Regular readers will appreciate my own personal fascination with the humble ZX Spectrum – it was my first computer and I have nothing but the fondest memories it. So much so, that I regularly take time out to load up an emulator and play through some of the classics of the time, eschewing modern systems for a slice of gameplay purity.
With the power of modern smartphones, 8-bit emulation on the go is a reality, and although we’ve covered the iPhone’s longer running Speccy emulator in the past (the Elite Collection) a new contender has arrived – a port of one of the best Windows emulators available – Spectaculator. It was released onto the App Store last week for £1.79, and I caught up with developer Jonathan Needle to find out what makes his App different from the other similar Apps on the Store.
I started by asking Jon what made him decide to make an iPhone emulator. “I started tinkering with iOS development last summer and needed a project,” he told me. “I wondered how easy it would be to port Spectaculator for Windows to iOS. As usual with this kind of thing, it just got out of hand and ended up becoming something I wanted to release. Not bad for my first App,” he says, smiling.[drop]”Internally they’re identical,” he says, when I ask him if there’s any relationship between the iPhone version and the popular Windows emulator. “Originally I had concerns an iPhone wouldn’t be fast enough and I’d have to compromise the emulation quality to keep the speed up. Fortunately even an old iPhone 3G or iPod Touch 2nd gen easily runs it at full speed.”
The emulator’s priced a little higher than the competition, and the initial set of games more limited. Concerned about this, I asked him how the original selection of games was picked.
“I wanted a broad range of game styles for the initial release so that there was hopefully something in there for everyone,” he says, and reiterates that more games are planned “shortly” in updates to the software. “Of course, the games supplied are not available other than with Spectaculator,” he explains.
“I had a very positive response,” he says, when I ask him about getting the games onto the emulator. “Many of the developers were already very familiar with the Windows version and some were even registered users [of the Windows emulator] so that probably helped,” he said.
But there’s still the issue of pricing, so I ask Jon what sets his emulator apart from the others on the platform. “Better emulation,” he replies, “particularly with respect to the sound quality. I’m keen to give users the best possible ZX Spectrum experience which why there’s a proper keyboard, cassette loading, BASIC, pokes (cheats) etc. The keyboard means you can interact with game menus properly and enter your name into high score tables!”
There’s also gesture controls to maximise the number of inputs without needing to bring up that keyboard, something Jon’s quite proud of. “I’m especially pleased with the way those work as it makes games such
as Tau Ceti with lots of keys very playable,” he nods.
Spectaculator also features pre-defined layouts and control sets for each game, with different numbers of buttons depending on the title. This makes jumping into a game dead easy, although you do sometimes have to bring up the keyboard to select the appropriate control from within the game itself. Best of all, though, is the multiple save slots for each game – there are four – which makes progress in the harder titles much easier.
Finally, Spectaculator includes BASIC support (in both 48k and 128k modes) so you can make your own games, and direct links to online tips and so on for each game in the bundle. And whilst the games won’t appeal to everyone, there’re classics like 3D Starstrike and Dynamite Dan in there alongside some new stuff from Jonathan Cauldwell like Albatrossity and The Fantastic Mister Fruity. Seven games are included in total.
We thank Jon for his time, and wish him the best of luck with the App.