Creating loading screens was rather painful.Scenery was generally done in 8x8 tiles. Typically you would only have 256 tiles to play with so you had to be careful how you spent them. This would also have to include the font if you wanted something other than the system one.

Over time I used a few different customized tile editors. You would draw your tiles and arrange them in a sequence of blocks. Then lay those blocks out in a level map. Thrilling stuff!

Early sprites were done on paper but eventually some kind soul made some primitive sprite editors. The frustrating thing about sprites was being confined to a set rectangular shapes. The size of that rectangle would be the same for every frame.

If you were animating a figure running you had to make it quite small so the arms and legs didn't penetrate out of the set shape and size. Years later this was one of the advancements Dave Perry made when we did Aladdin on the genesis. We could finally have sprites any shape or size on any frame which allowed us to use actual Disney animation.

8: The opening huge spaceship sprite in Trantor was mighty impressive. How did you get it to look so good?
I've always been a fan of Sci-fi and all the tech that goes with it. Trantor was designed as a very simple game just so I could blow all the memory on giant sprites and try to make something a little more cinematic.

Technically there was nothing very advanced going on, just a big old sprite dumped to the screen. The only concession was to have the movement vertical so we could have smooth scrolling.

9: How did you splash so much colour around in 'Extreme'. It's some achievement on the Speccy given it's attribute problem.
It was my last Spectrum game and I wanted to do something special so I pulled out every trick I knew. It was an original game which meant I could create the visual's to play to the Spectrums strengths.

Dave Perry's game engine was based off 8x8 pixel movement so that helped minimized clash but also meant we were going to have a fast paced game like Savage and Dan Dare 3.

10: Out of all of the Speccy titles you worked on - which is your favourite?
I would probably go with Extreme as DP and I made that without any contract. We were just having some fun although it would have been nice if we could have made more levels for it. I have a fond spot for the game play of Goonies. There weren't many co-op games like that and it was overlooked at the time.

11: Which other artits or programmers on the Spectrum impressed you at the time?
Anything by Ultimate although I don't know the individuals who worked on their titles. Technically they always seemed to be a year ahead of everyone.

Their 2D work was great but my personal favorite was Knightlore.

I'm going to give a shout out to my good friend Bob Stevenson who was doing some excellent art but unfortunately it was on the C64. Never too late Bob!

12: Did you move onto the 16-bit machines once the Spectrum (and 8-bit) scene began to fade?
A few titles before I stopped on 8-bit. Dave and I made a space strategy game call Supremacy (or Overlord in the States) for the Amiga and ST. It was a big departure for us and we had a lot of fun.

After 8 bit I moved onto the Genesis and Snes.This brought its own challenges for me as while I had a good reputation for 8-bit art I didn't really have any clue about colour theory and other basic art techniques.

Moving to 16-bit meant I was now competing with "real" artists and it was the start of a new journey for myself that I'm still enjoying.

13: Were you a games player back then? Did you have any favourite games be it your own or games by other software houses?
Oh yeah, I tend to veer towards action games. In no particular order:-
Way of the Exploding Fist
Highway Encounter
3D Deathchase
Daly Thompsons Decathlon

I could go on...
In the arcades it was Star Wars, Defender (which I'm lousy at even though I own one), any race game.

Currently I'm having a lot of fun with Just Cause 2.

14: Can you tell us what you have been doing since those days?
After 8-bit was over for us we then moved onto the Genesis with Terminator. I followed that up with my first SNES game Alien 3.

l then moved over to Virgin Games in the states and worked on Terminator for the megadrive CD and the Disney titles Aladdin and Jungle Book.

At that point myself and the rest of the core Aladdin team left Virgin to start Shiny Entertainment. Our first titles were Earthworm Jim 1&2 for Genesis, Snes and Megadrive CD.

After EWJ I got back to my sci-fi roots and moved into 3D gaming with MDK on the PC. Then I formed a new company, Planet Moon Studios with the MDK team to make Giants Citizen Kabuto and Armed and Dangerous.

Planet Moon is still an independent game developer based in San Francisco.

15: Finally, the retro scene is booming. Would you consider putting something together on the Speccy again?
Only if I can hardwire my Wacom tablet to it... and a mouse... and maybe a hard drive.

Classic Games and ZX Spectrum Games.

1 Sept 2010

Spectrum Games - Out Run - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

Out Run ZX Spectrum
Ahhh now this is one the most iconic arcade games of all times. Who else can remember the thrill of sitting in the Out Run cabinet, the 3D graphics racing towards you and Magical Sound Shower pumping in your ears?

Out Run (by Sega) was a fantastic beat the clock arcade racing game, and a conversion to the ZX Spectrum was always on the cards. But could such a large and graphically intensive game be converted to the Speccy? Well, yes is pretty much the answer.

Out Run ZX Spectrum Out Run was released by US Gold in 1987 and was met with a mostly positive reception. I'll get this out of the way first; the Spectrum 128 (or +2 and +3) versions were superior to the standard 48K version, due to the excellent in game sound track. A fine example of great AY Music.

Having the same music as the arcade original really enhanced the gameplay. Aside from this the versions were essentially the same.

Out Run Music:

For anyone that has been living in another dimension since 1986, here is a little overview of the game...

Out Run placed you in the driving seat of a Ferrari Testarossa convertible with a stunning blonde in the passenger seat (female players had to pretend it was a right-hand-drive vehicle ;-)), to race around a series of tracks at breakneck speed.

As you neared the end of a track (assuming you did not run out of time) then you would take the left or right fork to move onto the next track - each one branching into a different area.

As soon as you loaded the game up it was obvious that the programmers, (Probe Software), had pulled out all the stops to to reproduce the original as fully as possible. Graphically it was pretty much all in there. To be fair the graphics were excellently drawn and true to the original, despite the monochromatic colours (understandable on the Speccy).

ZX Spectrum Out Run What was good about the game was that it 'felt' like Out Run - all of the trackside scenery was in place, the bends, the road undulations - it was all true to the original arcade version. The only downside was that the Speccy version could not match the speed or smoothness of the Sega machine, but let's be honest here, there was no way that it ever could.

Kudos goes to the developers for squeezing so much into so little. A bit like Space Harrier, they managed to give us the best version we could have hoped for.

On Release:
Well when Out Run came out, some seemed to love it, some seemed disappointed. Some loved the detailled graphics and the fact that the tracks were recreated faithfully, some did not like the slow pace of the game which did not match the original. The game did well and fans of the arcade game snapped up the home version.

The Test Of Time:
In a strange way this game still plays quite well. Maybe it's because I'm a fan of the original game - but even after all these years there is something about it. Load it up, give it a go and let the magical sound shower wash your troubles away...

We recommend getting hold of the real Sinclair hardware - but if not then download a ZX Spectrum emulator and download Out Run for the ZX Spectrum. Alternatively you could try and play it online.

GENRE: Arcade Game (3D Racer)
DEVELOPER(S): Probe Software (Iain Morrison, Alan Laird, Nick Bruty, Jas Brooke)
PRICE: £8.99 - UK (£2.99 budget re-release)

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Classic Arcade Action (Level Two):

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