Archer Maclean’s Games And Me

Well, this is a downer way to start 2023. I was just about to tuck into my Christmas dinner this year… last year. When my newsfeed popped up that Archer Maclean had died. If you’re a gamer of a certain age, that name should hit you with a wave of nostalgia. For me, as soon as I read the news, I was taken back to a childhood memory. My older brother and I were big fans of the arcade game, Karate Champ. It was eventually ported to the Commodore 64 in 1985 but it (obviously) lacked the arcade’s unique double joystick controls. So, the C64 port didn’t play as well as the arcade version did.


Anyway, that childhood memory recalled the time that my older brother came home from a shopping trip in town with a copy of  International Karate for our Commodore 64 in early 1987. This was my introduction to the work of Archer Maclean. International Karate was no Karate Champ… it was better. Both good beat ’em ups of the day and two games that would go on to be an example of an early video game court case. When released in the US, International Karate was given a title change to World Karate Championship and was published by Epyx, Inc. See, Data East, who published Karate Champ felt that International Karate/World Karate Championship was a blatant rip-off of their arcade hit.

On the surface, you can kind of see their point too. Both games feature karate and both had characters in red and white karate gis. Both had similar move sets, both had a judge in the background, both had a similar scoring system and more. There was no denying it, the two games were strikingly similar. Still, as Archer Maclean said at the time when he was quizzed over the similarities that of course they are similar, they are both games about a karate tournament. The court case saw it that way too, even though they found a total of fifteen similarities (most of them being the moves).

IK 2

Initially, Date East won and World Karate Championship had to be pulled from the shelves. However, Epyx, Inc. appealed the decision. The result of the appeal was that Data East (publishers of Karate Champ) could not claim that they owned the concept of a karate tournament, they didn’t own the rights to karate moves and they didn’t own the rights to point scoring of a karate tournament, etc. These are the fundamentals of karate that are open for anyone to use. ‘Scènes à faire doctrine’ was used, a principle in copyright law in which certain elements of a creative work are held to be not protected when they are mandated by or customary to the genre. In this case, karate. So then, a very long story short and Data East lost the appeal, leaving Epyx, Inc. free to publish World Karate Championship in the US. I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent here, this is an article of me sharing my memories playing Archer Maclean games, not looking at this court case. So then…

I was only 10 years old when I first played International Karate on our C64 and I’m 46 now as I write this. Even after more than three decades, I still remember waiting for the game to load and Rob Hubbard’s music, one of the most iconic tunes on the C64. My brother played first as he did buy the game and we only had one joystick at the time. I just sat there in awe. We did have a copy of Karate Champ on the C64 (the game both my brother and I loved in the arcade), but the home port was lacking. But now, now we had International Karate on our C64 and it was better. The animations were smooth, the graphics were great, the very synth-like oriental music and those crunching sound effects. I hadn’t even played the game yet, I just sat there watching my brother play and yet, I already knew I was in for something special.

IK 3

My memory is a little hazy from 36 years ago and I don’t recall if you could play International Karate in two-player with one joystick and the other player on the keyboard. It probably was possible, but I know that we didn’t try it because nobody wanted to use the keyboard. So, we just took it in turns. My brother would play until he lost and then he would hand the joystick to me and it was my turn. I do remember reading the cassette inlay/instructions and yelling out how to do the moves as my brother played. No idea if it helped or hindered him though, I’m sure having your 10-year-old little brother scream ‘pull down for the sweep’ or ‘press fire and up for a flying kick’ every few seconds was pretty off-putting.

We had a copy of Gauntlet for Christmas 1986, nothing to do with Archer Maclean, I know. But, having Gauntlet and International Karate is what spurred my brother to buy a second joystick for our Commodore 64 so we could play together… and play we did. Hours, we’d spend hours punching and kicking each other in the face with me receiving most of the punching and kicking, in the game not real life. I was only 10 and I wasn’t as good at the game as my brother was. But, I got better. My older brother left school in 1987 and got his first job, which gave me more time to practice on International Karate. When he was at work and after I had finished school, I’d come home and load the game up and play.

IK 4

Over the collective hours of practising, I became pretty damn good. At the weekends, I didn’t have school and my brother didn’t have work. The C64 would be switched on, International Karate loaded up and we’d go at it. I didn’t need the instructions to know the moves now, I knew them off by heart. Playing all weekend over several weekends, I began to not lose as many games as I used to. Each week, I got better and I started to win. Judging the perfect time to pull off a flying kick to the face for a full point, somersaulting over my brother and doing that low-kneeling punch to the gut was always a favourite trick of mine. International Karate was more than a game, it was one of the things that helped build our brotherly relationship. My older brother and I were close growing up and still are.


With my brother having a job and earning his own money, in 1988 he bought himself an Amiga 500. The Commodore 64 took up permanent residence in my bedroom as it made way for its 16-bit counterpart. So, I got to play International Karate (and others) a lot more. Also in 1988, International Karate + happened. Well technically, it was released on the 8-bit computers in 87, but it saw a 16-bit port in 88. Oh yeah, that sibling rivalry came flooding back. Sliding the 3.5″ IK+ disk into the Amiga disk drive, waiting for the game to load and hearing that awesome Rob Hubbard music once more (remixed by Dave Lowe), the soundtrack to my childhood. The IK+ logo appeared on the screen, to be dissolved via pixels. That’s a memory that is forever etched into my subconscious. We hadn’t even played the game yet and my bother and I just sat there with big, Cheshire Cat-styled grins on our faces.


Thankfully, my brother had the foresight to buy two joysticks for his Amiga 500, so the IK+ two-player fights were a go from the off. But before the scrapping commenced, we just sat there and watched the intro. The credits with game design, programming, graphics, animation and sound effects, all done by Archer Maclean. He did everything except the music. The ‘rainbow’ fighters showing off their moves around the edges of the screen. Then the screen with the keyboard commands popped up. So much crammed into it, you could change the speed of the game, the colour of the ripples/sunset on the water, ‘T trousers’, what did that mean? Then there was the ‘???? lots of codes’ thing, we had no idea what all of that was. But the most important instruction was ‘F2 2 player game’. That’s all we cared about.

With both joysticks plugged in and a swift tap of the F2 key, we were playing some International Karate +. The first thing that hit us was the three characters. I mean, my brother did press F2, so why three characters? See, there was no Internet back then with trailers, lets plays, reviews and such. Potential spoilers were pretty much non-existent. Yeah, there were gaming magazines, but they were easy to miss/avoid and so, we knew nothing about IK+ until that moment when we loaded it up and played it for the first time. The three characters thing really was a surprise and after a bit of confusion and frantic joystick waggling, we quickly worked out that my brother was playing as the fella in the white and I was the one in red. As we were working out who was who, the blue fella walked over and kicked me in the face.

IK+ 1

Thanks to our previous knowledge of the first game, it didn’t take us long to get to grips with International Karate + and before too long, we were kicking bum-cheeks. Most of the old moves were there but some had been replaced with new moves. That backflip was handy for getting out of tight spots, the headbutt was brutally blunt and then there was that jumping split-kick. One of the greatest feelings when playing IK+ was taking out both opponents with that one.

We played for hours and hours. Quite quickly we worked out that if we teamed up and both went for the blue guy, that gave us a better chance of both staying in the fight. Unfortunately, as you could hit each other, both going for the same guy often ended up with one of us getting a hit on the other. We would mix it up between two-player games and just seeing how far each of us could get playing single-player. I recall a time when my brother was playing and I just watched and as I did, I remembered that intro with the keyboard commands. That ‘T trousers’ thing suddenly came to mind. So, I leaned forwards and tapped the T key on the Amiga 500 and what happened was one of the most memorable and iconic moments in gaming history.

IK+ 2

My brother burst out laughing as the tough karate dudes stood there with their trousers around their ankles, doing a double take and then staring at the screen, at us watching them. ‘How did you do that!’ my brother exclaimed after he finally finished laughing. So, I pressed T again to show him. He pressed it and after a while, the pressing of T became a bit of a game in itself. We would have to try and sneak in a cheeky key-tap without the other one of us noticing, as we played. My favourite was having the Amiga on the floor (we didn’t have a computer desk) and I’d fake a yawn-stretch, reaching out with my leg and tapping the T with my big toe. I became a bit of a ninja at stealth International Karate + trouser dropping and it never got old. Friends and neighbours would come round for a play now and then and yes, we would stealth International Karate + trouser drop on them too. There really was something magical whenever someone witnessed it for the first time. The cocktail of disbelief and unstoppable laughing was infectious.

My brother was and still is, a massive snooker fan. So, when Archer Maclean released Jimmy White’s ‘Whirlwind’ Snooker on the Amiga, you bet he was there on launch day to buy a copy. I was never much of a fan of snooker, so I didn’t really get much from this one. But, I always enjoyed watching my brother play it. I was a teenager by then too, I was 15 in 1991. I began to take an interest and be impressed by how games were made then. There had been 3D games before Jimmy White’s ‘Whirlwind’ Snooker of course, and yet, this title really was unlike anything before it. Yeah, it was ‘only snooker’ but it was snooker done brilliantly.


I honestly got a real kick out of watching my brother play. It looked about as real as snooker could on a computer back then. It ran really fast and smooth too. 15-year-old me was impressed by it, even if I never really played it much. In fact, Jimmy White’s ‘Whirlwind’ Snooker was probably the game that did broaden my interest in gaming. Before then, all I cared about was that the game was good. With this game though, I began to want to know how games were made. In a roundabout way, this blog and my writing of gaming books came about because I wanted to learn more about games, how they were made and the workings of the industry in general. And I didn’t even realise that until I wrote this article.

My brother used to set up snooker tournaments with friends and neighbours on Jimmy White’s ‘Whirlwind’ Snooker. I remember him drawing up knockout tables and arranging the matches and so on. There was never any prize at the end of it, just a bit of fun among friends. It was like a mini Embassy World Snooker Championship and our living room was The Crucible.


Even though it was just a game of snooker, Archer Maclean still worked in his trademark humour. If you took too long to take a shot, the balls on the table would spawn animated faces and limbs and taunt the player, they would blow raspberries at you and more or hold up signs telling you to ‘get on with it’. This humour was something I touched on with the ‘T’ thing in IK+, that game was loaded with all sorts of stuff. Secret codes you could type in would make Pac-Man appear in the background. Fish would dive out and back into the water, a spider would drop down on a web and much more. IK+ had a ton of things going on that would put a smile on your face and Archer Maclean clearly had a lot of fun putting stuff like that into his games.

1992 saw the release of Archer Maclean’s Pool. All it really was, was a reskin of Jimmy White’s ‘Whirlwind’ Snooker but with pool instead of snooker. The exact same graphics (with pool balls instead of snooker balls), the same sounds and even the UI was the same. Now, this one I did play quite a bit of. I have always just preferred pool to snooker. It came with three different types of pool to play. UK 8-ball, US 8-ball and 9-ball. I actually learned how to play 9-ball from this game.

By the time that Jimmy White’s 2: Cueball came out in 1999, the Amiga was dead and a PC was the gaming machine of choice. My brother had moved out of the family home several years previously. I was 23 by then and I too was flying the nest. Still, as my brother and I were close, I was often around his house and would play Jimmy White’s 2: Cueball on his PC. What you got with this game was both snooker and pool in one package, along with a massive graphics overhaul. It looked great and a far cry from the first game.


The game was set in ‘Jimmy White’s house’, though I’m pretty sure it was nothing like his actual house. Anyway, you could move between two rooms, the snooker room and the pool room. This was quite a step up from the first game where you were stuck in a pitch-black room with a snooker table. Outside of the obvious snooker and pool, the two rooms had quite a bit of interactivity. A darts board that you could play on. There was a board so you could indulge in some draughts/checkers. A jukebox with selectable music and even a fruit machine. Then there was the best plaything, an arcade cabinet with Dropzone on it. Dropzone was Archer Maclean’s first-ever game, released back in 1984. It was basically a rip-off of Defender but a really bloody good rip-off.

My brother and I spend a fair bit of time playing Jimmy White’s 2: Cueball into the wee small hours and often while drinking plenty of beer. It was a marvel with everything that you could do in the game. We’d play snooker and my brother would completely destroy me. We’d play pool and I always faired better. If we fancied a break, we’d throw some ‘arras at the dartboard or try to best each other with a high score on Dropzone. This game was full of things to play around with, most of which I’ve not even mentioned here.


By the time the next game was released, Jimmy White’s Cueball World in 2001, I had my own gaming PC. With this one, it was a bit more ‘comical’ as you took part in playing pool using themed tables. A standard pool table, one in a graveyard where you would play against a zombie. A table set up on a beach, one in a James Bond-type villain’s lair and more. You could play snooker, pool and even billiards. Once more, this was crammed with extras and mini-games including thumb wars. Sometimes my brother would pop round my place and we would play a few frames, or I would be at his and the beer and snooker/pool sessions began once more. Jimmy White’s Cueball World was also the last Archer Maclean game that I played. Oh, he made more, there was Pool Paradise from 2004, Archer Maclean’s Mercury from 2005 and 2009’s Wheelspin (AKA Speed Zone).


As I said, I never played those last few games. It’s not like I felt that Archer Maclean didn’t have it anymore. More a case of the fact that life began to take over, work, relationships, etc. Gaming began to take a bit of a backseat for me in the mid-2000s as my focus began to shift elsewhere and more of my free time was being eaten up. Still, from the first time I played International Karate in 1987 to Jimmy White’s Cueball World in 2001, Archer Maclean provided my brother and me with hours upon hours of entertainment and long-lasting memories.

Archer Maclean died aged 60 on the 17th of December, 2022 after battling cancer (some reports seem to claim that he died Christmas Eve). One of the true greats of the British gaming industry, now gone. Through his games, I wanted to learn how and why games were made and understand the gaming industry more. They were also something that helped to form a bond between my brother and me growing up.

R.I.P Archer Maclean. Press ‘T’ to pay respects.


Remembering Paul McLaughlin

I still remember the first time I ever played Syndicate. It was a demo that came with a copy of an Amiga magazine (remember those kids?). My memory is hazy but it was most probably Amiga Format, issue 48 from July 1993, priced £3.95. The seventeen-year-old me didn’t have a clue what he was doing or even what he was supposed to be doing. He was just running around with his cybernetic agents and shooting anything that moved.


That Syndicate demo disk blew me away… as I was blowing the dozens of NPCs away in it. I didn’t know it at the time but that demo would have a lasting impression on me. But it wasn’t just the violence in the game that grabbed me… even when I did blow up a car and people were running around engulfed in flames. It was how it looked, Blade Runner-esque is how it would be looked upon these days. Yup, there was most definitely a strong influence from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece in Syndicate.


Anyway, those graphics, the isometric camera, the tiny but detailed characters. The mood and atmosphere of the game were second to none at the time. Paul McLaughlin was the man behind those graphics and he really created something special. Syndicate was just one of many games that Paul lent his amazing talent to. Back in the nineties, Bullfrog were one of the best software houses going. Co-founded by the infamous Peter Molyneux, Bullfrog was knocking out great title after great title and Syndicate was just one of them.

Paul McLaughlin began working at Bullfrog back in 1990 and designed the graphics for most of their games. Theme Park, Powermonger, Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper and of course, Syndicate, to name a few. Those games and their graphics were amazing, games that have stayed with me for decades. When Bullfrog eventually went the way of EA, Peter Molyneux set up Lionhead Studios and Paul McLaughlin went with him.


At Lionhead, Paul once more provided art for their titles. The divisive Black & White and yes, the big fan-favourite of Fable. Paul’s fingerprints were all over those titles and he gave each a unique and memorable look. Paul helped make Lionhead the studio it was. Then when MS took over at Lionhead, Peter Molyneux left and opened 22 Cans. Yes, I know but let’s not let petty gaming hatred get into this memorandum.

Anyway, of course Paul moved over to 22 Cans too and he was the head of art and helped shape the look of Godus. Personal feelings and the ‘quality’ of the game aside, it certainly had an eye-catching and distinct look at the time. A throwback to the Bullfrog classic Populous but with a few modern twists.


Paul McLaughlin had a career in gaming that lasted for thirty years. Sadly, Paul died in December following a battle with cancer, aged fifty-seven. I just wanted to write a few words in remembrance of a man whose talent and work had a much bigger impact on me than I first realised. Those games I played for hours and grew up with. Syndicate being a title that I still have a major soft-spot for even twenty-eight years later.

Paul created a world and art style in that game that I still feel is very impressive now. In fact, I’m off to play some Syndicate as soon as I press publish in this article. Paul McLaughlin’s death leaves a gaping hole in the gaming industry and one that can never be filled.


“Paul was a huge cornerstone in my life. He was a professional, moral and funny person who had the ability to see the fair and sensible approach in any situation. I miss him every day in every way. His legacy will be felt and seen for a long, long time.”

– Peter Molyneux

Ian Hetherington

I was just winding down last night. My eyes getting heavy, I let out a yawn or two, it was bedtime. I picked up my phone and just did a quick look on my newsfeed and the news that Ian Hetherington has passed away popped up. Being British and very firmly middle-aged, the early to mid-eighties era of British gaming is my favourite slice of gaming history. It was a time of true innovation and passion, a time where the bedroom programmer was king and the mavericks were making huge waves in the industry.


One of the first ‘proper’ British gaming studios was Imagine Software. The story of which serves as the perfect template of how not to run a game studio. A great many people have written about the history and self-destruction of Imagine, myself included. There is a fantastic BBC documentary that inadvertently caught the destruction of Imagine Software on camera, which you can watch right here. Anyway, when Imagine Software did go tits up, a couple of its key people went on to found a new studio in 1984, that studio was Psygnosis and one of those key people was Ian Hetherington.

I really don’t think I could put into words just how much of an impact Psygnosis’ games had on me growing up. Psygnosis titles had a very distinct style both art and gameplay-wise. Their early games were ambitious… if a little rough. Developing games was not really the studio’s strong point (at first) but publishing them was. Under the leadership of Hetherington, Psygnosis sought out untapped talent for games to put on the market. One such unknown talent was DMA Design whose first game, Menace, was published by Psygnosis. Long story short and DMA would go on to create the GTA franchise and you all know how that went.


Other big names that had games published by Psygnosis include Raising Hell Software, who would become Bizarre Creations and go on to make the Project Gotham Racing series. How about Traveller’s Tales who are now massive thanks to their Lego partnership? Digital Illusions CE, now known by the acronym of DICE, the studio that are making the Battlefield games (and others) now. Reflections are another big names studio that cut their teeth at Psygnosis and they are still going today too. There was a serious amount of now very famous talent who got their first shot in the industry via Psygnosis and specifically due to Ian Hetherington’s instinct for spotting and nurturing that talent.

Just to namedrop a few of the best Psygnosis games. Barbarian, Terrorpods, Blood Money, Shadow of the Beast (trilogy), The Killing Game Show, Lemmings, Bill’s Tomato Game and Walker. In the mid-nineties, Psygnosis were instrumental in popularising one of the most successful games consoles ever the Sony PlayStation. Games such as Destruction Derby and WipEout helped shift PlayStations early in the console’s life and shift gaming in general towards a more adult audience. Got a shiny new PS5 under your TV? You can thank Psygnosis and Ian Hetherington’s belief in the first PlayStation and close relationship with Sony for that.


What is interesting is how the CD became the format of choice for games by the nineties. This was something that Ian Hetherington predicted long before they became commonplace in the industry. He also predicted that 3D graphics would become the norm while 2D pixels were dominant. Ian Hetherington was a true visionary and bonafide genius in the games industry. A British gaming legend that took a small studio that was Psygnosis and made them global and massively influential. You could trace hundreds, possibly thousands of people who are working in the games industry today back to Ian Hetherington and his confidence in taking on new talent. 

Ian Hetherington passed away on the 14th of December 2021. A gargantuan slice of British gaming has gone, but he leaves behind one amazing legacy. The impact that Psygnosis had on the world of gaming (and me personally) is massive. Thank you for my gaming child and adulthood Ian.


“Back the talent. Not the product.”

– Ian Hetherington

Mick McGinty: Legend In Art

It popped up on my newsfeed that Mick McGinty passed away recently. No, don’t worry, I admit that I didn’t recognise the name either. Still, if you were a gamer in the nineties, the name may not have been familiar, but the work most definitely would be. Mick McGinty was behind some of the most iconic video game art in the 1990s.

Mick was an incredible artist as his personal fine art site can prove. But if landscapes and still life wasn’t your thing, his work in the gaming world most probably was. Perhaps Micks’ most famous gaming work would be his incredible Street Fighter II art. Whenever there was a new version of the massively popular beat ’em up (and there were a lot of them), Mick McGinty’s artwork was right there with them as he created some of the most recognisable game cover art ever.

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His chunky, muscly character style suited the beat ’em up genre perfectly and Mick’s art soon found its way onto many a game box. Mick McGinty was also the man behind the covers for several of the Streets of Rage games for Sega.

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Mick also did the cover art for games like Sierra’s Leisure Suit Larry franchise, Zoo Tycoon, Kid Chameleon and Shining Force to name just a few. Mick’s art was also used by Disney, Reebok, MTV, Universal Studios, McDonald’s and so many other big-name brands. You’ve most probably also seen Micks’ art on movie posters and not even realised it. He was the man behind the Jaws 2 poster and other Jaws artwork.


The 1987 Dragnet movie, Curse of the Pink Panther, Harry and the Hendersons, Field of Dreams, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and so many more films. Mick McGinty’s art spans decades, genres and brands. You may not know it, but I can guarantee that you’ve admired at least one of his pieces over the years, whether it be gaming related, a movie poster or just a brand name that you’ve most probably bought into at some point in your life. Mick’s work was… is legendary and his talent will be greatly missed.


“I’ve been an artist since age 5, when I remember drawing an airplane better than my older brother. It was a bi-wing with a propeller, and it was encouraging because up until then, it was the only thing I could remember doing better. I kept at it, and now nearly 50 years later I’m still trying to improve my creative process… Now I realize you never really get better than anyone else… just more unique to your own style, and you become the best painter you can be.”

– Mick McGinty

Sir Clive Sinclair: The Man Who Shaped British Gaming

Yesterday, it came up on my newsfeed that Sir Clive Sinclair had died aged 81. The news spread over the various gaming groups that I’m a part of pretty damn fast. I went to sleep last night with no strong feelings about his passing. Perhaps that sounds a little callous on my part? I mean, yeah, Sinclair dying is a massive blow to the gaming world. Yet to me, last night, it really didn’t hit me. This morning? It’s a very different story.

Last night, I thought I should write something about Clive Sinclair’s death, even if I didn’t really want to. Today, there’s a massive desire to write something after sleeping on the news and reflecting on all he and his ZX Spectrum did for gaming. Before I get to that though, I need to explain why my initial feelings yesterday over Sinclair’s death were ‘lax’, for want of a better word…

Growing up, I didn’t have a ZX Spectrum. We (as a family) had a Commodore 64 and before the whole Sega vs Nintendo war, there was Commodore 64 vs ZX Spectrum… with the Amstrad CPC 464 in there somewhere. Still, there was massive rivalry between the American import and the very British made microcomputers back then. It was our generation’s The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones. Or perhaps more apt, The Monkees vs The Beatles, and you had to be on one side or the other. I was very firmly on the side of the beige breadbin, that was the C64 over the rubber-keyed wafer that was the Speccy.

I was very fortunate as a kid because I had friends who owned one of the other machines. So while I had a C64, I still got to play on pretty much every other machine back then. One of our neighbours had a Speccy and I got to play plenty of games on it. Sometimes, we would even swap computers for a weekend or longer. So I really got to grow up with the best of everything back then. While I was very much in the Commodore 64 camp when it came to the microcomputer wars of the early eighties, I never disliked the ZX Spectrum. Still, it was Jack Tramiel’s American import that captured my heart as a kid and not Clive Sinclair’s very British computer. I think that was why my initial reaction to Clive Sinclair’s death wasn’t all that big, because the ZX Spectrum was more of a background thing for me and not my main computer as a child.

But, as I said, after sleeping on the news and thinking back to the ‘good old days’, Sinclair’s Speccy was a revelation. I wrote a rather in-depth book on the British gaming industry and my absolute favourite era of gaming ever was the early to mid-eighties, bedroom coders age that shaped the entire British gaming industry. When I look back on that era of gaming, it really was the ZX Spectrum that paved the way for the gaming pioneers of the day. That’s what this article is going to be looking at, the games and names that were launched on the ZX Spectrum, the computer that Clive Sinclair brought to the masses and pretty much created the British gaming industry.

Just where do you start with the games and names from the Speccy years? I think I’ll begin with the fella that became a mascot (of sorts) for the computer itself. Horace made his debut in Hungry Horace, which was nothing more than a Pac-Man clone. Still, the character went on to star in several other games and he became the unofficial mascot of the ZX Spectrum. 1983’s Horace Goes Skiing was perhaps the most popular and best-remembered game in Horace’s career, it was the one game that every Speccy owner had… even if it wasn’t very British, it still defined British gaming.

Jet Pac was the game that launched one of the most popular gaming companies ever. A very simple, single-screen shooter with a wonderful arcade-feel. Jet Pac was the first Speccy game that the Stamper brothers (Chris and Tim) released under their new company, Ultimate Play The Game in 1983. Ultimate made some corking Speccy games back then and Jet Pac was one of them. Of course, Ultimate also made Knight Lore in 1984. For me, Knight Lore is one of the most important British video games ever made, right behind Elite (originally on the BBC Micro, but ported to the Speccy) That isometric game engine that Ultimate used for Knight Lore was revolutionary at the time. In fact, there’s a story that Ultimate Play The Game delayed the release of Knight Lore as it was so advanced that it made other games (including some of their own) look dated by comparison. I could sit here and namecheck other Ultimate games on the Speccy, but I have others to cover. Still, when the Stamper brothers became a bit jaded with their company, they created a new studio called Rare… and well, you all know how that turned out.

I don’t think you’re legally allowed to talk about the ZX Spectrum and not bring up Matt Smith’s Manic Miner. This was another one of those games that shaped and even changed the whole British gaming landscape. I’m not going to harp on about the genius that was Matt Smith as a coder (he was an utter genius though), but Manic Miner was and still is one of the most fondly remembered Speccy titles. A single-screen platformer famed for its Pythonesque humour and rather tricky-dicky difficulty. It would go on to spawn sequels with the likes of Jet Set Willy, another Speccy classic. Matt Smith became one of the first bedroom coding superstars thanks to his games and Clive Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum.

The breaker of many a joystick in 1984 was Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. Really, nothing more than a clone of the arcade hit, Track & Field from Konami. This was released when Daley Thompson became a British sporting hero thanks to his success at the 1984 Olympic Games. It was one of the first celebrity-endorsed video games too. A lot of fun and frustration was to be had with Daley Thompson’s Decathlon and it was a stone-cold Speccy classic. 

Not just a great British developed ZX Spectrum game but a damn amazing game in its own right. Skool Daze from Microsphere was a very early example of an open-world title. The freedom the game games you was amazing at the time, there was a plot to follow, but you didn’t have to. As a C64 owner, this was the one game that made me envious that I didn’t have a ZX Spectrum. I know a Commodore 64 port came later… but it just wasn’t the same. The C64 version felt clunkier and slower. Skool Daze, and its sequel, Back to Skool were defining games for the Speccy and true British gaming classics. 

I think I’ll finish with an egg. Dizzy was the first game in the very popular Dizzy franchise. Codemasters were the publisher, and they’re still going today too… now owned by the evil devil spawn that is EA. Anyway, Dizzy wasn’t a Speccy exclusive as it was ported to pretty much every microcomputer back then. But the first time I played it was on the ZX spectrum. There have been a tonne of Dizzy games released since the first title in 1987 too. I mean, Wonderful Dizzy was released in 2020. There have been numerous sequels, fan-games and remakes of the Dizzy games over the last thirty-odd years. But that first title, the original Dizzy created by the Oliver Twins is where it all started and the ZX Spectrum original is a game that many fans still praise today.

Well, that’s about it. Yeah I know I’m missing some absolute Speccy classics, but I do have to end this article sometime. Still, looking back over the years, the games I have played and just how massively important some of these titles were to the British gaming industry. You really do have to pause, say ‘thank you’ and show some deep respect to Sir Clive Sinclair and his ZX Spectrum…