The ZX Spectrum Did Not Exist
The ZX Spectrum did not exist. The BBC Micro may also be a figment of your imagination. The Amstrad CPC? Never heard of it.
I make a point of reading as many books about the history of computer & video games as possible. Most of them are pretty decent reads, well researched and historically accurate. But if there’s one alarming trend common to most, it’s the glaring omission of anything relating to the European (particularly the British) video game scene during the 1980s.
If you don’t believe me, pick up a copy of Steven L. Kent’s The Ultimate History of Video Games, turn to the index and try to find any mention of the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro or Amstrad CPC. Nope, I don’t see anything either. Now grab your copy of Vintage Games by Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton and do the same. Zippity-nilch. A bit strange given that these computers, along with the Commodore 64, dominated the British gaming scene for most the 1980s.
While it’s fair to say that neither of these machines found commercial success outside Europe (which I’m assuming is the main reason the annals of video game history appears to be ignoring them), it’s dangerous to overlook them as they made significant contributions to the video game industry and helped shape it into the one we’re familiar with today.
One of the most critically acclaimed developers for the ZX Spectrum were Ultimate Play the Game, responsible for the likes of Sabre Wulf, Knight Lore and Underwurlde. These days you know them better as Rare, who gave us Donkey Kong Country, Banjo Kazooie, Goldeneye, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark and Viva Piñata (amongst countless others). Without their early success on the ZX Spectrum it’s fair to say they wouldn’t be around today.
Meanwhile, the BBC Micro introduced us to Geoff Crammond and David Braben. Crammond gave us the highly successful Formula One Grand Prix series of racing simulators, while Braben is perhaps most famous for introducing Elite to the world (a game that’s 25 years old but still continues to be the yardstick by which all space combat/trading games are judged). His current studio, Frontier Developments, are currently working on The Outsider for Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows platforms.
As far as the existing video game history books are concerned, everything happened in either the USA or Japan. It’s all about Atari, Mattel, Nintendo and Sega, with a little bit of Commodore on the side. Sinclair, Acorn and Amstrad rarely get a look in, which is a bit of a shame given the rather exceptional and unique games that appeared on those systems. To ignore the European contribution to video game history is to ignore the likes of The Last Ninja, Head Over Heels, Lords of Midnight, The Hobbit, Alien Breed, Manic Miner, Mercenary, Flashback, Paradroid, Elite, Revs, Knight Lore, The Pawn and hundreds of other critically acclaimed titles I could reel off without a pause for breath. All these titles directly influenced an entire generation of PC developers during the 1990s, who in turn influenced many of the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 developers working today.
I urge those writers responsible for the next batch of video game history books not to overlook the influence of the countless British/European developers responsible for so many great gaming experiences during the 1980s. Without their influence many of the contemporary classics you count as your favorites probably wouldn’t exist.