|Bit garish in places but the 80s had just|
finished after all
Celebrating the review of the Corker-winning Rick Dangerous 2 the cover was certainly a departure from what I became used to when I joined from #14. Now, starting at #14 a year later is a key point to make here as I introduce a couple of nice surprises within the first pages. As I've mentioned before I wrote a fun blog based around the classic Oink! comic of 1986 to 1988, and while doing so I discovered (as I'd completely forgotten beforehand) which issue had originally been my first only when I read it and recognised things I'd seen before. As coincidence would have it that first issue had also been #14. So my first ever comic and my first ever magazine share that. I'm also writing about each issue a similar amount of years later; 27 for Oink! and 26 for CF. But that's not all.
|A very small Sample of a brilliant artist's work|
While this may not be a commissioned piece of art for Commodore Format it no less got my attention when I was collecting together what I'd scan in for this issue's coverage. I recognised the work straight away but couldn't place it. However, I knew it was Oink!-ish and so I asked fans and creators at the Facebook group and lo-and-behold they were able to point me in the right direction. Paul Sample worked on a couple of issues of the piggy comic but the only one I covered was the second Holiday Special which included this superb cover:
|If you're just scanning the pictures there's no less than four|
coincidental reasons this is here. Read the post!
Hopefully that brings back some fond memories for some of you too and you can check out the full issue by clicking here. Back to CF though and Paul's "contribution" is actually from a leaflet advertising one the computer shows featured in the Network 64 news section, but it still stood out to this fan. Then a quick turn of the page and all the coincidences above culminate in this issue's PowerPack covertape!
|Nothing at all like the comic but apparently a|
very good game in its own right
I wouldn't have usually taken much notice of this, after all why would a game called Pig Tales with some average graphics call out to me when I didn't get the cassette with this issue? Well, I've played this PowerPack before and upon loading the tape the Oink! game is there for you to enjoy! The whole thing, including the correct title. To this day I still haven't the foggiest clue as to why it wasn't referred to as Oink! in the magazine. If the title screen of the game had been altered I may have simply concluded it must've been down to copyright issues, but nope it's all there including references to the four characters it's based around: Pete & his Pimple, Tom Thug, Rubbish Man and the comic's editor Uncle Pigg, including a full-screen C64 rendering of the rotund porker for the title.
Strange indeed. If you'd like to know more about the game I covered it twice on The Oink! Blog. First of all I wrote about the special edition of Spectrum magazine Crash which had a special issue of Oink! packaged inside it and an interview with the three editors, and I covered the game a little bit there too. Also, there's a post about a lesser C64 magazine's special feature on the creation of the comic and the game too here. Enjoy.
For now though let's get back to the nitty gritty of the sophomore edition of my favourite magazine of all time. Something which set Commodore Format apart from its rivals at the time was a design aspect which we pretty much take for granted today. Instead of just a long review about what they thought of the game, where they'd also try to explain it as best they could, CF gave us tremendous box outs and in-depth analysis of gameplay through much better use of the page layouts and loads of screenshots. They really took the time to make sure we knew exactly how the game played.
While many reviews would rely on the main body of the text to do this they still differentiated themselves from the other magazines by their writing style. As I covered last time they could mix opinion and facts about the game together in such a way that you'd be well informed but not lectured, and could make up your own mind. This was, however, something which upon reading these first issues must've actually evolved over time which I became aware of the more I read these early CFs. I'll go into that in more depth next time but for now here's a perfect example of what I was saying above about the design and how they utilised the space on the pages to the fullest effect. This box out below took up half a page of a double-page review and with a selection of screenshots and carefully chosen words, writer Andy Dyer manages to give us a good feel for the play mechanics of the game; informative while maintaining that entertaining and playful style.
|Ultimate Golf from Gremlin|
Ah remember those golf games? All grids of squares making up each hole, which we'd patiently wait to redraw after every swing? Would we still have the patience for something like that today if we removed the rose-tinted glasses and tried a putt? I still love the slow pace of Pebble Beach Gold Links on the 3DO from the mid-90s and prefer it over the (albeit immensely fun) Mario golf games and the like. But going right back to these 8-bit golfers today I'm not so sure of. But I'd love to give it a go. So you never know.
Back to the main topic of conversation from last month now.
|An impressive launch line-up|
As with any new console the list of games being announced for its launch period is crucial to its initial success. Although there's usually two truths about such lists. The first is that none of these are usually fully confirmed and could just contain games which could get launched if the machine proves a success. The other is that there's usually a bunch of lazy ports involved; games which don't take into consideration the unique features of the console and instead are the publisher's way of getting themselves onto the machine just incase it's a huge money spinner, without actually risking much.
Even with such games in the list above, and there are plenty, the idea of instant loading and multiloads no longer creating long pauses between levels must've felt like a good enough incentive to begin with. The C64's games were by this stage smashing the ball out of the park if the creators put the effort in, but the slow cassette and relatively-slow disk formats were still putting people off when compared to the carts of consoles from Japan. If these initial C64GS games could show there was an appetite for Commodore games on cart then we'd begin to see the more complex games arrive surely; the games that simply wouldn't be possible on tape.
Unfortunately Only Ocean and System 3 really pushed the carts and most of the games above would appear on the standard formats instead. For the full lowdown, if you haven't already glanced over it, head back to my take on the whole Commodore 64 Games System story from last month.
But the GS was only one small part of the Commodore 64 story and this issue decided to teach its new readers a little history lesson on where their brilliant computers had come from.
|Have a read of this article, it's|
I know as a new C64 owner of the time I'd have loved this as an introduction to my new computer. Brilliantly written it sums up what's great about this little machine and the long journey Commodore had been on to reach the point of creating what would become (and to this day remains as) the world's best-selling home computer. While also cheekily listing the games everyone should avoid! I learned about the 64's history in bits and pieces as I went along, but CF was a new mag on the block and had a raft of new readers to aim itself towards. People who had become disenfranchised with the competition splitting coverage between their machine and the fancy new Amiga, younger brothers and sisters who were being handed down their older sibling's 64s and of course people like myself who were still buying the micro in their hundreds of thousands as the best introduction to computing and computer gaming. It had so much still to give and CF was here to show it hadn't gone the way of the 80s.
Reading articles like this now alongside others in these early editions which introduce many other features beyond gaming to the new-at-the-time audience is a joy. I'm rediscovering the machine all over again myself and so it feels right to be going through these issues for the first time at this point, almost as if I was being introduced to the C64 for the first time now. It feels like a fresh, clean start for me in a world where modern gaming just doesn't really appeal. I've gone back to my roots and I'm loving it and CF is filling me in on what I not only missed out on first time around, but what I've been missing out on by not keeping my 64!
As we'll (eventually!) cover, CF really was the catalyst, in the UK at least, for the home-brew scene which came out of the end of the commercial lifespan of the computer. I'm acquainting myself with the 64 in the modern world, where that home-brew time has grown into a fully-fledged Commodore 64 scene all over again, run by and for fans. These magazines may be over two-and-a-half decades old but they're still serving as the perfect intro to the 64 for me even today.
|One tough old bird|
A few months after I got my original 64 my parents bought me my disk drive and within its packaging were eight full games spread across two compilations. One of the most memorable ones was definitely Midnight Resistance and it was a pleasant surprise to see Commodore Format had been about when it was originally released. It would only be about a year after this review that it'd be on that compilation so I didn't expect to bump into its original full-price release review.
I'm including it here as the game itself brings back a lot of memories, even if this issue for some reason only uses a handful of screenshots from the first level. It was a very tough game but surely they got further than that. Well from reading Andy's review it would appear he did, though I'm sure he probably cheated! For the reviewers on CF they'd always try their best at a game first, spending many hours of the day and at home playing the titles fairly. But deadlines are always looming. I know this as I'm currently on the brink of another late night due to my own deadline.
To meet them, devices such as cheating cartridges which could furnish players with infinite lives would be used to enable the reviewers to get further into the game in time for the review. Personally I remember playing through level one of Midnight Resistance with ease, but then even with Colin's Action Replay cartridge we'd come to a grinding halt on the second! You'd stand on a small platform which would take you up through the trees, so your movement was already severely restricted. But add in buzzsaws and many other flying enemies whizzing about all over the place, leading you to jump over one only to hit another, or to miss the platform on your fall back down again and it was virtually impossible. Even with the cheats enabled it could test anyone's patience. We eventually beat the level and then the following ones, while still a challenge, were much easier a lot more fun. The whole game was brilliant fun to play except that one section if memory serves. So much so that it became a chore and it really bugged me at the time (hey, I was a teenager, things bugged us) that the greater later levels were hidden behind that tree climb.
As such the game wasn't played as much as others in the compilations and on reading this review I'd say I'd mark it down a little further. But maybe if I were to purchase it today with more patience(!) maybe I'd be more kind to it. So I think it's probably a fair score.
Now, these days a week doesn't seem to go by without a gaming show being announced. They're huge affairs these days; monstrously big shows full of loud music, celebrities, acres of bright screens, realistic graphics on almost cinema-sized displays, queues for days and huge announcements that get mainstream press coverage. Back in 1990 they were a bit of a different affair though. Commodore Format's editor Steve Jarrett took readers along (via a disposable camera - remember them?) to the Consumer Electronics Show in Earls Court in London for a quick walkabout and compared to today's undertakings it all feels... a bit quaint.
|Nintendo wouldn't get away with THAT as their mascot today!|
When publishers today spend millions upon millions in marketing one single game, for Steve to boast that Commodore's stand (with an almighty number '1' made up of its different hardware pieces including the C64GS) was "rumoured to have cost well into six figures" it just goes to show you how far the industry has come since then. I'm not making any comment on quality here and indeed up until the end of the Wii and DS I was all about modern gaming, especially with friends, but no one can deny the sheer scale of video gaming today in comparison to this above. These events were rightly seen as huge back then, but it was mainly about "computer gaming" rather than the "video games" and no one knew just how much things were to change over the next decade.
But I digress. I do that.
A regular feature of the early issues was The Gauntlet, where the team would invite two readers to battle it out in the actual CF offices on C64 games, with the winner going on to the next issue's challenge. They'd even pay for you to get there. Well, if you lived on "mainland Britain", a phrase we youngsters in Northern Ireland grew to hate as it usually meant we couldn't take part in certain competitions on TV and in mags such as this, or that we had to pay extra for postage when ordering such games.
Just to digress again, for all you eBay sellers charging a certain price for "mainland UK/Britain" it doesn't cost more to send stuff here! It never has, even back in the 90s. You're fooling no one. Ahem.
Anyway, I thought I'd include this issue's Gauntlet for a bit of fun. It was a unique little feature which unfortunately didn't last too long but while it was there we could cheer on the current champion (or the underdog, it was up to you) while we read the article. Written in a sports commentary kind of style long before GamesMaster came on TV, they were great fun and today also give us a chance to look back at some of the crazy fashions of the time. But to us at that age any photos which showed us a glimpse into the world of the CF offices were always worth perusing. Long before the 'net and social media made it easy to do so, these guys and gals felt really close to their readers through the clear personal styles of their writing. We felt like we knew the team and so to actually see photos of them and the absolute mess they worked in just made them all the cooler. If they could create such a professional publication in all of that, then our bedrooms didn't seem so bad after all.
I shouldn't make fun. I had a shell suit around this time.
It's been a fun issue with plenty of variety in its contents, a great feeling of the team bedding into their new creation and yet, while no one would've known if it would even be a success at this stage, it reads like it's still in its introductory days. Almost like they knew they were going to be around for a long time, so they were taking the second issue to bed in some history and educate the readership on more of the basics of owning this great computer, what it could do and showing off what was to come.
The C64 gaming scene had already been around for many years. These days to launch a new magazine in a console's eighth year would be unheard of. Heck, to have a console go beyond four or five years before being completely dropped for its replacement is unheard of. Yet reading these preview pages the feeling is of great enthusiasm, of hundreds more games to come and many more years of enjoyment and new titles for those who wished to come along for the ride. Indeed, what about a ride through Mega City One on Judge Dredd's Lawmaster bike?
|A possible preview for this very blog!|
I'm including this because I'm a fan of the Judge Dredd character and his universe, it must be said. Before my read-through I didn't even know there had been a game for the 64 based on his 2000AD adventures, so it was a delight to see this pop up. But I behaved. I didn't rush on to the issue containing the review to see what the game was like, I kept reading in order and awaited with baited breath for the score. You'll have to too, Dredd-heads.
But it nicely illustrates my point. As I go through the entire run I'm jotting down my wish list of games and reading the previews feels a bit like they did back in the day. I have that anticipation of whether I'll be buying them or ignoring them if I see the listings on eBay. I could race forward when I see a preview, I could simply look over the issues out of order and see what I want, I could look at lists online of the CF review scores. But I won't. Just like I did with Oink! I'll let Commodore Format and its talented team guide me through the years 1990 to 1995, with its additional occasional look back at classics in special features, one month at a time (without the weeks waiting in-between mind you as I do so), with the previews whetting my appetite for what's to come. I want to experience this the way we would've back then, just with the addition of hindsight.
With that in mind, what could I be writing about next month? Who knows? Maybe there's some clues in here?
|Sounds tempting, but when?|
Ah. No actual release date. That's handy. Maybe they knew they'd messed up with #1's and were still awaiting confirmation on exactly which date the issues were going out on? Maybe they had been on the money with the date for #2 but the first issue had been held back a week? I simply don't know, but neither this nor the next issue give definitive dates. So what to do for the blog?
Simple. Taking what I worked out for this issue, then glancing forward until the fourth or fifth when dates appear again I simply worked backwards. Enough gibbering, you just want to know when the next issue's goodness will be dissected. Try Tuesday 15th November for size and see how that fits.