Retrocon 2024

Amazing ZX Spectrum Programs from the 1980s That Are All But Forgotten

For most of us, the Speccy was little more than a home console. Of course, some of us did learn the BASICs (sic!) of programming on it, but most of us only used it for playing video games. Considering its capabilities (today’s cheapest feature phones have more processing power than the ZX Spectrum did), it’s hard to believe that it was also capable of running serious software. But make no mistake, the Speccy was a pretty serious piece of equipment - in the right hands, that is - capable of handling pretty serious tasks. 

Here are a few pieces of software that you may not have known were available on ZX Spectrum computers.

Pixel art creation

Looking at the digital art circulating on today’s internet, it seems hard to believe the digital world wasn’t always high-resolution, with millions of colors. When the Spectrum was the home computer of choice for most, not many of us thought of it as an artist’s tool - unless, of course, you considered pixel art, and the programs used to create it.

There were several utilities to choose from if you wanted to draw on a Speccy - there was “The Artist” created by programmers Bo Jangeborg and Stuart Hughes in 1985 or Advanced Art Studio released by Rainbird Software in 1986 if you wanted to create, well, pixel art.

Word processing

The Speccy, just like all other personal computers at the time, had a keyboard reminiscent of typewriters - just like most of the keyboards today, by the way. It was a lot like a compact laptop today, without the screen, of course. This, along with the several word processors available at the time, made it a great alternative to electric typewriters.

One of them was Tasword, one of the first word processors available on the platform. First released in 1982, it included most features you’d expect from its modern counterparts: it could justify, word wrap, handle bold and italic text, and even headers and footers.

Tasword was first released on the ZX-81, then on the Speccy, and on every subsequent version, and expanded on other platforms ranging from the C64 to even a PC version in 1986.

Random number generating

The casino reviews released at the time, if there have been any, would’ve probably bashed the gambling software running on the ZX Spectrum. Back then, in turn, the rolling reels on the pixelated slot machines were as exciting as they could be.

There were several casino software packages available at the time, with low-budget titles like Vegas Jackpot by Mastertronic (engulfed by Sega in 1991) to high-quality contenders like Las Vegas Casino, released in 1989 by Zeppelin Games, the company that went on to become Eutechnyx and is still in business today.

What makes these games special is their random number generator. While they would probably not be considered “provably fair” today, they were fair enough for casual players at the time. Arguably, some of the games we played at the time were more creative and more fun to play than some online casino games are today.

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