Sinclair ZX Spectrum

In my youth I was a great fan of the Sinclair Spectrum, which was a marvellous little machine, and largely responsible for the home computer revolution in the UK at least. It's the machine on which I learnt my early programming skills, and I used to spend lots of time both playing and hacking the latest games that appeared for it.

Most of my early Spectrum programming efforts have not been preserved, which is no loss. However, the two creations that I most enjoyed making were new editions of the cult classic game, Jet-Set Willy. Admittedly, I didn't exactly write the new games myself; I merely used an editing package to create new scenarios, combined with a little hacking of my own to achieve things that the editor didn't allow. However, these two games of mine have been very well received by fans of JSW, and they're considered by afficianados of the genre to be the best 'unofficial' JSW clones. (There are lots of other unofficial clones, but I've had a lot of fan mail about these two, and quite a number of people have told me that mine are the best! Who am I to argue? I was even interviewed for a TV documentary about the Jet-Set Willy revival; see below.)

So, if you're a Spectrum and/or JSW fan, have a look at these; they're still quite addictive. If you're not a fan of the genre then please go and read some other page instead! You probably shouldn't have a look at these games, as they'll seem terribly primitive by comparison with modern ones.

ZX Spectrum software ////

Join the Jet-Set!
Play now!
You can play this game online now, using a Java-based Spectrum emulator. The service is provided by World of Spectrum. Just click on the Spectrum icon to the right to start.
Play the game online now!
TAPJoin the Jet-Set! as a tape file (for use with real Spectrums, and emulators that support the TAP file format)
(The download is a 28K Zip archive)
More info about the game
Z80Join the Jet-Set! as a Z80-format snapshot (for use with Spectrum emulators that do not support TAP files)
(The download is a 28K Zip archive)
GameboyGameboy version of Join the Jet-Set!
(The download is a 30K Zip archive)
MapA GIF-format map of the game
(The download is a 140K GIF file)
MapA printable PDF-format map of the game
(The download is a 920K PDF document)

Jet-Set Willy in Space
Play now!
You can play this game online now, using a Java-based Spectrum emulator. The service is provided by World of Spectrum. Just click on the Spectrum icon to the right to start.
Play the game online now!
TAPJet-Set Willy in Space as a tape file (for use with real Spectrums, and emulators that support the TAP file format)
(The download is a 34K Zip archive)
More info about the game
Z80Jet-Set Willy in Space as a Z80-format snapshot (for use with Spectrum emulators that do not support TAP files)
(The download is a 35K Zip archive)
GameboyGameboy version of Jet-Set Willy in Space
(The download is a 30K Zip archive)
MapA GIF-format map of the game
(The download is a 160K GIF file)
MapA printable PDF-format map of the game
(The download is a 1.2Mb PDF document)

"The best unofficial sequel of Jet Set Willy..."
Arsen Torbarina, JSW Ultimate Fan Page, reviews Join the Jet-Set!

The Jet-Set Willy Revival

In the early- to mid-1980s, Matthew Smith wrote a pair of games for the Sinclair Spectrum: Manic Miner and Jet-Set Willy. Manic Miner, in particular, was a stunningly good quality game for its day, and took the world by storm; it created a huge demand for a sequel, which eventually arrived in the form of Jet-Set Willy (JSW). Despite being a bit rushed, and having a number of serious bugs in it, JSW was, if anything, even more popular than the original. Both games were converted to all the major (and most of the minor) computer platforms of their day, and became something of a cult legend; they were certainly among the most popular computer games ever released. Their appeal was partly in the skill required to play them, partly in the exploration element (it was a real challenge to get to some of the less accessible rooms and see what was in them), and partly thanks to their quirky, dream-like conception and off-beat humour.

Whatever the reasons for their appeal, these games remained very popular for a very long time and influenced a lot of games that followed them. Coverage of JSW in particular continued in detail for months in several magazines, as readers (many of whom were hackers or programmers in those days) took great delight in finding new 'pokes' to make the games do unexpected things. The launch of Jet-Set Willy II really drew the saga to a close, as it was merely an upgraded version of the previous game, with a larger map. The new version was written by a different author (Matthew Smith having apparently vanished off the face of the earth), and the magic had been lost; the new game didn't play as well as the old, and the new rooms seemed dull by comparison with the originals.

But in its heyday, the popularity of JSW can't be overstated. As a schoolboy in my early teens I was hugely excited by it, and so were all my friends. These days, games often come with a companion editor program that allow you to design new scenarios and extend the product's life, but back then such things were almost unheard of. However, JSW's popularity led several people to attempt to write a JSW editor. At least one editor was published in a magazine, and there were some semi-commercial offerings. They weren't very good on the whole, though, and so no new games created with the editors were released at the time. Of the several editors available, though, one turned out to be very good indeed. I came across a lone copy of JetSet Editor by Paul Rhodes in The Computer Store in Wakefield, and spent quite a long time debating whether to risk the £5 pocket-money that it cost to buy it, as I knew nothing about it. But after a few visits I finally bought it and took it home. It turned out to be excellent and far exceeded my expectations (which is a rare enough thing in this life). I therefore used it to create a brand-new JSW game called Join the Jet-Set! (JTJS), and performed a little hacking of my own to add some new in-game music and other small modifications. I gave the game to my school friends, who all seemed to like it.

Some time later, my school friend Simeon Hartland came to visit my house, and we started creating a new JSW game set in space. We finished off a few screens but never got any further, and the game remained incomplete. At around this time I also started work on a separate new JSW game of my own, also set in space, and got around halfway through it before running out of ideas, becoming fed up with it and abandoning it. Another school friend, Adam Britton, was more persistant: he completed three entire JSW games using the editor. Privately I didn't think they were as good as mine, as I liked my graphics and room designs better, and I felt that Adam relied too much on some unfair gimmicks, like making the player's character invisible in some rooms just to increase the difficulty. However, overall they were good games, and they were only created for fun, after all. All these games, complete or otherwise, were saved on tapes and soon forgotten.

Years passed; a decade, in fact. Then, in the mid-1990s, Spectrum emulators started to appear for modern computers, allowing ancient games to be resurrected and played again. I hadn't really played any computer games for several years at this point, and thought I'd grown out of them. However, a sense of nostalgia can be a surprisingly potent thing. I got a Spectrum emulator for my Risc PC and found a few snapshots of games on the Internet, and my interest was rekindled. 'Wouldn't it be fun,' I thought, 'to see if I can revive JTJS?' I still had the tape stored in a box in the attic, so I built an audio lead and succeeded in transferring it into the emulator. My joy was unconfined when I managed to load it successfully for the first time!

Since there were other similarly nostalgic ex-Spectrum users on the Internet, I uploaded JTJS and annouced its availability. I was then immediately amazed by the positive reactions it provoked. People genuinely seemed to enjoy playing it, and considered it to be in a similar league to the original; it was as though they'd been presented with an official sequel, a decade later than it should have come out! I was much encouraged by the positive feedback and fan mail that I received.

At the time, there was at least one other unofficial JSW game on the Net, and also a JSW editor program, but both game and editor were pretty atrocious and no-one seemed very interested in them. But the arrival of JTJS seemed to show that it was possible to make a new JSW game that at least approached the character and quality of the original, and I think that's the reason that JTJS proved so popular. I had designed it at the time to mimic the style of JSW (down to the graphics and quirky humour) as closely as I could, and it appears that I succeeded to some degree.

So, the next step seemed to be to try to retrieve the JetSet Editor program for use on the emulators. This turned out to be far less straightforward than retrieving my game, because (a) JetSet Editor used a fast loading routine which made loading the software far less reliable than a program that had been saved in the normal way, and (b) the recording was poor and the tape (presumably poor quality even when new) appeared to have deteriorated with age. I tried using five different tape recorders to transfer it without success, and eventually had to resort to posting it off to Barry Plewa, an Internet contact, to try on yet more equipment. Luckily, Barry's tape recorder was of sufficiently poor quality to be able to read the tape successfully, and so an emulator copy was made. (I'm not being facetious! For the purposes of loading computer data tapes, poor-quality tape decks often fare far better than expensive ones because they lack noise-reduction features and the like.)

By an almost unbelievable coincidence, on the very day that Barry Plewa sent me a working snapshot of JetSet Editor, who should turn up on the comp.sys.sinclair newsgroup but Paul Rhodes! I emailed him at once to find out if he really was the same Paul Rhodes who had written JetSet Editor, and to ask for his permission to distribute his software if so.

Paul wrote back to confirm that he was indeed the author and to say that he was very happy for his software to be distributed. He was interested to know about my copy because it seems that JetSet Editor, published by Spectrum Electronics, had had a very limited release. I quote:

I'm curious to know how widespread it became: after I wrote it I made an arrangement with a local computer shop to give it 'proper' distribution. We got permission from Software Projects and printed up the covers, sold some via mail order and, for all I know, through other shops; but I can't be sure because the sod disappeared on me.

Spectrum Electronics was on Marsh Road in Luton. I'd run off copies of the tape with photocopied sleeves and took one in, hoping to sell it to them. Instead, he offered to distribute it for me. All went well for a while, and I did receive about fifty quid (and a box of blank tapes which came in useful later!), but then he shut up shop and I never heard from him again. I guess he went bankrupt.

So I OCRed and tidied up the instructions and uploaded the editor, with its full documentation, to the Internet, where the Spectrum enthusiassts devoured it eagerly, everyone agreeing that it was a far better editor than any of the available alternatives.

I also managed to transfer the three games by Adam Britton and my own two partially-completed JSW projects. Since I was in the mood at the time, I decided that, rather than let my two unfinished projects go to waste, I would combine them together (both were set in space, after all) and make a full new game. So, during the Christmas holiday of 1997, when (at age 28) I was long past being old enough to know better, I patched together my two JSW extracts into a single game, created enough new rooms to give it its maximum complement of 64, and released a new game to the world: Jet-Set Willy in Space. I was never quite as satisfied with it as with JTJS because it was inherently a bit 'cobbled together', but I was quite pleased with it nevertheless, and as a project it was fun. It, too, received quite a lot of positive feedback (not as much as JTJS, but enough), and there, for me, the story ended.

The release of all this new JSW material, though, evidently got a lot of people on the Internet very excited, because a whole range of new resources started to spring up. The first was Arsen Torbarina's JSW Ultimate Fan Page, a very impressive Web site devoted to the game (which sadly no longer appears to be online), and several others followed. More importantly, though, many fans now started to create JSW games of their own.

And so there was a sudden mushrooming of clone-JSW games on the Net. I confess that I largely lost interest in the subject once I had completed and released my second game, so I didn't pay much attention to what was happening after 1998, but I do know about several of the developments. For example, a project by John Elliott involved writing JSW 128, a version of JSW for the 128K Spectrum (and emulators thereof) with new features, allowing more extensive games in the original style. The original JSW 128 used the set of JSW rooms together with the set of rooms from my own JTJS game. Several authors of new games incorporated (with my permission) graphics and music from my original games in their new ones. People started getting ambitious by hacking games more extensively to incorporate new features. Various quite successful attempts were made at creating new games based on Manic Miner, too, which was harder because there wasn't such a good editor.

My games included new music (JTJS even offering a choice of ten different melodies), as I'd figured out how to write new tunes by hacking the game in the 1980s. This was seen as being a desirable thing for other new games to do, so Andrew Broad (author of numerous impressively-designed JSW games which present virtually insurmountable difficulties for the player!) requested that I write up all about how to create new in-game music for JSW. So, as my last significant contribution to the JSW scene, in 1998 I wrote up my notes and did a bit more research to present a comprehensive guide to music in both JSW and Manic Miner.

All told, there are now several dozen new JSW games, most or all of which can be found at the JSW Remakes site; I'm afraid I haven't really kept track of them, as I seem to have got JSW out of my system for the time being.

But lest any readers of these meanderings should think that all these modern-day JSW enthusiasts must be lifeless little non-entities who ought to get out more, consider this: in May 2002 I was visited and interviewed by an Italian film crew who were making a documentary about Jet-Set Willy for release in Italy and Finland. They had been travelling all over the United Kingdom (and perhaps elsewhere), interviewing other such sad invidiuals as myself, and they were all, to a man, deeply interested in the subject of JSW. I was amazed. I was very happy to cooperate with their project (and they seemed like nice people), although I'm not certain that I'm too keen to find out how I come across on their film! But apparently it will have its debut in a few months' time (late 2002 or early 2003), so I'd better steel myself in case they send me a tape. And, for what it's worth, JSW still gets positive coverage in even the national press from time to time (for example, it gained several mentions in The Daily Telegraph's excellent Connected technology supplement when that was still being published). JSW is 'one of those games': if you are of an age to have played it when it was originally released, you're likely to remember it fondly today.

(Update, June 2004: The Italian film crew never got in touch with me again, despite promising to send me a tape of the programme, so I have not seen it. However, a Web page about it has appeared, so I assume that it was indeed made and shown. From the transcripts of the programme that can be downloaded from the site, it appears that I have made almost no contribution to it, as there's only a couple of very brief references to me in it; all the stuff I tried to tell them about starting off the JSW revival must not have suited their programme. I'm also a bit displeased to be described as a "Huddersfield couch potato" on the page; whilst I'll admit to being a little overweight due to lack of exercise, for the record I am not an excessive TV viewer who spends his hours glued to the goggle-box! Ah well; that's showbiz!)

And so that, dear reader, is my contribution to the JSW revival. I believe that I was largely responsible for getting it underway, and I appear to have become a minor celebrity in a field which I actually find quite embarrassing. Much as I used to like the game in my youth, "Jet-Set Willy" isn't a phrase that can pass the average person's lips without a modicum of bemusement or embarrassment being incurred, so being credited as the father of the JSW revival isn't really a public plaudit that I would seek.

But maybe I'm being too serious. Everyone needs a little escapism, and that's what JSW is all about. I'm slightly alarmed by the seriousness with which some people seem to treat the subject, but at least JSW is completely harmless entertainment, and doesn't pervert the minds of the younger generation with knives, machine guns and death. So to round off my spiel, I'll conclude with links, for the budding JSW game-maker, to the JetSet Editor program, my article about hacking in new music, and some resource files.

And do I have any plans to create a third JSW game? No serious plans, no; but, for the sake of nostalgia, I do let the possibility run through my mind from time to time. I still have a few good ideas for rooms, and I sometimes think it might be quite fun to create another game. So, in the 'unofficial' words of James Bond: never say never again!

ZX Spectrum resources ////

JetSet Editor, copyright © Paul Rhodes
TAPThe archive contains JetSet Editor as a Z80-format snapshot, the two demonstration rooms accompanying the original editor (rooms 47 and 61) in a TAP file, and the full documentation in plain-text format
(The download is a 28K Zip archive)
Music-editing documentation
A Miner Triad
Complete documentation, in HTML format, on how to edit the in-game music in both versions of Manic Miner (Bug-Byte and Software Projects) and Jet-Set Willy, and the title-screen music in Jet-Set Willy
(The link is a 16K HTML document, and opens in a new browser window)
TAPResource files to demonstrate editing JSW music: there are two SNA-format snapshots (SNA format being easier to hack directly) of JSW in Space illustrating different aspects of title-page and in-game tunes, and a copy of the A Miner Triad document in plain-text format
(The download is a 46K Zip archive)
Jet-Set Willy in Space resource files
TAPFinally, for interest, here are the source files relating to JSW in Space. The archive contains two Z80-format snapshots, Game1 and Game2, of the two games that were retrieved from tape and later combined to create JSW in Space; both are presented within a copy of JetSet Editor. There is also a file in RISC OS Draw format showing the room layout which I used when planning the map.
(The download is a 52K Zip archive)

All material is copyright © 2002 Richard Geoffrey Hallas unless otherwise stated