I've recently realized that, outside of the watching demos and listening to SID music, the European 8-bit microcomputer scene is a big historical blind spot for me. Can anyone recommend a book or a documentary? Or like a podcast?

I want to hear ZX Spectrum devs really let loose about what coding using *that keyboard* was like.


So far I can recommend these things as especially interesting:

A 1984 documentary on the UK dev scene: youtube.com/watch?v=ZoDh61sgCO

Jeff Minter talking about his career: youtube.com/watch?v=t7MmGoa5qb

Kim Justice talking about early Rare: youtube.com/watch?v=5ekkiftETw

Also, after absorbing some of the Spectrum ethos, it is dead obvious to me that "Insanity," a PC shareware game I loved as a kid, is in spirit a ZX Spectrum game.


I'm still dancing around actually playing the games. Can anyone recommend a few that you've played in the past 10 years and still feel like they hold up?

Some thoughts coalescing about ZX Spectrum as a platform: the thing that most interests me, retroactively, is the potential of a fully programmable microcomputer at about the price of the NES. (£99 in 1983, or about $350 in today's USD.)

Your family still had to be able to scrape together that much money (during a recession) and you still needed a coder skill set, but it feels a bit like a pre-echo of the modern democratization of game dev tools -- at the outset of an extremely nascent medium.

I asked earlier for Spectrum games that still "hold up," but that's the wrong question. What I want is games that are still interesting *because* they are evolutionary dead-ends. The ridiculous ideas that noone ever followed up on.

It feels extremely unlikely that that scene was more creative than e.g. the modern Pico-8 scene. But there's definitely some frisson there in an idea having been there at the beginning -- and of a teenager having spent weeks grinding out the Z80 code to make it go.

@mogwai_poet ZX Spectrum games or games in the spirit there?

@hellojed I meant ZX Spectrum games, but now that you mention it!

@mogwai_poet I have never played a ZX game. I could play Jet Set Willy to get the complete experience

@hellojed I was thinking about how save states make just about any NES game playable, and maybe I should try doing it that way.

@mogwai_poet there was a famicom game I beat on stream by save state scumming, no regrets. I have a controller with a turbo button and it's much easier to play

@mogwai_poet The few I found myself continually returning to, via emulation:
* Knot In 3D
* i-Ball, i-Ball 2
* Head Over Heels
* Split Personalities (which will probably be reborn as a ludicrously popular mobile game, when the right dev finds it)

@mogwai_poet When the Spectrum and its games are still relevant, it's more as a bizarre timewarp/cultural lens than a workable games machine. There was a joyously anarchic silliness in the most memorable titles. Like the best pop music, it was totally of its time: Manic Miner/JSW, Skool Daze, Trashman, Hampstead, Denis Through The Drinking Glass, Monty Mole, Frankie Goes To Hollywood. They weren't made to last, just prove it could be done.

And, most of all: killscreen.com/articles/deus-e

@yoz Do we know each other IRL? Would love to sit and chat to get your perspective about this stuff.

Also is there an emulator you recommend? Because I've been having a hard time finding a good one.

@mogwai_poet I came to one of your meetups at Muddy Waters (16th & Valencia) a couple of years ago. (Short bald Brit, loved Frog Fractions.) Very happy to get together and ramble endlessly about this stuff, though I make no guarantees about the quality of the rambling. When works?

As for emulators, not a clue. It's been a while. Speccy (Win/Linux) and Fuse (Mac) seem to be most popular but that's all I know, I'm afraid. (Time for me to get a good one if we're going to chat about it.)

@yoz Ah was that after GDC? You'll have to forgive my exhausted end-of-conference memory :)

How's your day job situation? The ideal meetup for me would be during Tuesday coworking: meetup.com/SF-Bay-Area-Game-Ja

@mogwai_poet Day job situation lets me cowork (assuming I get actual work done) but it's not remotely game-related, and Tuesdays aren't great. But I'm in pretty much living in the north Oakland/Berkeley area these days, so perhaps an evening could work?

@yoz What time does your work-day tend to end? (Also, game-related isn't necessary, though you might end up being *distracted* by games.)

@mogwai_poet Yeah - given how easily distracted I am without games, it'd be better to keep my work time away from MADE until I have less crushing deadlines.

End of work-day is fairly flexible, though. Plus, I have many more free evenings for the next 9 days than I usually do, thanks to the kids being away. How does tomorrow evening look for you? Alternatively, next week's evenings are wide open.

@yoz Tomorrow doesn't work, I have a date night. But maybe Tuesday evening? You could catch the tail end of co-working to check the place out, then maybe we could grab sushi or burritos?

@mogwai_poet Tuesday evening works for me! I'll aim to be at MADE a little before 5. Thank you!

@mogwai_poet Aiming for 5 at MADE today, if that still works for you?

@mogwai_poet So... Is the co-working still at 16th St, or at the new MADE location?

@yoz Ah, shit, sorry, it's at the new location, 3400 Broadway

@mogwai_poet I'm not actually sure there were that many dead ends. Even text adventures lived past the Speccy. I can think of a few "out there" games, (Frankie Goes...) but you can kinda draw a line of influence from most speccy games to a modern, active genre.

What's great about Pico8 etc is just how many people make stuff that gets seen. The Speccy Dev scene was pretty tiny really.

@mogwai_poet anyone that says devs were more creative then is probably reminiscing over everything being "new"? My memory of then is that they were still remixing, in their own ways

@korruptor Yeah, maybe what I need is to look at the "out there" stuff and see how tame it is by modern standards. What are some more examples?

@mogwai_poet Deus Ex Machina, Eureka, Frankie, Fat Worm Blows a Sparky, Advanced Lawn Mower Sim all spring to mind, Nebulus was unique, a lot of the budget stuff pressed against the edges, at least with their titles, even if the gameplay ended up fitting in a genre. Little Computer People is The Sims. Skool Daze gets some love and stands out. Horace as a character?!

@mogwai_poet I only found a couple of things genuinely weird at the time. Looking back, they mostly feel brilliantly British in humour and tone, which we largely lost once games targeted a wider audience.

Dunno, imo obv.

@mogwai_poet and it's worth pointing out, we had the CPC, C64 and other active 8 bits as well. There were a few exclusives

@mogwai_poet From Bedrooms to Billions is a reasonable documentary about the UK industry, didn't really touch the rest of Europe though.

@korruptor British humor maybe counts as weirdness. Like how Super Mario Bros. drew from Japanese folklore, manga, etc., but not knowing about that context it feels just bizarre

The Spectrum tradition I’d most like resurrected would be giving every room in a Metroidvania a funny name

@craigtimpany This was traditional in ZZT too, but I got too lazy to name every room in TXT World

@mogwai_poet I don't know about the ZX because I had a C64, but Octapolis still blows my mind when I look it up because it's light years ahead of what I think is possible with the machine: youtube.com/watch?v=Fefdw-IX5Q

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