Tag Archives: BBC Micro

Snapper retro game review for the BBC Micro

Acornsoft’s Classic PacMan Clone

Snapper was one of the many quality arcade conversions that Acornsoft created for the BBC Micro, being a very faithful example of Pac Man. Anyone who remembers the early 80’s will have experience of Pac Man clones on every platform, many of them pitifully poor (yes Atari 2600 I’m talking about you).

Snapper on the BBC Micro with original PacMan graphics

Most consoles or home computers of the time did not have the graphical capability, and just couldn’t to replicate the complex maze structure. So the results were often a compromised mess that whilst playable, did not give you that “arcade at home” feel that gamers at the time craved.

The AcornSoft range of “Big Box” games were probably the most successful home computer recreations of original arcade games available in the early 80’s, the best of them being Snapper.

Snapper on the BBC Micro, or is it Pac Man?

Arcade Clones on the BBC Micro

This is where the BBC Micro shone due to its graphical capability being much closer to dedicated arcade boards of the time. Strange in that the BBC was an experiment in education, to teach IT in schools, and not designed as a games device.

The Snapper rendition of Pac Man released by AcornSoft was so faithful that Namco took offence, and later versions of the game replaced Pac Man with a sort of grapefruit in a hat, and the ghosts with generic monsters.

Revised Snapper for the BBC Micro
Version 2 of Snapper with revised graphics

All other aspects of the arcade game are retained in Snapper, including the power pills and bonus items (with the Acorn bonus item a nod to BBC owners), and even the ghosts eyes escaping back to the central area after being eaten.

Rather than the ghosts in the BBC version having set patterns, they patrol their own corners of the maze, before breaking out to home in on the Pac Man. As the game progresses the ghosts become more aggressive, breaking out of the pattern earlier to chase you.

Snapper was a great PacMan conversion due to the graphic and sound capability of the Beeb and a world away from the famously rubbish attempt on the Atari 2600. Given the similar hardware of the Acorn Electron, Snapper was also released as a launch title for the BBC Micro’s younger sibling.

Playing Snapper Today

After restoring an old BBC Micro complete with period Cub colour monitor and solid state drive, one of the first games I wanted to play was Snapper. While there are some very good emulators around, there’s nothing like playing on original hardware. The beep as the BBC Micro turns on, the blinking cursor, the weight of the keys, the glow of the monitor, takes me back to 1984 and lunchtime computer club.

Playing Snapper on my BBC Model B

No joysticks for me, the “Z X” for left and right, “: /“ for up and down is the only way to play on a BBC Micro. It’s as good as I remember, smooth controls and very authentic graphics and sound, just like the arcade.


Snapper gameplay on the BBC Micro

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.

Snapper for BBC Micro like PacMan
Snapper (Pac-Man) for the BBC Micro

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 original.  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.

BBC Micro model B

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.

Faulty Power Block Capacitor
Faulty Power Block Capacitor on my BBC Micro

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 minimum of effort. This method also requires no permanent modification of 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 (www.retroclinic.com) 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.

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 easy modification to solid state drives, 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 

Chuckie Egg: ZX Spectrum vs the BBC Micro

What was the best version of the Chuckie Egg Computer Game?

The Chuckie Egg computer game caused a lot of arguments. Back in the 80’s my friend Jason and I would share time playing between my humble ZX Spectrum computer 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 platform game 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 former had been programmed to mirror the latter.

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 Chuckie Egg on both machines at the time. Looking at this clinically, a replay is required of both games on the original hardware in order to make an informed judgement. I am lucky enough to possess both home computers, 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.

Chuckie Egg Cassette Inlay Art

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. 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 Chuckie Egg on the BBC Micro

Playing the BBC Micro 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 of Chuckie Egg 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 version of Chuckie Egg!

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 Micro 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.

10 reasons why the BBC Micro was an underated classic

The BBC micro has some passionate fans, but it never really managed to generate the sort of passion reserved for some of the more popular home computers of the early 80’s such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

BBC Micro
BBC Micro

Maybe it was the association with the BBC, maybe the fact that it was used in schools, perhaps the price tag put people off, whatever the reason, it just doesn’t seem to attract the kind of fanatic devotion that surrounds other home computers of the time.

I am here to set the story straight, and put my case for why the BBC was a true classic and deserves a loftier place in the annuls of home computer gaming history.

1) The Graphics

mr ee! for the BBC Micro
mr ee! for the BBC Micro

Whilst Spectrum owners had to put up with with a single graphics mode and some fairly horrific attribute clash (only 2 colours could be displayed in any 8 x 8 square of pixels), the BBC had multiple graphics modes, and was able to replicate arcade games of the time very accurately and in full colour. Arcade perfect clones of Frogger, Defender, Pac Man, Space Panic and Donkey Kong were therefore possible, all running at full speed and providing the closest thing to the arcade at home.

2) The Sound

Simple one this, 4 sound channels on the BBC meant that some pretty good sound effects and music could be played simultaneously. The Spectrum could only claim one sound channel, resulting in the strange kind of warbling bleep and white noise mixture that accompanied most Spectrum games. There were add-on packs for the Spectrum in an attempt to address the sound limitations but nothing that really became a standard for gamers.

3) Great arcade conversions

Before copyright infringement was a major issue for games developers, it was possible to produce fairly blatant rip offs of arcade games and not even have to change the name – Defender being a great example on the BBC. The speed, sound and graphical ability of the BBC micro meant that games could be reproduced with a level of accuracy not possible on any other home platform of the time. My personal favourite is Mr Ee!, a perfect rendition of the popular arcafe game Mr Do!, and the main reason for me buying a BBC micro. It may seem basic by today’s standards, but you just couldn’t get this close to the 80’s arcades without braving a trip to Southend.

4) A proper keyboard

Anyone familiar with the Spectrum will declare their love / hate relationship with the rubber keyboard. With almost no feedback, and only a click to tell you you have managed to press a key, it also required a maddening combination of CTRL, SHIFT, ALT and CAPS to achieve the most basic of data entry. Contrast this with the BBC, with a full keyboard more like a word processor, and keys robust enough to take a hammering from unruly schoolkids, it made the perfect programming device, and allowed for great control in multi-key games such as Elite and Revs.

5) Disk drive connectivity

Unlike the Spectrum, which had to make do with temperamental cassettes to load games, the BBC had a proper disk interface. This allowed 3rd party 5 1/4 inch floppy disk drives to be utilised in order to store programs or load commercial games in the (relative) blink of an eye. Remember that at this time there were no internal hard drives, so when you turned on your home computer it was like you had never used it on before, with no recollection of your previous visits.

The Spectrum had a micripodrive later in life, as well as a Rom interface, neither of which were a massive commercial success. Chalk one up to the Beeb!

6) BBC Basic

Back in the day before Visual Basic, context sensitive help and predictive typing, there was BBC Basic. A great learning tool, you could type hundreds of lines of code and store them on tape or disk for later use, with a full parser built in to trap errors along the way. Contrast this with the Spectrum and its “parse as you go” coding, and horrible keypress combinations, it took forever to enter even the most simple code. God help anyone who attempted to type in a game from a magazine (yes you could do that), 4 hours later and the code would not work, or the Spectrum would crash and you would lose the lot.

7) Educational value

The main reason for the existance of the BBC Micro was its selection as part of a national programme for education of IT in schools. Many adults in the UK today will site their first real computer experience being with the BBC Micro, learning to program using BASIC or LOGO, or solving puzzles like the Tower of Hanoi.

Beating an alternative offering from Sinclair in the selection process, the BBC Micro can claim unique educational value as a home computer. Fortunate students could convince their parents to shell out the 300-400 quid required buy a BBC Micro, purely for the educational advantage offered to them (not to play games, no that was purely a fringe benefit). Being the local “computer expert” when I was at school, I would often be asked by frustrated parents to come around and “fix” a wayward BBC for them.

I even completed my A level computing project on a BBC Master system, as it was used at my 6th form college.

8) Launchpad for some classic retro games

I have raved about the arcade clones released on the BBC, but it was also home to some classic original games. Take your pick from puzzler Repton, space trading game Elite (released first on the BBC), platformer Frak!, racing simulation Revs and shooter Strykers Run. There were some very loyal software developers for the BBC, most notably Superior Software and MicroPower, who alongside in-house team Acornsoft produced the vast majority of the games on offer.

Elite BBC Micro

Check out http://www.bbcmicrogames.com/index.html for some great reviews of classic BBC titles.

Of course the BBC could never challenge the Spectrum for the volume or variety of games available, but it did host some unique titles that were not (or could not) be ported to other home computers of that era.

9) Grange Hill

The BBC Micro on Grange Hill

You may think I’m just running out of reasons, but no, the BBC Micro was (probably) the only home computer to ever appear on 80’s childrens TV show Grange Hill. The program was famous for kick starting the careers of stars such as Todd “Mark Fowler” Carty, and er that teacher bloke that was the baddie in Star Wars… and many others.

Respect is due.

10) Fred Harris and Computer Live!

Whilst not a feature of the machine itself, the BBC dedicated an entire TV series to the machine, called Computer Live, featuring eccentric presenter Fred Harris. It was the BBC who commisioned the creation of the machine in the first place, as part of their educational mission to bring computing knowledge to the masses. The show highlighted the many ways a home computer could be used to manage finances, help with word processing, solve logistical problems and even play games (admittedly this was mainly chess). No other machine at the time can boast a companion TV programme!

Frak! retro review for the BBC Micro

Back before the word Frak! became a swear word on the most recent incarnation of Battlestar Galactica, or a controversial form of mining, it was a 1986 platform game on the BBC Micro. My friend had a BBC Model B and a Sony colour monitor, and we would play Frak! for hours, as well as the excellent Mr Ee! (a clone of the arcade game Mr Do!).  The game was written by Nick Pelling under the Aardvark Software brand, although he preferred to be known by the name Orlando M. Pilchard.

Frak! on the BBC micro

Frak! game for BBC Micro
Frak! Screenshot for the BBC Micro
You control a caveman called Trogg, who had to traverse various platforms and defeat monsters armed with only a yo-yo. Timing had to be pixel perfect, and Trogg could only fall a short distance without dying – with no floor, falling from the edge of a platform often meant instant death. The game itself was not exactly Chuckie Egg in terms of speed, with progress more of a puzzle than a rush through the levels. Trial and error was often the way to progress, plodding your way through the various obstacles to collect the keys to the exit and complete each of Frak’s 3 basic levels.

Along the way you would meet one of three stationary monsters, whose touch was deadly, so you had to work your way around them or destroy them your yo-yo. In addition to the monsters, balloons would rise from the bottom of the screen, and daggers would fall diagonally down the screen, and colliding with either would also end in death. Fortunately you could also destroy them with a well timed yo-yo strike.

To score extra points you could collect light bulbs and jewels that are dotted around the platforms, often in out of the way places that made your journey longer and more treacherous.


After completing 3 levels the game screen turned itself upside down and you would play again, a novel way of extending the life of the game by re-using graphics, important when you only have 32k of memory to play with. Most toasters these days have more than this.

Most memorable for the fact that the caveman would cry “FRAK!” in a speech bubble whenever he died, clearly a way of swearing without swearing, ultimately influencing the writers of Battlestar Galactica (possibly). The back story for the game was never really clear to me though. Why was he a caveman? Why did he have a yo-yo? Why monsters, if he was a caveman why not sabre-toothed tigers or mammoths? Perhaps we will never know.

Frak! was also released on the Electron (I had a copy of this and it was monochrome and very disappointing) as well as the Commodore 64, but the BBC Micro version was the original and best.

For and interview with the developer head on over to the BBC Games Archive.

Arcadians retro game review for the BBC Micro

In my retro games reviews I’ve covered a few BBC arcade conversions including Killer Gorrilla, so won’t repeat what I’ve aleady said about some of the liberties taken in the early days by developers like Acornsoft.

Arcadians for the BBC Micro
Arcadians for the BBC Micro
But if they hadn’t stretched the boundaries of IP infringement we would not have arcade perfect conversions such as Arcadians (a thinly veiled Galaxians clone). All seems to be in order, from the swooping aliens to the large player ship at the bottom of the screen. In fact the player ship was huge, making bullet dodging quite a challenge.

Arcadians was quite a repetitive game, sitting somewhere in between Space Invaders and Galaga in the arcades, with not much variation in gameplay if any between waves. Galaga took the Arcadians model with swooping aliens and added in bonus screens and dual ships, perfecting for many the formula and providing some much needed variety.

Anyway, back to Arcadians, in addition to the perfectly replicated gameplay, it also featured an arcade-style high score table and a novel “attract” screen with a demo of it being played, just like a real cabinet, making it feel really authentic.

Arcadians was also released later on the Acorn Electron, the BBC Micro’s younger brother, and it was just as good despite it being a less powerful computer. Anyone with a BBC or an Electron back in the 80’s should remember this game, another great example of what the BBC was capable of in the right hands and the closest thing to the arcades for a home gamer.