Sunday, 30 November 2008

Spectrum Is Green

Recently I found on the Internet a Spectrum emulation program (hence the lack of updates. So... fun...) If the word Spectrum simply reminds you of a rainbow, or a dodgy puppet organisation devoted to defeating torches, then this isn't the article for you. But if it takes you back to those day-glo, halcyon days of hi-tech computers being those with 8k of RAM and Kempston joysticks, then hang around.

For the novices, let me explain. The ZX Spectrum was, in the eighties, the pinnacle of technology. However, in the eighties, pinnacle meant a whole 2 colours and a several hour waiting time to load a game. Well, not quite, but that's what it seemed like. Instead of foolish devices like "disks," the Spectrum used the pure medium of tapes. Yes, that's right, games were encoded on normal everyday tapes, thus making game piracy easy as hell (you just copied the tape. Woo). As a kid, the Spectrum was the greatest thing known to man. But what's hard to forget is the fact that it was as crap as hell. Loading a game took approximately 30 minutes, and in that time, you were treated to a screen full of flashing lines moving up and down. Still, it was iconic, but it doesn't defend the fact that you could write a novel in the time that it took to load up "Trapdoor."

That is, of course, if the game actually decided to load up. Because of the amazing cassette system, and the utter dodgyness of the Spectrum, so much as invading the air-space in a 3 metre radius of the machine would cause it to seize up... and no game for you, me laddo.

I actually tried to design my own game - a sequel to the He-Man game. I spent ages, making it at school. Unfortunately I didn't realise you needed to program it... all I made was a sleeve saying "He-Man 2" and thought up what happened in the game in my mind. I even punched holes in the cardboard so that it would fit in the tape deck. Going home all excited, I put it in the machine.. and nothing. I didn't understand it! Obviously to me, the cassette part didn't matter, it was the sleeve that was somehow magic and contained the game.

Still, I loved my Spectrum... that is, of course, until a mouse decided to make a nest in it, chew up the rubber keys and piddle on the joystick interface. But those memories... lost until I found this emulator program. There are about 500 separate games available for download on the net, and now I shall take you through the best - and the not-so-best.

And I still can't find the He-Man game anywhere. Boy, that rocked...

The Hobbit
 Get ready for a roller-coaster of pure adventure! Or not... When I first got this game as a kid (pirated, of course) I was very excited. I'd just finished reading the book (I thought it was 800 pages.. well, it seemed like it) and had decided that because I had done so, I'd be able to complete the game in a matter of minutes, while my friends looked on in stunned disbelief. However, the game foiled this by being utter shite. It took me about a week to actually learn how to get out of the house (above). I did, however, manage to dig a big hole. And I mean big.

After actually getting out of the house, I came across some trolls. Who ate me. And I kept on getting eaten. I believe the purpose of the game was to get eaten repeatedly, so in that regards I completed it.

Now, I never had this game, nor even knew it existed. But upon seeing this game for download, I knew it had to be mine. Basically you can choose to be 5 Transformers in turn - Prime, Bumblebee, Hound, Jazz and Mirage, and try to avoid all the villains. You can even transform. Good, no?


The thing's impossible! You need a degree in astrophysics to complete it - hell, you need to have created the Transformers to complete it. The main problem is that I don't actually know what the controls are, hence my pathetic showing... but really! Take a look at the two shots below:
 Pure massacre! So I suppose that it's like Transformers in that it's reminiscent of the first 20 minutes of the movie where every single character dies horribly. And transforming... what does that do? Well, it makes it so that if you bump into anything, you explode. Neat.

No, not a game based on the British Prime Minister of the 19th century (though that would be neat), this is instead about some mutant egg who must do... stuff. Loading this game up, the splash screen proclaimed it to be "The Ultimate Cartoon Adventure" so I had high hopes. Oh, but they were dashed against the cruel rocks of reality. I thought I remembered this game from the Acorn at my primary school, but thinking about it, that was a sequel, where Dizzy got to wear a hat and talk to people. In this game, all that seems to happen is that you fall down pits and die, get attacked by bats and die, and touch spiders, and - you've guessed it - die. Now, shoot me down in flames if I'm wrong, but when a spider touches an egg, the egg doesn't shrivel up and explode. If they did, egg sales would go through the roof, with people wanting to try that baby out!

A thrilling adventure where you get to deliver.. papers! Sounds exciting, no? Well actually it is surprisingly addictive. As the Paperboy (let's call him Dave for sake of argument), you must deliver newspapers by shooting them at houses. There are no cyborgs or spaceships, but bins and road workers prove just as cunning adversaries to poor Dave. And that's not forgetting that he can shoot papers at gravestones (handily located outside houses).

Although as the screenshots above testify, when I play, all I can seem to do is crash. The fun!

Yeah! The greatest game ever - this is the Spectrum game I have the most memories of. If you download just one, download this. It's so... perfect. Everything seems to work - the neon scheme of the Spectrum complements the game and the simple graphics that make the main character at times look like Omega Supreme (play the game and see) just add another retro feel...

Basically, you play a small boy on board a pirate ship. The pirates seem to have nothing better to do than walk back and forth on the spot, so you have decided to nick all their treasure. You do this by getting keys to unlock doors and climbing up and down ladders. Doesn't sound fun? Well it is, even down to the annoying-as-hell music, which is just 5 repeated notes.

There's loads of ways of dying, of course. Fall more that 2 mm and you die.... and as seen in the first picture, some of the treasure is.. explosive! OH NO!

The middle picture shows the most terrifying apparition at all. Even hard-core Booty players (I assume there must be at least one, you know the type - 20 stone, Spectrum glued to their lap, and organiser of BootyCon '96) must wet themselves. Yes - it's the Death-Bird. The pirates might not get the job done, but their canary does... it flies onto the screen in random places and murders you forever! Well, not quite, but you get the picture. There's also the Death-Rat, but that's not nearly as exciting. And it's pink.

Of course, stupid coding also tries to thwart you. In the case above, I got a key to door number 1. But jumping off the lift made me pass through the door without opening it, and picking up key 6. So I was trapped with no way out. Whoopy.

I don't know why I downloaded this game at all.. I've never played it before, but I've heard from others that it's good. Wrong! Oooh, look at the drama! You play a turd who fires smaller turds. This, my friends, is edge-of-the-seat stuff

Without doubt, Bubble-Bobble was one of my favourite Amiga games - you play either a blue or green dragon who fires bubbles. But the excitement of getting the Spectrum version onto my computer was short-lived. Just look - the dragon isn't green - it's clear! Sacrilege! And I can't get it to fire bubbles, so it's off to the bin for you.

Ever wanted to be a tiny robot gardener entrusted to protecting a sunflower? Well, now you can! Yeah! By picking up different colour repellents, you can kill all the bugs. Polystyrene (above) kills caterpillars; water kills bees, and weird funky lasers kill spider-things. Unfortunately this game is impossible to play without a joystick, rendering the emulated game harder than Rocky and He-Man combined. Darn.

Dan Dare
When I was little, I loved this game. I remember one day at school, my friend and I were raving about it, since when we got home, we'd play it. Unfortunately, the game would never load - the hi-tech cassette had gotten "mangled" to use the correct terminology. And so I was sad, never being able to play it... until now.

The plot is this - Dan Dare must stop the Mekon from taking over an asteroid that is his anyway. Somehow, the Mekon being in control of the asteroid will destroy Earth! ARGH! Dan Dare must run and jump and get repeatedly shot to bits and fall down holes in order to stop this vile plan. After 10 minutes of playing, however, I had killed all the villains and was relegated to running back and forth.

Later, I discovered that there were lifts in the game, and so I had even more opportunities to find more villains to murder me horribly.

You may notice that I didn't mention Trapdoor.. well, that classic gets an article all to itself! Coming soon.

So what have we learnt from today's lesson? That if you're a game with a whole 8 colours, death comes easy? That cassettes rule? Or that I should stop having fantasies about outdated games consoles?

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