Alan Sugar talks tough on the Spectrum as SIMON N GOODWIN makes a circuit of the show’s hardware
CHEETAH had three new products for Spectrum-users at The PCW Show; the most interesting, from the gamester’s point of view, was the 125 Special joystick. This looks deceptively similar to the old 125+ (which Cheetah claims is the UK’s top-selling joystick), apart from the fact that it has two separate cables to connect it to the computer.
Joysticks have differed in their feel and robustness, but up till now the basic functions have stayed the same. On most joysticks you can move the stick in eight compass directions and press one or two fire buttons, but that’s all. Games have had to be simplified to work with those controls, complicated to use them in combination, or kludged to use a mixture of joystick and keys that is hardly ever satisfactory.
The 125 Special changes all that. It gives you ten different controls. The extra cable from the Special must be plugged into a second joystick socket — as on the Spectrum +2 and +3 — to give the stick its extra control.
The Special has no less than FOUR fire buttons, each of which can control a different action — there could be one button for each of three weapons, say, and one to pick up or drop things. This gets around the biggest problem of playing games with a joystick: the need to reach for the keyboard whenever something unusual must be done.
You can also control things by twisting the stick, as well as by moving it in the usual way. For instance, you can send a commando running in one direction by pushing the stick, simultaneously turning the upper part of his body to fire in another direction. Likewise, you can control the turret and the base of a tank independently, and fly a simulator much more easily. In conjunction with the extra fire buttons, the twist grip makes the 125 Special more responsive than a normal stick.
The 125 Special costs £12.99, and comes in two versions: one with scrambled connections for the Amstrad Spectrums, and one for use with twin-port interfaces such as Interface 2. Single-port interfaces, and ones that use more than one standard (such as Kempston and Cursor), are unlikely to work with the 125 Special.
The new joystick has two extra switches to control automatic repeat firing, and works as a normal stick if you only plug in one lead. It uses ‘rugged long life contacts’ — not microswitches — but comes with a 12-month guarantee, which is encouraging.
In the long run Cheetah will only do well with this joystick if software producers can be persuaded to write games that take advantage of its unique features. There was nothing like that at The PCW Show, though a compatible game from Ocean was just ‘not quite ready’ (haven’t we heard that before?!).
Cheetah boss Howard Jacobson says he’s spoken to lots of software houses about the new stick and got an enthusiastic response. Time will tell.
Amstrad boss Alan Sugar came clean to Computer Trade Weekly at the show about his expectations for the new Spectrum, admitting that the +3 had always been intended to sell at £199 — it was reduced to that price from £249 on the first day of the show, as predicted here in July. He also said, encouragingly, that the +3 is not necessarily the last Spectrum.
With his usual bluntness, Sugar revealed that the £249 launch price was just intended to fleece enthusiasts who’d pay any money for a new Spectrum, and to make it easier for dealers to sell the machine at ‘£50 off’ this winter. Come back Uncle Clive, all is forgiven!
The +3 disk drive has attracted lots of interest from utility programmers. Trojan, the light-pen people, have picked up the rights to Myrmidon’s word processor The Last Word and converted it to run on the +3 as well as on earlier Spectrums.
HiSoft was the first with an assembler for the +3, and has followed the £20 disk version of DevPack with much-improved compilers for Pascal, C and ZX BASIC on the +3. At long last HiSoft’s Pascal and C compilers (£35 and £9 respectively) have been converted to handle disk files, both for programs and for data.
The new version of HiSoft BASIC, the fastest Spectrum BASIC compiler, goes one better than +3 BASIC because it supports OPEN and CLOSE for disk files. For some reason these commands weren’t supported by the BASIC interpreter built into the new machine, but you can now use them in compiled programs of up to 40K, and compiled code will run on any version of the Spectrum. HiSoft BASIC costs £29.
Sir Clive Sinclair’s Cambridge Computer stand, ironically next to the Amstrad stand in the main hall, was noticeably busier than the Amstrad/Sinclair area on the trade days. The first adventure game for the Z88 laptop was announced at the show, but there’s not much prospect of shoot-’em-ups on its eight-line LCD display. (That adventure game is Old Scores, from a new company which hopes to call itself London Logic and also plans to develop more Z88 software.
Kempston made its name in the early days of the Spectrum, churning out cheap and cheerful joystick interfaces. Now Kempston has turned to mice — or rather mouse interfaces — that let you control programs like Rainbird’s OCP Art Studio and The Edge’s The Artist 2 by rolling a little plastic box across the top of your desk.
At the show Kempston revealed the logical add-on to its mouse interface: a ‘desktop’ package for the Spectrum +3, similar in appearance to the GEM (graphics environmental manager) system for big Amstrads and Atari STs.
Kempston’s Desktop lets you control the +3 by pointing at pictures on the screen, and includes all the usual features: file management, a calculator, digital clock, and a simple text-editor notebook, with options to cut and paste text from place to place. The +3 Desktop package costs £70 with the mouse, or £25 for the software alone.