In my continuing excitement about the upcoming Spectrum Next computer, which continues the legacy of the classic Sinclair ZX Spectrum and all its iterations, I’ve been reminiscing about just how great the UK gaming scene has been over the years, and still is now.

Even back in the 80s and 90s we were very aware of the location of certain studios. We’ve never really had rockstar developers that became household names outwith the gaming world, but if you were a gamer you certainly knew who a lot of these people were and where they worked, such as Matthew Smith, Jeff Minter, Joffa and all the many brothers such as the Stamper Brothers, the Darling Brothers, the Oliver Twins and the unrelated Bitmap Brothers!

Apparently there was a big video game crash in the US around 1983, but I, and a lot of people I know, were totally oblivious to this, because we didn’t have the internet to tell us, and the gaming scene in the UK at that time was thriving. We had developers all over the country, sometimes programming in their bedrooms, knocking out incredible games every month.

Let’s start up the top, in my home country of Scotland. One of the most prestigious gaming companies was DMA Design in Dundee, with David Jones at the helm. David was often appearing in gaming magazines and became quite the media darling. DMA were responsible were Lemmings and there is even a Lemmings statue in Dundee in their honour. They also eventually kickstarted the Grand Theft Auto franchise and they later morphed into Rockstar Games and became the global phenomenon that we know today.

Travelling down the M6 to the North of England, there were several hotbed areas of gaming, with Ocean Software (the home of many movie licence games such as RoboCop, Miami Vice and Cobra as well as Daley Thompson’s Decathlon and Head over Heels) being housed in Manchester. But the area that stands out is Liverpool, which was the home to such powerhouses as Psygnosis and Imagine Software. Psygnosis published the aforementioned Lemmings from DMA Design, but they also developed games too. Other games that came from them include Wipeout, Chrono Quest, Barbarian, Shadow of the Beast and Baal. Imagine Software of course were responsible for such classics as Ah Diddums, Hyper Sports, Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Army Moves, Green Beret, Arkanoid, Target: Renegade and Salamander, with some of them being published by the aforementioned Ocean Software. They only existed for about 2 years in their original form and were planning the ill-fated Bandersnatch game, before they went bankrupt, which inspired the recent episode of Black Mirror.

As we travel lower down we find quite a wealth of video game talent in the Midlands and Birmingham. Over in Ashby-de-la Zouch we had the famous Ultimate Play The Game, who brought out such classics as Jetpac, Pssst, Cookie, Tranz Am, Atic Atac, Alien 8 and Knight Lore. Ultimate would eventually become Rare and go on to make loads of games including Goldeneye 007 and Donkey Kong Country. There was Codemasters in Southam, which produced the classic simulator games such as BMX Simulator, Fruit Machine Simulator and the Dizzy games. Core Design in Derby started work on Lara Croft before Rare. The original Championship Manager was apparently programmed in a bedroom in Shropshire.

As we come down through Cambridge we hit a few interesting landmarks. Firstly the main home of Sinclair, the company that made the legendary ZX Spectrum, and also the city where David Braben and Ian Bell wrote the masterpiece Elite for BBC Micro initially. David Braben still is based there with his Frontier Developments still making Elite games! The very well respected Centre for Computing History is appropriately located in Cambridge.

Skirting round London we come to Guildford, which is an unlikely hotbed of gaming talent. Peter Molyneux is the main reason for that, having had huge success with games like Populous with his company Bullfrog and then later his next company Lionhead. Several smaller companies were spawned from these too and now we have the big guns there such as Little Big Planet’s Media Molecule hails from Guildford, as does Assassin Creed’s Ubisoft.

From top to bottom, there has been computer gaming talent oozing out of every nook and cranny of Great Britain. And it’s not just a case of bedroom programmers evolving into massive gaming companies. There are still loads of home-brew programmers still making games for 8-bit machines even today, and I’m sure this will only grow with the launch of the Spectrum Next.