PCZ ISSUE 129 - JUNE 2003



As time marches on (viable gaming emulation has been with us for close to a decade now) and achievements mount up, it’s getting harder and harder for would-be emu coders to find something to emulate that hasn’t already been done. It’s probably safe to say, though, that Russell Marks has pulled off something that, if not for him, would almost certainly never have been thought of by anyone else. It the short but seminal lifespan of Sir Clive Sinclair’s groundbreaking ZX81, arguably the machine’s greatest weakness (despite the stiff competition from blocky black-and-white graphics and a “touch sensitive” keyboard made from dead flesh) was its total lack of sound.

Quicksilva, a major publisher of the 8-bit era, attempted to address this problem with a hardware peripheral that plugged into the back of the 81 and supplied pretty decent sonic capabilities (they were actually better than the ones which would later be built in to the Spectrum) for games which supported the facility. To the best of Emu Zone’s knowlede, though, there was only ever one such game (coincidentally, a figure which more or less tallies with the number of people who ever bought the QS Sound Board.) – Quicksilva’s own QS Defenda, a simplistic interpretation of the similarly-titled Williams arcade classic. Marks didn’t let this extremely niche market put him off, though, and in the heroic spirit of rescuing the history that the games industry would let die forever, set about emulating the system.

To make things even trickier, the plucky coder realised that the only way to get the game fully emulated with the sound was actually to write an emulator for it piggybacked on the shoulders of another emulator. For technical reasons that Emu Zone will leave to the game’s built-in documentation, the system could only be properly emulated via the Spectrum 128, Sinclair’s fairly successful upgrade of the original Speccy which featured the popular AY3-8912 sound chip (as also seen in the QS Sound Board) in place of the Speccy’s primitive beeper.

 So the intrepid author created a single piece of code which contained the game, documentation and inbuilt emulation of not one but two separate pieces of hardware, and could be loaded like a normal tape file into Speccy emulators like Spectaculator. (And, indeed, should also work should you load it into a real Spectrum 128, making it the first emulator to run on the long-dead machine. Now THAT’S what Emu Zone calls retro.)

The game, it probably goes without saying, is a bit rubbish. (Marks has also ported a couple of other ZX81 titles to the Speccy, including the classic 3D Monster Maze and the rare official Sega conversion of Frogger, but none involving fancy extra hardware.) But the sheer love in resurrecting something that so few people have even heard of, never mind experienced, is exactly what makes emulation such a heart-warming part of gaming to be involved with, and Emulation Zone takes off its fanciest hat and tips it lavishly in Russell Marks’ direction.


Emu Zone’s kind of title screen.

Attack Of The Deadly "=" Signs.

Very early 3D perspective in Frogger.







MANIC MINER (ZX81, 1999)

1999? Surely some mistake? But, in fact, no. While Emu Zone is saluting the mighty monochrome marvel that was the ZX81, we can’t help but shed a silent tear for the premature end that the machine met after just a couple of years of life, as the all-colour, all high-res, all-sound antics of the Spectrum cut the 81 off in its prime, just as coders were starting to make it do incredible things. The greatest of these was the implementation of high-resolution graphics, something the 81 was never designed to do (its native resolution was a stunning 22x32 huge square pixels).

A couple of simple but quite successful commercial games were released using the technique by a company called Software Farm, but the advent of the Speccy killed the 81-focussed firm off. Even more impressively, though, one keen coder subsequently showed off just what the ZX81 could have done by converting 11 of the 20 levels of Speccy classic Manic Miner to the little machine (in what appears to be Polish, or possibly Czechoslovakian). Emu Zone is only sad that it didn’t support the QS Sound Board too.



(Left) Emu Zone Polish (Or Possibly Czechoslovakian) For Beginners #1 – “Eugene’s Lair”


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