Here’s something that may be of interest to people who are interested in the history of gaming, especially if you want to expand your knowledge beyond the United States and Japan. Longtime games writer Dan Whitehead has just published a new book entitled Speccy Nation: A Tribute to the Golden Age of British Gaming, a retrospective on the venerable ZX Spectrum home computer. In Speccy Nation, Dan Whitehead examines 50 ZX Spectrum games, from popular classics to the bizarre and obscure. (Via Games Press.)
Largely unknown in the United States, the ZX Spectrum was a personal computer first released in the United Kingdom in 1982 by Sinclair Research. There were ultimately eight different models of the computer released, selling over 5 million units and spawning myriad imitators and clones. It was one of the first personal computers to reach a mainstream audience in the United Kingdom and would dominate that market for much of the 1980s, giving it an enormous influence an enormous influence on British computer gaming and the British software industry in general that is still felt.
It spawned a software library of over 24,000 titles. There were thousands of games released, as well as other software including programming tools, word processors, spreadsheet programs, drawing and art programs, and more. Despite the discontinuation of production of the ZX Spectrum line, development of new Spectrum titles by devoted fans continues to this day.
Reading about the technology of that era really gives you an appreciation of just how radically things have advanced in a few decades, and a deep respect for the skill and ingenuity of game developers of that era, who had to work with resources that seem absurdly meager by modern standards. The first ZX Spectrums in released in 1982 were available in two models, one with 16 liobytes of RAM and- for the the serious enthusiast who demanded maximum performance- one with 48 kB of RAM. The computer I’m writing this on now- which I built from previous-generation parts, and gets respectable performance on modern games but can’t hold a candle to the sort of hardware used by the hard-core enthusiasts crowd- has over 170,000 times as much RAM, and I’m not even using half of the RAM slots. And yet, developers working with that 48 kB helped bring computers out of the realm of laboratories and business and military infrastructure and into average people’s homes.
(In my case, it also inspires a renewed disdain for my elementary school’s rather grandiosely named “computer lab,” where the technology was primitive even by the standards of the 80s and early 90s and monitors that could display colors other than green were the stuff of science fiction.)
Speccy Nation: A Tribute to the Golden Age of British Gaming is available in both paperback and Kindle e-book format from Amazon.com. If you’re curious about the ZX Spectrum and are interested in learning more, check out the World of Spectrum website, which has a vast wealth of information on the subject.
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