Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Spectrum Show 33

Welcome to Episode 33 of The Spectrum Show...

In this episode...we get all the Sinclair news and top selling Spectrum games from October 1985.

I try to compare the masses of frogger clones, I review some older games, take a look at a newer title, pay a visit to type in corner, give you some playing tips and end with my demo of the month.

It’s a big episode…enjoy..

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Spectrum Light Guns

Light gun games are very popular in the arcades with classics like House Of The Dead and Virtua Cop , but these types of game have been pulling in the cash since 1984, when Duck Hunt from Nintendo hit the arcades.

Light Guns eventually came to the home computer market with several cheap looking, plastic moulded guns appearing for many of the systems.

The Spectrum had several including the Cheetah Defender, the Magnum Light Phaser, Sinclair’s own version of the Magnum with their logo on it, and the rarely seen Stack Light Rifle. They all worked in the same basic way, and all had a limited number of games tailored for them.

Sinclair bundled their version of the Magnum Phaser with the Action Pack and James Bond Action pack for the Plus 2 in 1990, but at least they changed the sticker on the side.

The light guns work from the raster line of the television and so require a CRT tube, they just don’t work on modern LCD or plasma sets. I had to replace my usual LCD TV with a very old 13inch CRT model I dug out of the loft for my initial testing.

The position of the raster beams dictates where you are pointing and the when you fire, the screen flickers badly. This is to allow the whole screen to go black with just the target areas displayed as white blocks. The software can then check the gun is aiming at the right place. It does however, as mentioned a few lines back, cause the screen to flicker really badly, sometimes to the extent that it detracts from the game.

The Magnum and Sinclair guns are connected to the Spectrum via a single lead, and plugs into the AUX port of the +2 and +3 machines. Be careful however, guns for the +2 don’t seem to work on the +3, and vice-versa, as I found out.

The Magnum and Sinclair offerings were, to be honest, cheap looking and badly made. They are light and easy to hold though, and the trigger feels firm enough, but there is just something that stinks of poor production.

The Magnum came in a pack that included six games, the Sinclair was bundled with its own games collection, so at least you had something to shoot when you got one.

Once connected and everything plugged in, it was time to play.

The Magnum (and from here on in, this will also mean the Sinclair version) supported quite a few games, some original and only playable with the gun, some conversions of existing titles.

Games like Solar Invasion and Robot Attack were specifically made to take advantage of the input mechanism, and as a result they tend to lean away from traditional direction control. Instead you get a series of targets to hit in different forms.

Solar Invasion gives you aliens floating in space, while Robot Attack gives you robots to shoot as they wonder about various platforms.

In operation the gun seemed fine, although with the small target area and my small TV, it was sometimes very hard to hit anything in Solar Invasion. Robot Attack had larger target areas and proved a much more enjoyable game.

Because the gun was, well… a gun.. you would expect several shooting range type games, and you would not be disappointed. The Magnum came with Rookie, which was a basic target shooting affair, with different scores and screens to get through. Again the targeting worked well once you had got you eye in, but still felt a little hit and miss.

Cheetah’s offering, the Defender, was a much sturdier piece of plastic, with better styling, and adjustable sight and a more robust feel to it. It looked better too, and it worked with a standard Kempston Joystick adapter.

The six games it came with included the usual shooting gallery style affairs like Billy The Kid, which first had you proving yourself shooting cans before moving on to better things.

Sadly, the gun didn’t seem to respond as good as the Magnum. There were times when it worked fine and others when, even holding the thing an inch from the screen, it failed to register a hit. This behaviour re-occurred across all of the game I tried, which was a bit of a disappointment.

Jungle Warfare, another game for the Defender looked promising. It was a kind of Operation Wolf style game with various things moving around as the jungle landscape scrolled by. Initial plays of this went well, but yet again it wasn’t long before things seemed to just stop recognising a hit.

I put this bad experience down to the Cheetah gun being badly made, but then I had a revelation.

The way light guns work (see top few paragraphs) logically meant that the larger the TV, the larger the target area and the more chance you have of hitting it. With that I set about trying to track down a decent CRT TV at a good price. It wasn’t long before I came across a nice 21inch Toshiba with an asking price of £1.

Being just 20 minutes away from my house, I quickly did a deal and picked up my new toy. Sadly I was a little too eager and forgot about the remote control. I suspect it never had one, and for a quid, I didn’t want to bother the seller. Instead I ordered a cheap one from eBay and before long it was time to set up the Cheetah again.

Now things were very different, and targets could be hit with ease making the whole gaming experience much more pleasing. Even the smaller targets of Bronx Street Cop fell with ease, and I couldn’t wait to have a go at Jungle Warfare.

First on the tape though was Billy The Kid, an impossible game to play previously. Now though, the tins and bottle exploded on almost every shot, even the tricky one thrown by the cowboy. I was enjoying things now, this is what it should be like.

Now onto Jungle Warfare, a game I wanted to play. Brilliant – it works as it should, with good accuracy, great action and nice gameplay. I take everything I said about the Cheetah Defender back from The Spectrum Show videos, it is a great piece of kit, but it does need a decent sized TV to get the best out of it.

Light guns give the user a different control mechanism from keyboard or joystick, and that certainly has an effect on gameplay. Like the Nintendo Wii, you feel more in control somehow, more involved in the game. You can’t jump about like the Wii, as the cables are only a few meters long, but it does give Spectrum games a totally different feel.

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