The Little Book of Sinclair ZX Spectrum Games by Chris Wilkins – review
Sep23

The Little Book of Sinclair ZX Spectrum Games by Chris Wilkins – review

I will start out with a confession – that here at Retro Games Collector we are unashamed fans of the work of Retro Fusion Books. Their publications hit the sweet-spot of quality, content and price and it shows with The ZX Spectrum in Pixels trio, Commodore 64 in Pixels and The Story of US Gold books, all scoring an unprecedented top mark of 5/5 in our reviews. This latest book – The Little Book of Sinclair ZX Spectrum Games – combines a selection of the games covered in The ZX Spectrum in Pixels books, plus a few new ones – in a small, neat, hardback format which Chris based upon the popular Ashens book; Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of. The book itself measures 162 x 162mm making it Fusion Retro’s smallest book yet. Inside the book As already stated, The Little Book of Sinclair ZX Spectrum Games is small and square in format with a nice matte black finish to the hardcover giving it a compact, classy feel. Within those covers there are 144 pages with a whopping 1oo games covered, interspersed with a foreword by Chris, images of the ZX Spectrum range of computers (from the 16K rubber key original to the +3) and Oliver Frey’s amazing magazine cover artwork. The games secreted within are now broken up intro genres; Sports Games, Arcade Adventure, Arcade, Adventure, Strategy/Puzzle, Fighting, Racing and Platform – with every game nicely indexed on the last few pages. Each game is given one page, with the synopsis underneath a screenshot of the game in question and a Crash magazine review score (if applicable) listed alongside. What is striking about Fusion Retro’s diminutive new offering is its overall feel of quality. The paper used is 150gsm which in non-printer speak means they are thicker than the norm, helping toward the quality feel that permeates throughout this title. The print quality is also noteworthy, with the screenshots bright, crisp and colourful, just like Spectrum graphics were… once we tuned our tellies in anyway. In Summary Another fantastic addition to the Fusion Retro Books stable. Absolutely perfect as a present for the Speccy-phile in your life (or for yourself!) especially with Christmas just around the corner. Even if you have the ‘in Pixels’ books already, this is still a must-buy with its handier ‘pocket’ size, great quality printing and extra reviews. No surprise then that this book also gets full marks from us. Pre-order your copy of The Little Book of Sinclair ZX Spectrum Games...

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ZX Spectrum Games Code Club by Gary Plowman – review
Sep06

ZX Spectrum Games Code Club by Gary Plowman – review

Gary Plowman (AKA Gazzapper Games) sent me the ZX Spectrum Games Code Club to review quite a while back now. Unfortunately for him I have been building my upcoming (yes, and it is close!) retro gaming store and that got in the way of my penning this review. What I did make time for however, in between sorting, scanning and listing software titles, was a thorough read of the book in question. I often reminisce about those early home computing days back in the 80s, when I would spend hours hunched over my ZX81 or Spectrum and a copy of Sinclair Programs, painstakingly typing out listing after listing and carefully saving the resulting program to tape. Often there would be a mistake in the listing itself, or you would type something incorrectly meaning you would have to spend another few hours or so fixing it. The term debugging was rarely used by schoolboys on their Spectrums in front of the living room TV back in the 80s, but debugging was exactly what it was and it taught us plenty. Many of us have gone on to have successful careers in computing and have found the lessons learned back then invaluable and often transferable to modern day programming languages. Fast forward to the present day and ZX Spectrum Games Code Club by Gary Plowman uses program listings in the same BASIC language we used back then as a tool for teaching yourself the rudimentary skills needed to code, using – and here is the best part – an actual ZX Spectrum or a Spectrum emulator. And this is why I am so enthused about this book. In essence it takes us back to the roots of games design. Back to a time when every byte counted and 16 or 48K was often all you had to play around with. A time of programming without waste. Inside the book As stated in the introduction, the book is primarily written to teach you how to program in Sinclair BASIC. This is achieved through a series of games listings which you need to input into your chosen ZX Spectrum (or Spectrum emulator). Firstly though, you are taken through some of the more basic commands, an explanation of Spectrum-specific features, emulator keyboard mapping, how to save your work – either to good old cassette or microdrive – and some tips to make typing in code a whole lot easier. There are 20 games listings in total, each followed by a comprehensive run-down of the programming techniques used and what they achieve. You are encouraged to experiment, modify and extend the listings yourself at every...

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Sinclair Spectrum Vega plus – first thoughts
Feb19

Sinclair Spectrum Vega plus – first thoughts

As many of you are aware, I was less than impressed with the first Spectrum Vega offering from Retro Computers Ltd (a partnership of Sir Clive Sinclair, Chris Smith, Dr. David Levy and Paul Andrews). It looked cheap and ugly and the whole concept of replacing a Spectrum with what was nothing more than emulation via a plasticky plug-in TV game really didn’t appeal. Enter the Sinclair Spectrum Vega Plus. Pedigree is important. Especially to die-hard Speccy fans. This time the concept designs (seen below) have been produced by Rick Dickinson – the industrial designer responsible for a host of Sinclair projects including the ZX80, ZX81, QL, original ZX Spectrum computer and Sinclair flat screen TV amongst others. The result of Rick’s input is a beautiful looking handheld, this time with a built-in LCD screen. There is still the option to plug your + into a TV via an AV cable and extra games can be loaded via an SD card slot in the top of the unit. One thing that still baffles me about the whole re-release of the ZX Spectrum thing is Uncle Clive’s involvement in what is essentially a games machine. I mean, this thing may even have Jet Set f*cking Willy on it. Perhaps he needs the funds to further his A-Bike project, or a new C… no let’s not go there. Whilst this still isn’t everything I was looking for in a modern Spectrum (keyboard anyone?) I will be backing this one to the hilt. Expensive for what it is? Maybe. But designed and produced in Britain, looking gorgeous and branded with Sinclair. What else is there not to like? What do you think of the Spectrum Vega+? Let us know in the comments...

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Sinclair ZX Spectrum: A Visual Compendium by Bitmap Books – review
Feb01

Sinclair ZX Spectrum: A Visual Compendium by Bitmap Books – review

A third Visual Compendium book; Sinclair ZX Spectrum: A Visual Compendium has now been published by Sam Dyer at Bitmap Books, following another highly successful KickStarter campaign. It follows on from two other successfully funded books covering the Commodore 64 (see review here) and the Commodore Amiga, but now covers my personal chilhood hero; the ZX Spectrum. In honour of this, the book colour has changed to black and looks great for it. I also pledged for the ‘capsule’ perk which sees my copy packaged in a polystyrene block with a cardboard sleeve, supposed to mimic the original ZX Spectrum 16/48K packaging (more on this later in the review). The beautifully printed dust jacket in all its glory. Black looks best. In our opinion anyway! The polystyrene ‘capsule’ and sleeve. Great photography throughout. Never complete without Oli Frey artwork. Special bright inks are used throughout. A lot of stretch goals were reached. Resulting in a lot of goodies bundled arriving with the book! Comparison of the new poly ‘capsule’ and the original packaging. Hmmm. Not really doing justice to the John Harris original. Inside the Compendium Designed by Sam Dyer, Edited by Steve Jarratt and published by Bitmap Books (bitmapbooks.co.uk), the Sinclair ZX Spectrum: a visual compendium is the third in a series of books that concentrate on visuals rather than the written word for the crux of their content. From the beautifully printed matt black spot varnished dust jacket to the bright and colourful graphics depicted within, the book delivers this ‘visual’ concept in a very appealing way. Oozing a quality that has become the norm for a Bitmap Books publication, Volume 3 hits the floor running when it comes to content. Special inks were used to great effect, highlighting the ZX Spectrum’s bright and colourful display. The foreword by graphic artist Ste Pickford tells of the difficulties Spectrum artists had when it came to the limited colour palette and infamous attribute clash the Spectrum endured, yet how they then overcame the limitations to produce some of the most iconic graphics and artwork of the 80s. This is followed by a short piece by Rick Dickinson – designer of the ZX Spectrum and other Sinclair computers. He tells the story of the design of the Spectrum and how Sinclair managed to compromise on specification to produce a microcomputer that was half the price of the competition at launch. The main content of the book follows the same format as the previous volumes – double page spreads featuring graphics from popular games, each with one or two short reviews. These are interpersed with interviews and pages of short memoirs...

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Hands on with the Just Speccy 128 by Zaxon
Jan25

Hands on with the Just Speccy 128 by Zaxon

Whats wrong with a normal Speccy anyway? As anyone who ever owned a ZX Spectrum will testify, loading from tape could sometimes be a frustrating affair, what with misaligned heads, dropouts and all manner of other things causing the dreaded ‘R Tape loading error, 0:1‘. Loading times were another bugbear – being able to make yourself a cuppa whilst waiting for your favourite game to load sounds useful, but I didn’t drink that much tea when I was 11 to be honest. Yes, there were various disk drives, microdrives and wafadrives available but those of us that were bought ZX Spectrums because of financial constraints (and I’m guessing that was a lot of us) were never going have those expensive peripherals hooked up to our humble micros. Sound was another issue, with early rubber key Spectrums only having a beeper – the brunt of many a Commodore 64 owner’s joke. We had to wait until the 128 hit the shelves to get AY chip sound effects in our games. If we wanted to use a joystick with our 16/48K, a joystick interface had to be added, the list of compromises goes on… In truth, that was what the rubber keyed Spectrum was. A compromise machine made to a low price point. We knew that and embraced its many flaws. So what is the Just Speccy 128? Fast forward 34 years and the ZX Spectrum scene is very much alive and well. In fact growing. Some very clever people are developing new hardware, enabling those compromised machines we once knew to do all the things we always wanted them to do and often exceed it. The list of new peripherals is almost endless but some have gone further still, producing Spectrum clones that fill the gaps in functionality that Sir Clive left in the originals. I chose to purchase one such ZX Spectrum clone made by Zaxon (Piotr Bugaj), going by the name of ‘Just Speccy 128’ after seing his posts regarding it in various Sinclair Facebook groups. I hate the whole idea of the ZX Spectrum computer being reduced down to a plugin TV game (see ZX Spectrum Vega in its diminutive little ‘controller’ size case) and one of the main reasons I was drawn to this particular board, apart from it’s enhanced functionality, was because it had been designed to fit in an original 16/48K case or 48K+ (with some modification). I never minded the otherwise much-maligned rubber keyboard on my original Spectrum and had a spare unworking 48K as a case donor so this seemed ideal for me. At least this way it would still look and...

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ZX Spectrum + keyboard membrane replacement – how to
Jan02

ZX Spectrum + keyboard membrane replacement – how to

So you have got your old Spectrum+ out from the loft because you don’t like the look of that ‘orrible thing called the Vega. You plug it in but alas, some or all of the keys don’t work. Well, the keyboard membrane has failed but don’t go binning your 80s pride and joy just yet – all is not lost and you will get to explore the Jet Set Willy mansion once more… Keyboard membrane failure was and still is probably the most common issue to arise from the use of an original Spectrum + and it can be remedied for approximately £16 and 20 minutes of your time. Disclaimer: I take no responsibility for any damage you do to yourself or your Spectrum during this process. You proceed at your own (and your Spectrum’s) risk! What you will need: A crosshead screwdriver A new ZX Spectrum keyboard membrane (available from either www.sellmyretro.com or www.dataserveretro.co.uk) ensuring it is for the Spectrum+ 48K/128K. Step 1: Dissassembly A. B. C. Turn your Spectrum over to expose the screws that hold your Spectrum together (8 altogether – see pic A). Take all of the screws out and carefully put them to one side. There should be one countersunk screw on the Spectrum+ next to the I/O interface port with the rest being round headed screws. Make a mental note of where the countersunk screw goes for re-assembly later on. Carefully turn your Spectrum right way up bearing in mind the top case is now loose and you still have ribbon connectors attached to the bottom case (pic B). Lift the top case up enough to prise the 2 keyboard ribbon connectors out of their sockets (pic C). The ribbon connectors are notoriously brittle when old so be sure to hold the ribbon as close to the socket as possible and gently but firmly pull upward and out of the sockets. You can now put the bottom casing to one side. Step 2: Removing the old membrane D. E. With the top casing keyboard down, remove the 10 screws indicated in pic D and put to one side. Remove the metal plate and the plastic sheet underneath exposing the soon-to-be-replaced keyboard membrane (pic E). F. G. Now unscrew and remove the two ribbon clamps that hold the ribbon connectors in place and put the clamps to one side (pics F and G). Remove the old membrane exposing the rubber mat underneath. If you like, you can now take this opportunity to remove the rubber mat and suck away its 30 year build up of dust, fluff, food and dead skin with a vacuum...

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