Happy Birthday ZX Spectrum!
I don’t think it would be overblown to say that on this day 30 years ago, the face of gaming was forever changed. The UK’s designed and built ZX Spectrum released to the public, and went on to sell over 5 million units worldwide. This too was back in a day when no one on the planet owned a CD, and according to BBC Micro Live’s Ian McNaught-Davis, games were an “appalling use of computers”.
But that didn’t stop us. Through the first 8-bit colour display, we were transported to uncharted territory; taking down alien empires, banging in goals at Wembley stadium, winning wars with a single tank and swinging through the Amazon. We saw the future, and it was good.
Games took forever to load, which today is barely comprehensible, but when you were young it was some precious extra time where you could prepare to slip into your fantasy. There was nothing disposable about it, no dropping in and out. It took you half an hour to load it; you were committing to this game. The screech of the brand new technology spooling up its content was unlike anything you’d ever heard before, and it meant something amazing was about to happen. The technology was so new and exciting that had it loaded straight away, your brain would have probably exploded anyway.
We also have it to thank for some on the most creative and best loved game developers around today, including UPTG, who were to become Rare, the Oliver twins, who founded Blitz and Volatile, and Mike Singleton, who most recently gave us the epic racer GRID.
What the ZX Spectrum did was to open peoples eyes to the possibilities of gaming. Certainly it looks ridiculous from today’s perspective, but it opened a door through which there was no turning back. If we can go from the simple, blocky wars of Battlezone to the photo-realistic Battlefield 3 in just 30 years, imagine what we’ll be playing in another 30 years time. That’s what we have to thank it for really. Far from the mind numbing pursuit that gaming is painted as these days, the ZX Spectrum gave us all imaginations. And then it let us interact with them.