JULIAN RIGNALL, for it is he, puts down the joystick attached at his Commodore 64, wanders into the CRASH office and has a quick look at the games we’ve received for the 128K Spectrum. Between thee and me, he ended up well impressed — a diehard Commie 64 man, Jaz left the office muttering about buying the new Spectrum. Can’t be bad news for Sinclair, that...
Hmmmm, a Spectrum with added bits? What would they be? I wondered. Wheels, a bit of whoosh, twiddly things? Nope, none of these — just extra RAM and an on-board hot plate to keep your coffee warm as you bash the baddies through the night. Well, it’s not really a hot plate but it doesn’t half act like one. Anyway, what do these extra features mean to yer average gameplayer on the street?
Two 128 games are given away with the computer: Daley Thompson’s Supertest and The Neverending Story. Daleys appeared on the Spectrum some time ago, and the original game had eight events which were loaded in two parts. The new 128 version has an extra four events: the javelin, 100m sprint, 110m hurdles and the triple jump along with the eight others and they’re all loaded in a single go, making the game more jolly and varied to play. Ocean have also made use of the 128’s three-channel sound capability: excellent music accompanies the title screen and jingles play before and after each event. The whole game is far better than the 48K original and is a great freebie!
The other game in the package is the official adventure of the film The Neverending Story. Again, the original version was a multiloader, although this time the game came in four chunks. The 128 version is another single load program, which makes it far more enjoyable to play. Again it’s free, so you can’t really complain.
Moving on to the 128 games you’ll have to pay money for, Hewson’s take the prize for releasing the very first 128K game — Technician Ted — The Megamix. Technician Ted 48K first appeared early last year, earning a CRASH SMASH for programmers Steve Marsden and David Cooke. What Hewson have done is taken the original torturous platform arcade adventure and expanded it, making it twice as big — now there are over 100 different screens and thirty tasks to complete. AAAAAAGGGH you might say, those lousy sadists... the original Tech Ted was bad enough!! The gameplay is radically different and the whole program has been ‘tweaked’ to take advantage of the new machine’s capabilities.
But don’t fret poor things, each of the tasks has now been numbered so at least you know which task you’re supposed to tackle next; the only problem is finding out how you complete them. Three channel music adds extra atmosphere to the game as you whizz around the factory. A special mention must go to the loader — it tells a story whilst the game loads and the music is superbly done. £7.95 buys you this piece of arcade adventuring action, only £2 more than the 48K original.
Gargoyle Games have also taken a tentative leap upon the 128 bandwagon and whizzed out Sweevo’s Whirled (sic) which is available for £9.95 — no increase. Capturing all those horrible Wijurs has now been made an even more difficult task with an extra fifty rooms to confuse and confound all you budding androids. There are some new images too — ginormous noses stick up through the floor (but luckily there are no huge bogeys to foul up our intrepid android’s workings), fingers which make strange indecipherable (LMLWD) signs and there is also a curious lamppost... I don’t know what it does because I haven’t seen the light (laugh, you philistines). Obviously there are no musicians at Gargoyle because there is no three channel sound, but the tune does sound better because it comes through the telly.
Odin’s Robin of the Wood and Nodes of Yesod have been souped up and join the handful of titles currently available for the 128K machine. The game elements and playing area of both 128 versions are unchanged but they now feature excellent music (as good as the Commodore any day, believe me ’cos I’m a horrible ZZAP! reviewer). Also, a nice surprise awaits you... both programs talk. Yup, they do, and it’s not too bad — a lot better than the dalek with laryngitis that the old Spectrums used to burble out. 128 owners can hear Robin shouting “OW” when he gets an arrow in a painful place, and “give me a chance!!” a few seconds before he shuffles off this mortal coil. The game welcomes the player by saying “Can you help Robin in his quest for the silver arrow” upon loading — real arcade stuff!
Nodes follows a similar path on the 128, with Champagne Charlie moaning and groaning as he trundles round the moon’s underground caverns in his search for alchiems. You’re also told when his life energy is running low, just in case you don’t notice... wheee! Arc of Yesod is expected in the office any day now, and includes the fire option that was missing from the 48K version which should make it much more fun to play. Once again Odin have kept pretty much to the same game, but enhanced the product with speech and music. Odin are selling their 128 games for £9.95 — the same price charged for the originals.
Mikro-Gen’s game Three Weeks in Paradise, which collected a CRASH Smash in its 48K incarnation last month, has been extended for the new machine and costs a pound extra, making it £10.95. The plot has grown a little, so completing the 128 game involves a lot more adventuring. Six new screens have been patched on to the game (go through the plug to find them). Some three channel music kicks the game off, otherwise the sound is much the same.
Fighting fans will no doubt be pleased to hear that Domark have added a pound to the price of Gladiator for the 128, making it £9.95. For the extra pennies you get two different graphics for the combatants — in the original version both gladiators were identical except for their weapons. Sound hasn’t been upgraded a great deal — a sort of fairground tune plays on the menu screen and after a gladiator has been killed, and bopping noises indicate a hit on your opponent. One, two or four people can play the 128 version which includes ten new screens and a fairly polished demo mode. Essentially, however, the gameplay remains the same.
Meanwhile, our resident Musical expert, JON BATES managed to take a look at the capabilities of the sound chip nestling within the 128 machine. Next month he should be able to report back on the MIDI interface — Sinclair Research couldn’t get a lead together for Jon in time for this issue, and he didn’t fancy dabbing round inside the computer with a soldering iron. It’s the only Spectrum 128 we have and Simon Goodwin hasn’t had a go on it for TECH TIPS yet...
Not before time, Sinclair has included a sound chip in one of his computers. Clive and the boys opted for the well tried and tested General Instrument Chip: the AY-3-8921A. The chip in itself has three variable frequency tone generators, one variable noise generator, one envelope waveform generator and three volume level control circuits. The 128 comes complete with a set of instructions that make it pretty easy to program from a musical point of view.
As explained in our first quick look at the 128 by Franco the Frey, music is created in the form of sound strings. A LET statement enables a sound string to be set up. The string not only names the notes and their octave but also contains information as to the length of of each note by prefixing a number. Any one, or all three strings can be performed by using a PLAY command. If you’ve brushed up on the old crochets and quavers notation, this system presents no problems, but I have visions of would-be Vangeli (Vangelises?) sat in front of their shiny new computers with the Sinclair conversion table in one hand and a book on music theory in the other.
The range of notes available is good, covering a seven octaves range. Someone had the foresight to overlap the octaves: the same note appears in the upper part of one range and the lower part of another. This saves lots of messing about, as most tunes cover more than one octave. The upper octave is set by capital letters C-B and the lower by c-b. Sharps and flats are achieved by $ and £, rests by &. The actual duration of each note is specific, and the system has been comprehensively thought out.
The music defaults to the average speed of 120 beats per minute but changes in the speed of playback from 60-240 bpm can be specified on channel A. Each or all of the three channels of sound can be replaced with channels of noise. A command M followed by a number that is the sum of the required channels will give you any combination of noise and notes.
Any phrase can be repeated. Using ( ), a phrase can be repeated once, using )) it will repeat indefinitely, only stopping on the command H. When composing, I found the best bet was to use the repeated phrase for a bass pattern, perhaps, putting the H command at the end of the melody line. It would have been far more useful if a number of repeats could be specified — thus giving the possibility of more complex music.
The ‘envelope’ is a volume shaper for either notes or sound, and the eight sound shapes give a reasonable variety of effects. The speed of the effect — that is the rate of change — is very precisely controlled from 0 to 65535 (perhaps a little too precisely!). The volume for each channel can be set from 0 (off) to 15 (full on), although anything below 10 is not too effective.
Generally, the sound capability of the new machine is basic but a big improvement over the beeps of its 16 and 48K cousins. Unfortunately, the system is aimed at the musically literate and is therefore not so good for the amateur or inept.
The AY-3-8912A chip suffers from a lack of tonal variety, and I am surprised that Sinclair chose to use it. After all, it has been around a long time and this could have been an opportunity to use a better form of sound generation. Still there we are. I look forward to programs that will sidestep the PLAY command and address the chip directly, but until then, here’s a short program that renders a passable version of Ghostbusters by way of illustration. Next month I’ll look at the 128’s MIDI capabilities — just as soon as Sinclair send us a connected lead.
The Jon Bates Short Version copyright 1986
10 LET a$ = "M14UX400W0N1C))" 20 LET b$ = "M14O5N9&&3&1CC3ECD$b5&&1cccc3$bD5C))" 30 LET c$ = "M14O3N1c&c&$eeg&$b&$b&f&f&))" 40 PLAY a$,b$,c$
The Zeros in this listing have a slash through them, while the letter ‘0’ does not — just in case you have problems!
So what’s in the pipeline? Can we expect some amazing new games for the 128 in the near future? GRAEME KIDD ponders the industry’s reaction to the new machine.
The leaflet that accompanies the two free games found in the box containing every Spectrum 128 promises a host of games, all of which it implies are available now. A little ‘disclaimer’ reminds you not to pester Sinclair Research if you can’t get hold of any of the products that are advertised.
Some of the games are listed as 128/48 games, while others appear as 128 only games. Quite a portfolio of worthy Software Names has been gathered together by Sinclair to appear in the software catalogue, but now, nearly a month after the launch, only a handful of the promised titles have actually materialised. Developing software for the new machine has involved companies in a fair amount of work — and has resulted in the delay of 48K games in at least one instance. It’s anybody’s guess how long it will be before all the games in Sinclair’s catalogue appear. And are there any releases planned that don’t get a mention in the 128 leaflet? We haven’t heard of any....
The reaction to the new machine from software companies at the launch and in subsequent conversations has been mixed. Some of the firms which have already released 128K games have no plans to work on any more 128 releases until they see what actually happens to the machine, while others simply don’t want to know about the improved capabilities of the 128, preferring to remain in the markets they are already happy with.
“We won’t be writing specifically for the 128 machine until Sinclair has proved that the product has gone out into the market and we can see that there is a market for 128 games. We are happy to continue on the 48K machine, using multi load programs if need be.” was one reaction. Another leading company with one game listed in the Sinclair leaflet has no firm plans for the 128 in the future: “we don’t want to revamp our 48K catalogue — we’d rather do 128 programs and then produce 48K versions of them, but at the moment we have no more 128 releases planned.”
Only time will tell quite what the new machine will offer in terms of more complex games. Technically, some games will benefit from more detailed animation, others will take advantage of the vastly improved sound capabilities of the new machine and some programs may be coaxed into running rather faster in 128K. Naturally, multiloads should become a thing of the past for a while at least, until really ginormous games are created. So far, we’ve not seen anything astounding, though.
Rushing out to buy a 128 machine right now won’t open up a whole new world of games playing immediately — unless you’ve never owned a Spectrum. There’s nothing completely new and original available for the 128, yet, although 48K games sound much better when the 128 puts the BEEPS through your telly. So if you are thinking about upgrading from your trusty 48K machine, the best advice is to hang on in there for a while, and see what happens. Playing remixes of games you’ve already had a good go at is probably not going to be all that rewarding.