Apr 112015

Back in late 2014, Chris Wilkins approached me to write a “memoir” for his upcoming book, “The Story of the ZX Spectrum in Pixels: VOLUME 1.

The book, which launched in December 2014, was the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, and per Chris’s Fusionretrobooks.com site:

The book, ‘The Story of the ZX Spectrum in Pixels‘, is 236 pages in length and finished to the very same high standard adopted for ‘The History of Ocean Software‘ and ‘The Story of U.S. Gold‘ publications . The ‘ Sinclair’ logo on the front cover is embossed making the book a desirable addition to any gaming fan or book collector

The book is predominantly a visual journey charting the best games on the ZX Spectrum from 1982 onwards until the early 90’s. Each spread contains a large iconic image of the game and is accompanied by artwork from the inlay, the game’s advertisement where available and further game screens showing the loading screen, menu etc.

We have also interviewed over 19 programmers, artists and musicians to get their view on the Spectrum and how it helped launch their careers into gaming including Rick Dickinson, the man who designed the Sinclair range of computers.

It’s an excellent read (my contribution notwithstanding), and recommended to anyone interested in the retro gaming scene (and specifically the Sinclair ZX Spectrum). Volume 2 is now well underway and available for preorder, having again been successfully Kickstarted, and I’m personally looking forward to reading it!

To (possibly) whet your appetite, here’s an extract from my contribution to volume 1:

The next year, back home in Barnsley, I bought a 16K Sinclair ZX Spectrum and 13” black & white TV, total price £200 in 1983 money from WH Smiths, with a lot of help from my Mum. My early recollections, upon acquiring the Spectrum, are spending hours and hours loading and exploring the Horizons tape, and then playing Manic Miner, Lunar Jetman and then later Atic Atac. I bought the Spectrum primarily due to my interest in electronic music, but pretty soon I was trying to figure out how to make games in Z80. I remember disassembling Time Gate by Quicksilver, and the minor epiphany when I finally understood LDIR for block byte copies. Thanks John Hollis!


 Posted by at 12:18 am
Aug 252013

A couple of items of trivia about the music in “Jet Set Willy: The Final Frontier” for Amstrad CPC.

Title Screen Music

The title screen music is of course Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I wrote the music player for the game, and sourced the actual music data from the C64 version of the game (which had a nice 3 channel rendition of the tune). Since I never had any contact with the programmer of the C64 version of the game, I sat down one (long) night (while housemates Stoo and Marc went down the pub) with a hex dump utility, a pre-release copy of the C64 game, and a Casio MT30 keyboard (I loved that keyboard!). I spent hours poring over the hex data looking for a byte sequence that resembled the distinctive triplet that begins the Moonlight Sonata, playing the note offsets on the MT30. Eventually, I found the right sequence of bytes, for all three audio channels (and figured out how note duration was encoded), and dumped the data over to the Amstrad. After hours of monkeying around, I eventually had the whole tune playing (in full three-channel, square wave glory on the Amstrad CPC’s General Instrument AY-3-8912 sound chip)!

It turned out … OK, here’s a rendition courtesy of a dedicated YouTuber:

In-Game Music

The in-game music for the original Spectrum version of Jet Set Willy was “If I Were A Rich Man” from the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”. For whatever reason (word had it that publisher Software Projects ran into rights issues), new music was needed and so I came up with a catchy (if not … repetitive) little ditty, composed 2-finger style (and transposed by hand) on my trusty MT30. This tune (which was the first original music I had written for a game) can be heard here (again courtesy of a dedicated YouTuber):

This (untitled) tune is a 2-channel composition, so that the third sound channel on the Amstrad CPC’s AY sound chip could be used for game sound effects.

 Posted by at 9:30 pm
Aug 242013

I haven’t been active around here for a bit, but I felt motivated to write after reading Julian Wiseman’s “Jet Set Willy 2” page, and exchanging correspondance with Julian.

I’ve previously provided detailed commentary on the development of the JSW2 game for that site. While I’m not credited in JSW2 for the Sinclair Spectrum, that game does contain code, art and design contributions from me – JSW2 is basically a backport of the Amstrad CPC version of Jet Set Willy developed by Derrick P. Rowson and myself. During development of the game we basically doubled the number of rooms in the game, which was released on the CPC as Jet Set Willy: The Final Frontier (because of the multiple Star Trek references contained in additional sections of the game added by Derrick and myself). I left Software Projects after completing the CPC version, whereupon Derrick did the port back to the Spectrum. In the absence of further post-JSW output from Matthew Smith, relabeling the backport of the Amstrad game must have been financially attractive for Software Projects. From what I can gather from some light Googling, the CPC release was eventually renamed to Jet Set Willy II: The Final Frontier (original release did not have the II designation), and then another version of the game called simply Jet Set Willy was released. That version had all the additional rooms removed. If anyone can confirm or deny the accuracy of this info I’ll update this post to reflect that.

Derrick’s latest notes on Julian’s site add color to, and in some cases differ from, info that I’ve previously given. It has been a long time, and nobody has infallible memory, but I’ve taken the liberty of providing responses here to some of Derrick’s recent comments.

The Sewers. The Sewers were not inspired by Holt Road. Their inspiration was just Victorian sewers. The layout of the screens shows that above the cold store is the swimming pool. I concluded that in order to empty the pool would need a drainage system going to the river. e.g. the sewage system. The first few screen were already drawn by me before Steve saw them. He then mentioned they reminded him of HOLT ROAD and thus the addition of Holt road. Since I had never visited Holt road and was not actually aware of the train station nearby, I can conclusively state that Holt road was not the inspiration.

As to the inspiration for “The Sewers”, there are shades of grey here. Derrick may well have created the initial sewer screens, and the reasoning Derrick provides is logical (in that the room layout makes sense). So, perhaps I was reminded of Holt Road and environs by some initial screens done by Derrick. That said, I clearly remember developing several of the rooms in that area, amongst them the Holt Road screen, which was obviously one of the inspirations for me personally.

Below is an image of Green Lane train station in Birkenhead, where I would catch the train to work each day while working on Jet Set Willy. Green Lane is at the bottom of Holt Road and with its Victorian era red stone arches is reminiscent of screens in The Sewers.

Service to Liverpool, Green Lane Station, Birkenhead (El Pollock) / CC BY-SA 2.0

When I rewrote the various Amstrad versions of the game, I added an additional two letters to the cheat code. Making the OFFICIAL cheat code to be “HIEMMRAIDNAPRRRTT”. This cheat code works on both JSW1 and JSW2 on the Amstrad.

Interesting because I recall the “HI” addition to the cheat code during my time working on the game

Hackers and crackers have destroyed the way the cartography room works on most of the versions I have seen recently. By not understanding what the data for the cartography does, they have allowed this data to be corrupted or even removed. This means on all the Amstrad versions I have played on emulators the cheat code cannot find and draw the proper rooms. (shame)

Ironic indeed.


I made a passing comment on “attribute clash” on JSW2 for the Spectrum. In JSW1, Willy always takes on the color of either the background (typically), or of moving enemies should he overlap their attribute extents (you would usually, but not always, die when that happens). In JSW2, I notice that moving enemies appear to take on Willy’s white color in those cases. In fact, there seems to be some sort of color fighting happening.

Much of this is nit-picky stuff and I don’t often get motivated to speak up about such things. In this case, the development of the Amstrad CPC ports of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy was a formative period for me, and so the subject is near and dear to my heart.

Derrick, if you’re out there and you are reading this I would love to hear from you!

 Posted by at 12:35 am