back to article Former ZX Spectrum reboot project man departs

Ailing ZX Spectrum Vega firm Retro Computers Ltd appears to have lost one of its key people, amid a battle of words between the MD and a former contractor. Why is the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ project so delayed? READ MORE Lee Fogarty, who until recently was a contractor for RCL and organised the company’s webhosting, …

  1. wolfetone Silver badge

    "The entire Retro Computers Limited story is a stain on the legacy of Sir Clive Sinclair and the joy that his computer products brought to millions over the years. "

    Funnily enough, if you look on Companies House, Sinclair Research Limited are a director of RCL. Yes, the Sinclair Research Limited. So, in a round about way, Sir Clive is damaging his own company's legacy.

    You could not write this saga as a film script. It's just so bewildering.

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Now that is quite interesting...

      1. Dabooka Silver badge

        Interesting maybe..

        But it isn't new information.

        Reported back in March and originally in September 2016

        https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/03/16/retro_computer_ltd_vega_plus_indiegogo_saga/

        https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/09/27/zx_spectrum_vega_launch_october_20/

    2. msknight Silver badge

      Nahh.....

      Unless it contains a scene where members of the team has a punch up in a pub, it probably won't get an audience.

    3. Oscar Pops

      One of the leaked documents shows it was actually Lady Sinclair who was the director. The plot thickens!

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        "One of the leaked documents shows it was actually Lady Sinclair who was the director. The plot thickens!"

        Who has since stepped down as director of Sinclair Research.

        I twist my oiled moustache at the plot.

      2. Mr Dogshit

        What? The lap dancer?

        Sorry, former lap dancer

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. ThomH Silver badge

    I had previously assumed incompetence, but I'm starting to tend towards malice

    As per El Reg's linked article "[the Vega+] came about in part because sales of the original Vega were lower than forecast and had left RCL with debts to clear", to which you add the various legal costs and the company is claiming still to have the crowd-funded capital ready for the any-day-now production run? And twenty-two months after collecting it, ostensibly to take a product they already had and combine it with an LCD screen? While AtGames seems to manage to push out new versions of the equivalent packaging of the Atari 2600 and Mega Drive every year without fail? All while a decent proportion of the proceeds of the original device promised to Great Ormond Street seems to have gone missing somewhere?

    I'd be surprised if they even have the capital left to grab a Shenzhen generic and throw whatever MIT or BSD-licensed Spectrum emulator they can find on GitHub onto the thing.

  4. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    The entire Retro Computers Limited story is a stain on the legacy of Sir Clive Sinclair and the joy that his computer products brought to millions over the years

    I owned a Spectrum with an Interface 1 and a microdrive. Getting that lot to work reliably was not a joy. I think it took many months and numerous replacements of all three items to get a working combination.

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      This story lacks credibility. Nobody, ever, got a Microdrive to work reliably.

      1. Haku

        ThomH has a point, I did get my Microdrive to work, but only when a full moon fell on a Tuesday, and only then it would give me about 10 minutes of use starting at 7:17pm...

        I've still got it somewhere, along with an Opus Discovery disc drive that allowed the ZX Spectrum to use 3.5" floppy discs as if they were Microdrive cartridges if memory serves me right (sometimes it doesn't, I think I'm getting old).

        1. The Indomitable Gall

          @Haku

          " I've still got it somewhere, along with an Opus Discovery disc drive that allowed the ZX Spectrum to use 3.5" floppy discs as if they were Microdrive cartridges if memory serves me right (sometimes it doesn't, I think I'm getting old). "

          I think all of us who remember Spectrums are getting old....

      2. Kevin Johnston

        I was working in a Systems Test environment when the ZX81 came out as a DIY option. One of the prototyping engineers bought one and it failed to work. He sent it off and when a replacement arrived there was a note saying he had failed to follow the instructions correctly and mis-assembled it

      3. Gordon 10 Silver badge
        Terminator

        The first time around

        That was my first thought too. Anyone who thinks this sorry shambles is anything more than completely par for the course for 80's computer vendors obviously didnt live it the first time around :)

      4. BebopWeBop Silver badge
        Pirate

        Actually I acquired an ICL OPD (remember those folks?) and the microdrive actually did work. I should admit that I fired it up as a joke not expecting the freebie to work let alone the collection of stringies and it fi. I have turned it on since, but only to show it off to a visitor ±(one of the few that are intrigued by a room full of machines from the 70s and 80s - for some reason my partner likes to steer visitors away and I am sure I have heard mutterings about - "nice room - a small tumble down those stairs and you would have a lovely guest room" but I am probably mistaken, well at least until I fail to keep her Linux laptop running!

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Arrghh.. OPD!

          I'd managed to forget abot the OPD. A long time ago, a certain Telco decided a 'One Per Desk' device was a Good Thing(tm). And arguably it was, at least compared to having one or more 3270 terminals, maybe a VT52 or 3, and something that could connect to the Unisys mini we ran. Aged Ferranti PT7s (which also had a microdrive) could be skipped! The OPD would rule them all! It even had an extended keyboard for all the special chars from the terminals it replaced!

          But like many good ideas, it.. struggled with implementation and figuring out how to get a diverse collection of big, medium and small iron to play nicely with each other.. Even with a bunch of VAX8800s trying to handle protocol conversion, terminal emulation and mediation. That was an interesting learning experience, and I suspect emulating a humble Speccie shoudl've been a lot more straightforward.

          1. Stuart 22

            Re: Arrghh.. OPD!

            I was working at ICL as a ICL PC product manager (a re-engineered Rair Blackbox on steroids). Perhaps steroids was a bit pushy but humour me. We were at war with the OPD people who thought their baby would sweep all those IBM PCs and Apricots off the desk.

            Ever trying to be helpful I cabled up four to the PC so they could actually do something useful other than run a phonebook. Or at least more useful. But yes, their microdrives were reliable. But that wasn't the point. Connecting to the PC meant they could access all the data on its massive 5Mb (later 10Mb) drives and proper 5.25" floppies.

            I shall be counting the downvotes as a measure of how many of the OPD team are still able to punch a keyboard ;-)

      5. Matt Bridge-Wilkinson

        You clearly neglected the chicken sacrifice part of the process required for such things to work.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Fingers in my ears....

    La la la la lah! La la la la lah!La la la la lah!La la la la lah!

    I can’t hear you!

    My Vega+ will definitely arrive late on time, I’m sure of it.

    1. Random Handle

      Re: Fingers in my ears....

      >My Vega+ will definitely arrive late on time, I’m sure of it.

      ...keep the faith!

      You'll be playing Bandersnatch on it any day now

  6. Haku

    Duke Nukem Forever

    I bet in 10 years time people will be posting screenshots of their pre-order for a Vega+ that they're still waiting for.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Duke Nukem Forever

      Hmmm ... no. Duke Nukem Forever did arrive.... eventually .... sort of.

      This sounds more of a Half Life 2 episode 3 scenario.

    2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Duke Nukem Forever

      On that note - will the Vega+ run Crysis when it arrives?

  7. Jonathan 27

    If you gave these guys any money, it's gone. You're definitely not getting anything. Just another crowdfunding scam. You can tell you've hit critical mass when the website disappears, looks like that's today: https://retrocomputerslimited.com/

    As a Canadian, I'm surprised to see how popular the ZX Spectrum still is in the UK. I don't think they even sold it here.

    1. Steve Todd

      It was called the Timex Sinclair 2068 in North America

      and it wasn't a great success there, but yes, it was available in Canada.

      There were many different clones and variants on the Spectrum, to the point that modern emulations/simulations tend to ask you which version you'd like them to behave like (as they have varying degrees of incompatibility).

    2. ThomH Silver badge

      El Reg previously estimated only 10,500 sold of the original Vega, of which this hypothetical device would be the follow-up were it ever to ship.

      The original was a bit of a weird machine, being an awkward uncomfortable joypad with a bad direction pad and just four of the Spectrum's original keys, to use the software for a machine that originally had a full(-ish) keyboard and no joystick port whatsoever. So as popular as the Spectrum may have been, it doesn't seem like turning a profit on a remake is all that easy.

      I've taken a punt on a Spectrum Next, which is an FPGA in a Spectrum-esque keyboard enclosure that comes configured as a Spectrum by default, but probably I've tricked myself into believing that it will have educational value but will just use it for a few games before forgetting about it. Which is one of the classic Spectrum use cases.

      1. Norman Nescio Bronze badge

        Re: Spectrum Next

        I've given you an upvote for that mention of the Spectrum Next

        It might be one of the few computers you might be able to buy that doesn't have an Intel ME, AMD Secure Processor (née PSP), or ARM TrustZone in it (unless you upgrade it with the Raspberry Pi Zero co-processor*).

        .

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        *Yes, really - "We added the option to add a Raspberry Pi Zero as a slave co-accelerator board, taking the Spectrum Next to a whole new level. In other words, with a Raspberry Pi Zero slotted into its place, the Spectrum Next can use the RPi memory, CPU and GPU to do its bidding" So an Z80-on-FPGA running at 28 Mhz with up to 2 MB RAM can have an RPi BCM2835 (ARM1176 (includes ARM TrustZone)) running at 1 GHz with 512 MB RAM as a co-processor. <Blink-with-raised-eybrows>

    3. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

      You might have come across the US version, the Timex Sinclair 2068, though it was never popular:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timex_Sinclair_2068

    4. defiler Silver badge

      This, and entirely this

      It would be nice to see it finally make it to market, but I think that ship has long sailed. They just seem to be a bunch of greedy vermin fighting over an ever-decreasing pool of money. I mean, are they actually operating a company with these funds? Because half a mill won't get you all that far when you start factoring in staff salaries and premises for 18 months.

      Shame really. I'll maybe dig out my GBA for some emulated Quazatron instead...

    5. Terry Barnes

      It was sold as a Timex in North America.

    6. AndersBreiner

      The Speccie is only popular because it was the first computer people had as a kid.

      Oh and admittedly a cheap machine with relatively dumb hardware and a relatively fast CPU meant that a lot of innovative games came out on it.

      I had an Atari 400 and then an 800xl back in the day. The 6502 made it pretty hard to use non hardware sprites and scrolling. And games that did use the hardware tended to look a bit samey. One notable exception was Donkey Kong which used a hardware sprite for the player and XOR based software sprites for the barrels.

      http://www.dadhacker.com/blog/?p=987

      Meanwhile on the Spectrum everything was done on software. And there were some heroic optimisation attempts to get a lot of onscreen action.

      Colors sucked on the Spectrum though - you could only have one foreground and one background color per 8x8 cell and the colors were R1G1B1 - i.e. red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow, white and black. The Atari had a weird scheme where you had 16 colours each in 16 luminances.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CTIA_and_GTIA#/media/File:Atari_8_bit_GTIA_NTSC_palette.png

      And you could do all sorts of weird overlays of hardware sprites, called players, and the background, called a playfield. And you could also switch video modes each scanline.

      Still a lot of Atari games used a couple of players on a rather low res but 4 color playfield which looked very generic. On the Spectrum if you ignored color you could do some pretty impressive bitmap based graphic animation in software.

      Basically the Ataris were expensive machines with very clever graphics hardware but a rather slow CPU - witness Landon Dyer's comment that 'mask and paint' with four software sprites was 'way too slow'. The Spectrum was a cheap machine with very dumb graphics hardware but a CPU which was fast enough to do clever stuff in software. It's sort of like CISC vs RISC.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Meanwhile on the Spectrum everything was done on software.

        Hey, what about FLASH? That's yer hardware-driven palette changing right there.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Are you sure that the Atari CPU was much slower than the Spectrum's?

        It was a 1.79 MHz 6502, only marginally slower than the BBC Micro's 6502 (2 GHz). The Spectrum had a 3.5 MHz Z80, but the architecture was different, so the clock speed couldn't be used to compare them directly. As far as I'm aware, the Atari's 6502 (at that speed) was broadly competitive with the Spectrum's Z80.

        The C64 *did* have a reputation for having a slow CPU, but its was clocked at just 1 GHz. (Although it had a 6510- an improved 6502- the improvements IIRC related to interfacing, not core performance, so the comparison is still legitimate(?))

        Didn't the majority of Atari 800 games use (disguised) character-based graphics anyway? (I think the C64 did this as well). The Spectrum used bitmaps AFAIK because it *only* had bitmapped graphics, whereas the Atari had a wide range of modes, both character-based (including multicolour 4 x 8 characters which were rarely used for "true" text) and bitmap-based.

        I don't know about Landon Dyer's comment, but perhaps he meant the technique was slow by Atari standards (where you could have very fast- if chunky and flat- hardware sprites aided by hardware scrolling) whereas on the Spectrum it wasn't considered slow even if it was(??) because that was the only way it could be done anyway(???)

        1. Anonymous C0ward

          A 2 GHz 6502?

          I can play Repton on really high detail now!

    7. Zippy's Sausage Factory

      I have a feeling it was branded as a "Timex" for the North American market. I know the ZX81 was and I have a vague recollection the Spectrum was as well, but I'm too lazy to go look it up.

    8. iron Silver badge

      It was probably known as a Timex. Both the ZX81 and Spectrum were sold in North America under the Timex brand.

    9. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "I'm surprised to see how popular the ZX Spectrum"

      It's part of the phenomenon that sees grown men buying second hand toy cars etc. because they once owned new ones.

    10. Cuddles Silver badge

      "You can tell you've hit critical mass when the website disappears, looks like that's today"

      That's what the article is about:

      "It appears that when Fogarty departed the company he disabled its website, allegedly over unpaid hosting fees or similar"

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, if everyone here in turn writes a letter to the police station local to RCLs offices, and then another letter to the local councils Trading Standards offices, and finally another letter to the Serious Fraud Office with the appropriate allegations and fraud suggestions, then they'll have a knock on the door in a weeks time and the books will be opened and everyone will end up knowing either way.

    Likewise, if anyone is owed more than 700 quid, just issue a winding up order.

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Likewise, if anyone is owed more than 700 quid, just issue a winding up order.

      Since this is crowdfunding, the company doesn't actually "owe" their backers anything (IANAL etc), which is why it is such a shit storm.

  9. Jonathon Green

    “The entire Retro Computers Limited story is a stain on the legacy of Sir Clive Sinclair and the joy that his computer products brought to millions over the years. ®”

    We covered this in the last thread on the Vega. Taking customers money for products which didn’t yet exist was pretty much Clive Sinclair’s business model, and as such is entirely in keeping with the legacy...

  10. DavCrav Silver badge

    "If they don’t intend to deliver, the authorities ought to look at what measures can be taken to fully reimburse those who gave money in good faith for a home entertainment product."

    I never understood this with crowdfunding. If people expect to get their money back if it all goes Pete Tong, what do they think the company they gave it to was using it for? I mean, if it just sits in a bank account ready to give back if it's a failure, then they obviously aren't using it to try to create the product, so they don't need it in the first place. Therefore, if it's a failure, you cannot get all your money back, maybe some at best.

    1. stephanh Silver badge

      People who understand crowdfunding do not "invest" in crowdfunding.

      But yeah, selling a few kidneys of the directors might still allow most "investors" to be refunded.

    2. Spartacus Mills

      answer:

      because there is a difference between (1) a genuine failure where the company makes an honest effort to bring the product to fruition, and (2) one where the product 'fails' because the company spends all the money on something else, while blatantly lying to their backers about the progress being made.

      the vast majority of crowdfunders in scenario (1) would not be asking for a refund. The Vega+ however is a case of scenario (2), and backers obviously feel entitled to their cash.

      1. DavCrav Silver badge

        Re: answer:

        "The Vega+ however is a case of scenario (2), and backers obviously feel entitled to their cash."

        Possibly, but they can only have what exists...

  11. MarkHowe

    So, Suzanne Martin/David Levy attempt to troll Paul Andrews over the C64 in their statement denying any trolling.

    They really are a despicable pair of clowns.

  12. adam payne Silver badge

    These people need to stop publicly fighting each other, blaming each other and do one of two things.

    1 - Just say they can't do it and refund as many people as possible with whatever they have left.

    2 - Get the system out the door.

  13. Jedipadawan

    What about the Spectrum Next?

    I was of the understanding that the real ZX Spectrum successor - the NEXT - was already running.

    http://www.specnext.com/

    As far as I can make out the Vega is pretty much redundant already.

    No?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: What about the Spectrum Next?

      They are different use cases, computer vs portable.

      However if you want a portable Speccy then a homebrewed Nintendo DS is probably the way to go, judging by how the Vega+ has turned into a steaming pile.

      Your post made me look at the Spectrum Next website again after several months and it appears they delievered a board to their kickstarter funders, will have board and cased versions in their online shop early next year, and also have real community. Now if only I had the time to waste, er, invest...

  14. VinceH Silver badge

    Note that their accounts are due to be submitted to Companies House by 30th December.

    Last year, they changed their accounting date forward by one day from 31st March to 30th March. I commented about this hereabouts earlier this year. At the time I wondered if it was to engage in some creativity and have a chunk of the crowd funding cash show up in the following financial year, but someone else pointed out that filing the relevant form pushes back the date the accounts are due by three months.

    So I wonder if the accounting date will change again before the end of this month?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Don't give 'em ideas...

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      Three months from the date you submit the form, so if they do decide to change the accounting date again, they will likely do it at the last possible minute, ie 29th December.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Theroux rescue

    Perhaps the best outcome would be for a independent volunteer to interview everyone on camera (or webcam) so they all get their say, assemble it into a unbiased factual production that all must sign off, then publish it online. Use the ad-money to pay off the debt, with any surplus going to charity. The working title could be "how not to do a retro computing project".

  16. OpinionsRus

    RCL need some overwatch.

    With over £500,000 of money,they say is still ringfenced, with all the in house fighting, isnt it time someone was brought in to get the job done.

    I think they underestimated the will of ZX Spectrum fans and are running out of ideas as to how to make their little problem go away.

    When asked to see the so called production taking place someone was refused. Maybe an independently assigned person should take a look at the real issues instead and then maybe something will be released.

    There are no anti RCL folk, the folk described are anti scam artists, who are not gulliable enough to get fobbed off with B.S.

    Here's hoping the vega+ is released.

  17. Spartacus Mills

    eh?

    up to very recently Lee Fogarty had spent this entire campaign zealously telling all Vega+ doubters sceptics and 'trolls' that they were going to end up with egg on their faces and that it was definitely going to be delivered.

    his sudden u-turn on RCL is bizarre and doesn't make any logical sense, if you've been following this soap opera.

  18. barbara.hudson
    Happy

    That's sic (sic)

    ... but not "sic" enough. "the The C64 and it's [sic] " should be "the The[sic] C64 and it's [sic]".

    Maybe they can issue their next public statement ransom-letter-style, using words cut out from newspapers (for a real retro look).

  19. jigr1969

    Wonder how long it took them to come up with the holding page for the website! :)

    view-source:https://retrocomputerslimited.com/

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Most recent archived version from late October at archive org:-

    https://web.archive.org/web/20171024031922/https://retrocomputerslimited.com/

  21. my farts clear the room
    Linux

    Give it up and build your own .....

    Game are selling a bluetooth/USB zx spectrum retro keyboard for £29.99, open the case and put a raspberry pi zero w in it (theres room for a full size raspberry Pi 3 if you have a dremel and a glue gun). Either plug cables in and trail them through the back of the case or get fancy with adapters and make it look pretty with fixed sockets on the back.

    The entire project can be done for less than £50.

    Put Batocera Linux on the microSD card. https://batocera-linux.xorhub.com

    Plenty to think about here: https://blog.hackster.io/a-beautiful-raspberry-pi-powered-zx-spectrum-489deb2020ab

    Job done.

    1. Absent

      Re: Give it up and build your own .....

      I just use it Bluetooth keyboard mode to control an emulator on an Android box.

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