Speccy Nation - Dan Whitehead

Subtitled "A tribute to the golden age of British gaming", this was an excellent Christmas present. We opened our presents rather slowly this year, and somewhat strangely I actually added this book to my Amazon wish list between Christmas and opening this book! So, it's something of a sign that this was a good present...

This book is a set of reviews of ZX Spectrum games. They're pretty interesting reviews, since they try to emphasise how the games fit into the socio-political climate of the '80s. How could it not, with games like Jet Set Willy, Flunky and Trashman?

Spectrum games are memorable for a number of reasons, and varied immensely over the platform's short commercial lifetime. The book reflects this, being divided into sections - "The Classics", "The Pioneers", "The Greats", "The Dark Horses" and "Never Again". It concentrates on Spectrum-y games, with less emphasis on the more cross-platform games, instead finding the things that were distinctly Spectrumy. The book acknowledges that the Spectrum was, frankly, a fairly rubbish machine, but these restrictions lead to great creativity.

The overall thesis of the book is that the period was a very experimental time, producing games the likes of which we won't see again from a commercial publisher. They were experimental from various angles, from game mechanics through subject matter, as the games industry hadn't settled down, and the Spectrum put a very British lens on all this.

Strangely, the barrier to entry for writing computer games has never been lower - super-powerful computers means that you don't need strong programming skills to develop games (as anyone with a child playing around with Scratch can tell you). There is, once again, a vibrant indie games scene. There's experimentation still, but nothing as insane as in the '80s, and, well, it's all a bit more American these days. Still, it's fun to compare the indie of today with that of thirty years ago.

Back to this book, though. It's a fairly slim volume, independently published, and does have a very DIY feel to it. There's not a huge amount of content to it, but certainly enough to inspire you for many hours of retro-gaming.

Posted 2016-01-01.