Category Archives: Sinclair Spectrum

Is that Pacman’s Liver You’re Wearing?

Mel Croucher
Mel Croucher

The Games Collector, a UK-based producer of both modern and retro gaming-related products is running a crowdfunding campaign to bring the music of the legendary Mel Croucher to the masses.

Who is Mel Croucher? Some say he is the father of the British gaming industry. Others, that he is the secret identity of that crazy 1980s Speccy ‘anti-superhero’,  The Piman.  At a time when most computers were being used to calculate the compound interest on the revenue from a year’s worth of potato sales, Mel was selling his eclectic range of games for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum through eye-catching adverts on the back pages of the popular computing magazines of the day.

What made Mel’s games particularly memorable (for those who do actually remember them) was that they often included audio tracks on the reverse side of the game cassette. From original compositions to hilarious parodies, there was something for everyone. Leider of the Pac told the tragic tale of Pacman’s lover, who wears the yellow character’s internal organs as a memento after witnessing his death in a car crash (yes, really). Put Cat Out Mother, It’s on Fire Again surprised no-one with its mention of a cat on fire, and Three Point One Four Two sounds vaguely familiar but none of us actually remember it.

Piman's Greatest Hits

Now The Games Collector has decided to inflict these sonic gems on anyone willing to part with a reasonable amount of their hard-earned wages, making the collection available on vinyl, CD and even cassette tape for real fans of the era. In total there are five albums (two are in fact doubles) that make up Insπred: The Collective Works of Mel Croucher.

Mel Croucher intro title card

The sequel to Mel’s most famous game – Deus Ex Machina 2 – featured a cast including Christopher Lee and Joaquim de Almeida, and one of the highlights of the collection is a real life ‘Evil Laugh Off’ between the two of them – almost but not quite justifying the asking price by itself.

Interested parties can reserve their collection through the campaign’s Indiegogo crowdfunding page at https://igg.me/at/pimania

A preview of Mel’s music is available on Soundcloud at http://bit.ly/2oHZlae

New Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next fully funded

Rick Dickinson-designed Spectrum Next concept-rendering
Rick Dickinson-designed Spectrum Next concept-rendering

Hot news today is that the new Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next home computer which was launched on Kickstarter in the early hours of Sunday morning to mark the 35th birthday of the original Spectrum produced by Sinclair Research has been  fully funded in less than 48 hours.

At the time of posting, the project had raised £250,534 pledged of its £250,000 goal, funded by 1,160 backers – and with 28 days of the campaign still to go!  It seems that for Speccy fans, a quality project, run by skilled, friendly and accessible people really does mean the sky is the limit for the new kid on the Sinclair block.

21st century Speccy

Dubbed the ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next’ by new UK manufacturers SpecNext Ltd, this 21st century Speccy looks both backward to a glorious gaming past and forward to what is hoped to be a bright new future, by combining a slick modern take on the classic Spectrum+ exterior design, which is once again created by original Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson, this time around with powerful modern electronics designed by gifted Brazilian retro hacker Victor Trucco.

The big question now is – how much will the Spectrum Next raise by the end of its campaign?  We hope to see the latest prototype in operation very soon, and will report back.  Watch this space!

For the full story behind the machine and its creators, and the link to the Kickstarter campaign plus other details, see yesterday’s post in RCN.

The latest pre-production fully working prototype board

Images courtesy SpecNext Ltd

New home computer marks Sinclair ZX Spectrum’s 35th

Spectrum Next concept side rendering by Rick Dickinson
Spectrum Next concept side rendering by Rick Dickinson

A brand-new Sinclair Spectrum home computer for the 21st century has been launched, in the early hours of this morning – just in time to celebrate the 35th birthday of the legendary original Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k which was launched on 23rd April 1982 – 35 years ago today.

Dubbed the ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next’ by new UK manufacturers SpecNext Ltd, the new kid on the Sinclair block looks both backward to a glorious gaming past and forward to what is hoped to be a bright new future, by combining a slick modern take on the classic Spectrum+ exterior design, which is once again created by original Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson, this time around with powerful modern electronics designed by gifted Brazilian retro hacker Victor Trucco.

The latest ‘Speccy’ to hit the market looks like it’s going to be a hot product – though we will have to wait a while yet before the real thing is available, as the delivery estimate is currently January 2018. One thing is for sure, there is certainly a demand for the Next, as evidenced by the raising of more than £157,000 for the project on Kickstarter in just 11 hours so far.  As of the time of posting, there are 709 backers, and 29 days to go to raise the £250,000 goal.

Henrique Olifiers shows off a Spectrum Next development kit board which he demonstrated at Revival Solstice 2016 (pic Stuart Williams)
Henrique Olifiers shows off a Spectrum Next development kit board which he demonstrated at Revival Solstice 2016 (pic Stuart Williams)

Also behind the project are Brazilian computer scientist and key figure in the MSX hardware scene in Brazil Fabio Belavenuto, plus celebrated British ZX Spectrum developer Jim Bagley, who is responsible for several of the Next’s new functions and drives the platform’s development requirements. The company has its registered office at 135 Bermondsey Street, London, and was incorporated on 9 February 2016 by game designer Carlos Henrique Olifiers, Co-Founder of BAFTA-winning games developers Bossa Studios, who is the project’s front man and chief evangelist here in the UK.

An early Spectrum Next prototype board built by Victor Trucco was seen in Walsall at Revival Solstice 2016 (pic Stuart Williams)
An early Spectrum Next prototype board built by Victor Trucco was seen in Walsall at Revival Solstice 2016 (pic Stuart Williams)

Continue reading New home computer marks Sinclair ZX Spectrum’s 35th

Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next board demonstrated

Spectrum Next concept rendered in white
Spectrum Next concept rendered in white

Following our previous post about the announcement of a new, modern technology Sinclair Spectrum retro computer, the ZX Spectrum Next, by UK company SpecNext Ltd, the designer of the Next’s electronics, Mr Victor Trucco, has posted a video demonstration of the Next’s prototype electronics, showing the majority of the commercial board’s proposed features.

The video is narrated by Mr Trucco in Portuguese and subtitled in English.

We thought you’d be keen to see this as an update, and so are we, so here it is!

We now also have confirmation that HDMI output will be via a Raspberry Pi Zero built into the case.

For full details of the new computer, check out our original post here:  Sinclair Spectrum – the Next generation!

Sinclair Spectrum – the Next generation!

Spectrum Next concept rendering by Rick Dickinson
Spectrum Next concept rendering

Things seem to have gone a little crazy on the retro computing front lately, what with new retro consoles and computers coming out of the woodwork all over the place – and the latest and possibly most amazing of all is a brand-new Sinclair ZX Spectrum, from yet another new manufacturer!

This latest homage to Sir Clive Sinclair’s classic ZX Spectrum+ has been dubbed the ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next’ by new UK manufacturers SpecNext Ltd.  The company has its registered office at 135 Bermondsey Street, London, and was incorporated on 9 February 2016 by Carlos Henrique Olifiers, Co-Founder of BAFTA-winning games developers Bossa Studios,.

And, by combining a slick modern take on the classic Spectrum+ exterior design, once again created by original Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson, with powerful modern electronics designed by Brazilian Victor Trucco, the latest ‘Speccy’ to hit the market looks like it’s going to be a hot product – though we will have to wait a while yet before the real thing is available.

A Speccy for all seasons?

Apparently officially licensed through intellectual property holders Sky In-Home Service Limited. the ZX Spectrum Next is clearly an upgraded homage to the classic 1980s micro rather than a traditional chip-by-chip clone.

Despite this the concept, which to date has been seen only in 3D renderings, seems to have been well-received amongst the ‘retro community’ so far, perhaps due the fact it is being pitched as a development to take the Sinclair brand into the future – and due to its adoption of the modernised Spectrum+ style case and keyboard, unlike the popular but sometimes controversial Vega range of hand-held consoles produced by Retro Computers Limited, who at the last count had decided against reviving an actual Spectrum computer.

The TBBlue by Mr Victor Trucco
The TBBlue by Mr Victor Trucco
The ZX Spectrum Next is based on Victor Trucco’s previous project, the TBBlue, and the Altera Cyclone FPGA-based board which will form the heart of the next Speccy is expected to be similar.

The Next is a reimplementation of the original at hardware level, ensuring it runs all the software out there. And it´s also planned to be compatible with most expansions made for the ZX Spectrum, as well as being compatible with new ULAplus video modes. There is also a possibility of implementing ZX81 hi res mode before the first units ship.

The SD card ‘disk’ operating system used is ESXDOS, and the new machine will be compatible with all the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum versions including 48k, 128k (Toastrack), +2 and +3.

In fact, amazingly, the Spectrum Next will also be compatible with Brazilian Speccy clones the  TK90X and TK95, as well as the Sinclair ZX80, ZX81, and Jupiter Ace!

Sexy specs for the Speccy Next?
Spectrum Next concept rear rendering
Spectrum Next concept rear rendering

The following equivalent specifications for the new computer have been revealed so far:

  • Processor Z80 3.5Mhz and 7Mhz modes
  • Memory  512Kb RAM
  • Video  ULAplus featuring compatible and expanded modes and colours
  • Video output  RGB, VGA, mini HDMI
  • Storage  SD card slot, with DivMMC-compatible protocol
  • Tape support  Mic and Ear ports for cassette tape loading and saving
  • Audio  AY-3-8912 or FM2149 audio chips (selectable) with stereo output
  • Joystick port  DB9 compatible with Interface 1 or Interface 2 protocols (selectable)
  • PS/2 port  Mouse with Kempston mode emulation OR external keyboard
  • Extras  Multiface functionality for memory access, save games, cheats etc
  • Expansion  Original Spectrum external bus expansion port
  • Accelerator slave board  GPU/1Ghz CPU/512Mb RAM
Spectrum Next concept side rendering
Spectrum Next concept side rendering
Any colour you like as long as it’s black (or white)
Spectrum Next concept rendered in white
Spectrum Next concept rendered in white

The very attractive modernised design of the Spectrum Next may also be offered in traditional Spectrum black – or white! Not really surprising this as there’s been much interest from retro hobbyists in DIY modded white versions of the classic Speccy. So it looks like buyers will probably have the option to buy a black or white cased Spectrum Next, or indeed both. Pretty smart-looking either way, judging by the

Not really surprising this, as there’s been much interest from retro hobbyists in DIY modded white versions of the classic Speccy.  So it looks like buyers will probably have the option to buy a black or white cased Spectrum Next, or indeed both. Pretty smart-looking either way, judging by the renderings published so far.

HDMI through Pi

It’s been suggested that the HDMI out video option will be given by passing the output through a Raspberry Pi computer, possibly a Pi Zero, built-in to the Spectrum Next casing, though this is unconfirmed as yet.  Update 2 May 2016: we now understand the HDMI output is definitely planned to be via a Pi Zero.

Crowdfunding

Apparently the ZX Spectrum Next project is to be crowd funded, a popular method amongst new retro console and computer manufacturers. This has not yet been set up and we will follow this up in due course.

Company website

A preliminary website has been set up, but as yet shows very little. It does, however, offer the opportunity to sign up for a newsletter and further information:

http://www.specnext.com/

Facebook

There is also already a ZX Spectrum Next group on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/237301699960491/

Conclusion

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next looks like a very exciting product, with a lot of potential, and we will be following the project closely. Watch this space!

Update 2 May 2016

Mr Trucco has now placed a video demonstration of the Next’s protoype electronics online – see our latest post about this exciting new machine: Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next board demonstrated 

Rendered images shown here are reproduced courtesy of SpecNext Ltd and Mr Victor Trucco, with thanks.

Retro Computers Limited officers resign

The Vega, fresh from its nostagically-styled box
The Vega, fresh from its nostagically-styled box

Shock news has reached Retro Computing News tonight as we hear that two of the prime movers in UK company Retro Computers Limited have resigned, leaving the company’s future  uncertain.

Managing Director Paul Andrews and Chief Technical Officer Chris Smith have left the company, leaving Sir Clive Sinclair and Dr David Levy the sole remaining members of the original management team. Mr Andrews and Mr Smith resigned on 8 April 2016.

We understand that Mr Andrews’ company has sent an email to everyone that has licensed games for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega console, which we reviewed in February. In this email the company states, we hear,  that it will no longer be managing game licensing royalties, and that from now on Retro Computers Limited will manage them directly.

Dr Levy is apparently now solely responsible for everything related to the Vega console, including royalty payments to game authors (or donations to charity).

The company website has already been updated to reflect the changes in management, and details of the firm registered at Companies House show a change of address from the company’s original Luton addresss to 34 Courthope Road, London, England, NW3 2LD – the correspondence address of Dr David Levy.

Mr Andrews and Mr Smith also no longer feature on the company’s Indiegogo campaign pages.

No further information is available as yet, but we have our ears to the ground on this one and will report back as soon as we know more.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ gets keyboard facility

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

More detailed anticipated specifications for the new Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ games console were revealed today, and top of the list for many potential buyers was the revelation that a real, and not just virtual, keyboard facility will now be provided in the production model, which will no doubt have Speccy-loving adventure gamers and programmers alike rolling about in a state of ecstasy.

The 48k and 128k Spectrum-compatible Vega+ will also offer access to programming mode (BASIC), and extended “ULAplus” colour palette support, in addition to the classic ZX Spectrum colour palette. All this offers a tantalising glimpse of a potentially much-anticipated ‘return of the Speccy’ scenario, albeit in a radically different form-factor and with different circuitry to the classic rubber-buttoned favourite of 1980’s bedroom coders and playground warriors…

Wired or wireless?

This doesn’t mean, of course, that such a keyboard will be built-in, but that an external connection will be made available for an accessory keyboard, something which many in the retro community bemoaned the lack of in the original Vega. It is not yet confirmed whether the keyboard connection will be wired or wireless, although the concept design by original Sinclair designer Rick Dickinson does show a USB port marked Ext on the rear edge of the Vega+ (see picture above), and it is known that the circuitry for USB was included on the original Vega main board.

The company behind the British-made Vega range of Spectrum-compatible consoles, Retro Computers Limited, have published the specification on their Indiegogo page and on Facebook, and we reproduce this in full below.

Concept design by Rick Dickinson (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
Concept design by Rick Dickinson (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
Speedy success

These latest specs follow the news that, after fully crowd-funding the project in just 3 days (the initial target being £100,000), Retro Computers Limited then went on to break the quarter of a million pounds barrier on Monday this week, and funds raised currently stand at £272,338 with more than 2,500 backers.

Console-mio

The Vega+ console, like its predecessor the Vega, is a hand-held games machine compatible with the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum range and includes 1,000 Spectrum games built-in. The latest form factor includes a rechargeable battery and an LCD screen but retains the option to output composite video and stereo sound to TV or monitor.

Its launch was revealed in our news item of 15 February 2016, and was followed by our in-depth review of the original Vega console, which was launched last year after Luton-based start-up Retro Computers Limited joined forces with Sir Clive Sinclair in 2014 to license back the rights to the Sinclair computer name and other intellectual property from current rights holders Sky In-Home Service Limited.

For more about the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+, check out the latest specs below, then go to the Indiegogo page.

Latest Vega+ anticipated specifications

The specifications published today are as follows:

Controls

  • Classic gaming D-Pad, offering up, down, left right and diagonals.
  • Four primary action buttons and three secondary buttons.
  • System menu and control-set toggle button.
  • Volume up/down / Brightness up/down.

Screen

  • Sharp LCD 4:3 aspect ratio with approximately 0.2565 mm dot pitch. Accurately reproduces the ZX Spectrum 256×192 resolution with minimal screen border.
  • LCD Screen brightness adjustable. Suitable for all light levels, and to extend battery life.
  • Extended “ULAplus” colour palette support, in addition to the classic ZX Spectrum colour palette.

Battery

  • Specification yet to be finalised, due to the variations of physical size and capacity available, however battery life is expected to be in excess of 6 hrs of continuous use.
  • Charging is achieved through a micro-USB socket.

Storage

  • SDSC and SDHC micro SD cards are supported.
  • Additional games may be loaded from micro SD card – popular snapshot and tape file formats supported.
  • SD card also allows preferences and game-saves to be stored for later resumption.
  • Firmware upgradeable through SD card.

Operational features

  • Unobtrusive pop-up control panel during game play through which to access all Vega features.
  • Novel and easy-to-use virtual keyboard.
  • Save and resume game (stored on SD card).
  • Games may be tagged as favourites and recalled through a favourites menu.
  • Player controls completely reconfigurable.
  • Game pokes can be stored on SD card.
  • Switchable Kempston and Cursor joystick emulation.
  • Default Machine selection (48K and 128K models).
  • Access to programming mode (BASIC).

Peripherals

  • 3.5mm stereo headphone socket for private listening.
  • Supports connection of external keyboard (specification to follow).
  • Headphone socket doubles as an A/V connection, allowing stereo audio and composite video connection to a TV. Supports PAL and NTSC formats.

RCN REVIEW: The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega

The Vega, fresh from its nostagically-styled box
The Vega, fresh from its nostagically-styled box

The ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega’ is a crowd-funded ZX Spectrum computer compatible direct-to-television games console in a game pad, produced by Retro Computers Limited, a Luton-based start-up in which Sir Clive Sinclair’s company, Sinclair Research Ltd, is a shareholder.

Bearing in mind the convoluted history of the Sinclair brand, the ZX Spectrum and its associated intellectual property, which was sold to Amstrad in 1986 for just £5 million, it is a wonder that the new company was able to licence rights for development and marketing of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega from Sky In-Home Service Ltd, who inherited the intellectual property rights to the Spectrum computers from Amstrad. Anyway, it’s great to see the once-proud Sinclair brand back on the market (especially bearing in mind Sir Clive’s close involvement), as the Vega has been since 2015.

The Vega is manufactured for Retro Computers Limited by SMS Electronics Limited of Beeston, Nottinghamshire, at the instruction of Vega Team: Paul Andrews, David Levy, Sir Clive Sinclair & Chris Smith. Good to see this kind of electronics being made in the UK again, especially after the mammoth success of the also British-made Raspberry Pi computer (manufactured in Wales).

Development
Comparative size of Vega and ZX Spectrum 48k
Comparative size of Vega and ZX Spectrum 48k

The Vega was developed by Chris Smith, a former ZX Spectrum games developer who, the company say, is the world’s leading expert on Sinclair Spectrum technology. He is the author of the definitive technical book ‘The ZX Spectrum ULA: How to design a microcomputer’. Programming assistance was provided by Dylan Smith, and game licensing was organised by Managing Director Paul Andrews, David Levy and Gerard Sweeney. The games supplied with the Vega were configured and tested for the console by Joe Larkins. And music and fonts were contributed by Matthew Westcott and Andrew Owen.

The Vega received a huge amount of interest during its Indiegogo campaign, and the large amount of feedback received by Retro Computers during the campaign, which achieved all of its goals and was more than fully funded at £149,521 (50% above target), influenced the final design to some extent.

Form follows function
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega (pic Retro Computers Limited)
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega (pic Retro Computers Limited)

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega is, of course, not a Spectrum 48k ‘clone’ in the usual sense, despite being able to run a vast number of Spectrum games; it has a very different circuit design to the original, being based on a more advanced modern microcontroller rather than a large selection of discrete chips linked together by a dedicated rom and ULA.

But its shape and design cues to hark back to the original 48k ZX Spectrum, the good old ‘Speccy’, which has a nostalgia value for gamers ‘of a certain age’ and promises old-skool fun for them and their lucky children in what has proven to be a very marketable novelty product. To add to the nostalgia, the Vega comes boxed and sleeved in a fashion that is deliberately reminiscent of the style of the original Sinclair Spectrum retail boxes, though a lot smaller and using card instead of foam polystyrene packing.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega boxed with instructions
Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega boxed with instructions

Once out of the box, the Vega does in fact look like a somewhat plasticky miniature Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k of the early 1980’s which has had most of the keyboard removed and replaced with a directional red joypad – the ‘D-pad’ as the makers call it, four small representations of original Spectrum keyboard keys, and five buttons. It’s about one-third the size of the original computer.

Just under the front edge of the unit there’s a small green power LED which tells you when the unit is turned on and a microSD card slot. A bundle of cables snakes out of the back, and, reminiscent of the classic Speccy, there’s a small rainbow flash printed on the front right-hand corner, and a raised ‘sinclair’ logo with ZX Spectrum Vega in smaller text below the logo.

The Sinciar ZX Spectrum Vega showing the connecting cables
The Sinciar ZX Spectrum Vega showing the connecting cables

Replicating many of the functions of the original Spectrum using a micro-controller and software enables the manufacturers of the Vega to reduce costs while still running all of the games, 14,000 or more of them, which were developed during the years when some 5 million of the original Sinclair Spectrum were being sold. And there’s more than enough games to keep the kids (of all ages!) busy built-in – a thousand altogether!

The Vega also has sufficient on-board memory to allow the user to download many additional games, which Retro Computers have said that they will be making available from time to time free of charge. You can of course add more (copyright permitting!) by downloading files from the usual websites and popping them onto a micro SD card, which is then inserted into the base of the Vega – though you will then have to organised the key mapping yourself.

The Vega was additionally designed with the capacity for expansion via a hardware interface on its circuit board (in practice this has not been implemented on the Vega, but there are indications it may be on the recently-announced Vega+ console) and the makers also added the ability for the software to be upgraded in future. Continue reading RCN REVIEW: The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega