ZX Spectrum Angst.

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Spudgun
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ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by Spudgun » Sat Aug 29, 2015 7:31 pm

No. This is not a rant. This is just a struggle. Read on.....

When we first went to the Future Inn. We had some retro gaming laid on. I actually spent some time playing on the provided Sega Megadrive. I enjoyed that and kinda missed it when the retro gaming wasn't there the following year. Since I didn't own a gaming console. I couldn't even provide one for others to play with. Moving on......

Last Monday, a Company launched a gadget called the ZX Vega. The ZX Vega is (in effect) a miniature Sinclair 'rubber keyed' Spectrum. It's about the size of a console gaming joypad and had a 1000 Spectrum games built in. It even had the ability to play even more games by downloading them from the internet and putting them on an SD card that plugged onto the joypad. Even better. The games loaded instantly. No more mucking about with cassettes! All of this for the sum of £100. Well. Nice, but it's not quite retro enough.

I thought to myself. Wouldn't it be nice if you could sit down and play a game on a proper 'rubber keyed' Spectrum, but still have the instant loading of a 1000 games? To this end. I set myself in motion.

I still have a 'rubber keyed' Spectrum. I also have a ZX81 and a 128k Spectrum +2A. Now. Technology has moved on since I last fired up my 'speccy'. CRT TV's are long gone. LCD TV's are now the norm. This brought problem No1. I had to get the Speccy to work with an LCD TV. Although my LCD TV will accept an analogue signal (I bough my TV before Digital TV started), LCD TV's don't like the RF signal put out by the likes of old gaming consoles (I expect they you noticed that CRT TV's were used for the retro gaming when we first went to the Future Inn?). The Signal had to be converted from RF to Composite.

Happily. The native signal generated by the Speccy is Composite. It's just converted to RF to work with a CRT TV. A conversion kit cost me £4. After much cleaning of dust and a bit of soldering. The Speccy worked perfectly with my LCD TV. However, the keyboard membrane broke, so some of the keys didn't work.

The Speccy keyboard membrane is a known issue. Considering that my Speccy is 30 years old. I was amazed that it still worked in the first place! Anyway. I bought a new membrane (Yes. You can still get brand new membranes.). However. Changing the membrane means removing the metal fascia. This almost always gets bent up and really can't be reused. So I bought a new one of those as well. That was £30 spent. At this time of writing. These parts won't be here until next week. Moving on......

By far the biggest problem is getting games loaded, without using a cassette. Happily, a Company from Holland had created a gadget that used an SD card that slots into an interface, that fits into the back of a Speccy. I suspect that the architecture of this gadget was used as the basis of the ZX Vega. This Company sells this gadget for just under £80 (The uncased version is cheaper). As luck would have it. Somebody was selling an unwanted one on Ebay with a assorted extras for £80. I snapped that up. I'm currently waiting for that to arrive. So what to do while I'm waiting?

I still had to prove that my Speccy still worked. As battered and bruised as it was. I still had to know if it still worked. I still had a cassette player. I still had cassettes. I dragged out my battered 30 year old player and a handful of cassettes that I had in a cupboard (The others are in the loft).

It took a few hours to get the cassette player to work. There was much dust and broken solder joints to contend with. The first attempts at loading a game (Zaxxon) were futile. I suspected a knackered drive belt. After much cleaning and roughing up of surfaces. I managed to get the Speccy to accept a signal from the cassette player. However, Zaxxon refused to load. I tried another game (Castle Master) and Bingo! The game loaded. At least I proved the Speccy still worked.

Loading a single game was only 'proof of concept'. IE: The Speccy still worked. There is still much work to be done before I can offer this as something to do at the Con. That's if there's any interest.
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Spudgun
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Re: ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by Spudgun » Sun Aug 30, 2015 1:07 pm

Time for an update.

I've been up into the loft and dragged out a few games. Some loaded. Some didn't. I'm not all that bothered about that. However. There's two things that were problematic.

1: The Speccy has been 'locking up'. It's like a normal computer when the keyboard has been disconnected. I'm hoping that the new keyboard membrane will fix this (I've not been using a joystick and an interface, as I can't find either). However. I have to consider a dry joint on the motherboard. On the motherboard. There's a power supply related transistor and heatsink. The heatsink gets rather warm. Considering that my Speccy is 30 years old. The odd solder joint is bound to fail somewhere along the line. I'll worry about that once the new keyboard membrane is fitted.

2: Software. Although an overwhelming majority of software is available for free download. Some Companies haven't given permission. Jetpac was a very popular game at the time. However, you can't get it as the makers (Ultimate Play the Game) haven't given permission (Codemasters is another. They made the popular Dizzy series of games). Thankfully. I've got the likes of Jetpac on tape. Mind you. This leads to another problem.

As I've mentioned before. I'm hoping to offer retro gaming on a genuine Spectrum with instant loading. Somehow. I have to port the tape based game onto an SD card. As of yet, I haven't found a way that deals with the file format (Tap files). TZX files are easy, but the gadget I've bought won't work with them. I'm currently looking into an alternative.

Moons ago. There was a Company called Romantic Robot. This Company produced a gadget called a Multiface. This gadget could stop a program when it was loaded, so it could be ported to a Microdrive. Thankfully. I have a Sinclair Microdrive. However. I Don't have a Multiface.

I'm beginning to wonder if I should've bought a ZX Vega in the first place.
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Spudgun
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Re: ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by Spudgun » Mon Aug 31, 2015 3:19 pm

I've made some more progress today.

The first thing I had to do was to rewire on old Sega Megadrive joypad to work with a joystick interface. The joypad was previously wired to work with a gash interface that I had. This wasn't any good if this project was going to get anywhere. I had to resolder the wires, so the joypad would work with a stock interface. The gadget that I've bought (DivMMC Enjoy. Yes. That's its name!) has a built in Kempston joystick port. It took an hour or so figuring the wiring that I had and where it needed to go. Once done. Testing with a couple of games began! Everything works!

In a strange twist of fate, I had removed the Sinclair Interface 1. The Speccy no longer glitched. It was obvious that the errant Interface had a fault. I'll get to that in a bit.

Some of the games that wouldn't load yesterday, loaded today. Well. There was still one that wouldn't load (Jet Set Willy), but that didn't matter as I could simply download the game. My interest were the games that weren't available for download. Thus far. All is well. Right. Back to the Interface 1.

I stripped off the plastic cover to find a heap of dust. There was also a solder splat that was across the lines of the circuit board. The board was given a good clean! Then everything was reassembled. So why bother doing this, if the Speccy is being used with a DivMMC?

As I've mentioned before. Some games are not available for download. Although I have some on tape. Waiting 5 minutes for a game to load from a cassette isn't really on. The only option I have at the moment is to port the games over to a Microdrive. This brings me onto the Microdrive.

The Sinclair ZX Microdrive plugs into the Interface 1. So it's kinda obvious that the Interface had to work. Next, I had to find out if my Microdrive worked. After removing years of encrusted crud, I fired it up. It still worked! I only have 4 90K tapes for it, but they all worked as well. For far. So good. There is a downside though.

The object of the exercise is to entertain. There's the nostalgia aspect for those who once had a Speccy. Then there's (somewhat) educational aspect for the X Box generation. Nobody can really expect anyone to remember (or even learn) the Commands required to load from a cassette or a Microdrive. Loading from the DivMMC is simplicity itself. Press the Menu button. Scroll to the game you want. Press Load and play! The Microdrive option I'll keep on the back burner. But I'll ensure that it works. There's bound to be somebody that'll want to play a game that isn't available as a download.
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Spudgun
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Re: ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by Spudgun » Wed Sep 02, 2015 7:36 pm

Mini update.

As I'm waiting for the parts and upgrades to arrive. I went back into the loft to search for software that isn't available for download (For one reason or another). I managed to find about six titles. Despite best efforts (I did mention that the tape deck I'm using is 30 years old and the belt is knackered), I only managed to get one game to load. Thankfully. It was the most important one. Jetpac! So what next?

I downloaded the instructions for the SD card gadget that I've bought (Might as well get familiar with it, before it arrives). Within the instructions, it is implied (but not stated) that games can be saved to the SD card. It is stated that, that game positions can be saved. Obviously, there's a difference. This is where we talk file extensions.

Now. We all know about file extensions. Stuff like .bmp for Bitmaps. .exe for programs. .mpeg for video files. The same applies for the SD card gadget. It uses file extensions like .tap (Tape file) .TRD and .Z80. The most interesting one is .sna. Sna is short for: Snapshot. So what is a Snapshot file I hear you ask? In the simplest terms. A Snapshot file is whatever is contained within the memory at the time the .sna file is created. If what is implied by the instructions are true. I'll be able to load the unavailable Jetpac from cassette onto the Speccy. Press the button on the gadget and then create a Snapshot file on the SD card. I won't need to buy in a multiface! Here's another advantage.

Some games like Avalon or Elite use copy protection methods. Avalon uses a separate piece of paper with pass codes on it. Elite uses a plastic gadget called a Lenslok (It's a bit like a Fresnel lens). The idea being: Cassettes are easy to copy and give to your mates, but without the extra security measure. You won't be able to play the game. So what you do is: Load the game in question and enter the Pass Code. Once done, the game will move to the main menu screen. This is where you create the Snapshot file. When the Snapshot file is reloaded. The game starts at the main menu screen, completely bypassing the security measure! This feature (if true) was the main one for the Romantic Robot Multiface, back in the 1980's.

So. This is where I stand at the moment. There is still much testing to be done before I can even think of offering Speccy gaming to the Committee for this years Con.
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Spudgun
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Re: ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by Spudgun » Fri Sep 04, 2015 6:35 pm

Mini update. Think of this as a 'by the by' thing.

The refurbishment parts have arrived. That's a new keyboard membrane and a cover plate. The Speccy has now been stripped down and the cases have been given a good scrub. The hardest part was removing the congealed goo from the old double sided tape that held the cover plate to the upper cover. They must've had some nasty adhesive back in the 1980's. I'll reassemble everything again tomorrow. Fingers crossed. I'll have a (almost) factory fresh (in appearance) ZX Spectrum!
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David A Harvey
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Re: ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by David A Harvey » Fri Sep 04, 2015 7:36 pm

Hurrah. Thank you, I've been enjoying following your blog of this project.

Spudgun
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Joined: Thu Mar 17, 2011 8:34 pm

Re: ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by Spudgun » Fri Sep 04, 2015 8:26 pm

Thanks for the comment. It's been fun thus far. Only if it's been getting something that's 30 years old to work again. If retro gaming at this years is accepted by the Committee, there'll be another phase to go through. I won't go into that yet.
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Spudgun
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Re: ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by Spudgun » Sat Sep 05, 2015 12:24 pm

It's been a bit of an 'All hands on deck' situation, here this morning. I've never rebuilt a Spectrum before. Hey ho!

Generally speaking. Putting together a ZX Spectrum is fairy simple. However, I wanted to address one of its shortcomings. The rubber feet on the bottom are held on with double sided sticky tape. Over time, the tape goes 'funny' and the feet fall off. Thankfully, I had 'repaired' the feet many years ago. I used some more double sided sticky tape that I had got from work. The downside was: It was aerospace quality tape. Nasty stuff! It took a fair bit of peeling and scraping to get it off. Then the residue had to be removed with Thinners. Having learned that tape wasn't the answer. The rubber feet were put back on using Superglue. They're not coming off now!

The keyboard assembly was simpler to do. That went back together the same way as it did when the factory made the Speccy in the first place. OK, the fascia is still held on with double sided tape, but that's how the new fascia was supplied. There's reproduction replacements and there's reproduction replacements! I wonder if the original tooling was used? Anyway, here's a picture of my freshly refurbished Spectrum.

Image

Once the Speccy was back together. It was time for testing. Nothing was going to happen to the main board, but the Speccy did have a new keyboard membrane. The Speccy was fired up and the keyboard was tested. For those of you who don't know. Each key has multiple functions. An individual key ban have up to 6 functions. So each 'layer' had to be tested. I didn't need to do it for each key (Only needed to test one 'layer'), but I had to make sure that each 'layer' worked. It did. So the new membrane was in perfect order! I now have a refurbished and fully functional Speccy.

For those of you who are wondering what sort of picture a composite converted Speccy looks like. Wonder no more. Here's a picture of a loaded game on my LCD TV.

Image

Castle Master is one of those Freescape games. That funny shading is normal.


NEWSFLASH.
The SD card gadget has just arrived. I'm off to play. Back later!
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Spudgun
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Joined: Thu Mar 17, 2011 8:34 pm

Re: ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by Spudgun » Sat Sep 05, 2015 6:38 pm

It's been a long day (Hasn't it just). I was still typing up the above Post when the SD card gadget arrived. Since then, I've been testing it out. It does exactly what it says on the tin! You push a button on the gadget and up pops a menu. You select a game and then press Enter. The game is loaded instantly! So far. So good.

Now. The gadget comes with an SD card with a number of utilites on it. Since the Speccy will be subjected to the hands of people who weren't born before 1983 (The date on the Motherboard). I thought it would be wise to use a different SD card. Happily, I had one. Once the SD card had been formatted and the gadgets own software had been loaded onto it (It runs the menu system), I loaded just under 100 games onto the card. Time for testing.

Each game had to forefill a number of criteria. The first being: Does the game actually work. Some didn't. So they were deleted. Some games that did work had to be deleted as other buttons had to be pushed to get them to run. That was no good. You can't expect a child to 'run' a program. You can't expect a majority of the pissed up Con Attendees to 'run' one either!

The second criteria was: The game had to be easy to navigate and start. Don't forget. There's no instructions to go with these games. So they can't be too complex to get going. Hell. The games can't be too complex at all!

Lastly. A number of the games had to be classic coin-op conversions that would run with a Kempston joystick interface. . Some conversions are better than others, but a number weren't Kempston compatible. Since the gadget only has a Kempton joystick interface. The non compatible games had to be deleted. My (just under) 100 games became 48 games.

The Spectrum being what it is. The missing games can be replaced. Most are early coin-ops like Frogger and Pac-Man. Many versions exist. Catering for those who used to have a Speccy could be harder to please. I have got a few of the 'Speccy Classics', but not some others. I'm not going to worry about that for now. If the Committee decline the offer of retro gaming. Then doing something about the missing 'classics' would be a mute point.

Anyway. I'm now in a position to offer retro gaming at Con 27 to the Committee. Watch this space....
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Spudgun
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Re: ZX Spectrum Angst.

Post by Spudgun » Sun Sep 06, 2015 1:07 pm

The offer of retro gaming has been made to the Committee. I shall now leave the decision to them. Moving along.

A question that needs to be answered is: Where are all of these games coming from? Well. They're coming from here:

http://www.worldofspectrum.org/

World of Spectrum has been around for many years. Up until recently. The games have only been able to be played on a PC based emulator. With the advent of the ZX Vega and the Bluetooth ZX Spectrum keyboard. Interest in Speccy gaming has increased. Although the DivMMC gadget has been around for a while. Gaming on an actual Speccy has been (very much) an underground movement. If you consider that a ZX Vega costs £100. A DivMMC interface looks to be a far better option at £80. The bonus being; You get to play the game on an actual Spectrum! Fans of the Speccy are still writing games for it. Amazing! So where does this leave us, as regards this project?

Let us assume that Speccy based, retro gaming is accepted for Con 27. With the free Wi-Fi available at the Future Inn. It is perfectly possible for anyone to download a game from the World of Spectrum site and play it on the Spectrum that I'll be providing. Yeah, there'll be a few kinks that I'll need to work out, but it's possible. I enjoyed the retro gaming the first time we were at the Future Inn, but the lack of available games were problematic. As of yet. The only restriction is the file format of the games that my DivMMC interface will accept. Thus far. .Tap and .Z80 files have been tested and they work. There's only the Snapshot files to go really.

I'm still looking into the games that aren't available for download. Although the DivMMC software eludes to creating Snapshot files (Loading games from cassette and then porting them over to the SD card), the software doesn't state it. I'll have to experiment with the software as I'm reluctant to buy a Multiface and port the games to a Microdrive. Although I have a Microdrive. Expecting the casual (and nostalgic) gamer to input the command code to load the game is asking a bit much.

Finally. Getting some of the classic games is proving to be a headache. I've got Pac-Man and Frogger. But getting the likes of Space Invaders is doing my head in. These are really early coin-ops. They came out before joysticks were introduced. In other words. They're keyboard operated. Although I'll have to provide a set of instructions on how to operate and load games from the DivMMC interface. Providing a set of instructions for each and every game isn't an option. I'll have to trawl through the clones of these games until I find one that includes instructions. I don't mind though. I'm rather enjoying it.
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