Archive for April, 2007

Sinclair ZX Spectrum is 25 years old

April 26th, 2007

Sinclair ZX SpectrumI came across this article from BBC News about the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and how it is now 25 years old. The Spectrum was an affordable home computer popular in the UK and Ireland in the days before PCs came to dominate. You hooked it up to your TV in a similar way to today’s game consoles. It came with 48KB of memory, an 8-bit Z80 processor, and a built-in BASIC interpreter. It had 16 colours, sound, and eventually had a large library of games which you would load from cassette tapes. It was brilliant :)

Friends of my family had a son that got a Sinclair ZX-81 – the precursor to the Spectrum. This had a whole 1KB of memory, a flat membrane keyboard, and the built-in BASIC interpreter so you could type in programs line by line. I got my own ZX-81 soon thereafter, and cut my programming teeth on it with the help of the simple programs provided in the manual. When the Spectrum came out a short while later, I just had to get it. I can still remember the smell of it when I took it out of it’s box :)

It’s hard to over-estimate the impact of the Spectrum – not just on me, but on the UK computer game industry. The Spectrum was as much about creating the games as playing them with it’s focus on programming. The manual was a good primer on BASIC, and once that was mastered you could delve into the depths of Z80 machine code programming. Magazines would publish games that readers had sent in – often requiring you to type in lines & lines of machine code instructions in hex, and if you got one wrong it would crash when you went to run it, and you would have to start typing it in all over again (unless you were smart and had saved the code to tape first!). It’s funny to think that I owe my livelihood in a large part to the same programming language I began with over 25 years ago :)

As for the gaming side of things, my adolescence was filled with time spent battering that rubber keyboard attempting to make Daley Thompson run a bit quicker to win the decathalon, cheering on tiny stick men that played out the highlights of matches in Football Manager as I made my way up the divisions, and fought and traded my way across the galaxy in Elite – still one of my favourite games ever! There were many, many more games, some of them not so good. But the good ones were typically really good. I think this was because the limits of the machine meant that there wasn’t flashy graphics and 5.1 surround sound, so gameplay was really important. None of the games could look so good that it didn’t matter so much if it was crap to play.

And now, the legacy of the Spectrum lives on. Rare, the studio that has created games such as Goldeneye 007 for the N64, and Viva Pinata for the XBox 360 (and many more) began life creating some of the best Spectrum games. Founded in 1982 by the Stamper brothers, it went on to create chart toppers for the Spectrum throughout the 80s, and followed those up with games for various Nintendo platforms, before being acquired by Microsoft in 2002 for US$377 million. Earlier this year, the Stampers announced they were leaving Rare to pursue other interests.

And now, the circle is complete. You can now download an updated version of Rare’s first Spectrum game Jetpac as a XBox Live Arcade game Jetpac Refuelled. It includes the original game, as well as a new HDified version with 128 levels. I had to buy it, and it brought back memories of trying to get a big enough score to send in to CRASH magazine by sellotaping down the fire key and positioning my spaceman in just the right place on one of the levels where he was safe, but would continue to kill the aliens – while I went downstairs for dinner :)

All this, from a small black box with rubber keys.

Dein resigns from Arsenal board amid takeover speculation

April 20th, 2007

On Wednesday David Dein resigned from the Arsenal board, citing “irreconcilable differences” with the rest of the board. The remaining board members, led by chairman Peter Hill-Wood, have entered an agreement not to sell their shares in the club for at lest 12 months, and have reassured fans that there is a strong relationship between the remaining board members and Arsene Wenger.

It seems that the main reason for Dein’s decision to leave relates to recent share purchase activity by Stan Kroenke, the US billionaire. Kroenke recently purchased ITV’s 9.9% stake in the club, and has been purchasing small amounts of shares that have come onto the market so that he now holds around 11% of the club. Dein appears to be sympathetic to Kroenke’s apparent wish to at least invest in the club, and seems to have fallen out with the rest of the board over this. Peter Hill-Wood has stated of Kroenke and his overtures that:

“we don’t need his money and we don’t want his sort.”

It seems that there was a breakdown in trust between himself and David Dein when Dein’s support of Kroenke became apparent.

The repurcussions of this event are not fully clear at this stage. Dein was responsible for bringing Wenger to the club, and has been responsible for all the transfer negotiations (once Wenger had identified his targets). He has been closely involved with the footballing side of the club’s operations, and has been a driving force behind Arsenal’s recent success – though he disagreed with the building of the new stadium, preferring a move to Wembley as a lower cost, lower risk venture. Dein and Wenger had a very good working relationship, and Wenger described the events as a “sad day for Arsenal Football Club”. Despite reassurances from Wenger and the remaining board members, there is clearly a question mark over Wenger’s future at Arsenal. His contract expires in May 2008, and there has been no official talks with him yet about extending it – though the desire has been expressed by the club several times already.

These events herald potentially turbulent times at Arsenal, full of uncertainty and rumour. Dein and Kroenke may join forces to attempt a hostile takeover, and chief shareholder Danny Fizmann may be ready to sell his 15,000 shares, having finished overseeing the clubs construction of and move to the new stadium, as speculated by Myles Palmer at Arsenal News Review. The approaching summer could be full of takeover speculation and uncertainty – not a good backdrop to trying to attract top talent to the club. If it drags on till next year, it would be even worse, since Wenger’s contract renewal would be added to the mix. Not a scenario that would help settle the players and keep their minds on the pitch, or encourage them to stay. BBC Sport have a good article covering both the background and the potential implications of these events.

Personally, I’m ambivalent about a takeover, though soimewhat inclined to view it positively. Kroenke would bring deeper pockets and a good business sense to the table, though potentially jeopardising the character of the club. However, that character has been gradually eroding anyway, and may be turing into no more than a fond memory.

Download links for Halo Ringtones fixed

April 19th, 2007

I’ve been revising the layout of the site recently, reorganising things more logically, and in doing so I broke various links related to the Halo Ringtones page, as well as breaking the redirect from the old URL from halo.blackice.ie. Well, I’ve fixed the redirect and other external links into the Halo Ringtones page, and the download links for the MIDI files on that page are also fixed now. Sorry for any inconvenience!