ZX Spectrum Games

ZX Spectrum Games

2 Oct 2013

Spectrum Games - Programmer Interview - Kevin Allison

Kevin Allison
Kevin Allison worked on both the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum in the early 1980's as a games programmer before moving on to other areas.

His most recognisable title for the Speccy was Spectipede released by R&R Software and later Mastertronic.

I managed to get in touch with Kevin via YouTube and he kindly agreed to do this interview with me about his days as a games maker during the 8-bit era.

1: Hello Kevin. How did you get into games programming?
My interest in home computing was first piqued when I went to a party and they had a early model Commodore Pet running, with Space Invaders on, and from there I never looked back. Not long thereafter, I moved into the IT industry (in 1980) as a System Tester for a profession (in the days when a mainframe filled a whole very large room) and I soon bought a ZX81 as a kit and my interest was taken from that time. My first and only ZX81 program was Bomber, launched through R&R Software -

Buying the ZX81 as a kit was worth it from the point of view it gave me a great understanding of how the hardware linked together, something I've never forgotten and still use that knowledge today when upgrading/modifying my PC.

2: How did creating Spectipede for R&R Software come about?
I was an avid arcade game player at the time when the Spectrum came out, having a small arcade near the office where I worked. Pacman and Centipede were my two favourite games so I set myself the challenge to re-create Centipede on the Spectrum written entirely in machine code. I learnt machine code programming courtesy of the excellent book - Z80 and 8080 Assembly Language Programming by Kathe Spracklen (I still have the book)

I first of all wrote my own machine code driven real time two pass assembler (KAOS) which I initially hand crafted using REMs to Poke Z80 machine code and then used the early development assembler to further refine the assembler itself and also then used KAOS to build Spectipede.

3: How long did it take to complete the coding of the game?
I can't remember now but probably around 3 or 4 months to fully finish, refine and debug.

4: As far as I can tell, Spectipede is your only ZX Spectrum title. If this is the case can you tell me why?
Later on I also wrote "Ice Attack" in machine code as a spectrum version of the Pengo arcade game. I chose not to market KAOS nor Ice Attack for various reasons, for KAOS it was probably because the market already had a few two pass assemblers in play and I had missed the boat by the time it was fully finished, and it was also a bit more of a product for a niche market rather than mass market - therefore in practical terms no great fortunes to be made !

For Ice Attack, it was finished but I couldn't get a royalty deal I was happy with so it stayed in the box and there it will stay (not sure whether I still have the master tape anyway). PPS - "KAOS" = "Kevin's Assembler and Operating System" (As well as being a two pass assembler, it also took over control (using non maskable interrupts) of the Spectrum operating system and command line prompt to provide for real time input and validation of Rem strings containing only valid Assembly language commands only (table driven).

5: What did you move onto after the game was finished?
See Q4 above. I've done things like build PCs from scratch using my knowledge from building the Spectrum, buying just the PC components but have not not ventured back into software development.

6: With the retro-gaming scene booming would you ever consider creating another ZX Spectrum game?
No, too time consuming for me

7: Is there any chance of a 'Spectipede' 2013?
As Q6

8: What did you like about programming on the Spectrum?
Key point for me and friends in buying the spectrum was the move to colour and more memory !! (my first spectrum arrived faulty and had to be replaced straight away) For programming, key like was that the Spectrum used the Z80 processor which used interrupts easily accessible by the user including NMI and it came with a very rich machine code language, making it quite easy for complex program development.

9: Conversely, what did you not like programming on the Spectrum?
Nothing particular to dislike (other than the slow rubber keyboard !)

10: Which developers or companies impressed you most at the time?
No companies/developers in particular as I recall but my two favourite games were probably Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy.

11: Can you tell us what you are up to nowadays?
I am now retired from work and enjoy travel. Life seems to get more hectic when you retire, and free time less, but I still find time to keep up with modern technology !!! I now have fibre optic broadband with a home wifi network with PC, laptop, Nexus 7 etc all inter-connected - things we take for granted now but could only dream about back in the ZX81 days.

It is difficult to believe how far technology has advanced since the likes of the Pet and the ZX80 (if you remember much that far back - don't know how old you are ?)

I worked in IT from 1980 onwards and interesting to see that the modern handheld stuff now is way more powerful than some of the mainframe stuff we had all those years ago occupying whole rooms.

Once again many thanks to Kevin for taking the time to talk to me.
Cheers folks and I hope you enjoyed it!

Arcade Games, Classic Games and ZX Spectrum Games

28 Aug 2013

ZX Spectrum Games - Dark Fusion - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

Dark Fusion ZX Spectrum
Another title in the long line of playable arcade games for the ZX Spectrum that exuded playability, quality and polish.

This classic game was released for our favourite 8-bit machine just as the transition to the more powerful 16-bit machines was gathering pace.

The year was 1988. The publisher was Gremlin Graphics. The game was Dark Fusion.

The result was a formidable shoot em up that proved there was still plenty of life in the good old Speccy...

Dark Fusion on the ZX Spectrum

The whole story to the game was based around battling invading aliens through three phases of tests devised by the dramatically named 'Corps of Guardian Warriors'.

The real meaning of this was that each level of the game was divided into three zones;The combat zone, the alien zone, and the flight zone.

To enter a zone you had to first find a fusion pod which was displayed on screen by a funky pulsating beacon.

To complete the combat zone the player had to enter two alien zones and destroy the aliens lurking inside. After taking care of these nasties it was time to make your way to the flight zone fusion pod and fly carefully through to the next level.

The different levels presented you with differing forms of gameplay; sometimes you were walking around platform laden screens and sometimes you were flying through cavernous levels dodging obstacles and creatures.

This is Dark Fusion - and not a Hewson game!
What we had here was a collection of three mini-games that resembled the likes of Exolon, Gunrunner and R-Type.

To be fair the whole thing was packaged very nicely indeed. As the game loaded up you were greeted by an excellent menu screen accompanied by a fantastic piece of music by Ben Daglish.

The in-game graphics were nicely animated and all of the scrolling was well up to par and as smooth as me on a night out.

Gameplay was challenging and rewarding, yet Dark Fusion just lacked that certain something to make it a true 'must have' title...

The excellent theme tune to Dark Fusion by the legendary Ben Daglish:

On Release:
This game was met with a lot of positive feedback when it was released. Crash Magazine awarded it a good overall score of 80% which was just about right in my book. The only real negative about Dark Fusion was that it left you feeling like you had 'seen it all before'. Kickin' theme tune though.

The test of time:
You know what? This game still plays quite well. The scrolling and keyboard response is fast enough and there is enough variety in the levels and weapons power-ups to hold your interest for a little while. Whilst never a classic there is enough in this game to warrant a re-visit. My reflexes don't seem to be what they used to either....

GENRE: Arcade Game
RELEASED BY: Gremlin Graphics
DEVELOPER(S): John O'Brien, Berni, Ben Daglish
PRICE: £7.99 - UK

Classic Gaming Courtesy of RZX Archive:
Classic Games and Arcade Games

5 Jul 2013

ZX Spectrum Games - Codename MAT - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

Codename MAT ZX Spectrum
Codename MAT was a space based arcade strategy game that was released for the Speccy back in 1984 by Micromega.

It was programmed by non other than Crash Magazine's adventure reviewer Derek Brewster, and received the coveted 'Crash Smash' award in the May 1984 edition of the same publication. Was it a case of Crash being generous to one of their own? Well, no actually.

Codename MAT was an excellent game and deserved every accolade awarded to it.

Daunting at first, this game was an ambitious piece and proved that a lot of depth could be crammed into only 48KB of RAM.

Codename MAT loads up on the ZX Spectrum

The cassette inlay card did a great job of setting the scene with the following paragraph:

‘Mission: Alien termination — the desperate plan to place in the mind of a teenager the combined tactical skills of all the planetary leaders in the solar system. MAT is mankind’s last hope... Now your mind is MAT’s mind. Take control of the Centurion and blast off on the greatest adventure of all...'

Your task was to defend Earth and the rest of the solar system against the Myons, a race of aliens hell-bent on the destruction of the human race. A great bunch of lads.

These alien pests are planning on attacking lonely outer planet Pluto first and then working their way inwards towards Earth.

This allowed the game to be divided into 'sectors' comprising of Pluto, Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and Earth.

The Myons would attack a planet and attempt to reduce it to mere remnants, with the planets remains used to increase the numbers of their attacking fleet. Pretty dastardly eh?

In some cases it was actually better to destroy a planet yourself than to let it fall into Myon claws. The solar system could be viewed via the in game Solar Chart.

Viewing Earth in Codename MAT on the ZX Spectrum
Once you were in a sector you could bring up a local scan of the area (unsurprisingly called the Sector scan) which gave you the position of the main planet, any satellite bodies (such as moons), positions of Myon shitps, your own defence units and positions of stargates.

Stargates were colour coded as red for outer system and cyan for inner system. Travel between sectors within a planetary system was accomplished by means of a warp gate.

Moving the cursor to the desired sector and then the piloting your groovily name ship (The Centurion) through the gate which appeared in front of the craft.

Failure to achieve the transition resulted in the Centurion ending up in some other random sector.
Travel between planetary systems was accomplished by navigating through one of the two stargates in much the same way.
The Codename MAT sector scan
If all of this wasn't enough you were also equipped with a long-range scan. It must be said that the long range scan was mighty impressive at the time because it represented space in a 3D global view. It was quite hard to get your head around it but it was damn futuristic.

In fact, the game really opened up once you had mastered the many scanners and instruments in the game.

There was a lot to learn and even the instructions themselves were pretty daunting, but once you had mastered object range, forward and reverse view, tracking computer and the variety of enemy ships you could really start playing the game properly.

The Myon attack commenced as soon as the game had started. Combat with the enemy was quite realistic for the time too; Your craft's instrumentation was vulnerable to damage, which could leave you blind or with limited engine functionality.

If you were badly damaged you could initiate repairs by moving into a stationary orbit around a planet, which would then result in a drone coming up to meet you to refuel and repair all damage to your craft.

Again, to add further depth to the game you could choose to play it with full strategy options (Commander mode) which also put you in control of Planetary Defence Fleets.

These fleets could be moved around and used to help in the battle to great effect, opening up a whole tactical battle mixed with arcade action. I suppose in a way it was a precursor to the likes of the PC Classic Homeworld.

On Release:
As previously mentioned this game was met with high acclaim. To be fair you did have to invest a lot of time into it before being fully rewarded but once you got the hang of the many controls it was a very enjoyable and quite original gaming experience. It was a big hit for Micromega and went on to spawn a sequel later the same year.

The Test Of Time:
For me this is a real classic retro game from 1984. The level of involvement you could feel was quite special back then and in many ways it was a bit of a ground-breaker. Of course by today's standards it is quite simple and limited but there is till some fun to be had. Especially if you line yourself up in front of a planet and blow it away for no good reason!

We recommend getting hold of the real hardware - but if not then download a ZX Spectrum emulator and download Codename MAT for the ZX Spectrum. Alternatively you could try and play it online.

GENRE: Arcade Strategy Game
RELEASED BY: Micromega
DEVELOPER(S): Derek Brewster
PRICE: £6.95 - UK

Classic Gaming with Codename MAT:

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

29 May 2013

ZX Spectrum Games - The Empire Fights Back - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

The Empire Fights Back
This cult classic game was yet another budget offering from the kings of cheapo gaming, Mastertronic.

It was released for the ZX Spectrum in 1985 and this was around the time that the company began to shake off the 'Masterchronic' moniker and put out some playable games for a mere £1.99.

I remember picking this one up from the budget stand in Kingmoor post-office and getting a fair amount of playing time out of it. It has to go down as having one of the most misleading titles and pieces of cover art ever though!

The Empire Fights Back cassette sleeve looked awesome 
So, the game has nothing to do with Star Wars and has little to do with flying through space in a cool looking ship taking on the might of the so-called Empire. In fact, you were on the side of the empire who were actually 'the good guys'.

As the story in the inlay went...
'Three intergalactic wars during the past millenium have weakened the Empire which is now fighting to regain it's power and status. A rebel colony of mutants have taken over an old warship and are seeding the galaxy with deadly space mines in an attempt to gain control over the Empire. You have been selected to pilot the miniature space craft 'Air Wolf 2000' and must enter the massive space mines to disable their control cores. Unfortunately, you have limited energy, so during your trips to the space mines try to avoid contact with the meteorites and stay on course (centre of the radar scanner). Inside the mines you must control your own robot and can only survive by understanding the movement patterns of the service drones. Select which of the five mines to tackle first but beware of the fifth, it is linked to the other four and you need to conquer these first to open all channels.'

The Empire Fights Back Loading Screen
As you can see the aim of the game is fairly simple, you must fly through space to five mines and shut them down.

Parts of the fifth mine are inaccessible until you have shut down the first four meaning you have to shut down mines one to four first.

What you have is an arcade game which consists of multiple mini-games.

Flying through space was portrayed via a very poor 3D section which looked pretty cool in the static images on the cassette sleeve. Seeing those graphics move soon shattered any space-bound asteroid dodging illusions you may have had though!

Getting through the mines is tricky and requires plenty of patience. To get through the mines you need to find a suitable bolt-hole from where you can observe the enemy droids moving around before moving to the next suitable hidey-hole.

 Once you shut down the core it's time for a cuppa before heading on to the next mine. Shut down all five and you have won the battle, no doubt to return home and be given a medal by an attractive princess in front of hundreds of troops and a couple of old timers.

The garish mine in The Empire Fights Back

GENRE: Arcade Game
RELEASED BY: Mastertronic
DEVELOPER(S): Clive Brooker
PRICE: £1.99

Classic Arcade Action:

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

29 Mar 2013

ZX Spectrum Games - ZX Spectrum Programming Masterclass - Part 2

ZX Spectrum Programming Masterclass Part 2
Just like part 1 this clip was uploaded to YouTube by Jesus Zafra.

If the Speccy says I'm cool then it must be true!

The video itself was first released back in 1984 to accompany the book of the same name which was published by WH Smith.

This video deals with data management, simple animation, arrays and string manipulation, which handily leads into an example of a simple hangman game.

This is all great stuff and contains the fundamentals of any type of programming.

Take it away once again David...

ZX Spectrum Games, Arcade Games and Classic Games

25 Mar 2013

ZX Spectrum Games - ZX Spectrum Programming Master Class Part1

ZX Spectrum Programming Master Class Part 1
This clip was uploaded to YouTube by Jesus Zafra. Well done that man!

The video itself was first released way back in 1984 (on VHS format as I'm sure most of you will remember) just as the ZX Spectrum was becoming more popular me on a night out ;-).

Here David Redclift explains various functions in BASIC, the layout of the good old Speccy keyboard, keyboard commands and how to access the various functions using the shift-keys.

This was heavy duty programming to all of us amateur enthusiasts back in the day, and some of us (not me!) would go on to learn Z80 assembler to produce 'arcade' quality games!

Turbo Rubber Duck Shootout
There is a good hours worth of instruction here. It's retro. It's fun (in a geeky kinda way) and it's well worth a watch.

In fact, you may end up quite proficient in the language of Speccy BASIC after watching this. So good in fact, that your next program will probably so polished it wouldn't even have made it onto a Cascade Cassette 50 compilation. Get yer Speccy out, get typing, and get creating.

Look out for Part 2 shortly!

Take it away David...

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

27 Feb 2013

Load ""

Load ""
We all remember typing in Load "". Some of us will even remember Load "" Code.

Many an evening spent tweaking your volume control, sliding your tone control another two millimetres, trying again to get your newest purchase to load.

Scrap of paper, volume, tone and title noted. Your personal loading database.

Well, Mr Zogue let me know of this musical composition that incorporates the famous ZX Spectrum loading sounds.

Give it a listen and mess with your audio settings until you get it just right...

6 Feb 2013

Spectrum Games - Zzoom - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

Zzoom ZX Spectrum
This really is a classic game from the earlier years.

 Imagine Software (pre Ocean Software takeover) released this game way back in 1983.

 It was quite a revolutionary game with it's 3D graphics and fast paced action. This is back when any sort of 3D was pretty much visually amazing.

As the ZX Spectrum became more popular this game was talked about quite a lot until 1984 when other more polished titles pushed the level of arcade games further.

Let's take a look at an earlier classic.

Zzoom. It's not an ice lolly
The object of the game was to protect refugees (who ambled along the horizon) from enemy aircraft, tanks and submarines.

Taking the first person view the game showed the viewpoint from the cockpit of your advanced fighter. For a game released in 1983 this was quite something!

Along with the visual forward view you also had a radar which was basically a small scale version of the whole of the landscape. This radar only displayed enemy to you, friendlies had to be picked up visually. It sounds really 'Top Gunny' already doesn't it?

A handy counter on the console indicated how many people you had saved so far. A refugee was saved when by walking onto the screen and making it safely back off again. Any refugees left on the horizon after each attack wave are added to your refugee counter and then the bonus was totalled up.

All of these arcade games had bonus totals eh?

Points were earned by destroying the enemy aircraft, tanks and so on. To make things seem even more futuristic an autopilot was engaged between each attack wave. This gave you a little break between levels.

Dakka Dakka Boom....
Every time you were hit by the enemy your shields were worn down a notch. If your shields were fully depleted and you suffered a hit then it was game over.

You also had to keep an eye on your height otherwise you would find yourself crashing and burning. It was 'Goose' all over again...

One aspect of the game that was a talking point was the was your little men flew up in the air majestically as they were mowed down by enemy fire. If you were feeling vindictive you could also mow them down yourself! Come on, admit it, you sometimes loaded the game up just to do this...

On Release:
This classic game was quite highly regarded when it was released, with players praising the 3D effect and high speed action. It was generally well received and managed to gain some attention from magazines that started publishing a few months after the game had hit the high street. At £5.50 it was regarded as pretty good value for money too.

The Test Of Time:
Unfortunately old father time has not been kind to this game. It has bucket loads of retro-charm but those 3D graphics really look their age. It's fun for a while but when compared to later ZX Spectrum titles it really shows it's deficiencies. Still, for a game released in 1983 it is very good.

We recommend getting hold of the real hardware - otherwise download a ZX Spectrum emulator and grab Zzoom from World Of Spectrum. 

GENRE: Arcade Game
RELEASED BY: Imagine Software
DEVELOPER(S): Steve Bower, John Gibson, Mark Butler
PRICE: £5.50

3D Arcade Action:

Arcade Games, Classic Games and ZX Spectrum Games

10 Jan 2013

Spectrum Games - Hypaball - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

Hypaball ZX Spectrum
This was the second computer game for the good old Speccy by Bernie Dugggs, aka Doug Burns.

His first (Ping Pong) was an excellent conversion of the Konami table tennis game which goes down in history as one of the great arcade conversions for our beloved 8-bit machine.

This classic game was released by Odin in 1986 and is one of the few Spectrum Games where distribution is still denied all of these years later.

Like any good game from the 1980s it had a back story and synopsis to set the scene. Game on...

The minimalist loading screen works well
The inlay instructions proudly tell us:
'Beyond field sport, deep into the future of mankind, lies the greatest team game in the known Universe - Hypaball.'

You begin the game picking your players for your team which are called 'The Hawks". Each player has a different name and attributes such as speed, strength and so on; so the selection does make a small difference to the actual gameplay.

Once you have made your selections (it's a bit like picking teams in 5-a-side!) it is onto the game proper to do battle with the no doubt evil Vipers and try to win the Odin Super Cup.

The game takes place in the ultra-cool sounding 'Hypa-Dome', played against the clock, with each team trying to outscore the other.

The 'goal' is basically a moving box on a central column which is constantly shifting upwards and downards on it's vertical axis. 

I'm hypa just thinking about it!
Hitting it is by no means easy and the ball bounces around the arena pretty quickly, moving from one side of the screen to another (in a wrap-around styleeee) and of course bouncing off the walls and 'ceiling' of this hypa-arena, the hypa-most of hypadomes.

The winners of the game are (unsurprisingly) the team with the highest score at the end of the match.

The game itself is quite fun due to the nicely implemented ball physics and once you get the hang of it you can pre-empt where the ball is going to appear.

As I said scoring points is a difficult task, but with a bit of practice you can judge your throws quite well and it is possible to score from different angles and areas of the screen.

On Release:
This is a game that met with a pretty lukewarm reception when it was released back in the day. Crash magazine were pretty harsh when they reviewed it - a little unfairly in my opinion. Still, it is fair to say that this game was not up to the high standards set by the mighty Ping Pong, and at £9.99 it was overpriced.

The Test Of Time:
This is a classic game that is okay for a quick play and a bit of perseverance pays off. There are some nice ideas in here and if it had some extra features such as different ways to accumulate points, powerups, player boosts and so on it would have really been something special. Two player mode can be quite fun too, I got more out of it playing against Brian than I did against the Speccy. It could also be considered a cultural predecessor to the mighty Speedball and even mightier Speedball II.

We recommend getting hold of the real hardware - and this game is not available for download online.

GENRE: Arcade Game
DEVELOPER(S): Doug Burns
PRICE: £9.99

Classic Arcade Action:

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

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