Antiquities: ZX Spectrum, tape programs and high definition

    I come home, pull out dusty boxes of good from the bins , disassemble and think about this. My story is divided by progress into two parts: digital and analog. With analog, everything is simple: what is not lost in a dozen journeys, here it is, in place: photos, diaries, letters. With digital harder. My earliest digital documents date back to about 2001. And then, almost everything is lost from there, only a couple of random photos are preserved on CD-R discs. More or less reliable correspondence, chat logs, photos and music are beginning to be stored since 2003. From that moment, when I bought a new hard drive, I no longer needed to sell the old one.

    Meanwhile, the first personal computer came to me in 1990. And until about 1996, my home computer was a clone of the ZX Spectrum called ATM Turbo. Then for a long time was the 386th IBM PC. None of this first computer decade has survived. Or so it seemed to me, while I, sorting out old cassettes, did not stumble upon the remnants of a collection of Spectrum programs. And it became interesting to me - and what is there at all? Will it be read? And most importantly, will it be possible to remember something interesting about that era, which nevertheless was well for a long time. As if not with me. Unlike the 2002 software compilation , today is a special swim in the wake of my memory. As if I was going to the city where I used to be, but not because he is particularly good or interesting.

    I just want to make sure that I did not seem, and I was really there.

    This story in the format of live broadcast is told in my telegram channel . In the same place this week a new rubric started “in the wake of media publications”, with clippings from computer magazines of the past. Discussion of publications and updates in the channel is made in a specially sharpened chatik .

    So, we have three cassettes with inserts printed on the Robotron printer. Each is numbered with a pen: there are numbers 3, 12, and 14. It can be concluded that I had at least 14 cassettes, and each one had 10-12 or more programs and games. This is an impressive collection. In fact, there were about twenty tapes. Two tapes are devoid of any signatures. In the post-Soviet cassettes from the light, the plastic case has turned yellow, and it looks like a similar effect on the portholes of the Tu-144 supersonic airliner. I wonder if there is any connection here?

    Old-timers recall that even in our province there was a selling point for Spectrum software, but we didn’t buy anything there. Games borrowed from someone my father, after which we carefully rewrote them. In general, I was objectively too small to be fully involved in the process: I rather watched how the sachet and the board turned first into a miraculously working mess of wires on the table, and then removed into the case from the Soviet eight-bit computer Partner 01.01. ATM Turbo seriously surpasses the original ZX Spectrum of 1982: the memory in it is 512 kilobytes, the processor can work in turbo mode with a frequency of 7 MHz, it is possible to boot into the "office" operating system CP / M. A year after construction, two five-inch drives are screwed to the computer. From now on, the tapes are almost never used. What for,

    With the advent of the drive, the collection of software on cassettes is rapidly degrading. The cheapest post-Soviet tapes are not very suitable for recording music, but I'm still trying. The irony is that nothing remained of those diskettes in the course of normal life turbulence. And the tapes, though not all, are preserved. But written on them ... Well, let's be honest: that horrible. In a situation where there is no Internet, no specialized magazines, no money, the program selection strategy was this - to keep everything that the hand reached out for, suddenly it will come in handy.

    So a set of programs and games - it does not quite describe me or my school hobbies. This is a monument to the era. Of all the "Spectrum" games I really remember literally two or three. For example, the well-known Dizzy and Exolon . And Bruce Lee . I go through it, as it turned out during video recording, in about 10 minutes, but partly because I spent hours and days as a schoolboy. I didn’t even immediately realize that there was a continuation after the first three screens, and when I saw a passage to a new level, these were emotions that can now be obtained only with the help of a bonus in the amount of annual salary.

    Okay, let's give something to download programs from tapes. I did not buy for this experiment the original ZX Spectrum. Firstly, it is a toy for rich western children, and if you really need to restore iron, then you need to look for that same ATM Turbo (or completely pumped ATM Turbo 2+ ). Secondly, I really like the picture, which is given by modern ZX Spectrum emulators on modern hardware. There is something in these huge, perfectly square pixels. Therefore, for traveling in time, the Spectaculator emulator is used , chosen for the ability to download games directly from the tape recorder.

    I can not fail to note what a magical set of hardware is used to play eight-bit games. A computer with four processor cores, each with a frequency of 2.7 GHz. 32 gigabytes of RAM. Sound card capable of capturing a signal with a frequency of up to 48 kilohertz. The 27-inch screen with the number of pixels is 42 times larger than the ZX Spectrum itself is capable of displaying. It seems that this spacecraft will now begin to create eight-bit games from the surrounding air. But no: I connect a tape recorder, set levels, turn on the old recording with the program, and nothing works.

    But I was ready for it. First I want to check the circuit on a reliable source. For this, I add even more absurdity. Instead of a tape recorder, I connect a smartphone (8 cores, 6 gigabytes of RAM), on YouTube I find a full video download of the Spectrum game, I launch it - it works! What's the matter? The point is speed. In the 90s, programs were recorded on the Riga 110 radio tape recorder , which twisted the tape a little faster than necessary. Now the program is played a little slower, and the emulator "does not hear it". The frequency of the pilot tone, which is determined by the beginning of the program, is 764 hertz, and you need 817.

    A small correction in the Audacity program, and I was able to download the game by transferring the corrected sound file to the smartphone and connecting it to the sound card. But it is somehow not sports. It would be desirable, despite the emulators, loading from the cassette directly. But I don’t want to go into the settings of my working tape recorder at all. Fortunately, I have long been in the tape business, and in addition to the main tape recorder and backup tape recorder, I also have an unnecessary tape recorder . I don’t feel sorry for him: I adjust the speed and position of the audio head on it in order to maximally correspond to the parameters of a 27-year-old recording. And it works! Works! 1 Ahahaha !!!

    Of course, I did not choose what to download in the first place, and I caught some sooooo strange three-dimensional ping-pong. But still cool: from 2018, this is perceived as something like a digital photograph of the cake. The reliability of the system is impressive: the recording is obviously noisy, the speed is floating, the tape recorder is fonite and chirps. But it works. Experience was meditative. Three minutes you load the game, and you never know for sure whether it will work or if an error will take off. And not all games can be downloaded: here it is fatally cheated, here the emulator goes into reboot, for an unknown reason. But still something turns out.

    On this clone Arkanoid (or breakout) you can make an impression about the Spectrum games. They took for the soul not so much graphics and music as gameplay. Hence the incredible complexity at the very first level: the speed is high, a bit microscopic, try to hit. This experience is very different from the casual games of the present: million blockbusters, more like movies, in which you sometimes press buttons.

    Further it became even more difficult. The imported (or counterfeit) Yokohama cassette turned out to be the most problematic. Unevenly wound tape has been pressed for decades. I had to rearrange the tape in the new building, cut off the completely affected part. It did not help: when listening, there was a feeling that the pieces of the programs were randomly recorded one over the other, or ... Wait, during the second approach to the projectile I caught some kind of logic in these sounds, as if the recording were scrolled backwards.

    And for sure: I digitize the record, turn it over in the Audacity editor, and I get absolutely Spectrum sound. But very deaf, because the record is read from the non-working side of the tape! Apparently once the cassette was severely chewed, the tape was casually tucked back, twisted, and most of the cassette was playing in the wrong place. I find a crumpled piece, straighten, roll up the tape as needed. I try to download the program, it works!

    Well, not counting the fact that I did not understand how to play this game. A set of games “just got” implies a lot of weird stuff. They wrote as much as possible, just in case, without assessing the quality of the “content”. It seems to me that most of the games from these cassettes did not play at all: at any given time there were five favorites. I addressed the rest only when the best hits bored.

    And then there is a failure: the recording is erased. In the late nineties, I had nothing to do experimenting with recording music at double speed, it allowed me to improve the quality a bit. The victim was Spectrum programs; instead, songs by the group Offspring were recorded, now playing two times slower than necessary. Sounds scary. Alas, I still do not know what the program called “Big Shit Eight” is. Or find out . The Internet is in a hurry to help. Big Shit 8 is a rather dull 1987 hacker demo.

    It remains to digitize the latest tape, and then I was in for a surprise.


    On this tape without signatures, programs are also recorded, but these are NOT programs for the Spectrum. And for which computer? I have few options, before the Spectrum I had a Soviet personal computer Partner 01.01 based on a KR580BM80A processor, also known as an Intel 8080 clone. The problem is that two emulators I know ( Emu80 and just Emu ) do not recognize these records.

    There may be an error in the write speed. I also had the impression that the “Partner” had two different recording formats for tape - for binary files, and for text data and programs in the BASIC language. I posted one of the entries in the telegram channel (and duplicated here). Can someone tell me something? Is there a utility for converting sound into code, without using an emulator? It would be interesting to dig up this topic to the end, and of course the history of the Partner and other variations of Radio86RK is worthy of a separate post.

    My Spectrum - it’s as if you were taken to a planetarium as a child, but that was a long time ago, and you don’t remember anything. Neither where he is, nor about the stars and planets, but left a steady pleasant impression. I have so. It seems the last game I played on the Spectrum was UFO-2: Devils of the Abyss , a Russian variation on the theme of X-Com: Terror from The Deep. Then an IBM PC-compatible computer appeared, and the Spectrum was instantly thrown onto the shelf. It was still pleasant to make a second visit to the history of 27 years ago.

    I was pleased with the reliability of reading from the tape: despite the tape cassette cheating and their initially dull quality, recording on an oak Soviet tape recorder, the data remains available three decades later. These cassettes with programs have already experienced a lot of more modern information carriers and services, and they will survive a lot more. ZX Spectrum was developed in accordance with the limitations of the carrier: this is indicated by the OTLA project , which allows downloading data to the original computers ten times faster, it is enough to get rid of the intermediary in the form of a magnetic tape.

    The legacy of the ZX Spectrum is huge, it is worthy of many historical studies. But let someone else take care of them. When I was in the second grade, after the lessons we had a game evening at the 286th IBM PS / 2. For 1990, it was something incredible, cosmically cool. That same evening my father brought “Partner 01.01” home, and I was glad to have even such a computer at home. But the memory of the dos games was in my memory. “Partner”, and later “Spectrum” remained a stepping stone for me to fulfill a big dream. Well. At least, in anticipation of my 386th desktop, I had a very good time for eight-bit toys.

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