ZX Spectrum Games

ZX Spectrum Games

6 Dec 2011

Spectrum Games - W*H*B - Modern ZX Spectrum Game

So what's this game all about then?
This is a superb puzzle game from modern day coder of the ZX Spectrum (and ZX81) Bob Smith - who has developed a number of great computer games over recent years.

If you enjoy classic games such as Tetris, Pipemania or even Downfall then you will definately enjoy this, it really is one of the most enjoyable and well though out puzzle games I have ever played on any platform.

So let's take a look at a fantastic recent game for the greatest ever 8-bit machine...

W*H*B Loads Up...
This is a game where you have to control a 1x2 'block' cuboid around on a set of grid levels, with the objective being get it to stand 'upright' on the marked floor panel.

Throughout the game there are special objects to make matters a little more interesting. There are teleporting blocks which teleport you to a different location and crumbling blocks which disappear once you have 'stood' on them. Sneaky!

The graphics are top notch being very nicely drawn and superbly animated. Your 'block' rolls and moves around the screen extremely smoothly and the isometric viewpoint is absolutely spot on. For me this is the type of computer game that lends itself to this style of screen rendering perfectly.

This game also features some nicely composed music on load up, and a funky little ditty at the beginning of each level. The controls are completely redefineable too which all adds to the overall package.

The game starts of nice and easy as I try to get used to the controls...

Once I reach level three it becomes more fiendish!

All that I can say that this game is a brilliant example of a modern classic game for a retro computer. It is highly polished and superbly implemented; a real clever piece of coding.

With music from Mister Beep and level design from the games coder Bob Smith plus Kev Thacker, Jumping Stack, Karl Gillott, Mulder anbd Znorxman this is a real winner.

Once of my favourite puzzle games of all time. Brilliant.

Arcade Games, Classic Games and ZX Spectrum Games

9 Sept 2011

Spectrum Games - Frank N Stein (Rebooted) - Modern Retro Classic

Frank N Stein (Rebooted) ZX Spectrum
The reboot of the classic game from 1984 Frank N Stein is here!

The game's author Colin Stewart was kind enough to give me a sneak preview copy (see preview note here and an interview with Colin here) so here we are with a look at the game itself, twenty seven years after the original was released by PSS Software.

This is a classic game in the platform genre, and even back in 1984 it was a little different from the likes of Manic Miner, Fahreneit 3000 and Jet Set Willy.

So let's take a look at a modern re-boot of an already great game...

Frank N Stein Re-Booted is a real treat for us Speccy gamers

The title was different from other arcade game platformers of the era due to the gameplay mechanics and the objective. Instead of the usual left, right and jump controls, in this game you had left, right and 'use' (and 'jump' is available on certain screens).

It was up to you how best to use the various items around the screen to navigate your way around.

The object of the game (playing as Prof. Stein) is to fulfill a life-long ambition and build your own monster.

To do this you need to collect all the necessary body parts! A skull, arms, legs, a rib-cage.... you get the idea.

Guiding our little egg-head professor around the dungeon picking up the bones to assemble the monster like an air-fix kit is great fun, not to mention challenging.

You have to collect the parts in the correct order and each one collected appears in the electrode 'cage' at the top of the screen as the monster is built up.

Collect the body parts on level 1

Once all the parts are collected then you can throw the switch to power up those electrodes and give him life! Muhahaha haaaaa

At this point it is advisable to run around the room proclaiming yourself to be a new god and life giver as maniacally as possible.

Once you have calmed yourself down it is onto the next screen.

The format changes on the second screen - as your own home made monster turns against you as he starts rolling barrells down the screen towards you (the cheeky bugger). But here is the neat twist; now you can jump whenever you want as well as use on screen items.

You have to make your way to the top of the screen and throw the switch whilst avoiding the nasties and pitfalls along the way. Throw the switch and you've beaten your monster and it is on to the next screen.

I gave you life and now you try to kill me! These monsters don't appreciated anything you do for them...
 The other neat aspects of this game are the objects dotted around the screen. There are springs to launch you upwards, fireman poles to slide down, light bulbs to electrocute you (you do not lose a life but are hampered for a couple of seconds), slime to slow you down, ice to make you slip (and prevent you from jumping) and any manner of weird critters to avoid at all costs.

In keeping with the horror theme you will come across:
snails, bats, man-eating pumpkins, spiders, caterpillars, tanks, mice, lobsters, snakes, bumble bees,
jack-in-the-box and more....

It is the use of springs and poles to get around the screen along with timing your jumps and slides (to avoid the creatuers) that make the game stand out. Careful planning is required to collect the parts and create the monster before the time clock ebbs away.

With now over fifty screens to play through this is a computer game that will keep me going for the next few weeks. I have only seen a few screens so far (I'm not as good as I used to be!) but the level layout is very well done and the alternating game styles mixes the action up nicely.

The sprites are nicely animated and move around the screen smoothly. All I can say is that this is a great re-boot of a classic game and I for one am looking forward to Colin's next game, Dracula.

Level One - Collect the parts and throw the switch!:

Level 2 - Note the shift in gameplay:

Level 3 - Note how much I am struggling!

If you like classic arcade action then give this game a go, you will not be disappointed. It will be available to play on the 14th of September, precisely twenty seven years since it's first incarnation.

This game can now be downloaded for your Spectrum Emulator from:

Colin's own link

World Of Spectrum link

Dim the lights, don a lab coat and prepare to make your own monster...

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

3 Sept 2011

Spectrum Games - Frank N Stein and Dracula Update - Colin Stewart

Update on programming progress from Colin Stewart.

After speaking to me a couple of months ago and providing an interview (here) - ZX Spectrum developer Colin Stewart has been kind enough to give me an update on the progress of his arcade games Dracula and Frank N Stein re-booted

Frank N Stein re-booted is a re-write of the classic game (from 1984) and will feature extra levels, improvements that could not be squeezed into the original release and various other enhanced features. Look out for this game in the next couple of weeks!

In the meantime here is a nice pic for you all...

The re-boot of the classic platform game looms ever nearer...
Keeping in the gaming horror genre, Colin's other title Dracula (which was originally planned for publishing back in 1984 but never quite made it to release) is coming along nicely too.

It is great that this game is going to see the light of day (even though Dracula would hate that!) all these years later.

I can't wait to get my teeth into this one. Ahem....

Get your teeth into this game soon...

Hopefully we should see this game on our Spectrum emulators in six weeks or so.

Coders like Colin really prove that the retro gaming scene is very much alive and kicking - and many thanks go to him for the update and I can't wait to see these games!

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

1 Jul 2011

Spectrum Games - Programmer Interview - Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart
Colin Stewart worked on the ZX Spectrum back in the 1980's creating the platform game / arcade adventure Castle Quest before going on to create the playable and quirky platformer Frank N Stein.

Colin's follow up game to Frank N Stein was to be called Dracula but unfortunatley it was only partially completed and the project was shelved...

Now, all of these years later Colin is working to complete Dracula (which should excite us Spectrum gamers!) and was kind enough to reminisce with us about his days making those classic games for the good old Speccy...

Frank N Stein was a deserved big hit
1: Hello Colin. What was the first computer you used and how old where you at the time?
Hello, thanks for talking to me today. That would be a Sinclair ZX81 and I was 14 years old. I remember the whole experience vividly and from that moment on, I was completely hooked.

2: What did you like best about coding on the ZX Spectrum?
The ZX Spectrum has it’s limitations, such as poor colour resolution and virtually no sound, but it was fairly cheap and I could see huge potential in it. I guess the thing I liked best was bringing very simple graphics to life, a Spectrum screen is so recognisable, even today.

3: And what did you not like about coding on the ZX Spectrum?
Well that has to be saving my work to cassette tape, before I got microdrives.

4: Which programmers or software houses impressed you most back in the day?
Ultimate Play The Game made my jaw drop every time, even their logo was amazing. I remember seeing Jetpac running in W H Smiths and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and it was running in 16K!  It was so playable too and introduced some physics to the player movement for the first time.

5: Was your game Castle Quest fully published? It is hard to find any reviews of the game from back in the day.
Castle Quest was my first real attempt to break into the games market. I sent it off to lots of software houses and got limited response back. PSS did reply however asking if I had any other things in the pipeline, as they liked something about it. My understanding is that it was only ever released in Spain.

Colin's first game Castle Quest
 6: After the success of Frank N Stein what happened with your next game, Dracula?
PSS were very keen to follow-up Frank N Stein with another horror related title. I came up with Dracula and started work on the game based in a hotel with lifts between floors. I got about half way through I reckon, but it was never finished.

Games were becoming very graphically rich and I didn’t think the simpler Dracula format would be able to be a success in the market. It was very time consuming and I also got a real job.

7: I see you have the original source code for your unfinished game Dracula which you are planning on completing (which is brilliant!). Can you give us any idea when it will be ready for us Speccy fans to play?Yes, I have recovered everything I created and I intend to finish it off and release it. I’m not going to bring it up-to-date, I’m going to release it in the style I had originally intended, so it may look kind of simple compared with titles that followed Frank N Stein.

I hope to have it ready for special previews in about a month.

8: How has it been coding in Z80 assembler again after all these years?
To be honest, I’d forgotten it all, but it all came flooding back as soon as soon as I looked at it again. The worst bit is remembering all the ZX Spectrum quirks like the weird screen memory mapping and the need to the interrupt vector table.

9: What was life like working for PSS in the 1980's?
I was very young so it was a massive experience. I worked from home in my bedroom and they provided all the necessary sales and marketing support. I did visit them in Coventry on several occasions and I was offered the opportunity to work from there, which I didn’t take up.

10: Do you have any favourite games on the ZX Spectrum?
Yes, Manic Miner, Penetrator and Jetpac.

11: How do you find modern games compared to those of the 8-bit era?
I don’t play games computer anymore, they’re all a bit too realistic now and the plots are too complex. The quality of the graphics and general game-play is amazing though.

12: After Frank N Stein and Castle Quest what did you move on to next?
I got a job working as a programmer for a company who manufactured computerised milling machinery. I mainly worked on the machines user-interface and some early PC based CAD software they developed.

13: Can you tell us what you are up to now?
I’ve spent my whole career in IT, designing and developing software. I mainly programmed in C and still do some development work using C#. I’m currently the IT Development Manager for a large UK company, designing and developing in-house systems.

14: Finally, the retro gaming scene is booming. Once Dracula has been completed would you consider writing another game for the Spectrum? Go on, you know it makes sense! ;-)
I would consider it. I found the beginnings of another game when looking for Dracula, called The Goblin Caves, so I may finish that off. The problem is, with new games, players expect so much and my rather simple platform genre may not be good enough anymore. Better to go out on a high rather than a low.

Many thanks to Colin for taking the time to talk to me.

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

29 Jun 2011

Spectrum Games - Castle Quest - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

Castle Quest ZX Spectrum
Now this is a real lesser known game for the ZX Spectrum.

As far as I know this game was only given full release in Spain and was available to rent (yes rent!) in the UK courtesy of a company called Wildest Dreams.

It was developed way back in 1982 (from the real early days of the Speccy!) by Colin Stewart who also programmed the playable and popular platform game Frank N Stein.

This game when compared to likes of Frank N Stein and other arcade games (specifically those in the platform genre) it is to be fair, quite basic. But you have to remember that it was written in 1982 so for that era it was pretty impressive.

Castle Quest on the ZX Spectrum
You will notice that the main character is not animated as he moves around the screen and that the background graphics are simply drawn. But despite this, the game does play quite nicely and oozes a ton of charm.

The aim is to move from screen to screen, navigating your way from right to left avoiding the nasties (which move around the screen very nicely indeed) and accomplishing all of this before your time runs out which is depicted by the slowly reducing bar at the top of the screen.

The character has a slightly odd jump action which always makes him move through the air to the left or right, you cannot jump straight upwards. This actually adds a tactical element to the game as you really have to time your leaps to progress through the screens.

The second screen is pretty tricky!
I have to say that this game, despite being quite simple is actually quite playable. The 'time bar' at the top of the screen reminds me of Manic Miner and the overall style of the game makes me think of the Ocean classic games Hunchback and Hunchback II.

If you like arcade adventures and platform games then please give this classic game a go; it's got charm, a lot of retro style and enough to make you want to beat that screen! Oh, and I love the way your character 'warps' into the screen too, it's as if he has been 'beamed' into that damn castle!

GENRE: Arcade Game (Platform Game)
RELEASE DATE: 1984 (Although it was written in 1982)
RELEASED BY: Wildest Dreams (Aquired from PSS)
DEVELOPER(S): Colin Stewart
PRICE: - Rental only in the UK, given full release in Spain

It is charming retro arcade action all the way in Castle Quest...

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

8 Jun 2011

Spectrum Games - Programmer Interview - Mark R Jones

Mark R Jones
Mark R Jones worked as a graphics artist on the ZX Spectrum for Ocean Software during the 1980's.

He worked on many prominent titles on our favourite 8-bit machine providing various graphics and loading screens to the likes of the classic arcade conversions of Arkanoid and Arkanoid: Revenge Of Doh, the shoot em up game Mag Max, the Your Sinclair covertape game Road Race and the excellent trade em up game, Tai Pan.

He also provided graphics and the loading screen to the classic game Wizball which holds fond memories for many gamers.

Mark R Jones 1990
I was lucky enough to catch up with Mark who was more than happy to take me through his days of graphics design during his years at Ocean...

1: Hello Mark. What was the first computer you used and how old where you at the time?

The VERY first computer I ever used would have to be those old beige coloured PC things they had in schools in the early 80s. This would have been about 1983.

We didn’t have computers in middle school, so it would have been that year when I started at my upper school, I would have been 13. You’d type in some basic program that would tell you something enthralling, like the percentage of people living in 3 bedroom houses under 35 years of age which you’d then print out on that old printer paper with blue lines and perforated edges.

The first games I ever played though would have to be “Mazogs” or “3D Monster Maze” on my cousin’s ZX-81. I remember him turning off the TV half way through a game of “Mazogs” and I thought then that the game was gone and that we’d have to reload it, didn’t realise that you only had to turn the TV back on again and it was still there.

Classic ZX81 game Mazogs

I used to go round his house every other Saturday for a good few years and we’d wander round shopping centres, watch “The Tripods”, buy Beatles 7 inch singles & and get mucky playing in forests in the rain and, eventually, progressed to going in arcades at Billing Aquadrome (I remember them just being sheds!).

 I’d watch him and his brother playing “Space Invaders”, “Boothill”, “Mr Do” & “PacMan”, the first generation of arcade games.

Wow! I had no idea what I was witnessing. Just before all this happened we’d just end up in WHSmiths looking at pencil cases  and pens in our free time!

2: Which game (on any machine) was the first ever published title that you worked on?
The VERY first thing that was ever published was “MagMax”. I had just started at Ocean days before and I don’t think Gary Bracey, our boss downstairs in the cellars where the games were made, had paired me up with a programmer yet so I was at a bit of lose end for a few days.
“MagMax” was being converted to the Spectrum & Amstrad out of house and was nearing completion. He gave me a tape of the latest version which I then loaded up and was horrified at how crap it all looked.
Gary asked me to redesign the main character sprite (which was tiny, so I didn’t have many pixels to play with) and the 2 other parts you picked up as you went along which made up the complete robot. I think Gary was just trying to tart up what there was so it could be finished and put to bed.
I remember seeing adverts for it a good few months before this so it was probably well overdue. It was also missing a loading screen which I duly got to work on. I did a pretty good job of that if I may say so.
After all, I had to impress everyone and it was my first loading screen! That was all I had to do with that game though and I was chuffed when the mediocre review Crash gave the game mentioned the “brilliant loading screen”!

Crash magazine rave about the loading screen

The not quite finished loading screen to Mag Max
The finalised loading screen that was rightly raved about by Crash

The first full game I worked on where I produced all the graphics and got a credit for was the half assed conversion of “Wizball” on the Spectrum. Not that I was half assed about it, it was the damn programmer! Ugh!

An incomplete version of the Wizball loading screen

3: What did you like best about graphic design on the ZX Spectrum?
The best thing was that I could actually do it!! Before I started at Ocean I hadn’t created an animated sprite ever! I had just sent them a load of loading screens, all static, as examples of my work.
So I was sat down and asked to come up with this stuff for a game and, after a rusty start, found I could do it. I got some help from games legend Simon Butler & “Renegade” artist Ronnie Fowles.
Also, I loved doing loading screens, that was my favourite part of the job, because the only restrictions laid on you were those of the machine itself and not those of a programmer telling you that the main character’s face was only 3 pixels wide!
I turned out a few nice ones too, they still look good today, they stand up compared to the other stuff made at the time. And I have some of them on some great looking retro mugs with Bob Wakelin’s art on the other side courtesy of  “The Attic Bug”. They have pride of place in my retro games room that I set up in my house in January 2011.

4: And conversely what did you not like about creating graphics on the ZX Spectrum?
I’ve been asked this before a few times and I always give the same answer. Having produced a graphic, it’s taken you a GOOD few hours, most of the morning in fact and it’s animating well, doing what it should, a few people have commented how smashing it is then, 2 days later, the programmer goes “Oh, that graphic you did, there’s not going to be enough room”.
I know it’s NOTHING compared to some people I know who’ve worked for YEARS on one game with a cast of 40 others only for it to be canned, I just can’t imagine what that feels like. One animated sprite being given the heave ho was bad enough for me.
5: Which applications and packages did you use to design sprites, graphics and loading screens?

For the sprites we used an amended version of Melbourne Draw, renamed Ocean Draw, that had animation features added by Paul Owens, if memory serves me correctly. It was real easy to use.

I'm not sure if this version has actually been archived yet. I do still have my microdrive cartridge with it on. Maybe I should lend it someone to see if it can be salvaged before it disapears forever.

For loading screens I used 3 different packages, the one I just mentioned, and Artist 2 and Art Studio.

They ALL had things that worked better on each version so it would just be a question of using all 3 priograms still you got something jolly! I had bought Art Studio and The Artist 2 with money from my school job at Co-Op. Money well spent I think!
6: What game are you most proud of on the Spectrum and why?
I’m not REALLY proud of any of them. I was proud of “Wizball” getting a Crash Smash and a Sinclair User Classic but it could have been so much better had the programmer known what he was doing and hadn’t left Ocean with no notice with the game half finished only for it to be tidied up by another programmer, Paul Owens, and released as it was.
With my other games, all I see are the bugs and the bits that had been put together half assed.  See, once I’d handed my graphics over to the programmer it was out of my hands. The main character in “Gryzor” had a proper animated run but due to “memory constraints” his top half was animated less than his bottom half, which missed half the frames out, so it looked OK but could have looked better!
At least if I did a shit loading screen I only had myself to blame. I don’t think I did a real shit one but a couple were ropey because the artwork I had to copy off was bloody awful in the first place.

7: What was it like working for Ocean and Imagine during the 80's?
Fantastic. I can say that now looking back. Most of us just didn’t realise just how fantastic it was at the time but it was.
It was my first proper job away from home, I was living in my own place for the first time and I was doing something I had been doing as a hobby for the past 2 years and now I was being paid to do it and it was going to get published all over the world.

Plus I was working with people who had written some of the games I had been playing myself at school, I KNEW them, I went to arcades with them at dinner time to nick ideas!
The Ocean Software crew
Some of the greats worked at Ocean while I was there, Simon Butler, Mike Lamb, John Brandwood, John Meegan, Andy & Ivan, Paul Hughes, Dawn Drake, Martin Galway, Jon Dunn, Matthew Cannon, Allan Short, Steve Wahid, Steve Thompson, Colin Porsche, Paul Owens and a host of others.
They all were great to work and/or hang out with after work.

8: Which other programmers/graphic designers and/or companies impressed you the most during the Spectrum era?
Steve Turner, I LOVED “Avalon” and “Dragontorc”. I immersed myself in the world he had created on my humble Spectrum, so rich with atmosphere I could wander around these lands for hours, without actually getting anywhere armed with just some Cheesey Knick Knacks. I never did finish either of them.

Bo Jangeborg, for “Fairlight” which I spent many hours on, again, not really getting anywhere. Wasn’t too keen on the follow up though, that annoying slow down when you had too many things on the screen had got a bit too much for me on that one.
I loved Gargoyle Games, “Tir Na Nog” was my fav but I loved “Heavy On The Magick” too, they lost it though when they started to do those Faster Than Light games. Shame that, we never did get to see “Fornax” or “Gath”, which were supposed to be the follow ups to “Marsport”. Would be great to hear from them now, I've never seen a recent interview with either of the 2 fellas who ran Gargoyle.
I loved “Trashman” by Malcolm Evans and released by New Generation Software. It was the first original I bought with my 14th birthday money and it’s still a jolly good game.
Ultimate, of course.  I’m not going to bleat on about how great they were because it’s been done a zillion times already but seeing “Knight Lore” for the first time on a cold school evening  left a huge impression on me.
I still remember that evening in a totally useless amount of detail and I have 2 copies of each real Ultimate game on display in my games room, as a sort of homage/shrine/mental type geekness. Those games STILL smell new, when you open up those glossy cryptic instructions sheets, they still smell the same as they did back in 1984! Just holding one in my hand transports back to being 14 years old!
And still after they turned into Rare they carried on being amazing with the stuff they did on the Nintendo 64 which, in my opinion, are up there with some of the best games ever written, "Donkey Kong 64", "Banjo-Kazooie", its follow up and "Conker's Bad Fur Day". I love 'em!
When I dug out my old Nintendo 64 I made it my first priority to get myself a complete collection of Rare games for that machine (my 2nd fav machine after the Spectrum!)

9: Do you have any favourite games on the ZX Spectrum? Which are they and why?
Most of them are mentioned above but other ones I loved then and still love now just because they were great, playable games include “Pogo", “Jumping Jack”, “Antics”, “Jet Set Willy”, “Chuckie Egg”, “Karnov”, “Rex”, “Ant Attack”, “Thanatos”, “Bugaboo”, “Way Of The Tiger”, “Boulderdash”, “Dynamite Dan 1 & 2”, “Zub”, “Maziacs” and “Sabre Wulf”. I could go on and on, but I won’t, so I’ll leave it THERE!

10: The title screen in Total Recall is very impressive and still looks good today. How was it accomplished on the humble Speccy?

An unused montage screen created for Total Recall

Another unused screen for the Arnie game Total Recall

The excellent title screen for Total Recall
Oh! I cheated! Arnie’s face was scanned in. I didn't even scan it in, someone at Ocean scanned it, Bobby Earl I think. All I had to do was position it and draw the planet surface, some triangle thing, a tiny planet and some stars. Easy peesey!

11: TaiPan was a very extravagant and feature rich game. The sprites and backgrounds capture medeival japan very well - how did you think about designing the graphics for it?
That game was produced out of house, by Sentient Software I think. All I did was make the loading screen, which is my least favourite Spectrum screen that I made. The advert art was boring, I hated doing it. It was a drag!

The Tai-Pan screen in development

The final loading screen for Tai-Pan
I don't know why after having MADE the game they couldn't be bothered doing a loading screen themselves. I never played it either, trading games bore the pants off me and I didn't like the look of it. Ugh! Yet it got a Crash Smash! Hey ho!

12: Wizball (which was a superb game I might add) was such an iconic C64 game - how much pressure was there when making the Spectrum version considering the attribute colour problems on the machine?
Mmmm. In my opinion "Wizball" on the 64 is one of THE best games ever! Kudos to Mr Gary Bracey for seeing the potential in it (no licence! A completely original game!) and seeing it through. Also to the boys at Sensible for coming up with it in the first place.
The Spectrum version was never really finished properly. There was no pressure whatsoever. “Wizball” starts off as a black and white game, the land had lost its colour. That's totally suited to the Spectrum! You fill in each colour and, on the Spectrum, parts of the landscape get coloured in.
A selection of sprites from Wizball

More sprites and graphics from the classic game Wizball

Those famous Wizball Yin-Yangs!

I know on the C64 it was a more subtle shading in of different parts of the background, which you couldn't do on a Speccy. The only problems with attributes was from when different baddies passed over each other. Wasn't down to me anyway, that was up to the programmer.

I gave him white graphics, I didn't get any say in what colour they were, Wizball had to be green obviously but everything else was up to Mr Maths.
The final excellent loading screen for Wizball
13: How do you find modern games compared to those of the 8-bit era?
I have a Wii and an Xbox 360 in my house. The Wii, well, it started off promising but go look at a shelf full of Wii games in HMV or Game, it's 95% games for kiddies, or families. Silly quiz games, or compilations of shitty subgames, or singing games.
There's barely ANYTHING that people are going to look back on and remember, it's a load of old tosh! I was reading an old N64 magazine recently from 1999, and in it they talk about Nintendo getting rid of their 'kiddy image'. Well it's even worse now, lordy mary queen!
I can't get over how realistic some of the Xbox games look nowadays but you have to put so much TIME into them all. There's not that many games you can switch on, have a blast then turn off.
For that I have to go back in time and switch on the N64, Megadrive or Spectrum! There's too much involvement, and if you can't commit to the time needed to get on with the game, then it's pointless starting. And I always get stuck at one bit, have to do the bits before it OVER and OVER again, want to throw the damn thing out the window and never touch it again.
So I don't usually bother. I'd much rather watch someone else playing it! I don't end up screaming at the screen if I do that.

14: As the Spectrum scene began to fade what did you move on to?
I did some 16 bit games at Ocean for a little while. Went freelance when I moved back home from Manchester to Northampton, worked on some even less well know titles, nearly worked for Bullfrog on "Flood 2", which would have been great fun to do had it not all fallen through then went to Israel for a while.
Came back and got a normal job. I should have stuck it out. My biggest regret now looking back was leaving Ocean. I was an idiot! Boo hiss boo!

15: Can you tell us what you are up to nowadays?
For a job I work with young adults with learning disabilities which I love to bits. I'm a known expert on Syd Barrett & the early Pink Floyd and have had my name credited on a documentary and in 3 major published books on him.
I helped Pink Floyd's management company with Syd's official, posthumous website too which was fun. I play guitar and can sing and when the mood takes me make home recordings of songs I think are hot, thought I can't write a song for toffee. I also design inlays for various unofficial Syd/early Floyd/Beatles DVD and CD covers, that are then distributed via the internet. Keeps me busy.

16: With the retro gaming scene booming would you consider being the graphics artist on another Spectrum game? Go on, you know you want to....   ;)
I'd love to do another Spectrum game. I did put the feelers out a while back (and nearly ended up making an iPhone/Android game but that fell through) but no one came forward. I need a good programmer who is willing to bash some ideas together.

I'm currently making the inlays for a massive 8 DVD Beatles set, called 'The Cathode Ray Tube Collection'. I'm 2 in and 6 to go at the moment.

When that's all done I'm project-less and will be looking for my next little time consumer thingymahoop so if anyone is up for it, let me know. I'm on the look out.

Mark with his old boss Gary and top Ocean programmer Jim Bagley in 2010

Many thanks go to Mark for taking the time to discuss his days at Ocean and for supplying so much information. Brilliant.

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

27 May 2011

Spectrum Games - Force Fighter - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

Force Fighter ZX Spectrum
The combined force of Tim Williams and Chris Jones who gave us gaming gems such as Turtle Timewarp and Fahrenheit 3000 also gave us this little playable arcade game in the early days of the ZX Spectrum.

This little known game was released back at the beginning of 1984 and was generally regarded as a decent and fast moving game in the arcade / shoot em up genre.

You can tell this is a game from the early days but I tell you what it oozes a lot of charm...

Only you stood between Earth and the fifteen waves of alien attackers bent on destruction of our lovely planet. This did seem to happen a lot back in the 1980's eh?

It was pretty much standard arcade gaming fayre. Each wave attacked with ships of five, and there were also indestructable meteors making random paths downwards which you had to avoid. These meteors would sometimes 'stick' to the bottom area of the screen for a short while.

You could move your ship to the left or right and also fire a single shot upwards. Each enemy ship shot would rapidly fall downwards making you have to shoot and move quickly. There was no room for sticking around and it was fast paced action all the way.

The usual bonus scores were given for clearing a wave - and the quicker you cleared it the more points you got.

A neat feature in this game was the firing action. You could press the fire button and hold it - which allowed your 'shot' to hover above the nose of your craft until you released the fire button.

This added a little bit of handy tactics to the game as those alien nasties moved around the screen at rapid speed.

All in all this is a very simple game that is fun for a while. It plays really well and you need quicker reflexes than 'The Flash' to do well.

Give it a go - it's a testament to the real early days of ZX Spectrum gaming.

GENRE: Arcade Game
RELEASE DATE: Early 1984
RELEASED BY: Perfection Software then re-released by Softstone
DEVELOPER(S): Tim Williams and Chris Jones
PRICE: £5.50 then £4.95 - UK

This is classic arcade action from the early days:

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

3 May 2011

Spectrum Games - Programmer Interview - Steve Turner

Steve Turner ZX Spectrum
Steve Turner was a fine games developer for the ZX Spectrum and various other platforms for many years.

He helped create many classic games for Graftgold which were in turn published by Hewson and his titles include many well known retro games such as Avalon, Dragontorc, 3D Space Wars, 3D Sieddab Attack, 3D Lunattack, Intensity, Quazatron, Ranarama and Zynaps.

The Seiddab trilogy is a particular favourite of mine, culminating in the technically excellent and fun 3D Lunattack - a game which I spent playing into the small hours.

Steve was more than happy to take me through his coding days on the ZX Spectrum...

1: What was the first computer you programmed on and how old where you at the time?
When I was 14 I joined a computer club at my school. We went on a coach to the Roral Liberty School Romford that had a computer. The main bit was the size of a desk and had 512 bytes of core ram. We used to type programs in a langauge called ALGOL 60 on computer tape.

Then you had to load  a huge tape that must have been some sort of compiler. A machine code paper tape was output. You then loaded another huge tape to program the computer how to execute the machine code.

After that you input the machine code tape and if you were lucky an output tape was produced. Feeding this into a teletype machine converted it to printed output. It was long winded but it was pure magic.

Later (1970) I helped write what was probably the worlds first dating program .It was a huge success at my school. You fiilled out a form with your details and likes etc and the computer matched people and we printed a big list of the matches.

Kids were buying loads of entries and filling them in for their friends trying to get bad matches as we had both good and bad options to choose from such as green hair.

2: Which game (on any format) was your first ever published title?
My first title was published by Hewson on the ZX Spectrum. It was such a neat little machine , it seemed like science fiction as I was used to huge mainframes at work.

3: What did you like about coding on the ZX Spectrum?
Z80 was a very good assembly langauge. It was very compact and extremely fast. It was simple to learn at first but there were many tricks to learn to speed things up.

4: And what did you not like about coding on the Speccy?
I started off without an assembler so rather than type in human readable instructions such as "ret"  for a return instruction.

I had to type in the machine code in hexadecimal which was "C9". So essentially I was assembling the program by hand. One mistake and the program would be very wrong. The lack of a decent storage media was a drawback for a long time.

I used to use a cycle of 10 cassette tapes to store versions of the program, as at any time one may not load.  The other bugbear was the ram extension sitting on the back of the machine. Hit a key too hard and it could come loose and you lost all your work.

I dont know how many times I felt like putting a hammer to the machine when it did that. I eventually bought a full size keyboard and mounted everything inside.  Eventually we were using IBM pc clones to write the programs using a cross assembler, connected to the Spectrum and C64 with our own hardware.

5: The sprite movement in intensity is incredibly smooth. How did you manage this considering the animations and shading etc?
It integrated Dominic Robinson's cell based code that he used for Uridium. It was a neat system that only built the character cells on the screen that changed. It kept a copy of the screen so it could rapidly copy any dirty cells.

Cells with sprites were built off screen then copied to the screen. This allowed the frame rate to be kept high. The sprites were all pre-rotated to horizontal pixel positions so they could be copied rapidly as cells. That saved having to use rotate instructions to move a sprite to the required pixel.

6: Out of all your titles for the ZX Spectrum, which one are you most proud of any why?
My favorite was Dragontorc. I still had lots of things to learn to improve plotting speed but I got the balance of arcade and adventure I was looking for. I really enjoyed programming it - I think it was opening up a complete new genre.

7: What was life like at Hewson during the Speccy era?
We didnt work for Hewson, he was just our publisher. Andrew and I worked from my front room which was very cosy. We had a couple of desks with big comfy office chairs. Hewson's was a small industrial unit on an estate.

It was a family firm, his dad used to control the tape copy machine, his brother used to help review and produce the games. We used to visit perhaps once every few months to show our latest work. They would give us feedback but we basically did what we wanted.

8: Where you given free reign to develop games or did concepts come in from other people?
Hewson used to let us do the game design and he did the publishing. We usually had a good idea about our next game while finishing the previous game.

Usually the technology preceded the game design and influenced it. For example we would think of a new way to speed up plotting that would have design limitations for the game so you designed to fit the new system.

9: Which other developers or software houses impressed you at the time?
I liked the Ultimate games. Very often it was individual games such as Lords Of Midnight or Jet Set Willy that impressed us. Whenever we saw a new technique we would work out how it was done and try to do it better.

10: Do you have any favourite games on the ZX Spectrum that were not written by you? !! :-)
Not really, the truth is I had no time to play games. I was too busy writing them or play testing our own games. Many people have no idea the effort that goes into a game. In those days we did all the music and graphics, programming, design, play-testing etc ourselves. I used to work 9-5 and then "go home" to my wife and small boy, so didnt get much chance to play other peoples games.

Occasionally a friend would visit and show us the latest games but I hardly played them.

11: How do you find modern games compared to those of the 8-bit era?
There are some really good games around but they are almost all the same formula. I tend to play Total War  games a few years old. The newer ones are so slow compared with their older game engines and I have a pretty good laptop.

I would like to see some new ideas. The cost of developing games is just too much to risk new ideas. What may start to happen though is new ideas start on iPhones or similar and then get re-developed on the state of the art games machines.

12: As the Spectrum scene began to fade what did you move on to?
At that time I was already writing for the C64 and pretty soon after that the Atari ST, Amiga and PC. It was really important to design game systems to run on several machines as no one knew what would be successful.

13: Can you tell us what you are up to now?
Ive been playing around with a Realms 2 for a long time. I retired at the end of 2010 so have been prgramming on the PC. I have Direct X 9 all up and running a landscape with thousands of men running in formations over it.

I would like to try an online game as I think there is a huge scope using human interactions.

14: With the retro gaming scene booming would you consider writing another Spectrum game?
I still got my Spectrum, Z80 manual and development system just in case. It would be fun to have another go if I get bored.

15: Finally - I remember the 'B' side of the 3D Lunattack cassette had a spoken piece between the mission commander and the pilot (I think) which set the scene for the game and was also pretty funny. Do you know who provided the voices?
I remember that; it was a professional voice mimic that Hewson knew. I think he used to do some of the voices for the Spitting Image TV show.

I was done like Q breifing James Bond  and pre-empted the jokes that the bond films put in later on with    Whats that? Its the cigarette lighter.

The voice thing was Hewsons idea and was done as we had included voice messages in the game if you had some voice add-on board (currah microspeech) that probably hardly anyone had bought. Everything that came up as a scrolling message on the HUD also had a voice message.

Thanks go to Steve for taking the time to do this - it is very much appreciated.
Many thanks,


Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

8 Apr 2011

ZX Spectrum Games - Ad Astra - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

Ad Astra ZX Spectrum
To The Stars!

That was the motto of this classic 3D game from Gargoyle Games which was their first ZX Spectrum release.

This game was released around April 1984 and was quite amazing at the time due it's 3D graphics and fast paced gameplay.

Unfortunately this game has dated more than many other games for our favourite 8-bit machine, but let's have a look at it anyway...

Ad Astra From Gargoyle Games

Set against the blackness of space, this 3D arcade game was one of those games that amazed you back in early 1984.

As usual for these classic games there was a back story to set the scene...

There is little to occupy a pilot as he doggedly coasts from station to station...

That is, unless you count the deadly phasers of the formations of Pirate battle-cruisers and their robot Scout ships, the multidirectional scatter bombs, the gigantic mine-layers of the Capellan Anti-Terran League (what a great name!), the almost impenetrable curtain of lethal mines and the fragmentation bombs, not to mention, of course, the ever-present interstellar debris that litters areas of space...

That's no moon...

So, basically you had to blast away at incoming enemy ships and avoid crashing into planetoids.

The 3D effect of the planetoids coming towards you and the bad guys as they swooped 'out of' the screen was, at the time, pretty damn amazing.

With six lives to play with and seven stages to play through, the game offered some variety and also a pretty tough challenge.

Five different types of aliens attacked in eight different formations, firing two types of lasers at you.

This was followed by a minefield stage where you had to destroy streams of rotating mines before they moved to close to your craft.

Then come those pesky spinning saucers firing at you as they span across the gameplay area. These had to be hit several times to ensure destruction.

The last phase was a 'Way Station'. A security code appeared for the next Way Station, and as the station appeared the player had remember this code and then input it correctly.

An incorrect code resulted in loss of a life. A correct code rewarded you an extra life and a nice 'Welcome' message. Infinity welcomes careful drivers...

To The Stars!

And that is pretty much it. It's a real retro arcade game that has very little depth but plenty of charm.

On Release:
When this game was released it was praised for it's amazing 3D graphics and perspective. Crash Magazine awarded it a very respectable score of 80% commenting on the rotating shaded planetoids, fast moving graphics and addictive gameplay. It ended up being a reasonable hit and a good first game from Gargoyle.

The Test Of Time:
Well the years have not been kind to this one. Of course the 3D effect is no longer amazing and the playability is pretty shallow, but there is something utterly charming about this classic game. Despite the sometimes seemingly 'random' deaths that befall you the game can make you smile a little. This is one from the early days before developers really began pushing the hardware, and to be fair it has dated a lot - but it is definately worth a look for pure nostalgia.

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

GENRE: Arcade Game (Shoot em up)
RELEASED BY: Gargoyle Games
DEVELOPER(S): Roy Carter, Greg Follis
PRICE: £5.95 - UK

Classic Arcade Gaming:

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

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