It's hard to believe - at least for those of us that played with the ZX Spectrum as kids - but Sinclair's classic computer is 30 years old. It was the successor to Sir Clive’s ZX80 and ZX81, which between them found over 400,000 homes.
ZX Spectrum is 30 years old
As the early eighties arrived, parents were put under increasing pressure to buy the newly released ‘educational machines’ by their children. Of course, the kids had no intention of using their ZX Spectrum to learn calculus or master the age-old strategies of MahJong. Instead they wanted to kill aliens and manage football teams.
The Spectrum wasn't the only option, of course. If you had a BBC Micro model B, your parents were obviously not shy of a bob or two as they cost an eye-watering £399 (that's roughly £1200 in today’s money). That's the same as your ten-year-old asking for a MacBook Pro.
See also: UK home computing timeline
The ZX Spectrum 48K blazed its trail by being considerably cheaper at £175 (around £480 today), which puts you in iPad territory. Recent reports of Apple’s tablet being the most requested Christmas present by kids isn’t as unreasonable as it first sounds, then.
Game development has also seen a few monetary adjustments. Except costs have gone up rather than down. Way, way up. When Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was released last year it had a rumoured development cost of over £30million (or around £125million including advertising). The game had a full voice cast, musical score, vast swathes of programmers, and sold nearly 10 million copies on its release day, raking in a staggering £622million overall.
It was a slightly different story when Chris Stamper and his brother Tim sat down to create Jetpac for the Spectrum. Their new company ‘Ultimate - Play The Game’ had only two other staff members, all of whom worked together in a small house. The development costs are uncertain but Jetpac went on to become one of the Spectrum’s most successful releases, selling over 300,000 copies and making the company a £1million profit (roughly £2,750,000 in modern money).
There’s still a remnant of that frontier spirit left in gaming today, as high speed internet connections have enabled independent developers to reach an audience without the added cost of manufacturing, storage and physical distribution that traditional media demanded. The Humble Indie Bundle has been a fine example of developers offering their games on a donations basis and has seen healthy uptakes on the offers.
The burgeoning mobile phone app market has seen a renaissance of the bedroom programmer, with low overheads and the possibility of selling directly to millions proving an attractive proposition. Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade service has also opened the door to smaller companies lacking the resources of Activision or Electronic Arts and, rather fittingly, even saw the return of Ultimate’s Jetman in 2007 when an updated version of their classic was released as Jetpac Refuelled.
Here are a selection of other classic ZX Spectrum games we're sure you'll fondly remember. If we've left any out you think should have been included, let us know. If the nostalgia is overwhelming, the good news is that you can play all the classic ZX Spectrum games online.
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