Review: The ZX Spectrum Book – 1982 to 199x

Publisher: Hiive Books

Author: Andrew Rollings

Some wise person once said,  “Never judge a book by its cover.” Sane advice when it comes to books, no doubt, but when it comes to “The ZX Spectrum Book” the cover pretty much tells you what you can expect from the book – polish, style, quality and staggering attention to detail. Why, even the envelope that the book ships in has a customised Spectrum labeling on it! Beat that!

But a bit of background on the book before I give out more details on it. It was in mid-2005 (I think, well it was some time ago at any rate!) that Andrew Rollings announced he was doing a memorabilia book that covered a fair bit of Spectrum gaming history. He figured that he would finish the book by September 2005 (yes, that’s not a spelling mistake). *snigger*

Of course, he didn’t! In fact, it took more than a year to finish the book. And now that we have the book, we know why!

The book chronicles more than 230 games covering the lifespan of the Speccy gaming industry from 1982 to 1992. Each year is colour coded to help you quickly find a relevant game. Apart from a Contents section that lists the games by their year of release, there is a handy Index section that lists the game in alphabetical order.

The entire meaty 250 odd paged book is printed in full-colour (Spectrum colours in fact) and the paper, colour reproduction and print quality is outstanding.

To cap it the foreword is written by Sir Clive Sinclair himself.

If that doesn’t impress you the contents of the book certainly will.

Effectively, there are 9 chapters in the book each representing the year of interest from 1982 to 199x. Nick Humphries (of YSRNR fame) introduces each chapter with an excellent summation of the important milestones in that year. This sets a nice background and tone for the games being presented in the chapter.

Each write-up of a game is broken up into three sections that give you a brief background about the game, some trivia and a succinct overview of the game itself. The write-ups are accompanied by two in-game screenshots, the loading screen and the inlay of the game. In addition, where possible, the ratings given by the Big Three (Crash, Your Sinclair, and Sinclair User) are reproduced to give you a fair idea of the overall perception of the game (by the magazines that is) when it came out.

If you’re wondering what kind of games are chronicled, it’s interesting to note that Andrew has been rather eclectic in his selection. He writes about the good games, the bad games and even the downright ugly ones. It’s a fair representation of the gaming scene that existed during that particular period. More importantly, the chosen games either have some sort of historical significance or interesting trivia that helped set them apart from the others. That’s not to say he’s managed to write about every interesting game that existed – that would have been well near impossible considering the number of games that were released – but lets say every game included in the book has a story to tell and make a very interesting read.

There’s nothing much else to say really. This book deserves to be on every specchums coffee table – it’s a piece of Spectrum computing history (the book that is, not the coffee table). If you haven’t got it already, go on spoil yourself – you know you want to!

Review: Exolon DX

Game: Exolon DX

Publisher: Retrospec

Authors: Graham Goring, John Blythe & Infamous


When I first played Exolon by Raffaele Cecco on the speccy I was blown away by the colourful graphics and the super smooth animation of the main character – Vitorc. To date it remains as a reminder as to what can be done on the speccy when a competent coder and graphic artist design a game with the limitations and abilities of the speccy in mind.

So when retrospec announced a Exolon remake in the offing way back in 2005, I was hugely interested in knowing how the talented folks at retrospec would remake this classic. The answer is ExolonDX, the second ever remake done by Graham Goring for retrospec.

The starting intro sets the mood for the remake nicely. Colourful, well drawn graphics with all sorts of embellishments greet you before whisking you away to the main menu. The first thing you should do is go to the options screen and switch the display to 16 or 32 bit full screen mode (unless you don’t want to of course!) to get the maximum pleasure out of the game. You will need to quit and restart the game for the setting to take effect though, which is a bit annoying but easily done.

The first screen in the game shows off the graphics nicely. Cool looking spaceship, nifty status panel, smooth parallax-scrolling starfield and ,whey-hey, the Cybernoid ship zooming off screen in the background! Okay enough sight-seeing. Time to lay into that gun emplacement with a quick rocket from the rocket launcher. Woohoo! Watch that sucker explode! Well then, not a bad start eh? Wonder what lies beyond that crazy looking alien artifact…

And with that you’re on your way. The first thing to note in the remake is that the number of lives has reduced from the gracious (but much needed) nine lives to a mere two. Yep, that’s right – two. That’s probably because the remake doesn’t require you to be pixel perfect as in the original speccy version so things are indeed a bit easier. Plus the remake is pretty much faithful to the original version so there aren’t any nasty surprises in store to upset your march through the game.

Amidst the graphical extravaganza the only thing I found a bit amiss was the graphic for Vitorc himself. He looks like a spaceman in a spacesuit – as he should – but lacks the character that Vitorc had in the original version. Plus the upgrade suit doesn’t alter Vitorc’s appearance as dramatically. I’m probably nit-picking but it’s these two points that caught my eye early on in the game.

Apart from that Exolon is a visual feast with extremely colourful well defined graphics and really cool visual effects that bring the game to life. In the sound department, Exolon boasts of a thumpingly good  soundtrack that plays in the background and competent but varied sound effects that accompany most of the actions in the game.

I must say I thoroughly enjoyed playing the remake for the simple reason that it’s a well crafted remake that stays to the original but significantly improves on all the aspects of the original game. Highly recommended!

Interestingly, ExolonDX credits Hugh Binns as the creator of the original graphics. However, I can’t find any reference to Hugh Binn as the author of the graphics for the speccy version (on which ExolonDX is based). Indeed, he isn’t mentioned anywhere in the credits for the speccy version of Exolon. Hugh Binns, however, did do the graphics for the Amstrad CPC version, so there’s probably been a mix-up somewhere. Either that or Raffaele cheekily took all the credit!