There were third-party Spectrum disk drives, such as the +D/Disciple which were fairly popular but never adopted as a standard. The ZX Spectrum did eventually get a disk drive… or “disc” drive… as Amstrad build a 3" one into the Spectrum +3… which was my favourite Spectrum… and that machine was capable of running CP/M and thus Infocom games. (Playing them on the +3 was a bit odd as one of the screen modes had two overlapping sections that you switched between… as Mike Gerrard of Your Sinclair pointed out… it was a bit like watching a game of tennis).
The fact that software could be supplied on cheap (and easily copiable) cassette tapes did shape the Spectrum scene, though, and dictate the type of games (including adventures) that we had… resulting in single-load experiences rather than games that streamed content off a disk.
Commodore did have some success with the PET even before the VIC-20 made it into the UK. And we had lots of US machines over here too, like the TRS-80 (and various copycat clones, such as our very own Welsh Dragon). But the US machines were extremely pricey in those early days compared to some of the alternate British “kit micros”. There were also so many microcomputers competing for the market in the 1980s! In those first few years it felt like a new system was released every week! Acorn, Amstrad, Atari, Commodore, Sinclair, Sharp, Newbrain, Camputers, Jupiter, Grundy, Tangerine… the list goes on… It was very easy to back the wrong horse.
It eventually settled down to just a few main choices… the ZX Spectrum (if you wanted a cheap quirky, British micro that you could trade “backups” of games with your mates in the playground), the C64 (for those with more money and who liked flashy… if very brown… graphics), the Amstrad CPC (for those who would’ve probably bought a Spectrum but wanted a proper keyboard and a system that didn’t hog their main TV) and the Acorn BBC (for those kids with rich parents).
There’s probably a whole other discussion to be had about tools such as The Quill and their impact on the British and wider international scene. There is plenty of evidence that the US version, AdventureWriter, was used by plenty of US-based coders, particularly on the C64 where efforts were shared through BBS, but I would agree its use for commercial games was very limited.
Thanks. I’m probably biased as none of my friends had an Amstrad - they seemed like an exotic thing compared to the Spectrums and C64s that we all had. I eventually even got a disk drive and access to Infocom games on my C64, but made the mistake of starting with Zork 3 which I found baffling. It wasn’t until I picked the ‘Lost Treasures’ (for my Amiga) much later that I realised how good other games in the series were.
Ah, the Electron. The ‘lost Christmas’ of 1983 when they couldn’t get enough made to satisfy demand, and then, by 1984, the market seemed to have passed them by. Good keyboard and could have been a great text adventure machine if Acorn hadn’t bungled things…
Christmas 1983 was when we got ours, along with two games, “Killer Gorilla” and “Croaker”. You can probably guess which arcade games they were knock-offs of. I think the first text adventure I had was “Stranded”, an illustrated game by Superior Software. It was pretty bad but I did eventually complete it, and it was probably the first text adventure I finished too.