Outside the window — 1982. America was shaking record cold and the bombings of the Unabomber, the Soviet Union launched “race to the hearses,” good old England rolling to hell. And the IT revolution took its course: the computers no longer require separate rooms and a staff of qualified employees. But there was still or attribute of expensive boring offices, or a lot of “nerds”. And only one person in the whole of Britain had the power to change the situation. His name was Clive Sinclair. For the anniversary of the ZX Spectrum 4PDA talked with the creators of the legendary computer and remember its 35-year history.
Part one: computer from “uncle Clive”
From a young age, “uncle Clive” (this image carefully cultivated by his PR people), fond of electronics and wanted to carry his love to the masses. Best turned out with the Sinclair Executive, the world’s first pocket calculator. It was very cheap and easily fit in the breast pocket — a real achievement for the era, when the device dimensions were comparable not the most subtle book, weighed the same and were fed with current from the wall outlet. Mindful of the success that Sinclair has turned to the market of microcomputers — as in those days called the iron for the average user. Soon these pieces will each family considered an inventor, and sought not just to keep up with the times, but ahead of it.
The first steps became Sinclair Research ZX80 and ZX81, the main advantage of which was very democratic price — below £ 100. They were popular — but, unfortunately for Sinclair, not the public. “Uncle Clive” dreamed that his computers students will learn how to program, and the company will create reports and graphs of sales. Instead, the ZX has earned the love of enthusiasts who wrote for him different applications and toys. However, to give up so easily Sinclair was not going to — and instructed the engineer Richard Altwasser designer Rick Dickinson and programmer Stephen Vickers work on a new model. Unlike her predecessors, she had become color, and because it was called the ZX Spectrum.
“Two things sir Clive has always treated with fanatical seriousness, recalls Rick Dickinson, the industrial designer responsible for the appearance of all “native” models of the Spectrum and its predecessor, the Sinclair ZX81. Is appearance and cost. He believed that any device, whether a calculator or computer — there is a price at which almost everyone will agree to buy it. And I suppose in a sense he was right.”
The challenge facing Dickinson and Altwasser was not easy, the end product had to be inexpensive, and look nice, and work so that they could use the most ordinary people. And to produce all required deadlines. The fact that shortly before the British government decided to promote computers to the masses, and even allocated money for it. But as a partner chose not company taught Sinclair, and the brainchild of his former protege and rival Christopher Kerry — Acorn Computers. They created the BBC Micro, which was shown on television and purchased in schools. And to give a decent answer, I had to act quickly.
Bet, as usual, made for an adequate price, nice appearance and ease of use. To achieve all at once, had to go to all sorts of tricks — every penny counted. Thus, the number of moving parts in the keyboard Dickinson has been reduced from a few hundred to four or five. The keys themselves have decided to do rubber, also for reasons of economy. Because of this Spectrum, often called “carrion” — a comparison which even today makes a designer smile.
“Oh, how many times I had to hear it. People love to complain. But I’m not offended, was forced. And then, they usually say it’s still a joke. Spectrum lot for that abuse, and often — for the cause, but the comments about the keyboard usually not serious. Although I’ve always wondered — where did all these people know what dead flesh feels like?” — Rick Dickinson, designer of the ZX Spectrum.
The ZX Spectrum was released 23 APR 1982. It had to be ordered by mail — again, for reasons of economy. And, like its predecessors, a key argument in favor of the offspring of Sinclair Research became a humane price — 125 and £ 175 for a model with 16 or 48 kilobytes of RAM, respectively. The main competitor, the BBC Micro from Acorn Computers, cost more more than twice. Even the Commodore 64, which was ahead of the ZX Spectrum in many respects, could not do anything to counter such a price tag.
“When people criticize any product — be it Spectrum or the latest iPhone, they usually have no idea how worked its creators, what goals and objectives they set for ourselves. Of course, the Spectrum could be done and a regular keyboard — but it would cost much more. I think if the design really was so horrible, we would not have sold five million copies,” notes Dickinson.
Orders received in Sinclair Research much faster than the company can process them. Five million copies sold — it was a resounding success. But the dream of Clive Sinclair — to conquer school and offices — once again not true.
Instead of boring teachers and secretaries ZX Spectrum whole soul loved British gamers. After all, it was cheap, programming for it was not so difficult, and the games were spread either through the booklet with the code (it had to be entered manually), or on audio cassettes (the machine had read them through with an ordinary tape recorder). In addition, the Spectrum was color — at the time a big plus, although the graphics he could not match with the same C64. Many users of Spectrum, plenty enough with other people’s creations, started making their own — to write to Sinclair, it was kind of funny. Sharing software was also a snap, and very soon around of computer has grown a gaming subculture that, much to the dismay of Clive, and did not think to decrease. From this she came up with a whole generation of British programmers, and it is unlikely we would know about a Studio like Rare, if in the distant ‘ 80s, its founders would not have been his “Speccy” with a rainbow on the right side.
And so it turned out that the Spectrum was bought for games and the longer he existed, the more they went, the more attractive became the car for the consumer.
However, even the phenomenal popularity could not save Clive Sinclair from their own mistakes. Sinclair Research regularly updated and released Spectrum, but its founder still tried to conquer school and business with the failed Sinclair QL. Finally, after several setbacks Sinclair sold the brand Spectrum company Amstrad in 1986. She was issued a “Speccy” for another six years — the official production ceased in 1992.
But it is — in Britain. In other countries, the history of the Spectrum was just beginning.
Part two: to Russia with love
The simplicity of the “spectrum” meant not only its low cost and a profit for Sinclair Research. It meant that the device was easy to copy and to sell where the original was unavailable.
“It was a processor Zilog Z80, and therefore, due to the stupid restrictions it was impossible to import into the Soviet Union. It was then the cold war,” recalls Dickinson.
Officially the ZX Spectrum in the USSR was supplied, but the import ban did not prevent the device to conquer one sixth of the land. Not prevent even the absence of the Zilog Z80 (and later in the country will create its analog) and the lack of custom ULA chip. The first Spectrum was cloned the design Bureau specialists of the Lviv Polytechnic (in those days, a secret regime of enterprises), exclusively on the domestic components. “Lviv scheme” went to the people. From the factories began to disappear memory chips RU5 — spektrumisty-fans dragged them to such an extent that even the implementation of government orders has sometimes been jeopardized.
The country, meanwhile, were on the eyes. The military-industrial complex has slowly collapsed and many businesses were suddenly of no use to anybody. There was only one option — to switch to the production of popular computer at low cost. Almost every plant in the country thought proper to produce at least one variation on the theme of “Speccy”. The most famous was “Leningrad”, but there were other under a variety of names: “Range”, “Duet”, “Delta”, “Yauza”… the Handicraft of the same model, made by skilled craftsmen-Amateurs, no one believed.
“Of course, we knew about the copies of the Spectrum, but had nothing to do with it, and did not mind too much. In my opinion, it’s even great. Yes, of course, we have not received a cent from the sales, but thanks to these copies, many for the first time acquainted with computers and programming” — Rick Dickinson, designer of the ZX Spectrum.
Cost clones of the spectrum in the region of 100 roubles — the sum for the Soviet people relatively humane. Especially if you compare with other products in the Soviet electronic industry: some “BK-0010” cost the owner of a round sum of 600 to 650 rubles — as a color TV or a good stereo.
In the hands of the masters of code and a soldering iron, Spectrum really played all its flowers. Based on it (or rather, on a later model Spectrum 128) Kulibin did. The mid-90s — the heyday of the independent domestic gamedev and “demoscene”, animated commercials, designed to show the skill of the author — artist, musician and programmer in one person.
On the spectrum endured all that he could. It’s not limited to the obvious hits from those years like DOOM, Wolfenstein 3D and Mortal Kombat. Some were able to “port” and the game Time Gal — SEGA CDat the moment, and whilst retaining the animated scenes. Was and master the localization — brothers Vyacheslav and Alexey Mednonogov. They created the first Russian quest “the adventures of Pinocchio” and then “UFO” and “Black crow”, which looked incredibly good for his time, and look very good even now.
Incidentally, Russia was not the only country to have experienced a boom spectrometery. The computer proved to be extremely popular in South America — again because of its low cost. In Brazil, he even participated in another “war of platforms”. It’s at home, in Britain, the warring parties were divided into economical spektrumistov and sikousi owners of the Commodore 64. The country’s carnivals and the wild monkeys main enemy, the brainchild of Clive Sinclair was the reason the Japanese MSX.
“We have in Brazil between the Spectrum and the MSX was a real war, explains retro-hacker Victor Trucco, Creator of the popular emulators for many systems. — Microcomputers were very popular, and most were either Spectrum or MSX. Well, even met a rare Apple II owners. True gamers among spektrumistov was not very much: to Brazil, the craze for video games reached only to the mid-90s, so we immediately moved to 16-bit consoles”.
But, in the end, in Russia, “spectrum” began to take positions. The younger generation prefer prefix like “Dandy”, the SEGA Mega Drive and later the PlayStation. Those who the computer was needed for work, switched on the PC. But this does not mean that it is the brainchild of Clive Sinclair — now sir Clive — was forgotten.
Part three: Nostalgia and not only
Of course, Spectrum continued to live in the form of numerous emulators, disseminated by enthusiasts and lovers of the classics. It seemed that he will remain only on the Internet and the memories of old-timers. But fate decreed otherwise.
Barely crossing the threshold of the twenty-first century, humanity suddenly realized that yearns for the past — Yes, not ideal, but still simple, clear and painted bright childhood memories. Comics, cartoons, and things of those years ceased to be old — they have become a fashion retro. And, of course, this fate was avoided and video games.
Long before the world had lined up to buy the NES Classic Mini, the enterprising Brits decided to play on the warm memories of the ZX Spectrum and release not one, but two versions of it — of course, through crowdfunding. No problem, characteristically, was not.
The first attempted happiness in the company Elite Systems — in 2014 they showed to the public very similar to the original copy, compatible with Android and modern PC. At first things went well, and the company was even able to send customers the first copies in time. But then there were problems with the supply, and the part of gamers were left without the coveted “Speccy”, and with no hope to regain their money.
The second and third heats on a wave of nostalgia made in the UK Retro Computers. And not just so, and with the support of sir Clive Sinclair.
Gamers filed two options: minimalist ZX Spectrum Vega, and later — portable ZX Spectrum Vega+. The latter had provided its own screen and ported games. Part of the master helped Retro Computers to collect as much as half a million pounds. But it was not enough to revive the legend.
The story of the ZX Spectrum Vega+ reads like a cross between a drama and the production of the novel: change management, conflict of new Directors with the old, the possible theft of documents, disputes about copyrights and even death threats, which got new management… is Suffering, as always, the end user — many of the backers who invested in the campaign in March 2016, has not yet received their console, and it is still unknown whether this will happen at all.
But this attempt did not end there. There is another project, this time called the ZX Spectrum Next. It is not a seal of approval sir Clive, but the team are well-respected names — Sam Dickinson and Jim Bagley, author of many games for the original “Join”, famous for the fact that I managed to port the arcade (!) Dragon’s Lair on the black-and-white (!!!) The ZX81. The new generation represented, in particular, Enrique Olifiers — founder of Bossa Studios, which is known mostly for the insane Surgeon Simulator. Who knows, maybe this time everything will go smoothly?
“Of course, I understand that this device will not be on the shelves of Department stores, says Trucco, one of the participants of the project. — Of course, it would be great to see it in stock just Amazon or electronics stores, but I don’t delude myself. For me it’s more of a dream project, which I want to share with the fans of the original Spectrum”.
“I think it will be interesting not only for those who are nostalgic for the Spectrum — after all, Next it will be possible not only to play. I hope that he will enjoy and the younger generation,” notes Dickinson.
In a world where the BBC Micro was welcome on top of the classics, and the Commodore 64 — an expensive and polished to a Shine pop hit, the ZX Spectrum was the real punk. Simple, affordable, stripped of the production gloss, but is always ready to entertain you. And this punk was not troubled by the fact that you pulled his guitar and started to play it himself — he was glad. After all, you learned to play and became part of the big rock family. Not accidentally and there was the ZX Spectrum in England, the birthplace of punk rock — even the “parents” with a brilliant University education.
“Apparently, in Britain, there are something special. We first started the industrial revolution, but not the only one. After all, we had sir Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin, and Francis Crick and James Watson (the biologist who discovered the structure of DNA approx. ed.). By the way, they all went to Cambridge, and jony Ive, designer of the iPhone, too “out there”. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence,” smiles Dickinson.
Sir Clive Sinclair is almost completely shifted to the invention of vehicles — small electric vehicles and portable bikes. He doesn’t use the Internet and says that computers distract him from his work. Richard Altwasser almost disappeared from the radar, the last place of work was listed parish Church in a small British town Portishead where the engineer lives so far. Dickinson continues to work in the specialty. On the question of whether he is proud of the ZX Spectrum, the designer responds with a smile.
“I don’t think it is something like a “spectrum” is popular and iconic. In a sense, it is unique. And, even though we did it in a hurry, I’m very proud of him and glad he turned out that way. I’m still working as a designer in IT, and when people find out that I previously worked on the Spectrum, many are happy and say “wow! My childhood was like this!”. When I can inspire almost a whole generation, it’s great,” Rick Dickinson, designer of the ZX Spectrum.
Author: Pauline Esakova
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