Category Archives: Old Computers

My BBC Micro Model B Restoration Project

What’s so special about the BBC Micro?

I’ve long been a fan of the BBC Micro, having first been introduced to the machine at School in the early 80’s.  As the owner of a primitive ZX81, the full colour graphics and proper keyboard made the BBC Micro seem so advanced compared to what I could use at home.  I would go along to computer club at lunchtimes to learn more about programming, but more often than not we would end up playing games such as Snapper and Planetoid – arcade perfect conversions of the titles we queued for in the local arcades at the time.

Eventually I would end up owning an Acorn Electron, a cut-down version of the BBC Micro that delivered most if not all of the BBC experience, but I still felt I was missing out, so ineventually saved up to buy a BBC Master Series computer, a more advanced version of the origianal.  This was the computer that got me through my A-Levels, including a Computer Science qualification that formed the basis for my degree, again in Computer Science.

So for me the BBC range of computers have always been special, and over 30 years after my first computer club, I decided to go out and find myself an original Beeb.

Which is the Best BBC Micro?

The Beeb came in two flavours, the Model A and the Model B, which differed based on the amount of RAM available, having 16k and 32k respectively.  The budget model A also had less hardware connectivity options, with various ports removed, and due to the lack of RAM could not support all of the available video modes. After the model B came “plus” models with greater memory, and ultimately the Master Series range which had 128k memory and ROM cartridge ports, as well as a separate numerical keyboard.

For me though it has always been the Model B with its iconic beige case, and the square footprint, which represented the BBC at its height, and also the first computer I truly listed after.    So off to eBay I went to look for a perfect working model.

BBC Micro Buying Advice

Like many aging home computers, there are a couple of things to look out for when considering your purchase.  The first is the keyboard – whether it be the Spectrums fragile keyboard membrane or the BBC’s well used buttons, these are often victims to the passage of time.  The second is the case, which can be subject to nasty yellowing with age: Vic 20’computers and BBC micros both suffered from this affliction, which is linked to flame retardants used to protect the machine’s plastics.  The final thing in the case of the BBC in particular is the power supply which can often fail.  The BBC has an on-board supply which features capacitors which can dry out with age, resulting eventually in a nasty but non-fatal “pop” accompanied by acrid smelling smoke.

So finding a good one is a case of trawling eBay for a cosmetically clean machine with a good keyboard that shows little signs of being fiddled with, and a pale cream rather than yellowy brown case.  If the seller shows the BBC working then then is is obviously a good sign, but it doesn’t mean the power supply isn’t fragile and could let go at any time. Fortunately this is an easy fix (more on this later).

My first BBC Micro Purchase

After being unsuccessful bidding on a “perfect” machine, mainly because I didn’t want to pay the silly money being asked for fully reconditioned boxes, I decided I would go for a fixer-upper that I could add some value to.  The first purchase was a  fully working model B that suffered from a bit of yellowing to the case, and as such fell into my budget – I picked this up for £30 plus postage.  After a nervous wait for delivery, I powered up the machine (which actually looked better than advertised) and plugged into a LCD monitor via a an RGB to Scart cable purchased online.  The classic twin tone beep told me things were going to be OK, the aging BBC Micro presenting me with the minimal start screen prompt.

bbc micro in polystyrene case
My BBC Micro

At this stage I couldn’t do much more with the machine as we were in the middle of a house renovation, so I stored the machine away with the intention of cleaning up the case in the summer after building work was complete.  I’d found a secret recipe online for renovating yellowed plastics, and as well as getting the power supply reconditioned, this would be my next step on the way to getting my perfect BBC Micro.

While the BBC Micro seemed to be working fine, something was missing and I realised that in order to truly recreate that 1982 Beeb experience I would need an appropriate display, namely a Microvitec Cub monitor.

The Microvitec Cub Monitor – The Perfect BBC Micro Companion

Back in computer club, there were 2 flavours of monitor, with both green-screen and full colour versions available.  The Microvitec Cub Monitor had the benefit of being painted the same colour as the BBC Micro, and would sit on a stand above the BBC Micro keyboard, it’s 14″ screen the perfect size in proportion to the computer case.  Connectivity was via an RGB cable which provided a perfectly stable image, much better than the TV connection, but still with the lovely CRT scan lines than would be missing from a modern LCD monitor.

BBC Micro with Microvitec Cub Monitor
BBC Micro with Microvitec Cub Monitor

After a few failed bids on some overpriced examples (obviously these devices are in huge demand from Beeb owners like me) I managed to find not one but two examples in an auction, the owner being local to me in Essex so having the advantage of not requiring postage.  In the end I picked up both at for £50 – a steal assuming I could offload one of them for the same and make this essentially a “free” monitor.

A quick trip to Southend, and I was in the possession of 2 very nice monitors, which both worked first time when plugged into my BBC micro via an RGB cable which came with the original BBC micro auction.  With building work still going on I packed them safely away in the loft until I had the space to assemble them properly.

BBC Micro Tape, Disk Drive or Flash Card?

The traditional BBC Micro gaming experience involved a portable cassette tape player and an agonising wait for your game to load (or not) into memory, the BBC like many early home computers not having any internal storage device such as a hard disk drive.  Given the fragile nature of cassette tape, or any 30 year old magnetic storage media for that matter, I decided that this would be a step too far, albeit the most authentic experience.  The disk drive approach was also rejected, which whilst quicker to load was not desirable due to the lack of original games still available to play on 5.25″floppy disk.

In the end I resorted to the most practical alternative, that of a custom flash drive connected to the original equipment via a special adaptor, to allow original BBC Micro games to be played without the need for more mechanical (and fallible) input devices and media.  Whilst there are potential objections to the use of copied disk images of these games, which are freely available on the Internet, my view is that I will only be playing games that I had already bought in the 80’s, so no harm is being done.

BBC Micro MMC Card Interface
BBC Micro MMC Card Interface

After a bit of research I settled on an MMC based solution, which would allow me to play all of my old favourite games with the minimal of effort, and without the need to modify the BBC in any way apart from the insertion of a bespoke EPROM chip in an empty slot on the motherboard.

Repairing a Poorly BBC Micro

The time had come to assemble the respective components of my BBC Micro based system, which had actually grown in size since my original purchase, having found another mint but only partially working example on eBay.  I figured I should be able to make at least one perfect BBC out of my two purchases.

I decided that I would actually get both working, so I sent off my Beeb to Mark at Retro Clinic ( for a service and for the all important capacitor replacement.  I’ve subsequently become a lot more confident with a soldering iron but in this case I wanted a professional job. A couple of weeks later and my BBC Micro was back with me and ready for installation of the MMC card interface.

BBC Micro Case Internals PCB
BBC Micro Internals

The flash drive installation process ended up being very simple – open up the BBC Micro, find a spare ROM slot and carefully seat the custom ROM, taking care not to bend the pins.  Plug in the card to the serial interface, and turn her on.  The usual BBC prompt now featured the words Turbo MMC!

A quick instruction to call up the menu and the screen instantly showed the MMC Card Menu, with a list of installed games already in place.  No lengthy loading, quicker than a tape or even a floppy disk!

The Games – is the BBC Model B as good as I remembered?

First stop – Chuckie Egg!  Followed by a huge list of my old favourites including Elite, Mr Ee!, Knight Lore, Daredevil Denis, Snapper, Planetoid and Killer Gorilla.  So many great memories, and the instant access of the MMC Card interface soon made up for the lack of loading screens.  And yes the BBC Model B can still recreate some of those early arcade games better than any home computer before or since.   Certainly up to the arrival of MAME on the PC.

Chuckle Egg!
Chuckle Egg!

I would highly recommend getting hold of one of these machines while they are still being found in lofts and garages, with bomb proof build quality and the availability of solid state interfaces and tape images of the old software titles freely available, it’s a great way to experience these classic games all over again.

Many thanks to Mark Haysman of RetroClinic, and Chris Pitts the creator of the MMC Interface 

Stop the Express for the ZX Spectrum

Stop the Express was a game for the 48k ZX Spectrum, created by Hudson Soft, who are best known for their work on the PC-Engine console, and also some great console games such as the Bomberman series. The game was published by Sinclair Research in 1983 as part of a series of games promoted by Sir Clive’s in-house team.

Casting you in the role of an action hero in the style of James Bond or Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible, your objective is to traverse the length of a moving train in order to stop it, and thus prevent some unexplained tragedy from occurring.  Set over 2 main stages, the game saw you start at the rear of moving train, with carriages that take up most of the screen. The movement of the train is indicated by passing telegraph poles in the background and the ground scrolling beneath the train.


Working from the final carriage on the right, towards the front of the train on the left, the first stage took place entirely on the roof. To progress to the front of the train required you to jump between carriages, whilst avoiding overhead gantries which could know you off. You also had to deal with the intentions of the evil “redmen”, who rather than communist sympathisers were actually red men, armed with throwing knives which had to be avoided with a well-timed duck or jump. The redmen could also be dispatched with a flying kick, knocking them off the roof, or by catching a passing bird, which could be let loose to dispatch the evil henchmen.

Stop The Express Cassette Art
Stop The Express Cassette Art
Any contact with a knife, gantry or the red men would see you thrown from the train, as would mis-timing a jump between the carriages. Make it across the roof of 10 carriages and the first level is complete, and you then move inside the train for the second level.

Once inside, you are now attached from the front by red-men, and have no birds to come to your aid. To avoid the flying daggers you can jump and hang from the straps attached to the ceiling, but don’t linger too long as a ghost (yes it’s also a haunted train) will attack you and knock you down. Your only weapon once inside the carriage is your flying kick, which can be used to see off the red men.

Once you reach the end of level 2, which comprises of 10 more carriages, you are greeted with the immortal words – Congraturation! You Sucsess! To this day I have no idea how this made it through quality control for UK gamers, or whether it was an intentional piece of “Engrish” intended to spice up the game and give it an exotic flavour.  On completion of the second level, you are back to the start, with increased difficulty in the form of more enemies, which later attack you from both sides.

Difficulty wise, Stop the Express game did suffer from control issues, with 7 separate keys for running, jumping and ducking left and right, as well as button to release the bird. With a compatible joystick however the game became much easier to control.

This is a highly original game, and looking back it’s a surprise it did not have more of a following – CRASH magazine gave the title 80%, and Sinclair User described it as an “industry stardard”. Your Sinclair actually had the game as number 4 in it’s list of the top 100 Spectrum games of all time, but the game somehow did not receive the same adulation from Spectrum owners – except maybe me, it was one of my favourites.

Stop the Express was also Commodore for the 64, and due to the Hudsonsoft connection, Japan’s MSX compatible machines.

Jumping Jack for the ZX Spectrum

Jumping Jack was released for the Spectrum early in it’s lifetime in 1983, and was one of my earliest experiences of Sinclair gaming in colour. Looking at it now, it would barely pass muster as a free flash based app, given it’s basic graphics and incredibly simple gameplay. But if you consider that the ZX Spectrum was for many people their first colour computer, and that they had previously had to make do with the blocky black and white graphics of the Sinclair ZX81, Jumping Jack was still a revelation.

Jumping Jack - ZX Spectrum Screenshot
Jumping Jack – ZX Spectrum Screenshot

The premise of Imagine’s game is simple. Jack must reach the top of the screen by jumping through moving holes in the 8 platforms above him. Time the jumps correctly and you pass through the hole onto the next level, time it badly and collide with the platform and you are momentarily stunned. You could also be stunned by falling through one of the holes that move beneath you – fall far enough back to the bottom level and you lose a life. To complicate the challenge further, every jump would create a new random hole somewhere, increasing the potential risk. The holes themselves would travel in both directions, and rise up the levels as they wrapped around the screen, requiring some quick thinking in order to progress. Fortunately Jack could also wrap around each level, giving you an extra escape route when the holes start to close in.

Once you reach the top the level is complete, and you progress to the next which has more holes, and then monsters that inhabit the platforms and must also be avoided, including planes, buses, snakes and strangely what appear to be angry shotgun wielding farmers.


The graphics used could hardly be called cutting edge, with Jack being a crudely drawn but well animated stick man, and the monsters simple coloured sprites. The fast pace however made up for any graphical weaknesses, and resulted in a surprisingly addictive game which took time to master. Magazines at the time lauded the game for it’s playability, despite the basic graphics which hardly compared with other games released in 1983. Remember this was the year that Ultimate released the excellent Jet Pac, and Quickskilva introduced 3D isometric gaming with Ant Attack.  Jumping Jack therefore represents the last of it’s kind, a simple Spectrum game that whilst good, would not cut it amongst the new wave of developers pushing the Sinclair machine to its graphical and gaming limits.

The game was also released on the Atari 800XL and the Dragon 32 as “Leggit”.

Fruit Machine Simulator for the ZX Spectrum

Fruit Machine Simulator
Fruit Machine Simulator by Codemasters

I’ve always been partial to a bit of a flutter, and I was particularly drawn to the fruit machine and casino game simulations on the early home computers.  Due to the relatively simple graphical requirements of these early games, they would often appear as listings in magazines – I can remember spending hours typing in a BASIC listing for a really very mediocre offering.

The Spectrum had it’s fair share of commercial fruit machine and casino games, which were launched 20 years before the availability of online gaming sites such as, and casual gaming apps for Blackjack and Poker on iOS and Android devices.  Home computers really were the place to be if you wanted this kind of gaming experience outside an arcade or Bingo Hall.

Back in the early 80’s the arcades were not only full of great games, but also the more traditional slot machines which had to become more exciting in order to retain the attention of their shared audience.   As the fruit machine developed more features and become more game-like, rather than just repeatedly spinning reels waiting for a win, it was only natural that home computers would be the natural target for fruit machine simulators.  The home computers at the time were owned by a much wider demographic than that of the equivalent consoles, which were targeted at the under 18’s, and unlikely to release these kinds of games.

Fruit Machine Simulator
Fruit Machine Simulator

My first experience of these games was Codemasters Fruit Machine Simulator, a popular distributor of budget games, this one being available for £1.99, which was probably about right for a niche game of this kind.  The game attempted to recreate the feeling of a fruit machine of the time, which started to feature special bonus games as well as just matching fruit.  The simulation centred around the usual Fruit Machine formula – match fruits to win, or hold fruits with numbers on to light up the bonus letters until full, unlocking the bonus game.  Once unlocked the bonus game could earn you extra cash through features such as a skill stop, my personal favourite, where you had to time a key press to stop a flashing light at the right time and increase the cash prize.

The game received mixed reviews at the time, ranging from tedious to brilliant depending on your perspective – I loved fruit machines so I loved the game, I am sure there are other who just wouldn’t get it.  Play it in isolation of a real Fruit Machine and it just wouldn’t be the same.

Looking back, the game seems representative of a time when we were still working out what home computers were for, people would experiment with different programs to see what worked and what didn’t, as we didn’t really have a frame of reference, and everything was a first.  I’m sure you would struggle to get interest in this kind of game as a free browser based application today, but in the 80’s it was yet another reason to fire up the Spectrum and try something new.  Plus you didn’t risk losing your pocket money to the one-armed bandits.

Chuckie Egg Spectrum vs the BBC Micro

What was the best version of Chuckie Egg?

Back in the 80’s my friend Jason and I would share time playing between my humble ZX Spectrum and his much more powerful (and expensive) BBC Micro. Many of the games that we played were exclusives to that platform, with few titles spanning both computers. At my house we would be playing games such as Manic Miner and School Daze, and at his house games such as Mr Ee! and Frak, There were some exceptions however, such as Yie Ar King Fu, which always gave rise to arguments about which one was best.

Chuckie Egg for the ZX Spectrum
Chuckie Egg for the ZX Spectrum

The biggest argument debate of all centred on Chuckie Egg, the classic platformer from A&F software that featured a farmer and some very grumpy chickens, battling out for farmyard supremacy. Both versions had their fans, as both were excellent games in their own right, but which version of this classic performer really was the best?

There’s only one way to find out……FIGHT!

Round 1 – Chuckie Egg Graphics

The graphics on the Beeb were always deemed better than the Spectrum, due to the bright colour palette and lack of attribute clash on the BBC Machine.

Chuckie Egg for the BBC
Chuckie Egg for the BBC Micro

That said, the characters in the game were intentionally small, lending themselves to the Spectrum’s less colourful but higher resolution screen, with the Beeb version using the chunkier low resolution screen mode.

The animation on the Spectrum was incredibly smooth, with each jump forming a perfect arc, and the animation of the birds spot on, but this can also be said of the BBC version, which always managed to produce great scrolling graphics.

So for me that’s round one to the Spectrum, edged slightly into the win by the clarity of the graphics.

Round 2 – Chuckie Egg Sound

The Spectrum was always going to struggle with soudnd being it’s Achilles heel. The tiny internal beeper (speaker is probably too strong a word for it) had to fight for space with all of the Spectrum’s other internal parts, and could only emit a vague beeping noise on one measly sound channel. The BBC however had a great 4 channel sound chip and internal speaker, which allowed for great sound effects and some proper synthesised tunes.

As a consequence, many Spectrum games had no music at all, and Chuckie Egg was no exception. All the lowly Speccy could manage was a series of clicks and buzzes to accompany the action on screen. Strangely, given the greatly enhanced sound capabilities of the BBC, it was exactly the same as the Spectrum, almost as if the BBC version was emulating the earlier Spectrum version.

So that’s has to be a draw, with a point for each, making the score 2-1 to the Spectrum.

Round 3 – Chuckie Egg Gameplay

Always going to be a tricky one this, as many people will have favourites based entirely on the game they played, as few people would have had access to the game on both machines at the time. Looking at this clinically, a replay is required of both games on the original hardware, which I am lucky enough to possess, so no emulators for me… or at least that was the plan.

After a bit of messing around with cassettes and my trusty WHSmith tape player, which was part of the challenge of playing games back in the day, I gave this up as a bad job and fired up my PC to access the emulator software after all. Time had not been kind to the already sensitive tape and I couldn’t get either game to load via cassette.

Playing the games on a PC emulator is much simpler, and at least allows me to use a keyboard to control Henhouse Harry, as nature intended on the originals. First up the Spectrum version, and it’s not long before I have Henhouse Harry leaping about like a lunatic. The pace of the game is frantic, but due to the excellent collision detection you could leap onto ladders half way up, and clear gaps easily without having to the jumps perfectly – unlike arcade forebear Donkey Kong which was famously difficult to time your movement.

Playing the BBC version straight after the Spectrum and it definitely feels different, but difficult to immediately put your finger on why. After a while, you realise that the BBC version actually has more realistic physics – Henhouse Harry’s jumps are subject to gravity as he decelerates when jumping up and accelerates when dropping down. This may be more realistic but it actually make timing jumps more easy on the Spectrum, with Harry maintaining a regular speed regardless of how high he jumps or how far he falls.

For this reason alone I find the Spectrum version easier to play, as you get into the zone and zip through the many screens capturing eggs and avoiding the giant chickens.

So for me the third round also goes to the ZX Spectrum.

Verdict: 3-1 to the ZX Spectrum

Despite the games playing in a very similar way, with virtually identical graphics and sound, the Spectrum just edges it for me, but the 3-1 score does not really do justice to the BBC version, which was an excellent game and has many fans. Perhaps my semi-scientific approach is not really appropriate when comparing these versions of Chuckie Egg – perhaps you are always going to favour the game you played as a kid, and for me my favourite will always be the Spectrum.

Yie Ar Kung Fu for the ZX Spectrum

Yie Ar Kung Fu started life as an arcade game released by Konami in 1985, having features that were seen for the first time in a fighting game, including multiple opponents, a health bar and multiple special moves. This really was the birth of a genre which has spawned 100’s of one on one fighters, including series such as Street Fighter, Tekken and Soul Caliber.

Yie Ar Kung Fu ZX Spectrum
Yie Ar Kung Fu ZX Spectrum
The Yie Ar Kung Fu game on the Spectrum was a faithful rendition of the original game, and featured a martial arts master, Oolong, whose mission was to fight through a series of bouts against increasingly difficult competitors. Moves were achieved through the joystick and a punch and kick buttons, and included jumping attacks. With practise you could pull off moves such as leg sweeps and roundhouses, which were needed to defeat each of your opponents different fighting styles. Whilst not the first game to feature hand to hand combat, earlier games such as Kung Fu Master had a very limited move set, with basic punch and kick moves. The Spectrum version of Yie Ar Kung Fu managed to replicate all 16 special moves from the original arcade game, providing a great variety in the approach to defeating each opponent. This did however mean that playing on the keyboard required use of 9 different keys, and so a joystick really was the preferred option.

This video is the enhanced 128k version with fancy fonts and improved music and effects

Yie Ar Kung Fu advert
Yie Ar Kung Fu advert

The winner is the first to 10 points (or hits) in a single bout, each hit reducing the opponents life bar, a feature that carried across to pretty much every fighting game that followed. Each of your 10 different opponents had unique moves and attacks, some armed with weapons such as swords, nunchaku, chains and throwing stars. A different strategy was required for each, dodging attacks and timing your strikes at a moment of weakness.

The graphics of the Spectrum version of Yie Ar Kung Fu were detailed, if a little less colourful than on other conversions, mainly due to the Spectrum’s attribute clash issues. But this didn’t stop it from being a great game, and remembered fondly by many Spectrum owners.

Along with “Way of the Exploding Fist”, this game represents the height of fighters on the Spectrum (a machine not ideally suited to the genre) and is memorable for being my first experience of a proper fighting game.