back to article Why is the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ project so delayed?

Troubled Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ firm Retro Computer Limited has missed multiple product delivery dates amid lawsuits and very public infighting. Perhaps these modern-day shenanigans cast light on why the UK's 1980s game coding scene collapsed. What happened, and how did a straightforward gaming console project go so far off …

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  1. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Mmmmmmmmmmmm

    Just ran a web based Spectrum emulator on my RaspberryPi zero and it seemed to work OK.

    Can I have 1/2 million to add some tacky plastic buttons and a £50 touch screen?

    1. Oh Matron!
      Coat

      Re: Mmmmmmmmmmmm

      "I'd buy that for a dollar!"

      But only a dollar, mind...

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: Mmmmmmmmmmmm

        25p and a packet of Rolos is the usual going rate where Sinclair products are concerned.

    2. Michael Strorm

      Re: Mmmmmmmmmmmm

      I agree; it's ridiculous that it's descended into this.

      AFAICT, this isn't a hardware-based recreation of the original Spectrum design (e.g. using an FPGA). It's a software-based emulator running on some arbitrary modern hardware.

      The case- apparently by original Sinclair designer Rick Dickinson- is well enough executed, but (unlike the first Vega's bizarre key-deficient parody of the original Spectrum) there's little connection in appearance beyond the rainbow flash and Sinclair logo.

      I've said before that there must be countless Chinese manufacturers offering off-the-shelf handheld designs based on generic and well-supported hardware (i.e. that would run a Spectrum emulator under Android or Linux) that could easily be lightly customised to this end without the need to reinvent the wheel.

      Now, to be fair, I later found out that they were planning on building this in the UK- which would be a good thing, but might make the above suggestion less workable.

      And yes, I know from the article that the problems are primarily legal and interpersonal. Still, this seems like massively more fuss than it ought to have been- or is worth- for something that's basically just a generic handheld dedicated to running a Spectrum emulator you can already run elsewhere.

      The Spectrum Next looks potentially more interesting (being an FPGA-based hardware recreation in a case that mirrors the Spectrum+) and something I'd maybe consider once- if- it became a commercial product at the right price, i.e. £100 to £125. That said, most people seem non-purist and happy to play old games on an emulated console, so it's even more ridiculous that the Vega+ is having so much trouble.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Mmmmmmmmmmmm

        It's not just about the hardware. Wasn't there the promise of having 1,000 properly-licensed games included?

        Some people will happily pay a bit extra knowing that they are being cleaner-than-clean legally, or because of the (admittedly minute) chance that some of the original authors will receive some sort of royalty.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Mmmmmmmmmmmm

          Then again, paying for a product doesn't guarantee that the alleged royalties will be paid in an above-board manner, as Elite's "recreated Spectrum" (#) showed a couple of years back.

          (#) Remember that? It was basically just a jumped-up Bluetooth keyboard that looked like a Spectrum, but only worked with their particular emulation app. A lot of people were rather unhappy when Elite withdrew the app support it relied upon, leaving them with useless rubber keyboards.

          1. jeffdyer

            Re: Mmmmmmmmmmmm

            Useless rubber keyboard? Sounds like the Speccy as soon as the Commodore 64 came out.

          2. Philip Kendall

            Re: Mmmmmmmmmmmm

            The Elite keyboards aren't actually useless - they're pretty much just Bluetooth keyboards with a funny keyboard mapping, so it's not hard to add support for them to other emulators. More details are in the Unofficial FAQ http://jorallan.livejournal.com/14976.html Disclaimer: I wrote the FAQ.

    3. technoise

      Re: Mmmmmmmmmmmm

      I was going to say exactly this about the Pi Zero - what do you need? Insert an old game controller, a mini TFT screen and a USB stick full of ROMS...

      1. Sykowasp

        Re: Mmmmmmmmmmmm

        Well there's a crowdfunding idea.

        A mobile gaming device that accepts a Raspberry Pi Compute Module.

        So a PSP-shaped shell with gaming buttons, a display, a battery, a slot for a compute module, and some break-out I/O (SD card, etc) and charging.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    0/0

    Backing any Indiegogo project is always a complete gamble and should be considered akin to putting money in a slot machine. Never use money you can't afford to lose.

    I'm a backer of this project and to be honest, given the Sinclair branding I fully expected the finished article to be late and not entirely like the original advertising. Part of the charm really. So maybe I'll receive one maybe not. But not worth getting too angry about.

    1. Dabooka Silver badge
      Stop

      There's no place for your sort around here

      Look at you, posting on here your support of the project with your open minded and considered approach. And as for understanding the risk associated with crowd funding, well really. Far too rational, be away with you!

      Don't you know your supposed to grab the pitchforks when these stories come to light, and chase down the foolhardy who backed such pipe dreams?!

      [I'm glad I didn't back it but was sorely tempted. Decided to wait to buy one instead, a bit like that Psion 5 remake]

    2. Just Enough

      Re: 0/0

      "Backing any Indiegogo project is always a complete gamble"

      That's exactly what it is. Yet you still get people like the guy on facebook in this article complaining about how he "ordered a Vega +". No, he didn't. He invested money in a company in the hope that they would give him one as a dividend. The company is failing, his investment is likely lost. He gets nothing.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 0/0

        "He invested money in a company in the hope that they would give him one as a dividend."

        Correct me if this is wrong, but as far as I'm aware, he's *not* actually investing in the company itself, since that would make it an investment attracting all sorts of legal regulations etc.

        I assume this is why Kickstarter and Indiegogo seem to have people take the risk of contributing towards the development of a product that they might not see, yet don't share in the rewards if that product is a success.

        1. The Indomitable Gall

          Re: 0/0

          " I assume this is why Kickstarter and Indiegogo seem to have people take the risk of contributing towards the development of a product that they might not see, yet don't share in the rewards if that product is a success. "

          Actually, this is one area where Kickstarter and Indiegogo differ. If you are offering a physical product on Kickstarter, you must have a working prototype to show at the time of the campaign -- if you're soliciting funds for early dev work, you can't offer the final product as a reward.

          Indiegogo have grown considerably since Kickstarter started refusing projects for this... which makes me hesitant to even look at a hardware project on Indiegogo, because they're far, far riskier in the end.

    3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: 0/0

      The problem seems to be that backers often believe the product exists, is ready for purchase, and is only unavailable because manufacturing needs to be funded.

      It doesn't help that some some crowd-funded projects and media reports on those give exactly that impression.

      People skip over the 'it's not guaranteed to happen' part and assume that it will. Despite numerous examples where it doesn't.

      I imagine they think that's 'meaningless small-print' only put there 'because they have to' and does not reflect the actual situation when it very much does.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: 0/0

        "It doesn't help that some some crowd-funded projects and media reports on those give exactly that impression."

        As represented by every single crowd-funded project and every single crowd-funding site (as soon as you're out of their obligatory disclaimer section) ever. NOT A SINGLE ONE OF EITHER ever admits to the fact that you're basically leaving money in a brown bag on a bench in a public park hoping for some inexplicable reason to find $Reward in another bag when you come back $Time later, the amount of which has usually just been pulled out of the ass of someone with zero previous experience in any sort of product design or fulfilment. In fact the incredibly complicated rosters of what exactly you become entitled to receive for how much money and in what possible combinations are sending the exact opposite message. It's a store except for the aisles and shelves. Blaming the backers solely, for taking it at face value, is extremely disingenuous.

        Even campaigns / sites that mumble something about "not an actual preorder" "campaign might fail" and so on do absolutely everything to nevertheless represent the affair as a somewhat uncertain but otherwise straightforward "give us X money to receive Y merchandise in return" deal. Quite unsurprising to be honest, considering that crowd-funding would be dead and a thing of the past within 24 hours if everyone started saying the truthful "please make a donation to us, we might send you something back in the astonishingly unlikely event of not having squandered (or straight-up embezzled) all your money on irrelevant things in the near future". Nobody ever says "gimme as much as you can so if whatever I think about making ever actually becomes a reality, it arguably possibly maybe does so sooner than otherwise".

        So as far as expectations, yeah, you _should_ have your eyes open. But as far as the actual promises go, hell no, it's NOT free money with zero strings attached in any sense according to the deal being peddled, even if in practice, legally, that's exactly what it ends up being. And that won't change until the very first paragraph on the page of every single project on every crowd-funding website does not read:

        "what follows below is the declaration of an intent by the project owner to reward you with something in exchange for your voluntarily offered financial support. There are not and there cannot be any guarantees that the intent is practical, feasible, or even genuinely honest - quite often it will fail to be one or more of the above - and there will be no consequences whatsoever for the project owner if they never even talk to any of you again after you pay them. Proceed knowing that you're paying someone you don't know for something they don't have."

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 0/0

      "given the Sinclair branding I fully expected the finished article to be late"

      Sinclair *always* delivered within 28 days.

      You just didn't read the small print stating that these would be Venusian days.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: 0/0

        Yes, this has a knock on effect on all indiegogo projects and the reason I backed away from the Planet Gemini Psion 5 recreation is because of stories like this, and the indiegogo page for the Gemini has words like "Concept Stage" and "*We are working hard to achieve the above technical specifications for Gemini.". The mockup uses a keyboard salvaged from a Psion 5MX and probably 3D printed other bits.

        I have hope that the Sinclair Vega+ backers will get their gadgets though, as this is their second project and they eventually delivered on the first.

  3. caffeine addict Silver badge

    All that failure and behind the scenes drama, it almost sounds like a real Sinclair product...

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      And on April 1

      They will announce that all this has, in fact, been an elaborate historical reenactment.

  4. boltar Silver badge

    Crowdfunding is just an unsecured loan

    You do it at your own risk.

    Sadly it seems a lot of somewhat naive younger (and not so young) people are learning this the hard way and that the rules of boring old finance don't magically vanish just because everything is being done via a some koolkid hipster web site. I would laugh but I do genuinely feel sorry for the lenders.

    1. Matthew 3

      Re: Crowdfunding is just an unsecured loan

      You do it at your own risk.

      If you've paid by credit card doesn't Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act protect you?

      My understanding is that credit card companies are equally liable to deliver the product, or refund you, as long as you spent over £100. But does that not apply to crowdfunded sites?

      Just curious - nothing to do with wondering if the Gemini will go the same way or anything...

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Crowdfunding is just an unsecured loan

        "My understanding is that credit card companies are equally liable to deliver the product, or refund you, as long as you spent over £100. But does that not apply to crowdfunded sites?"

        The problem is essentially with the title of the post here - crowdfunding generally isn't a hard promise that you will receive and existing product, but rather an investment with the understanding that someone will do their best to produce a product. The Consumer Credit Act specifically says "any claim against the supplier in respect of a misrepresentation or breach of contract". If you pay for a product in a shop and then don't receive the product, there is a clear breach of contract and you can get your money back. If you invest in a crowdfunding campaign in the hope that there will be a product in the future, you would have to prove that the campaign misrepresented its chances of success or that there was deliberate fraud somewhere along the line in order to be entitled to anything. So the Act might protect you, but you're likely to have to go to court to prove it, at which point you may as well just take the offending party to court and not bother involving your credit card provider.

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Crowdfunding is just an unsecured loan

        If you bought shares with your credit card and the company you invested in went bust, then the credit card company isn't going to be listening to any section 75 crying.

        IndieGogo investment is also investment where the value may go down.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Crowdfunding is just an unsecured loan

          Could be interesting if it made credit card case-law.

          I donated to political party X and when elected they failed to deliver on any of their promises = I want a credit card refund

          1. Danny 14 Silver badge

            Re: Crowdfunding is just an unsecured loan

            Section 75 wouldnt apply anyway. You gave money to indigogo not the company directly. Same as buying something via paypal.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Facepalm

    20 years old tech?

    I can run up an emulator for most old consoles.

    I often quite like StarFox64 on my android phone.

    I had consoles when i was younger and kept a few for a while, but one or two games on an old classic and you'll be back on your PS4.

    My money this year will go on a switch... its a real thing, i have actual people in real life whom i know and trust show me it. I can go to a store an buy it. It has quite modern tech (not opening that can of worms) and it seems quite good.

    Even if it isn't, the idea of putting up cash for some aging retro gamer to try and relive their youth and squander the cash in the process just seems a little stupid to me.

    You could probably run a spectrum emulator on an N-Gage... problem solved.

    Case of the member berries.

    1. Tachikoma
      Thumb Up

      Re: 20 years old tech?

      You could probably run a spectrum emulator on an N-Gage... problem solved.

      You can indeed!

      http://www.whitecloudsoftware.com/products/index.html

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: 20 years old tech?

      "I had consoles when i was younger and kept a few for a while, but one or two games on an old classic and you'll be back on your PS4."

      Nostalgia isn't all it's cracked up to be when the old memories are brought to life. Some of the old games hold up reasonably well, but many of those I loved back in the day are a disappointment nowadays. Yes, they were great at the time, even ground-breaking, but we had much lower expectations back then.

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: 20 years old tech?

        It's amazing the difference in graphics. I have got used to the changes without really noticing and going back to an old game it's amazing how bad the graphics I thought were brilliant before are, some games it makes them painful to play.

        Still liking Age of Empires though, and there's not many games prettier than Homeworld.

        1. shade82000

          Re: 20 years old tech?

          --"Nostalgia isn't all it's cracked up to be when the old memories are brought to life."

          ... Tell me about it, I had this magical memory of life at 5 or 6 years old, playing a game called River Raid on my dad's C64. It was like the real thing, sitting on the sofa with the joystick just felt like I was actually in the plane. Shooting up tanks and helicopters, trying to not run out of fuel, needing a break to dry the sweat from the joystick when I made it to the next bridge. We must have spent many, many hours playing that game.

          Then about 10-15 years ago I found VICE and loaded up a RR tape image. I think I lasted well under 10 minutes before thinking "WTF?" and going back to the Playstation.

          I dare not go back to it now after this many more years.

          There were these other two games called Beach Head (I & II) that I loved as a kid but never got round to trying on VICE. I think I'll just hold on to the memories instead.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: 20 years old tech?

        That's the real value of the Vega+, they protect you from the dissapointment of actually running the old speccy games - while delivering the nostalgia of an authentic "ordering zx80 from sinclair" experience.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rat on a stick!

    When it's done...

  7. Just Enough

    What a mess

    I lost the will to read any further about a third of the way in. Not so much TL;DR, as too complicated, too many names dropping in and out, too much dodgy dealing and too many grown adults behaving like children.

    Producing this console should have been technically simple. But the chances of it happening are zero in this boardroom chaos. Crowdfunding backers should say good-bye to their money and, if they really must indulge in a regular dose of nostalgia, use one of the many emulators available.

  8. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Why is the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ project so delayed?

    Tradition.

  9. James Hughes 1

    Most crowdfunded stuff that involves cases etc are going to run late. The people involved tend to be techies, good on the electronics side (HW and SW) but with no knowledge of packaging it up, And that is EXPENSIVE. You won't get much change out of £100k for tooling for injection moulding (if you do it properly), most people have NO idea of the costs of getting the plastic case for something right. Then add buttons, screens etc, and the fact you need to be able to manufacture on a production line, which is its own can of worms, and things rapidly get very expensive and time consuming indeed.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      I remember back in the heyday of 8-bit micros, (small) companies often sold their hardware in standard ABS cases you could buy from Maplin and then manually cut holes in them. If tooling up for a bespoke plastic case can cost six figures, I can understand why!

  10. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The truth of the matter

    Projects like this are pretty much just some peoples pet wants and likes.

    They are never run properly - usually having someone at the helm that is halfway between a fanticist and a used car salesman ....

    They always start with the best of intentions, but when the going gets tough - they dont have the will, the want or the "cahoneys" for seeing the project through - especially if its going to lose rather than make money.

    EVERYONE ... and I include myself in that - wants to see this product work..... and the neysayers (the commentards just above/below this who mention about free software and a £50 touch screen) are the people who tend to delight at someone elses failure.

    The biggest problem though is that there has been some sort of financial mis-management and a couple of directors that had a great idea, but dont want to lose any money - at all....even though its a distinct possibility on a project such as this.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The truth of the matter

      What numpty pressed the thumbs down button?

      ...in answer, probably one of the same numpties that commentards things when they havent a clue!

      ps. there is nothing to thumbs down about the above post - its pretty much a matter of fact!

  12. Deft

    Meh

    I backed for the three colourful versions, intending them to be Christmas presents for myself and two brothers, all of whom played Speccy games together as children. Realistically I was expecting to play it for approximately 4 mins before reverting back to PS4.

    The level of frothing rage on the comments amuses me, and makes me feel happy that I don't get wound up like that. As others have mentioned, many have missed the concept and risk involved in these campaigns.

    Still hopeful something might be delivered!

    1. KroSha

      Re: Meh

      Agreed. I would have made a fantastic xmas present for the wife, but her birthday is in July, so there's hope yet. Or there's xmas this year.

      RCL's stance that they will refund anyone who wants out is commendable, but naive. They should have just said "crowdfunding!" and kept working. No point wasting energy on whiners. Better late than never.

  13. Joefish
    Thumb Up

    A rational and reasonable write-up of the issue.

    Well done to The Reg for keeping it level.

    Though you did blow it a bit - what on Earth has this got to do with the late 80's game scene?

    I seem to remember that came about because basically all the bedroom coding talent finished school and then realised they were probably owed a competent wage to continue their efforts; hence the financial models of most software companies collapsed overnight!

    In this case a lot of (us) developers offered up games for free on the understanding that the royalties portion of the sales would be going to Great Ormond Street. And some of us have a spare room to do the coding in these days... ;-)

    Though on the point about the FUSE emulator, I don't see why notifying (or not) the originators of an open source product that you want to use it is relevant, so long as the terms are complied with.

    1. Michael Strorm

      Re: A rational and reasonable write-up of the issue.

      I notice that the technical standard of 8-bit software (graphics in particular) improved *very* significantly over the decade, but particularly around the mid-80s.

      Is this because larger companies started using the newly-released Atari ST and Amiga- and more dedicated artists- to more easily develop graphics for the 8-bit formats (#), along with possibly other cross-development tools? I'm assuming all this more team-based and equipment-intensive approach also forced a move away from the "bedroom programmer" approach?

      (#) Since designing even (e.g.) mono Spectrum graphics would be easier with the mouse-based packages on the 16-bit machines than on the Spectrum itself. (Even if the 16-bit formats- especially the Amiga- were initially a bit too expensive to support many mainstream games in their own right).

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Designing 8-bit graphics

        Does anyone else remember the "Print & Plotter Jotter" that you could buy through the computer magazines of the time?

      2. Joefish
        Angel

        Re: A rational and reasonable write-up of the issue.

        Yes - but similarly the industry moved to teams working together under high-pressue conditions, with 16-bit development kits for 8-bit games paid for by the business and all the management overheads that go with running concurrent projects on tight budgets. The software houses repeatedly shrank and consolidated until there was pretty much only Ocean Software left. And later on the magazines were devaluing the market by competing to give away more and more complete older games (not just demos) every month.

        A few homebrew coders like Jonathan Cauldwell just kept going, regardless. And there's been a resurgence in the last few decades using PC-emulation-based development tools. If you haven't seen a Spectrum game since 1990 you may be in for a surprise as to what's been achieved lately. I'll immodestly cite my own 'Buzzsaw+' as a title that has graphics that wouldn't look out of place on an Amiga, yet will run on a genuine original 48K Spectrum from 1983.

    2. Philip Kendall

      Re: A rational and reasonable write-up of the issue.

      [ For avoidance of doubt, I am the primary author of Fuse ]

      "Though on the point about the FUSE emulator, I don't see why notifying (or not) the originators of an open source product that you want to use it is relevant, so long as the terms are complied with."

      Correct. This was an attempt to explain to people who might not necessarily understand the difference between free as in beer and free as in speech software that RCL did nothing legally wrong by not talking to the Fuse team before using Fuse in the Vega+. It didn't entirely work, but I think it helped.

      1. The Indomitable Gall

        Re: A rational and reasonable write-up of the issue.

        "Though on the point about the FUSE emulator, I don't see why notifying (or not) the originators of an open source product that you want to use it is relevant, so long as the terms are complied with."

        I think in this case it's being mentioned as part of establishing a timeline of events by witness testimony.

  14. Spartacus Mills

    risk

    as has been stated, crowdfunding is a risk. a gamble. some you win, some you lose

    and with that, I announce my own crowdfundng project: The Sinclair ZX Vega+++ Turbo Deluxe V2.0 Platinum Edition. - does everything RCL's one (apparently) does, but also takes your bins out, correctly predicts national lottery numbers, and makes the toast... £105 and you're in, with the added guarantee that it either will or won't get made. form an orderly queue.

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