Forty Niner, ZX81

This 1983 release from Software Farm broke new ground on the Sinclair ZX81. You see: graphics on the ZX81, before Forty Niner, consisted of chunky basic graphics and ASCII symbols, because the machine wasn’t really capable of anything else. Or so the world thought…

Coder Julian Chappell had other ideas and spent six months ‘tweaking’ the ZX81‘s graphics output with code that broke the mould by introducing “high resolution” graphics to the machine. And by “high resolution” I mean pixel graphics that matched the resolution of a ZX Spectrum (256×192, without a border). This was revolutionary at the time although many thought that it was either ‘sorcery’ or lies. Even though it was neither: it was in fact true and was clever coding that did it.

Forty Niner was the first game to use ‘Spectrum‘ style graphics on the ZX81; the first game in the Software Farm “high resolution range”, and is a surprisingly playable game to boot. And it was a relative ‘hit’ on the machine, even though – by 1983 – users were leaving the ZX81 as quickly as their parents could buy them a ZX Spectrum. But there were still five million ZX81s in homes at the time and Julian and Software Farm were determined to continue to support it while it was still financially viable to do so. Which turned out to be for three more games and one impressive utility program.

The basic aim of Forty Niner is to dig down into the ground to collect gold nuggets, while at the same time avoiding chasing rats that are always closing in on you. If a rat touches you you’ll lose a life. There are flashing snake eggs in the ground that – if touched by the player character – will hatch a snake that will then move upwards to the surface, and any rats a snake collides with will be eaten, thus giving you a reprieve. Once you’ve collected all the gold nuggets a door then opens up in the bottom right, allowing you to exit to the next level. Oh, and there’s a monster eating a pile of dirt on the surface, which acts a timer for each stage.

While the graphics are a little messy in terms of definition they don’t flicker or disappear or glitch in any way (other than as intended). Most importantly, Forty Niner still remains playable and fun to this day.

More: Forty Niner on Moby Games

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