This month we kick off with another new corner, a corner in which you can express your opinions at slightly longer length than Lloyd will let you in the FORUM. A sort of Hyde Park corner in print... get on your soapbox and send in your rant, praise or purple passage. We’ll even pay money (tea kitty willing) for pieces accepted for OPINION. This month, Cathy Foot has something to say about microdrives.
Do you remember reading the following about eighteen months ago?
Certainly the most exciting aspect of the ZX Interface 1 is the cheap and fast Microdrive storage system, which opens up a whole new world of adventure, and possibly, arcade games. It will be interesting to see what price level will be set for Micro drive cartridge software”
Franco Frey, CRASH May 1984
If you do, then you are probably a long term reader of CRASH and the owner of, dare I say it, a Microdrive?
Well, what have we seen released on cartridge in the last year or so, anything? Nothing? Not much. Let’s face it, I cannot think of a single game issued on Microdrive first, and those that are available on both Microdrive and cassette are far and few between.
The reason I remember that article so well is that we have just decided to subscribe AND buy those back issues that we’ve missed due to depending on our local newsagent, and the May 1984 issue was one of those we missed. I therefore got to read the article I’ve quoted from here not at a time when we were considering buying the little beast, but when we have two of the brutes in the house — I think the highest number we’ve had at a time is five, last Christmas.
Remember Franco’s words? He pointed out some of the possibilities... adventure games bigger and better than The Hobbit and Valhalla; less than nine seconds to wait before a game loads rather than up to four minutes. “No doubt,” you read, “adventure game writers are, at this very moment, labouring away frantically at their first Microdrive epic and we will see some results in the near future”.
So, what went wrong?
There ARE some games available both on tape and Microdrive nowadays, but I don’t know of any that were issued first on Microdrive, nor any that are bigger or better on cartridge. One or two software houses do allow us to copy games to cartridge — Five Ways Software, for instance, trust us to copy Rally Driver to Microdrive, giving us the joys of fast access and an amazingly pleasant feeling of being trusted. Several firms provide utilities on cartridge as well as cassette — in fact most utilities can be acquired on cartridge... but not much in the way of games software.
Why is this? It seems there were two main problems facing the software houses last year, the first being that no-one was willing to risk entering an unknown market with, perhaps, too few buyers in it; secondly, and most important, was that by the time software houses felt that a sufficient number of Microdrives has been sold, they had discovered the worm in the apple.
‘Worm?’ I hear you cry, ‘What worm?’ The worm of Sinclair’s quality control department. If it doesn’t work, send it back! Fine when you are buying items in ones, twos and threes, but what about a firm which buys several thousand Microdrive cartridges and has to send half of them back because they don’t work. And what about software house’s quality control? Will they have to test EVERY cartridge they sell, or just pass the buck on to us, the consumer and run the risk of getting an unfair reputation for poor quality goods?
I spoke to Tim Langdell of Softek, which markets The Artist and The Writer on Microdrive at the PCW Show. He told me that they arrived at the show on the Wednesday with four items on cartridge, three of which had failed by Saturday lunchtime.
Walking round the show, I enquired of other firms whether their games would be released on Microdrives, and they all expressed similar opinions to Tim’s. (As it happens, I seem to have been lucky — apart from cartridge blow-ups due to passing electric trains and my own ham-fistedness — I have only had two duff cartridges in about a year.)
I just wish firms would allow us to SAVE from cassette to Microdrive — but I suppose that would lead to an increase in piracy...
Once more, however, we stand at the dawn of another era — again we watch in amazement at the unveiling of another LITTLE BLACK BOX for the Spectrum. The Mikro-Plus from Mikro-Gen. The same bursts of applause, the same hopes for more and better games are raised. This little box upgrades your Spectrum’s memory to 64K by using a shadow ROM. AND programs which run with it can be transferred to Microdrive. If software houses begin to release games on the Mikro-Plus under licence, our Microdrives could see a new lease of life...