Tell us about the war Grandad

I wrote that title as a joke, then realized that I am actually old enough to be a Grandad. Where on earth did the intervening 31 years go?

So in 1984 (Eek) I bought my first ever computer the awesome Sinclair ZX-Spectrum. I wanted a Sinclair ZX-81 but it took me almost two years to save up the money.

Image Copyright: Bill Bertram (aka Pixel8)

With the absolute confidence of youth I started off not with hello world, but with a game written in basic. While I was saving for my computer I had been reading magazine articles and library books on programming, so I did know something about what I was trying. Just not enough, it was slow and terrible.

The conventional wisdom of the time was that to make a game you had to write it in assembly language (this was absolutely true). So I wrote my second game: which was fast and terrible. It was also published.

Meet: Fireman fred

My first published game was Fireman Fred, named in the way of all Spectrum games, with gratuitous alliteration. It was a total Manic miner rip off, just far, far worse.

You had to climb the ladders collect the people (and cats too) and take them to the ambulance. Once all the poor wretches had been collected you got to go to the next level.

I demoed Fireman Fred to the owner of a local record/games shop in Sunderland (I worked there part-time, I wasn’t just showing it to random strangers) he kept the tape and showed it to a rep for Tynesoft Computer Software. They were desperate for almost anything to sell back then so they signed me up.

I think the deal was an advance of £1,000 on royalties of 50p a copy sold (rrp £5.50).

Tynesoft leaped into action with a massive marketing campaign:

Image From: Wos, text copy right Home Computing Weekly

Then surprisingly, Fred made money. Who’d of thunk.

Here he is in all his box art glory (and following the rules of the day when box art had nothing to do with the game itself).


OK, Fred did flicker, didn’t have a proper game loop and got slower when there was a lot of on screen movement, but it’s still my baby! I did learn from Fred and things got better in the next games (and there were quite a few of them.)

I like the mechanic of rescuing the wretches and carrying them to the ambulance vs the standard system of just touching keys to collect them, then moving to the door that ends the level.

I think it’s funny that it never occurred to me to use a fire engine rather than an ambulance. The game could easily have been Ambulance Artisan Alan the way it plays :-).


Fred had I think twenty one levels here’s the level map that shows most of them (click for a larger image.)


You tube user zxspectrumgames64 did a play through of Fred and put it on youtube. I’ve played Fred on emulators before but seeing that video (bad as the game was) brought a lump to my throat.