Jet Set Willy Variations 1984

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Jodi

“Jet Set Willy” consists of (10) ten variations on the computer game “Jet Set Willy” that was launched in the eighties for one of the first home computers, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The code has been modified in such a way that although the basic functions of the game are the same, the on-screen graphics are redesigned.The work is written in BASIC, a programming language now in danger of becoming extinct. “Jet Set Willy” is also Jodi’s homage to the culture of hobby game programmers in the eighties, when it was mainly teenagers developing games, including all the music and graphics, single-handedly on the first home computers, a development that is one of the best examples of the libertarian do-it-yourself ethic of the early computer subculture, a mainstay of Jodi’s work.

Our new home in the Netherlands used to be a house in the 1980s, then turned into a kindergarten, and we are in the process of turning it back into a house. That’s a bit like what we’ve done in our JET SET WILLY Variations, except that our house doesn’t have sixty rooms like the Jet Set Willy game does.

We started working with the Jet Set Willy game two years ago. We had no nostalgic feeling for the ZX Spectrum machine except from a retro point of view; in the ’80s I did not have a computer and neither did Dirk. We were interested in old forgotten computer languages, and this was one of the first for home users. When we first played around with Jet Set Willy on a ZX emulator, it was hard to reprogram the code. On the vintage Spectrum, every key has four or five functions. To type a command like GOTO, you have to hit the right key combination; you can’t just type G-O-T-O. On the PC keyboard it is very difficult to relocate these multiple short cuts.

So instead of using the emulator to write the source code, we used the emulator to access the machine code. I modified the game’s graphics and sound by poking through the Jet Set Willy program byte by byte.

In the emulator you can play the game OK, because all you need is the left and right arrows, plus the spacebar to jump. But you don’t get in contact with the original hardware. You have no idea that the game once ran off audiotape.

Another difference is the screen resolution. The ZX works with a TV signal, so the screen is fed by antenna cable. A line is not a line. A piece of red on an LCD display is just straight, one color, but on a TV it’s totally lively. Even if you put a white against a black, the TV tube cannot hold the line, and it bleeds or bows. The Spectrum loads from a cassette, and if you unplug the electricity everything is gone–like a performance. So for another Spectrum-based work, 10 Programs Written in BASIC © 1984, we made a DVD recording, All Wrongs Reversed © 1982. Of course you don’t see the cassette or the TV or the computer–you see someone coding and typing and having a simple result. But making a DVD was a way to record the original action. jodi (Joan Heemskirk)
Dordrecht, The Netherlands, February 17, 2004