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Vintage & Modern Tech Blog

Some Musings On The Vega+

August 8, 2016

Disclaimer - this is not an attempt to take sides or hurt Retro Computers Ltd in any way, it is just a list of genuine suggestions from a genuine retro enthusiast. Likewise I am not rubbishing any gamers opinons of the Vega devices either.

 

Well, September 2016 is fast approaching, and things in the world of classic gaming seem more confusing than the Dentist on TV telling you not to rinse after brushing (doesn't he know people will think you have rabies with all that foam in your mouth?) .

 

The question is - will the ZX Spectrum Vega, the new handheld incarnation of the 1980s gaming and general purpose home computer be everything it's expected to be and, will it arrive on time?


It's almost as hot a topic as the EU Brexit referendum in a bikini standing on top of a pile of chilli peppers and lifting weights in the midday sun on the hottest day of the year in Ibiza, and there seem to be two clearly defined camps - the Vega Sceptics and the Vega Believers.


Why any Vega Sceptics?

The original Vega was delivered from August to September 2015, and did - for the most part - what it said on the package. What - if anything - is wrong and - what could be done about it? 


Here's what people seem to be grumbling about in the forums, and on Facebook;


1. Cost
The Vega and Vega+ cost around £100. If you ignore all other factors, take out the games, and just concentrate on price - people are used to being able to pick up a plug and play for under £50.

 

There is a Master System/Game Gear for £29.99 on Funstock. When the Commodore DTV joystick came out it cost £25 GBP in the UK, and there's a whole host of other plug and play's that are dirt cheap to buy in comparison. 


A major factor with these devices is no removable media, so the games you get are what you are stuck with so, the Vega does pip them at this as it has a slot for a micro-SD card.

 

A more direct example of a possible Vega rival is the SEGA Megadrive (yes, it is a Megadrive - not a Game Gear) handheld. It has 40 classic games, 40 new (homebrew?) games, and an SD card slot.

 

There is a support site with more games for the SEGA, though it does not boast tens of thousands of games as World of Spectrum does. More like less than 10 games last time I checked.

 

This is largely because the SEGA consoles were not open platforms as the ZX Spectrum was and SEGA was and still is very protective of it's work.

 

True, due to the home computer industry seemingly appearing from nowhere in the 1970s, and loose interpretations of copyright 'back in the day', many of the titles for the Spectrum are different interpretations of the same game (the Spectrum Show frequently compares long lists of clone games to find which is best).

 

Saying that, as time went on, more original titles did come out, and there are actually original titles for the ZX Spectrum, and yes - probably thousands of them.  


My Consumer Suggestion - lower the price of the Vega. The original ZX Spectrum was famous for being competitively priced in the 1980s.

 

2.The Fact It Exists At All
Emulators have been around for decades. Long before anyone had heard of the Recreated ZX Spectrum or the ZX Spectrum Vega, 16-bit machines were staggering through emulation of the 8-bit Speccy. By the time the 32-bits came along, the Spectrum was one of, if not the, most emulated computer on the planet. A few examples are PCs, Nintendo DS, and smartphones - all of these can pretend to be a Spectrum.


Last year on my blog, I weighed things up and concluded that the Vega is great as a gift. It's something tangible, a solid object that you can wrap up and give to an enthusiast. I also said in the same article that a plug and play does not need to be updated (that's coming next), whereas emulators need to be updated or rewritten for each new device or Operating System that they are emulated on.


My Consumer Suggestion - target the gift market.  

 

3.The Firmware
When people - developers and gamers alike - raised issues with the Vega, a firmware update followed quite soon after. That was on 9th September 2015, almost a year ago. People have been told a new firmware update will first be installed on the Vega+, before the original Vega issues are addressed. So, it seems like a case of 'Thanks for the money - we'll sort you out later'.

 

A video by FunkySpectrum recently published on You Tube goes one further, suggesting that only new original design Vegas will receive the firmware update.


My Consumer Suggestion - provide a new firmware update for old Vegas first, after which phase out the original Vega altogether.

 

4.Virtual Keyboard
1000 games. Phenomenal - okay, you could download them from World of Spectrum but, it would take a while and they have a no 'leeching' fair use policy. 


Problem - around 200 of the included games are text adventures.


Solution - virtual keyboard.


Feedback - mixed, with much grumbling in the forums.


"Who plays text adventures on a handheld?" one Vega forum member commented. It's true. But then, the book detailing the Vega's design mentions difficulties securing the rights to 1000 games, that's how homebrew titles ended up on there in the first place.


Furthermore, it wasn't just cash pledges that were made - it was permission to include games on the Vega. That means those text adventures were pledges too so, the people who offered them want to see them on the device and playable.


Retro Computers Ltd have stated there will be a keyboard add-on for the Vega+ (nothing mentioned for the original Vega). This might explain the "Why do you need an external device to operate a virtual keyboard?" question in FunkySpectrum's video. Then again, it might not.


My Consumer Suggestion - Again, if the Vega+ does truly have a keyboard add-on, phase out the original Vega. Remove the text adventures from the original Vega and/or offer original Vega owners a discounted upgrade to a Vega+.

 

5.Games List
"Where's this game?" "Where's that game?" the gamers ask. 
"You've got an SD-card slot." came the reply, directing people to get on to World of Spectrum and find their favourites.


This is a difficult one, that Retro Computers Ltd genuinely don't have much control over. Their main problem is in offering 1000 (one thousand) classic games.


Over in Nintendo and SEGA land, getting the rights to 100 games would be a bit of a battle. the Megadrive handheld comes close with 80, but 40 of those are described as something along the lines of "Newer games".


The rights to ZX Spectrum games have been sold. Remakes have been made based on those games. Popular and well -remembered Codemasters games on World of Spectrum are apparently all Distribution Denied, meaning the Codies won't allow WoS to host them, so you can't download them onto your SD card and play them on your Vega.

 

The only solution for playing those games on a Vega is to obtain a genuine physical tape and convert it to .tap yourself - an act that may well be illegal, especially if you start sharing the .tap with friends.


Another problem is that Elite secured the exclusive rights to a number of games for the Recreated ZX Spectrum so, Retro Computers Ltd couldn't for the same games, and they didn't make it onto the Vega.


My Consumer Suggestion - This is a tough one but, nobody else is offering 1000 games - reduce the number of included games. Continue, as stated on Retro Computer Ltd Facebook page, securing the rights to more actual 1980s/early 90's games (early to mid 80's seems the most popular) and go for quality not quantity. This isn't Cassette 50.


6.Communication
People want to know what is going on. We live in the age of instant communication - food photos, selfies, status updates.

 

@celebnamehere213367 says "I'm on the toilet reading a book and farting everyone, and it doesn't smell so rosy. LOL!"


Okay, too much information maybe but, it takes a matter of seconds to take a photo and upload it. I'm a hobbyist and pay little attention to this, updating my blog maybe twice a month but, it is clear from the comments made in the forums and on Facebook, that - having paid around £104 GBP upfront in November 2014, people were becoming exasperated with the lack of information by July 2015.


It seems very much like the whole thing was being treated like a 1970s mail order company - the sort of thing Sinclair Research started out as before the home microcomputer market burst into exsistence.


My Consumer Suggestion - Nominate a social media relations person - they don't even need to be paid staff. Their mission is to photograph everything non-private in the development process and post status updates every 3 days minimum.

 

I'm hoping Retro Computers don't see this and get worked up about it, these are all genuine suggestions and I know they are veteran industry leaders, some of whom brought the industry into existence in the first place, and I was just a kid in the 1980's. My opinion is easily swayed at the moment, and I'm not averse to the odd rant. I still want to believe the Vega+ will be delivered on time and will satisfy people. One thing is sure - we'll probably know by the end of the year.

 

Whoever you are reading this blog article, you may be thinking "Oh yeah, and who are you Stephen?"

 

My answer is "I'm a person who is maintaining a website largely about the ZX Spectrum, making new software for the machine, who travelled the 490 mile round trip to the Vega launch party and back in a single day, and was genuinely was excited to find out a new Sinclair machine was coming out. This is my hobby, and I love it." 


Thanks for reading - until next time.


Stephen


 

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