Jet Set Willy

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Jet Set Willy
Developer(s) Software Projects
Publisher(s) Software Projects
Designer(s) Matthew Smith
Series Miner Willy Series
Release date(s) 1984
Genre(s) Platform game
Mode(s) Single player
Platform(s) ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit family, MSX
Media Cassette, Floppy disk
Input Keyboard or joystick

Jet Set Willy is a computer game for the ZX Spectrum home computer. Its release in 1984 was concurrent with the height of the Spectrum's popularity in the early 1980s.

It was written by Matthew Smith, hailed at the time as a games-writing genius. Smith later moved to the Netherlands and, since his whereabouts were widely unknown, he was largely thought to have "vanished" until he returned to the UK in the late 1990s. He has since appeared on a TV programme ( Thumb Candy) to discuss his early games and has attended several retrogaming conventions.

The game is a sequel to Manic Miner ( 1983), and is the second game in the immensely popular Miner Willy Series. It was a significant development in the platform game genre on the home micro. It was published by Software Projects.


A very tired Miner Willy has to tidy up all the items left around his house after a huge party. With this done his housekeeper Maria will allow him access to his bedroom. Willy's mansion house was bought with the wealth obtained from his adventures in Manic Miner but much of it remains unexplored and it appears to be full of strange creatures, possibly a result of the previous (missing) owner's experiments. Willy must explore the enormous mansion and its grounds (including a beach and a yacht) to fully tidy-up the house so he can get some much-needed sleep.


Miner Willy in the Cold Store

Jet Set Willy has a similar game engine to Manic Miner and is extremely simple to play, having only three controls: left, right and jump. Willy can climb stairs by walking into them (jumping through them to avoid them) and climb swinging ropes by pushing left or right depending on what direction the rope is swinging in. The play area itself consists of 60 flick-screen rooms (an impressively large number at the time of the game's release) containing patrolling monsters (everything from killer jellies to rolling giant eggs to enormous flies), various platforms and collectable objects. The collectable items glow to distinguish them from other items in the room.

The game has become well-known for its peculiarities: for example, Willy loses a life if he falls too far, but if his fall causes him to enter another screen before dying then the game will send Willy back to where he entered the screen. On losing a life, Willy therefore begins another fall, dies, is sent back again and will die repeatedly with no possible escape until his lives run out. Another peculiarity of the game is that the in-game music changes pitch and goes more out of tune every time Willy loses a life. (Technically: the frequency of each note is shifted rather than scaled.)

The Attic Bug

As originally released, the game could not be completed due to several bugs, the most notorious being known as the Attic Bug. After the player entered the room The Attic, various rooms would undergo corruption on all subsequent game plays, including all monsters disappearing from The Chapel, and other screens triggering instant death. This was caused by an error in the path of an arrow in The Attic, resulting in the sprite travelling past the end of the Spectrum's video memory and overwriting crucial game data instead.

Initially Software Projects attempted to pass this off as an intentional feature to make the game more difficult, claiming that the rooms in question were filled with poison gas. However, they later rescinded this claim and issued a set of POKEs (low-level memory-writing hacks) to correct the flaws.

We Must Perform A Quirkafleeg

One of the more bizarrely-named rooms in the game is We Must Perform A Quirkafleeg. (The pre-release name for the screen was "The Gaping Pit".) This was characteristic of Matthew Smith's "off the wall" sense of humour, and was in fact a reference to the comic strip Fat Freddy's Cat, a spin-off from the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers; in the original comic, the quirkafleeg was an obscure ritual in a foreign country, required to be performed upon the sight of dead furry animals.

To negotiate the room, the player must first wait a few seconds (after entering the screen from the left), then jump the arrow that flies in from the right (pictured). Now is the player's chance to get over the pit in one piece, jump right as the rope is at the lowest point of its swing (right to left), and keep moving right once on the rope (this will let you climb up the rope a bit) - Climbing too far up the rope will result in the player entering another room. Just enough to avoid the spikes at the bottom of the pit. Now jump right at the highest point of the swing. If the player did this right the bird should be on the left, and should present no problem to the player's safe passage on to the next screen.


  • In the 1980s, Matthew Smith suggested that he was working on a further Miner Willy game possibly to be titled either The Megatree or Miner Willy Meets the Taxman. However, neither game has yet appeared.
  • The original in-game music is taken from " If I Were a Rich Man", itself from the musical Fiddler on the Roof. The title music was adapted from the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.
  • There is an in-game cheat mode, which involves typing the phrase WRITETYPER whilst standing between the stairs and hole in the floor on the First Landing, (after which the player can travel to any room in the game by holding down combinations of the number keys 9, and 1-5).
  • Software Projects announced a competition with the original release of Jet Set Willy, stating that the first person to complete the game would win a case of champagne and a helicopter ride over London, to be piloted by Tommy Barton, a director of Software Projects. The competition was won by two Londoners; Ross Holman and Cameron Else. The pair opted for cash in place of the chopper ride, but they did get the champagne. (Ross & Cam hacked Jet Set Willy when they realized that it couldn't be completed as it stood because of 4 major bugs, they produced the necessary fixes which then became the official Software Projects pokes. On completing the game they phoned up Software Projects, told them that "Willy went to commune with the Great White Telephone", and that there were a total of 83 objects.)
  • Ross Holman consequently became a writer for the magazine Your Spectrum which later changed its name to Your Sinclair.
  • Cameron Else coded the MSX conversion of the game.
  • In a jibe at Imagine Software with their motto "The Name of The Game", the room Nomen Luni is a pun on the Latin for Name of the Game Nomen Ludi. An aeroplane from the game Zzoom has crashed into the roof and is visible in both Nomen Luni and Under the roof.
  • The game was one of the first for the Spectrum to feature copy protection. A card containing a grid of colour codes came with the cassette; once the game loaded, the user was asked to type in one of the codes randomly selected by the game. This was done in the days when colour reproduction was hard. Solutions to work around the protection scheme included simply copying out the grid; additionally, a number of POKEs were devised to bypass the code system. The magazine Computer and Video Games, published a letter detailing one such POKE in 1984.

Third-Party Modifications

In its original Spectrum version, Jet Set Willy has a clear separation between the game engine and the data describing the rooms. The rooms themselves are stored in a straightforward format, with no compression. It is therefore relatively easy to create customised versions of the game.

The review of JSW in issue 4 of Your Spectrum included a section entitled 'JSW - A Hacker's Guide'; remarks in this section imply that the author had successfully deduced at least some of the data structures, since he was able to remove sections of wall in the Master Bedroom. The following year, issue 13 contained a program that added an extra room ("April Showers") to the game, and issue 15 described the data formats in some detail.

Several third-party editing tools were published between 1984 and 1986, allowing players to design their own rooms and sprites. Since then, these and other programs have been used by fans to create many modified versions of JSW, ranging from relatively minor changes in a few rooms to completely new games. In recent years, a Windows-based JSW editor has been created.

Henry's Hoard, released by Alternative Software in 1985, was based on a modified version of the JSW game engine, apparently without the knowledge of Software Projects.


The following ports to other computer platforms were made:

  • Jet Set Willy II, an expanded version for the Amstrad CPC, was later converted back to the ZX Spectrum.
  • Both the original game and Jet Set Willy II were released for the BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, MSX, Commodore 16 and Commodore 64. The original BBC Micro release also contained a bug which made it impossible to complete the game - though not the same bug as the Spectrum version.
  • A different expanded version of Jet Set Willy was released for the Dragon 32/64, with 13 extra rooms.
  • A port of Jet Set Willy to the Atari 8-bit family of computers was released by Tynesoft in 1987. It received generally poor reviews, and has since been called "the lousiest version of JSW ever". However, this version features completely different music (by Rob Hubbard), which is generally held to be one of its stronger points. Like the Spectrum version, it was impossible to complete but for different reasons. Some of the legitimate items that were needed caused the player to lose a life (e.g. the bottles in the Off Licence).
  • Software Projects made ports to the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST but canceled them before they were released.
  • Unofficial ports exist for the Acorn Archimedes, DOS, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation, Gameboy, Cambridge Z88 and the Java platform.

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