Top Ten ZX81 memories

I know I’ve mentioned before that my first computer, despite my friends all having Spectrums, was a ZX81. Not that I begrudge them their good fortune; I caught up in the end after all. In fact I so loved my ZX81 that I’ve now got another one, given it a lead role in my next fiction series, and have started to try and pick up some of the games I had back in the day – all of which leads us to my Top Ten ZX81 memories.


1. 10 Games. Otherwise known as Gamestape 1 by J K Greye, this has to go first because it came with our Zeddy and was probably the first thing to get tried out – especially as all ten games (well, 8 games, an art package of sorts, and a trippy kaleidescope (sic) utility) ran on 1K, which was ideal until we figured out the remedy to RAM Pack wobble.

zx81-large2. The epic manual. Not only did it weigh considerably more than the ZX81, it also had epic sci-fi cover art by John Harris. If Iain M Banks had written a Culture novel and, for some reason, been allowed to title it ZX81 Basic Programming, it couldn’t have been more epic.

3. Text adventures. The ZX81, what with it’s restricted graphics and all, was well served with these. I remember, among others, the Sinclair Fantasy Games duology with their natty little random maps, and the rather terrible Hitcher that got a mention a couple of weeks back, among others.

4. Nightmare Park. A walk in the park turned into a sequence of all but impossible mini challenges. Like golf, only without a bar at the other end.

5. Type-ins. I had hours of fun with The Best of Sinclair Programs ’84. Until my fingers started to bleed from typing on the hideous membrane ‘keyboard’ or the Zeddy crashed somewhere after the third our of typing…

BankRobber.Cover6. Pink inlays. Specifically, the ones on Romik games that caught my eye with their futuristic computery font, real action screenshot and cheap as chips price tag. Oh, and the fact they were bright pink probably helped too.

7. Flight Simulation. Psion/Sinclair’s Flight Simulation must have been somewhere near the pinnacle of the computer’s abilities when it was released in 1982. As a kid I wrote a story in which our hero (me) saved a 747 full of screaming passengers based on having played this the previous night. I gave up on my dreams of flying, but never on the writing…

8. Which is why, in later life and suffering a little bout of adolescent nostalgia, I wrote 101 Things To Do With A ZX81. It failed to make me either rich or famous, but it was an obscure kind of fun.

Zuckman.screen9. Zuckman, and other cheap arcade knock-offs. In fairness though, Zuckman was a fully functioning (if monochromatic) and pretty decent ‘implementation on a Sinclair ZX81 of the popular arcade game known as “Puckman”.’

10. Which leads us inexorably towards the climax of our tour of my ZX memory banks, and the ZX81’s own killer app: 3D Monster Maze. Don’t have nightmares…

Have different ZX81 memories? That’s what the comments section is for!


  1. “*RUN* HE IS BESIDE YOU” – I appreciate I was ten or eleven at the time, but I can’t recall any subsequent game/frightening moment/scene in a film that has so consistently scared me out of my wits than the appearance of that single phrase at the bottom of the screen. I really did crap myself every time, and this was usually when the ZX crashed as I stabbed at the keys in alarm.

    • Exactly! That’s part of the brilliance of the game – that and creating a T-Rex out of chunky graphics that didn’t spoil the effect!

  2. I can relate to most of what you said. The manual was brilliant, such a high standard. Loved Flight Sim and 3D Monster maze. Not sure if I played Puckman, do remember Zedman, Zombie, Mazogs etc. Thought the Cosmic Cockerel high-res stuff was amazing.

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