The Detailed History of Zzap! by Demetrius Kiminas
Welcome to a very detailed and fact packed history of Zzap, all the way from the beginning to the very end. This was originally written to be
included in our own issue 107 but due to its size it would have taken up half the magazine! A big thank you to Demetrius Kiminas of
Gamebase64 for letting me publish it on this site after a number of years in a void.
Anyway, enough from me. Put your slippers on, pour a glass of sherry, sit by the open fire and read all about The Rise and Fall of Zzap!64. [Iain]
ZZAP!64 ran from May 1985 to March 1994, a total of 8 years and 10 months, during which time 106 issues saw the light of the day. In its turbulent history, closely following the history of one of the most loved home computers, the Commodore 64, ZZAP! went through many transformations.
The First Period: May 1985 to October 1988 (3 years, 5 months)
The first and most glorious part of its history is covered within issues 1 to 42, from May 1985 to October 1988, when the magazine was really the king in its domain – but then again, the C64 was also the home computer king during that era. ZZAP! was published by Newsfield Ltd., a company owned by Roger Kean, Oliver Frey and Franco Frey, which formed in 1983 as a mail-order software provider. In 1984 its first magazine was published, CRASH! for the ZX Spectrum, and following its great success, ZZAP!64 appeared one year later and was greeted equally warmly by the public. The secret of both magazines’ success was that they gave attention to games and only games. Up to then, all magazines included listings and other techno-stuff that were boring to the average teenager. Zzap issues of this period had an average of 130 pages and reviewed on average 28 games each month.
The first editor and designer of ZZAP! was one Chris Anderson, former editor of another magazine of the era (Personal Computer Games) that had just ceased publication. The first reviewers were Bob Wade (also from PCG), Julian Rignall, and Gary Penn (who would also handle the comprehensive games’ maps & tips section). The writer of the extensive Adventure Games’ section was Steve Cooke, who was writing the adventure section of PCG under the pen name ‘The White Wizard’. Oliver Frey, a talented artist, would handle the striking covers that left their impact during the whole life of the magazine—and also drew Rockford, star of the then hit game Boulderdash, who graced the magazine’s margins with meaningful comments on any review or feature. A fictional character called The Scorelord would host a reviewer-reader challenge on a hit game every month. The 1st issue hit the streets on 11 April 1985 with a cover date of May 1985 and a cover price of 95p.
The magazine’s approach to reviews (game description accompanied by the opinions of usually 3 reviewers next to sketches of their expressions) was revolutionary then, and would still be considered revolutionary today in any computer magazine. No wonder that the circulation numbers immediately started to grow. The games were rated by percentages on various attributes (Presentation, Graphics, Sound, etc.) with a very good game receiving a ‘Sizzler’ accolade and an excellent one a ‘Gold Medal Award’.
The first re-design of the magazine came as early as issue 4. The magazine’s offices were relocated from Yeovil to Ludlow in order for all the Newsfield magazines to be under the same roof, but both Chris and Bob decided not to follow. The new editor was Roger Kean (then also editor of CRASH!) and the new reviewer would be Paul Sumner (if he existed!). Indeed, at this point was decided to create a phoney reviewer whose bits would be written by Julian and Gary (giving him the appearance of Dominic Handy, then part-time CRASH! reviewer and later CRASH! editor). The whole thing was so well orchestrated that nobody ever found out until it was revealed by an ex-reviewer years after the magazine’s demise! Another imaginary individual, Lloyd Mangram, already used for the letters page in CRASH!, was introduced to ZZAP!, as the letters-answering front-man. The letters were previously answered by editor Chris Anderson, but from now on would be answered by the reviewers.
A new reviewer would finally join the magazine in issue 7 in the form of Gary Liddon, whose machine language skills would lead to the introduction of the first Zzap! regular technical column in issue 14. Another newcomer, Sean Masterson, would also join the magazine in the same issue and host a newly-created Strategy Games section.
Issue 9 was the Christmas Special of 1985, the first of four, and contained a record 172 pages at a cost of £1.25. Issue 10 saw the cover price increasing to £1 and the introduction of another margin character: Thing of the hit game Thing on a Spring. Its battles with Rockford for margin domination would reach legendary proportions!
The average monthly sales of ZZAP! were stated in issue 13: During the period July-December 1985 it sold 42,973 issues, 40,603 of which within the UK -- more than any other comparable title in the UK.