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 stage, as doing so will give you a greater understanding of how the BASIC commands you have used work.
Each listing adds a new set of BASIC commands – and this is the clever thing about this book – because you have invested time and trouble in typing said listing in, the more incentive you have for learning from it and improving upon it yourself. The sense of satisfaction you get from making a program work when all seems hopelessly lost took me right back to being in front of my black and white portable TV, circa 1982. The nostalgia hit you get from partaking in this book is incredible.
Of course, this book has a definite appeal to us older gamers, but it is also aimed at those who wish to have their first foray into programming or just to see what it must have been like for those pioneer game authors in the era of the bedroom coder. Sinclair BASIC was – and still is – an easy and friendly way to learn the basics of computer programming and Gary makes great use of it in his book.
I am finding it quite difficult to put into words just how much I enjoyed working my way through this book. Apart from bringing back fond memories, it brought back a few of the skills I had had acquired back in my youth but had subsequently relegated to a little-used part of my brain. It made me realise again, after years of tedious PHP in my website work, that programming can actually be exciting and fun. When my kids are a little older, I hope to introduce them to this book. There can be no greater praise than that.
You can purchase the ZX Spectrum Games Code Club book here.
Gazapper Games website: www.gazzapper.com