As a punishment they ordered him to start work immediately on the new
magazine. Thus it was that a draughty, tumbledown, upstairs hideaway in an anonymous Somerset town became the new
editorial office of Zzap! 64.
Finding staff to fill it was made easier by a sad, out-of-the-blue announcement from the publishers of PCG. The magazine’s financial prospects for 1985 were said to be poor. It had to close.
One of those put out of a job was reviewer Bob Wade. He agreed to get on his bike and move West, becoming the Zzap software editor. PCG’s White Wizard also agreed to divert his outpourings on the adventure scene into the new channel.
The other two main writers on Zzap were selected for their game-playing experience and expertise. Gary Penn had played just about every game ever released on the 64 and had a personal collection of several hundred titles. Julian Rignall was the Computer and Video Games arcade champion of 1983, and the nation’s top scorer on Defender. Both were among the five finalists in the PCG competition to find Britain’s meanest player.
The team was assembled, the games played, the words written, the issue produced. Now let it be read.
The Zzap reviewing system
It won’t take you long to notice that a large part of Zzap is taken up
with reviews of new 64 games. Game reviews are hopeless unless they really do provide a RELIABLE guide to buying
games. We’ve therefore put considerable effort into planning what we believe is the best reviewing system anywhere.
Here are the key points:
1. Every game is played by THREE people. This is really the only way of avoiding inaccurate reviews caused by a single person’s quirky tastes.
2. Every game is played EXTENSIVELY. The Zzap reviewers are games fanatics who don’t know the meaning of the term ‘office hours’. Indeed, on a couple of occasions police officers have called at the office to see why the lights were on after midnight! We just say: ‘Sorry officer, but to review this game fairly we just have to reach the final screen.’
3. The SAME three reviewers play every game. The advantage of, this is that comparisons between the games can be fairly and consistently made.
4. Enormous care is taken over the RATINGS. All three reviewers give their own ratings, and then we argue. A lot. The final ratings aren’t a strict average of the three initial ratings, more a sort of compromise reached at the end of the argument. Obviously plenty of people will still disagree with our ratings, but at least we’re ready with a detailed defense!
5. Our OPINIONS on the game are stated clearly. Some magazines are forced to devote what little space they have for reviews to simply describing a game. We think you also want a clear opinion on it. That’s why on each review you’ll find comments printed in speech bubbles inked to each reviewer. In some cases our reviewers disagree, and this will be reflected in the printed comments. Where there’s more than one opinion on a game, you should know about it!
6. We try to make most possible use of SCREEN PICTURES, not just to show you the game’s graphics, but also to explain what’s on screen. That’s why you’ll find detailed captions on many screen shots.
But finally, it must be stressed again that nothing can remove the element of personal taste from the appreciation of a game. No matter how much care we take, it’s still possible you won’t agree. It’s just less likely.
The Zzap ratings
Ratings are probably the most studied part of a review. We’ve adopted what may at first seem a strange system, but we think you’ll get to like it.
Firstly, like our sister magazine Crash, all ratings are marked as percentages. The advantage of this is one of extra flexibility and precision. There is a real difference between a rating of
86% and 94% - if we were marking out of 10, both would have to be rounded to 9. Certainly it would be impossible to resolve some of our arguments over ratings if we didn’t have individual percentage points to play around with.
As to the ratings themselves, we’ve settle on seven different labels which we think cover all of a game’s good and bad points.
PRESENTATION. This is the woolliest. Basically it covers all aspects of a program other than the actual game itself. For example:
-the way the game is packaged. Does it impress you right from when you first pick it up?
-the quality of the printed instructions. Some games offer a superbly-printed booklet packed with all you need to know. Others leave you in the dark, or even worse, mislead you.
-the way the game loads. Is it fast and reliable? Is there a good loading screen?
-the way the program is presented on screen. This is the most important factor. Is there an appealing introductory sequence? Is the player offered enough playing options? Is there a two-player game? A high score feature? Are there any annoying enforced delays between games? Is the overall FEEL of the program slick or shoddy?
GRAPHICS. Fairly straightforward. How impressive are the pictures on screen? Are they large? Colourful? Detailed? Original? Is the animation good. Is movement smooth? How much variety is there to the graphics? Note: only some of these points can be jqdged by looking at a screen photograph.
SOUND. Again, straightforward. Is the sound impressive, exciting, effective, varied?
Or is it simple, uninteresting, annoying, repetitive? Is there good multi-channel music? Is there effective speech?
ORIGINALITY. Controversial, this one, since a game can be very good without being original. Indeed there are some games where originality is very hard to award, in particular where you have a conversion from the arcades or another micro by the company licensed to make the conversion.
However we think it is still a crucial rating, because there are many games whose originality is what makes them (or vice versa).
We shall use the term to mean this: how similar is this game to titles already available on the 64? In other words a company which makes a brilliantly original game on another computer and then converts it to the 64 some months later, will still get a high originality rating for the game.
Bear in mind also that what makes a game original is not so much an original scenario, but an original approach to gameplay itself.
Wanna know what drives me WILD? It’s ignorant, pompous business commentators shooting their mouths off on national TV, saying the home computer boom is OVER.
I ask you. These aging DIMWITS, who could probably handle a white stick better than a joystick, notice that Acorn have run into trouble and promptly conclude that the entire industry has had it.
As if the reason for Acorn’s troubles wasn’t obvious enough. I mean LOOK at the BBC micro. A fussy, la-di-da machine being sold at a RIDICULOUSLY high price and with only two or three decent games to run on it.
If any of these feather-brained GLOOM-mongers cares to pay a visit to Zzap! 64 and see some of the INCREDIBLE software being released these days on our VASTLY superior machine, perhaps they’d think twice before saying home computers have nothing more to offer.
Mind you, if I could get my hands on these MORONS, these BABOONS, I’d hardly be able to resist (. . .continued on P202)
-How difficult is the game to get into?
-How strongly does it grab you?
-How good does the control feel?
-Is the action fun, attractive, compulsive?
-How much do you want to keep playing?
Clearly this is a key rating. A low Hookability rating means either that the game isn’t addictive, or that it just takes ages to get into.
LASTABILITY. Another key rating. This one measures the depth of a game. How many screens are there? How many playing levels? How much long term challenge? Will you still be playing it a month after buying it?
Clearly the rating also has to take into account the Hookability rating. Here are some examples.
-A game with a thousand screens but which is completely unaddictive scores low on both hookability and lastability. (If it’s not addictive you won’t keep playing it.)
-A game which is difficult to get into, but has plenty of depth and interest once you’re into it could score low on Hookability and high on Lastability.
-A game which is incredibly compulsive but only has two screens to solve could score high on Hookability and low on Lastability.
VALUE FOR MONEY. This rating takes into account all the other ratings and also the price of the game. It is not just an average since some ratings are more important than others. It represents our overall conclusion on how good a buy a particular game is.