articles »
releases »
parties »
sceners »

Antique Toy 2002 Rules

The Compo - Rules

Demotopia - the relaunch

Antique Toy 2004 rules

NotCon '04 talk

New hardware / software developments on the Sinclair Spectrum

Matt Westcott for NotCon '04, 6 June 2004

[Photo: Spectrum startup menu]

Hi. I wonder if any of you remember these things. This was Clive Sinclair's foray into the world of mass storage. While everyone else in the world was messing around with 5.25" disks, Sinclair decided that this was the future. It's a miniature tape loop, and one of these holds a whopping 90 kilobytes. It's called a Microdrive. Sound familiar?

We've moved on quite a bit since then. This is the latest bit of kit on the Spectrum scene, an IDE interface called DivIDE. It's made by a boffin from the Czech Republic.

[Photo: Booting into DEMFIR]

This is the operating system, DEMFIR. It has the distinction of being possibly the only project on the whole of Sourceforge that runs on the Spectrum. It deals with ISO filesystems, the sort used on CDs, and it understands the file formats usually used for Spectrum emulators. So, one thing you can do is get one of those Spectrum Emulator CDs with 8000 games on it, connect it up to your Spectrum and have hours of gaming fun.

Or, if you're that way inclined, you can bung an ISO filesystem on a hard drive instead, as I've done here. Here you can see I've got a bunch of classic games - Dizzy, Elite... but rather than demonstrating my Mad Skillz on Manic Miner, I'll show you something different.

This is something from the demo scene. Now, the demo scene is something that needs a talk all of its own. The 30-second executive summary: the demo scene is a huge international community of digital artists - programmers, musicians, graphic artists - who get together and make programs that look pretty and sound pretty. They then meet up at a big LAN party, show these things off, and everyone votes on the best ones. These 'demos', as they're called - one significant branch of the scene is devoted to writing them under various constraints. For example, you might have a file size limit of 64K, or write them for a retro platform, such as... the Spectrum.

Which brings us on to this one, which I came up with for the Assembly demo party two years back - one of the biggest events, in Finland, which attracts thousands of visitors. So, this is Losing Victoria.

[Screenshot: Losing Victoria][Screenshot: Losing Victoria][Screenshot: Losing Victoria]

So, it's all very well connecting up big metal boxes like hard drives to the Spectrum, but it doesn't really fit in with the whole Spectrum philosophy, which is where CompactFlash comes in. Because once you've got IDE, you just need to connect up one of these little boards, a CompactFlash to IDE reduction. These things are mass-produced, because there's quite a market for them among embedded systems, hardware modders... which is just as well, because I tried to make one of these for myself and kind of underestimated just how hard it is to solder one of these CompactFlash connectors to a board. I think the phrase is "like nailing jelly to the wall". Or, in this case, like soldering jelly to the wall.

And the thing about CompactFlash is that it means you can now connect up a Microdrive of the IBM variety to the Spectrum. In fact, a single 4Gb Microdrive could quite easily store every Spectrum program ever published.

[Ewan: The whole World of Spectrum archive is about 380Mb.] Well, there you go.

So, the question is, what do you do with all that leftover storage space? Well, my answer is: streaming video. And here we are. Something from NTK favourite Michel Gondry.

[Screenshot: Let Forever Be] [Screenshot: Let Forever Be] [Screenshot: Let Forever Be] [Screenshot: Let Forever Be]

[At this point, I would have mentioned that the visuals were created with the wonderful BMP2SCR, but I didn't have time...]

When I was putting this talk together, my housemate watched me working on this, and his reaction was: "Why don't you just get a better graphics card?" I guess that's the next thing to work on, then...


Q. "Why?"
A. [Matt J]: Because it's there. Next question?...]

Q. How active is the demo scene in the UK?
A. Well, on the Spectrum there's just a few of us keeping it all together. Over here the Spectrum scene is more focused on the whole retro gaming thing. As far as the wider scene goes, there are a couple of groups, but we're not really as active as other places like Finland. It does make you wonder - do they teach kids C at kindergarten or something?

Q. Have you made any sort of mods to your Spectrum?
A. Not really. There's someone in Sweden who has actually built all of this stuff into an original rubber-key Spectrum, with a CompactFlash slot sticking out of the side. It's something I'd like to do at some point, but it's a bit beyond my soldering skills. This Spectrum just has a couple of simple mods - stereo sound, which is wired into the sound chip, and this thing here which is the voltage regulator. Usually, with a 128K Spectrum like this, you have a big 'toast rack' on the side, but here it's been replaced with a more modern one. Just makes it a bit more convenient when you're lugging it to places like Finland.

Matt Westcott, 2004-06-06 [email]

Creative Commons License
This work (excluding photographs / illustrations) is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Cheers to Tom Stuart for the photos.

A Gasman production, brought to you by the Demozoo network. Corrections, additions, new releases? Submit them to the main Demozoo site!
Grab the Demotopia newsfeed at: