Pioneering ZX Spectrum Games Led the Way in 80s Home Computing

By Jane Duncan, freelance writer

May 31 2022

The ZX Spectrum turns 40 this year, and has completely revolutionized video games and programming. The British computer not only made home gaming accessible to families around the world, but also allowed users to code their own sequences, programs and games using BASIC dialect Sinclair BASIC.
Even though many of the Spectrum games like Boulder Dash and Chuckie Egg seem primitive in comparison to today’s XBox and Playstation offerings, they were in fact leading the way in computing, helping us to understand coding and use it more effectively in future games. 


On the face of it, you may consider that Centipede is deceptively simple. A centipede, ever increasing in length, comes down from the top of the screen, and you have to destroy it by firing a stream of pixel bullets. The centipede’s journey is somewhat erratic, however, due to the placement of mushrooms across the screen.
Centipede game play screenshot from ZX Spectrum (1982)

Screen grab from ZX Spectrum version of Centipede (1982 game) by dK'tronics

No game of Centipede is the same due to the impression of randomness - however, back in the 1980s, there was no such thing as a generator that created random patterns. The Spectrum coding changed this by using the Read-only memory (ROM) to assign a numerical value to every byte so you could create a limited sequence of random numbers.
Forty years later we use this method of picking random numbers for simple programs like the random name selector. If you are running a raffle or prize draw, every person who has entered is assigned a number. An algorithm is then used to pick a number at random and choose a winner. 

Manic Miner

Manic Miner was produced by Bug-Byte and released in 1983. It is considered to be the most influential platformer games ever made and is thoroughly addictive. The colorful graphics, cute characters and in-game music were what made Manic Miner so incredibly popular - it is the 3rd best-selling ZX Spectrum game of all time.
Manic Miner was created by 17-year-old Matt Smith who came from Merseyside, Liverpool, and it took him only 8 weeks to make. The sequel, Jet Set Willy took 8 months, and then sadly Matt Smith dropped off the computing radar. Manic Miner however, is on the syllabus for several degree-level gaming courses. 
Manic Miner cassette case (1983) ZX Spectrum by Software Projects

Manic Miner ZX Spectrum cassette game by Software Projects (1983). This was originally released by Bug-Byte limited earlier in 1983.


Not only was Robocop one of the best-selling ZX Spectrum games, it also made full use of the joystick controls. The Spectrum joysticks had 9 input functions to make the gaming experience more immersive, these were 8 movement directions and of course the big, red fire button. Although the actions were limited, this really was an early predecessor of the more advanced controllers that are used for gaming consoles today. When you are waving around your Wii remote, playing tennis, just think about how far we have come. 

Clive Sinclair’s beautiful ZX Spectrum brought home gaming to the masses. In doing so, it also paved the way for software producers to learn and grow for the future. 

Robocop gameplay screenshot ZX Spectrum (Ocean) 1988

Robocop by Ocean Software (1988) - ZX Spectrum screenshot. This was a loose adaptation of the Data East arcade game.