Today’s masters of the game craft paid tribute last week to the system that sprung a true genesis of British game development.
Sir Clive Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum – the successor to the thirty year-old ZX81 – had captured the imagination of the eighties’ innocent youth and built an army of BASIC-brained bedroom maestros, many of whom today are leading projects and running studios.
Take Alex McLean as case in point. Now the studio head of Codemasters Birmingham, McLean’s first flirt with the development craft came via Sir Clive’s rainbow-ribboned home computer.
“I remember spending £250 on a 16K DKTronics ram pack for my ZX81. Two hundred and fifty of your English pounds. Nearly thirty years ago. For 16k,” he says, still sounding a little dizzy from emptying months of pocket money all at once.
“It kept falling out the back of the machine,” he adds, “usually just prior to the conclusion of a marathon typing session of entering a long series of data statements from a magazine.”
Taking part in this week’s Develop Jury, McLean says that the Spectrum’s legacy, games aside, is its “contribution to determining the future career paths for many people now working in the games industry all over the World, myself included.”
He adds, “And all this even though the Commodore platforms were better! But that’s another article.”
This week’s Jury saw a number of developers profess their love for all things ZX. Cohort Studios CEO Lol Scragg said that “by far the most important thing about the Spectrum, and to a similar extent the other 8-bit machines, was having languages like BASIC as the default operating system.”
He said, “this meant kids would always muck about, explore and experiment with the machine. Of course, 90% of them ended up getting no further than doing the classic ‘print-goto’ thing to either big themselves up or abuse their mates in Dixons, but the other 10% of kids who took things further is, I think, incredibly significant.”
Scragg also reveals that Cohort’s home city of Dundee was the location of the Timex plant where most of the Spectrums were manufactured.
“We reckon you can attribute the population of developers in our area to the number of Spectrums that ‘wandered’ out of that one factory!”
Interestingly, it wasn’t just the British empire that was subjected to the beautiful complexity of the Sinclair system, as Flash game developer Alex Ionescu reveals.
“Our High School in Romania had Sinclair ZX Spectrum machines for us to play with, back in the ’80s,” he said. “Storing the programs to a cassette recorder, I graduated in 1988 from Nicolae Balcescu Math & Physics High-School [now known as St. Sava National College].
“That was the first computer I programmed on, in BASIC,” he adds, “I am an Advertising Game Developer now, but the classmate that spent the most time with it, has a PhD in Computer Science from University of California, Irvine, and develops software for chip design.
Elsewhere in the Jury, Peppermint PR director Simon Jones recalls the time when a local radio station broadcast a game over the air, and Exient founder Charles Chapman recalls “reams upon reams of hexadecimal numbers with absolutely no discernable meaning”.
Read the full Jury panel here
Develop would like to agai thank those who took part in this wek’s Jury.