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ZX Spectrum Programmers

Updated on August 19, 2014
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Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,

ZX Spectrum Programmers

There were many fine developers who worked on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum (and other retro computers - with some even cutting their teeth on the ZX81) during the 1980s and into the early 1990s.

They managed to push the machine way beyond it's limitations and cram well drawn graphics, nicely animated sprites and two channel music into the small 48K of RAM.

These guys were geniuses of the coding world, and this is a little tribute to them from me.

Have a read over our selection here - we're sure you'll agree that they all deserve a mention.

Cybernoid II

Raffaele Cecco

Raffaele Cecco was a stalwart developer for the excellent company Hewson Consultants (who were later known simply as Hewson.)

Hewson generally released quality titles, and Raffaele Cecco's games were usually well received by gamers and magazines.

Some of Raffaele's more well known hits include:

  • Equinox (an arcade and puzzle game)
  • Exolon (a superb shoot em up)
  • Cybernoid (a brilliant flick screen shoot em up)
  • Cybernoid II (the follow up game was arguably even better)
  • Stormlord (A mystical arcade adventure)

All of these games were regarded as top quality and really highlighted what the Spectrum was capable of in the hands of a talented developer.

In the early 1990s Cecco moved away from 8-bit development and helped to develop the excellent First Samurai on 16-bit machines such as the Commodore Amiga. This excellent arcade adventure was a superb title on the Commodore machine.

Exolon

Avalon

Dragontorc

Steve Turner

Another stalwart of Hewson consultants, Steve Turner was behind lots of quality titles for the ZX Spectrum.

He had a hand in early 3D games before moving into the arcade adventure genre. Most of Turner's games were well received by the gaming public, and many are regarded as classics of the 8-bit era.

Steve Turner developed:

  • 3D Space Wars (introduced the Seiddab in a good 3D arcade game. Note that 'Seiddab' is 'baddies' spelled backwards!)
  • 3D Seiddab Attack (followed up the first game with even better 3D action that would run on a 16K Spectrum!)
  • 3D Lunattack (the final game in the Sieddab trilogy was a superb 3D arcade game set on the surface of the moon. It was regarded as the best in the trilogy and was a huge hit. On top of all this it was also one of the few games to support the Currah Microspeech)
  • Avalon (The mystical wizardry adventure was something a little different and became popular)
  • Dragontorc (More magical shenanigans proved to be an excellent title and a smash hit)
  • Quazatron (The arcade game was well received and was a huge hit)
  • Ranarama (The top down arcade game was likened to the classic Gauntlet - and was another great title from Turner)

Steve Turner also worked on the classic shoot em up Zynaps on the ZX Spectrum

3D Lunattack On The ZX Spectrum

Afterburner

Missile Defence

Keith Burkhill

Keith Burkhill was perhaps never quite given the recognition he deserved.

Keith developed many great titles on the ZX Spectrum before moving into the handheld gaming market in the 1990s.

Some of Keith's games include:

  • Missile Defence (The excellent Missile Command game was by far the best version on the Spectrum. It could run on 16K and is still playable today. A classic)
  • Gilligan's Gold (Inspired by 'Bagman' - this platform game was a big hit for Ocean Software)
  • Commando (The conversion of the CapCom arcade game was superb and ended up being a big seller for Elite Software)
  • Ghosts n Goblins (Another fine arcade conversion by Keith that was a huge hit for Elite again)
  • Space Harrier (Keith almost pulled off the impossible by converting the arcade behemoth to the humble Speccy. Space Harrier was actually pretty good)
  • After Burner (The arcade classic was somehow squeezed into the ZX Spectrum and really could not have been any better. Another great conversion by Keith Burkhill that was a big hit in the twilight years of the machine)

Keith Burkhill's games were generally of a very high quality and most are fondly remembered.

Gilligan's Gold On The ZX Spectrum

Manic Miner

Matthew Smith

A name that needs no introduction. Matthew Smith created one of the most well known games (and wekll known characters) in the entire universe.

Smith disappeared from the limelight in the late 1980s before re-surfacing in the late 1990s.

His games are legendary:

  • Styx (This nice maze game got Smith going as a Spectrum game developer)
  • Manic Miner (The 20 screen platform game really brought the genre to the home gaming market. An absolute classic.)
  • Jet Set Willy (The second game featuring Miner Willy was a massive hit despite it being bugged!)

Matthew Smith became a legend due to his Miner Willy games and rightly so.

Jet Set Willy On The ZX Spectrum

Cobra

Cobra by Joffa Smith on the ZX Spectrum
Cobra by Joffa Smith on the ZX Spectrum

Hypersports

Cobra

Jonathan 'Jof' Smith

Jonathan Smith (or Joffa Smith / Joffa Smiff as he became affectionately known) was a highly regarded developer of Spectrum games.

He specialised in smooth parallax scrolling, pioneered 2 channel 'plip plop' music and superb arcade conversions. He was also well known for his off the wall humour which often made it's way into his games.

Some of his titles include:

  • Pud Pud in weird world (The maze arcade game was picked up by Ocean Software and launched Jof as a Spectrum developer)
  • Hyper Sports (The conversion of the Konami classic sports game was excellent and was a huge hit)
  • Mikie (Another arcade conversion that was extremely playable and garnered plenty of accolades)
  • Green Beret (The conversion of Konami's arcade stab em up was excellent and was deservedly popular - a brilliant conversion of a particular favourite of mine)
  • Cobra (Super smooth parallax scrolling, 2 channel music and loads of humour made this 'loose' tie in one to have. Once again for Joffa and Ocean it was a big and deserved hit)
  • Terra Cresta (Yet another great coin-op conversion for Imagine Software)
  • Firefly (The mix of arcade action, collection and maze puzzles made Firefly a little different from other offerings. Another great game that featured his fantastic plip plop music)
  • Batman the caped crusader (The 'Comic Book' game featured fantastic music and a unique 'frame view' to capture the look and feel of the classic Batman strips. An excellent game.)

Joffa Smith pioneered smooth parallax scrolling techniques and 'drum beat' (plip plop) music on the ZX Spectrum.

After the Speccy era came to a close Joffa moved from the 8-bit to 16-bit computers and developed games on the Atari ST and also worked on the Commodore Amiga.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Jof and interview him on our main Spectrum Games site, where he was more than happy discussing his coding days with us.

*Jof sadly passed away on 26/06/2010. He is missed by us all but his excellent games continue to remind us of his immense talent and vast contribution to the home computer scene.

A small tribute to him is also on our main site and on the ever brilliant World Of Spectrum.

Green Beret On The ZX Spectrum

Harrier Attack

Turbo Esprit

Mike Richardson

Mike Richardson was a talented developer of Spectrum games who developed a number of quality titles for Durell Software.

He specialised in technically proficient games such as Harrier Attack (squeezed into a paltry 16K of RAM!) and graphically astounding games such as Thanatos.

Mike's well known titles:

  • Harrier Attack - a game inspired by the arcade classic Scramble
  • Combat Lynx - a great mixture of arcade action and strategy
  • Scuba Dive - a game based on Scuba diving? You bet - and completely atmoshperic and different. A great great game from the early years of the Speccy
  • Thanatos - a masterclass in parallax scrolling and damn playable too
  • Turbo Esprit - a game that can be considered a forerunner to the likes of Grand Theft Auto. Drive around a city complete with other traffic and working traffic lights...
  • Spitfire - what a great simulation for flight fans

Games such as Scuba Dive really broke from the mould at the time and many of these games are still playable today.

It should be noted that a Spectrum 128 version of Thanatos was released featuring some nice AY Music.

Thanatos On The ZX Spectrum

Harrier Attack! ZX Spectrum

The Scramble inspired Harrier Attack! - ZX Spectrum
The Scramble inspired Harrier Attack! - ZX Spectrum

Some very clever coders worked on the ZX Spectrum

The 48K Spectrum was pushed way beyond it's limitations
The 48K Spectrum was pushed way beyond it's limitations

Any favourite programmers?

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    • profile image

      George 

      6 years ago

      Missed: Dave Perry, Nick Bruty, John M. Phillips

      Agree with Richie PEOWW, Mike Lamb.

      Those brilliant ZX-Spectrum days never will come back!

      And it was hard days for a game programmer because they

      needed to code everything in machine code (assembly); that was really game programming!

    • profile image

      papitata 

      8 years ago

      Where's R.T. Smith, the brilliand programmer of Desert Rats and Vulcan? :-)

    • profile image

      Paradigm Shifter 

      8 years ago

      Sad news: Joffa Smith passed away today. RIP.

    • profile image

      Richie PEOWW 

      8 years ago

      Awesome article. Love it.

      Needs some Mike Lamb in here though. Renegade, Target Renegade mainly but he did other good stuff.

      Also, Julian Gollop. Chaos and Rebelstar. Still superb today.

      Glad to see Mike Richardson on there. Thanatos is a technical marvel!

    • RetroBrothers profile imageAUTHOR

      Martin Allan 

      8 years ago from Sunny Scotland

      Hey Antony - thanks for the comments.

      We actually have some interviews Spectrum programmers on our main site at http://zxspectrumgames.blogspot.com

      Steve Crow - you're right he did make some great games (Starquake being a particular favourite) so perhaps we'll add him to the list.

      Cheers.

    • profile image

      AntonyPsas 

      8 years ago

      Ah, this brought back memories! Some great programmers and games. I think Stephen Crow deserves a mention: he also worked for Hewson and did Wizard's Lair,Starquake and Firelord, all games jam-packed with features and high attention to detail.

      BTW, you omitted 'Three Weeks in Paradise' from the Wally Week series - more of the same and thus hugely enjoyable. A shame more of these guys can't be tracked down to find out what they're up to now. Wherever you are, thanks for all the fun and late nights!

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 

      8 years ago from NJ, USA

      Heyyyy - where's my name! *grin* I actually created a Pacman Clone- the first version was too good - the ghost were too clever and caught you very easily - the second version was far better and got published in a magazine - a friend of mine then sold 100 copies to a German company - I forgot all about it - wonder if they continued selling!

      Great nostalgic hub thanks!!!

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