Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, the interactive film set in the knobby-9-pin-joystick salad days of 1980s PC gaming, premiered yesterday on Netflix. Already the show’s creators are giving fans ways to extend the experience of the alternate timeline it describes. One of those is an honest-to-god video game coded for the ZX Spectrum.
The game is called Nohzdyve and is referenced in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch as one of the works of Tuckersoft, the games developer for whom the movie’s protagonist works. But it’s not a self-contained experience. If you want to play Nohzdyve, you have to get a ZX Spectrum emulator first.
The ZX Spectrum was a 1980s personal computer more popular in the United Kingdom than in the United States, where it was licensed by Sinclair to the Timex Corporation and called the Timex Sinclair. That platform was a rival of Commodore’s line of personal computers, the VIC-20 and the Commodore 64 (working up to the Commodore 128 and Amiga later). Both were self-contained units, a keyboard laid over a motherboard more or less, with peripherals available for those who wanted to print or store their data. The ZX Spectrum was an essential platform in middle-1980s video gaming in the U.K., where Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker is from and where he began his career as a video games writer.
If you want to play the frumious Nohzdyve, go get an emulator — popular ones include Fuse (Free Unix Spectrum Emulator) and Speccy (whose latest version, for Windows and Linx, launched just yesterday.)
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch takes place in a critical hour of video gaming history — following the collapse of the Atari VCS/Intellivision/ColecoVision console market and before the western launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Video gaming in this three-year span was largely supported by personal computers, and Brooker’s Bandersnatch seeks to capture that period of wide-open experimentation, when video gaming’s state-of-the-art works moved from a TV in the living room to a desk in the bedroom.