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Dedicated to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum

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Tape Magazines

It was inevitable that someone would take the step of producing a magazine in electronic format, either for free inclusion in an existing magazine or to be sold separately. Advantages of this idea were obvious; less space to store your ever increasing magazine collection, real screen shots of games, type-in games that actually worked and didn’t require typing in, and that nice feeling that you were moving into the future with electronic publishing; something that is only just maturing with the tablet revolution.

The disadvantages of course were that you couldn't just pick it up and flick to a review or article. You obviously had to work your way through the tape, section by section.

The first tape magazine for the Spectrum was Spectrum Computing, launched in May 1983 by Argus Publications. The contents were a range of features, game reviews, games and useful routines. The games initially were just BASIC type-ins, saving you from all the hard work, but because of the new electronic format and the removal of pages worth of code, the games could be much more complex and even be in machine code, such as Archaeologist from issue 18 of Spectrum Computing, a nice little jet set willy clone with smooth animated sprites and good gameplay.

The layout of the magazine left a lot to be desired, but did improve over time with the inclusion of larger text, navigation and border effects. Other tape based magazines took up that challenge too, improving readability, operation and navigation.

Hot on the heels of Spectrum Computing came 16/48 released in November 1983. Attractively mounted on a colourful card, this had quite a large following and a much improved look. It all felt a bit more professional than Spectrum Computing at the time. Taking two sides of a cassette, 16/48 included good quality games, reviews, news and even an adventure help section. I always looked forward to reading this section as I was terrible at adventures.

BASIC games giving way to better machine code ones. The games followed the same path Spectrum Computing, with BASCI games giving way to belter machine code ones. Later editions of 16/48 magazine came with an on-going graphic adventure called The Long Way Home, no doubt a marketing ploy to get you to buy the next issue.

Other tape magazines quickly followed. Outlet joined the others in March 1987 and ran for over 140 issues, including reviews, routines and features. The magazine was available in various formats including tape, Microdrive and disk.

Spectrum Adventurer began publishing in 1986 and obviously deals with just adventure games. The tape consisted of the usual editorials, game reviews and adventure help. Spectrum Discovery Club was a disk magazine produced for Directory Opus users and was available on Opus disk only.

The idea had now well and truly caught on, with numerous magazines available across different formats. As the 8bit machine lost popularity to the 16bit ones, so the magazines lost favour with the public and slowly vanished. Sadly it seems the idea of producing a magazine for the Spectrum on tape or disk has faded too. There were a few Russian ones around, but they seem to have dried up recently.

It's still nice to sit down a read through a few issues of these magazines. It puts you back where the action was, and gives you an insight into what was happening at the time, and you feel a little closer to those days when the Spectrum was king.
So when your trendy friend brags about his iPad or your mate starts harping on about magazines on his tablet, you can hold your head up and claim it all started on the Spectrum and you’ve been reading electronic magazines since 1983. Not that they'll probably understand!

This feature was taken from episode 19 of The Spectrum Show.