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Back in 1984, I was commissioned to write some games for ZX-Spectrum. They were sold together. To my amazement I found that someone is selling a copy online.

I thought of buying it but it is in the original cassette format. Given that I don't have either a cassette player or a Speccy, I don't suppose I'll ever be able to play it.

I know there are emulators but my games were for educational purposes and didn't achieve massive sales. I don't suppose anyone would have bothered to extract the code. I have long since lost the source code.

Will a 36-year tape still be playable?

Is there a way to play my old games again?

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    Yes, chances are good that the tape will still work. So unless you want to setup a genuine Spectrum again (or maybe a Spectrum Next?), the best way would be looking for some local Spectrum user helping you to convert it - there are more then you might think :) – Raffzahn Aug 16 at 19:22
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    An alternative is buying it and enlisting the help of the local ZX Spectrum enthusiasts. Here in Portugal we have a small team of people that gladly accepts old cassetes of local ZX Spectrum developed software for preservation. – Rui F Ribeiro Aug 16 at 22:33
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    Have you checked online to see if the games are available for download anywhere? Even for an obscure educational title with few sales, there's a good chance someone made it available for use with emulators. – Ross Ridge Aug 17 at 2:43
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    Out of curiosity, what was the title of the game? I am wondering if I have ever played it. – Selcuk Aug 17 at 4:09
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    These days you get people saying things like "Tapes were unreliable and chewed up all the time". But it's just not true, so don't let them discourage you. As long as you clean the heads and pinch rollers of your player, and the tape hasn't spent 30 years in a mouldy cellar, the chances are very high that it will just work. – Ben Hillier Aug 19 at 10:20
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Did you check the archive at www.worldofspectrum.org? They preserve whatever spectrum software they can get their hands on, not just games. If you don't find it there, it is likely someone in the forums will assist you to transfer it to .tzx / .tap format and they will upload it to the site.

Btw, I've bought many used tapes and was able to load them on a real machine.

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    +1 - I was astonished to find my crappy game that sold about 100 copies on here - you could even view a demo. It's an incredible resource. – Gary McGill Aug 18 at 18:58
  • Found, thanks! It looks like this ----> Original release - Perfect TZX TAP tape - All I have to do now is find the most suitable emulator and I'm all set. – chasly - supports Monica Aug 21 at 17:53
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well, if you really want those games back, just buy the tape.

Then buy a cassette player (they're cheap, you can try to get a high quality one) or find a friend who still has one. Now:

  • Make sure to clean up the player heads with isopropyl alcohool before using it.
  • Rewind the tape
  • Extract it and use 2 pencils on the reels to gently tighten the tape so it's not loose. Loose tapes have a tendency to unwind in the tape player. You don't want that. Be gentle! Don't break the tape.

Then digitize the output using audacity (some steps will be similar as this Q&A: How do I extract the program from the Radiohead "Nude" tribute by James Houston?)

There are converters that can convert wav to tap format (TZX is an alternative) for emulators, or emulators that can load directly from .wav or even from the real tape (but digitizing allows to give back the tape player that you borrowed).

Then you can try to load the converted file. If your program is in assembly, just dump the code to a file and use a modern disassembler to get it back (without symbols or comments, that's the problem).

On the other hand, if your programs are in BASIC, you can read your code again using the emulator, print it, or even convert the BASIC program to plain text (there are tools for that, like listbasic, from the fuse-emulator-utils Debian package: Make a BASIC TAP file readable on Linux)

The only gamble you're taking is that by buying a 36-year old tape you're not sure at all if you can recover all data from it. But even if there are errors, they can be fixed afterwards (specially with a BASIC program).

I remember doing this very operation for a lot of my Oric tapes, that was in 1996, so it's been a while. But most .TAP files that can be found on the Oric nowadays originate from those conversions.

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32

Back in the '80s, I wrote a couple of games too. A few years ago I have found the old cassettes with those games, but I had no tape deck at all. I bought a "USB walkman" Basetech BT-USB-TAPE-100 on eBay for a few dollars. Then I just plugged this deck to my PC and record my old tapes to uncompressed WAV (at full possible sample speed, 48 kHz, 16 bit, stereo). Then I have cut them using Audacity and converted to TZX via some utility (named WAV2TZX or so...)

I was afraid that those old cassettes will be unreadable and the sound record will be damaged, but I was surprisingly successful. So - try it, it can be done.

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In regards to "is there a way to play my old games again?", there is a good chance that they are available online somewhere. You might start with the Internet Archive.

Collectors and enthusiasts have already made archive copies of almost all spectrum software so if your games were ever on sale there is an excellent chance that someone has already preserved them and you can play them via an emulator.

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    There are also Spectrum-specific archives, such as World of Spectrum, which are worth looking at too. – occipita Aug 18 at 4:22
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Yes, quite possibly. Unless the tape is damaged with complete dropouts, I would be cautiously optimistic that you can recover it. While ageing tends to increase wow/flutter, and can cause the recording to "fade" for lack of a better word, complete drop-out is uncommon unless the tape is actually disintegrating, or the oxide is flaking off.

There are also some techniques, ranging from using a simple audio filter, all the way to actually squinting at a waveform of the audio to guess whether a bit is supposed to be 0 or 1, that make it more likely you can recover it even if a Speccy wouldn't be able to read it.

I would try to secure a good quality digital recording of the tape, ideally FLAC or WAVE lossless. Perhaps you know someone who has an old stereo with a tape deck in a dusty storage room they've forgotten about? (Oh, do make sure it works with a sacrificial tape first!)

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    Microcomputer tape formats were generally designed first and foremost to be decodable, in real time, by rather simplistic hardware which would only look at a tiny portion of each wave, though it was impossible to predict which tiny portion they'd use. Any defect in the tape which distorts the tiny portion that gets used for normal loading would prevent the tape from being loaded by the target micro, but a program running on a more powerful machine could look at a much larger portion of the recorded signal and thus be less sensitive to small disturbances. – supercat Aug 17 at 16:33

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