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Green Beret and Space Harrier, My 2 favourite ZX Spectrum Games by My 2 Favourite ZX Spectrum Programmers, Respectively Jonathan M. ”Joffa” Smith and Keith Burkhill (A Part Homage/”Loveletter” and Part Technical Explanation of Their Best Games).

Jonathan M. ”Joffa” Smith (1 February 1967 – 26 June 2010) was an english videogame developer/creator (among other things) primarily famous for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum games he made in the 1980’s.

Jonathan started programming in the early days of the ZX Spectrum (around 1983) and in the summer of 1984 decided to take what would become his first published game ’Pud Pud in Weird World’ (plus an untitled ’Donkey Kong’ type game) to what would become the biggest videogame publisher in Great Britain in the 1980’s, Ocean Software.

Ocean decided to publish ’Pud Pud’ that Jonathan had made in the famous ’bedroom programmer’ style; i. e. entirely on his own. Something that can’t have been easy/inexpensive as Pud Pud is a very large ZX Spectrum 48k game, and it probably required Jonathan to have at least Sinclair Research’s own Interface 1 add-on attached to his 48k ZX Spectrum, so he could hook up at least 1 Microdrive (Sinclair Research’s own version of the Diskette Drive) to it.

Doing the programming, and testing the build that came out of it, with a single ZX Spectrum and a cassette recorder for storage would probably not have been possible for mere practical reasons, as it would just have been to cumbersome and slow (writing the code in the assembler program that already took up memory space in the ZX Spectrum, making the build, saving the build to a compact cassette, reseting the ZX Spectrum, loading the build, running it to see if worked und so weider).

How Jonathan in reality did it, I honestly don’t know as I wasn’t a fly on the wall in his room back in 1983-84, but I’m pretty sure he had at least 1 Microdrive connected to his ZX Spectrum. But the fact is that he did make Pud Pud, and the fact that it actually uses almost all of the available memory in a ZX Spectrum 48k, is in my opinion a testament to it not have been easy, even with a Microdrive (or more) hooked up to his ZX Spectrum 48k.

And as I said Ocean Software were willing to publish Pud Pud in Weird World for Jonathan, but they were also so impressed with Jonathan’s general skills in programming and game and graphics design, that they immediately offered him a job in-house at Ocean as well.

At Ocean Software Jonthan went on making games like ’Kong Strikes Back!’ with Nigel Alderson (of Chuckie Egg fame), ’Hypersports’, ’Mikie’, ’Terra Cresta’, ’Cobra’ and then of course one of this article’s two main subjects, the ZX Spectrum version of ’Green Beret’.

Jonathan made all of these games in a span of 2 or 3 years plus he also contributed to a few other games in that same time frame, but then he also got time to invent the ’Plip Plop” sound engine, making the ZX Spectrum 16/48k’s single sound channel sound like it was actually 3 channels (a deep note substituting a bass drum, a ”zap” for a snare drum and then a third for the melody line, that could even change waveform between sawtooth, square and pulse width modulated square during the ”songs”).

All in all you could argue that Jonathan had his work cut out for him during his time at Ocean Software, and during 1986 (where he, in my opinion, did his best work for Ocean) he probably started to realise his own worth, and ended up opting out of his contract with Ocean around (I assume) the end of 1986, to start up his own videogame production company, Special FX, along with a few others individuals.

At Special FX Jonathan started out porting a technically even more advanced game than Cobra and Green Beret, ’Hysteria’, with 3-layers of parallex scrolling and, for a horizontally scrolling ZX Spectrum game, a lot of (almost completely attribute clash free) color from the Commodore 64, for Software Projects in around 2 weeks (he must really have gotten his various routines up and running at that point!). And then later Firefly, Batman: The Caped Crusader and Midnight Resistance all for Ocean Software.

Jonthan did the graphics in his games himself (at least the vast majority of the time I assume), as he was actually not only a very accomplished programmer, but also a very talented ”visual” artist in his own right. He had made small animated films and a lot of other ”arty stuff” while he was still at school. In fact he was so much into the visual art stuff, that he was in doubt, whether he should pursue a career in movie making or game making, but in the end he of course chose the latter.

To be fair it was far from unusual that other people contributed to Jonathan’s games. Martin Galway in particular made the music for all of Jonathan’s Ocean/Imagine games (Imagine was Ocean Software’s sublabel, picked up from the ”ruins” of the original Imagine Software), were the Plip Plop music engine was utilized. The only two ZX Spectrum games where Jonathan are listed as the sole contributer, are Hypersports and Green Beret.

From 1989 and on Jonathan, with Special FX, began getting games for the Atari ST, the Amiga and the Gameboy published. Later throughout the 90’s and 00’s Jonthan continued to make games for various companies on platforms such as the Nintendo Gameboy Advance, Sega Genesis/Megadrive, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), the MSX computers and late in his career even one game for the ill-fated Gizmondo handheld console (and apparantly also a very early mobile phone game).

Ok, this was the ”homage” to Jonathan’s ”professional accomplishments”. A little later on when I get to the Keith Burkhill part of this article, I will talk a bit about Jonathan’s personality as well.

Now to Jonathan achievements when he converted Green Beret to the ZX Spectrum.

Konami’s coin-op game ’Green Beret’ (’Rush ’n’ Attack’ in the US) is not a game that I personally rank among my favourite arcade games of all time. Not even by a longshot, as I always felt it was a bit boring actually, and I did play it a few times back when it was just released.

Nowadays I have the arcade version of Green Beret on 2 different ’Konami Arcade Classics’ collections and have played it a bit from time to time, and my opinion of it hasn’t really changed. It’s still a pretty decent arcade game, but from especially the so called ’Golden Era of Arcade Games’ (1978 to 1983), there are quite few games I personally like much more.

Arcade/coin-op games such as Galaxians, Frogger, Xevious, Pole Position, Tutankham, Rally X, Pengo, Dig Dug, Gyruss, Up ’n’ Down, OutRun and Space Harrier are in my opinion just so much more fun to play than the arcade version of Green Beret. And the ideas they are based upon are often much more unique too.

It’s not even like the coin-op version of Green Beret is actually the worst offender, when it comes to being unoriginal though. The idea of only being equipped with a knife and the occasional ”power-up” in the form of flamethrowers, grenade launchers etc., was quite unique for the time, it’s just that the execution (or rather the gameplay) of the arcade version, leaves something to be desired in my opinion.

And this is actually where the ZX Spectrum version of ’Green Beret’ comes into the picture.

Nobody can really accuse it for having boring gameplay, on the contrary many will probably say its gameplay is just too hard. And yes, Green Beret is a tough game in the ZX Spectrum version, mainly because Jonathan (probably more out of necessity than actual burning desire) decided to ”shake up” the gameplay up quite a bit compared to the coin-op version.

Not really the game’s core mechanics, consisting of knife combat, occasionally firing the various power ups, jumping, laying down to avoid enemy bullets, climbing ladders, automatically jumping onto ladders when you decide to jump near them (which in fact is a gameplay mechanic in itself) etc., but in fact just how the different enemies of the game ”choose” to appear on the screen (more about that a bit later on).

As I said earlier, why Jonathan chose to ”shake up” the gameplay in Green Beret, probably was out of pure necessity. Jonathan simply, I believe, for especially one reason (that I will explain in detail a bit later on) ran out of memory, when he programmed the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret.

Jonathan actually said doing so himself in an interview, he gave to a ZX Spectrum-centric website/ blog around 9 month prior to him (sadly) leaving this world (this interview actually also contains examples of his considerably writing talents - if anyone are interested, I’m sure they can ”dig up” this particular interview on the internet).

So, yes, Jonathan did run out of memory when he converted Green Beret to the ZX Spectrum. And it is actually quite evident that he did so as there’s no music in the ZX Spectrum version, while there was music in all of his other coin-op conversions, as well as in most of his ”own creations” (Pud Pud in Weird World, Cobra, Hysteria and Firefly). And these were all 48k ZX Spectrum games too.

Also the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret has no real title screen. Upon loading the game the player is prompted with a small ”window”, telling him (or her) to choose his preferred control method. After deciding the control method, the screen goes blank and it just says ”Stab to start” in the upper left corner of the screen, and when you have ”stabbed” and played your game until game over, ”Stab to start” just appears in the upper left corner of the screen once again.

The ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret do not have the animated ”congratulations” screen from the arcade version after completing each level either (but I admit that was not really out of the ordinary leaving such things out in ZX Spectrum 48k coin-op conversions).

The reason why Jonathan ran out of memory (although not completely of course – the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret was completed afterall), I believe, was that he used ”preshifted tiles”, contrary to tiles that are shifted ”on the fly” by real time processor calculations, for the background graphics in his scrolling routine.

Tiles are the small/smallish pieces of graphics, the background graphics in 2D games are build out of and that are more than often repeated many times in the different levels of the games (ladder elements, the ”ground” you walk on etc, etc).

Shifting bytes (pixels) basically means moving all the bits in a given byte either left or right (on the Z80 processor specifically that can be done in increments of 1 or 4 bits).

Eurogamer.net actually once around the ZX Spectrum’s 30th anniversary had a comparison article of it and the Commodore 64, where different key people from the british 8 bit videogames industry of the 80’s (programmers, writers from various of the 8 bit printed magazines aimed mostly at gamers at the time etc) gave their ”2 cents” about the industry of the time.

Here Jon Ritman (of Matchday, Heads over Heels and Batman, among others, fame) ”panned” Jonathan for using preshifted tiles in his games (which effectively means that if you want a game to scroll at 2 pixels at a time, like in the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret, you will have to have 4 different versions of a tile pre-stored in the memory), because he thought it was a lazy/inefficient way of doing things.

From a memory ”conserving” point of view it is an inefficient method, but from a performance one (framerate, number of sprites you can have on screen at the same time etc) it is not, as it frees up a lot of processor power for other purposes, such as the already mentioned sprites (and the processor can even end up being so ”relieved” from its ”burden”, that you actually can have pretty good in-game sound effects in a 16/48k ZX Spectrum game, which is not easy to achieve at all).

And the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret does have a good framerate, it can have quite a lot of sprites on the screen at the same time, and it does have pretty good sound effects at the same time (the latter of course in the infamous ZX Spectrum 16/48k ”farting” style).

So Jonathan had very good reasons to go with the preshifted tiles ”model” in his Green Beret ZX Spectrum conversion, as he wanted the game to play really well, like he (at least I assume) wanted every game he made to do.

As I mentioned earlier, the main difference between the coin-op version and the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret, is how the various enemies ”chooses” to appear in the game(and in the ZX Spectrum version also sometimes chooses to disappear).

In Konami’s original version enemies appears at fixed locations (i.e. they appear at the same spots every game you play), while in the ZX Spectrum version they appear what seems randomly (i.e. in reality never quite the same way as the game before).

The reason why Jonathan chose to let the enemies in the game appear seemingly randomly, was (again I believe) out of pure necessity, as storing the locations where the different enemies appears in the coin-up version in the memory, simply wasn’t a possibility in the ZX Spectrum version, because of the memory ”restrictions” Jonathan (again because of the preshifted tiles ”model” he had chosen) faced.

So Jonathan had to sort of ”reinvent the wheel” when programming the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret. And to do so he made an algorithm in the program code (I believe) that determined when an enemy would appear (and sometimes disappear also) that appeared to be random, but of course in reality had a number conditions, that had to be met before an enemy would appear (and in the end nothing computers do are random after all).

And that can’t have been an easy task by any measure at all. Jonathan probably spent months tweaking the different conditions in his algorithm (that probably wasn’t even that long in terms of program lines), until he finally one day got the result he desired. And in the end the result he desired was that the game played really, really well.

And the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret does play really, really well in my opinion; it’s tough, but in the end it’s not unfair. And then it in my opinion also have that ”one more go” kind of difficulty that the very best arcade games possesses; it’s difficult to get far in the game and very difficult to actually master it, but at the same time most people can train themselves up to get decently far in the game.

And that Jonathan achieved that (altering the gameplay of the coin-op version into something truly outstanding with his algorithm), in my opinion, elevates him into the same league as the very best of arcade games programmers (mainly japanese, but there are a few others from other parts of the world as well).

Green Beret consists of 4 different levels graphically/layout speaking (both the arcade and the ZX Spectrum version), but Jonathan didn’t stop with the first 4 levels when it came to his usage of his algorithm. He spent time tweaking it until he had reached level 12 (level 5 and 9 are graphically/layout-wise the same as level 1 and so on). And he made his algorithm really work out also on the later levels. The game never in my experience becomes unfair.

Now I have to confess that I have not personally made it further than to level 4 in the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret, but there is a video walkthrough of the game on the Youtube channel ’World of Longplays’ (link below) of an extremely skilled individual completing the first 12 levels of the game (after that it just starts over difficulty-wise I believe), that shows how things begin to really heat up in the game at level (”stage” in the game) 5, at around 12:10 and then goes more or less ”berserk” at level 9, at around 25:20.

This video is in my opinion a testament to not alone how well Jonathan’s version of Green Beret runs, but in particular to how well Jonathan managed to tweak his algorithm into delivering really, really tough (but ultimately fair) gameplay.

The video, I’m almost 100% convinced, is not done with a cheat code or anything. The player does ”die” a couple of times during the video, but as the Green Beret is pretty generous with extra lifes it never becomes a problem (also anyone that have played the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret will probably acknowledge, that it is indeed a very, very skilled individual that is playing the game in this video).


There is another ”thing” that distinguishes Jonathan’s version of Green Beret from Konami’s original as well. The ”karate”/jumping enemies jumps all the time in his version, while they only jump when they get near and start to attack the player character in Konami’s original.

Again this change from Jonathan, I firmly believe, was out of sheer necessity. In Konami’s version of the game the various enemies are ”color coded”, which was not an option Jonathan had when he programmed the ZX Spectrum version, because of the ZX Spectrum’s attribute/color clash issues.

But Jonathan overcame this problem, by simply making the ”karate”/jumping enemies, jump all the time whenever they appeared.

One last note on Jonthan’s version of Green Beret is that he graphically used some very clever ”tricks”, to first of all allow some (almost) color clash free color in a sidescrolling ZX Spectrum (which is by no measure an easy task the way Jonathan did it), and then by using the ZX Spectrum’s ability to add brightness to its colors.

The ZX Spectrum has a color palette of 8 colors, but by adding brightness to these, it is effectively expanded to 15 colors in total (black is still same old black whether you use brightness or not).

The way Jonathan achieved almost color clash free scrolling in his version Green Beret, was in fact very simple; he just used 8 pixels wide (or the same as the width of one character space) black borders at each side of any object, that didn’t share the same color as its ”neighbour” or the ”sky”.

These black borders in fact consist of 8 x 8 pixels character spaces completely ”inked out”, and while the graphics scroll these conceil the fact, that there are actually color clash going on behind them that you simply can’t see, because the background (paper) color is completely ”blacked out” by the foreground (ink) color (which in the ”playing field” of the ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret is always black).

The brightness function of the ZX Spectrum Jonathan used to create, in my opinion, pretty impressive shadow effects, that, (again) in my opinion, really adds to the atmosphere in the game.

What Jonathan made possibly on a humble ZX Spectrum 48k (mainly his algorith for enemy appearance, but also his colorful scrolling rutine and graphics overall) when programming Green Beret on it, is why I personally consider it my favourite ZX Spectrum game of all time, and also a part of my personal list of top 10 videogames of all time.

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Screenshot from the ZX Spectrum version of 'Green Beret'

Ok now on to Keith Burkhill and his ZX Spectrum ’Space Harrier’ conversion.

Contrary to Jonathan M. Smith there is almost literally no information to be found on how Keith Burkhill is as a person, when he was born etc. It does however seem like he is still working in a branch of the game developing industry, although seemingly not in one that does what he is most known for in the general public, developing action games.

The lack of general information, interviews etc. featuring Keith could quite possible be on purpose from his side, as it’s often so that computer programmers are leaning more or less towards being introverts. And it is only natural that it is so in my opinion, as it can only be considered an asset as a programmer to be able to ”shut out” the rest of the world and concentrate more or less 100% on the task you’re on in my opinion.

So Keith is probably more or less an introvert. Jonathan was also an introvert, but contrary to Keith he was also an artist. And the ”trouble” that, in my opinion, arises when you’re an artist (a real one not a fake one, that is) is that artists tend to be very sensitive, in the way that they absorb the ”inputs” they get from their surroundings much more than ”ordinary people”.

In fact, in my opinion, it’s not really something they can help themselves doing. And when (real) artists almost always (if not always, at least the really good ones) are perfectionists to a very large extent, and in reality idealists, then the different ”inputs” they get from the outside world often provokes them, and in the end spurs them to try ”better things” in the time and age they live in.

And that’s probably the main difference between Jonathan and Keith. Keith could more or less let things pass as long as he was relatively safe, while ”things” got to Jonathan and then inspired him to try to better them, like any (real) artist would.

As I said there’s very little to be found on Keith’s personality on the internet, but I did find one reasonably long paragraph where he tells a bit about his experiences in the game developing industry.

From what I can read out of it, he’s not a man with out humour at all. And he also comes of as somewhat critical towards the videogame developing industry in genereral (not that that industry is much worse than many other industries in my opinion, after all money more or less rules everywhere).

On the other hand there’s a lot more to found on Jonathan personality. He did do at least one interview (although to a ”hobby” site), he was quite active on World of Spectrum’s forum pages and his personality more often than not seeped into his videogame creations (at least the ones he did on the ZX Spectrum).

He sometimes credited himself, the games’ author, as Jonathan Smiff, Jon Smiff etc. (sometimes even mirrored/”inverted”), he used ducks in Terra Cresta to visualize remaining ”lifes” (which I’m pretty sure is not how it’s done in the arcade version), there was the ”Stab to start” prompt in Green Beret, there was how the player character sometimes landed on his head in the long horse discipline in Hypersports (though I don’t if that was actually also in the arcade version) etc.

But where Jonathan took things to whole new level was in Cobra, a videogame tie-in of the movie starring Sylvester Stallone. Jonathan was offered to make a videogame out either the Cobra movie or the Topgun movie and chose the former.

Jonathan however didn’t opt for making a game out of Cobra that really did the movie any justice (not that the movie deserves much justice in the first place in my opinion!). No he decided to make a game that would effectively become a spoof on the movie.

He used a duck like in Terra Cresta to depict remaining life (this time though only one that slowly vanished as the player’s energy depleted) and then the player charater’s main ”weapon” in the game was head-butts.

There were also the small baby carriages that stunned the player character on contact, making him vulnerable to the other enemies for a short time and then Martin Galway’s music rather parodic music, that Jonathan even managed to make some of play as small jingles in-game (something only Matthew Smith other than him, in my opinion, managed to make sound good in a ZX Spectrum 16/48k game).

Yes Jonathan did indeed like to poke some fun whenever he got the opportunity, even if he was in fact somewhat shy and a bit of an introvert.

What probably ”sums up” Jonathan as a human being and a person the most in his own words is, that he once said that he chose to smile, where he probably should have run. But then again where should he have run to, there are after all only so few places anybody can ”run to” (and where do you then run from there?), so it was probably only sensible that he did not ”run” (and in the end it’s probably also the ”story” of most people’s lifes anyway).

So it probably wasn’t easy being Jonathan M. Smith most the time, but in the end what he had to face through out his life, as the true artist I believe he was, also spured or inspired him to create what ever he created, be it videogames, small animated films, graphics and in his later years apparantly also writing (or at least he was starting to write novels).

So, yes, Jonathan M. Smith and Keith Burkhill had (have) in some ways quite different personalities. Jonathan was the brave one that that tried to hide his insecurity, while Keith chose to do the hard work in becoming one of the true technical whizzos of the ZX Spectrum videogame developing scene and then other than that keeping a relatively low profile.

And Keith, in my opinion, was the technical whizzo of the ZX Spectrum game developing scene, at least when it came to developing action games. The only other individual I can personally see really matches him in the entire ZX Spectrum game developing scene of the 1980’s when it comes technical wizardry, was Mike Singleton (which sadly like Jonathan M. Smith isn’t among us anymore either) of Lords of Midnight and Doomsdark’s Revenge fame.

The fact that Mike Singleton managed to squeeze around 4000 and 6000 locations each viewable from 8 directions into a 48k ZX Spectrum in respectively Lords of Midnight and Doomsdark’s Revenge, most certainly deserves an article on its own (although I’m sure, that I’m not the one who could do such an article, as I don’t have much clue to how he actually did it).

Professionally Keith got a bit earlier into the game development ”game” than Jonathan, as he already in 1983 (the very early days of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, as it was released in april 1982) had his first game, the Missile Command clone ’Missile Defence’, published by Anirog Software.

Missile Defence is considered by many as the best Missile Command clone released for the ZX Spectrum, and although I haven’t really played the game myself (not really into Missile Command), I can say that presentation-wise it is a very good game considering it is a 1983 ZX Spectrum game.

In 1984 Keith had ’Gilligan’s Gold’, a clone of ’Bagman’ (in my opininon itself one the most classic coin-op games) and originally published and developed by the french company Valadon Automation (which itself carries an interesting and out of the ordinary ”story”) published by Ocean Software (and to great success also it seems).

For some reason though Keith didn’t make any further games than Gilligan’s Gold for Ocean, but instead got contracted by Elite Systems (along with the previously mentioned Nigel Alderton – of Chuckie Egg fame, remember!) into making the ZX Spectrum version of Capcom’s coin-op classic Commando before Christmas 1985 in a very short time span (with Kate Trueman doing the graphics and Rory C. Green the loading screen, I believe).

The ZX Spectrum version of Commando (1985) of course turned out to be one of the very best arcade conversions on the system, and is in my opinion the first game that Keith was involved in that truly carried the ”stamp” of his technical mastery.

From what I can see, the ZX Spectrum version of Commando is what you could call a ”one pixel vertical scroller”, which means it scrolls in the smallest increment possible (one pixel) and furthermore it plays and runs very smoothly (in fact in my opinion it’s one of a few arcade conversions on the ZX Spectrum, where the ZX Spectrum versions actually plays better than their arcade brethrens).

Then Keith (again for Elite Systems) went on to make the ZX Spectrum conversion of ’Ghosts ’n’ Goblins’ (Capcom again) in 1986. And again it seems to be a ”one pixel scroller”, although this time horizontal (first level) and later multi directional, and again also playing very well.

Next up for Keith for Elite Systems (and his final game for them) was his 1986 conversion of Sega’s coin-op classic ’Space Harrier’ (and of course one this article’s main subjects), and again from a technical (and also a gameplay one in my opinion) point of view a very accomplished version.

From there on Keith went on to make a string of ZX Spectrum games for Activision, Audiogenic Software, Encore (a budget label mainly re-releasing Elite Systems and Durell Software’s back catalog) and Image Works. The most notable being his 1988 conversion of Sega’s ’Afterburner’, which again was a major technical accomplishment on the ZX Spectrum (but in the end maybe was beginning to stretch the limits of what was possible on ”the old Speccy” a bit to thin) and then the well done 1991 conversion of Gottlieb’s arcade game ’Exterminator’.

Keith carried on making games for the ZX Spectrum until almost the very end of the machine’s commercial lifespan as a gaming machine, with his last efforts being released in 1991 at a time where budget releases had been dominating the ZX Spectrum ”gaming scene” for years.

It seems that Keith, contrary to Jonathan who was employed to Ocean Software a large part of his ZX Spectrum game making career, was freelance - Nigel Alderton and he, it seems, each got 10.000£ for making Commando in around 8 weeks of almost literally working around the clock, and with a 1.000£ fine for each day they were late (which in the end wasn’t effectuated as the development of the game ended up only running a couple of days late) - during his ZX Spectrum years (he did join Software Studios, which seems to have been some kind of ”collective” for game developers, though, when he did his Sega conversions for Activision, it seems).

Later, when he had stopped making ZX Spectrum games, it seems Keith joined the ranks of such companies as Probe Software, Audiogenic Software, Extended Play Productions and Crawfish Interactive making conversions of games in such high profile franchises as ’Alien’, ’Mortal Kombat’, ’Fifa’ and ’Street Fighter’, and on platforms such as Nintendo’s Gameboy Color and Gameboy Advance and Sega’s Gamegear, Master System and Saturn.

All these games, being on mainly handheld systems, were all, at a minimum, solid conversions and especially Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the Gameboy Advance, the last game Keith worked on in his ”action game” developer career, is highly regarded and considered by most the best fighting game on the system.

In the end what happened to both Keith and Jonathan’s game developing careers (and why they eventually faded out) probably was, that they were both from the bedroom programmer ”school” of programmers, which meant they were used to have more or less control total over their ”output”.

And then when 3D-engine powered games became fashionsable (and achieveable) in the mid 1990’s, in particularly with the original Playstation’s appearance, both Keith and Jonathan probably found it more than difficult to fit in to the new ”regime” of bigger and bigger development teams and less and less influence over the end product to each of the members of the teams, and they eventually ended up just giving up on the idea of being a videogame developer.

Jonathan though, it seems, wasn’t really able to ”let go of the past”, but kept ”dabbling” with programming ZX Spectrum games even when he had stopped making games for a living, while Keith turned to a very different branch (and to ”hardcore” gamers probably not considered a very serious one) of the game developing bussiness, where he is (maybe) allowed to be a bit more ”lazy” in the way he approaches the tasks he is faced with, than when he made high profile conversions.

In the end you could probably say that the Indie games ”movement” came about 10 years to late for Jonathan, as he would probably have thrived in that ”scene”. Keith on the other hand probably always saw things more ”professionally” and little less artisticly than Jonathan, and therefore it was likely not extremely difficult for him to ”change gears” and move over to another branch of the business.

Ok, enough dabbling and onto the ”analysis” of Keith’s technical achievement when he programmed the ZX Spectrum version of Space Harrier.

In my opinion the ZX Spectrum version of Space Harrier is probably the most technically advanced action game on the system. First of all it is a conversion of an arcade game that was in reality ”the state of the art” both in terms of hardware and software when it was released, and thus ”light-years” ahead of the humble ZX Spectrum, with its ”Sprite Scaling” hardware and software technologies.

So alone the fact that Keith managed to make it run quite smoothly on the ZX Spectrum (and I would argue, maybe even smoother than the arcade version) is a major achievement in my opinion, as it was simply not an easy task to make a fast moving pseudo 3D game without all the hardware trickery Sega had on their hands.

That Keith also had to fit the game into a mere 48k bytes of ram, whereas Sega probably had more like half of a Megabyte at their disposal, also is a testament to the technical genius of Keith in my opinion.

It of course didn’t come without sacrifices. The bonus/challenge stages in the ZX Spectrum version of Space Harrier are merely ”scripted” events that depicts how the bonus was achieved, with the player having no control whatsoever over the proceedings. And the marvellous music from the coin-op version was entirely missing, while the sound effects were ”nerfed” into very basic ”farting style” ZX Spectrum 48k sound effects.

Keith did however, I believe, manage to squeeze every single level from the arcade version into his version, but even there, there were missing bits and pieces like parts of the ”background” graphics in some levels and some of the enemy variants (although I can’t say the latter with precision, as I haven’t studied the differences that hard).

Then there was of course the fact that the ZX Spectrum, with its color/attribute clash issues, by no means was suited in replicating a very colorful pseudo 3D arcade game, so the ZX Spectrum version of course ended up having a rather ”psychodelic” appearance that didn’t go easy on everybody’s eyes on the old CRT televisions (although I have to say that playing the game in an emulator on a modern flat screen TV, does remove the most glaring issues in that regard in my opinion).

And after all a Space Harrier game does always start with the rather famous words ”Welcome to the Fantasy Zone”, so maybe the ”psychodelic” color coding of the ZX Spectrum isn’t too far off in the end. And maybe some could argue that it even adds something to the original arcade version, but that might be taking things a bit too far, I admit.

And then Keith even managed to squeeze in the ever changing ”checkerboard” background graphics, which in my opinion is extremely impressive when you really think of it.

If you move the player character (Harrier, I believe his called actually) to the very top of the screen the ”chequer board” actually fills out a little less than half of the total screen (not only of the ”playing field”), which means that a lot of data continuously has to be moved very, very fast before you even start to add the rather large number of masked sprites on top of that.

I don’t think that there are many others than Keith Burkhill (if any) that was/are able to achieve that on the humble ZX Spectrum.

And Keith was known as the technical wizzo of the ZX Spectrum games developing scene. In the aforementioned comparison article of the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 published on Eurogamer.net, Gary Liddon (who wrote for the most 2 popular magazines devoted to respectively the ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 - ’Crash!’ and ’Zzap! 64’ - and actually came out of the Commodore 64 ”scene”) remembers how ”mind boggling” he thought Keith’s screen drawing routines were at the time.

From Gary’s recollections it seems that Keith had found a way to follow the raster scan down the screen and only updating the graphics where the beam had just passed.

Raster Scan is the way the images on old CRT (Catode-Ray Tube) televisions are displayed, ”drawing” scanline by scanline down the screen always from left to right, but with a short ”sweep” back to the left at the end of each line.

On the ZX Spectrum a small very customised ”aid chip” called the ”ULA” every 1/50th of a second reads what’s in the screen buffer (located at address 16k - or 16384 – and containing the actual graphics plus the attribute values for each of the 32x24 character spaces on the ZX Spectrum’s screen) and then sends the data to the UHF module which converts the digital data from the ULA into analogue ”data” which are then sent to the television set and displayed.

I must admit that I don’t quite grasp Gary’s recollection of Keith’s screen drawing routines updating the graphics after the beam had just passed. To me it would seem more logical to update the graphics just before the beam was to pass, because then you would sort of have the screen updating ”stuff” out of the way as soon as the raster scan beam had ”drawn” its last scan line on the television, with a ”clean sheet” in front of you where you could do all the calculations, sound outputs etc. the program/game required until the next raster scan appeared.

Of course we can be pretty sure that Keith had reserved memory space for a ”mirror” of the ”playing field” somewhere in the ZX Spectrum’s RAM when he programmed Space Harrier, as it was a common way to do things (build a mirror of the screen image ”next up” gradually through the various routines in the code and then when it was finished send it the fastest way possible to the actual screen buffer).

But Keith seems to have taken things to an ”extreme” in his pursuit of getting the most ”juice” out of the ZX Spectrum’s Z80 processor, and somehow found a way to ”keep an eye” on what the ULA was up to and then at the very ”last minute” (actually not a very fitting word, I admit) sending the data in his ”playing field” mirror to the addresses in the screen buffer where the actual ”playing field” was situated, ensuring that there were almost literally no valueable computer processing time wasted.

How you actually ”keep an eye” on the ULA, I don’t know, but in reality it’s probably not ”big science”, as the Z80 and ULA of course are connected in the first place or else the ULA wouldn’t be able to scan the screen buffer. The challenge probably more lies in doing it in a very fast and efficient way.

And I do believe that Keith’s code in his conversion of Space Harrier to the ZX Spectrum must have been very fast and efficient for the fact alone that displaying the aforementioned ”checkerboard” must have taken a lot of power out the ZX Spectrum’s Z80 processor.

How he actually did the checkerboard ”thing” I don’t know. Did he actually calculate it ”on the fly” with all the bit shifting etc. that would require? Or did he in some very clever way use a set number of ”tiles” that allowed him to build the ”checkerboard” the way it was supposed to look whereever ”Harrier” was situated on the screen.

The last ”theory” is far from impossible in my opinion as a ”checkerboard” quite naturally has a certain pattern build into it, which means it to a certain extent repeats itself, which again means it probably wouldn’t require an enormous amount of ”tiles” to build the various ”states” it could occur in (plus it probably wouldn’t require anywhere near the same amount of calculations that calculating the checkerboard ”from the bottom up” would).

Skrmbillede 720png

Screenshot of Space Harrier ZX Spectrum version with the very impressive ”checkerboard” running underneath the "action" and "maxed out"

Ok that was the main article. Now a few final words to ”round” things up.

What you 2, Jonathan M. ”Joffa” Smith and Keith Burkhill, did with the ”underdog” of the 80’s 8 bit homecomputer scene, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, was in my opinion something really, really special.

And in fact in the grander scheme of the history of videogames developing, I also believe that what you did was very special (but then again in my opinion the Sinclair ZX Spectrum also played – and to some extent still plays – a major role in the history of videogames developing, and, yes, also in the history of computer programming in general even today).

So Jonathan M. ”Joffa” Smith, Rest In Peace, and rest assured that your legacy will continue grow and probably never will be forgotten. And Keith Burkhill be assured that what you achieved on a technical level with the Sinclair ZX Spectrum won’t be forgotten anytime soon either.

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The *New* Nintendo 3DS XL and the Playstation Vita – 2 of My Favourite Gaming Platforms Ever (A Comprehensive Comparison).

This article was originally intended to be about, why I think the *New* Nintendo 3DS XL is one of my favourite gaming platforms ever, but during my writing of the article, the thing that always happens when you play on a specific gaming platform extensively for a longer period, happened: I got a bit tired of the format and kind of lost the inspiration to finish the article.

I was pretty sure at the time though, that I would eventually finish the article, but then instead one evening I caved in and started playing Toukiden Kiwami on my Playstation Vita.

I had been out of the ”loop” Vita-wise (and more or less gaming in general) for about a half of year for personal reasons and had only started getting back into gaming in a major way in november, putting quite a lot of hours into my *New* Nintendo 3DS XL during especially november and december (but also in january and february).

But anyway I fired up my up my Vita sometime during february and suddenly found myself playing 4 hours of Toukiden Kiwami in a single evening (something I very rarely do – the 4 hours of gaming in a single evening that is – these days) and ended up having a blast.

It kind of restored my ”faith” in the Vita as a gaming platform and I realized, that although I hadn't bought any games for it since late july (Salt and Sanctuary being the last), and none of the games released for it since then had piqued my interest, I still had a massive backlog of quality games on the machine, that I just hadn't had the time to play yet (I had never really given up on the Vita, but the thing is that even the best memories kind of pale over time and needs to be rejuvinated from time to time).

A week or so later, I suddenly felt an urge to start the Playstation classic Tomb Raider on my Vita and also that was a pretty good experience. Prior to Tomb Raider I had been playing through Spy Hunter (which I had just bought used, because I wanted to play it with 3D effect on) on my 3DS and had had a pretty good time with that.

I eventually got a bit stuck in Tomb Raider as you often do in these type of games (and which is the nature of them I guess) and thought I'd just try out my Vita version of Spy Hunter for maybe half an hour (but ended up playing it for 1½) just to see how it held up against the 3DS version.

And wow it was just a so much better experience, than playing it on the 3DS. Crisp and clean graphics, faster loading times etc. In fact it was a truly great experience (partly because I - after around 25 hours of playtime - finally had gotten good at it) and I suddenly realized that the article I was writing about the *New* Nintendo 3DS XL also had to include the Playstation Vita.

The Playstation Vita is just such an underrated gaming platform (in fact I think it is probably the most underrated gaming platform of all time); it has a very large library of games (according to Gamefaqs games lists about the same size as the 3DS') in many different genres plus it has access to a large portion of the best PSP and PS One games through Playstation Network (PSN).

On the ”downside” the Vita hasn't got many ”big hitters” (it only has an Uncharted game, an Assassin's Creed - 2 if you count the 2.5D game Chronicles - a Call of Duty and Borderlands 2 iirc) and also it hasn't got nearly as many first party games as the 3DS. But all that doesn't really matter to me personally, as it has plenty of smaller 3rd party quality titles in almost all genres (and besides I've never been much of a first party man myself).

The gaming genre that I personally like the most on the Playstation Vita, is the Monster Hunter ”clone”/Hunting RPG genre and it is at the same time one of the most popular genres on the Vita, which is why there are quite a few games in that genre on it.

The Toukiden games is probably the ones that have the most in common with the actual Monster Hunter games, although they do have their own identity in my opinion. The ”action” in the Toukiden games is much faster than in the Monster Hunter games, but that goes for all of the Vita Monster Hunter ”clones”.

Soul Sacrifice on the other hand (and it´s U/G iteration Delta) is a much more adult orientated take on the Monster Hunter genre with its dark (but still not with out hope) story, that is told in a very original/arty way. Soul Sacrifice's gameplay is extremely fast and agressive though and can become a bit monotone after excessive play.

The 2 God Eater games on the Vita are the anime take on the Hunting RPG genre and are also pretty good, even if their combat engines are beginning to show their age; the God Eater games dates back to the PSP era and the mecanics are just not as good as in the Toukidens and Soul Sacrifice Delta (but that might change in the upcoming God Eater 3 - which might or might not come to the Vita, noone really knows yet - edit: it won't come to the Vita).

Other than the 3 series mentioned above there are Freedom Wars (an ambitious, but fundamentally flawed God Eater ”light”), Ragnarok Odyssey Ace (a rather low budget more kids friendly take on the genre), Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite (PSP) and even Lord of Apocalypse (Japan/import only) in the Hunting RPG genre on the Vita plus 2 the Phantasy Star games (Nova and Online 2 – Japan/import only).

Of all the Monster Hunter ”clones”/Hunting rpgs on the Vita I would only really recommend the Toukidens, Soul Sacrifice Delta and the God Eaters (though I haven't really played Lord of Apocalypse and the Phantasy Stars yet) plus of course Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite (if you can stand the rather poor graphics). Especially Toukiden Kiwami and Soul Sacrifice Delta are of a very high quality IMO.

Other good Action Games for the Vita aimed at adults are the 2 Earth Defence Force games EDF 2: Invaders from Planet Space (port of a true classic) and EDF 2017 Portable (also a pretty good game - better graphics than the former, but not as good gameplay IMO).

Then there are about 10 Warriors/Mosou games from Koei Tecmo (the Warriors Orochi, Samurai Warriors and Dynasty Warriors series) of which I've only played Samurai Warriors 4, which I think is good (it runs well and looks pretty good), but I haven't had time to really get a grasp of the gameplay in that yet, so I can't really give a final verdict on that.

The Vita also have decent ports of the 2 Ninja Gaiden Sigma games, which I again haven't had time to play much so I can't say with precision how good they are (I can however say the camera in Sigma 2 is not the best I've experienced).

Koei Tecmo also released a Berserk mosou type game, that is quite fun (although a bit poorly balanced – hard difficulty is too easy and Berserk difficulty is just too hard, if you start from scratch). It however has a lot of cutscenes taken from various Berserk anime TV shows and the story is really good (just have in mind that the in-game graphics are a bit poor).

Then there are at least a couple of Gundam games of which I've only played Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS Force, which I think has interesting, but complex gameplay, but again I haven't played it enough to say if it's actually good (but it seems fun).

Then there's the aforementioned Spy Hunter, which is rather chaotic until you really learn how to play it properly, then it becomes really great. There's also Silent Hill: Book of Memories, a Diablo style game set in the Silent Hill universe, which is actually really good after they patched it.

In the 2D Action Game genre there are the Vanillaware games Muramasa Rebirth, Dragon's Crown and Odin Sphere Leifthrasir of which I haven't played the latter. I have played a fair bit of Dragon's Crown (which is more RPGish than Muramasa Rebirth, that is action only). The Vanillaware games are not really my type of games, but I know they are highly regarded among fans (and critics).

There's also God of War Collection containing ports of the 2 PS2 GOWs (not the best ports though, I've heard) plus the 2 PSP GOWs.

And last (but not least) in the action game genre the Vita has an, admittetly, rather bad port of Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (still playable and fun though – especially Raid mode) and very last Dragon Quest Heroes II (Japan/import only).

In the 2/2.5D Fighting Game genre the Vita has Street Fighter X Tekken, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (not available on PSN anymore and very expensive physically), Dead or Alive 5 Plus, Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition, Mortal Kombat (bought this just recently, but it is already one of my favourite Vita games - it really is an AAA game), Skullgirls 2nd Encore and a couple of Blazblue games plus the 3 Neo Geo remasters Garou Mark of the Wolves, Last Blade 2 and Samurai Shodown V Special. Then there are various PSP games available on PSN (Darkstalkers, Blazblue, Dead or Alive, Guilty Gear and Street Fighter).

I've only played Injustice: GAU UE and the PSP game Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max (plus Mortal Kombat) personally, and I kind of like the former, because I like the DC comics universe plus it's not too hard (even for a fighting game noob as me). Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max is one of the most highly regarded games in the franchise, but is just to hard for me as it stands, and therefore I haven't really enjoyed it yet.

In the Racing Game genre on the Vita there are WRC (World Rally Championship) 3, 4 and 5 (where especially 4 is really good). I haven't played the other 2, but I have heard that 5 is a more realistic experience compared to 4 (which is more arcardey). The weak spot in 5 though is the graphics, that (apart from the car models) are very poor (the developers probably went for a quick port for financial reasons).

Other racing games on the Vita are F1 2011 (which I own, but I haven't played much – I´m not really a F1 fan), Ridge Racer (not well received by the critics, because it severely lacked content – but the core game should be good and there are lots of DLCs to buy), MotoGP 13 and 14 (motorcycle racing), MUD and MXGP (motocross), Need for Speed: Most Wanted (good port), Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed (good port), Spy Hunter (good port), Urban Trial Freestyle and WipEout 2048 (really great looking game, but I haven't had time to really play it yet).

Of PSP racing games to download there are Gran Turismo (which is really good - although it's not as content heavy as its console cousins), 2 WipEOuts, Midnight Club, F1 2009 and MotorStorm (plus a few others).

In the Sports Game genre the Vita has Hot Shots Golf/Everybody´s Golf: World Invitational (a personal favourite of mine – fun, unpretencious and very well presented), several Fifa games, Football Manager Classic 2014, Handball 16 (maybe not the best game, but the only handball game series that exists), Sega's Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition, 2 rugby games, several MLB (Major League Baseball): The Show games and Madden NFL 13. On PSP: Pro Cycling 2010 – Tour de France (on the european PSN at least) and King of Pool among others.

In the Action Adventure genre there are The Amazing Spider-Man (a bit poor port), the 2.5D Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate (which I personally think is excellent), the aforementioned Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Assassin's Creed III: Liberation, the 2.5D Assassin's Creed Chronicles – Trilogy (better than Liberation IMO), the Sony first party Gravity Rush (highly regarded among fans), about 13 Lego games, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (contains MGS 2 and 3 among others – and is excellent), Minecraft, the Ninja Gaiden Sigmas, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee HD, Oddworld: Strangers Wrath HD, Corpse Party: Bloddrive (and the PSP games Corpse Party and Corpse Party: Book of Shadows) and Oceanhorn: Monsters of Uncharted Seas plus the PSP games Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and The 3rd Birthday (which are both excellent IMO – the latter mostly because of the gameplay though).

Of JRPGs there are in the most common known franchises Final Fantasy X and X-2 remasters, World of Final Fantasy plus the PSOne classics and PSP versions of FF I-IX (1 to 9), FF Tactics: War of Lions and Crystal Defenders (there also used to be at least one of the Dissidia FF on the european PSN, but not anymore – maybe a remaster or 2 are on the way?). Also Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth, Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth – Hacker's Memory, Digimon World: Next Order (Japan only and not as highly regarded as the Cyber Sleuths), Dragon Quest Builders (Minecraft meets action JRPG), Disgaea 3: Absense of Detention and Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited plus the PSP games Disgaea 2: Dark Heroes, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and Disgaea Infinitive (all Strategy/Tactical RPGs except the latter which is a visual novel), Ys: Memories of Celceta, Ys Origin and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana plus the PSP games Ys 1 & II Chronicles, Ys Seven and Ys: The Oath of Felghana (all the Ys games are action RPGs) and lastly there is the highest rated Vita game ever: Persona 4 Golden plus in the same series the PSP games Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 3 Portable.

Other good more unknown JRPGs and Visual Novels (outside of the Vita community, that is) are Danganronpa 1 – 3 (VNs) and their spin-off Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (Action Adventure), The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2 (action RPGs), SteinsGate and SteinsGate 0 (VNs), Adventures of Mana (remake of the classic action RPG), Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of fate (roguelike), Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal (dungeon RPG), Stranger of Sword City (JRPG), Code Realize: Guardian of Rebirth (VN), Hakuoki: Kyoto Winds and just released in the west; Hakuoki: Edo Blossoms (both VNs), the Atelier serie (generally well recieved JRPGs with perhaps a slow decline in quality over time) , Grand Kingdom (Tactical RPG), Mary Skelter (Dungeon RPG), Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines (JRPG), Tales of Heart R (action RPG), Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth (Strategy RPG), Bad Apple Wars (VN) and Chaos Child (VN). Bear in mind that a some of the titles I've just mentioned are very niche (but still well received).

Lastly in the JRPG category I will mention the Hyperdimension and Sword Art Online (MMO-like RPGs) series of games; it's by Vita standards popular series, but the opinion on them are somewhat divided: People seem to either love or hate them, so it seems like they are something of an ”aquired taste”.

Before I close the curtain on the JRPG and Visual Novel genres on the Vita, I have a confession to make: I have never actually played any of the JRPGs and visual novels on the Vita myself, but I have followed the Vita ”scene” for quite a few years. Especially I have read (and occasionally contributed to) a lot of threads on Gamefaqs Vita board, because I like the general ”tone” on the board, and I have also aquired a lot of useful information about the Vita and its games by reading these threads. For the more obscure Vita JRPGs and VNs I've used Gamefaqs user and Metacritic scores plus user reviews to determine whether they were worth mentioning in this article.

The thing is that I am not into JRPGs (or japanese visual novels/”adventures”) at all. I've owned Final Fantasy VII and VIII, but never liked the random encounter turn based combat of said games. I'm more of realtime action gamer myself (but I can also enjoy a really good action adventure from time to time).

Of First Person Shooters on the Vita there are 5: Killzone Mercenary (which is one the best looking Vita games and is well regarded among fans), Call of Duty Black Ops: Declassified (very poorly rated by the critics, but I've heard that the Multiplayer part of it is quite good and also popular), Resistance: Burning Sky (a bit low budget - but ok for the fans, i guess), Borderlands 2 (initially a very bad port, but it has been patched numerous times and its performance has become acceptable – at least to some).

There also used to be Duke Nukem 3D: Megaton Edition on PSN, but it was removed when Randy Pitchford's Gearbox aquired the rights for the franchise (it isn't the very best port, as it occasionally suffers from frame rate drops, but it has a lot of content – the 4 episodes from the original Atomic Edition plus the 3 best episodes from the mod scene – it also has a rewind function when you die).

In the Rythm Game genre there are 3 Hatsune Miku: Project Diva games (all highly regarded), Persona 4: Dancing All Night (plus the upcoming Persona 3: Dancing Moon Night and Persona 5: Dancing Star Night), Superbeat Xonic (also highly regarded), IA/VT -Colourful- (highly regarded too, but Japan/Import only) and DJMax Technika Tune (also highly regarded, but it doesn't seem to be available in Europe).

In the Strategy Game genre there are XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus (not the very best port, but still impressive), Deception IV: Blood Ties and its U/G iteration Deception IV: The Nightmare Princess, Lara Croft GO, Hitman GO Definitive Edition, Hyperdimension Noire: Goddess Black Heart, Valkyria Revolution (more a 3rd person action game with strategy elements and IMO underrated), Super Robot Taisen V (import - but with english subs), SteamWorld Heist, Sid Meier´s Civilization Revolution 2 Plus, SD Gundam G Generation Genesis (import - but with english subs), Grand Kingdom plus the Disgaeas.

Of ”western” Adventure Games there are Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse episode 1 and 2 (just as good as the classic Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars IMO), the 3 Lucas Arts remasters Grim Fandango (a true classic - if not a bit weird), Full Throttle (also a classic - but more ”mainstream”) and Day of the Tentacle (I haven't played much of this myself yet - but it's also regarded as a classic), The Wolf Among Us – The Complete First Season (good game - but poor port), The Walking Dead Season 1 and 2 (not the best ports either), Tearaway (well regarded game from Sony themselves) plus Demetrios – The Big Cynical Adventure (an indie game made by a single - french, i believe – guy and quite good too from what I've heard).

Of japanese developed Adventure Games (but not Visual Novels) there are Claire: Extended Cut (not out in the west yet - but will be I believe), Virtue's Last Reward and Zero Escape – Zero Time Dilemma plus the collection Zero Escape: The Nonary Games that contains Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (remaster/remake of the first game in the series) and also Virtue's Last Reward plus Yomawari: Night Alone (isometric horror game).

Of arcade game remasters/ports on the Vita there are Q*bert: Rebooted, the SNK games (Neo Geo) The Last Blade 2, Samurai Shodown V Special, Garou: Mark of the Wolves and Metal Slug 3 plus DARIUS BURST Chronicle Saviours.

For download there are the PSP games/collections Metal Slug XX, Capcom Classics Collection Reloaded and Capcom Classics Collection Remixed (the latter 2 covers most of the classic Capcom arcade games – from Commando over Street Fighter to Strider) plus the PSOne classics: Atari Anniversay Edition, International Track & Field, Missile Command and Pong plus some obscure japanese Shmups (there are probably more arcade games on the US PSN – ”Midway Collection”, ”Namco Collection” etc.).

I will also mention that there lots and lots of recreated Pinball tables for the Vita (unfortunately not anymore as the license has been withdrawn) and couple of PSP Pinball collections as well.

Of games mostly aimed at kids, there are Minecraft, the around 13 Lego games, the 2 Raymans (Origins and Legends), the 2 Shantaes (Friends to the End and Half-Genie Hero), Hot Shots Golf/Everybody's Golf: Invitational, PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, The Ratchet & Clank Trilogy, Ratchet & Clank: QForce, The Sly [Cooper] Trilogy, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, LittleBigPlanet PlayStation Vita, The Jak and Daxter Trilogy, Tearaway, Terraria – PlayStation Vita Edition, Octodad: Deadliest Catch, Phineas and Ferb: Day of Doofenshmirtz, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Shovel Knight and Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows, SteamWorld Dig 1 and 2, SteamWorld Heist and PlayStation Vita Pets.

In the Simulation games genre there are 3 Farming Simulator games (14, 16 and 18) and VA- 11 Hall-A worth mentioning.

As for Indie Games on the Vita, the most popular and well received are Darkest Dungeon (which i haven't played, but it seems very highly regarded among fans), Axiom Verge (also very highly regarded, but not really my type of game – I did make it to first boss fight, which was almost like a rythm game and pretty good IMO), Salt and Sanctuary (which I haven't played more than a couple of hours of, but I can say it is a game that could become a true classic), The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, SteamWorld Dig 1 and 2, SteamWorld Heist, Shovel Knight and Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows and Cursed Castilla. Then there are of course Minecraft, that especially kids really like, and Terraria. There might be more good indie games, but the above mentioned are probably the most successful (and best).

That was the Playstation Vita part of this article. Now i will go onto the *New* Nintendo 3DS XL ”section”.

Now you might ask, why I have specifically have chosen the *New* Nintendo 3DS XL as one of my favorite gaming platforms of all time and not the entire Nintendo 3DS/2DS family of handheld consoles? 2 things: Screen size and stable 3D effect.

The first Nintendo 3DS I bought was the original pocket friendly one (and the only one available at the time), which I had a kind of ambivalent relation to; I enjoyed some of the games I played on it (especially the 2 Resident Evil games), but the screen was just to tiny. I really felt I was kind of destroying my eyes playing on it (especially when playing intense action games like the 2 Resident Evils), but I also thought its screen didn't really do justice to the games on it. The 3D effect itself I never regarded as being more than just a gimmick as it really hurt my eyes (and by hurt I mean literally inflicting pain to my eyes) when it got out of sync (which happened very often when I was playing intense action games).

So at the time when Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate was released, I bought the XL version of Nintendo 3DS and immidiately started to enjoy my 3DS games a lot more. The 3D effect had the same old issues as on the original 3DS though and thus was still just a gimmick in my opinion, but at least the larger screen didn't hurt my eyes, when I was playing the XL without the 3D effect.

But in the summer 2016 I finally caved in and bought a *New* Nintendo 3DS XL. I had prior to my purchase had a couple of years when I hadn't really played my ”Old” XL much (only 90 hours in 2014 and about the same in 2015), because I had finally ”fallen in love” with my Playstation Vita when I bought Soul Sacrifice Delta.

I had one of those times in my gaming life where I needed something new. I had always thought the 3DS' 3D effect looked good, but was useless because of the aforementioned reasons and I thought the promised stable 3D effect of the *New* XL was an intrigueing concept. Also I was interested in trying out the new C-stick of the *New* XL as I had had the Circle Pad Pro add-ons for both my original and XL 3DS's.

The stable 3D effect worked really well with the front camera on the *New* XL tracking your heads movement and adjusting the 3D effect accordingly, making sure that the effect only rarely got out of sync.

The C-stick on the other hand was a big disappointment being rather unreliable and imprecise, making it useless in a game like Resident Evil Revelations, where I had to use the face buttons (A, B, X and Y) instead for turning and camera adjustment (not a big problem for me personally as I had done that before in both Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker on the PSP and Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D on my prior 3DS's with great success - I even replaced the rubber on the C-stick with a cap for the PSP's stick, but little did it help).

I was not really disappointed with my *New XL* though, as I just used the aforementioned face buttons as the second stick and I really loved the stable 3D effect, as it just made especially action adventures so much immersive (in really intense action games like Resident Evil and Spy Hunter it's not really necessary IMO, because you are so engaged with the action, that you don't really notice the 3D effect, but in slower games it really adds to the atmosphere IMO).

The 3D effect really is the Nintendo 3DS's biggest asset from a hardware perspective IMO, which is why I, by far, think the *New* XL is the best version of the 3DS's (the *New* ”normal” 3DS of course also have the stable 3D effect, but maybe a to smal screen), and almost all of the ”bigger” titles uses the effect (only a few games like Fantasy Final Explorers doesn't use it as far as I know).

The Vita (especially the first model with its OLED screen) though is superior, when it comes to hardware compared to the 3DS (higher resolution, better screen, 2 sticks, better triggers, sturdier quality) in almost all aspects. The 3DS does have 2 areas other than the 3D effect where it is better designed though: The double screens and its clamshell design, that just makes it a better fit in your pocket (and at the same time protects the screen and stick(s) and buttons).

When it comes to games the 2/3DS's of course are better in the first party department (Mario, Zelda, Pokémon etc.), but when it comes to 3rd party (especially in the Action Games genre, but also in the JRPG, Fighting and Racing Games genres) it is a bit lacking compared to the Vita IMO. But then again the 3DS has my 2 favourite games of all time: Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D and Resident Evil Revolution (the latter mostly because of the Raid mode, but also the story mode really has its moments), so all in all they are about equal when it comes to greatness IMO.

The Vita though have much better sales on PSN than the 3DS EShop in general.

On the other hand the Vita uses proprietary memory cards (which are really expensive compared to the 3DS´s standard SD memory cards), but then again digital Vita games are usually a bit cheaper compared to physical games (especially when you buy them day one – this is how it is in europe at least). And btw physical Vita games are not region locked.

But now to the 3DS' games. I will start with the Monster Hunter games.

The Monster Hunter games (3 Ultimate, 4 Ultimate, Generations and Stories) are the most popular 3rd party games on the 3DS by several miles, but have never been very popular in the west (in Japan though, they are probably the bestselling games for the 3DS – maybe the Pokémon games are more popular idk). Monster Hunter Stories is a spin-off and not really like the others (apart from being set in the same universe). The other 3 are of course about hunting large monsters down and defeating them.

I've never actually owned a Monster Hunter game myself (apart from Freedom Unite on the PSP), but I have played a bit of the demos of 3 Ultimate, 4 Ultimate and Generations, and would say they are lot more aimed at kids than the Vita Monster Hunter ”clones”. I've also heard that there isn't a lot of story in the Monster Hunter games (apart from Stories I would reckon) compared to the Vita ”clones” and from what I've played of the Monster Hunter games combat seems much slower and more tactical (with bombs, traps etc.).

The general concensus regarding the 3DS Monster Hunter games is that Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is the best and it is also the one I plan to buy for my 3DS, when (or if) there appears a really good sale on the Nintendo 3DS Eshop (probably at the very end of the 3DS' life). Then it is my plan to really use some time trying to learn how to play it even if it is a bit to ”kiddy” for me (but then I didn´t really like Toukiden Kiwami at first, because I thought it was to japanese - but ended up really liking it after really getting a grasp on the gameplay).

And now to the other genres on the 3DS.

In the Action Games genre there are Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D (my favourite game of all time – just remember to play it with the Type C control configuration as it enables you to move and shoot at the same time), Resident Evil: Revelations (Raid), Aeterno Blade (a sort of Metroidvania with some good boss fights and interesting mechanics – just remember to get it on sale as it is a bit low budget looking), Attack on Titans: Humanity in Chains (underrated intense action game from what I've heard), Binding of Isaac: The Rebirth, Cave Story 3D, Chain Blaster, Cursed Castilla, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, E.X. Troopers (Japan only and 3DS games are region locked), Fire Emblem Warriors and Hyrule Warriors Legend (mosou style games), Iron Fall Invasion (really good effort if you take into account, that it was made by a team of only 3 people – otherwise not that great), Kirby Planet Robobot, Kirby Triple Deluxe, Kokuga, New Super Mario Bros 2, One Piece: Unlimited World Red, Poochy & Yoshi's Wooly World, Rayman Origins, Samurai Warriors (underrated musou) and Samurai Warriors 3 (even better than the first – also supports the Circle Pad Pro), Star Fox 64 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS and of course Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo 3DS.

Of Fighting Games on the 3DS there are only 2 really noteworthy: Dead or Alive: Dimensions and Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition. There´s also Tekken 3D: Prime Edition (which seems to be fine other than I've heard that it is lacking in content) and BlazBlue Continuum Shift (which was not so well received by the critics, although the fans seems happy enough).

In the Racing Game genre the 3DS has more games than the Vita, but they generally seem to be of low quality. Some good (or great) ones though are Mario Kart 7, Spy Hunter (does not play as well as the Vita version and also has some minor graphical bugs – still fun though), Ridge Racer (well received by the critics as well as the fans), Urban Freestyle 2 (seems to be the best of the 2 there are) plus the three 3D arcade ports from Sega: 3D Outrun, 3D Super Hang-On and 3D Power Drift (all great, but the latter is not available in the west yet). There's also 80's Overdrive, a sort of Out Run ”clone” (don't really know about that).

Of Sports Games there are Mario Golf: World Tour, 4 Fifa annual editions plus 2 Fifa Soccer annual editions, 3 Pro Evolution Soccer annual editions, several Inazuma Eleven games and Phil Taylor's Power Play Darts.

In the Action Adventure genre there are the 2.5D Batman Arkham Blackgate Origins (a bit buggy and not as good textures as the Vita version, but with 3D effect on it's still really good), the 2.5D Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate (underrated; not what all the fans wanted – but it has a fun combat system and great artwork), Corpse Party (japanese horror game), Dementium Remastered (underrated remaster of the Nintendo DS survival horror classic), Kid Icarus: Uprising, the 3D remasters of the classic Legend of Zelda Nintendo 64 games Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (highly regarded top down LoZ), about 15 Lego games, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (plus the upcoming remaster of the original Luigi's Mansion), Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D (with reworked controls, but also with some serious framerate problems during a certain boss fight), the 2.5D Metroid: Samus Returns, Minecraft *New* Nintendo 3DS Edition, Resident Evil: Revelations and Tom Clancy's Splinter 3D (a port of the best of the first generation of Splinter Cells: Chaos Theory – well presented, but with rather poor graphics) plus several Professor Layton games.

Of JRPG's on the 3DS there are 7th Dragon III Code: VFD, Bravely Default, Bravely Second: End Layer, Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fanfir Knight, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth, Mario & Luigi: Dream Adventure, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, the Shin Migami Tensei games (all highly regarded among critics as well as fans), Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (action RPG), Ever Oasis (action RPG) Tales of the Abyss (action RPG), Xenoblade Chronicles (*New* Nintendo 3DS only and an open world action JRPG – though with a ”strange” auto combat system) and lastly several Yo-Kai Watch games (not really JRPG´s, but still) plus of course many Pokémon games.

Of Visual Novels there are Chase: Cold Case Investigations - Distant Memories (a short, but sweet detective story/mystery game – although only the first episode of a longer story), Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi and several Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games (all highly regarded by both critics and fans).

Of non visual novel Adventure Games there are Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward and its sequel Zero Escape: Zero Time Dilemma, Jake Hunter Detective Story: Ghost of the Dusk (Japan only at the moment, but should be coming to the west in 2018) and Detective Pikachu.

In the Rythm Game genre on the 3DS there are Rythm Heaven Megamix, Rythm Thief & the Emporer´s Treasure, Theatrythm Dragon Quest, Theatrythm Final Fantasy and Theatrythm Final Fantasy Curtain Call.

Of Strategy Games there are Shin Megami Tensai: Devil Survivor Overclocked, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker, Dragon Ball Heroes: Ultimate Mission 2, the Fire Emblem games (minus Fire Emblem Warriors), Harvest Moon 3D: A New Beginning, Mercenaries Saga 2: Order of the Silver Eagle, Mercenaries Saga 3, Rune Factory, SteamWorld Heist, Stella Glow, Story of Seasons, Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars.

Of Arcade Game ports there are 3D Out Run, 3D Space Harrier, 3D Fantasy Zone 1 and 2 (1 only in the US, I believe), 3D Super Hang On, 3D Power Drift, 3D Galaxy Force II, 3D After Burner II, 3D Thunderblade, 3D Classics Twin Bee, 3D Classics Xevious, the Nintendo Entertainment System arcade ports Pac-Man, Galaga, Ghost 'n' Goblins, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3, Dig Dug, Gradius and Renegade, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (only on *New* Nintendo 3DS) arcade ports Super Ghouls 'n' Ghosts, Final Fight 1, 2 and 3, Mighty Final Fight, Street Figther II (The New Challengers, Alpha and Turbo) plus the Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions ”compilation”.

There are also a few Pinball games on the 3DS: Marvel Pinball 3D, Zen Pinball 3D and Star Wars Pinball plus Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection (only in the US it seems).

Of games aimed mostly towards kids on the 3DS there are several Mario, Kirby, Pokémon and Yo-Kai Watch games, Poochy & Yoshi's Wolly World, 2 Animal Crossing games, around 15 Lego Games, Rayman Origins, several Disney games (Magical World 1 & 2 probably being the best), Minecraft, Terraria, the Monster Hunter games, Rythm Paradise Megamix, Story of Seasons, Terraria, Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, Shovel Knight and Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows, the Nintendogs + Cats series, SteamWorld Dig 1 and 2 plus SteamWorld Heist and many, many more as they say.

Of Indie Games on the 3DS there are The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, SteamWorld Dig 1 and 2, SteamWorld Heist, Shovel Knight and Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows and Cursed Castilla. Then there is of course Minecraft and Terraria. There might (as it was with the Vita) be more good indie games, but the above mentioned are probably the most successful (and best).

Then the 3DS can of course play the entire physical Nintendo DS library of games (which is not region locked btw) and there are many of the most popular Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (only *New* Nintendo 2/3DS), Gameboy, Gameboy Color, Sega Game Gear and Sega Genesis/Megadrive games available to download in the Eshop at reasonable prices.

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For the Budding ZX Spectrum Machine Code Programmer, I Would Like to Share Some Handy Resources for ZX Spectrum Games Development That I've Found on the Internet.

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum is one of my 3 favourite gaming platforms of all time (the other 2 being the Playstation Vita and the *New* Nintendo 3DS XL) and I have always dreamt of making my own machine code powered action game for it (I did make a simple Space Invaders clone in the early 80's in ZX Basic).

And around 3 years ago I had a bit of time on my hands and nothing else I wanted to do at the time, and at the same time I had gotten a good idea for a 2D action game I wanted to make, and as I know a fair bit about how the ZX Spectrum's ”internals” are structured (and have a general affection for the machine) I opted for trying to make the game on the ZX Spectrum.

I had never programmed any machine code programs before and had only read a bit about how it was done back in the day, so I didn't know much about how to approach doing it, and therefore I started to search the internet for resources that could help me in my ”quest”.

First of all I found a very good free utility for making games for the ZX Spectrum (and other 8-bit home computers aswell) in machine code/assembler language, called ”TommyGun – a retro development toolkit”, made by a guy called Tony Thompson, in which you can make your own graphics (sprites and tiles), install an assembler program (I use the Pasmo Z80 assembler myself), make screens/maps, see an overview of the memory layout, edit strings and make music for the games you are developing.

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TommyGun's "dashboard".

I'm not entirely sure if music making and editing strings is working at this stage, as I haven't used these functions yet, but it's easy to make your own sprites and see them animated at different speeds and making tiles, and screen and game map building is also very well implemented.

All in all it is a very usefull and well made 8 bit development tool (although I'm not sure if the other 8 bit platforms are as well supported as the ZX Spectrum one yet) and then it's free, so I certainly recommend any budding 8 bit games programmer to check it out.

TommyGun (and a newer version I haven't checked out yet) can be found at:


I also found what is practically a goldmine of information for any budding ZX Spectrum games developer on a blog called ”Bytes: Chuntey - R Tape loading error". It contains about 20 long articles by a guy called ”Arjun” (edit: in fact it seems that most - if not all - of the articles are written by Jonathan Cauldwell, creater of the Egghead games among others) that covers just about everything worth knowing about programming games for the ZX Spectrum in machine code/assembler language (and by everything I mean just about every trick in the book – from fast scrolling routines, making sprites, music and AY effects to collision detection, interrupts etc., etc.).

These articles can be found at:


Another really useful ressource is an online (although it can be saved and used offline as well) tutorial for Z80 assembly programming in general by a guy called Patai Gergely.

It's an excellent tool for someone who has never programmed in Z80 assembler language before, as it's very easy to use and much, much better than looking through the manual for the Z80 processor or some old books on the subject (which by the way CAN be found on the internet if anybody is interested).

The tutorial can be found at:


And is highly recommended.

There is also an indepth article about making sprites (masked) on the ZX Spectrum at:


Lastly I will recommend using the Spectaculator ZX Spectrum emulator for Windows when developing games for the ZX Spectrum, as it supports all of the official ZX Spectrums as well as the 2 most popular Russian clones. It also has a debugger built-in which could become handy when testing games.

The Spectaculator is something I will recommend in general if you like playing or programming ZX Spectrum games, as it's just such a well-rounded product; it can mimic an old CRT television (with scanlines and all) for example and in general just have a lot of options for ”personalizing” your experience. And then it runs really well; there is no flickering or other oddities not supposed to be there when you are playing the games.

The only ”downside” is that it's not free (I think it is about 15$ if you don't want to have access to future upgrades, else it's about the double). In my opinion it's well spent money though, and if you're in doubt that ZX Spectrum gaming and programming really is your thing, there is a 30 day trial version for you to download for free (just to clarify: I have no connections whatsoever to the people behind Spectaculator, but bought it myself about 10 years ago and have never regretted doing so).

The Spectaculator can be downloaded at:


Ok, I think this about it, but if you have gotten further appetite for information about the ZX Spectrum, lastly I would like to recommend the ”mother” of all ZX Spectrum websites:


Here you can find everything from games and forums to emulators and information on remakes of classic ZX Spectrum games

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Why the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Was the Best 8 bit Home Computer for Arcade Conversions and Arcade Like Games in General, If You Look at Gameplay Alone (and probably also the best compared to the 16 bit home computers).

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum series of home computers was manufactured from 1982 to 1992 and according to Wikipedia sold around 5 million units (not counting numerous clones primarily from Russia/USSR and various eastern european countries), making it the second most popular 8 bit home computer only behind the Commodore 64 , which according to Wikipedia sold between 12.5 and 17 million units (but with the most educated guesses being around the 12.5 million units sold).

Other popular 8 bit home computers were the Amstrad CPC series of home computers (3 million sold), the Acorn BBC (1.5 million sold) series of home computers and the Atari 8 bit home computers (4 million sold including all models). Of popular 16 bit home computers there were effectively only 2: The Commodore Amiga and Atari ST series of home computers.

The ZX Spectrum was a simple computer even for its time; it basically consisted of only one processor (the Zilog Z80) clocked at around 3.5 MHz and a ULA, a very simple computer chip responcible for generating the display (in conjunction with the UHF modulator) controlling the tape and audio I/O and finally reading the keyboard.

The ZX Spectrum did have colours (hence its name), in fact 8 ranging from white to black, but with the option to add brightness to each colour, effectively making it 15 different colours (bright black was still same old black). It did have a very simple ”sound system” called the ”Beeper”, a tiny speaker built in to the cabinet, which the Z80 processor could make sound at the expense of not being able to do anything else as long as the selected pitch sounded. Despite this it was actually capable of producing quite impressive sound effects and even music in game.

Later models of the ZX Spectrum (from 128k and onwards) had a rather basic, but still competent (and in fact used in many 8 bit home computers plus a couple of home consoles as well), 3 channel sound chip called the AY-3-8912 added, which was utilised in quite a lot of games (especially from 1987 and onwards).

The original ZX Spectrum 16k and 48k versions has mainly 2 things going against them:

First and foremost sound; when a game (the processor) has to pause everytime the programmer of the game had decided to put out the tiniest squeak from the speaker, it is rather obvious that there simply isn't going to be a lot of sound in-game unless the programmer wants the action in a game performed at a snails pace. So expecting tunes playing in a game while the actual game play is going on is wishful thinking except for only a few games (Manic Miner and Jet Set Villy are a couple of examples with actual tunes playing while you're playing the game, but they are quite rare exceptions to the rule).

So all in all we can state that when we're talking about the 16k and 48k versions, the ZX Spectrum is a dwarf when it comes to outputting sound compared to it's biggest competitor the Commodore 64 with it's very advanced SID sound chip, which is basically a small syntheziser (and even the ZX Spectrum 128k model's AY-3-8912 doesn't really compare to the SID chip).

The second thing going against the ZX Spectrum - and that applies to all of the official versions of it, not only the 16 and 48k versions - is the way it adds color to the graphics, and yes, I mean adds, because color on the ZX Spectrum is in a sense not an integrated part of the graphics, but more of an ”afterthought” (but more about that later).

A thing the ZX Spectrum has going for it though, is its screen resoultion of 256x192 pixels, a graphic resolution very close to that of the arcade games from the so called ”Golden Age of Arcade Games” (1978 to 1983), which of course with out saying is an advantage, if you want replicate said arcade games (and the arcade games that came immediately after – from 1984 to around 1986). The colors are as I mentioned earlier more of an afterthought as the actual artwork/graphics are seperated from the ”color coding”, or as Sinclair Research called them, ”The Attributes”, in the video ram.

The ZX Spectrum 48k's memory layout does in fact consist of 64k or 65536 bytes which is the maximum number of memory adresses you can access directly from an 8 bit computer, the ZX Spectrum 48k of course only have 48k of ram, but Sir Clive Sinclair, the inventor of the ZX Spectrum, opted for a quite a clever solution when he designed its memory layout.

He placed the 16k rom (Read Only Memory) containing the ZX Basic and other routines vital to the system at address 0, and then the video ram immediately after at address 16k or 16384 (one k in computer terminology being 1024 bytes) and as each of the 192 lines of pixels of the screen/display are stored as 32 8 bit bytes (hence the ZX Spectrum being a 8 bit computer), the graphics (excluding colors) thus took up 32x192 = 6144 bytes starting from the aforementioned address 16384, but in a rather odd succession (but that's another matter). The attributes values for telling the ULA what ”colour scheme” for each of the 768 ”characters” to output to the TV followed immediately after.

These ”Attributes” and the "Attribute Clash" (or "Color Clash") they often caused is the biggest drawback of the ZX Spectrum when it comes to graphics, but at the same time one of the main reasons why the ZX Spectrum in the hands of the most clever programmers, is the best 8 bit home computer when it comes to arcade conversions and arcade style games IMO (and probably also better than the 16 bit Amiga and Atari ST home computers when it comes to frame rate and playability of the games in general).

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An example of attribute clash in the 1983 ZX Spectrum game "Ah Diddums". Notice how the magenta color of the ball bleeds into part of the the teddy bear's original yellow color.

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The 1986 ZX Spectrum version of Green Beret. A game with almost no noticeable attribute clash, despite it being a side scroller. Watch the Youtube video in the link beneath if you want to see how it looks in motion.


Basically each of the Attributes determins what 2 colors a given charater space on the screen will consist of (in ZX Basic terminology, a background color ”Paper” and foreground color ”Ink” - with ”Ink” determining the colour of the graphics applied to the background), with a ”Character” being an 8x8 pixel large area consisting of for instance the uppercase letter ”A” in ZX Basic mode.

The ZX Spectrum screen consists of 32x24 = 768 of these ”Characters” all in all in ZX Basic mode (with the ”24” coming from 192 divided with 8 as each character consists of 8 pixel lines), which means that the Attributes takes up 768 memory addresses (or bytes), one for each character space.

All in all the way the video ram on the ZX Spectrum is laid out means that it only uses 6144 bytes for the graphics/artwork (32 bytes for each of the 192 pixel lines on the screen) plus 768 bytes for the attributes (or ”colour coding”) of the character spaces all in all 6912 bytes or 6.75k, a significantly lower amount compared to all of its contemporaries.

This ”smallish” video ram paired with the fact that the Zilog Z80 processor was the fastest of the 8 bit processors available at the time, meant that the ZX Spectrum was very fast when it comes to building the next display image before ”sending” it to the ULA for it in conjunction with the UHF modulator to send it to the TV (the ZX Spectrum doesn't actually send the display image to the ULA, it is rather the ULA that scans the video ram every 1/50 of a second and then displays on the TV whatever is in the video ram exactly at that moment).

And when action games generally requires a lot of data to be sent to the video ram as scrolling routines demands the playing field to be updated constantly and many sprites on screen at the same time also requires a steady stream of data to the video ram (the more sprites on the screen, the more time it also takes for the processor to calculate the different sprites movement patterns - that is if their movement patterns are not predetermined - but is actually the result of an algorithm determining their ”next move”), you can probably begin to understand that the ZX Spectrum in the hands of a skilled programmer has the ”upper hand” compared to its direct competitors when it comes to the smoothness and playability of action games in particular.

The Commodore 64 in particular is not to far by behind the ZX Spectrum when it comes to smoothness and playability of action games though (provided it's programmed by a skilled programmer of course) as it has an other advantage over the ZX Spectrum besides the SID sound chip.

The Commodore 64 has a dedicated graphic chip that does some of the work the ZX Spectrum's Z80 processor has to do all by itself. This graphic chip is among other things capable of something called ”Hardware Scrolling” which basically means that it calculates how the background graphics is going to look in the next ”frame” when scrolling the screen, while the main processor attends to other tasks.

The Commodore 64's graphics chip is also capable of displaying a set amount of sprites on the screen, also here taking work load of the main processor, while the ZX Spectrum's humble Z80 must also do this by itself (and the ZX Spectrum programmer must make his own masked sprite routines, something the Commodore 64 is born with).

The main disadvantage of the Commodore 64 though, is that its main processor, the Mos Technology 6510, is very slow compared to the ZX Spectrum's Z80 processor. The PAL versions of the Commodore 64's 6510 processor only have a clock frequency of 0.985 MHz compared to the ZX Spectrum's Z80s 3.5 Mhz (the ZX Spectrum was never released in the US, which is why I compare it to the PAL version of the Commodore 64).

It has to be said though that while the 6510 processor is almost 4 times slower than the Z80 processor, the fact that it uses fewer cycles (the ZX Spectrum's Z80 performs around 3.5 million cycles per second having a clock frequency of approximately 3.5 MHz) per machine code instruction than the Z80, means that in reality the ZX Spectrums´s Z80 processor is around twice as fast as the Commodore 64´s 6510 processor.

Another disadvantage the 6510 has compared to the Z80 is that the instruction set of the Z80 is much more versatile than the 6510's instruction set, which means that it easier to program more complex routines on a Z80 than a 6510 – also the 6510 in general uses around 20% more memory when programming a routine compared to the Z80, but that's not really a big issue when it comes to the Commodore 64, as it has 64 kb ram compared to the ZX Spectrum's 48 kb.

The video ram on the Commodore 64 has several modes it can be set to, but the most commonly used in action games is the ”MultiColor” mode in which the Commodore generates a display with a resolution of 160x200 pixels each with 4 colors to choose from (although one of them has to be the background color). To store one of these 4 colors you need 2 bits of an 8 bit byte per pixel, which means that the amount of bytes you store the display in is 160 x 200 / 4 (only a quarter of an 8 bit byte is needed per pixel) = 8000.

But the Commodore 64's MultiColor mode, like the ZX Spectrum, also has attributes to deal with, in fact 40x25 (one for each its characters in its Basic mode), though they are a bit different compared to those of the ZX Spectrum as each attribute space is 4 x 8 pixels that can contain 4 different colors (one of them the background color), which means that the Commodore 64's attributes is stored in the memory as 40 x 25 / 4 (2 bits per attribute space) = 250 bytes.

All in all we can conclude that the Commodore 64's video ram consists of 8000 + 250 = 8250 bytes or just over 8 kb when in MultiColor mode, while the ZX Spectrum's video ram, as stated earlier in this article, is 6.75k, which means that the Commodore 64's video ram is just short of 20% larger than the ZX Spectrum's. Not an extreme amount but put together with the fact that the Z80 processor is around twice as fast as its 6510 equivalent and the fact that the program code on the 6510 takes up more memory (which also means it takes more processor cycles to execute), means that the best examples of the action games genre on the ZX Spectrum simply plays a bit better (basically has better frame rates, but also sometimes has more sprites on screen at once) than their Commodore 64 counterparts.

I will go as far as to claim that there are a few ZX Spectrum arcade conversions that plays better than even their arcade ancestors, especially the conversions from the hands of the two gentlemen Jonathan M. "Joffa" Smith and Keith Burkhill (Green Beret, Space Harrier, Commando, Ghost 'n' Goblins, Terra Cresta amongst others), but also the conversions of Bomb Jack and Chase H.Q. stand out in this regard.

You may say, no way, but the fact is that the above mentioned arcade conversions are those I always return to on the ZX Spectrum when it comes to arcade conversions, simply because they are a lot of fun to play and in fact none of these game's arcade ancestors belong on my list of my favourite arcade games (don't get me wrong they're all good arcade games, but personally I'm more into the arcade games from the so called ”Golden Age of Arcade Games" - 1978 to 1983 - for example Frogger, Galaxians, Gyruss, Tutankham, Pengo, Xevious and Dig Dug), but their ZX Spectrum versions just play so extremely well and are at the same time very well presented given the limitations of the hardware, that I feel they surpass them gameplay-wise.

I don't know if I'm right in my last assumption as it is based on my own personally experiences with said arcade games (not so much in the actual arcades, but mainly on a platform like Mame and through various compilations and downloadable games on gaming platforms such as the Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita and Gameboy Advance) but my initial claim that the ZX Spectrum is the best 8 bit home computer (and probably also generally better than the two popular 16 bit home computers) when it comes to gameplay in arcade conversions and arcade like games, I stand by.

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For the more adventurous, I can the recommend the following:

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