Back in the early 80’s my best friend had a ZX Spectrum computer and I really wanted to own one. I would spend hours at his house playing on the Speccy with classics like Jetpac, Manic Miner and the Horace games. It was probably 1983 or ’84 and I pestered my parents for a Spectrum for months coming up to Christmas. We were a poor family by comparison and I knew that I had little chance of actually getting a Spectrum. Come Christmas morning and I didn’t get my Spectrum, instead I got a Dragon 32, which my parents obviously picked up somewhere on the cheap. I hated the Dragon back then as it just wasn’t a Speccy and I found it hard to find games for it locally. I think at most I only had about half a dozen games for it back then and as a result, it got very little use. I do remember typing out a few BASIC programs for it from the user manual and can remember most of the games that I owned. Over the years I have often thought about the old Dragon and shivered as I realised that it is inevitably landfill now.
To cut a VERY long story short, fast forward 30 years and a friend at work who also has a passion for retro gaming. We would often talk about things that we remember and things we never owned but always wanted. One day he came in to work and told me how he had been given a boxed Dragon 32 by a guy as payment for fixing his PC for him. I told him about my history with the Dragon and how I would love to get my hands on one again and give it the chance that I never gave it when I was a kid. A few weeks later he arrived at work with the Dragon and handed it to me, smiling and said it was now mine! I couldn’t believe his generosity, I offered to pay him for it but he wouldn’t take a penny for it.
So that is the story of how I had, lost and re-acquired a Dragon 32 computer, now on to the meat of this story and what it’s like to own one again, in this age of the internet, homebrew and retro enthusiasts who are still developing for these old systems.
If only the internet had existed in the early 80’s then I probably would have loved the Dragon back then! Within days of owning the Dragon again, I had a huge library of games in .wav format that I could put on my mobile phone and load straight in to the Dragon, discovering all the games I had missed out on and never even heard of. That’s what makes owning an old computer so great in this day and age. As I explored the Dragon more, the more I started to enjoy it, limited as it is, there’s still a load of great, fun and playable games out there for it. You just need to spend some time sifting through the shovelware to find them and the Dragon has more than its fair share of shovelware !
I soon decided after getting the Dragon that I wanted to acquire a nice little collection for it, not go mad, just buy a few original tapes and maybe a joystick. As usual, that soon spiraled out of control and it wasn’t long before I had bought a load of tapes, cartridges and accessories for it. I even spent over £100 on an original 5.25″ floppy disk drive which was sold as “untested”.
If you are considering the Dragon as a collection, I hope you have deep pockets! The Dragon only had a lifespan of 2 years before the company went bust, therefore much of the stuff is very rare and when it does pop up, there is a queue of collectors ready and waiting to drop a load of cash to acquire it. For example, to use the floppy disk drive with the Dragon, you need a “DOS Cartridge” which plugs into the cartridge port of the computer and has the interface for the ribbon cable and DOS installed on it. You can’t use a floppy drive on the Dragon without one. The last one that came up on ebay sold for £183 ! They are like hen’s teeth and the price reflects that. When I got my floppy drive, I was lucky enough to get a “remade” Dos cartridge from a guy in Spain who had developed and made his own version but he has since stopped making them, so the options are once again limited.
There are also a few extremely rare models of the Dragon which were never released to the public but a few prototypes exist. I can’t even begin to guess how much money they sell for.
There is some good new though, You can pick up a Dragon 32 computer for £20 – £50 pretty easily and the majority of common tape based games are easily found and only cost a few quid each. It all depends on how deep you want to dive into the ‘crystal pool of collecting’ for the Dragon. If like me, you are impulsive and get all wide eyed and excited when you see something cool, you’re going to spend more than you bargained for.
On the homebrew front, not a great deal of software has been developed for the Dragon but there are a few. Some interesting hardware has been developed in recent years also. The Dragon DOS controller that I mentioned, a few different flash carts have been made and a “Drivewire” adapter which allows all manner of things from networking the Dragon to a modern PC to printing via an emulated Epson FX80 dot matrix printer.
I have owned the Dragon for just over a year now and it has been a great experience to get into it. The learning curve is steep but rewarding. I would recommend checking it out if what you have read here sounds interesting to you. Not the most powerful computer of it’s day and always the underdog but I think that’s is part of it’s charm as there is always something new to find out.
My Dragon setup
Dragon 32 info / specs:
Release: August 1982
Operating System: Microsoft Extended BASIC
CPU: Motorola 6809E @ 0.89 MHz
Country of Manufacture: Wales, UK
TRS-80 Color Computer Clone