In a nostalgic conversation about gaming it is unlikely that ZX Spectrum fans or even retro gaming fans in general, won’t mention the brilliant Manic Miner.
Manic Miner was one of the first games I ever played; maybe it was the actual first! (It’s hard to remember – I was only 4 or 5 years old at the time). In around 1983 when I was gifted my 48k Sinclair ZX Spectrum, I got with it this now legendary game on cassette.
Loading it up on cassette (as with all Spectrum games) felt like it took an eternity, but as all fans will agree it was well worth the wait. It’s vibrant colours, the repetitive music (it was the first ever ZX Spectrum title to feature in-game music), the surreal characters and levels, the tight high-frequency sound effects and sweeps; all of this drew you in and penetrated your mind. It was 2D platforming psychedelia.
The creator of Manic Miner: Matthew Smith.
It’s hard to believe that when a 17 year old Matthew Smith coded (in 8 weeks!) and released Manic Miner in 1983, that it would enter gaming culture as one of the most referenced retro platform games of all time.
“I think it’s going to get to a stage where one person can’t write a whole game.” – Matthew Smith, 1983.
With his own uniquely devised coding workflow which involved writing all of his code, creating the game maps and the animations on a TRS-80; Matthew was able to quickly transfer everything over to his ZX Spectrum for testing using his own plug-in homemade circuit-board (which took 1 week to design and build). Genius!
For the remaining 7 weeks; Matthew relentlessly worked to create the 20 levels of Manic Miner very late in the evening, and through the night. This wasn’t by choice, but only because every time somebody in his house switched the kettle on, the ZX Spectrum would crash! The best, and only way to get this game done was to wait until everyone was asleep.
After Manic Miner was done and dusted, next came the brilliant and equally as memorable sequel “Jet Set Willy”. These now legendary titles surely would cement Matthew on the path of game development success and fortune for years to come… well, you would think so.
Where is Matthew Smith?
Not long after these plastic boxed cassettes were flying off the shelves to sit in the cassette decks of most 8-bit gamers of the time; Matthew seemingly vanished.
There was much mystery surrounding what happened to Matthew. In a world where people were reporting sightings of a long deceased Elvis; reports of Matthew Smith sightings were also not uncommon and each theory of his fate more bizarre than the last. From sightings in Amsterdam to working in a fish shop, only the man himself could confirm. Years later thankfully Matthew turned up alive and kicking, to take his seat in gaming history, and to clear up all of the rumours of his disappearance.
Where can I play Manic Miner?
I implore you to seek out and play Manic Miner online, if only to beat the first level “Central Cavern”. Preferably load it up on cassette on an actual ZX Spectrum (for that 1983 authenticity), but at least on an emulator or play it online. To save you the trouble of finding it; you can play Manic Miner online on this very website!
Take in the sights, feel the disintegrating sections of floor disappearing from beneath your pixel feet and take a ride on the cleverly done conveyor belt. Listen to the sound of Miner Willy jump and descend; listen to the chip-tune version of the very recognisable classical piece “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg, repeat over and over (and over) again… it will stay with you for a long time.
To expand on the folklore, here is a short video and interview from the show “Thumb Candy” which briefly covers the story of Manic Miner and delves in to what happened (or what may have happened) to the eccentric and almost mythological programmer, known as Matthew Smith.