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The Speccy Page

History Lesson

Many people do not agree that the Speccy is the best computer ever to have been made, but such people should be ignored. For those of you unfamiliar with the machine, the Speccy is a small black computer that was produced by Sinclair Research Ltd. in the 80s. It was originally available as a 16k machine, but this was useless, and so the much more popular 48k Spectrum was released. This machine was then given a better keyboard and case, and the Spectrum + was born. The best Spectrum ever produced, however, was the Spectrum 128, with an unsurprising 128k of memory and a decent sound chip. Unfortunately Amstrad bought the rights to the Speccy technology from Sinclair, and produced a range of substandard 128k Spectrums, known as the +2, the +2A and the +3. They were basically Spectrum 128s, but +2 and +2A had crap tape decks attached, and the +3 had a crap disc drive. It was possible to add a decent disc drive, but the Disciple and Plus D disc interfaces provided a better alternative. In my opinion.

Spectrum Software

The Spectrum had a ridiculously large number of games written for it, and a few things like utilities and demos. At the time these games were very cheap with games like Magicland Dizzy being available for a mere 3 quid from any decent newsagent. See how favourably this compares with Werewolf Software's Shuggy, both in terms of price and gameplay. These days things are even better, as many Speccy games publishers have gone bust^H^H^H^H and given permission for their games to be distributed free of charge. Some games publishers say their software is still copyright and piracy is theft and all that, but I won't say which ones, as that might encourage people to take them seriously.

Top Speccy Games

The games that are available for the Speccy should offer something for everyone, but some people seem intent on just enjoying the 'classic' computer entertainment that could be found on the Speccy in the form of games like Chuckie Egg and Manic Miner. Such people will go on about how slow the processors were in those days and how little RAM they used, and say how much things have changed. This is complete rowlocks. I could write a game as good as Manic Miner in about 24k on a Risc PC, no problem.

Not all Speccy games are so easily equalled, however. Everyone has their own personal guest list of Speccy games, often with the most obscure choices that could never be justified by sensible rational logic. I'm no exception, so here's my top 5:

1. Midnight Resistance

Has to be the best game I've ever played on any machine. It came out on a variety of machines, but was dismissed as just another platform shoot-em-up type thing by, say, people who had played the PC and coin-op versions. If you've ever met me in person, it's quite likely that I'll have explained in great detail exactly what this game has that no other game does. It's also quite likely that you weren't listening, so here goes. But since you can just skip over this section if you wish, as opposed to buying me a pint on the condition that I never speak of Midnight Resistance again, I'll be brief.

Midnight Resistance was a platform game, a shoot-em-up game and a puzzle game all in one. You were provided with a modest selection of weapons, but each had its pros and cons. The variety of enemies and layout present in each level meant that no particular weapon was universally suitable, however, although I usually preferred the 3-way and the shower for most levels. Although it was possible to simply pick a moderately powerful weapon, shoot at everything that moved and dodge everything that moved faster, this was rarely necessary. The real beauty of this game was that each of the big baddies that you had to deal with could be dealt with by a particular strategy that allowed you to fire many shots at the enemy whilst posing little risk to yourself. All you had to do was to discover that strategy. Where to stand, which direction to aim your gun and when to move. Even some of the most menacing of end-of-level baddies could be seen off simply by standing in the right part of the screen and firing your gun at an angle that would be hideously impossible if you were holding a real gun of such a size.

Sound boring? Download a copy, play it then criticize. Go on, it doesn't get difficult 'til the third level or so. And did I mention the graphics are much better than for other Speccy games?

2. Magicland Dizzy

Dizzy games. You either loved 'em or hated 'em. And I loved 'em. There were plenty around in their day, but it would have to be this one that surpassed all the others. It's the little things that make a Dizzy game what it is. The realism of the trees. The hiding places for whatever object it is you have to collect 40 of. The way you accidentally find the 40th one after completing the rest of the game months beforehand. Not to mention the way the game crashes, causing holes to appear in the floor which allow you to get to the top of the tree house without having to cross the river.

3. R-Type

Goes without saying, really. A classic on all platforms, and the Speccy was no exception. A vehicle that doesn't jerk horribly when it moves, a collection of weapons which both look good and have practical uses, and enemies that are intelligent enough to shoot you and yet dumb enough to let you shoot them first. If only real life was like this.

4. Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's Super Off-Road Racer

The car racing game that people who are crap at car racing games are good at. This one featured in the arcades for a while, but they took them out when the steering wheels started falling off. The Speccy version only has keys for steering, but they prove sufficient, especially as, unlike most arcade games with steering wheels, the steering was not at all sensitive in the coin-op version, and you had to spin the thing madly to turn the tight corners that featured, well, everywhere. No wonder they kept falling off. Anyhow, when you weren't spinning the steering wheel on the corners, you could just press the Nitro button to overtake all the computer controlled cars who overtook you on the previous corner, thus allowing you to win the game with total equanimity. This feature was preserved faithfully in the Speccy version, as whilst the Speccy doesn't have a steering wheel, it has no shortage of buttons. It's probably just as well the Speccy has no steering wheel, too - if the ones on a solid well-build arcade machine kept falling off, what chance would a steering wheel built by Sinclair have? We're talking about the same people who made the C5, don't forget.

5. Thunder Blade

Well, it was fun. The coin-op version was miles better, but only because you could see the missiles much more clearly. This one could really have benefitted by not being in black and white, wheras it didn't make much difference with other monochrome games because they would still have been crap anyway. But Thunder Blade allowed you to fly an aerospace type vehicle thing without having to worry about things like inclination, pitch, roll, flaps and altitude, which gave it my seal of approval. To be precise, altitude was still important, as you could still crash into the ground. But unlike so-called 'proper' flight sims, your chopper actually looked like it was about to crash into the ground just before it did, wheras most other flight sims gave you no clue as to your distance from the ground apart from a small dial that you noticed was reading zero shortly after your plane exploded. In such games, your plane would invariably be carrying a cargo of wire triangles, too. Perhaps they were used in the construction of pylons, or something.

Spectrum Web Sites

There are plenty of Speccy Web sites out there - if you're after something specific, try a search engine like AltaVista , or the newsgroup comp.sys.sinclair. The following pages should contain most of what you need though.

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