ZX Spectrum Games

ZX Spectrum Games

25 Nov 2010

Spectrum Games - Airwolf II - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

Airwolf 2 ZX Spectrum
So, the sequel to the popular Airwolf arrived for the ZX Spectrum in 1987. It was a change from the previous game and focused more on classic arcade action, borrowing heavily from the likes of Nemesis.

Anwyay, this game actually came bundled with a couple of others; the bizzarely named 'Great Gurianos' and 'Trio'.

Anyway, like the first game in the series, it had little to do with the actual show, apart from the fact that you were gaming with a helicopter.

Airwolf II - ZX Spectrum
The whole premise of the game was that you (as Stringfellow Hawke - I always chortled at that name) had been given a mission to destroy an alien craft which was threatening civilisation! This just would not do.

By collecting and using sophisticated new weaponry you had to overcome the many
perils facing you along the route, ultimately destroying the craft and sending those aliens back across the cosmos with their alien tails between their alien legs.

Airwolf II takes on some alien scum
In true classic arcade fashion it was a horizontal scrolling shoot em up (from left to right) with nasties to shoot and powerups to collect.

All of the usual arcade game suspects were in there, such as shields, double fire, smart bombs yada yada yada. Gun emplacements would take pot shots at you, aliens would sneak up behind you and there were destructable walls which had to be blasted away brick by brick.

The game also 'boasted' some fine features such as:

These could not really be counted as fantastic features - surely they are all major requirements of the game? All in all this was a bog standard arcade game that offered nothing over others.

On Release:
This game was met with a lukewarm reception. There were plenty of better arcade games on the Speccy that offered better gameplay, graphics, sound and overall polish. Not bad as part of a trio but folks knew it had little longevity. There was still no sign of the famous theme tune either! Sh*te hawks!

The Test Of Time:
This game is pretty basic. It is by no means total crap, but let's say it has nothing special to offer over other titles. There are plenty of better to play such as Uridium, Cybernoid, Zynaps and even budget game Chronos has some neat cheat codes and easter eggs.

We recommend getting hold of the real Sinclair Hardware but if not them download other shoot em ups for a ZX Spectrum emulator. Alternatively you could try and play it online.

Please see our other ZX Spectrum game reviews - all links are listed in alphabetical order. Cheers guys.

GENRE: Scrolling arcade game
DEVELOPER(S): Neil Latarche
PRICE: £9.95 (as a 3 pack of games) - UK

Classic Arcade Action:
Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

12 Nov 2010

Spectrum Games - Programmer Interview - Alberto Gonzalez (Joe McAlby)

ZX Spectrum Alberto Gonzalez (Joe McAlby)
Alberto Gonzalez went under the name of Joe McAlby during his days as a developer on the ZX Spectrum.

He worked with New Frontier software and programmed the graphics and AY music for many arcade games such as The Light Corridor, Hostages, North and South and many more. In my opinion his game music was amongst the very best and really pushed capabilities of the AY hardware.

I was lucky enough to be able to speak to Alberto who was more than happy to discuss his days making those wonderful graphics and music on our beloved Speccy...

1: What was the first computer you ever programmed on, and how old were you at the time?
My first computer was a Casio PB-700, which was not very powerful but at least it ran on batteries, so I was able to bring it everywhere with me. I was 11 at the time.

2: How did you get into the games development scene? Did you have an interest in programming as well as music?
I learned some BASIC with the PB-700's operating manual (that's when they were useful) and I started to program my first games on it.

But, at that time, my main interest was graphic design, since I used to draw a lot on paper. I programmed a small program to make graphics with my PB-700, and the first sprite I made was the soldier of Raffaele Cecco's Exolon; I copied it pixel perfect from a screenshot I found in a Spectrum magazine I used to buy (Microhobby).

At some point I changed that computer for a Spectrum +2 and that was incredible, I could play real arcade games and make true useful graphics! Then I continued making graphics with the Spectrum, and some more BASIC coding.

When I was 16 (in 1988) I found a letter-box with the name 'New Frontier' on it. I remembered it from a game named 'Time Out'. I Knocked their door, they liked my graphics and the next day I was in.

At first I started as a graphic artist, then some day a fellow lent me a copy of the Music Box program for the Spectrum. I started to make music, all sort of melodies, experiments... it was amazing to me. They liked how my music sounded, so I started officially making music too. The next step was learning assembler so I could have all the control over the music, and write my own sound driver and utilities.

Music and programming were both incredible experiences to me, I had much to learn and I was highly motivated.

3: Can you tell me a little about your musical background and knowledge?
Until I started making music with my Spectrum I had no knowledge or interest in music, in the sense that I didn't know I was capable of composing, I had never tried. I played some flute at school when I was 8 but that was all.

I'm not a good student, I need to make things myself to learn, so I never studied music. I always composed instinctively, without knowing much about what I was doing, or how that thing was named. If it sounded good then it must be OK!

It is now that I'm slowly learning some music theory. Now I know what a chord is! But I'm still unable to play any instrument properly.

4: How was programming the single channel Spectrum beeper?
I only made one song with the beeper, for the Light Corridor 48k version, but I didn't write the sound driver; actually I ripped it from another musician (guess who!)

At the time I had enough assembler knowledge to disassemble and understand the code, so I adapted the driver for my own music. I'm a bit embarrassed about that, but I learned a lot from the experience. You know, there was no Internet, or books about that; you had to learn many things that way.

5: How good was it when the machine was released with the AY chip?
Well, I started working professionally at 1988, and my first Spectrum was a +2 which already had the AY, so I didn't experience the transition from the beeper. I enjoyed both sounds, some programmers and musicians did a wonderful job with the beeper that couldn't be replicated on the AY.

6: Was programming the AY chip the same across all machines that used that piece of hardware?
My Spectrum and MSX soundtracks sounded almost the same. The Amstrad versions sounded a bit different. The sound driver was exactly the same, only with small changes to the code used to write to sound registers.

7: I see you also did some graphics work. Can you tell me what sort of things you worked on?
At New Frontier I was responsible of all the sprites and animations of the games. There was other fellow who made the backgrounds and fixed screens. So, I did the sprites for Hostages, North & South and Magic Johnson, in the Spectrum and Amstrad versions. I also made the music for those and other games, as well as some utilities.

Later we started to make Game Boy games, and I did the sprites of Asterix and The Smurfs for the Game Boy and NES consoles. Those were my last graphics, since I had to focus on composing and programming music only for our increasing production.

8: Which game on the ZX Spectrum are you most proud of?
It's hard to say, it depends. I really liked the graphics I did on Hostages and North & South. Both games were fantastic and got very good reviews, specially North & South.

On the other hand there was the Light Corridor, which I really loved to compose the soundtrack.
I'd rather say which one I'm not proud of (except for the music), and that was Magic Johnson. I did a terrible job with that one.

9: Which programmers or musicians impressed you most at the time?
I could name all of them! Some of the favourite programmers that come to my mind just now were Jon Ritman, Mike Lamb, Jonathan Smith (RIP, always remembered), Don Priestley...
About the musicians, many more: David Whittaker, Jonathan Dunn, Ben Daglish, Matthew Cannon, Fred Gray, Dave Rogers... each one had their own techniques and style I loved. But the one who I got most inspiration of is Tim Follin, even now!

10: How was life at Infogrames during the early 1990's?
I didn't work at Infogrames, my company was New Frontier, and we made games for them. Being a Spanish company published by a French one made us almost invisible to the world and even to our own country.

But in New Frontier life wasn't as good as It could have been. I was very young and motivated to learn and experiment with coding, music, and all sort of game things, but we didn't get a good payment for any of our games. The bosses took all the money, and made all sort of never-ending and agonizing excuses not to pay us. But what to do? We wanted to make games, and there was no other game company in Barcelona.

We couldn't earn a salary until we took the control and founded Bit Managers.

11: Do you have any anecdotes or funnies from your Spectrum days that you can tell me about?
There must be some, and good ones, but I can't recall any right now... sorry.

12: How did you come up with the name 'Joe McAlby'? for you Spectrum work?
At New Frontier all of us had nicknames for the games. "Alberto J. Gonzalez" is a name so common and Spanish sounding that I had to find a better alternative. At the time there were lots of famous Mc names (MC Hammer, McDonalds, Paul McArtney, Marty McFly...), so I thought I could use that before my own name, "Alby". Some time later I added the first name Joe, which is almost my second real name, "Jose". I take MC as Music Creator :)

Once I started making music for consoles I dropped the nickname, but I'm still not getting used to hear my real name pronounced in English! Sounds very weird to me.

13: Finally, can you please let us know what you are up to these days?
Actually I haven't stopped making video games since the Spectrum days. At some point the last New Frontier team (4 people, including myself) founded Bit Managers, where I did dozens of soundtracks for game consoles such as the Gameboy, NES, Master System / Game Gear, SNES, Game Boy Advance... Later I left Bit Managers and founded Abylight with some fellows (at 2003) , and started making more games for Mobile Phones, Nintendo DS / DSi, Iphone, Wii....

Now I'm more focused on game design, but I still do a bit of everything. I'm also still in charge of sound design and programming, but usually music is produced externally.

Cheers and good night!

Many thanks Alberto for talking the time to chat.

A nice mix of strategy and arcade action:

One of the greatest ever tunes in an arcade game:

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

9 Nov 2010

Spectrum Games - The Light Corridor - Classic ZX Spectrum Game

The Light Corridor ZX Spectrum
This classic game was released for the ZX Spectrum in 1991 by Infogrames. I suppose it could be classed as a sort of breakout arcade clone with a massive twist.

It was now a 3D vector graphics breakout style game, and very good it was too.

This game was released at a time when the 8-bit to 16-bit transition was gathering pace, but New Frontier software put a lot of polish on this version. If you liked breakout and puzzle games then you wouldn't go far wrong with this one...

The Light Corridor ZX SpectrumThe aim of the game was to negotiate your way along 'The Light Corridor'. Equipped with a translucent raquet you had to guide the metallic sphere (not just a ball!) from the heart of the corridor.

Avoiding the walls and the traps, you had to collect the bonuses on offer and battle your way along, until eventually you would see the light, quite literally, at the end of the tunnel.

The game was spread of four stages and in classic arcade style there were plenty of bonuses to collect and nasties to avoid.

First off, this game had one of the best pieces of title music on the ZX Spectrum ever. Even the 48K version was nicely done:


The ZX Spectrum 128 was blessed with an AY Chip, and it was majestically put through it's paces with the title music. This is one of my favourite AY tunes and showcases just how good it could sound in the hands of a talented developer. Check out this pure ear candy:


At the beginning of the game you had to release the ball and watch if fly down the corridor until it struck a wall or similar obstacle. At this point it would bounce back towards you and you had to 'hit' it with the paddle, sending it back 'away' from your viewpoint.

The player used the time the ball spent in flight to move along the corridor (you could stop and start as and when you wished). The colour of the walls also changed as you progressed further which was a nice touch.

The object of the game was to reach the end of the corridor without allowing the ball to miss the paddle and 'hit' the player. If this happened, as you might guess, it was the loss of a life.

Obstacles such as moving elevator-style doors and blocks made navigating your way quite difficult and the game was all about quick reflexes. There were also nice powerups to be had to help you on your way.

Negotiating The Light Corridor - ZX SpectrumIt must also be said that this classic game was extremely customisable.

You could run the paddle at normal or fast speed which was nice, but the real boon was being able to create your own 'corridors'. The game had an in-built editor that allowed you to create corridors and then save them to cassette or disc. Now just how cool is that?

This was a great feature at the time and added a lot of longevity to the game.

On Release:
This classic game was met with high regard when it was released and rightly so. Crash Magazine awared it an overall score of 87% and praised it's playability, smooth 3D graphics, music and digitized speech (sampled from no other than pop Prince, Prince!). It was a very good mix of arcade action, 3D gaming and puzzle solving. It turned out to be a deserved big hit and proved that there was still life left in the good old Speccy in 1991.

The Test Of Time:
I have to say that this game has aged superbly. It is still playable and addictive, and creating your own in-game levels is rewarding. For me most of the classic games on the Speccy come from the mid 1980's, but this one is up there with best of them. A playable and different game.

Play this one again, you'll trip the light fantastic.

We recommend getting hold of the real Sinclair hardware but if not then download a ZX Spectrum emulator and download this classic game for the ZX Spectrum. Alternatively you could try and play it online.

GENRE: Arcade Game / Puzzle Game
RELEASE DATE: February 1991
RELEASED BY: Infogrames
DEVELOPER(S): New Frontier (Zydro, Robin, Fustor, McAlby)
PRICE: £10.99 on cassette, £15.99 on disc - UK

Running control at normal speed:

The arcade action hots up running at fast speed:

Classic Games, Arcade Games and ZX Spectrum Games

1 Nov 2010

Spectrum Games - Programmer Interview - Lee Tonks

ZX Spectrum Programmer Lee Tonks
Lee Tonks developed a number of text adventure games for the ZX Spectrum back in the 1980's and has continued to create both adventure and arcade games on the machine well into the 2000's.

Lee still develops games to this day, not only on the ZX Spectrum but also on other formats.

We were lucky enough to talk to Lee who was more than happy to discuss his passion for coding on the greatest ever 8-bit computer.

Ladeks - ZX Spectrum
1: What was the first computer you ever programmed on, and how old were you at the time?
The first computer I ever programmed on was also the first computer that I ever owned - a 16K Spectrum that I got for Christmas back in 1983. I was 11.

2: How did you get into the games development scene?
I didn't, really. From the very beginning I loved games and always wanted to make my own, but I was never actually particularly good at it. Games programming has always been something I've done 'on the side' rather than a main hobby, mostly because I tend to lose interest in projects half way through and never pick them up again (you'll note the rather large gaps in time between my various projects if you check my WOS profile). So I don't really consider myself part of 'the scene', I just call in from time to time when the mood takes me.

3: You have worked on adventure games as well as arcade style games. Which do you prefer to create?
I do like to work on adventure games, mostly because as well as being a programmer I'm also a frustrated amateur writer. Doing adventures allows me to mix the two hobbies together in interesting ways. The main problem with adventure games is convincing people to actually play them, though - they're pretty much a niche audience these days.

Most of the arcade-style games I've worked on have been created in some sort of game-making package so I've never really been truly happy with any of them because you're always having to limit what you wanted to do somehow. I'd love to do a kick-arse arcade game, but I don't think I have the skills - looking at some of the amazing stuff that's come out for the Spectrum in the last couple of years sort of puts me off even trying!

4: What was the first game you worked on?
My brother and I used to spend hours typing games into the Spectrum from magazines like Sinclair Programs and would quite often try to make our own so that we could get them printed and become famous. That never quite worked out! Because we weren't very good at programming back then I turned to Gilsoft's "The Quill" and began working on adventures, because back then it was still possible to get an adventure game published commercially.

The first game I ever completed was a mini-adventure called School (it's in the archive), and to be frank it's bloody awful! Several experiments followed, but the first 'proper' adventure game I ever finished writing was called 'Attack of the Mutant Bumpries', which I actually submitted to Atlantis Software for publication (they sent me a nice 'sorry, we're not interested' letter after a few weeks). Sadly that's now lost to the mists of time, although I still hold out hope of rediscovering it (and it's sequel, 'Revenge of the Mutant Bumpries') on an old tape somewhere one day.

5: What did you/do you like about programming on the Spectrum and what was your impression of the machine the first time you used it?
The thing I liked best was how quick it was to get going. Switch it on, do some stuff. Spectrum BASIC wasn't super-fast but it was quite easy - even as kids we could get something out of it. Of course, it wasn't nearly as easy as we'd imagined it - I remember before we had our own Speccy I used to sit and design all the games I was going to make once it arrived, but of course they all proved far too ambitious once reality set in. I wasn't too disappointed once I discovered Jetpac, though. Basically I was never off it, my parents had to physically throw me out of the house to get some fresh air.

6: And what did you/do you not like about programming on the Spectrum?
Tapes! I really, really hated tapes. They were fine for loading your favourite game, but when you're working on something and want to try something out which may or may not work, it's furiously irritating to have to wait for everything to save out to a cassette. And you're always living in fear of the dreaded 'tape loading error' too - I remember losing a 95% complete adventure to a chewed-up tape, and the only other copy I had was only about 50% done. Mortified.

7: Of the games you have created, which is your favourite?
My last game, On Reflection. I set out to do a modern-style adventure on the Spectrum and I'm pretty pleased with what I achieved. I wanted to create something which wasn't just 'you are in a room, it is empty, what now' and instant deaths every five seconds because you couldn't guess the exact keywords to use. Ideally I wanted something more akin to modern interactive fiction but with the ease-of-use of a point-and-click adventure like Monkey Island.

The game reads more like a short story than a traditional adventure, and that's on purpose. I also went out of my way to highlight things of interest, exits, etc. so as not to frustrate the player. Frustration is the single thing that puts people off text adventures, I think, so that's precisely what I wanted to avoid. I hope I succeeded for the most part, although I'm not sure how many people have actually played it. It does pretty well in WOS's Top 100 Adventures list though, which is very flattering.

8: How did Manic Miner III come about?
Back in '96 I was helping to maintain the NVG Spectrum archive and someone uploaded a file called 'Manic Miner 2'. I presumed this was Jet Set Willy, but it actually turned out to be a hack of Manic Miner with different levels. It was a bit wonky - the levels weren't very well designed and I seem to remember it glitching quite often, but it got me interested.

I remembered a listing in an old Your Sinclair for a Manic Miner editor program, so I asked around and managed to get a copy of the pages sent over in the post from a friendly comp.sys.sinclair reader. I typed the programs in and got to work, wondering if I could do any better. The editors were pretty basic (actually they were literally BASIC!) and didn't allow you to do things like change the positions of the bad guys, so I came up with the idea of using a 'parallel universe Willy' to explain why the levels were sort of familiar but slightly remixed.

In all I think it took about three months to complete a set that I was happy with and unleash it to the public. It seemed to go down pretty well, I think - the levels have been included in several PC-based remixes over the years too, which is always nice.

9: Which other programmers on the Spectrum impressed you most?
We always noticed the companies more than the individuals back in the day, but I used to love Raff Cecco's games and Ocean/Imagine had a fantastic set of guys at one point with the likes of Joffa Smith, Mike Lamb, etc. Don Priestley's big-sprite games were always wow-inducing for me, though, and I have a particular soft spot for David Jones and his Magic Knight series - I always wanted to do something similar to those.

These days things are even more impressive, I think - there have been some amazing new Spectrum games in the last five years. Jonathan Cauldwell, Bob Smith, The Mojon Twins - I'd take my hat off to them all, if I had a hat! A special mention to Colin Woodcock too - his 'Blink' adventure game was what inspired me to consider returning to Spectrum adventure-writing.

10: Do you develop games on any other platforms?
Quite a few in the past. I've done stuff for the Atari ST and the PC, and I've also dabbled with Gameboy stuff. Most of my coding projects over the years have been utility or productivity software, though - the games are definitely in the minority, sadly. These days I'm pretty much PC and Spectrum only as far as development goes.

11: Any current projects you can tell us about?
I have a long-running maze-game experiment called Dex which I sincerely hope to complete one of these days. I think I've been working on it since about 2003 though, so don't hold your breath. It's actually completely playable now but there's only a single level and it's pretty unpolished. I also have about a third of a sequel to Tales From A Parallel Universe (created with much better tools), but that's been in the works since the late 90s - I doubt it'll ever get completed now, but you never know.

Other than that I've been kicking around a few ideas for another adventure, but nothing concrete as yet - I want to do something smaller and leaner that doesn't take quite so long to get done (On Reflection took nearly three years, on and off).

12: Finally, Cheese Freak Software must go down as one of the most impressive company names I've ever heard of! How did it get named as so?
Heh. I'm a terrible artist, but I'm a doodler - just about every book I own is covered in scribbled drawings. One of my most popular doodles from as far back as high school is a chunk of Swiss cheese, so the company name comes from that. It also serves quite nicely as the company logo.

Once again many thanks to Lee for taking time out to talk with me. Cheers mate.

Arcade Games, Classic Games and ZX Spectrum Games

The Retro Brothers Favourite ZX Spectrum Games...

Jetpac Remake