The Def Guide to Zzap!64

The Zzap Rrap

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PostPosted: Thu May 19, 2005 7:23 pm 
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Techno Teaboy

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Off the top of my head, a few responses to questions/opinions I’ve noticed during my first visit to the site in ages.

COVERTAPES
The “at the printers” issue was going to feature, as Ian Osbourne correctly remembered, Laser Squad. I think we’d also persuaded Julian Gollop (the game’s creator) to let us include the separate mission pack, too. I can’t remember what else we had on there. I vaguely recall ongoing negotiations to publish Mayhem in Monsterland in some form, but I think the Apex boys were disappointed by the negligible sums of hard cash both Force and Format had to offer.

By the end, the covertape budget was tiny; I’m pretty sure it had been reduced to around a thousand pounds per month, maybe less. A significant amount of my time was spent tracking down people who owned the rights to old classics, then trying to persuade them that it was worth their while to accept five hundred quid in return for the non-exclusive right to publish Game X on the Commodore Force covertape(s). In the vast majority of instances, it wasn’t. I can remember trying to get Elite for months. I can’t remember who it was that I spoke to in the end, but he laughed long and hard when I told him how much I had to spend. This was a fairly typical response

Arranging covertapes was a soul-fucking, spirit-crushing chore: lots of tracking people down and, as we didn’t have email at Impact, endless phone conversations and bouts of “fax tennis”. Quite a few Commodore Force covertape games were bought in a deal Steve Shields arranged with Beau Jolly – remember their compilations? There were a few real gems, but many of the titles were substandard, and some were embarrassingly shite. I arranged to buy a few more of their (better) games when Steve left to launch Mega Machines. This deal included Barbarian 2, which seemed a bit of a scoop, but we discovered after the issue hit the stands that Kixx – US Gold’s budget label – was still selling it at retail. Moreover, Beau Jolly wasn’t technically in a position to sell it to us. Remember that abysmal Kixx advertorial? It was either that, or have the Barbarian 2 issue pulled from the shelves…


THE “AT THE PRINTERS” ISSUE

Can’t for the life of me remember what was in it, but it was definitely smaller: down to thirty-two pages, I think. A couple of weeks (or thereabouts) before Impact closed its doors, I was called into a meeting and told that I would, from that point forward, be editing Commodore Force on a freelance basis. I was to be given a modest copy budget every month, a reasonable boost to my salary – I crossed the 10k barrier! – and was told I’d have to do a fair amount of the work “in my own time”. Impact had bought Amiga Force back in-house from Computerfacts (the contract publishing firm, later known as Rapide, that had produced it for several issues), and I was given the reviews ed job in Nick Roberts’s new team.

I can’t remember where I saw it, but I’m pretty sure someone suggested that there was an issue “in production” in addition to the finished magazine at the printers. This isn’t strictly true: I hadn’t got around to starting it. Besides, I think we all knew that Impact was fucked by that point. I don’t think anyone really worked too hard over the last (very depressing) couple of weeks.


COMMODORE FORCE: “NOT VERY GOOD”

Agreed.

I joined Impact and worked on ZZAP! issue 90 at the age of seventeen, was promoted to deputy editor within seven or eight months (after a while writing for Amiga Force), then became editor while still just eighteen. I can remember Steve Shields was keen that I get the role, and I obviously represented a “cheap” option for the Impact management: bringing an editor in from outside the company would be expensive. I was obviously keen to get the promotion, too: it seemed like a great opportunity at the time.

Soon, though, I felt like a fraud, a textbook example of the Peter Principle: promoted to my level of incompetence. I just didn’t have sufficient experience or knowledge, and the gradual haemorrhaging of staff didn’t help. It was a struggle to put each issue together, hence the number of meaningless retrospective pieces.

It’s not that the team didn’t want (or couldn’t be arsed) to take the magazine in the direction in needed to go in; just that we didn’t have the time or resources. It’s really easy to look back now and say that we should have been covering homebrew games, software produced in other countries, the demo scene, and so forth, but we just didn’t have the contacts. We relied on Dutch contributor Remi Ebus – nice bloke, and certainly knowledgeable, but his written English was a nightmare to sub every month – for the PD/demo section every month, and Brian Strain (can’t remember his real name) for the tech pages. If so much was happening in the off-the-radar C64 world, why was no one getting in touch? Lacking internet access – we didn’t even have email at Impact – how could we find out? I’ll gladly hold my hands up in a “mea culpa” style and admit the absence of such content was ultimately my fault, but I really can’t see how a small and inexperienced team could have done more.

(Incidentally, we often lied on the flannel panel – I thought it important to indicate that more writers worked on the magazine.)

I can’t read Commodore Force: I threw my copies away a long time ago. It’s embarrassing to be reminded of how bad it (and therefore, I) was. For me, it’s akin to bumping into a drunk ex-girlfriend from my teens, and being loudly reminded of my nascent sexual development in front of family and friends, BUT WORSE. Some bits were okay, and it was better than the execrable Lucy Hickman-era ZZAP!, but not by an entirely comfortable margin. Compared to the “Star Wars” of the Rignall/Penn era, and the “Empire Strikes Back” of Gordo’s time in the chair, Commodore Force is a bit “Star Wars Holiday Special”, if you know what I mean.

Oddly enough, the magazine could have followed a very different path after the departure of Steve Shields. Stuart Campbell visited Impact and was interviewed for the role of Managing Editor for both Commodore Force and Amiga Force. I don’t think he really wanted the job; he was just shopping around. Still: I wonder how that would have worked out?

Any other questions?

James Price


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PostPosted: Thu May 19, 2005 9:27 pm 
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A fantastic insight!

I've only actually read Commodore Force in recent months. I started buying Zzap at issue 2 and bought an A500 after the Gordo era (and hence migrated to Amiga only mags) so I didn't really know Zzap in the second half of its life.

Surely looking back, putting a mag together at that age, under that pressure and with those resources is something to be proud of, no? I'd have struggled putting together a half-decent newsletter, never mind a national mag.


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PostPosted: Thu May 19, 2005 11:23 pm 
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James, nice to see you here.

I was Professor Brian Strain (real name Andrew Fisher, I think we talked on the phone a few times and wrote back and forth regularly).

What can I say, but with hindsight it *could have been better*. If we'd started more in-depth technical/utility stuff earlier, got better PD coverage in there earlier, avoided the covertape cr*p a bit better...

I still have pride in what I did, but not always in what was published. (That sounds pedantic, I know, but I was only eighteen myself...)

Are you in touch with any of the others? Miles, Steve, Ian, Rob? (I've e-mailed Ian Osborne recently, he's at Datel)

Would be good to catch up on old times some time,
The Mighty Brian :D


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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2005 1:08 am 
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Techno Teaboy

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>>Surely looking back, putting a mag together at that age, under that pressure and with those resources is something to be proud of, no? I'd have struggled putting together a half-decent newsletter, never mind a national mag.

You'd think so, but I actually regret it. I speak to ex-Future friends here in Bath, and I'm envious of the time they had to develop as writers. At Impact, as with many small publishing houses, the desire to write great copy was tempered by the need to fill pages: we had small teams, and no "real" freelance budgets. Moreover, there wasn't the culture of friendly competition that seemed to exist at Future. Reading the great Future magazines of their golden age - especially Amiga Power and Super Play - you got the impression that a natural "peer review" system had evolved: good copy praised, bad copy mocked, and people genuinely caring about what they (and their colleagues) wrote. There were some capable (even gifted) writers at Impact – Chris Haywood and Al Needham spring to mind, and Phil King, though far from ostentatious, deserved far more credit for his work; there were, of course, others – but these were spread between several magazines. I think the teams at Impact were big enough to get each issue out every month, but not much more.

Thinking about it, I’m not sure who Impact could have brought in to run Commodore Force. It almost certainly needed a real C64 aficionado with an interest in programming as well as experience in day-to-day editorial work. I’m almost positive that person didn’t exist. A more experienced, non-C64-savvy editor would probably have certainly tightened up the editorial, but not much else. Who knows?

>>I was Professor Brian Strain (real name Andrew Fisher, I think we talked on the phone a few times and wrote back and forth regularly).

Hey! Good to hear from you. Andrew Fisher: of course. My most humble apologies for not remembering your name.

>>What can I say, but with hindsight it *could have been better*. If we'd started more in-depth technical/utility stuff earlier, got better PD coverage in there earlier, avoided the covertape cr*p a bit better...

So why didn’t you suggest this at the time? Seriously, this was the problem: I think everyone knew that it needed to be better, but no one was willing (or cared enough) to stand up and do the whole “I’m Spartacus!” bit.

I wanted to do a whole two-tier approach to the tech side, with a “lite” tech column featuring type-in tricks and tips – easy sound coding, scrolling routines, clever effects, collision detection, tied together with some kind of running theme – along with a more in-depth section that would be accompanied by code on the covertape. However, this wasn’t something we could do in-house, and there just wasn’t a budget to pay anyone else to do it. I *did* ask, and I’m pleased to report that – at very least – the publisher was smiling as he told me to fuck off.

As for the covertape crap: a couple of grand a month – less as time went by – didn’t give us a great deal of bargaining power. Also, I was lumbered with around a dozen games that I really didn’t want to use from the original Beau Jolly deal. I tried to bury them, and was admonished by my publisher. What was I supposed to do?

>>I still have pride in what I did, but not always in what was published. (That sounds pedantic, I know, but I was only eighteen myself...)

Bitch. ;-)

I think that a different person gave your copy a once-over every month, hence the variable outcome. I vaguely remember feeling that your column featured too much foreplay, and not enough coding money-shots – I’m pretty sure I mentioned this at the time. The modular approach was fine, but we needed more type-in code, particularly fancy tricks; you know, little routines that would make people go “Woo!” and then try to incorporate them in their never-to-be-completed homebrew games. But hey: this was a *long* time ago, and we’d obviously do everything very differently now.

>>Are you in touch with any of the others? Miles, Steve, Ian, Rob? (I've e-mailed Ian Osborne recently, he's at Datel)

Miles and I were good mates before Ludlow (has anyone heard the story of how he applied to Impact? I can’t remember if we told it in the magazine), and he and I are still in regular contact. He’s currently editor of Cube magazine at Highbury Publishing (formerly Paragon). I completely lost touch with Steve “Geezer” Shields, sadly: a great bloke who taught me loads. I’ve not spoken to Rob or Ian since Impact closed.

James


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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2005 1:26 am 
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So: it looks like Mr. Houghton was bang-on regarding your identity, then!

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PostPosted: Fri May 20, 2005 2:57 am 
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Great to see you have revealed yourself James! :)

I interviewed you a couple of years ago by email about your time at CF...

As others have said, a nice insight into working at Impact and I shall read it properly when I get up tomorrow!

:lol:

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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 10:24 pm 
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Techno Teaboy

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I'm sure this won't make you any less embarrassed about the whole thing, but: I was ten/eleven years old during the Commodore Force era, and I loved it. I liked the sense of humour, and I liked all the retrospective articles because I didn't know very much about the C64's history. I got hours of entertainment from the covertapes - thanks for Ghostbusters! (I can guess which games you weren't pleased about...) I now look back on those days very fondly.
I was stunned when I heard about Commodore Force being cancelled, and really wanted to believe that it was just a bad rumour. For a few months I kept checking the newsagent, hoping for one last issue to show up.
I've seen the earlier Zzap issues since, but... I still like the nineties version more! it's fascinating to now learn about things like the Barbarian 2 incident.
I've always regretted never writing a letter to the magazine. I suppose less people were writing in during the final days, and I probably could have been printed?


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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 10:28 pm 
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Queen Frostine wrote:
I've seen the earlier Zzap issues since, but... I still like the nineties version more!


You do read 'm, don't you!? :shock: :D

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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2005 12:44 am 
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That's sort of what I was thinking. By the last issues of CF, I was getting the magazine purely out of habit, but it took less and less time to read. Although it was an improvement over Zzap! circa issue 80, it wasn't a patch on the pre-Wynne days.

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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2005 1:36 am 
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yeah, i was hanging on to the c64 scene for dear life in the CF days, i was even buying 'the other mag'. i got so much crap at school for remaining loyal to the 64. commodore force was all there was left, until i found this site :)


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 19, 2005 5:12 pm 
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Wow, i'm really fasinated to learn about the last unreleased issues of Commodore Force.

Is there any names of people out there that might be worth contacting to find out of existance of any remains of these two magazines (Well, the At The Printers version at least). ?

James, I don't suppose you've got any names you remember from around that time that could be chased up (Staff, printer people etc) ?
I'd be happy to have a good go trying to ask around... even if the possibility of anything surviving is remote.

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 19, 2005 6:29 pm 
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Hehe, I foresee a new project/website:

'Mags that weren't!'

:D

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 19, 2005 8:39 pm 
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I have to agree with Queen Frostine, Commodore Force gave away some great games, Barbarian 2, Dan Dare, Blues Brothers, Impossible Mission 2, Hacker 2, Star Paws, Nosferatu, Driller etc, and I liked the retrospectives (as someone who wasn't there in the early days). Also, about Future, Commodore Format wasn't any better at that point..


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PostPosted: Sun Jun 19, 2005 9:53 pm 
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Mr.Zzapback wrote:
Hehe, I foresee a new project/website:

'Mags that weren't!'

:D


Don't tempt me!.. :)

But after seeing the NForce bits in Retro Gamer.. maybe anything is possible... especially a completed mag, and one that may have had a copy or two printed.... who knows...

If we can't have Daffy Duck or Murder... then lets have this instead! :lol:

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 19, 2005 11:44 pm 
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Now hold on here lads!!!

You're encroaching into my territory here, I bags first dibs on any lost Zzap / CF issues!!!

;-p


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