Sinclair ZX Spectrum portable console announced

The Vega+ edge-on (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
The Vega+ edge-on (pic Retro Computers Ltd)

The makers of the popular ZX Spectrum Vega, a ZX Spectrum-compatible games console, today announced the follow-up to their first officially licensed Sinclair-branded product.

The stylish new low-cost console, dubbed the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ is, say Luton-based makers Retro Computers Ltd, ‘The world’s only hand-held LCD games console with 1,000 licensed games inside that can also connect to your TV.’

The PSP-like portable gaming machine, the concept case design of which has been created by original Sinclair computer industrial designer Rick Dickinson,  not only has its own built-in LCD screen, so gamers can dispense with the TV altogether, but a contemporary combination of low-profile joypad and control buttons that promise an even better playing experience than the first in the Vega line.

Sinclair with style

The Vega+ incorporates all the features of the ZX Vega and more, in a more attractive, if a little less nostalgic (no wobbly rubber keys!) package, including stereo output for ‘…great reproduction of gaming sounds and music’. It offers a built-in Micro SD card slot, composite video output (PAL or NTSC) combined with the headphone socket and +- volume buttons.

The Vega+ technology has been designed and developed by a team led by Chris Smith, who, say the company, is the world’s leading expert on the technology behind the 1980’s Sinclair ZX Spectrum range of home computers.

The classic 48k Spectrum computer of the 1980's (pic Wikipedia)
The classic 48k Spectrum computer of the 1980’s (pic Wikipedia)

The name most closely associated with the Sinclair brand and the original Spectrum computers is, of course, the inimitable Sir Clive Sinclair, who said:

“The present surge of interest in retro products inspired me to plan the Vega+ as a handy games console which can be played anywhere.”

There and back again

The Sinclair ZX computer brand name was sold to Alan Sugar’s Amstrad in the late 1980’s; that company later sold it on to Sky In-Home Service Ltd, and the right to use the name was re-licensed back to Retro Computers Ltd, a Luton-based start-up in which Sir Clive’s company, Sinclair Research Ltd, is a shareholder, in 2014.

The Vega+, like the Vega before it, has been designed to reduce costs compared with the original and much-loved ‘Speccy’ by applying modern technology in the form of a fast but low-cost micro-controller which is the heart of the new machines.

Concept design by Rick Dickinson (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
Concept design by Rick Dickinson (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
Crowdfunding

The first Vega successfully went through the crowdfunding process at Indiegogo.com and the new Vega+ has been launched today on the same platform, with a price of £100 GBP plus shipping for the console itself, as well as a range of associated perks including limited edition colours, books, a Roll of Honour, signed art and Spectrum computers, and other options.  For more details see:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-sinclair-zx-spectrum-vega-plus-console#/

Retro Computers Ltd are looking to raise £100,000 within a month to get their latest venture in production and on the market, and the project has certainly hit the ground running, with a prototype all ready to put into production and more than £11,000 raised in a day from over 100 backers already. Their initial aim is to manufacture the first production run of 2,500 units and get ready for the second run. Production and shipping of the first Vega Plus consoles are planned for late summer 2016.

Watch this space

Needless to say, Retro Computing News will be keeping a close eye on the progress of the Vega+ while preparing our review of the original Vega this week.

The new console certainly looks like a device with great potential to grab not only a share of the retro/nostalgia market but also a new market of modern gamers who will not only be able to have a lot of fun with the shiny new gadget, but will hopefully also be encouraged to take an interest in the history and heritage of one of the most iconic brands in British computing.

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BBC Micros attend first Cotswold Jam of 2016

TOM WILLIAMSON REPORTS FOR RCN
Getting in a jam in the Cotswolds!
Getting in a jam in the Cotswolds!
January 30th 2016 saw the Cotswold Jam Raspberry Pi hobbyist computing group hold their first exhibition and showcase of the year.

As with previous shows, I was asked to attend (as Ident Computer) along with my exhibits consisting of Acorn model B BBC Micros and own build ‘Micro \ One’ computers based around the Raspberry Pi board, running the RISC OS 5 operating system.

January’s event was the first time the Jam has been over subscribed, with 100+ children and adults attending. As a result the event was held in the newly refurbished computer labs of the University of Gloucestershire’s Cheltenham Campus, in the South Midlands.

Jam sessions

The Jam started at 1pm and was mainly divided into workshops, general discussion and demonstration areas, both using classrooms and computing labs and a lounge area (were I was set up) which was for more formal talks and practical demos.

A number of Raspberry Pi computers were made available for visitors to use by the event organisers, these in addition to Pi boards bought in by the public, this being actively encouraged.

Almost all demos, talks and workshops were based around the Pi’s default operating system, that being ‘Raspbian OS’ which is a cut down version of Linux Debian, with most sessions and workshops based on how to code using Scratch, Python and the video game Minecraft. The latter naturally proved very popular with the younger visitors.

RISCy business
Tom Williamson speaks about RISC OS
Tom Williamson speaks about RISC OS

For the older generation and, increasingly, interested computing students, I gave an introductory talk about RISC OS and the BBC BASIC programming language using an ultra low-cost Raspberry Pi Zero, which is a new board released by the Pi foundation in November of last year.

What was so remarkable about this model was the fact it was released as a freebie on the front cover of a mainstream computing magazine (The MagPi)! The boards are now so cheap (Costing £4 / $5 at time of writing) they could be given away for practically nothing!

However, despite being a fully working 1GHz, ARM CPU with 512MB of RAM based computer board, very few are up and running. This is manly due to older OS ‘ROMs’ not being compatible and some distros such as RISC OS having not yet been officially patched. This meant that, come the show, I had to use my own ‘hacked’ version of RISC OS to get the Pi Zero up and running for the demos and talk.

Beeb power
BBC Micro's on parade!
BBC Micro’s on parade!

No such issues with my other exhibits! The BBC Micro’s have been extremely popular and my personal fleet of fully refurbished and modernised micros has now toured a number of events. Kids continue to be fascinated by them and adults (the kids of the 80’s and 90’s) love to reminisce, and I have always been surprised by just how well the BBC Micros continue to be received by the visiting public.

Game Pi
Nanogangs by Tom Williamson
Nanogangs by Tom Williamson

For this year I’m working on a new game called Nanogangs, which I had the idea for when I was about 12 years old. The game is being written in BBC BASIC without the use of any assembly language, so it can be easily ported to modern systems such as RISC OS Pi.

For the Cotswold Jam I had two versions running, one for the BBC Micro B the other for my ‘Micro One’ Pi-based own build computers.

Fun with Nanogangs!
Fun with Nanogangs!

The game went down very well and its nice to be able to write and showcase new software for these machines in 2016! The game will be used to demonstrate BASIC coding and also hopefully will make it to limited public release for both BBC Micro and RISC OS / Raspberry Pi later this year.

Join in the fun this April
Tom's own 'Ident' Pi-based computers on show
Tom’s own ‘Ident’ Pi-based computers on show

Free tickets for the next Cotswold Jam event happening on the 30th of April 2016 will be available from their web site: http://www.cotswoldjam.org

And my fleet of BBC Micros and RISC OS machines should make a return visit for the event: http://www.ident-online.co.uk/computer

Anyone is welcome to attend, but it should be remembered this is a Raspberry Pi event, meaning all content and projects need to have some reference to or use of Raspberry Pi boards, such as in my case: Acorn, RISC OS and BBC Micros being directly related to the Raspberry Pi. The group are always looking for volunteers, helpers and showcase content, and can be contacted via the Cotswold jam website. So, maybe see you there?

Tom Williamson

@tomW_Ident
Ident Computer

Our thanks to Tom for the first of hopefully many reports. We can testify personally that his exhibits and work are well worth a look!
All photos by Tom Williamson. Photos and screen shots remain copyright of the author.

Former Commodore UK MD’s reunite over FriendUP

David Pleasance and Colin Proudfoot in Commodore days
David Pleasance and Colin Proudfoot in Commodore days

The former joint Managing Directors of Commodore UK have joined forces once again to support and work with a new platform inspired by the spirit of the Amiga – FriendUP – and already the Amiga community is buzzing with the news, released today in a video conversation presented by Dan Wood of kookytech.net

The ‘dynamic duo’ of David Pleasance and Colin Proudfoot are delighted to be working together on the exciting new project following David’s first meeting with the Friend Software Labs team at the fan-organised Amiga 30 celebration in Amsterdam and Colin’s meeting at the Mountain View, USA event.  Both of the highly-experienced former tech business leaders say they have been very impressed with the FriendUP project and have agreed to join the team as senior managers in the company. Colin has now come on board as Chief Financial Officer, with David taking the position of Director of International Sales and Marketing.

That’s what friends are for

Both of the highly-experienced former tech business leaders say they have been very impressed with the FriendUP project and have agreed to join the team as senior managers in the company. Colin has now come on board as Chief Financial Officer, with David taking the position of Director of International Sales and Marketing.

It’s well-known amongst Commodore fans and Amiga enthusiasts in the retro community that David and Colin were at one time front-runners to take over the Commodore business from the UK, including the Amiga tech, following the bankruptcy of the main company in the US back in 1994. Sadly, though it was a close-run thing, it was not to be.

Amazingly now, twenty-one years later, after all the excitement over the past year’s world-wide celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Amiga 1000, they are back in harness together for the first time since those heady days at Commodore. Continue reading Former Commodore UK MD’s reunite over FriendUP

Retro Computer Museum opening celebrates move

A tiny fraction of the collections at the RCM in Leicester (pic Retro Computer Museum)
A tiny fraction of the collections at the RCM in Leicester (pic Retro Computer Museum)

A popular Leicester museum specialising in the history of computing has moved – and is celebrating with a special Open Weekend this Saturday and Sunday!

The move, which is something of a ‘quantum leap’ for both the Retro Computer Museum and its staff alike, is to more spacious premises nearby, and reflects the success of the fast-growing establishment, whose volunteers are often to be seen showing off some of the stars of the Museum’s collections at retro events up and down the UK.

Entrance to the Troon Way Business Centre (pic RCM)
Entrance to the Troon Way Business Centre (pic RCM)

The Museum, which transferred its vast number of exhibits, plus furniture, equipment and storage, from its previous accommodation at the Troon Way Business Centre in January, now has more room to breathe at Unit A of the Humberstone Lane centre – thanks to the sterling efforts of volunteer staff and supporters.

Congratulations – and celebrations

Congratulations are therefore now due – and to celebrate the move, the Museum is holding an OPEN WEEKEND on Saturday 6th – Sunday 7th February 2016, from 10am-6.30pm.

Curator and Museum organiser Andy Spencer said about the event:

“Just pop along any time and say hello! This weekend  is completely free and on us. Yep! You read that correctly. There will be over 40 systems all ready to play on and use – no restrictions! Why not bring the family? – surely there is something here for everybody. All the classics – fully playable! We look forward to welcoming you!”

RCM Open Weekend handbill - click to enlarge
RCM Open Weekend handbill – click to enlarge
Well worth your support
Andy Spencer (right) and his Retro Computer Museum team brought a critical mass of historic home computers and consoles to Recursion 2015
Andy Spencer (right) and his Retro Computer Museum team brought a critical mass of historic home computers and consoles to Recursion 2015

The Retro Computer Museum is a registered charity dedicated to the benefit of the public for the preservation, display and public experience of computer and console systems from the 1960’s onwards.

Their main focus is on systems that were in use in the home, rather than big computer systems and mainframes of early computer development. Accordingly, they have systems ranging from the early Pong consoles through the Sega and Nintendo console wars and the home computers of the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64s and Amigas.

The RCM aims to provide Retro Gaming and Computing events and access to retro computer equipment for educational visits and tours. The Retro Computer Museum has held seven Retro Gaming events of its own to date, including partnership events with Snibston Discovery Museum. The Retro Computer Museum has also made appearances including the 2010 Vintage Computer Festival in Bletchley Park, Recursion 2015 and participating in the 2010 EuroCon event in Manchester with a line-up of British computers.

The Museum is a fascinating and friendly place, and a worthy cause for your donations of old hardware, software, books – and perhaps a little cash to help keep things going! So if you really do enjoy yourself there this weekend (and we’re sure you will) a donation to the museum would be greatly appreciated – but is not compulsory.

Contact

The Museum’s full address and contact details are:

Unit A, Troon Way Business Centre,
Humberstone Lane, Leicester LE4 9HA
Mobile: 07519 816 283

Email: info@retrocomputermuseum.co.uk
Web: www.retrocomputermuseum.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RetroComputerMuseum/

Registered Charity No. 1146912

Young students receive prizes in honour of Ada

Ada competition winners meet Colossus operators Margaret O’Connell and Irene Dixon (pic TNMOC)
Ada competition winners meet Colossus operators Margaret O’Connell and Irene Dixon (pic TNMOC)

Three winners of the Fascinating Ada Competition designed to inspire female students about careers in computing have received their prizes at Oxford University and their entries have now been published online.

At the Ada Lovelace Symposium, marking the bicentenary of the person widely acclaimed as the creator of the first-ever computer program, three young students aged between 5 and 18 received their prizes from two of the first operators of Colossus, the World War II code-breaking computer.

Competition

TNMOC sign 2

The competition, run by The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) and the University of Oxford, in conjunction with cs4fn at Queen Mary University of London, asked girls what they would like to communicate to Ada Lovelace about twenty-first century technology. More than 250 entries were received and judged by a prestigious panel of women involved in computing today.

A parallel competition, with a similar judging panel, was also run in the USA by the Computer History Museum and today some of its entries are also published online.

Entries to the UK competition could be almost in any format and they ranged from hand-written letters, a poem and a song to emails, PowerPoint presentations, YouTube videos and other formats.

Ada Maisie Hards, aged 5, presented a series of photographs and captions showing how much computing technology has pervaded our everyday lives – and how Ada was the inspiration for her own name.

Amelia Doran won the 13-15 age group with an animated three-minute video explaining computing and highlighting some of the remarkable ways that it has changed our lives, but not losing sight of some of the negative implications of today’s technology.

Naimh Owens, winning the 16-18 age group, opted for a traditional letter to express lyrically her thoughts about today’s world “where people can communicate, delegate, deliberate and fascinate with technology”, but how she thinks Ada Lovelace would implore people to use technology to “discover and innovate … [but] not define us.”

Judges with a Colossal reputation!
Part of the Colossus gallery (pic TNMOC)
Part of the Colossus gallery (pic TNMOC)

The judging panel comprised operators of the very first Colossus computer, Margaret O’Connell and Irene Dixon, computer scientists Sophie Wilson and Professor Ursula Martin, journalist Maggie Philbin, author Betty Toole, animator/cartoonist Sydney Padua and Heinz Nixdorf Museum curator Doreen Hartmann. Shortlisting was undertaken by TNMOC volunteers led by Jill Clarke.

The prizes included tablet computers, Ada Lovelace books, and visits to The National Museum of Computing. We are very grateful to the sponsors of the UK prizes: Dixons Carphone, Penguin Random House, Oxford University and cs4fn.

Read entries online

TNMOC logoComputer History Museum logo

A selection of entries from the UK and US competitions are now available online on the TNMOC website and on the Computer History Museum website.

All the UK winners are as follows:

Age 13 and Under
1st Ada Maisie Hards
2nd Chandani Phelps
3rd Preetam Panesar

Age 13-15
1st Amelia Doran
2nd Alice Wilkening
3rd Matilda Ruth Joyce

Age 16-18
1st Niamh Owens
2nd Melissa Lee
3rd Mathusha Mohan

Groups

1st Amelie McKenna, Safaa Mirza, and Rebecca Allen from Stroud High School
2nd Elizabeth Peers, Rebecca Harry and Eleanor Kelly from Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Derbyshire
3rd Riya Stephen, Merin Benny, Ashlin Roy and Diana Sabu from St Anthony’s Girls Catholic Academy

Continue reading Young students receive prizes in honour of Ada

Hewson rides again as games fund winners announced!

Andrew Hewson talks about the great days of Hewson Consultants while his son Rob looks on at REVIVAL in 2014
Andrew Hewson talks about the great days of Hewson Consultants while his son Rob looks on at REVIVAL in 2014

Today’s announcement of the winners of the first round of the UK government’s Games Fund has given a major boost to one of the fastest-growing sector of the nation’s industry.

And retro gamers and retro computing fans across the nation have been particularly delighted to hear that one of the original founders and pioneers of that industry, Hewson Consultants, has sprung into action once more, as one of the first to benefit from the scheme!

Paul Durrant, Managing Director, UK Games Talent and Finance CIC said following today’s announcement of the winners by Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy:

“The level of creative activity in the UK’s games development sector is running at record levels. The 100 plus applications we received to the first round of the UK Games Fund has surpassed any of the rounds in our previous fund. Our new portfolio of supported companies represent the first members of our talent-led movement to build on the UK’s creative strengths in video games development.”

Now worth £84 billion to the economy, the creative industries are one of the UK’s greatest success stories. Government support through things like tax credit and the UK Games Fund is helping to drive that growth.

Twenty-four companies across the UK have been selected in this first round of the UK Games Fund and will now receive grants to develop their projects. The Fund will run until 2019 and will provide grants of up to £50,000 to support video games projects, create jobs and help develop new talent.

Hewson Consultants rides again
Back in the day - Andrew Hewson
Back in the day – Andrew Hewson

Created in the early 80s by Andrew Hewson, and now represented by his son Rob, who for the past few years has been busily flying the flag for the next generation with one careful eye on their heritage, the much-loved company Hewson Consultants started out by publishing a hints and tips book for one of the first affordable and now most collectable British home computers – the Sinclair ZX80. The enthusiastic response to this book encouraged them to move into games production, at a time when the UK was a hotbed of cottage industry coding in the midst of the home computer revolution.

As a result, for a heady decade from 1980, Hewson Consultants wrote their name in brightly-coloured pixels as a highly-regarded publisher of what are now classic games for a wide range of popular micros .

Popular eight and sixteen-bit games such as Uridium, Paradroid, Exolon, Ranarama, Zarathustra, 3D Seiddab Attack and Dragontoc were amongst many games published by Hewson between 1980 – 1990; the list goes on and on. During that period they also set up a label for re-releasing other publisher’s games under the Rebound label.

Computers such as the Sinclair ZX81 and ZX Spectrum, Dragon 32, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and PCW, BBC Micro, MSX, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and even early Nintendo and Sega consoles all benefited from the expertise of Hewson’s coders, leaving a legacy of collectable games that are still sought after by present day retro computing enthusiasts, decades later.

Into the 21st Century
The pinball era
The pinball era

The company closed in 1991, but the management didn’t rest on their laurels. Andrew Hewson founded the European Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA), and the power that was Hewson morphed into 21st Century Entertainment, which was to become popular in the field of high quality pinball games for 16-bit machines. But winding forward into the 21st century itself, the old Hewson was gone but not forgotten, and remained popular as a result of the fond memories of past players and the rapidly-growing hobby of retrogaming

Back to the future
Andrew Hewson promoting the Kickstarter campaign on YouTube
Andrew Hewson promoting the Kickstarter campaign on YouTube

More recently, however, the elder Hewson returned to books, and for some time now has been in the process of writing and publishing a title which is a nostalgic echo of his first: Hints and Tips for Videogame Pioneers rapidly became a popular success even before publication, through the modern medium of crowdfunding on Kickstarter. Mr Hewson’s official biography of Hewson Consultants and 21st Century Entertainment is available for pre-order now, and we hope to review it in due course.

Game On!

Hewson Consultants logo

Today, thanks to the creative energy of the Hewsons (with Rob working hard behind the scenes for the past 4 years towards this goal) and a kick-start of a different kind from the UK government, Hewson Consultants is about to rise from the ashes and be born-again from its 1980s incarnation.  The regenerated company will be headed up by Andrew Hewson (chairman and finance director), Rob Hewson (chief executive and creative director) and John Ogden (technical director). Other staff and future projects have yet to be revealed.

Rob Hewson

Rob Hewson told Retro Computing News today:

“I’m delighted to be joining the company I grew up with. Our aim is simple – to develop and publish original, innovative games once again. We are extremely fortunate to have a small but hugely passionate community of retro gamers behind us, and we are excited to take them along on this journey.”

The ultimate beneficiaries of this exciting news are of course those gamers themselves, who now have much to look forward to, and will who will already be wondering, with bated breath, what will come out of the reincarnation of one of the best-known companies of the classic era. First to come, though, is Andrew Hewson’s new book. Game on!

Funding the games we’ll play

UK Games Fund logo

Hewson Consultants are not, of course the only beneficiaries of this round of the UK Games Fund.

Announced today by Ed Vaizey, and also to be congratulated, the list of first round winners also includes: Atomicom, Cardboard Sword, Clever Beans, Coatsink Software, Fallen Tree Games, Futurlab, Noble Games, Nosebleed Interactive, Paw Print Games, Plug-in Media, Roll 7, Ruffian Games, Rumpus Animation, Semaeopus, Sensible Object, Six to Start, Slug Disco Studios, Spilt Milk Studios, Tag Games, The Secret Police, Two Way Media, White Paper Games and Yakuto.

The UK Games Fund is managed by UK Games Talent and Finance and will explore joint initiatives with organisations such as Digital Catapult, BAFTA, Ukie, Tiga, Creative England, Creative Scotland and BFI.

Apply now

Businesses can now apply for the second round of funding of grants up to £25,000, see: http://ukgamesfund.com/. Applications are open until Monday 18th April 2016, 12pm noon.

 

Some images courtesy Hewson Consultants and the UK Games Fund.