In the UK, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was probably the most popular home computer of the early 1980’s. I’ve no sales figures to back that up, but the fact that it was both British made and less expensive than it’s rival the Commodore 64 would suggest it had the edge in this country. It was created by Sir Clive Sinclair, who had started his company making things like affordable pocket calculators, and went on to invent the C5 electric car. Oh well, nobody is perfect I suppose!
The ZX Spectrum contained a Z80 CPU, and initially came in either 16K or 48K configurations. Sound wise it couldn’t do much more than beep and buzz at different pitches, and graphically it could only display two colours in any 8×8 pixel region – which led to the infamous colour clash effect whenever a game tried to draw two things of different colours near to each other. It’s keyboard consisted of a bunch of dark grey rubber keys, each of which could produce letters, keywords and symbols depending on which combination of shift keys you pressed before hand. If you wanted to plug in a joystick, you had to invest in an expansion pack that allowed you to do so.
Games were loaded off audio tapes, but it was a real pain to get the volume levels on your tape player just right for the games to load correctly. Once a good volume level was found, many users would put a piece of sellotape over the volume control so that it didn’t get accidentally knocked by a younger brother or sister.
However, it’s lack of technical specifications were more than made up for by the fact that it was easy to program. It had a very nice built in version of the BASIC programming language that many of todays game coders cut their programming teeth with. It was also fairly simple to write code directly for the CPU, so it didn’t take long for a huge catalogue of great (and not so great) games to appear. Games like Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, 3D Ant Attack, Jet Pac and Atic Atac will be well loved and remembered by many gamers today, even those who weren’t even born at the time thanks to Spectrum emulators.
The ZX Spectrum took many forms over the years. After the initial “rubber keys of doom” model it was repackaged as the Spectrum+, which had a much better keyboard and overall build quality. Then came the Spectrum 128 which, unsurprisingly, had 128K of RAM. At this point Amstrad bought the rights for the Spectrum hardware, and went on to release the Spectrum +2, which had a built in tape deck, and the Spectrum +3, which took the 3″ disc format used by other Amstrad computers of the time.