Gordon Houghton (Issue's 36 to 50)
Gordon joined the Zzap! team from issue 36 (April 1988) until issue 50 (June 1989). During which time he was made editor after Julian Rignall left after issue 39 (July 1988).
Here's a few questions I asked Gordon in April 1999 and the answers (makes for better reading!), a couple of new Q & A's were added in August 1999.
Name : Gordon Houghton
Age : 33
Present Occupation : Author
What were you doing before Zzap and where did you go from it ?
Before Zzap! I studied English with Kati at Oxford University. I was also a baby once, though I don't remember much about it. After Zzap!, I did a lot of freelance reviews / interviews / features for all sorts of Amiga, ST and PC magazines, before starting to write novels when I was 27. My first book, "The Dinner Party", was published last year - it's an insight into the mind of a murderer (not everyone's cup of tea, but I like it). My second is called "The Apprentice" and will be published in July this year. It's about a zombie who gets resurrected and meets the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Ideal reading for those of a nervous disposition. I also continue to review PC games for a UK computer mag called PC Gaming World, which is a lot of fun. It means I get to play games like Lands of Lore III.
How do you view your whole experience with Zzap, was it just another job or was there something special about it ?
Very positively! It was a lot of fun -- I tend to view office experiences with horror, but it was always a pleasure to work there. We often used to work until 10pm during deadline weeks, but the atmosphere was so good it really didn't feel like a chore at all. I'm talking about the people now -- Kati, Jaz, Steve, Paul, Maff, and later Paul Rand. We didn't get on so well with the rest of the company (see below). I'm also grateful to it for giving me my first real job, although Ludlow itself wasn't a bundle of joy for people in their early 20s. It's a bit of a crusty, quiet, sleepy town -- which is fine if you're a crusty, quiet sleepy kind of person. We weren't.
What was the general atmosphere in the office, did everybody get on or was there any "disagreements" between the team?
No disagreements within Zzap, except when I turned off Paul G's power supply at the wall two nights running, when he hadn't saved the reviews he was working on. He didn't laugh much about that, and I don't blame him. We also got on well with the other mags -- but there was plenty of friction with other departments. We had constant battles about colour pictures, schedules, budgets, and so on. Very boring stuff, but it seemed important at the time. Now I think we'd be a bit more professional and mature about the whole thing.
The Zzap staff used to say not very nice things in relation to your "horizontal" dimensions. Were you really as big as a hot air balloon? (as a
picture of you in one Zzap Rrap suggested!)
Well, I used to weigh 15 stones when I worked at Zzap!, and I'm not the world's tallest
guy. My excuse is there was an off licence just below the office, and it was just too tempting to exhaust their
supply of crisps and chocolate every morning... I'm thinner now; but then again, that's not hard. I think my brain
shed most of the weight.
Was there ever any pressure from advertisers when you'd give one of their games a bad review and were you always allowed to give your honest opinion of a game?
The advertising department often took the stick for bad reviews. People complained, of course, when their games got slammed -- but we tried to make sure that if we didn't like something we gave it constructive criticism. I can honestly say our reviews were always honest, although I can't help feeling we gave Hawkeye a Gold Medal when it didn't really deserve it. I also think we raved about too many Amiga games, probably because we were so impressed by the graphics and sound.
I'm aware of the Katakis covertape back in October 1988 being responsible for delaying the distribution of Zzap for more than a week (due to the legalities of it looking a "tad" like R-Type), but in the current issue of Edge (May 1999) it mentions that an issue of Zzap was delayed due to an article which slammed a rival magazine, the rival got it's hands on the article before it was published fully and took out an injunction to have the article removed, thereby delaying the magazine again. Do you know anything or this or when it happened?
Sorry, I don't know anything about that. It either happened before/after my time, or I've suppressed it and will need years of therapy to get it out... Incidentally, I missed the whole Katakis episode because I was on holiday.
About Llyod, was he a real person or as has been suggested, was he just a front for whatever members of staff at the time were doing the letters page?
Lloyd is alive and (reasonably) well, and still living in Ludlow. I hear he breeds cats and goes ballroom dancing these days, although he lost a leg a couple of years back in a horrific combine harvester accident, so his cha-cha-cha isn't all it should be.
Can you explain the whole firing instance and the events surrounding it. How did you all manage to get fired at once?
It's all become a blur... But these 'culls' seemed to happen quite often at Newsfield -- Ciaran and Gary Penn left together, then Jaz and Steve. I read somewhere that we started a revolt, but I don't think we were that cool. Nor was it that we didn't work hard enough, because we did... I don't know. Maybe we were taking the mag in the wrong direction (with Amiga reviews), or maybe we were just too argumentative -- but I can't remember anyone from Newsfield ever saying they were unhappy with our work, or offering any firm guidance. They tended to treat us like kids, so we behaved liked kids. Then again, we *were* kids.
Did they give any reasons? You just went in one day and basically they told you all that you were leaving in a week?!
We were officially made "redundant" -- i.e. our jobs were no longer needed. But of course Stuart Wynne took over as soon as we left.
I honestly have no idea why, other than the reasons I gave before. I suspect we were a disruptive force (alternatively known as creative input) -- but as managers, I believe Newsfield should have been strong enough to cope with us more effectively -- arguments in a working relationship can be a positive thing. I don't expect it helped that I told one of the managers the month before that Kati and I were going to leave by Christmas (I was trying to be helpful and give them advanced warning) -- but again, this doesn't explain why Maff was sacked. All very confusing.
Why did Zzap! get so skinny from around issue 45 onwards? Was advertising or circulation falling? I must admit I was suspicious when they stopped printing the actually ABC circulation figures.
OK, this is a tough one, mainly because I can't remember precisely why they got so thin. (Age has finally conquered my brain). Kati thinks it was connected with paper costs -- i.e. there was a sudden price rise and Newsfield reckoned that around 100 pages was the most economically-viable size. A shame really, because the 220-page Xmas issue was one of the most enjoyable things I've done...
The Christmas 1988/1989 was of the most enjoyable things that I've read, on a magazine level. It did spoil us though, because when the next months issue was only 120 or so pages and then it went down to 98 pretty quickly and never recovered, I remember hoping that the 50th issue had to be something special and was expecting a massive bumper issue, but alas it was not to be, even the next Christmas issue was just like any regular issue.
I think also, as you suggest, that advertising had something to do with it too. Despite our coverage of Amiga games, the advertisement department couldn't get any ads in because Zzap! wasn't perceived by software companies as a dedicated Amiga games mag. So, from a commercial viewpoint the Amiga review pages were a waste of space. The circulation may well have been falling also -- we were told at the time that it was in an upward spiral, but given that we were made redundant a few months later it's difficult to believe that.
Anyway, sorry to provide such a boring answer. I'd like to have said something like "Newsfield were concerned about trees, and during a heated environmental debate the management resolved to slash issue sizes by 40%". But it wouldn't be true.
Was it the view that time that Zzap would eventually turn into an Amiga only magazine
(even although it was strongly denied in the Rrap)?
It was open-ended; we thought we would see how the market developed... Personally, I wanted it to *eventually* make the switch to Amiga-only (maybe within 4-5 years), thereby keeping the Zzap! name when the C64 died; but looking back, and given the rapid success of the Amiga, this was a naive expectation. I think The One got it right, because they covered ST, Amiga and PC games until the market was big enough to support each individual machine. It was probably a sensible idea in the end to drop the Amiga coverage from Zzap! altogether, after we left -- but inevitably it made the issues permanently shorter, and I agree with you, short issues were a bummer.
I'm sure you've been asked this many times before, but off the top of your head, what
C64 games were your favourites and would any of them make it to your favourite games list today?
Here's my top 10 in no particular order (this changes from month to month):
(n.b. Rename the files you download to <file>.prg instead of <file>.zip, they aren't zipped! IB)
The Sentinel would still be up there in any list I chose; but they are all brilliantly-designed games, and apart maybe from Scarabeus and Bounces would still make it into my favourites list. It's a big favourites list, though.
Back when I was a kid, I loved playing computer games, especially on my C64, but these days I rarely play any games at all, PC or console. It is all rose tinted nostaliga or were games really better back then or maybe it's just because I've grown up now!? I ask because you were an adult (sort of! :) ) back then, so you should have a more balanced recollection of how it really was.
I don't know if games were any better then, but they were certainly simpler. There are some terrific games around now -- many of them on the PC, but also Zelda and Banjo Kazooie (N64), which are a couple of my current favourites -- but I don't think they'll ever have that innocence that c64 games had. You could still talk to the head of a company without much hassle then (not that I ever bothered much), and you had direct access to the programmers. And because the graphics and sound weren't the main thing, the design had to be very good. Looking at my Top 10, games like The Sentinel, Thrust, Tetris, Spindizzy, Dropzone and Hunter's Moon are all very simple, easy-to-understand concepts, and they're all great. As for being an adult, well, I guess we all play fewer games than we used to. But a few can still grip me now and then.
What are your opinions on emulation, do you see any harm in allowing people to play and read about games from up to 17 years ago?
Generally, I can't see any harm in it. The c64 is obsolete, and emulation just shows what a great computer it really was -- if anything, it breathes life back into it. I feel the same way about the Amiga, ST, NES, and Sega Master System emulators too -- all these computers are dead, and I can't see why their emulated hardware and software shouldn't be made freely available. It's a slightly different story with the Super Nintendo and Megadrive, which you could argue are still current; and I don't believe that releasing Nintendo 64 and Sony Playstation emulators and software on the web is fair to the hardware manufacturers or software producers for those machines, unless some form of financial compensation can be arranged.
Anything else you would like to add, about Zzap or the C64 in general?
It was a good mag and, apart from having to look at Maff every day, I really enjoyed my time there. Paul Glancey was, and still is, a particularly nice guy; although no one will tell you he is sane. As far as the c64 goes, I still have mine! So that tells you either a) that it's a brilliant machine, or b) I'm a sad bastard with nothing better to do. On the whole, probably b).
I'd like to thank you very much for taking the time to fill this out and contributing to the very important process of collecting and storing the history of Zzap! and the C64.
Check out Gordon's Webpages The Burrow (C64 and Zzap stuff is on it too) and his editorials from Zzap! or buy his books directly from Amazon.co.uk right here.
Get "The Dinner Party" or his latest novel "The Apprentice"(pictured left) from
Be sure to also check out more facts on Gordon from issue 44 and "Ten things you didn't know about GH" over at ZZAP!Back