ZX Spectrum Game Controls

The ZX Spectrum was one of the first real home computers, came equipped with a keyboard and pre-dated the concept of a game console. Even though several manufacturers produced joystick accessories for the computer, the predominant method of controlling games and other programs run on the Spectrum was through the keyboard.

Most games gave the user the choice of using the keyboard or one of a number of supported joystick products to control the game action. Even when using a joystick, games often still required the player to use the keyboard to perform additional actions, as joysticks of the time were limited to the five actions of up, down, left, right and fire.

Common keyboard controls

When using a keyboard to control a game, the most common keys used were: O – left, P – right, Q – up, A – down, M – fire, which took into account where the players fingers naturally fell on the keyboard. Often these were set as the default, however game designers recognised that this arrangement might not suit every player, so nearly always provided an option to allow the game keys to be redefined.

Common joysticks

Joystick interfaces that were available for the ZX Spectrum worked in one of two ways: either they emulated the pressing of keys on the keyboard, such as the cursor keys, or they remained independent of the keyboard, and were read directly by the game.

The most common joysticks were:

  • Protex or AGF joysticks. These emulated the keyboard cursor keys.
  • The Kempston joystick. This did not emulate the keyboard, and was read directly by supporting games.
  • The Sinclair Interface II dual joysticks. This emulated the keyboard keys 1 to 5 or 6 to 0.

The most popular joystick interface, supported by nearly all games, was the Kempston joystick.

The Vega game controls

The Vega takes the form of a modern game controller, complete with D-pad, four primary action buttons and four auxiliary function buttons. Because there is no keyboard, the Vega provides two mechanisms to configure the D-pad and buttons for the game being played:

  1. By default the Vega behaves as a Kempston joystick, which is directly usable by games that support it.
  2. Create a special key map file that describes the keys used by the game, and store it on an SD card along with the game file.

Configuring the Vega controls

Using the Kempston joystick mode

Games that support the Kempston joystick sometimes start the game play automatically when the “Fire” button is pressed. If they do not, then you will need to tell the game that you want to use the Kempston joystick.

To do this, when the game presents you with an options screen, look for an option such as “Kempston Joystick”. This will be associated with a key on the keyboard. Use the Vega virtual keyboard (accessible through the Vega control panel, activated by pressing button M) to select that game option.

You should then follow this with the key that selects the option to “Start game”, or similar, again by using the virtual keyboard.

The game will now start, so you can close the virtual keyboard by pressing button M, giving the game access to the D-pad and fire button as though they were a Kempston joystick.

Some games, however, require more actions that can be provided by the D-pad and fire button alone, and so full game configuration is necessary through a key map file.