Saturday, 30 March 2013

Back To My Youth

It’s the bank holiday and what better way to spend it than messing about with old computers?

Well, ok, there probably are better things to do, but having to stay in to do some work, my old ZX81, sat on the shelf next to me caught my eye.

Would it still work?

I dug out the PSU, an old tape recorder and a few games and set  it all up. The TV/Monitor I use for The Spectrum Show wasn't happy about it, and refused to tune in to the weak ZX81 signal. Not deterred I retrieved my old TV from the attic, knowing this little baby displayed everything I threw at it. Sure enough, a few minutes later and I was looking at a usable picture.

The 16K ram pack even worked, and after a few minutes Galactic Trooper was loaded and ready to play.

This is where I started with computers, playing silent, black and white games on a small television, struggling with the touch keyboard and hoping I didn't cause the ram pack to wobble.

The Sinclair ZX81 was the micro that brought computing into the homes of normal people. Before it, the ZX80 was only really taken up by enthusiasts and electronics buffs, but the 81 broke the barrier.

For the electronics buffs, they could still buy it in kit form and build it themselves, but for your average kid, they could get it ready built. There was no need for a monitor because it ran off the television, and loading data was done from the standard tape cassette player we all used to records songs from Top Of The Pops.

The software market too was part of the draw. The ZX80 had little in the line of games, it’s poor screen routines made that almost impossible, but the ZX81 fixed all of those problems and game companies soon began to sprout up.

The machine itself was tiny and very light. You wondered how such a small plastic box could allow you to play games on your television. It measured approximately 16.5 x 17 cm and 4cm high at the back, sloping to just 1.5cm at the front.

The keyboard was flat with no moving parts, and the pressure from your fingers caused a membrane beneath to make the lightest contact. This had advantages – it was waterproof and had no moving parts to break, however it was terrible to use.

The now familiar keys had multi functions with keywords, symbols and maths calls accessible by using the SHIFT key, the FUNCTION key (which doubled as a NEW LINE key) or switching it into graphics mode by using a combination of SHIFT and nine.

Connections were limited to just a power socket, Mic and Ear sockets for your cassette player and a TV socket, all on the left hand side. At the rear was the expansion bus that allowed peripherals such as printers or joystick ports to be attached.

The basic machine came with 1kb of RAM and 1kb of ROM. The ROM contained the BASIC language along with all of the routines to load and save, handle the keyboard and expansion bus.

There was not much you could do with 1kb and so memory expansions were soon available, taking the machine up to an eye watering 16kb. Once you had this expansion, the amount of games rocketed. The downside was that if not connected properly, or moved in the wrong way, it would crash the machine. This phenomenon was labelled Ram Pack Wobble.

Output was in black and only, and in low resolution (64 x 48 pixels) with no graphics to speak of. When used in graphic mode some of the keys produced block patterns, breaking the normal character square into 4 x 4 blocks. These were all the machine had, and all that game makers had to work with.

There was no sound. Nothing. Zilch.

Software wise, there was a large mixture of programs available including word processors, databases and of course games. There are a few of these games that have gone down is history and are always mentioned when talking about the ZX81.

Monster Maze if probably the most famous. Trapped inside a 3D maze with a T-Rex chasing you was one of those experiences that had a lasting impact on many people.

Mazogs is probably the other game that gets remembered. This two dimensional maze treasure seeking game has great animated graphics and a mixture of gameplay.

There are of course many others, 3D defender, Black Crystal, QS Scramble and Galactic Trooper are all worth a play.

For all of its problems and the corner-cutting build quality, these machine were pretty robust. There are hundreds, if not thousands of these machines still working and still giving enjoyment to fans around the world. This machine was the catalyst of the UK games industry, and it certainly deserves its place in history.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Toofy Update

Toofy’s Winter Nuts v1.2

I have updated the game based on feedback from the WOS forums and although the changes are small, it should provide a better game.

Issue 1. Toofy could get stuck in the floor/wall of room 21. This is caused by screen switching in AGD, and the only way to correct it is to design the screens in such a way that the main sprite cannot enter a room in a position that can cause this problem. To fix room 21 I raised the platform by one block (and in the adjoining room) so that the main sprite cannot jump into the room from another platform.

Issue 2. No sound when collecting nuts. The sound did play, but only on 128k machines (forgot to mention this in the text). I have now removed the AY sound and replaced it with a beeper sound.

If you want to see a map of the game (or any of my games) check out the link below.

Download v1.2 here

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Toofy's Winter Nuts

Brrrrr it’s getting cold and winter is racing towards us.

Toofy needs to collect enough nuts to make it through but the nasty squirrels have raided his store and stolen them.

Guide Toofy as he tries to reclaim his nuts and survive the winter.

This is my new game for the ZX Spectrum written using AGD. As mentioned in a previous post, I wasn't going to release it, but now it's finished, there is no point in just letting it sit in my games folder.

Hope you enjoy it.

The text file in the ZIP includes full instructions.

Toofy's Winter Nuts

Screen Shots

Monday, 4 March 2013

Games News

Although I have been concentrating on The Spectrum Show, I have not stopped working on new games. The problem is that I make a start, get enthused by the progress and then have to stop to get TSS completed and out. Then when I go back, the same drive is missing.

I then usually start another game – and repeat the whole process again.

Currently I have three games in the works, some further along than others, that I dabble with in between shows, depending on how I’m feeling. Each game is different from the next so if I’m feeling tired and in need of some action, I’ll do some work on the shooter.

The games coming soon (I hope) are;

Toofy’s Winter Nuts.
A game featuring Toofy, first seen in Toofy In Fan Land, and originally planned to be released in winter! It’s a normal platform game with no real special features. I was not going to release this game, but it’s 98% complete so I might as well. I just have to test it fully and write the loader.

Convoy Protector.
This is a mix of games, in particular Space Disposal and Missile Command. It is a good old fashioned shooter with fairly simple graphics but good, solid gameplay. This one is about 80% complete.

Unnamed Game (working title Tower Blox).
I am not saying too much about this game other than it is something never done before with AGD, and a game style very rarely seen on the Spectrum. The main ‘engine’ is complete and I am working my way through the levels, trying to design some cunning layouts that match the engine. So far there are 16 playable ‘levels’ with more on the way.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Spectrum Show #14

Welcome episode 14 of The Spectrum Show – the show dedicated to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

In this episode we go back to April 1984 to get all the latest Sinclair news and top selling Spectrum games. We review the last of the Spectrums – the Plus 3. We review some older games and take a look at some newer titles.

If you would like to help making the next episode, or have Spectrum hardware you are willing to photograph/video, please get in touch. Address at the end of the show, or use the Contact Me option at the top of this page.

Best viewed direct on YouTube - because we are in HD!!

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