Most of the exciting developments in emulation this month have continued to happen away from the PC (the Xbox, the Gameboy Advance and the GP32 are the really happening places for emulation at this precise moment in time), so Emu Zone thought it’d take a look backwards at one of the most interesting and quirky developments in the short history of the field, and one which we’d very much like to see revived one day – Spec256.

In a similar vein to EmuDX, which alert Emu Zone readers will recall from PCZ issue 119, Spec256 set out to do a little more than just replicate its target hardware – it set out to rewrite history the way it should have been in the first place.

Sir Clive Sinclair’s legendary ZX Spectrum was the most beloved computer ever found within the borders of Her Majesty’s United Kingdom, but even its most devoted admirers couldn’t help but wince at the machine’s primitive palette, which allowed only eight different colours to ever appear on the screen, and only two on any one character-sized block. This meant that a yellow sprite walking across a red-and-white background would either become red-and-white itself, or would spraypaint the scenery yellow as it passed, in an ugly blocky shape.

Speccy owners quickly became used to “colour clash”, and clever programmers learned ways to work around it and minimise the effects (while stupid programmers just made all their Spectrum games in monochrome and left it at that). But all the while, Sinclair users cast jealous glances at the otherwise-inferior machines that had none of the Speccy’s charm or vast, eclectic software library, but whose games didn’t look like a stop-frame movie of a drunken graffiti contest.

“If only”, they pined, “our adored rubber-keyed wonder had a beautiful 256-colour palette and multiple colours per character”. And a mere 17 years or so later... well, you get the idea.

Spec256 worked by imposing an interpretive layer between the Spectrum emulation and the actual game code, ensuring that the emulation itself was absolutely true to the original hardware, but could display the graphics in full 256-colours-no-clashing glory. Interpretation code had to be written for individual games, but the results, as you can hopefully see from the screenshots on this page, were stunning, lifting the humble Speccy to displays of visual prowess that easily rivalled later 16-bit machines of vastly greater power like the Amiga and Atari ST, and showed off the Speccy’s graphical sharpness to glorious effect.

Sadly, Spec256 fell into disrepair, and you’ll struggle to even run it on pernickety modern OSes like Windows XP. But for its HG Wells-esque glimpse of a world that might have been, it’s worth the effort.






Sabre Wulf: before

Sabre Wulf: after

Profanation: before

Profanation: after



Galactic (Amiga, 1993)

One of the first games your emulation correspondent ever covered in his professional games-journalism career was this one. Back in 1991, a Finnish coder by the name of Stavros Fasoulas, who’d made a reputation coding all-action C64 shoot-‘em-up games like Sanxion and Delta, moved across to the excitingly powerful new 16-bit Amiga. For a bit of a change, his first game for the machine was an all-action shoot-‘em-up, but rather than the standard spaceships’n’laserguns fare of his earlier work, he set out to create a strange and surreal game that fell into the little-explored middle ground between Williams’ cybernetic pyrotechnic nightmare Robotron and Taito’s cutesy umbrella-toter Parasol Stars.

Weird from the off, Galactic was so strange that its publisher couldn’t handle it and canned the game, where it remained, finished but unwanted, until the Amiga lay on its deathbed in Christmas 1993. At this point, a shining knight rode along, in the form of obscure minority-interest Amiga games mag The One, which bunged Stavros a few quid to tweak it up into a seasonal “special edition” and then gave the complete game away on the magazine’s coverdisk, to the unrestrained delight of the mag’s readers.

Sadly, everybody who didn’t read The One (which was nearly everybody) remained unblissfully ignorant of the joys of the game, so your joy should be unconcealed when you learn that a handful of diehard Amiga enthusiasts have disinterred the game from its coverdisc cemetery and transferred it to a file playable on Amiga emulators, where you – yes, YOU specifically – can now enjoy its baffling tormented-Santa-Claus-battles-rival-Santa-Claus-by-throwing-playing-cards-at-rampaging-hordes-of-tiny-elves-and-goblins-to-turn-them-into-fruit-and-ice-cream action. You know it makes sense.



(Left) The rummy game started a bit of a scuffle.


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