The 20th Century’s Most Impossible Challenges

Spectrum 48k

High level diplomacy; averting natural disaster; political chess games with some of history’s most crackpot minds, these pale into comparison with the most troublesome challenges faced by Mankind in the 20th Century – 95% of all games released on the ZX Spectrum.

Released in 1982, Sir Clive Sinclair’s 48k machine could be purchased for £175, the equivalent of an alarming £621.70 in 2020 prices. Little could the unsuspecting public realise that the dent in put in their savings would be nothing compared to the anguish and torture the software would do to their minds. From the brutal agony of setting your cassette recording to just the right pitch so as to allow the game to load. I haven’t the slightest idea why the volume would have any effect on such matters but by Christ it did – microscopic turns of the volume wheel were required to find the exact golden spot that would allow the game to even think about loading. If you were lucky, you’d know instantly but more likely you had to wait the 4 minutes or 10 minutes for the grating “krrrrrrr-ba-dong-ba-dong” noises to complete before seeing white characters cascade to the bottom of your screen and the blackness give way to the grey landscape of the Sinclair copyright message. Imagine the hours and days you have wasted achieving nothing but this. Imagine.

With a fair wind and infinite lives, you may have achieved nirvana and got the game to work. Bad Luck. You now face a purgatory of almost exquisitely impossible tasks rendered, perversely, in cyan and magenta, colours now outlawed by EU Convention. Manic Miner, a game heralded by a fanfare of chords summoned from the Pit itself, would present puzzles less tolerable than a lifetime of paper-cuts, requiring the timing and precision of a NASA valet, where ‘pixel perfect’ meant exactly that – if you didn’t pick exactly the dot necessary to launch your onscreen character, you were starting again. And when I say starting again, on the whole, that was exactly what was necessary with Spectrum games, given that saving your progress was not on the cards. Maybe you’d be lucky and the game would crash apropos of nothing, or the lead at the back would come loose. The unfairness of life was learned as quick in mid-eighties bedrooms as it was in the trenches*

[*probably]

The age of YouTube means you can now revisit these games and what someone else lose their self-respect and will to live. The most revealing thing is to see how short these games actually were if you were some kind of mentalist genius. Twenty screens maybe? Getting on the fourth level felt like you were tip-toeing across girders several hundred feet in the air at the time. It goes without saying that the effort wasn’t even worth it. Atic Atac (I don’t understand the misspelling) was one of the great early games, seeing you choose the character of either a wizard, knight or serf (a serf!) and exploring a seemingly endless series of almost identical rooms looking to assemble a key. I never completed it, obviously, as I am a normal human being but here’s the prize of your labours.

Congratulationt

On the next edition of Beyond the Pale, we celebrate the lost hours spent on these inventions of Belial, a whole hour and a half of music from and inspired by these infernal works. A time to mourn and console loved ones who faced the very worst of the 20th Century.

Beyond the Pale – Maestro Sir Clive Edition

Tuesdays at 8pm and Sundays at 10pm on Trigger Warning

  • The Spectrum Works – Prelude
  • Matthew Smith – Manic Miner
  • ZX Spectrum Orchestra – C5
  • David Whittaker – BMX Freestyle Simulator
  • David Whittaker – Combat School
  • David Whittaker & Allister Brimble – Glider Rider
  • ZX Spectrum Orchestra – Beepulator
  • David Whittaker – Super Robin Hood
  • Rob Hubbard & Allister Brimble – Saboteur II
  • Tim Follin & Allister Brimble – Agent-X
  • David Whittaker & Allister Brimble – Stormbringer
  • Jonathan Dunn – Chase HQ
  • Jonathan Dunn & Allister Brimble – Robocop
  • David Whittaker & Allister Brimble – Beyond the Ice Palace
  • Lyndon Sharp – Tilt
  • David Whittaker & Allister Brimble – Savage
  • Matthew Cannon – Adidas Championship Football
  • Rob Hubbard & Allister Brimble – Hydrofool
  • Tim Follin & Allister Brimble – Chronos
  • Sean Conran – Atom Ant
  • Pennsoft & Allister Brimble – Fairlight
  • Sonic Graffiti & Andy Severn – Joe Blade III
  • The Spectrum Works – Finale
  • Martin Galway – Cobra
  • Ben Daglish – Death Wish III (128k)
  • David Whittaker – Fruit Machine Simulator
  • Matthew Smith – Jet Set Willy II
  • Unknown – Knight Lore
  • Jas C. Brooke – Outrun (Splash Wave, 128k)
  • Unknown – Sweevo’s World
  • Gari Biasillo – Target Renegade (Level Four, 128k)
  • Julian Breeze – Thanatos (128k)
  • Unknown – The Great Escape
  • David Dunn – Trap Door
  • David Whittaker – Zub

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