Sunday, 4 May 2014

Horizons - the free software pack with every ZX Spectrum

1983, I remember it well. My parents bought me my first home computer the ZX Spectrum 48k. The Spectrum had been released the previous year in April 1982 and I was so excited to finally be able to own one of these super machines. And the first product I loaded up from tape was Horizons, the free introductory software starter pack that came bundled with every Spectrum computer.

The front inlay of the Horizons tape.
 The cassette cover of the Horizons tape is instantly recognisable as it shows a top-down picture of the ZX Spectrum.

Once you had figured out how to set all the Spectrum's leads up, especially the EAR and MIC connections (which usually got plugged into the wrong socket on the tape recorder) then the tape was ready to go. 

A simple instruction of LOAD "" on the Spectrum, press PLAY on the tape recorder and the loading commenced, assuming you had the correct volume setting. 


The first loading screen.
Then you could happily watch the colourful loading bars and listen to the high-pitched loading sounds with anticipation of what was to come.


The rear inlay of the Horizons tape.
The Horizons tape consisted of content on both sides - Side A was an introduction to the ZX Spectrum and took the user through 6 interactive programs on the hardware, keyboard commands and the various cursor modes. 

Side B featured slightly more entertaining content - the infamous Thro' the Wall breakout game, Bubblesort, Evolution, Life, Draw, Monte-Carlo, Character Generator and Waves. 


The familiar Psion screen.
Each item on the tape was programmed by Psion Computers who enjoyed great success in the early 1980's and was set up by Dr David Potter, a lecturer who decided to take a chance in the computer industry instead. Psion are now mostly remembered for such classic games like Hungry Horace, Horace Goes Skiing, Chequered Flag and Match Point. They also programmed ground-breaking utilities like VU-3D, a design and modelling program in 3D for the Spectrum!

So to Side A of the Horizons tape and the first program on the tape was an Introduction and hardware description program. Once loading was completed you were greeted by a screen showing a basic illustration of the Spectrum's main components.


The naked Spectrum.

An overview of ROM, RAM, the Z80 CPU and the ULA then followed, including a demonstration of the different tones for the simple BEEP command.

After the simple introduction you were then faced with loading up 4 similar lessons including short tests so that you became more familiar with the Spectrum's keyboard and BASIC commands.


Lesson 1 - Press the correct key.


Lesson 1 displayed a graphical representation of the Spectrum on your TV screen, showing the Sinclair logo on the top left and the keyboard layout below. The program then tested you on pressing a certain lower-case or upper-case key over and over again until you pressed the STOP command (symbol-shift A).





Lesson 2 - Press the correct command key.

Lesson 2 again displayed the same graphical Spectrum but this time the test wanted you to press the relevant keys to access the correct command function. The screen opposite shows that you are required to enter the command PAUSE which of course is the H key.






Lesson 3 - More challenging.


Lesson 3 again had the familiar graphical Spectrum but this time the test had you pressing the correct combination of keys to activate the relevant cursor mode. The Spectrum had different cursor modes to access different commands e.g. the G cursor enabled access to the graphics commands and the user defined graphics.




Lesson 4 - even trickier!


The final lesson asked you to press not only the correct cursor mode but also the correct key for the command displayed on the screen. So with the example shown here you had to press the key for the OUT command. Easy with the computer in front of you but difficult without!





A useful dictionary of commands.

Finally at the end of Side A of the tape was a handy dictionary program that when you pressed a relevant key displayed the command with a short description. Great for beginners to the Spectrum with it's unique single key-press command entry system.


So let's move on to Side B. First up on the tape was a simple program describing the contents of the Side B and also advertising other software products written by Psion. Next up on the tape was the now legendary breakout game Thro' the Wall. 


Break through the top of the wall!
Anyone that had the Horizons tape will remember their first play of this game clearly - that annoying sound effect when you missed the ball, the extra speed of the bat when you held down the CAPS SHIFT button, and those really annoying corner bricks that just couldn't be hit! 

Watch me completing the game below but taking ages to hit that final corner brick....



Bubblesort was next on the tape. A bit of a let down after the previous program to be honest. 
Watch the cards slowly order themselves.....
According to the inlay Bubblesort demonstrated how a computer can gradually order a sequence of bridge card hands according to their number and suit. And that is exactly what Bubblesort shows you, after a simple explanation it drew a 'green baize' and laid the cards out on the baize which then proceeded to order themselves as expected. Thrilling stuff.





Foxes and rabbits, oh my.
Evolution, or Foxes & Rabbits as it is also known was a program that showed you the power available at your fingertips from the ZX Spectrum and the ease of which it could solve mathematical equations. Using the example of an area of land populated by two species (Foxes & Rabbits) it showed how their population increased and decreased over the course of time e.g. Foxes eat rabbits, fox population increases, rabbit population decreases, the foxes population then decreases because there is less to eat, and so on etc. The cycle repeats every 6 years. If you really desired then you could enter your own values for the quantity of foxes and rabbits, and then watch the graph change accordingly.

Can you see what it is yet?

The next program on the tape, Life, described the growth and evolution of an imaginary colony of beings. With some input from the user it then proceeded to slowly draw out the colonies life cycle.

Or it could just be a random pretty pattern generator for you to look at.



Really entertaining stuff.....


Monte Carlo followed next and was a simulation of the fall of two dice to show off the random RND function of the ZX Spectrum, and then showed the resulting probability distribution as a bar chart or graph. Looks like lucky 7's win again.






Create your own characters easily.



Character generator was a simple but easy program to enable you to edit the Spectrum character set to create your own characters or symbols. You could then save this new character out to tape for use in your own programs.




If you like waves you will love this program.
"Demonstrates the phenomena of beating in music and elsewhere" stated the inlay. Your guess is as good as mine! 

The theory went that as two waves were added together then a third, more complex wave may be formed. This is due to the frequencies of the two waves being similar and causing a low frequency effect. A bit out of my depth here but it creates an interesting picture. 


And there we have both sides of the Horizons tape. Considering this was published back in 1982 for the release of the ZX Spectrum then it was not a bad introduction to the computer, featuring high resolution graphics and enough varied content to at least have you interested in one or two programs if not more, and also made a nice companion to the excellent Spectrum manual.

And the breakout game Thro' the Wall made it all the more memorable for anyone that was lucky enough to own a new Spectrum back in the early 1980's.

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