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A Retro Retrospective (part 2)

Posted by Bazaboy On March - 4 - 2010

The journey continues…

From 1981, while in possession of the ZX81, I enjoyed myself playing around on the computer as well as playing games on it. But I was much more of a casual gamer, basically playing games when it was raining and we couldn’t go out and play. It was something we could do that would keep us quiet, entertained and out of our parents way.

So when Sinclair released their next home computer, the legendary rubber keyed ZX Spectrum in 1982, I missed out as, at the point, it was not as big a deal as owning the latest machine would become to me in the following years. But it was still part of my childhood as I got the chance to play a few games on it while visiting friends. It was mostly because of this that I started becoming more interested in games and gaming. The jump in graphics from the ZX81 to the ZX Spectrum was also huge, which was a big draw for me. However, I had to wait until the Christmas of 1984 before getting a new home computer of my own, due to the fact that my other passion back then was also on my gift list. Star Wars Toys, of course. Another pastime that has stuck with me until today.

When the new computer came, I skipped the aforementioned ZX Spectrum and received the ZX Spectrum + in it’s place. It was technically the same as the already released 48k machine, the differences being purely aesthetical, with the + model having an injection-moulded keyboard. I would, a couple of years later, upgrade my computer to the ZX Spectrum +2, which was a technical upgrade over the older model with an astounding 128k of memory. Hey, it was a lot back then. It also had a built in cassette deck. Over the following six or seven years, through the 80’s, I built up quite a collection of games for both of these machines and so started the only addiction in my life, and a relatively harmless one at that, gaming.


I experienced many new things in following years of gaming which I still fondly remember. For one, multiplayer gaming first appeared. Sure, in the early days there was not a huge selection and it also required not only the sharing of the same screen but also sharing the same keyboard. You and your fellow gamer sitting awkwardly side by side, remapping the controls of a game on your own half of the keyboard. “Are you using the spacebar, or can I have it as my fire key”. Not always comfortable but undeniably as fun as multiplayer gaming remains today. It was a further couple of years before I got my hands on a joystick, keep it clean please, making multiplayer on these computers a more comfortable experience. The experience was a long way off that which we all know today, but in its own way was just as enjoyable, due in a large part to the games themselves.

Another novelty to the Spectrums was the fact that games I had only been able to play briefly in arcades, which was not so easy in itself because I lived in a small town so playing these alone was a rare occurrence and usually a treat for when we were on a family holiday, were now converted for and available to purchase for use on a home computer that I owned. Graphically they were nowhere near their arcade cabinet originals, but the look of the games were replicated, as was the basic gameplay, offering the chance to play them in the comfort of your own home.

Like in part one of this look back, I am going to discuss in a little detail some of the games from my Spectrum playing days and, like before, I have to say that there are a lot more out there and that I have not included what other people may say I should have included. So if you are reading this and are thinking “why did he not include such and such”, feel free to comment on it below or on the forum and ill let you know if I remember it and if I do what I thought of it. My  list comes in at around twenty games and is more than I originally planned, so I will split this into a further few parts and this is set chronologically, the oldest games first. So read on and let the memories come flooding back like they did for me.



The Hobbit was developed by Melbourne House and released in 1982 before I even had the computer capable of running it. The game was one of many illustrated text adventures released around that time. These types of games could be as infuriating to a young gamer as they could be fun. It was rewarding to get through the game, but the fight to get there could drive you mad and, playing it again now as an adult, I found that nothing had changed. Within three minutes of playing I was greeted with the message “the hideous troll eats you, you are dead. You mastered 2.5% of this adventure”. Games that tell me rather bluntly that I have died never fail to bring a smile to my face. Playing this type of game involved a lot of trial and error in that if one thing did not work then you start over and try something else.

The graphics in these games were not really a huge jump from those of the ZX81, with the only real addition being the inclusion of colour. Don’t worry though, they get better looking from now on. Although the fact is that the pictures in the game are basically line drawings filled in with solid basic colours. The graphics in these text adventures didn’t really matter, as both the scenes were set and controls were given in text, encouraging the players to use their imagination. The player controls the game by entering commands such as read map and open chest or take barrel. You can have a bit of fun with that, lengthening your commands and, so long as your command includes the basic one, it will work. For instance, use a huge war hammer to open chest will have the same result. The player moves around the game world with one, or in some cases two, letter commands using the points of the compass, N moving north, SE moving south east and so on, with each new location prompting a description of where your character is now situated.

On playing the game again, I found it slightly easier in certain areas and I am pretty sure it comes from the fact that I now know the story so I had foreknowledge of what is required. This brings up the point that the game does actually follow J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic book fairly accurately, albeit in a lot less detail and so you really can not fault the story of the game. It  was surprisingly popular and during the first two years sold over 100,000 copies, and by the late 80’s over 1million. Nowadays these sales numbers are relatively small but back then the gaming community was a lot smaller making the numbers seem a bit more impressive. Another thing that makes the sales figures surprising is the games retail price at launch was almost £15, a lot of money for a computer game back then, but included in that price was a copy of the novel. This is where I once again thank the world of gaming for teaching me something, that reading can actually be fun and not just something we were made to do at school. So, by the age of eleven I had learned to play chess and picked up the hobby of reading books from playing computer games. And people say gaming is an unhealthy pastime for kids. I say hogwash to this.

There were many of these types of games over the years but I can safely say this is the one that sticks in my mind as one of, if not the best game in the text adventure genre.

“Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold”



Welcome to the world of side scrolling platform games. Most gamers are familiar with the concept, think Mario or Sonic and then imagine a game like this on the ZX Spectrum.

Manic Miner was released in 1983 from developers Bug Byte and was one of the first games of its type. It was definitely one of the most iconic back then, so much so that it spawned a series of games starring the lead character, Miner Willy. Manic Miner was a side scrolling platform game that did not so much scroll as set the game over a series of screens, each with a locked gate which must be opened by collecting a series of objects scattered around. The player would then have to make their way back to the gate and move onto the next screen. Like most games back then, a pretty simple concept.

Now the graphics improve significantly from all the titles discussed beforehand, with Willy actually looking like a person rather than a pixelated block. He has legs, arms, head and even a little miners helmet. One thing that had not changed yet was the simple, basic controls for the games, with a left, right and jump layout.  For the game in hand, it was all that was needed, so was never a problem and the majority of the decades platform games only ever used this simple layout, on occasion adding an up and down control. The game plays out over twenty progressively more difficult stages or screens. Playing this one again reminded me of how challenging some of the stages were. The game is all about timing your jumps over creatures and obstacles, which all kill Willy with a single touch. But it is not just these things that are out to get you. The scenery tries its best to kill you aswell, with conveyor belts and platforms that fall away as soon as you walk on them. The first two or three screens can take a few tries to get through, but once you get further into it, the game can become extremely challenging.

It was around this point that I was thinking back about how, in those days, these games did not need to be huge sprawling epic adventures with Manic Miner having only twenty stages. But some of the screens were so tough that the games could last weeks or even months. What makes it even more of a challenge is that a lot of games back then, including Manic Miner, had no save option. To complete the game you would have to do so in one play through on the lives you are given. On top of that, you have a time limit on the screens with an oxygen bar along the bottom, bearing in mind that Willy was a miner and so had  limited air while deep underground in the caves. The saving grace is that once you have completed a stage and understand what you have to do, it seems a lot easier to get through them again. This does not change the fact that if you spend hours getting into the game and dying, you are still going to get a little angry. Even today, playing Manic Miner, I enjoyed the challenge of it and will admit to not even getting past the seventh screen, and I only got to that point twice before deciding to move onto the next game which is…



Knightlore was released in 1984 from developer Ultimate. It was the third game in a series, following on from Sabre Wulf and Underwurlde, and collectively known as the Sabreman series, named for the main character in the games, Sabreman. The game Knightlore was a groundbreaking first back then. It shared a lot of similarities with platform jumping games, in that you had to time jumps over platforms stationary, moving or even disappearing at times. You could also move tables around as makeshift platforms, or place objects to jump from, to give a little extra height where needed. Of course, you had to be on your guard evading the bad guys. Knightlore was groundbreaking and original in that it was the first of a new style of game, the isometric adventure game, which inspired many more of the same style. But Knightlore was the first and, without a doubt, the best of it’s kind.

The story revolves around Sabreman, who in this game is cursed with Lycanthropy, meaning come nightfall he turns into a werewolf, or as the game puts it,, ret werewulf. So he travels to the castle of Knight Lore, in which he must first search for a wizard who can reverse the curse. once found, the wizard then tasks Sabreman with the collection of items required to lift the curse and it must all be done within forty days and nights, represented by a sun and moon dial at the bottom of the screen. The dial served as more than a timer though, as Saberman would quite comically, in a series of contortionist like moves, transform into the werewulf come nightfall, and back to human form during the day. This transformation animation even today has me laughing. The human and werewulf forms had an effect on gameplay also, as certain things would attack the player while in the form of the wolf, including the wizards cauldron.

The look of the game, graphics wise, is yet another leap on from that of Manic Miner, with the isometric view meaning a couple of new things. The first of these being the rooms you played in were given a more three dimensional look, rather than just a side on shot of platforms. It gave you the feeling you were playing in an actual room. Another thing is that the 3D look lead to an improved character design, with the isometric view meaning he was in view from all angles, leading to Saberman being even more detailed than the main protagonist in games such as Manic Miner. Colour was still pretty basic, with only one colour for separate rooms, blue, green and yellow, as things would be for a vast majority of games over the coming years. So games had started to evolve aesthetically. Now what they needed to improve on was the sound. Blip, blop, beep.

With that I end part two of this article. But as I mentioned at the start, there are a lot more Spectrum games I want to discuss, some similar to those I have already spoken about and a lot more which explored new avenues. So, with that in mind, expect part 3 soon, in which I speak about some video game war, one of the first one on one fighting games and, for the first time in my life, the fun of multiplayer gaming. So stay tuned for more of a look back at the gaming of yesteryear.

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