New hardware, old tapes: Loading programs from cassette tape on the ZX Spectrum Next

In my teenage years I must have spent hours listening to strange bleeping sounds and watching flashing horizontal stripes as I waited for softare to load from cassette tape. It’s an experience that I thought I’d left behind me back in the 1980s. However, back in March 2020 the Spectrum Next kickstarter delivered on it’s promise to produce a ZX Spectrum re-imagined for the 21st century. I didn’t back the accelerated version, but had a spare Raspberry Pi Zero lying and for a while I was content with loading .tap and .tzx (assisted by the R’Pi) files and re-living some of the games of my youth. However, I volunteered to help beta-test a program to convert files on tape to .tap files on SD card…

First, I obviously needed some tapes. Some digging in cupboards located a bag that a younger version of me had (ahem!) tidily filed away.

I also managed to dig up a cassette player. The Spectrum Next can’t use the pair of mono leads used by the original ZX Spectrum and instead needs a cable with a stereo jack on one end and two mono connections on the other.

I then started working my way through the bag of tapes to see what worked. The first working tape was one from 16/48 magazine. I then found “Bugaboo the flea” a game in which you need to escape an underground cave by jumping and avoiding predators. The graphics and sound were quite primitive but it was fun (which is the point of a game after all!). A nice touch was the use of the loading sequence to provide an introduction. It was also a good opportunity to introduce my children to how computing used to be. They (somewhat) patiently waited for the game to load from tape and then took turns to play. Although they were amused by the sound and graphics they enjoyed it enough to take several turns each. My daughter also asked to try any other games I happened to find that worked.

I also found a working copy of masterchess.

Ghene however grew quickly tired of listening tape loading sounds and then me enthusing over old games so it was time to don headphones.