Tag Archives: zx spectrum

Kim recommends…Trashman (ZX Spectrum, 1984)

With the ZX Spectrum Next Kickstarter campaign coming to an end after making £723,390 and hitting all stretch goals, it’s a good time to look at some of the Speccy’s more memorable titles. Over 24,000 games came out for the system, so there’s certainly a fair bit of memorable material — but more than that, there’s some games with premises and gameplay concepts you just don’t seem to get anywhere else. When you consider that a lot of Speccy games in the early ’80s were usually made in their entirety by just one (usually quite young) guy in their bedroom, the amount of weirdness there is on the Spectrum isn’t that surprising…what’s great though is when that weirdness is combined with an actual good game — something like Trashman from 1984, made by Malcolm Evans for New Generation Software.

Trashman is an extended look into the world of garbage disposal  — something that, as it turns out, is very freaking dangerous indeed. You play as the titular trashman of the title, and you have to collect bins from each house and empty them into the dustcart as it slowly moves down the road — naturally you’ve got to put the bins back too, don’t go thinking that part would be left out. You’ve also got to do this pretty fast — waste no movement, and for heaven’s sake keep off of the grass! If you’re on the grass, that means that you’re stepping all over Betty Swollocks’ geraniums (you clumsy oaf) and you’ll lose your time and your bonus. Just because you’re going fast however, doesn’t mean that you should avoid any requests that people make of you as that would be rude — if a kid wants to show you his new computer game then indulge them, as that will increase your time and bonus. Do this for every house on the street and you can consider the job to be a thoroughly good ‘un.

A typical street in the world of Trashman. Every one of these cars spells death for our hero. But then, every cleansed bin spells rejuvenation.

Sounds basic enough, but Trashman is on a dangerous mission. He’s going to have to cross the road quite a few times in order to complete this task, and this is a busy street packed full of cars that like to drive really fast. Most trashmen don’t even last one day on the job — they’re assigned to Montague Road on their first day, they unsuspectingly walk in front of an automobile driven by a raving maniac, and the next thing you know they’re the ones being put in the trash compactor — for in this dangerous vision of the world, too many trashmen die for them to be given a proper burial. Cars aren’t the only menace out there — sometimes a dog will speed out of a house with its eyes, mouth and teeth trained on the trashman’s scrotal sack. Even the pavement isn’t safe, with clueless bikers speeding down it and taking out unsuspecting targets — and while dogs and bikes will only leave you with a limp, that’ll make you an easy target for those damn cars because no matter what injuries you might have, the work’s still got to be done…seriously, I think it might be in these guys’ best interest to form a union.

Trashman is a strange little game that, as a lot of classics do, spins gold out of menial labour — And yet it’s too slow and even a little grounded in reality (somewhat anyway) to be considered an arcade game. It’s more like a dad explaining to their wide-eyed kid what they did today on the road, complete with exaggerated details and good old fashioned British humour – of which Trashman has quite a bit when you’re asked to go into people’s houses and the like, or if you go and visit the caff and pub for a much needed Full English/booze break. It’s often requested on my streams – partly because it’s weird and people like it a lot, but I think that in the main it’s requested because it’s quaint and charming. 24,000+ Spectrum games can be a big number for folks to get their head around, but this is undoubtedly 1 that you ought to play if you wish to understand the evergreen appeal of the machine.

 

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Kim recommends…Batty (ZX Spectrum, 1987)

Now that you know how to set up a ZX Spectrum — or at least have some virtual way to play one — it’s time to start talking about the best games to play on it. Few libraries are more intimidating than that of the Speccy — 24,000 released games is not a typo. It’s a big number, and it’s one that’s actually increasing with people making new games for the Spectrum every month. The “commercial” period of the computer lasted between 1982 and 1993, and it’s not like you had to reach out to Sir Clive Sinclair himself to get approval for every piece of software that was released on the machine. And so, you have brilliant and unique games on there, along with some of the worst games. You don’t truly know badness until you play SQIJ.

But I’m not here to talk about bad games — I’m here to talk about Batty. Hard though it might be to pick a game to start with, this one’s actually ideal…it’s an Arkanoid clone — or Breakout if you prefer, but it’s closer in spirit to Taito’s game what with all the power-ups, the small balls, big balls, multiple balls, all the balls you can eat and so on. Either way, you smash through all the blocks that you can while trying to stop monsters from mangling your ship or sending your ball off to who knows where, over the course of 15 levels. A simple enough game then — there isn’t much to make it stand out from other Arkanoid clones aside from the quality of it.

Batty in action. Are you Batty enough to wreck all these blocks and save the world? Or at least, beat the level?

And hoo-boy, is it quality. As you might expect, Breakout clones themselves are a penny for a pound on a computer like the Spectrum — and lord knows there’s plenty of terrible ones out there. Arkanoids I and II also got ported to the Spectrum courtesy of the almighty Imagine Software label, then run by Ocean Software — and both ports are actually superb. But Batty outstrips them all — it’s fast, it’s got a bigger playing field, it’s hard as nails, and the levels are very well done. There’s nice little additions to the classic formula — such as magnets that can be turned on and off — that add a little to the smashing of endless blocks to smithereens.

However, Batty isn’t just good because it’s a very well done Arkanoid clone. It’s good because it’s a FREE well done Arkanoid clone that was released by Your Sinclair, on a cover tape, for nought but the cost of the magazine. And so, a lot of people ended up with their eyes on the game — it was so loved by the Speccy’s userbase that eventually Elite, the software house who somehow ended up giving this game away to the magazines, re-released it themselves as a budget title and made quite a nice little earner out of it.

The October ’87 issue of YS that Batty appeared on. It’s a lot better than the feature game, Battleships – which was literally just Battleships.

The cover tapes are a big part of what made owning a Spectrum so exciting — games were cheap enough in most cases at around three quid a pop from the corner shop, but even the tape on the front of your mag each month could have a classic on it. Not that all cover tape games were of the same quality as Batty — far, far from it, especially as the tapes expanded to include way more than one game in their later years. But it was a sign of what you could get, and there were plenty more classics that only ever saw release on a magazine; games like Hyper Active, Ceasefire, Egghead and The Bobby Yazz Show. For many though, Batty is the best of them all — how Elite managed to give it away I do not know, although perhaps an Arkanoid clone like this would get more attention on the mags than out on the shelves. It stands as the most popular Spectrum cover tape game, and one that helped establish the tape as something to watch out for and anticipate every month.  It’s a pretty good game to kick things off with!

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How to Buy and Use a ZX Spectrum in America: A Primer from Across the Pond

The almighty ZX Spectrum 48k. British computing in a nutshell.

As my job here on Retronauts is largely to cover UK/European news, I’m naturally going to be talking about computers like the ZX Spectrum a lot — however, one of the main questions I always get from people is that one right there in the title. You see, accessing ZX Spectrum games isn’t easy for people in America — the system never came out over there. And thusly the joys of the Spectrum are going to be fairly closed off for a lot of people…however, don’t fret! I’ve written up a handy little guide that, if you’re interested, should hopefully allow you to play the system — and the games — that I’m frequently going to be talking about.

So, wait…the Spectrum never came out over here in America? Are you sure about that?

Well…ok, it did. Sort of. Back in the early 80’s Sinclair collaborated with Timex on two clones for the US Market — the Timex Sinclair 1000, and the Timex Sinclair 2068. The TS1000 is based off of the earlier Sinclair ZX81 (somewhat equivalent to a Commodore Vic-20) and is honestly too early and primitive for what you want, although it was a fairly successful computer in its own right.  The later 2068 is based off of the classic 48k Spectrum, albeit with increases to memory and other improvements over the regular machine, such as a better keyboard and a cartridge slot on the side — if you want to play ZX Spectrum games on an old computer that delivers an NTSC 60Hz signal out of the box, this is the system you want.

Unfortunately, the TS2068 was a complete flop sales-wise and was only on the shelves for a few months, meaning that it’s considerably harder to find than the TS1000. It’ll probably run you at least 100 dollars on Ebay…and that’s not the only problem! Because of the modifications made to the Timex, it’s incompatible with virtually all European Spectrum software — it simply can’t read ZX Spectrum machine code. Seeing as nearly everything worthwhile released for the Spectrum was European, that’s obviously a problem…TS2068 users did find a solution — they created a cartridge with the original Spectrum ROM inside that could read the machine code and emulate the software, improving compatibility with the Speccy from next-to-nothing to around 97%. Unfortunately, said cartridges are rarer than the system itself these days, and will likely cost you as much if not more…so yes, you’re looking at a big spend if you want to use a TS2068 at all, let alone use it like a Spectrum. And it only provides composite video (S-Video is available with a mod)…in the end, you’re probably better off going down the traditional route and importing a ZX Spectrum from Europe.

Timex could certainly have taught Sinclair a lot about watches, but their computers shriveled against the likes of the Commodore 64.

The Timex Sinclair line is far from the only set of ZX Spectrum clones — there were many other very popular clones in areas like Brazil (the TK-90-X) and especially Eastern Europe (Scorpion, Leningrad, Sintez…so many). This is the dark side though, and as a newbie I do not recommend you explore it yet. We don’t go to Ravenholm.

Ok, so…I want a Zee-X Spectrum. What model should I get? How much is this going to cost me?

Woah woah woah. First off, it’s ZED-X Spectrum, not Zee-X – watch out, as some people will really lay into you if you don’t get this right. It’s kind of like if us folk over in the UK started calling Jay Z “Jay Zed” instead of “Jay Zee” – it would sound wrong.

Pronunciations aside, let’s get down to business. I should note straight away that for all Spectrums that you buy from the PAL regions, you’re going to need to factor in import/shipping costs along with some sort of step-up transformer so that you can power it up, as the Spectrum has very specific demands when it comes to power. The iconic Spectrum model is the ZX Spectrum 48k — that’s the one you’ll always see in pictures. It sold millions, it looks great, and it’s home to most of the system’s classic games. 48k’s are widely available on eBay UK, providing you can find folks who are willing to ship — import costs aside they’re not that expensive, running around $60-80, or £40-60.

However, there’s quite a few issues for you, the American person reading this in 2017. Let’s be blunt: The build quality is not great, the keys are made of cheap and nasty rubber, the sound is a single-channel beeper, and it crashes like you wouldn’t believe. The look of the machine is fantastic, but I would not recommend a 48k to anyone in America — the main reason being that out of the box, its video signal is not just standard RF only, but a UHF that’s designed to work with UK TV channels such as BBC 2 — chances are good that you won’t even be able to connect the standard lead to your TV, let alone get it to actually show a picture. Modding the 48k for composite video is fairly straightforward as far as such things go, but it’s also essential if you want to get a picture from it — and that won’t change the other issue of the Speccy pumping out a PAL 50Hz signal. You will likely need some sort of PAL-to-NTSC converter in order to display games in colour, not to mention a TV that’s compatible with the signal itself — and what with all these wires, converters, transformers and cassette recorders running about everywhere, you may end up with a system that looks like it’s on life support. Lazy Game Reviews has a video featuring his own experiences with getting a ZX Spectrum 48k up and running, so I recommend you watch the pain for yourself.

It may not be a looker, but the ZX Spectrum +2 is undoubtedly the best option for the American Speccy buyer.

The far better option is to go for the later ZX Spectrum +2 line that was manufactured by Amstrad. They’re not as iconic, but the build quality and keyboard are a lot better for a start. The tape drive is also internal, so there’s no need to dig out an old external cassette recorder and fiddle around with the tone dial.  The biggest improvement however is that this machine comes with support for RGB SCART right out of the box, so as far as video goes you can just hook it up to any RGB upscaler device, be it a cheapo Hong Kong jobbie or an XRGB Mini Framemeister, and forget about it — even the cheap upscaler will be an improvement over composite. Just make sure you get the right model cable to go along with it — Retro Gaming Cables will have what you need.

Also, these Spectrums are 128k models, thus opening up more games for you to buy! Nearly all the most famous Speccy games are 48k, but there’s a lot of good stuff on 128k — and the sound’s a lot better on 128k games too, seeing as they used an AY chip for that as opposed to the 48k’s beeper. The only trouble with +2’s is that compatibility with 48k games isn’t perfect…it’s still very good though — chances are that you’ll be able to play anything you want to so long as you load it up in the included 48k BASIC mode (Instructions: Press J for LOAD, then Symbol Shift+P twice for “”, then ENTER — now you’re ready to press Play!). The best model for purpose is the regular +2 (Grey) machine — easily differentiated from the rest by its grey case, it’s by far the most compatible with 48k games while also handling 128k games without issue. The +2A/2B (Black) and +3 models look better but are somewhat less compatible, and the +3 also uses floppy discs as opposed to tape — it’s not recommended seeing as most games came out on cassette. Finally, Grey +2’s are, like 48k’s, also very common — in fact, they’ll cost you around about the same price.

The original ZX Spectrum 128 is another very pretty machine, but also somewhat elusive.

For the sake of completeness, I should mention the ZX Spectrum+ and the original ZX Spectrum 128 machine as you might run across both of them. The Spectrum+ is primarily an external upgrade to the original 48k machine, featuring a different case and a new keyboard – meaning that you will have the exact same video issues with this machine as you would with the 48k. The Spectrum 128 does feature most of the improvements we’ve seen from the Amstrad line, including RGB out of the box — although you’ll need an external cassette recorder to load games (or alternatively, a smartphone — more on that further down). This is by far the rarest of the main models, however – it was only on sale for a few months, and it’ll set you back a great deal more money than the Amstrad-made +2 will.

Right! I’ve got my Spectrum…how do I get games for this thing?

Well, you can import them from eBay. Most games are small and inexpensive (aside from ones by say, Ultimate Play the Game — who went on to become Rare) so they won’t cost that much, but import costs will again add up. There’s a lot of bundles and job lots available which might prove to be cheaper in the long run…again though, there are issues. These games came on cassette tape and most of them are over 30 years old, meaning there’s a very real possibility that the tape itself has degraded over time — this can even be the case with new-old stock as they never used high-quality tape in the first place — ferric only. Tape degradation is a much bigger problem here than it would be with your standard audio cassette — lost frequencies can mean lost data, exposure to magnets can mean entire lost blocks, and all this means R Tape Loading Errors, crashes to BASIC, and a waste of your time. Seriously, loading games off of a cassette is a pain — especially if you didn’t grow up with it and therefore 3-5 minutes or more of waiting for a game to load isn’t a part of your personal nostalgia.

Tapes are still worth buying for their awesome artwork, such as…um, this. Jet Set Willy is one of the most famous and best-loved Speccy games, by the way.

But again, there are alternatives! The flashcart solution is one, and the divMMC Future is the newest and best — it’ll hold all the games you could want with an SD Card and load them up instantly. If you want the authentic loading experience but don’t want to deal with the lottery of old cassettes, you could always buy a cheap MP3/CD cassette tape adapter — the same sort of thing you’d have in the cassette deck of your car — hook the audio jack up to a mobile phone, keep your games on the phone and load them through an app. ZXTapeLoader is what I use on Android, but there’s several options such as tapDancer that do roughly the same thing. If you’re using a 48k machine, then you can do away with the old cassette recorder and use a smartphone or tablet to load your games instead with this method. No matter what however, if you’re doing this then just make sure that any games you download are perfect copies — you’ll want anything with the .TZX file extension. As for getting games, you can find that information further down.

What about playing the games? Is there any joystick I should look out for?

Well, there’s multiple types…the +2 had a proprietary joystick that came with it — the SJS1 — and it wasn’t very good, but cheap adapters do exist that will allow you to use any Atari-style joystick with the +2. If you’re headstrong and desperate for a 48k machine, then guess what? That doesn’t come with any joystick ports built-in, and you’ll need an adapter. The Kempston Interface is by far the most accessible, and compatible with most everything — once again, it allows the connection of regular Atari-style joysticks to the system….honestly though? I wouldn’t bother with joysticks at all — you can play basically every Speccy game using the keyboard. Most Speccy games have an option to redefine the keys, and the default/best option is usually Q and A for Up and Down, O and P for Left and Right, and M or Space for Fire. Seriously — try it out for yourself, it works just fine on these games.

Hmmm…righto. Out of interest, are there any modern systems that emulate or recreate the ZX Spectrum?

There are a couple out there, most of which can be found on the likes of Amazon. The ZX Spectrum Next is probably going to be the easiest of the lot, coming with SD Card functionality as well as HDMI Out, but it’s not out yet. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ is a handheld that boasts literally hundreds of games that you can play, but that too isn’t out yet — that’s been delayed so much that people wonder if it ever will be. The original Vega is available — it’s a computer on a joypad that has roughly 1,000 games built-in, along with microSD functionality…not having a proper keyboard can be a pain however, and it’s composite video only. You may also run into the Recreated ZX Spectrum, but don’t buy that — it’s basically a bluetooth keyboard with functionality dependent on apps that aren’t supported by the stores anymore.

The original Vega tried, but Speccy games are a bit too wild to be controlled by just four buttons and a D-Pad.

You know what? Life’s too short for all of this. Are there any decent emulators out there?

I understand completely — and yes, there are. Fuse is probably the one that most people use these days — it’s very accurate indeed, comes with all the functionality you’d expect, and it emulates every Spectrum model. It’s great, and it’s available on basically any platform out there — Windows, Mac, Unix, AmigaOS…the lot. Spectaculator is also very good — like Fuse, it’s super accurate, compatible with everything and emulates all models…it’s a paid product, mind you — and the desktop version is only available on Windows. However, if you want to play Spectrum games on your Android, iPhone or other Apple device? The mobile version of Spectaculator is probably your best option. A Fuse-based core for the ZX Spectrum also exists for RetroArch and — if you have a Raspberry Pi setup — RetroPie. Finally, if you’re in a pinch — say if you’re bored at the office and you really need to play Manic Miner NOW — there are plenty of websites that will let you play ZX Spectrum games through a browser; QAOP is your best bet here. As far as games go, World of Spectrum has all the games that companies have allowed the distribution of — which is a lot. As for specific recommendations? Those will come, but for now you could have a look at WoS’s Top 100 page for a solid overview of the Speccy’s best.

Ok!  Hopefully now you know what you need to in order to get yourself playing Spectrum — whether you take the easy way, or the harder path. Getting an actual ZX Spectrum itself to run in the U.S. may well be a challenge, but it can be rewarding if you stick with it — and there’s also the added bonus of experiencing classic European computer history. Although needless to say, it’s perfectly understandable if you decide to go down the emulator road instead. Either way, the first thing you’re going to want to do is load up the classic 3D Deathchase from 1983 — it’s just you, two bikes that you have to blow up, and about a thousand trees. Old school arcade twitch gaming doesn’t get a whole lot better than that.

In the end, was it all worth it? ‘Course it bloomin’ well was.

If you wish to shout at the author, then you can find Kim on her YouTube channel, or on her Twitter @KimXXXJustice.

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The ZX Spectrum Next Stretches out to 400K on Kickstarter

The ZX Spectrum Next. Pretty little thing, innit?

Following 10 days of campaigning, the ZX Spectrum Next has proven to be something of a big deal on Kickstarter, earning its £250,000 goal in just 24 hours and now standing at over £400,000 with just under 3 weeks still to run on the campaign. It now seems that the project — an FPGA-based attempt to recreate the classic British computer — could well end up creating a much stronger computer than its original inspiration. The project has already breezed through one stretch goal to upgrade the FPGA chip inside the system, and is on course to reach a goal that guarantees the possibility of memory expansion. Other stretch goals are still to be announced.

Reviving the ZX Spectrum is something that a fair few people have either tried to do, or have projects on the go for — there’s a pretty high demand for it in the UK, and as worldwide awareness of the classic games available on the system has grown more people outside of the UK have expressed their desire to get into the system… however, the system can be something of a pain to play for people outside of PAL regions (later, I’ll write a post letting American folks know of the best way to play Speccy games). Most efforts so far have been largely ARM-based system on a chip affairs that concentrate on emulation, but the Spectrum Next is different — because it’s FPGA-based, no emulation is involved at all. That could make the experience that little bit more authentic for some people.

Midnight Resistance is pretty awesome on Speccy, and Jim Bagley programmed it.

The Spectrum Next, a project led by Brazilian-based retro hackers Victor Trucco and Fabio Belavenuto, original ZX Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson, Jim Bagley — developer of classic ZX Spectrum titles such as the Ocean Software ports of Midnight Resistance and Cabal — and Bossa Studios co-founder Henrique Olifiers, is not something that has just appeared overnight. Public comment on the project dates back to the start of last year, when the system was announced with full specifications and Dickinson’s sleek modern-yet retro design already in place; crowdfunding was always set to be part of the project, and after a year or so of quiet hype, the team’s labours are paying off.

What exactly are the Spectrum Next’s intentions, then? It is aimed to be compatible with most classic pieces of Speccy hardware, so there’s no need to throw away any old Kempston Joysticks, SpecDrums and Currah Microspeeches you have lying around — and it does have the all-important HDMI-out feature, with the help of a Raspberry Pi Zero, so it’ll look reet nice on your modern telly. If you wish to have something shiny and snazzy looking to bust out yer 3D Death Chases and Manic Miners on, the new system can do that comfortably with SD Card storage — and if the thought of not waiting at least 3 minutes for a game to load is as troubling to you as it is to me, don’t fret; you can still dust off your old external cassette deck, hook it up to the Next, and load up games the old fashioned way. The board has even been designed so that it’ll fit neatly inside an old ZX Spectrum 48k case.

Castlevania: Spectral Interlude is one of the best examples of the games that are still being made for the Spectrum right now.

However, the Spectrum Next is designed with more than just the old classics in mind; it is a continuation of a trend that’s seen hardware hackers and demosceners do things with the old Spectrum that’d make Whistlin’ Rick Wilson’s trousers fall down. The Speccy has always had a popular homebrew scene, one that’s occasionally turned heads with the likes of Castlevania: Spectral Interlude, an excellent fan-made take on the series with a unique Spectrum touch — but away from variations on popular games, a great deal of new Spectrum titles are still being made for the 35 year old computer. The Next is made so that these projects can go even further, with the team openly wondering on their Kickstarter page about what hackers could do with it and thinking that we might see an OpenGL Spectrum in the future… it’ll be a while before the power of this system is truly unleashed, but the Next may well be a good buy if you’re looking for new games with an old computer twist.

At this stage, it seems as though the Spectrum Next is now the clear frontrunner out there when it comes to projects that bring the old system back to life, particularly as the more game-focused Vega+ handheld — a project backed by Sir Clive Sinclair himself — has continued to struggle with delays, controversy, in-house bickering and angry backers demanding news on when the beleaguered system will actually be done.  It helps that Henrique, Jim and company are actually able to show off the board itself, immediately dispelling any notion that the Next would be just another emulator-based system. Backers have the option of pledging for just the board at the cost of £99, while the finished computer is available at the £175 pledge level, with delivery estimated for January 2018. The case design and the board are already there then, and the Next as a computer exists — what remains to be seen now is how the vagaries and difficulties of creating molds, mass production and shipping will affect the product.  But the team have a plan to make the ZX Spectrum relevant well beyond its 35th year, and there’s a definite chance that they will succeed.

You can even play Doom!

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By way of introduction

So the short version of this is pretty simple:  Hi!  My name is Kim Justice, and I’m now writing for Retronauts!  Some of you may be familiar with my work on YouTube, or in Retro Gamer – if you are, keep schtum, no sniggering at the back.  If you’re not, pleased to meet you!  I’m mostly here to cover things of interest from the UK/European side of things, including computers like the ZX Spectrum!  The Amiga!  And the Mega Drive! (insert cheers and boos where necessary) Here’s hoping that you enjoy all, or at least some of the articles that I’m going to be putting on the site.  Bye for now!

That is indeed pretty simple, but it also kind of reads like the cover letter I sent in for my first serious job application.  I didn’t get that – probably because I also started that letter with a modifier like “so” – but I did get this, and therefore I should probably try to make my introduction stand out a little bit more while also trying to avoid being judged too much by you, the reader.  It’s not easy!  But I guess I should start with who I actually am.  For convenience’s sake, I’ve split this into a couple of easy to digest bullet points:

  • I’m from England.  This is undeniably a fact, and that’s obviously played a factor in how I got interested in playing games.  I started with the ZX Spectrum at a very young age, playing computer games that often weren’t much more complex than the sort of thing you’d have seen on a 2600 nearly a decade previously, but often had a unique touch and style of their own.  Until Sonic and the Mega Drive (the Sega Genesis to most of you) came around, computers pretty much ruled the UK, and I’m still a passionate user of the “Speccy” and other computers like the C64 and the Amiga today – that’s something I hope to communicate to you, as there’s still a lot going on in those scenes, not to mention hundreds of interesting games and stories from the past…why, there’s 24,000 games on the ZX Spectrum alone!  I’m not saying that I’m going to cover them all, but a big chunk of them are quite unlike the games that people in America were enjoying at the same time.
  • I’m from YouTube.  Or rather, YouTube’s where I’ve made my name.  Bringing this up could be somewhat troublesome these days, when YouTubers often get in the news for things like being racist, or exploiting their children – truthfully, it’s not an honourable profession.  But I’ve been carving out a half acre there for a few years now – mostly with documentary-type videos covering the subjects previously mentioned above, as well as other interests such as the Sony PlayStation, or licensed video games…anything that can be put into a cool historical context.  And I do it pretty calmly:  I’m not the kind of person who loves to shout at games by LJN and invent compound swearwords to describe them and the like – although I actually do swear a lot, and I’m sure that’ll probably bleed out into my work here before too long.
  • I love strange licensed games, generic tie-ins and old sports games, and place as much importance in them as classic games like Final Fantasy VII.  Not a joke – as fun as it is to play nothing but the greats, to me it’s often more interesting to look at, say, a game based on an advert starring now-retired footballers beating up a team of Ninjas in order to sell sportswear and contemplate how such a thing came into existence.  To use a high-faluting wine tasting analogy, you can’t truly appreciate what the high 90’s taste like unless you’re intimately familiar with the low 70’s.  Y’know, the one that got you drunk when you were 16 and made you ruin the rug that tied the room together.

The Mission. The Blotto Bros. jug wine of video games.

  • Speaking of Final Fantasy VII, that’s my favourite game of all-time.  Always has been, most likely always will be.  I may not end up adding to the millions of words written about the game here on Retronauts, although I have already done my fair share elsewhere.
  • I’m a big hip-hop fan.  Seriously, it’s all I listen to.  It motivates me to do my best when doing anything, whether it’s editing videos, working my perpetually stiff body out in the morning, or writing this introductory article right now.
  • Fish is my favourite dish*.  But without no money, it’s still a wish.
  • I don’t think I’ll be using this bullet point style for an article again.  I’m growing ever more aware of this piece sounding like a rambling manifesto, and the lil’ black dots aren’t helping with that.  So I’ll stop now and just try and write conservationally.

Anyway, you now know more about me than you would have if I’d written something more like that shorter sample at the top.  I would like to conclude however by saying that it’s an honour to be invited to write for a site like Retronauts, and I’d like to thank Bob and Jeremy for putting their trust in me and offering me the opportunity – even if there’s a fairly decent chance that they’re going to deeply regret it before too long.  You’ll be seeing me here most every day, commenting on the latest Euro-centric retro news, hammering out some old reviews and the odd retrospective or two.  Hopefully we can have some fun here!  Or at the very least, I can – and in the eyes of an egocentric self-employed YouTube-head like me, that’s much the same thing.  See you sometime in the next 24!

* Fish is not actually Kim’s favourite dish, although it would probably be somewhere in the top 10.  This bullet-point purely exists for the purpose of a belaboured Eric B. & Rakim reference, which is only going to make people think that she is kind of a smart-arse. If you wish to shout at the author, then Kim can be found on her YouTube channel, or on her Twitter @KimXXXJustice.

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Episode 95: Face it, you’ve got Batmania bad!

For this week’s Retronauts — Retronauts East — I invited the internet’s greatest Batman expert onto this show to discuss, well, Batman. Or rather, Batman games. Chris Sims of War Rocket Ajax and The ISB (and the upcoming SwordQuest comic) stopped by for this episode to help shed some light on a corner of video games that Retronauts has touched on in passing, but never with quite this much depth.

The original plan for this episode was to cover the entire span of Batman-based classic games from 1986-2005, but we ended up going into so much detail on the context surrounding the games — especially the character’s pop culture resurgence and rehabilitation throughout the ’80s — that we barely made it past Batman Returns. And that is OK! I do wish I had known we’d only be covering half the games I assembled notes for; I’d have gone for depth rather than breadth and really drilled down into the titles we did end up discussing. But there’s a lot of great and informative conversation about the Batman franchise (thanks to Chris) that helps to better define the games. It’s a good mix.

The games we tackle in particular this time around are: Batman (ZX Spectrum), The Caped Crusader, Batman (the movie games), Return of the Joker, Batman Returns (move games, again), and Batman: The Animated Series.

Episode description: Renowned Batmanologist and comics scribe Chris Sims joins Jeremy and Benj to explore the lore of early Batman games and how they fit into the evolution of the character’s franchise.

MP3, 48.8 MB | 1:45:28
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

This episode’s music comes from a variety of Batman games: SunSoft’s NES and Game Boy movie adaptations, Return of the Joker for NES, and the SEGA CD game — whose soundtrack, I fear, I unfairly maligned. After giving the SEGA CD soundtrack a closer listen, I owe Spencer Nilsen an apology. There’s some corny butt-rock at work there for sure, yeah, but also some pretty great composition (if decidedly of a ’90s vintage, soundwise).

Finally, a big thanks to this episode’s sponsors: BarkBox, Audible, Dell, and Casper Mattresses.

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Retronauts Vol. III Episode 25: (Union) Jack in for 100 minutes of ’80s games history

retronauts 25 uj cover

In the many years we’ve been doing Retronauts (the show is almost eligible to be its own topic at this point), our one big weakness has been our coverage of ’80s UK gaming. This has made many people angry and is widely considered… well, kind of inevitable, really. The British 8-bit microcomputer scene of the ’80s was very specific to Britain; outside of the Commodore 64, all the systems that defined the decade for England never really had much availability or impact beyond the English Channel. Though it would prove to be a fertile ground for major players who remain active today (Jeff Minter! Codemasters! DMA Designs aka Rockstar North! Psygnosis aka Sony Liverpool! Peter Molyneux! Rare!), the actual games that those legendary designers and studios created rarely left the UK.

The importance of the scene has made it a crucial gap for the show, but the insularity of the scene has made it difficult to speak to it with any authority, what with us being outsiders and all. So, for my final episode of this backer-supported season of Retronauts — for which you can thank one Mike Wasson, by the way — I could think of no more appropriate scheme than to rectify Retronauts’ greatest failing at long last by tracking down someone who actually lived in the UK and followed the gaming scene.

Handily, this required almost zero effort on my part, given that Bob and I happen to work with an icon of the ’80s UK gaming press: USgamer editor-at-large Jaz Rignall, who covered the 8-bit micro scene as a feisty teenager back in Thatcher’s England. We did the research for this one, but he fills in the generalities and hearsay with experience and perspective. The result is, I think, one of our best episodes ever (despite so, so many technical issues), a whirlwind tour of a fascinating but (to us) alien facet of game history. I hope you also enjoy it!

Thanks to Jaz for joining in (despite our scheduling the recording session during the World Cup final, sorry!) and to Mike for prompting us to shore up this particular weakness.

Fill your earholes through the delivery system of your choosing:

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