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RetroSpective!

An interview with the team at RetroSpec.

Sick of the emulator scene? Had your fill of Bleem! updates, Glide wrappers and the rest? Well, before you throw in the towel remember that emulation isnít just limited to recreating the best that Sony and Nintendo can come up with.

In various pockets around the net are people recreating the heady days of 8 bit computers. From the ZX81 to Commodore 64, theyíre all out there. Many hard-core gamers started their gaming lives on these humble machines. Personally, I started on the ZX81, which barely qualified as a calculator, never mind a computer. In America the dominant home machine in those days was the Commodore 64. {Though there are still to this day some very sick individuals who think Apple had part of the market just because it was in every classroom, dispite the fact that it was a peice of shit.- Fuse!) The machine also had a strong presence in Europe but it also a fierce rival - the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

This machine was probably responsible for starting the careers of some of the biggest names in programming, certainly on the British side of the pond. And as youíd expect, this has led to a massive following on the net. Predictably, this means itís all too easy to find Spectrum emulators and ROMs. But thatís not where the story ends.

RetroSpec is a Spectrum site with a difference. Go to the download section and you wonít find Spectrum emulators but instead, remakes for the PC. When youíre done there, follow a few links and youíll unearth a whole community of people remaking old games for the PC. Not just Spectrum games either.

So, to find out what RetroSpec and this whole remake scene is all about, what better than to ask the boys themselves. Answering the questions are John Dow and Dan Condon-Jones.

Jazzer What is RetroSpec?

Dan RetroSpec is a bunch of people who convert classic old games to modern platforms, helping each other out or not in varying degrees.

Jazzer Who are you and how are you involved in RetroSpec?

Dan I am Dan Condon-Jones and I am writing and doing the animated graphics for Turmoil: The Battle of Wizards, one of the many remakes of Chaos.

John John Dow, in real life I'm systems director of a web design & hosting company. For RetroSpec I'm a coder. I write things.

Jazzer Why did you all become involved in RetroSpec and doing remakes in general?

Dan I have wanted to convert Chaos to the PC for years as I always felt the game never reached the level of fame it deserved. My real aim was always to spread the game to people who had never heard of the Spectrum version, but I suspect most of the people playing it will be old fans. I joined RetroSpec largely because I realised I was going to need some help with the graphics and sound in the game and because I was asked.

John I wrote Splat! PC pre-RetroSpec after seeing Andy Noble's astonishing Manic Miner PC. Andy did the graphics for Splat and we just got talking.

Jazzer What was the first game you remade or you heard about being remade?

Dan The earliest I can think of was years ago I heard of (but never saw) a remake of Chaos for the PC. This was probably Morkin 2 I heard of which although not a straight remake is pretty similar.

John I did a (terrible) remake of Riptoff called Lizards which is part of the Slackware Linux distribution. I wrote it in June 1995 in about four days and it shows. Don't look it up, it'll only cause tears.

Jazzer Why are so many people interested in games that are so old?

Dan I don't know about anyone else but here's my opinion. Rose tinted shades aside, it's not because the games were better because Jetpac is *not* better than Quake. Maybe because they're simpler, less hassle - you can fire it up and have a quick blast. I guess everyone's busier these days and they don't have 2 hours a night to waste playing the latest 8-cd blockbuster.

!!I write remakes because it's the only way I can write games. A bloke with a PC in his living room can't write Dungeon Keeper 2 or Unreal - there are teams of 30 people working on these games. I'm writing remakes because it's a manageable size for one person to handle in a reasonably short space of time. And also because I like simple games. And because we're all getting old.

John Some of the old games have a lovely simplicity and originality. These days when you can get computers to do practically whatever you want them to do, I think there is less urgency for developers to come up with original ideas when they can bulk out a game with flash graphics.

Jazzer What is your favourite game of all time?

Dan Chaos.

John Gawd. If it's in terms of "Which game did I spend most time playing" then probably Harrier Attack :) Heretic 2 is the first game in ages I've completed. For sheer lasting playability (and I still haven't finished it) I'd probably say Independence War (I-War) Defiance.

Jazzer What is your favourite remake of all time?

Dan I quite enjoy Sentry (though I never played the original). The Manic Miner remakes are always good too.

John Andy Noble's Manic Miner. It's outstanding. I always thought that MM was better than Jet Set Willy - it just felt better - and Andy has managed to preserve that in his remakes. It's odd, because, speccy games look worse on an emulator than they did at the time (with the tv blurring) so Andy's MM really looked and sounded the way I remembered it (rather than the way it actually was).

It was an odd emotional thing, actually, playing MMPC for the first time really got me in the nostalgia muscle - I was immediately flooded with memories of 1983 - warm summer night in the park, mooning over a girl called Lorraine Mackie (:)), Iron Maiden, Pink Floyd, Marillion, Ultravox, Dr Who on TV, getting lost in the woods, everything. Doesn't really go into words, but for me, Andy sitting and writing a game did all that, and I think that's a large part of the question above the previous one.

Jazzer What game would you most like to see remade, either by yourselves or someone else?

Dan Lots. I think a new Dizzy game needs to be done with Tomb Raider quality graphics, but still the same old types of puzzles and supporting cast. Fat Worm Blows a Sparky, Sir Fred, Bugaboo, Tilt, Target Renegade (though it can never be RetroSpec), I Ball, I Ball 2 and countless others.

John I'm looking forward to Jeff's Sabre Wulf. I'd like to finish Atic Atac (at some point). It'd be nice to see some of the older games though - most of my remakes are from '82,83 cos that's when I was really into the speccy. I started to notice the oddly shaped bits of girls after that ;-)

Jazzer Are there any games that you would like to see remade but would be too much of a hassle to do?

Dan I always had a vision of a precise remake of The Hobbit, only with no text. A pure mouse driven game with each scene depicted in graphics but exactly the same puzzles and characters etc. The problem is it would need someone to do a picture for every location in the game and I don't think that is too likely to happen.

John Someone really needs to do a first person Jet Set Willy!

Jazzer Whatís your opinion on companies that have withheld permission to remake their old games, especially ones that haven't been available commercially for years?

Dan Sad petty people. The argument I saw put forward by Rare (who used to be Ultimate) was that they couldn't have a rule against the people who try to charge for games, but not against the ones who don't. Personally I donít see why they can't have a rule that say "As long as you don't charge for it".

There is a rule with literature that it becomes public property 50 years after the author's death. I kind of feel there should be a similar rule with computer games that kicks in 5 or 10 years after the game is written. Luckily these misers seem to be a minority.

John It's their choice. I understand it completely - I spent a lot of time writing AMC and I get annoyed when people put it on their site to build traffic without asking me, even though no-one is making money from it (other than certain people who've put it on advertising sponsored sites ;-)).

The people that wrote the game put a lot into it and will want to retain the ability to do a commercial version at a later date. It does still belong to them after all.

Jazzer Is this a scene that will die away soon? Or do you think it will grow and if so, why?

Dan For the moment there are loads of old spectrum games that are begging to be remade, and as long as they last, the scene should survive. I don't know about 15/20 years time thought when people want to remake old Playstation games. With the massive teams that work on games these days, it will be hard for any one person to remake a game like that without losing all of the detail.

John Erk - who knows? I'll probably keep writing for the reasons I've stated above, but I couldn't speak for the scene as a whole.

Jazzer How do you feel about the whole emulator scene and particularly the legal wrangles that have ensued?

Dan I cannot speak for the whole of Retrospec on this one, but I love it. I don't know how good a philosophical argument I could put forward, but it seems right to me that once games reach a certain age they should be publicly available. I don't think many people these days would put their money into those old games anymore.

John I like emulators. very much - I've relived many happy moments through M.A.M.E. and X128 and Frodo and the likes. If someone still sold Space Invaders cabinets at sensible prices I'd buy one, but they don't. I think emulators are an excellent demonstration of programming ability, but if anyone suggests that the likes of Bleem! and the N64 emus are anything other than a clever way to play pirated games then they're either naÔve or naÔve!

Jazzer Dan, John, thank you.

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