23 September 2008

Remembering '80s Technology...

I wasn't a great technology fan in the 1980s. In fact, the sort of things that were zooming into our homes and work places as the decade progressed seemed highly weird and a little bit suspect to me. I spent my leisure time down the local pub or Nite Spot, "done up like a dog's dinner", quaffing back the "Reassuringly Expensive", pushing up my linen jacket sleeves (they would keep sliding down!) and caressing my designer stubble. Sadly, the stubble made me look like a "well dodgy geezer" and had to go, but my blonde highlights, cerise vest and obvious shoulder pads ensured that I was still at the height of fashion. Lucky old me!

I was slightly the wrong age for the '80s technological revolution - when I left school in the early '80s, computer studies were just coming in, and the only time I'd glimpsed a home computer game was when Tristram got the "Pong" TV game as a present in an episode of George and Mildred shown at Christmas 1979.

The office I worked in in the early-to-mid '80s was absolutely computerless.

Some pals of mine were interested in what was happening and kept up with the incoming technology (or at least as much as they could afford to). But not me.

So this blog is something of a voyage of discovery for me. And like my other blogs is based on hard facts, recollections and material from the decade concerned.

By the late '80s, the new technology popping up everywhere was impossible to ignore. But I still wasn't keen.

Sky Clearbrook, a fellow blogster - the man behind the excellent "Avenues And Alleyways" blog, was much more "of the times" when it came to technology, and shares some memories and suggestions for this blog below...

Sinclair ZX81 - My mate had one of these.

* The keys were similar to that of a Speak 'n' Spell.

* It had 1K of memory which could be upgraded by purchasing the 16K RAM Pak.

* The 16K RAM Pak sat upright at the rear of the computer often caused what became known as the RAM Pak wobble.

* Completely monochrome display.

* The graphics for any game you bought for it would have usually consisted of Xs firing off Is to shoot the invading Os.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum

* Almost proper keys this time. Rubberised - became notorious for collecting dust.

* Came in 16K and 48K varieties. A 128K version in differently-styled casing came along a couple of years later.

* Featured colour graphics. It was only possible to have two colours per character (8 pixels by 8 pixels), so games very often suffered from what became known as "colour clash" when a number of characters moved in front of each other.

* Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy became huge hits. There were two versions of Manic Miner. It was originally released on the Bug Byte label, and then later with some changes on Software Projects. The two games made Matthew Smith very rich indeed. There were always stories about hidden levels and rooms, but I think these were mainly urban myths.

* Worth doing a few features on some of the software houses....

* Ultimate - Play The Game were based in the exotically-named Ashby De La Zouch (just like KP crisps!). They were very secretive, releasing very high quality games only periodically. "Sabre Wulf", "Atic Atac", "Lunar Jetman" and "Knight Lore" were probably their biggest hits for the Speccy.

* Ocean Software fairly churned them out. Saturated the market with their US Gold range (licensed from the likes of Midway et al) and film/tv show tie-ins which were a bit hit-and-miss.

* Imagine - The Name Of The Game were the subject of a BBC documentary. They released quite a few good games, but famously went bust - well worth digging into that.


* Sinclair User. Often published page after page of BASIC programs for the reader to type in. You could literally spend hours typing something in, only to run it and find that there were bugs somewhere in it. Cue loads of laborious rechecking. More often than not, the next month's issue would feature loads of corrections for previously published programs!

* Crash. The absolute dog's b******s. Written by real gaming enthusiasts, they would have loads of exclusive features, cheats and walkthroughs, etc. They subsquently launched versions of their mag for the Commodore 64 (Zapp 64) and the Amstrad (can't remember the title). There was one famous issue of Crash (summer 1985?) where they did a really good piss take of Sinclair User called... Unclear User. It was absolutely hilarious - right down to the logo, fonts and formatting, but it got them into quite a bit of hot water. The issue was pulled and then re-issued minus the offending pages. Anyone with a copy of the pulped version probably has a bit of a collector's item on their hands.

Phew. There's a fair bit there. I'm sorry these are really only suggestions for research rather than hard facts, but I hope the steer proves useful. If I think of anything else, I'll send you another mail.

Thanks, Sky - keep in touch!

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