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back to article Sinclair's ZX Spectrum to LIVE AGAIN!

Iconic British microcomputer the ZX Spectrum will live again, after a Kickstarter appeal for funds to reincarnate it as a Bluetooth Keyboard succeeded. Mobile games outfit Elite Systems floated the idea of using the Spectrum's chassis and infamous dead flesh keys to house Bluetooth keyboard back in December 2013, after securing …

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What the...

This make no sense as the ZX Spectrum's keyboard was the worst part of the computer, so why on earth would anyone want the keyboard as a bluetooth keyboard for a modern device? The romantics have spoken, and clearly they do!

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Re: What the...

The ZX Spectrum's dead-flesh keyboard was rubbish in comparison with the full-movement mechanical keyboards common in those days. Now we've become used to the short-movement rubber-dome-based keyboards on laptops and Apple desktops, and no-movement virtual keyboards on our smartphones and tablets, then maybe the Spectrum's rubber keyboard won't feel so rubbish any more.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What the...

I suppose it is better than the ZX81 keyboard :)

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jjk

Re: What the...

The ZX81 keyboard was still better than the ZX80 one with the ZX81 overlay on top.

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Re: What the...

The ZX80 keyboard was still better than changing the capacitance of the switches by licking them with your bare tongue, but only just.

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Boffin

Re: What the...

Speak for yourself Ralph, I have a Razer keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches... ;-)

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Re: What the...

I still have (somewhere) a Spectrum +

That had proper-ish keys.

(The Microdrive was less wobbly)

The 81 was nailed to a wall.

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Re: What the...

I'd want one to drive a media PC or console or something else attached to the telly, it'd be just the right size. To be honest if you look at one of these and look at a Spectrum keyboard, I'd take the Spectrum keyboard every time.

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Re: What the...

> This make no sense as the ZX Spectrum's keyboard was the worst part of the computer

Compared to the onscreen keyboard on an iPhone or Nexus 7 though, it's a brilliant keyboard.

As a compact keyboard for a media centre PC it's probably not all that bad either, but I would want a pointing device on-board too for that use.

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Re: What the...

As I've said elsewhere, there are things that should be left in the past and not resurrected.

The dead-flesh keyboard is just below smallpox on my list!

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Re: What the...

Re-creating the rubber-key Spectrum keyboard I feel is a purely nostalgic one, as most people's introduction to Sinclair computers is the rubber-key Spectrum it's an obvious choice.

I have a Spectrum+ and have to say the keyboard on that is almost worse than the rubber-key one, because the sides of the keys are vertical you have to press the keys down perfectly straight or they rub up against the surrounding keys which can make them harder to push down.

I also have a Spectrum +2 which has what I would call a 'proper' keyboard, and you can actually type each letter of the commands in BASIC rather than trying to find/remember what key combination produces what command.

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Next up:

A kickstarter-project for a wonk-wobble-adapter to put between your RAM and the mother board.

Experience computing as it was in the great old times.

Great for parties: See who can type the most text, before the computer reboots.

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ARM inside

Forget the bluetooth part, and build an Android computer inside. Like a tablet, but with keyboard and using a large monitor / TV set

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Awful to type on

But the original worked quite well as an oversized game pad.

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Re: Awful to type on

Using cursor keys 5-8, IIRC

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Happy

Re: Awful to type on

Indeed, and the rather odd "strap on" joysticks that you could get which worked (for want of a better word) by mechanically transferring the movement into pressing/holding those keys...

Ah the memories of playing "Track and Field" and "Hypersports" until the Q key died...

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Re: Awful to type on

The best / worst accessory for the keyboard was a "steering wheel". It was an ashtray like disk that the player was meant to roll it over the number keys to simulate steering. No this was not a joke, it actually existed.

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Coat

Re: Awful to type on

...odd "strap on" joysticks...

There is still a market for that, with lots of enthusiasts. I know, I've watched the videos!

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Re: Awful to type on

The steering wheel was Formula One Simulator from the early 80s' favourite purveyor or shite games, Mastertronic.

http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekid.cgi?id=0001844

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Promise the world

"The revived Spectrum is imagined as a superior way to play the retro games Elite delights in making available on modern platforms, and also a rather nice design for a wireless keyboard (albeit not a productivity-enhancing one)"

According to the kickstarter it probably wont be a nice wireless keyboard as it is only cited to work with the compatible games Elite will release. (and IOS only with no guarantee it will work on anything else)

It will also be interesting to see if this means that the original authors of the games in question will now start to receive some of the royalties which, to date, have apparently mysteriously failed to materialize. (http://www.worldofspectrum.org/forums/showthread.php?t=46365)

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Re: Promise the world

I used to run a mobile games company called Gyrox here in the UK. Steve Wilcox (owns elite) still owes me about £6k that he flat out refused to pay me (for making a load of ports of R-Type after I'd made the main J2ME reference versions which he only paid me flat for, never received a penny in the revenue share royalties), I asked around; turns out elite have a loooong history of not paying their developers after they have received the binary and source code - grrrrr! I gave up in the end, couldn't be bothered with a full blown court case for a poxy £6k - what a complete and utter twunt though.

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Re: Promise the world

> It will also be interesting to see if this means that the original authors of the games in question will now start to receive some of the royalties

I suspect the rights are mostly owned by corporates which have long since vanished.

An interesting philosophical question though... if the owner of a game doesn't help maintain the platform and it dies, should they benefit from someone bringing it back? Is revenue 30 years on a reasonable expectation or should such work pass into the public domain as a "thank-you" for the previous government-granted monopoly?

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Re: Promise the world

For £6k, you should have done a small claims court action.

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Re: Promise the world

Was an interesting read, that thread.

Would the Reg be interested in looking into this from a journalistic perspective?

I appreciate there may be legal line that you can't cross, or there may be very valid aspects of this kind of 'story' that make it unattractive, but a lot of us on this site - these games are our Tech Dawntime and the thought of a lot of the original creators of these getting stiffed rankles considerably. Even if the end result is there is nothing illegal but for others it may influence any possible decision they make in similar circumstances...

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Re: Promise the world

"An interesting philosophical question though"

It's a legal question, not a philosophical one.

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Re: Promise the world

JohnnyGStrings, sadly most game developers still do not get any "revenue royalties". It depends on what kind of deal was signed but it's not some automatic right we're talking here. Although you could argue you do still own the source code if that wasn't specified in contract either. My guess is that would be what the court case would have to center on. You still might have tried to start one and settle as most cases do not reach the expensive court for good reason. You need a good arrangement with a lawyer though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: An interesting philosophical question though...

there's always the discussions after one of AOLowski's articles on such things that you might read... :-)

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Re: Promise the world - small claims

The limit in the small claims court used to be somewhat less than the current £10k. I was stung for £2k at a time when the limit was £1k; solicitors' fees were as outrageous then are they are today. However, recent experience suggests that albeit a bit tedious, the procedure does appear to work quite well.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_claims_court

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Promise the world

why not £6k is still £6k why not go to the small claims, it'll cost you next to feck all to do, they'll hear cases up to £10k

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Stop

Re: Promise the world

John Deeb - these guys DID sign new contracts licensing these games for the Elite iOS Spectrum emulator; it's under those contracts that they claim they're not being paid. None of them have issues with free distribution of their old games through the WoS website; it's about someone charging for them through the iOS app Store. I'm now glad they never got back to me over whether their emulator was accurate enough to support my game.

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Re: Promise the world - small claims

I went to the small claims court about 10 years ago over a claim of around 1000 GBP. Basically I had a left hand drive car I'd brought in from Germany and registered in the UK; someone rear-ended me, and my insurance only paid up what it's 'value' was, which being LHD was about 25% less than what I in effect had to pay to get a similar make/model/age/mileage car.

Took a long time, the other party's insurer ignored me until a week or so before, then tried to settle for peanuts. By that point, I wanted my day in court. They sent some junior lawyer to the court, which is really just a judge's office where you both sit down at a desk and discuss it. If you're a little guy vs a lawyer or big corp, the judge will probably do most of the talking for you, especially if he's read the case notes and knows your position which he did in my case. If this happens, just shut up and let him get on with it, and just answer any questions he spoon feeds you with to make your case.

I won the case, got my money. But most important, it felt good to feel the system worked and that I hadn't accepted being trodden on.

It's relatively cheap, the other side cannot claim legal expenses (despite the fact they'll threaten to bury you with them to try to get you to drop your action). So you have very little to lose.

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Re: Promise the world

"Steve Wilcox (owns elite) still owes me about £6k"

I feel for you, Elite/Steve still owe me a four figure redundancy payout, which I don't suppose I will ever see. I always found him to be a very pleasant guy though, when I worked for them they seemed to be suffering from a chronic lack of cash, culminating with their bank saying "no more!" Pretty much the same as nearly every other independent games studio as far as I can see.

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Re: Promise the world

I wonder if they've actually bothered to pay for the design rights to make their replica, or if they're just ploughing ahead regardless? Anyone know?

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Re: Promise the world

I strongly suggest you seek recompense via the small claims court.

Or actually, for that amount of cash you could go for a winding up petition.

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Some please explain to me why you would buy a fake spectrum keyboard, to play emulated games, on a TV that won't look the same, when you can pick one up for about the same price as this fake keyboard?

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I reckon people are thinking about the Spectrum and it's keyboard through the rose-tinted, horn-rimmed spectacles of history. If and when they actually get their hands on one the horrible squishy have-I-really-pressed-it-or-not memories will come flooding back.

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People will cherish even bad memories if they're long enough ago.

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The Sinclair keyboards may not have been the best keyboards ever invented, but many of us discovered computing through the likes of Sinclair's machines. Like the wag above who mentioned the RAM pack wobble problem, we all know these weren't the best things out there (How many replacement keyboards were there for Sinclair machines?)

But we're not looking to buy these things because they are better, but because they invoke memories: The re-creation of these objects take us back to the early days of our (future) careers (and possibly our child hood too)

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"People will cherish even bad memories if they're long enough ago."

Yeah , I don't really get it. I was a kid in the early 80s and even then we knew the spectrum was rubbish compared to the alternatives such as the BBC B or Dragon 32. The only reason people bought it was it was cheap and had lots of games, not because it was good.

Sinclair were pioneering with the ZX80 and 81 , but after that they rather dropped the ball which is why they ended up getting bought out by Amstrad instead of becoming a major player in the "serious" computer market.

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BBC had a great keyboard, Dargon was pretty poor, very plastic hollow keys.

Sinclair dropped the ball because of the QL, and the growth in home-computing slowing at the same time. The speccy was a massive success.

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"The speccy was a massive success."

Like I said, it was a success because it was cheap and had lots of games, not because it was good. Sinclair became complacent and the QL was another half hearted design where they thought they could get away with another on-the-cheap computer except this time with a not so cheap price. Even if they had got the motherboard design sorted from the start it would probably still have failed.

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Anonymous Coward

ZX81 has to be judged by what it was and *when* it was

The ZX81 was good *for the money* at the time it was released. There were undeniably much better machines already around, such as the Atari 400 and 800, but the latter apparently cost around £600 when it first hit the UK (*), the BBC B was around £350 (sans drives or monitor) and went *up* to £400.

For all its flaws, the ZX81 at £70 was the first computer many people in the UK could afford despite its limitations. This also excuses the un-ergonomic but cheap-to-manufacture keyboard (but not the blatant design flaw of the RAMpack wobble!)

The Spectrum was the first machine to offer high-res (**) graphics with colour, sound and a decent amount of memory (i.e. a passable gaming system) as standard at- again- anything like *that price*. Despite being quickly followed by other machines- some of which were slightly better and slightly cheaper- the Spectrum filled the niche first and the network effect (***) reinforced its popularity and kept out its rivals. This is why the Spectrum continued to sell well until the late 80s, *long* after it had been superseded technically- there was a ludicrous amount of support for it.

However, in its day, it *was* there first, and it *was* good, even if it dated quickly.

(*) Multiply by 3 or so to adjust for inflation in today's prices- yes, that was a *lot* of money.

(**) "High" resolution by the standards of the time, obviously

(***) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect

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Why not just buy an old spectrum?

You can pick them up cheap on ebay or gumtree for 20 quid so why not just buy the real thing instead of this poor copy which isn't even standalone? I don't get it.

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Re: Why not just buy an old spectrum?

Because loading games takes forever

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Re: Why not just buy an old spectrum?

In a recent experiment I was loading Amstrad CPC tape games quicker than it took my Xbox to start and GTA V to load in. Spectrum uses a similar loading system and baud rate.

Or you just stick an SD card reader in it and have every game ever made for it on a single card available at a keystroke.

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Re: Why not just buy an old spectrum?

Have a look at http://user.tninet.se/~vjz762w/

USB and Compact Flash interfaces for ZX Spectrum, with ResiDOS in 1MB Ram. put all your games from WoS on a CF or USB stick - loads in a few seconds.

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ZX Spectrum Mugs

You'd be a mug to buy this. Clive couldn't design a keyboard to save his life. While his kit looks nice the keyboards are always truly rotten.

So you buy it and then play games on Elite's awful iOS Spectrum emulator. Having purchased both their Spectrum and C64 iOS emulators in my opinion they are poor and have a limited selection of games. + you end up buying games again for software you already own. Why can't I load my own legally purchased games in?

If you must emulate there are far better PC based emulators available. Stuff that gets the colours, sound and experience nearly exactly spot on. And you can play your own games to boot.

And if you want to play on original hardware, go and splash 40 quid on a Amstrad built Spectrum and an RGB cable. You can play the tape files in from an audio cable connected to a nearby PC, or you can go the whole hog and get an SD card solution that works across many machines like I have - http://www.lotharek.pl/product.php?pid=18

If you enjoy the aesthetics of Clive's 48k wonder then buy one and stick it on a shelf to look at.

Fully expect rubber key fans to flame me for this. Except all the flames will read "You suuuuuuckj LOAD".

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Re: ZX Spectrum Mugs

They seemed rather popular at the time - price, performance, availability, form.

I remember a colleague at the lab., where I worked in NZ, doubled the memory of his Spectrum - perfectly happy despite the large block sticking out of one side to accommodate it. He even did some professional work using it.

So easy to scoff now, in an age where people moan that 100 GB is too small when, at that time, 300 MB was thought sufficient to provide a working environment for 100 people. But then, point-and-click was just a twinkle in somebody's imagination and being technical meant more than snide comments entered through a GUI interface.

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Re: ZX Spectrum Mugs

The Spectrum does point and click very well in OCP Art Studio by Rainbird. A proper WIMP interface which still seems quite modern when you look at it today.

Can't find a decent non speeded up clip of the Spectrum version on Youtube but here's the CPC version - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wM8IVYqrS4

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Anonymous Coward

Reminds me of a cartoon

in the once brilliant Science fiction/faction magazine "Omni".

"It's very good, Simpkins. But does the world really need a solar powered whoppee cushion ?"

Meanwhile, I have a pile of projects for Kickstarter.

1)The cocoa-solids based teapot.

2) Beat the smoking ban ! An ashtray for your motorbike.

3) Social interaction for the less able: Arse kicking parties for the one-legged.

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