|128K games launch|
BY THE TIME you read this you will probably be able to buy a Spectrum 128K in the high street. No, they haven't been imported from Spain and you don't have to be able to read Spanish to use one.
Rumours of the imminent launch of a British 128K machine have been around since summer of last year. The sceptics were proved wrong when the machine, closely fitting the descriptions broadcast by the computer press, was launched in Spain.
The 128K -
Just weeks after the Spanish launch software companies were seen to be gearing up for new products which, they all said, were under wraps. The companies were under strict contract to Sinclair Research not to reveal anything about their new products. As far as the press and the public were concerned the software was meant for the Spanish market.
That would have seemed reasonable if software packages had not started to arrive with Spectrum 128K as well as 48K plastered all over them.
The company which dropped the danger, but which is being quiet about it, is Design Design. We know of two products destined for the extra memory treatment and they are Forbidden Planet, at which you sit at the controls of an advanced battle tank, and 2112AD, a kind of advanced hacking game.
A spokesman for Design Design says: "As far as I know there will be a 128K version of the programs. They are all ready to be converted but I don't think they've been converted yet."
Sinclair Research has booked advertisements in magazines which are likely to promote the 128K. We are reliably informed that there are 150 spaces within the advert, reserved
Clement Chambers, managing director of CRL, is, like others, evasive when the subject of the 128K is brought up.
When asked whether his company would be producing The Rocky Horror Show for the 128K, he says: "If a 128K Spectrum was going to be launched we would be writing Rocky Horror for it. But, as I can't comment on the 128K, I can't make any further comments about the game."
The secrecy marks a change in the way Sinclair Research launches machines. The QL was thrown at the public in a blaze of publicity but with little software.
The 128K will have a mass of software instantly available for customers and will be able to run most of the 48K Spectrum software - 5,000 products according to Sinclair's latest adverts.
The pricing of the 128K is crucial, if the machine is to slot neatly between the Plus - now under £100 - and the QL, at £200.
If the 128K comes in at £150, then games players might consider the price too high for the rather dubious benefits of sound and extra memory, although adventures might gain, as complexity need no longer be sacrificed for pretty location graphics.
Business users and serious programmers, on the other hand, might still be tempted by the QL. Whatever the faults of that machine, it comes with the outstanding Psion software packages, worth almost £200 on their own.
|Scooby Doo doesn't|
SCOOBY DOO, from Elite, billed as 'the first ever computer cartoon' is being dropped because of technical difficulties.
While the graphics in the game, which is described as an advanced cartoon adventure, are supposedly unbelievable the game is a shambles. Lack of memory has been blamed for the failure to release the game.
The program was started in June when a team of programmers and a sizeable amount of money were allocated to the product.
The company says the game will appear sometime in the future as it has a three year license from the makers of the cartoon.
Elite has suggested that, because of the memory difficulties, it would be looking at 128K machines. Scooby Doo might be one of the first games for the Spectrum 128K.
|Sinclair: looking good?|
DESPITE a massive loss of £18.3 million during the year ending March 1985 Sinclair Research is confident that it has come through its problems relatively unscathed.
AMATEUR conjuror Roger Adlard, right, learns the art of stage presence from master magician and TV personality John Salisse.
Roger was first prize winner in our November Magic competition, sponsored by publishers Macmillan, and his stint on stage was only part of an evening of illusion at the world famous Magic Circle Club.
Andy Knott, a spokesman for the company, enthused: "We have started production of the Spectrum and QL again and have a full portfolio of products for next year. We have also started to make back payments to creditors in line with the timetable set up in September."
The flat screen television has had problems also. Although Dixons took some in its £10 million deal with Sinclair in 1985, the television has been packaged to make other products such as video cameras and computers more appealing.
Norman Smith, managing director of Terry Blood Distribution - the main Sinclair product distributor - says: "There was a buzz for the TV in the autumn, before Casio brought out its flat screen but, because of lack of point of sale literature and advertising, the product hasn't exactly set the world on fire. We will continue to support it while Sinclair produces it."
Sir Clive is still seeking outside financial help for planned products. He wants £10-£15 million for general research and development and £5 million specifically for his wafer scale integration project, halted because of the financial problems.
The £5 million falls short of the £50 million which Sinclair initially required. The project will be sub-contracted, instead of being handled in-house, but production will be started by Sinclair Research within three years. During that time the company will raise another £40 million which it will need for tooling up.
'At least we have
Andy Knott says: "The semi-conductor industry fell apart recently but in a few years confidence should be restored. We will make our move then."
Meanwhile, Sir Clive has taken a voluntary drop in salary, from £77,000 to £53,000.
Andy Knott comments: "The drop in salary reflected the fortunes of the company but you've got to remember that there are other benefits tied in with his job."
The reasons for the near disaster of the summer of '85, when newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell made his bid for Sinclair's sinking ship, are plain. Early in the year retailers bought too many Spectrums and QLs and did not re-order.
As a result the company was left with large quantities of stock and the only way to get rid of those was to bring the unit cost down. Effectively Sinclair wrote off his profits by £17.5 million.
An upturn in the fortunes of the flagging QL and the expected Christmas boom have got the company excited. Knott says: "It is ridiculous to suggest that the drop in the price of the QL has had no effect on sales. In the first few days after the drop there was a marked increase in the sales from Dixons. We don't have any concrete figures yet but judging by responses from retailers the indications are good."
Other manufacturers, such as Acorn and Commodore, have had problems and their debts are slightly more than Sinclair's. Knott admits that they are better able to cope with financial trouble but sticks a spike into Acorn by commenting: "At least we have remained an independent company during our troubles, we haven't had to drop any machines and we're still here."
|Game, set and match?|
A LIGHTNING raid on a West London computer dealer has spearheaded a campaign against software pirates using laws introduced to this country last year.
The raid was carried out by Bob Hay - ex-policeman and now FAST's enforcement coordinator - Jack Wilkes of GOSH and four CID officers. The haul amounted to 250 games.
FAST has contacted the software houses concerned to see if the confiscated packages involve a breach of copyright.
Until recently GOSH and FAST would have had to go to the Trading Standards authority to get action but with the recent amendment of the 1956 Copyright Act software houses can prosecute pirates in the same way as record companies can.
Dr Tim Langdell, Chairman of GOSH comments: "The Amendment makes it easier for us to prosecute.
"Now, if the pirates are selling the goods we can buy a copy and inform the police who will get a warrant."
GOSH and FAST are primarily after any retail trade outlets dealing in pirated goods. He says, "We would look to the authorities, such as head teachers, to deal with school children pirating tapes.
|Horror in the mask|
THE PHANTOM of the Opera rises from the pits to take part in a game soon to be launched by John Ransley.
The game is a tie-in with Andrew Lloyd Webber's new stage musical, drawing its inspiration from the 1931 movie starring Lon Chaney.
Gameplay takes place against a background of famous Paris landmarks, in the city's sewers and in the Paris Opera House where the disfigured musician stalks his beautiful prey.
The atmospheric soundtrack includes themes from several well-known operas.
THE SPECTRUM Plus has broken the £100 barrier!
The initiative was taken by Harrods in July who offered the basic machine without peripherals for £99.95. Asda undercut this price by £30, in early December, in a move to clear stocks. They were reluctant to comment on whether they will have more machines to offer at the same price in the new year.
WH Smith are also offering the basic machine for just short of £100 and, like Asda, also sell a package for £140.
|Hot off the press|
SEVERAL games arrived so close to our pass-for-press date that we could give them only a brief glimpse. Full reviews will appear next month but, just to whet your appetite ...
Rambo has at last reared his ugly head in the game promised five months ago by Ocean Software.
The program closely resembles Commando - recently released by Elite - without the bridges but with rocket launchers, grenades and knives. The action starts in the jungle where Rambo, complete with rocket launcher, is out to free his friends from a POW camp. The graphics are more detailed than Commando and relatively flicker free.
You score points by killing anything in sight which moves but moving the Rambo figure around to line the enemy up in his sights proves difficult.
The game includes approximately one million square feet of jungle - to scale of course - and features a POW camp, a temple and hilly terrain covered in trees and beset with bogs.
Transformers, also from Ocean, is not quite as late as Rambo, but late enough, and should provide action for fans of the robots which can convert into cars and planes.
You can become one of the five transformer robots by using a cross-hair cursor.
The Decepticons take on a variety of guises including warcats, falcons and warplanes. They will quickly reduce your shield power and you will need to be quick to destroy them.
Gunfright is the latest megagraphics game from Ultimate in which you play a sheriff intent on eradicating Buffalo Bill. The scenery is displayed in Knightlore-style 3D.
You need bullets and a horse, all of which can be bought. Your money is accumulated at the beginning of the game when you have to fire at bags of money in a shooting gallery.
|Cheap games out?|
A DECISION by Gallup to separate budget games from mainline software in the Top 30 charts has been put off until the end of this month.
Gallup, after a meeting with representatives of the industry including GOSH and GSD, had decided to split the charts because of a bias towards the sales of budget games. The argument is that more budget-priced units are sold than mainstream games.
'Who can tell
Mastertronic, a budget software house, put in a powerful counter argument. A spokesman for the company says: "The market is still in a state of flux and the boundaries between the two types of software are not clear. In a few year's time, who can tell what will be regarded as budget and what will be regarded as proper-priced software?"
The Gallup advisory committee had set a boundary of below £5.00 for budget games but, as a result of Mastertronic's complaint, has decided to do some more research.
A spokesman for the research company says: "Of course we want to do what most of the industry wants. If the advisory committee had set the price at £5.00 and nobody had complained we would have gone ahead with plans to separate the chart, giving budget software a section of its own. Now we will be looking for public reaction and seeing what other software houses want us to do."
The decision to change - or not change - the charts will be taken at the end of January, so now's your chance to voice your agreement or opposition. Just write to Gallup, London. As the spokesman says: "It's not what we want, so much as what the kids who buy games want."