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Windows Phone ZX Spectrum emulator MetroSpec out of beta and headed for the Marketplace

MetroSpec

Time to visit the good ol' days

MetroSpec, the Windows Phone ZX Spectrum emulator, has come out of beta and is now well on its way to the Marketplace. We originally covered the app back in July when we got some hands-on footage of the emulator in action, and were super excited to see the first Windows Phone ZX Spectrum emulator that isn't tied to a single title, where users can download and enjoy a wide variety of content.

Developed by Starquake Mobile (website), MetroSpec packs a number of useful features that are sure to make the experience that much more complete. With game states that can be exported to SkyDrive allowing users to continue on the larger screen from a different platform / emulator, the ability to import games from both SkyDrive and a known web server, and a number of intuitive features ensuring the UI is efficient and easy-to-use, it's definitely worth checking out.

MetroSpec App

During its beta test, MetroSpec jumped two versions and hit 1.2. We reached out to the developer for a list of improvements and changes applied to the emulator since we last looked at it and it seems a lot of development has gone into getting all the finishing touches just right.

V1.1

  • Accelerometer support. Play your retro favourites using motion control. Play classics such as Manic Miner / Jet Set Willy, by tilting your phone, and tape for jump / fire.
  • Completely rewritten game control engine, providing a control sensitivity option that works allows play on both large and small display devices.
  • Added an in-game reload button, to allow the reload of the current save state (should you have just been killed by that hard to beat boss).
  • Added an in-game reset button to allow the game to be reset, and reloaded from the initial memory snapshot or tape file.
  • Improved download management options e.g. retry, pause, cancel
  • Programming in Spectrum BASIC is now possible, and the virtual keyboard now supports “optional” stick shift keys and vibration feedback.

V1.2

  • Support added for the popular .TAP / .TZX tape files as hosted in the huge 10,000+ archive at World of Spectrum (http://www.wordofspectrum.org/) TZX support is partial at present, standard loaders, turbo loaders, and custom loaders such as Alcatraz, BleepLoad, and SpeedLock 1 all load fine, but Speedlock 2 and above protected games will not load. Being worked on ;-)
  • Use tape format files, and really get the retro experience, as you “groove” to the sounds of a ZX Spectrum loading from a virtual tape drive.
  • Variable emulator speed from 40 – 100% just to make that boss a little bit easier to beat ;-)
  • Improved virtual keyboard and screen visibility in Spectrum BASIC landscape mode. The lower portion of the screen and keyboard are now both visible at the same time, so you can actually see what your typing.
  • Exporting save states to Skydrive now takes advantage of recent API changes to allow the upload of non-media files, so you no longer end up with a .jpg that you have to rename.
  • There might be an easter egg in the About screen now ;-) It was disabled in the beta’s.
  • Removal of commercial games due to possible copyright issues (even though some of the games are 30 years old), and the inclusion of a selection of community homebrew games that have been developed over recent years.

 Be sure to check out our early walkthrough of the app itself and what we can expect from the submitted emulator (prior to the two updates above).

We've been informed that there's more on the horizon and we're excited to see where MetroSpec goes from here and how it'll be received by the community. The app, once approved, will be available as both free and premium apps. 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.

MetroSpec is expected to be made available within the next couple of days, and we'll be sure to announce when it's live on the Marketplace. Hold on tight folks, we're almost there.

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Reader comments

Windows Phone ZX Spectrum emulator MetroSpec out of beta and headed for the Marketplace

9 Comments

It's for the hardcore retro gamers. I went to a site that had a ton of games for this, and didn't see one I would waste boot up time on. 

Hi 1jaxstate1,

As the developer of MetroSpec, I disagree.. of course ;-) I can't believe you wouldn't "waste" boot up time on some classic like Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, JetPac, Sabre Wulf etc.

I'm guessing, and I'll find out soon enough when the app is live in the next few days, that the majority of users will be, people who are now aged around their late 30's,early 40's (I'm 39), that had a ZX Spectrum back in the early to mid-1980's. There might be some interest from people who owned either the C64, or Amstrad CPC from back then also.

Also, MetroSpec isn't just for the "oldies" like me ;-) Sometimes it's not about the graphics or the sound capabilities of these old computers, it's about the games themselves, and I know of a few younger people in their early teens who are discovering that there were some good, addictive, games that existed before the NES / SNES / Master System etc.

Sometime the "classics" can be very addictive.

I'm probably slightly biased, as I am into retro gaming. Obviously I guess, having written an emulator lol.

I certainly don't expect MetroSpec to appeal to everyone, but would be pleasantly surprised if it did :-)

Regards,

Glenn
Starquakemobile

P.S. The website link posted in the article is unfortunately down at present due to a "dead" computer. I'm working on it, and will hopefully get it back up soon.

In the mean time if you want to follow me then my Twitter handle is @starquakemobile

A couple of additional points that I'd like to add on top of what Rich posted in the article.

The free ad-supported version of MetroSpec has the following restrictions:

Max. of 3 Save slots (instead of the full 9)
Max. 2 pinned game tiles
Limiting of the number of games that can be imported

I purposefully didn't make MetroSpec more restrictive, like being able to only have one or two games imported, or only play a games for 5 mins etc, as I wanted people to enjoy MetroSpec and not curtail them.

When making this decision, I felt the main reason users would want to upgrade would be to remove the adverts, and increase the play area in landscape mode.

Also, regarding the motion control, the next version will have a calibration screen, where when you play a game, and motion control is enabled, the user will be asked to hold their phone in the neutral position before playing. This is just to ensure that the user can play the motion controlled game at any angle they wish. Currently MetroSpec assumes the neutral position is with the device flat and level, and face up. This addition will be coming in maybe a week or two.

Glenn

Yesss!  When I get a Win 8 phone in November, this will be the first app I buy.  I can't wait to play Chaos on a phone!  The lack of a proper Speccy emulator on Win Phone 7 was a hugely dismaying.

Hi Rey T. Fox,

MetroSpec should work great on Windows Phone 8. I also have plans to add support for Windows Phone 8 features like NFC, to allow game sharing between devices via Tap To Send :-)

I'm also happy to hear that the first app you'll be buying is MetroSpec. I'm flattered!

Currently I can only supply non-commercial games with MetroSpec due to copyright issues, but I'm working hard to aquire the relevant permissions to include previously copyrighted works. As and when I get the relevant permissions I will update MetroSpec with the new games.

P.S. I'm having a few issue with the bugs in the Windows Phone Dev Center at the moment, which is actually preventing me from releasing the free, ad-supported version of MetroSpec. I'm hoping that will be out soon.

Regards,

Glenn
Starquake Mobile

Best news i heard all day!  Just downloaded it for a great price of less than a dollar. Now to catch up on some lunar jetman....as well as starquake, one of my faves back in the day.
Nice one Glenn!
 

Hi ayalett,

My pleasure, enjoy :-)

Just want to re-iterate to people that tape based games that you import i.e. TAP and TZX files will in this version of MetroSpec load at the original speed i.e. a couple of mins, but it's a one-off process.

Once a tape based game has loaded, it basically becomes a snapshot, and from then on will load instantly, just like Z80/SNA snapshot image games.

I wanted to add fast tape load functionality i.e. load a tape game in seconds, not minutes, and I'm working on this, but couldn't delay MetroSpec any longer. There's so much more to do, little tweaks to the UI, full TZX support, 128K etc. If I finished everything MetroSpec wouldn't be out for many many more months yet.

I will endeavour to keep updating MetroSpec, to get rid of remaining bugs, import tape support, add new models, add new hardware peripheral support etc.

Also I'd like to take this opportunity to mention that MetroSpec run on all models of phone, 1st and 2nd gen, but unfortunately due to the demands of sound emulation (more precisesly it's XNA audio that is the problem), slower 1st gen devices like the Omnia 7, Focus, HTC HD7, Surround, Mozart etc will suffer stutter sound, and frame rate issues when sound is enabled.

Faster 2nd gen devices like the Lumia 800/900, HTC Titan etc run MetroSpec perfectly with no frame rates issues, and perfect sound.

MetroSpec is affect by raw CPU speed, rather then the GPU, so running MetroSpec on a 1GHz CPU is likely to suffer the aforementioned issues. Newer phones have 1.5GHz CPU's so have ample room keep up with MetroSpec's demands.

I am of course always looking at ways to optimise MetroSpec, to eek out that extra bit of power. If I can get MetroSpec to perform perfectly on the slower devices I will.

To get technical for a second, I like other emulator authors, use the XNA DynamicSoundEffectInstance class to playback a custom waveform, as created by the emulated Spectrum. MetroSpec submits an audio buffer, every 1/50s (the interrupt frequency of a real Spectrum, to the DynamicSoundEffectInstance class.

After profiling MetroSpec, I discovered that calling DynamicSoundEffectInstance can use up to 64% of the CPU time. It seems custom generated XNA audio isn't very efficient. Unfortunately this is the only way to create custom sound on the fly on Windows Phone. The actual CPU emulation core uses around 23% CPU time, so you can see there's not a lot of head room on a 1GHz processor.

Oh just to mention, that I'm still trying to secure permission to include software that was released commercially. As and when I get permission I will release update with the new games. I might even add a new feature to MetroSpec where by a user will get notified of a new available game, press a button, and download :-)

If you do get a Windows Phone 8 device (I can upgrade from next month), then watch out for MetroSpec for WP8, as I'll be adding NFC support, so you can share your fav games with your mates who are also running MetroSpec. Though I must add for copyright reasons, that both yourself, and your friends must own the original games.

Keep an eye out for future updates,

Regards

Glenn
Starquake Mobile