Respectful Evolution of a Retro Classic

As we all know (and much to our giddy delight) the Sinclair ZX Spectrum has recently been given a new lease on life with the development of the ZX Spectrum Next computer. Actually, if we’re being honest, it is we users who have been reborn with this new addition to the Speccy family since the original Spectrum computers never actually went away. They have been kept alive over the past decades by enthusiasts who have remained faithful to this electronic marvel from their youth by continuing to use both the original hardware as well as emulators installed on other platforms.

What's the big deal?

Why then the excitement and unbridled fervor over the release of the Spectrum Next? Is it because of the upgrades and enhancements built into the Next that hint at the promise of new and exciting games and programs never before possible that may be developed? Perhaps it is an appreciation for the monumental effort and devotion to the development of this nostalgic machine that sold out not one but TWO kickstarter campaigns (in record time). Or, are we just itching to get our hands on any new Spectrum related goodness?

Likely it is some combination of all of the above plus more- and I suspect the answers may be different for each of us. For myself, the idea of being able to re-live the thrill of learning to create programs on an updated and enhanced Spectrum is a temptation too tantalizing to resist, especially considering all the new capabilities of the Next as compared with its retro brethren.

Which brings us to an interesting question and possible point of contention. How do you re-imagine and re-engineer a timeless, classic (and truly nothing less than iconic) retro computer with upgraded features and capabilities while staying true to the original design? Of course one of the original Spectrum models could have just been replicated using new hardware, with the possible addition of a few acceptable enhancements to make it easier to use (such as a better keyboard and SD card storage functionality) - but the Next went far beyond that...

"Enhancements" and Identity Crisis

Wifi? Raspberry PI acceleration? Hardware sprites? NextBASIC? Multiple graphics layers? Triple AY sound chips? Real time clock? HDMI? ... and the list goes on. While it could (and should) be argued that these are all fabulous enhancements (which they are), the question arises: at what point does it stop being an upgraded Speccy and cross the line into being a completely new type of personal computer?

After all, what makes a Speccy a Speccy? Is it the fact that it is able to run Speccy games and programs? A PC running a Spectrum emulator can do that and it certainly wouldn’t be considered a Speccy (at least not in any universe that I would want to live in)!

How about the enclosure having that classic Speccy design complete with awkward keyboard layout and rainbow pattern adornment? Well, you could shove a Speccy-emulating raspberry PI into a Spectrum case and that wouldn’t make it a true Spectrum.

Ok, well surely it must be the fact that at the heart of the Next is an FPGA replication of an actual Speccy core (several in fact). Then... why not just design a completely new Speccy FPGA based device with a hard drive and full keyboard complete with function keys and conventional placement of cursor keys and common symbols?

How about a laptop or tablet version Speccy with a built in screen? Would die-hard users accept a tablet version Spectrum as a true Speccy just because it has a Spectrum FPGA core at its heart? For that matter how would we even know without looking at a data sheet or promotional blurb?

Ancestral Speccy DNA

And that brings us to the heart of the matter - and the answer to our question. What do Spectrum users expect and what are we willing to accept as genuine? I think what makes a Speccy a Speccy is us - the users. We decide what qualities and features, both physical and intangible, make up a true Spectrum computer. We are the ones backing it, programming it, developing games, programs and peripherals for it as well as building and maintaining thriving online communities dedicated to it.

For whatever reason, we have given our collective blessing to the Next project which has allowed this creation to be transformed from an idea into reality. We entrusted the developers to ensure that their tireless (and potentially thankless) efforts would produce a worthy namesake able to live up to its heritage and honorable Spectrum bloodline. And seeing the result, we have embraced it wholeheartedly and welcomed it unconditionally as we would any new addition to our family.

Though every parent strives to nurture their offspring to develop into a fully realized being that exceeds even their own accomplishments, the Speccy Next is much more than just the latest progeny in the Spectrum lineage. It is a true evolution of the species with base characteristics and a potential that surpasses even the dreams of any of its former incarnations.

The Verdict

While it does have advanced features and capabilities that may seem to qualify it as a new and unique entity in its own right, the Spectrum community as a whole has come together in harmony to endow the ZX Spectrum Next with the soul of a true Spectrum in every sense of the word. With honor, respect, anticipation and enthusiasm, we reach into the future with outstretched hands while keeping one foot (and part of our heart) planted firmly in the Speccy retro past. Welcome to the family.

- Spriteworx Team.