The Story of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in Pixels - Retro gaming at it's finest [Book Review]
Strange as it may seem, but I've always been mainly an Amstrad retro gamer. My first computer being an Amstrad CPC 464 purchased for my birthday by my mum way back when I was 7 years old. But yet there was another computer that really pulled me in as I used to play it at my friends house on many occasions, the ZX Spectrum. There was something the ZX Spectrum had over me that the Amstrad didn't, maybe it was the fact that I always wanted to play River Raid or hearing the many bleeps and blops coming from the little machine. Yet here we are, many many years ahead and I was to get a very special book in the post, a book from Chris Wilkins titled 'The Story of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in pixels'.
This book, unlike the so called Amiga book from Retro Gamer, is a work of art and more so the knowledge from someone who really wants to tell you as much as there is to know about the ZX Spectrum. A Kickstarter success on July 2014 raising £19,468 pledged of a £15,000 goal and selling over 1,000 copies so far. You can tell just by holding the book you are in for a treat. With a glossy finish to each of the many pages, packed to the brim with a foreword from Chris himself to the history of the games and memoirs from the developers & designers.
At 236 or so pages in length with every single page a masterpiece of high lithographic quality print work. Of those 236 pages, you'll be able to enjoy interviews with many of the developers and designers of not just the games but the systems themselves. Designers such as Rick Dickinson of the ZX Spectrum, Paul Owens, creator of some of Ocean Software's most iconic games or The Oliver Twins, creators of the Dizzy series.
But it doesn't end there, as throughout the book are numerous features about the ZX Spectrum, from the ZX Spectrum 16K/48K right up to the ZX Spectrum +3/+3B with lovely glossy prints. You'll even see original design sketches of the ZX!
If you are not content with just the main hardware, Chris has also included the available peripherals, again packed with information. So if you thought you knew everything about the ZX, you probably didn't after reading this book!
Moving on, this is my favourite part, the games themselves. Each spread contains a large iconic image of the game and accompanied by artwork from the inlay, the game's advertisement where available and further game screens showing the loading screen, menu etc. So a trip down memory lane with lots of lovely retro games, with not just the inlay but a massive spread of the game screen. Just check out the detail below for 'Ultimate play the Game' Atic Atac, isn't it lush?
It's also a great comparison for me as I remember playing many of these games on the Amstrad, usually ported down from the Speccy. My personal favourite being Bombjack or Dizzy. But not being content with just those. Featured in the book are many other famous publishers such as 'Ultimate Play the Game' creators of 'Sabre Wulf', 'Ocean', behind the brilliant game 'Wizball' or the game that everyone remembers 'Skool Daze' by Microsphere.
Since having this book, I have only just put it down for this review. I keep going over it again and again reliving those memories. I've even slept in my bed with a bright torch reading page after page so it all sinks in or just to look at the incredible pictures. It is packed with nearly everything you could ever need and it even came as a surprise to me that Chris is doing a Volume 2, with even more games, interviews and features not in Volume 1.
I seriously cannot find any faults in 'The Story of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in Pixels', Chris has really put the effort in and it shows. From the point at which you get the book in your hands you know you are in for a treat. It's a book that has been needed for years, it's a book your ZX Spectrum will be grateful for. I wish Chris all the best with Volume 2 and my thanks also go out to the designers and developers of not just the hardware but the incredible games they've made over the years!
Before we finish off, here at Indie Retro News we did a Q&A with Chris, words from the man himself.
Q) Hi Chris, thanks for talking to us, can you tell us a bit about yourself please?
I’m now becoming a little retro myself being a 45 year old father of three. I have been active in the retro scene for nearly 10 years now – my first dabble was back in 2005 when I hosted my first gaming event in a cricket club in the town where I live, Kenilworth, called ‘The Retro Ball’. We had 15 or so pinball machines, over 20 arcade machines and lots of retro systems to play on. There were traders and guests in the form of Archer Maclean, Jon Hare, the late Richard Joseph, Rob Hubbard, David Whittaker and Philip and Andrew Oliver. Around 200 people came – many stayed away thinking the event was some kind of retro dance weekend - maybe ‘The Retro Ball’ was the wrong name to give it. Since then I have produced four issues of a magazine called ‘Retro Fusion’, organised five further events of which three were under the ‘Revival’ banner and published two books, one on Ocean Software and the other on the ZX Spectrum.
Q) You had a ZX Spectrum what did you like about the ZX?
The Spectrum was my first ever computer that I received for Christmas soon after turning 13 back in 1983. Some of my friends in school had been talking about this new computer that could really allow you to play the games found in the arcade in the comfort of your own bedroom. It was not entirely true, but to the avid gamer it came close and I firmly chose the playground camp belonging to Sir Clive’s new machine (the other being the Commodore 64). The computer was easy to use, easy to program using BASIC and games were aplenty from the ‘copies’ received at playtime from friends on Boots and WH Smith’s C90 tapes. With the expansion bay at the back, I acquired many peripherals that allowed the Spectrum to do much more than initially envisaged. The Currah Speech Synthesiser was programmed to make the TV swear at the cat, the AMX mouse allowed me to become Picasso and the ZX Microdrive made saving work simple, even though there was a risk it would never load back again. And the games - thousands released over the years making any conceivable scenario or idea into a form of entertainment. Who could have thought that emptying trash cans could be fun!
Q) Have you only ever had a ZX Spectrum? If not what other systems did you have?
The 48K Spectrum was my first then I moved up the +2. Thereafter I had the Atari ST for a brief time until being blown over by the Amiga 500 with its stereo music - it was hearing the Axel F tune bouncing across two speakers in a small computer shop in West Wales that totally blew my mind and I just had to have one. I moved up to the Amiga 1200 which became my computer of choice for many years until I succumbed to PC gaming, just as the 3D accelerator cards started to appear. The arrival of the PlayStation finally brought the arcade into the bedroom – I just used to sit there watching the demo mode in Ridge Racer. Finally arcade quality visuals and playability had arrived in my lounge – some 13 years after first owning the Spectrum.
Q) What was your favourite ZX Spectrum game?
It was, and still is, Jetpac – I seem to be quite good at this game and still have a blast every now and again when I get challenged to a high score.
Q) What do you think about the ZX Spectrum homebrew scene?
Personally I enjoy the games I played during my informative years. I appreciate that there are some great people doing some great things currently on the Spectrum, but I don’t follow that particular scene.
Q) What do you think about other systems, especially the Amstrad & C64?
I have owned both these systems over the years, and actually own a C64 now. I absolutely love the music capabilities of the 64 and have been a fan of the SID tunes and remixes for many years. My favourite composers are Rob Hubbard, Martyn Galway and Fred Gray and I’m often wearing headphones in work listening to Slay Radio – a music station dedicated to C64 remix tunes.
Q) In June of last year, you did a Kickstarter for the The Story of the ZX Spectrum in Pixels Book, why did you feel the need for a Book?
After the success of the book I published on Ocean Software, I felt the need to take a nostalgia trip down ZX Spectrum memory lane. I talked to many of the programmers who created the games I played over 30 years ago which was quite humbling – I turned into such a fanboy! Spending an afternoon with Rick Dickinson was quite special and I had the opportunity to thank him for designing a device that still means so much to me, and so many others, and launched my career in IT.
Q) Was you surprised by the huge success, especially via Kickstarter?
I knew there was a lot of love out there for this little machine but was still blown away by the support I received that still continues to this day.
Q) How many copies roughly have you sold so far?
Over the last month since launch, I have sent out over 900 copies and the feedback has been incredible. The idea was to make a book that was collectable and would do the Spectrum justice. From the feedback, It seems the book has been extremely well received.
Q) Was it only the UK who took an interest or was it global?
It was global and some of the destinations that this book is travelling to still surprises me – such as Peru, Ukraine, Mexico etc.
Q) What was your best moment in creating the book?
For me, bringing it all together and seeing it on screen as the finished product. I had the help of Mark Jones who worked at Ocean Software back in day producing graphics for the likes of Wizball on the Spectrum. Mark helped by making sure the graphics used for each of the game pages were top notch. Others who helped were Martyn Carroll, who launched and edited Retro Gamer magazine here in the UK and Spanner Spencer who was a writer on the Retro Gamer issues produced by Live Publishing.
Q) Will you be doing another volume?
I launched a Kickstarter to produce a Volume 2 of the Spectrum book just before Christmas, and the support for this campaign was even greater than for the first one. I am busy putting that book together now, alongside producing a book on U.S. Gold.
Q) Will you ever consider doing a book on the other systems?
There are talks currently taking place on producing a book on the original PlayStation console to mark the consoles 20th birthday. Announcements for this book will follow very shortly. Books will also follow now on other systems.
Thanks for that Chris! If you're interested in buying The Story of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum in Pixels, it is available to buy for £25 HERE
Other ways to contact Chris
Main Facebook Page / Retro for Sale Facebook Page