Looking back at the Sinclair ZX Spectrum - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking back at the Sinclair ZX Spectrum

In the first in a new regular series we are looking back at the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, it's games and peripherals and the effect it had on home computer in general.

Starting off with the machine itself...

In 1982 the rubber keyed Sinclair ZX Spectrum was released and the world of home computing would never be the same. The Spectrum was a quantum leap up from any other home computer available. The output of it's predecessor, the ZX81, was in black and white and it only had 1kB of RAM memory on board, whereas the Spectrum's output was colour and came in an choice of 16kB or 48kB RAM versions.

In development the 8Bit machine was referred to as the ZX81 Colour and the ZX82, but it would affectionately become known as the 'Speccy' by hundreds of thousands of kids across the country. I'm not sure Sir Clive Sinclair thought that it would be the children of the UK that would make the Spectrum a household name, and earn him his knighthood, but you're welcome Uncle Clive!

 Released on 23 April 1982, the 16k version sold for £125 and the 48k for £175, these prices were reduced shortly after to £99 and £129 respectively. At the time most computers sold for hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, and so they were definitely out of the reach of your average consumer (or parent!). The price tag of the Spectrum was still not cheap for the time but many children, myself included, made deals where they'd either forgo pocket money for months on end or ask for a combined Christmas and Birthday present so they could join in the home computing revolution.

You didn't want to be the 'poor kid' who ended up with the 16k version though, because if you did 99% of the games would not work unless you invested in a 32k memory expansion pack. And it was the games that made the Spectrum so essential for kids to have.

Once you'd hooked the Speccy up to the Television, connected a tape deck via the 'ear' socket and popped a cassette into that tape deck there was an enormous world of gaming pleasure awaiting you. We're not even kidding, in fact since 1982 over 24,000 software titles have been released for the little machine, even now dozens of newly produced games are made available each year.

The little computer ran Sinclair BASIC, an enhanced version of the language developed for the ZX81. It was easy to pick up and the results could be quite impressive. Software houses emerged very quickly, many of them still in business today. They released game after game for the machine, often for as little as £1.99.

It seemed literally everybody had titles like Jet Set Willy, Sabre Wulf, Atic Atac, Manic Miner and Football Manager. Although that may be because piracy was relatively simple. If you had access to one of those tape to tape ghetto-blaster style machines, you could easily run off a copy of a friends game. At the time they said piracy was killing music but most kids I knew were using cassette tapes to share the latest Speccy titles!

All the software available for the Spectrum kept it miles ahead of any of the other home computers available in the early 80s. Whilst the specialist computer stores would have shelf after shelf of Speccy titles, you'd be hard pushed to find more than a handful of Acorn Electron, Vic 20 or BBC Micro B games available. Only one other machine came anywhere near and that was the Speccy's main rival, the Commodore 64. It looked more like a computer as it had a hard case and it's on board sound chip blew the Speccy away. The two enjoyed a healthy rivalry for many years with the Spectrum eventually outliving the C64.

The Speccy also started the boom in home computing magazines, there were many different monthly titles, including Crash, Sinclair User, C&VG and Input. Some of these would come with a tape attached including demos or complete games. Others would include lines of code you could manually type in and run yourself.

Eventually 8 different models of the Spectrum were released in the UK, and 5 million units were sold worldwide before the last machine was produced in 1993. Some came in different cases, some with more memory, some with a floppy disc drive, but none of them can match the excitement that the old 48k Speccy brought. Just thinking about the noise of the loading process and the hours and hours spent trying to master Knight Lore, or The Hobbit, or Match Day, or Bomb Jack, or any number of games I could care to mention, still brings a smile to my face today.

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