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ZX Spectrum turns 30

Happy Birthday Speccy
Mon Apr 23 2012, 10:01
Google celebrates the Spectrum 48's 30th birthday

IT HAS BEEN AN INCREDIBLE 30 YEARS since the ZX Spectrum or Speccy came swaggering into British homes with its revolutionary computing experience.

It's 30 years since home computing and gaming became a reasonably common and affordable reality thanks to the small unassuming box with its rubbery keys and Sinclair Research, which designed and made it for us.

Two versions were launched in 1982, a year when Bucks Fizz, Kraftwerk, Status Quo and Shakin' Stevens were competing on the pop charts, the entry level 16KB unit and the top of the range model with its massive 48KB of memory.

We had already seen the release of the ZX81, but that was black and white. The new Spectrum had colour graphics and was the start of the UK's home computing revolution. Text could be displayed in 32 columns with 24 rows of characters and it had eight, count em!, eight colours that could be shown in two shades.

Now almost anyone over 30 today that plays games, works in games, talks about games, or says "games aren't as good as they used to be" started out on the Spectrum, a small machine that could and did see off increasing competition such as the Commodore 64 and a range of other less-exciting clones.

The machine was simple to look at. Just a small, flat rectangular box - black with grey keys and a rainbow motif, and it needed a television and a tape recorder to work. Games and other software came on tape cassettes and made a terrible noise when they were loading.

They took a while to load, and you really did need to keep the volume down while it was happening, but the games were brilliant and many are still played today in emulators.

Some, like Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy are the stuff of legends, while others such as Jet Pack, Bruce Lee, Atic Attack, Back to Skool, Horace and the Spiders, Monty Mole, Tranz Am and R-Type all still easily trip off the tongue.

Given the relative ease of developing for the Spectrum, magazines would regularly print code that Speccy users could copy and work with on their own machines, and this created a network of bedroom developers and classic games that sometimes could cost just a couple of quid but be played for hours and hours.

The Spectrum is of course now gone, but it is not forgotten. Its eight-bit colour graphics are still found on t shirts, in music videos, and over and over again on the internet. You can play versions of the titles on just about any kind of hardware you might like to choose, and many people still do.

They have a massive selection of titles to choose from too, and some put the number of games released for the Spectrum at well over 20,000. It wasn't just for playing games either. It offered word processing, programming, and databases, and was a lot smaller than the following machines.

The Speccy wasn't without its problems however, one of which was the controversial rubbery keyboard and metal casing. The keys, which could be hammered during some games, could stop working and too much playing, and therefore too much heat, could part the case from the body at the edges.

For all its problems we loved it. Today it is celebrated in a Google doodle that fittingly links the British invention with St George's Day and the killing of a garish dragon. µ


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