I’m a big supporter of Kickstarter. I’ve backed several projects on there. Mostly books but occasionally other things. The ZX Spectrum Next project which launched today is probably the one that I have been most excited about though. At the time of writing this blog post at around 8.45pm on Sunday 23rd April it has already funded £220,000 of its £250,000, and that’s after only 17 hours. It looks like it may well get fully funded within 24 hours which would be amazing. Quick, go and order one!

Today is the 35th anniversary of the launch of the ZX Spectrum, so it’s very fitting that they chose today to launch the Kickstarter for the Spectrum Next. In the words of the campaign owners, here is the description…
The ZX Spectrum reborn: a new machine, fully compatible with the original computer, and packed with improvements and expansions.

ZX Spectrum Next

The ZX Spectrum was my favourite computer of all time. It’s where I learned to game, playing such classics as Jet Pac, Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, Knight Lore, Target Renegade, Cobra, Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, Starquake, Elite and many many more.

I progressed from the iconic rubber-keyed 48k ZX Spectrum to the ZX Spectrum +2 with built in datacorder. I envied those who had the cool looking Spectrum +3 with a built in disk drive instead of the cassette deck. Sadly the +3 was where the line ended and gamers moved on to 16-bit computers like the Atari ST and Amiga and consoles like the SNES and Mega Drive. Since then, however, the ZX Spectrum has always held a hugely sentimental place in many a gamer’s heart. Not only in the UK where it was made, but it was also huge in countries like Russia, Brazil and Spain to name just a few. And not just in the past either. People are still using Spectrums and Spectrum clones to game, code and create in all of these countries. The homebrew scene is huge, with people writing their own new games for these machines all the time.

Spectrum 48k

Spectrum 128k

Spectrum +2

Spectrum +3

I, like many other Spectrum lovers, was very excited about the announcement, over a year ago, of the Spectrum Next project that would be on Kickstarter. Very excited but also slightly wary, because a few recent retrogaming crowdfunded projects haven’t gone so well. Coleco Chameleon and Sinclair Vega+ I’m looking at you. I’d like to point out just now that this Spectrum Next project is in absolutely no way affiliated with the Sinclair Vega project which has had some extremely bad publicity lately. The Spectrum Next is completely separate in every way and run by totally different people. And it’s also being extremely well organised.

So what is it? Well in its very essence it is a new generation of Spectrum. It’s not just recreating exactly what came before, because you can do that yourself buy picking up old hardware on eBay. It will certainly play all the old games, via SD card, to let you play games on ‘simulated hardware’ instead of just software emulation, and plug in old hardware peripherals like joysticks etc, but it will also offer super powered features like a higher colour palette and better sprite capabilities etc. You can turn these features on or off, or coders can use them or not use them, so we will be able to play old and new Spectrum games in different ways. It respects the past but it also moves forward slightly, the whole time respecting and keeping what makes a Spectrum a Spectrum. The above is my attempt to explain it anyway. You can read more here at the Spectrum Next homepage and at the recently launched Kickstarter campaign.

ZX Spectrum Next

ZX Spectrum Next

ZX Spectrum Next

With all Kickstarter projects you have to be wary. You need visibility,` and the organisers need to have great communication with the audience in order to instill trust. I don’t think the guys behind this campaign could have done it better to be honest. There has been a tonne of communication, they have attended events to meet the fans and they have actively encouraged feedback and ideas to be submitted to them during the ideation phase. They have also developed actual working hardware, had this tested by respected Spectrum programmers from the 80s and locked the hardware down before even launching the Kickstarter. That’s the way to do it.

One thing that has made backers trust this project is the quality of the people involved. I don’t have intimate knowledge on each person’s involvement so forgive me if I describe the roles slightly incorrectly but here is my understanding. Henrique Olifiers has been the main public face of the project and I had the pleasure of seeing him speak at the Revival Retro event last May in 2016. Henrique is from Brazil, a country where the Spectrum was huge and still has a massive following, but lives in London running a BAFTA Award winning games company. Everybody that was at the event was very impressed with his knowledge and openness at the event where he spoke about the Spectrum Next. He was pitched some incredibly difficult and technical questions from the audience and he was able to answer every single one. He also brought a working prototype of the hardware that he was able to show off in real time. Henrique’s main partners are Victor Trucco and Fabio Belavenuto, both also from Brazil I believe, and are big hackers and modders in the Spectrum clone world. They obviously know their stuff. As the project progressed they also got Jim Bagley on board as a developer/tester. Jim is a bit of a legend on the retrogaming circuit. He was a developer back in the day working on Cabal and Midnight Resistance amongst other things. He still is a developer, and is very hands on in the community and everyone hugely respects his opinion. Furthermore, they also got Rick Dickinson to design the case. Rick was the original designer of the ZX80, ZX81, 48k ZX Spectrum, Plus and QL.

On one level I think it will be very cool to have a new Spectrum which plays all the old games well and reliably with a built on SD card slot and has different video outputs. That in itself will just make retrogaming a better or easier experience. But the bit I’m really excited about is the programming. I wonder if I will try to write a few BASIC programs again, or attempt a couple of type-ins from magazines, or perhaps my children will use this machine as a way to get into programming. But also I can’t wait to see what the community does in terms of writing new homebrew games. I think the process of finding, downloading and playing homebrew games will be a lot easier with the Spectrum Next, and this aspect of the industry will really thrive. That’s what I hope will happen anyway,

I’m very excited about this project. It’s a unique mix of retro nostalgia and forward thinking. Taking something from the past and continuing the story. I’ve already backed it. If you’re interested in doing the same then check out the Kickstarter link here.