Hands-on with upcoming Windows Phone's first generic ZX Spectrum emulator - MetroSpec

You can now enjoy the classics while on the go

Can we have a drum roll? Announcing the upcoming Sinclair ZX Spectrum emulator for Windows Phone - MetroSpec. This current work-in-progress by Starquake Mobile (website) is the first generic ZX Spectrum emulator for Windows Phone which isn't tied to a single title. 

The gist of the app is to enable Windows Phone users to download, load and enjoy Spectrum titles to either bring back memories or to defeat that all-impossible last boss that one could never beat. Head on past the break to see why you should be interested in MetroSpec, as well as some hands-on footage from the recent WPUG meetup.

Headed up by Glenn Edwards, MetroSpec is still in active development with the goal to be in beta within the next few days (more on that later), but the working build we were taken through last night at the WPUG event in London was stable enough in our eyes - we had to hide our giggly excitement as the drooling began. 

Before we crack on with the app coverage, let's share a quick background check on the ZX Spectrum. It's an 8-bit PC released in the UK by Sinclair Research Ltd back in 1982. Most of the software available for the Spectrum are games, but a number of other products were released. Actual titles included the likes of Elite, Manic Miner, Luna Jetman, and many, many more. Many fans are able to recreate such experiences through emulation, which is soon to be possible on Windows Phone.

On a basic level MetroSpec is exactly what it says on the tin... or splash screen in this case. It's a ZX Spectrum emulator, which boasts an array of features ensuring the user experience is rich while sporting the Metro polish. First off, loading up the app brings us to the main screen. The app supports the creation of Spectrum BASIC using the on-screen keyboard, which enables users who know (or desire to learn) the language. But should you not be up for the task, fear not as there's much more on offer - including actually playing games.

MetroSpec dives deeper into the console by offering a history of both Sinclair and the Spectrum itself, should the user find the need to learn about its makings. As well as both Spectrum BASIC and the history, the app offers links to settings and the about section from the main screen. We were told there's a little easter egg in the about section, so be sure to keep a watchful eye out when the app is released.

Wrapping up the main screen, which features a familiar tile layout, is SkyDrive access (for importing titles) as well as options to view the last played game, history, and of course the list of loaded games. Note that MetroSpec will not feature any published Spectrum titles (due to copyright reasons), but will instead feature a number of Homebrew built games. A solid way of supporting the community.

Actual importing of games is simple and easy, supporting both SkyDrive and any location on a known webserver. For the emulation itself, sound is supported (a huge plus), not to mention a number of statistics and features to follow suit. History, state saving / loading, favourites, game list filters (genres, publishers, developers, years, most played, etc.), and more are available. It's a superb way of keeping a catalogue of games neat and tidy, which allows MetroSpec to never appear cluttered.

The UI is all coded in Silverlight, but is a Silverlight / XNA mutated beast with the emulation ran in the latter. When choosing to play a title, data is displayed, including accumulative play time, accompanied by sharing options and related functionality (screenshots anyone?). The controls are highly customisable, and gameplay is butter smooth. Unfortunately, due to CPU intensity, some first generation devices (or Windows Phones with weak chips) may suffer performance issues. This can be rectified by lowering sound quality and / or the frame rate.

As mentioned above, saving and exporting the game state is supported in case you wish to continue playing on a larger screen. But we'll quit rambling on and allow you to watch the demonstration where Glenn Edwards walks us through MetroSpec.

Here's a quick glance at some of the features included in MetroSpec:

  • Download compressed titles from webservers and SkyDrive accounts
  • Features sound emulation
  • Configurable game controls
  • Landscape and portrait mode support
  • Save / load game states with export functionality
  • Pin favourite games to the home screen for convenient access
  • Code in Spectrum BASIC using the provided console
  • Virtual keyboard included (excluding rubber keys)
  • Bundled with Homebrew titles
  • Supports 'pokes' (cheats)

MetroSpec will have a free version, as well as premium. The free version is ad-supported with the limitation of only three save state slots. Premium version, which is confirmed to be £0.79 ($0.99), will remove the advertisements and open up more save slots for further use. To close off this exclusive preview of MetroSpec, we leave you with a quick demo of Manic Miner.

We're excited for the upcoming release, as should you be once you've finished reading this teaser article. Be sure to follow Starquake Mobile on Twitter for more updates, and - of course - keep an eye on Windows Phone Central for future announcements as to when MetroSpec is set to be released. We expect beta to kick off shortly, which will hopefully see a thread open up on our forums for testers.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

  • Wow I was born in 94 and i didn't know they had video games systems in the 80s thats pretty cool but I couldn't play anything like this thou
  • Are you serious? Half of the flash and mobile games are remakes from 80's games. The Commodore 64 (C64) was an amazing machine, trumped only by the Commodore Amiga. The Amiga was 10 years ahead of it's time, and wiped the floor with PC's until the mid-90's. I never understood why people bothered with Macs in those days, when Amiga was so much better (also cheaper and with thousands of games).
  • Yep I use to rock the Amiga 500!!
  • The Amiga was ace, true. The 80ies were the golden age of computer games. Atari2600, C16/64, Amiga.. the f/x are better today, but i feel like overall game quality is so much lower, in comparison.
  • >The 80ies were the golden age of computer games.
    More varierty and creativeness in the TYPES of games for sure.
    Todays machines, PCs / Consoles are awesomely powerful.
    The game engines are incredible. But there is no creativity left. Same tired forumlas re-rolled time after time. Yearly frnachises that differ only very slightly year on year.
    Will we get to COD 50? Madden 32? FIFA XX ??!!
    The cost means less risk, meaning less originality. Shame, as the hardware is phenominal.
  • Prefer the Acorn days myself :)
  • I was born in 98 and knew this...
  • Oh for a C64 emulator instead :)
  • C64? Well I do need a new project to work on once MetroSpec has been released into the wild ;-) I was a big fan of the C64 back in the day. I never had one myself, I had a Spectrum, hence my emulator, MetroSpec, for Windows Phone, but I did have plenty of mates with C64's.       I used to love playing Uridium, The Last V8 etc..                    My plan is to create a C64 emu next, the UI shell that I've created for MetroSpec I will reuse, and I'll change the Z80 emulator core for a 6502 CPU emulator, which I'll either write myself, as I did for MetroSpec, or find some kind sould who will let me use theirs. Anyhow, I hope that when MetroSpec is released that you enjoy playing all the oldies, and if you want to be a beta tester, then please goto www.starquakemobile.com, and just fire me an email saying you want to be a beta tester, and i'll be sure to send out an invite, or better yet, just check the beta test forums on WPCentral, and wait for an announcement. Probably 1 to 2 days away from beta test I hope, and then depending on how beta testing goes, full release soon after. Glenn
  • If I create a Commodore 64 emulator next I wonder if it will re-ignite the old home micro wars, and the general "my speccy is better than your c64", or "my c64 is better than your speccy" arguments lol
  • Haha those were the days! Even though the C64 is obviously the superior machine (16 colours FTW), I will still enjoy playing the games on the speccy emulator :) :) :)
  • I still have my C64. Maybe I will get it out again. Thank you for working on these projects. Maybe I'll become one of beta testers. That will be cool.
  • I think the Spectrum was more popular in the UK. C64 was all the rage in Australia :) I was the first out of my friends to get one... it was actually a C128 with a floppy drive and I still have it! My friends would come around all the time to play games, and eventually persuaded their parents to buy them a C64 too. I remember one friend had a cassette version - damn they were slow! Uridium was great! I never played The Last V8 though. I used to play Gauntlet, Paradroid, The Last Ninja, International Karate, Ghosts n Goblins, Winter Games & Summer Games, Impossible Mission, Space Taxi, Boulder Dash, Hover Bover, Pit Stop, Pirates!, Trashman, Turrican..... man I could go on for days! :) I'll definitely be keen to beta test :)  
  • The Spectrum and C64 we're definitely the most popular in the UK  in the early to mid 80's. Amstrad CPC, and Tandy RadioShack / Dragon 32 were about, but they were never as popular.
    Incidentally, the Sinclair Spectrum was released in the states, but was released under the Timex brand, but still had the same rubber keyboard. Timex modified the hardware slightly, adding new things like better sound I think. Still played ordinary spectrum games thankfully.
    So hopefully MetroSpec will generate a lot of interest amongst the retro gramers in the states too :-)
    Once MetroSpec is released, and barring anyone finding any major bugs, I'm going to take a couple of weeks rest, and I've worked hard to get MetroSpec ready, and as polished as it is, long hours etc. The next update for it though, after release, will be a few performance improvements, the addition of more emulated hardware, such as the Spectrum 128K, +2, and +3. The +3 will very likely come in a separate update, as I'll have to support loading of disk images, so wil have to figure that one out :-)
    Oh also, next on my list is Tzx and Tap tape file format support. Currently MetroSpec support the main two snapshot formats, .Z80 and .SNA, but there's a lot of stuff out there in .TZX and .TAP format.
    Thankfully, in the mean time, you can get utilities to convert .TZX and .TAP to .Z80 format..
  • Pretty please for a BBC Micro emu :)
  • Wow !! I also had a spectrum and i still have its gaming casettes saved with me
  • Daley Thompson was on the TV in the UK last night. 1st thing I did was smash away at the m and n keys on my keyboard. :-)
  • Keyboard controls? It was all about the QuickShot joysticks for me! I broke so many of them playing Summer Games with my mates. I think Daley Thompson was the same - alternating left & right as quickly as you could to run faster.
  • If only someone would make a MSX emulator for WP :(
    Kudos for keeping the emulator scene alive and releasing this emulator for WP.
  • I thought I was pretty well versed in 80's and 90's tech... but I had to Google *cough*cough* sorry Bing, what the heck MSX was :P
  • Thanks for reminding me I'm ancient... Played this little guy to death, many a times waiting +5 minutes for a game to load only for it to fail, then fine tune the tape recorder and start all over.
  • Those were the days. I remember playing chuckie egg.....brilliant game. Can't wait for this app to launch.
  • Commodore emulator?
  • As i mentioned earlier, I'm going to be needing a new project after MetroSpec is released ;-)
    There will be a number of updates to MetroSpec to fix bugs if any are found, improve performance, and add support for the 128K, +2, and +3 models; but I have already been looking at what I need to do to create a Commodore 64 emulator.
    The UI that I have created for MetroSpec I will re-use for any future emulator, I might change the colours or have a different branding, but the UI is completely re-usable. The main tasks I need to do to create a C64 emulator are to either create or re-use someone else's 6502 CPU emulator, to replace MetroSpec's Z80 emulator (if I have to write it myself it will take some time). Most likely I will try and find an existing 6502 emulator core written in C#, or that I can convert.
    Then there's SID sound emulation, that will be a challenge, and also adding support for the mainstream C64 memory snapshot formats as used in existing emulators like WinVice etc
    It will happen, and I will make a start on it...... :-) Glenn
  • Sounds pretty awesome! I don't know anything about building an emulator, but I know a lot about C#. Let me know if you need a hand with anything ;)
  • I also born in 94 so the first (and oldest) computer I ever touched was my father's PC with Windows 95.
    I would love to see a Gameboy Colour/Advance Emulator if you need more projects after the C64 Emulator :P.
  • Whoa-hoo- The Timex Sinclair 2068 lives on again.... on my Phone!
  • MetroSpec beta is about to go live very soon, just collecting more beta test Live ID's then I'll push the button to submit it to the beta marketplace.
    So if you've not already signed up to beta test MetroSpec, and you would like to do so, then please send an email with your Live ID to metrospec.beta@starquakemobile.com
    Please read this thread for information on the beta http://forums.wpcentral.com/developers-beta-testing/195331.htm
  • Hi All, Many thanks for the great responses and interest in MetroSpec. I just wanted to let you all know that I now have enough beta testers. In fact so many, that Microsoft won't let me have anymore! :-)
    I've submitted MetroSpec to Microsoft for inclusion in the beta marketplace. I have the marketplace link, but am having to wait for it to actually appear in the beta marketplace. I'm told, by Microsoft, that this will take 24 hours.
    Once I have verified everything is OK, i'll send all of the registered beta testers the marketplace link, and some further information regarding known issues, and what I would like people to try and test etc.
  • Announcing that MetroSpec Beta V1.1 is coming very soon to all registered beta testers
    The exact timing is dependent upon Microsoft's schedule, but I'll send an email out with all the details, changes, known issues, and the all important installation link as soon as I have it etc.
    MetroSpec Beta V1.0 only came out last Saturday morning, and ther've been so many improvements. As I've fixed the virtual keyboard issues, you can now actually change modes, and enter "Extended" mode etc. You can now actually write programs in Spectrum BASIC is you so wish.
    When you get the new V1.1 Beta trying this in Spectrum BASIC to hear the authentic ZX Specturm loading sounds:
    One thing I want to get working at some point, and I don't know why it's not working at the moment, is being able to Save your programs to tape.
    Typing Save "MetroSpec" then pressing enter will save the current program to "tape". In reality I want it to just play the audio tones out of the Windows Phone speaker / headset. You could then plug your phone into a real spectrum to load the program, or you could record the audio to cassette, cd, a PC etc.
    More details of changes in V1.1 coming soon
  • MetroSpec Beta V1.1 is live....
    All registered beta tester should have an email right about now :-)
  • Hi Everyone,
    Just to let everyone know that the MetroSpec beta registration is now closed. MetroSpec has reached 100 beta testers, and unfortunately cannot accept any more.
    For those of you who didn't get into the beta process, look our for the full release in the coming weeks. It's not far off now...
    Starquake Mobile