Interview With Rob Caporetto: The Azimuth Realigner

RobC_C64SetupIt is always a pleasure sitting down with a friend and sharing our mutual love of early 1980s micro computers. That is exactly what we are doing this time around, by putting our great friend and former C64 River Raid champion, Rob Caporetto in the interview hot seat. While we have Rob shackled in the hot seat (Ed: oo’er!), we delve into his love of retro and his indie development endeavours when BAM, he drops an exclusive bombshell on us! So what’s the exclusive you may ask? Well, all is revealed in the interview. So throw away that tabloid newspaper, turn off your C64 at the power-point end, and let’s get to know Rob that little bit better… oh yeah, and find out about this exclusive!

AUSRETROGAMER [ARG]: We’ll start this interview by asking you to tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into gaming?
Rob Caporetto [RC]: Hey Folks! My name is Rob Caporetto. By day, I work as a freelance programmer – having worked on a number of projects ranging from games, iOS applications, and even corporate web applications. By night though, amongst other things, I’m a retro computer enthusiast, indie games developer, as well as host (of sorts) of a retro-computing focused series – “Rob Plays” over on YouTube.

When it comes to getting into gaming – like plenty of other kids who were born in the 80s, it was probably by being introduced to it through other family members. In this case, it was my cousins – they had an Atari 2600 (this would probably be around the mid-80s), and when we’d visit them, I’d be watching everyone else playing games, whilst entranced by the colours and sounds. I was so young at that point, that I don’t really remember any specifics of which games they were.

The gaming bug struck at home when we got our own 2600 as a hand-me-down Christmas present from an Uncle in 1987. That came with a few games – Slot Racers, Moon Patrol, Boxing, Space Raid (a Megamania bootleg), as well as Yars’ Revenge – and from there I think it stuck. There’s something about those early games – simple sprites, booming sounds, that really made for a unique experience compared to cartoons or other media at the time.

Arcades weren’t part of the formulative experience for me – I was just too young to appreciate them, and never really visited them – save for the occasional encounter somewhere else. Though I remember Tiger Heli from one occasion early on, as well as playing Steel Talons and Gauntlet Legends when I was a bit older in the 90s.

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ARG: What made you get into the retro gaming scene?
RC: I’ve always flirted around it – having started messing about with emulators in the mid-90s, in the days when most of them were incredibly glitchy efforts. That was the era when the ‘U’ in UAE really did mean Unusable, and C64 emulators would trash the screen trying to play Pitstop II.

Getting more into the scene was something I didn’t really investigate then – mostly because enjoying old games on long-forgotten hardware was something they didn’t really get, so it was easier to just focus on it being one of those weird things I enjoyed solo so to speak *smiles*

It wasn’t until many, many, many years later than I encountered the Classic Console area at the first PAXAus – the fact that there were people who were seriously into retro gaming, and had been building up these communities were enough for me to start taking it a bit more seriously as a hobby (ARG: PAX Aus 2013 was where we first met Rob!).

From there I got going again and even into grabbing retro hardware – as I’d not really used any real hardware in years. So from there, I started getting a few other micros, grabbing a 1541 Ultimate-II for my C64, and starting to dive into things again. Through those connections, I also discovered some of the other meetups around – like the Amiga Users Group, as well as some of the demo-party events around the country like the Syntax Party.

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ARG: What inspired you to get into developing games? What games have you created?
RC: I think like a lot of us who got their hands on an 8-bit micro in the 1980s, it was really down to just being inspired by seeing that there were individuals behind these games on home computers, unlike console games where it was just a corporation. Along with that, it’s also the thrill of being exposed to an old-fashioned BASIC prompt when you started a computer up – avoiding the incomprehensible noise that was DOS, and still allowing you to interact with it in a meaningful way.

So having gotten our C64 from my uncle, I was playing about with some of the *cough*backup*cough* games we had, in particular the C64 conversion of Commando – and there was just that moment one day, after seeing the sprite glitches one too many times, that I could do it better. That I could make my own game. With no sprite glitches!

Let’s face it – as an 8-year old, without understanding assembly language, or how games are put together, that wasn’t really a feasible goal. But regardless, I pulled out the C64 manual, and standard punching BASIC code in to making some form of game. I didn’t get that far – in fact, just displaying a title screen and one row of ‘soldiers’, before it really felt like it wasn’t going to work.

Perhaps, it’s best left for the mists of time that I overwrote the tape which contained it with other things many moons ago…

From there though, I started hitting up the local library and devoured all the BASIC programming books I could get. Learning about other micros – as they had books on the ZX Spectrum, BBC Micro and Apple II series among others. Most of what I was doing there was simply typing listings and just making a few adaptions here and there, which got me interested enough in wanting to take programming as a career – so, I took it to University, and from there, working on web, mobile and eventually game projects commercially.

In terms of things I put out though – the first things I ever “published” were a couple of C64 entries in the 1999 “Crap Game Compo”. The first was “Blast that Plane!” – a simplistic take on Combat style two player shooters, with the second being “Advanced Lotto Simulator”, which as the name says, is a simplistic ‘simulator’ of a lottery draw. Those were designed to be deliberately terrible, so they’re not the most exciting things to play – but it’s amazing to find them contained within the Gamebase 64 collection.

I didn’t do much until 2009 or so – that’s where, after a few years toying about with XNA, I released “Meteor Swarm” which is my take on Asteroids, but with a few extra surprises and game modes. That’s one which can be downloaded for free from my site.

After that, I potted around with a few more prototypes, and one of those turned into the first title I attempted to sell – “Pocket Dogfights”, which was my take on an overhead shooter in the vein of Time Pilot – which wasn’t its direct inspiration, but it’s funny how things go sometimes. That’s available at here – with links to the mobile versions (which can be downloaded for free), along with the desktop versions (which are Pay What You Want, meaning one can give me a tip if one desires).

Away from my own projects, I’ve helped out on a few other games, notably Armello (where I helped finalise a lot of the user interface prior to release), as well as an in-development game titled “Ice Caves of Europa” (which has a devlog over here), in which I helped out with a bunch of mission scripting and other supporting work.

RobC_Pocket_Dogfights

ARG: You created the awesome hellfire64 YouTube channel a few years ago – tell us how that came about and what kind of videos people can expect to watch on your channel?
RC: According to the stats, I’ve had the channel for almost 10 years! But like a lot of other people, I would have originally set it up for bookmarking and commenting on other videos, way before I had thoughts of uploading my own content.

I did start out with uploading various development videos, both for “Meteor Swarm” and “Pocket Dogfights”, but after releasing the latter, that activity faded out a bit. Once I was getting my feet into retro stuff again, I did make a few attempts to do some retro related bits, but they never really got traction – so I was happy to almost leave it be for a while.

But as I met and started talking with a fellow indie developer – Kale (of Quarries of Scred fame), things started to take shape. For a brief period he was uploading videos on his own channel covering some Apple II/IIgs games which he’d enjoyed as a kid – taking a look at how they worked, and what particular traits he enjoyed and didn’t enjoy.

Some of those included ones which would get C64 conversions – and with a bit of a back and forth over Twitter, I decided to start doing a similar thing covering those, as well as some of my other favourites. It always was a bit of an exercise to take a step back – I’d been running into development troubles on the game I was working on at the time, which compounded with some struggles to find work, had put me in a less than satisfactory place.

I fired up some screencasting software, along with a C64 emulator and some old games, and looking at them with a critical eye, was something which I hoped would give me a bit more inspiration, and pull me out of a funk.

After completing that initial batch of episodes in late 2013, it became something I started taking somewhat more seriously in 2014 – whilst I started using emulation, as I had dusted the C64 off, I upgraded my process so that I would use the original hardware to capture from. That took plenty of research, but moving to real hardware was something I feel greatly adds to the legitimacy of each episode – especially after YouTube started supporting 50fps playback in late 2014.

As for the actual content? The typical content is a weekly video (usually on Friday), focusing on a particular title. The format’s a relaxed play, where I’m trying to play through it as much as I can (without cheats) – whilst commentating, and giving a mini-review, along with talking trivia and other pieces about the game.

Unlike other reviewers, I usually have played a game before I cover it – I think that actually knowing what is happening in a game (even if I’m rubbish at it) is important to show how it plays, and whether a viewer may wish to check it out!

Whilst I started off being a C64 focused channel, over the past year, I’ve expanded into covering games on several other machines: the Atari 8-bits, the Commodore Plus/4 (and C16), and the Amiga.

Besides those, there are also more scripted pieces that I release as well – these tend to focus on games where there’s something interesting (as with my look at Star Raiders II, or a compilation where there’s multiple games, like Action Extra. The format may be different, but it provides both a change from the existing content, as well as a chance for me to stretch my editing muscles.

I pick games ranging from ones I own a physical copy of (both from back in the day, to those I’ve acquired since collecting), to homebrew releases (both free and commercial), as well as classics which were made available for free. I also aim to cover a mix of the fondly remembered classic titles, as well as those which aren’t really talked about in retro gaming circles. The way I see it, it’s especially important to be able to talk about the big titles as well as the lesser known ones.

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RobC_C64_Amiga Folio Cases

ARG: What is in store for season 4 on your YouTube channel?
RC: As I’m writing this, the first episode will have gone up, covering the C64 conversion of Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. The format hasn’t changed – I’ll pick a game, fire it up, play it, go through my stash of notes, and see how far I go. Those notes are what form the ‘review’ – what I like or dislike about it, any interesting trivia, or some other resources where appropriate.

With these episodes, I’m experimenting with recording my commentary as video, not just audio – and I hope that brings an additional level of personality with both visual and aural responses as things go wrong or right in the course of a game.

I’m also working on adding some more machines to the roster I can record from – along with the ones previously mentioned (C64, Plus/4, Atari 8-bit and Amiga), I’m hoping to be able to cover games on the ZX Spectrum (via my AV-modded rubber-keyed 48k model), as well as MSX (via a recent acquisition of a Spectravideo SVI-738) – though I obviously need more games! I’d like to also include the rest of my machines, but that’s dependent on being able to upgrade my capture hardware to do so.

I’ll also continue to do scripted review episodes – they’re great for covering a game in a more consise manner, as sometimes for a more in-depth game, a lengthy play video may not the most exciting of videos to watch. Plus, they free me up to cover more details – as with my Star Raiders II review, where ~40 minutes of gameplay footage, turned into something which was much shorter, and allowed me to show off its origins, as well as the C64 conversion!

Plus, depending on what homebrew competitions are held this year, I’d like to do review specials on the submitted entries, much like I did last year with the RGCD C64 16k Compo – and I’d like to extend this to other platforms I cover if I can.

There are some other ideas I’d like to throw about – doing a Let’s Play series on some games, maybe tidbits on development, plus some hardware related bits, but for now, I’d consider them as secondary content for the channel – so it really depends on what happens time-wise more than anything.

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ARG: What other projects / work have you got on the go?
RC: Away from the channel, the first thing is of course that I’m one of the writers for the C64 fanzine Reset. My contributions here are focused on game reviews, as well as chairing a column titled the “Reset Rewind”. For that, I pick a random (usually less popular) title which has some connection to the underlying theme of the issue, and ask the other writers to play it, and write up their thoughts on it.

Other than that, I’ve been working on a small game the last few months as a side thing (whilst I’ve been between contracts). (ARG: And here it comes folks, the world exclusive –>) It’s titled Backfire – it is a game of arcade action, where the act of firing your blaster propels you around the playfield (with the power of physics), and you must use this to defy avoid the enemy craft and blast them for points. It grew out of a few ideas I had with wanting to do a different take on the classic twin-stick shooter, and wanted to try something which would be familiar but different. As it’s been quite a few years since I’ve worked on a game of my own, I wanted to try and put into practice some of the things I’ve seen since doing the reviews on the channel.

I’ve got some early footage of Backfire on my channel and I’m hoping to have more to show of it in the near future before I release in the next few months. Right now, I’m planning a release for PC and Mac, but depending on how it goes, other platforms are always an option!

The world exclusive – Rob’s new Backfire game!
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ARG: What is your home/games room set-up like? Any potential consoles/systems you are targeting to get in 2016?
RC: Sadly, my set-up isn’t the best – the side effect of living in a bit of a shared spaces with others.

Instead of a games room, I have a “games table” in one of our open spaces, which I place the machines I’m currently playing around with. Right now, that’s currently the C64, my BBC Master 128, and my Atari 800 XL. The C64 is there for obvious reasons, the BBC Master has its place simply because it’s the biggest retro computer I own, and finally the Atari 800XL is there because of Star Raiders, along with many other games I’ve been enjoying of late.

If I want to check out other systems, I’ll swap them out, usually temporarily whilst I bring the other machine in. That also applies to when I’m recording episodes – I usually need to swap out the other machines with my MacBook Pro for recording – which of course makes set-up and tear-down for that a little more complicated.

The other micros and hardware I own are stored away in tubs, which tends to be a very handy way of storing all the necessary gubbins when I have to take them aside.

The games are sorted in similar ways, though I do have a bunch of closet space which I have my boxed titles placed in. At least that way, they’re visible enough when I need to find them, and can keep them together – which is not quite the way I had my original titles go.

Despite collecting physical titles – the biggest boon I have with doing the series is adopting flash storage mediums where appropriate. I don’t think I’d be as productive without devices like the 1541 Ultimate-II on the C64, the SIO2SD on the Atari computers, or Compact Flash adapters on the Amiga and BBC Master.

For 2016? I’ve not really planned out what I’m after actually. The only real 8-bit I’d like for the collection is one of the Apple II line, particularly the IIgs, as I grew up with those back in primary school. I want one really because of how important they were to the early US gaming scene – a lot of great titles which came out of the US were originally written for the Apple line, and it’d be great to play those on proper hardware, instead of emulation – and I find there’s not a lot of good coverage of older US games online, and I’d love to help turn that around a bit.

A more important goal is to work on acquiring more titles for some of the machines I own – in particular for my MSX, as well as for the BBC and Atari machines – both of those I really enjoy using. My final goal is to upgrade my capture hardware, so I’ll be able to capture all the machines in my collection. The downside is what I need to actually achieve this is a bit of an expensive prospect, so it’s a lower priority compared to acquiring titles though.

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ARG: Now we get into the harder questions – do you have a favourite system? We’ll accept more than one, but you better have a good reason!
RC: Obviously, it’s not going to be a surprise for me to state my absolute favourite will always be the Commodore 64.*high five*

Like all 8-bit micros, there’s always that struggle between the capabilities and limitations of the system. It certainly has some big limitations, with the slowest CPU speed, along with being hobbled by the 1541 disk drive (turbo loaders helped but not enough sometimes), and it’s not so great BASIC. But when you look at what the SID chip brought to computer music and chiptunes, along with what the VIC-II offered for game graphics, it provides the perfect balance for gaming at least from the 8-bit era.

Whilst not as important to me, I’d say my favourite console is probably the Atari 2600. I think a lot of that just has to be at the wizardry which was needed to make a game on it. The raw nature of the hardware meaning that programmers had to time things to significant detail for a stable screen means that it was pushed well beyond its expected end of life. In fact, even now, there’s some amazing homebrew titles which are still being developed out there. A machine powered by the most extreme black magic if you ask me!

Then there’s handhelds, and I’d say it’s the Game Boy Advance. Sure, it was my first handheld system, but the GBA got me through a lot of commuting during my final year at university, and in some of my early years out in the workforce. There were so many wonderful games on that system which I got a lot of play out of – the Metroid titles, the Advance Wars series, and so many more which made it a worthwhile platform for 2D gaming in those days.

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ARG: Do you have a favourite games genre and/or a particular game that you keep going back to (if so, why)?
RC: Genre-wise, there’s a few which I tend to enjoy. My favourites tend to be blasters or shmups of various kinds – they’re probably some of the best for just picking up and getting a good play session in without too much remembering where I was up to. Arcade wise, it’s games like Time Pilot, Tempest, Asteroids, Capcom’s 19xx series, Sinistar, Bosconian and more.

I’m also a fan of a good racer – these days, I think it’s more arcade style ones than the simulators – mostly because of time, but there’s nothing that can be said for the virtual thrills of a blue sky in games, whilst tearing away at ridiculous speeds through awesome scenery. The original Out Run (either its arcade or 3DS forms), Stunt Car Racer and the earlier F1 Grand Prix games by Geoff Crammond are certainly my favourites there.

Then there’s probably my big love which is for space combat simulators. There’s something incredible with taking the helm of a space fighter, blasting out into the unknown and taking on enemy fighters. Whether it’s something like Star Raiders or Elite, the atmosphere is something which can’t be beaten for me on so many levels. I think those grew out of playing a lot of flight simulators as a kid – but they tend to be a bit more focused than more convential flight simulators.

Outside of those games mentioned earlier, I always find myself going back to Paradroid, which is probably my absolute favourite with its blend of action and tactical gameplay. Starship Command (for the BBC Micro) is one which combines my love of space combat with the love of blasting, also with this amazing blend of tactical play. Then there’s The Dreadnaught Factor (for the Atari 8-bits) which is a shmup where you’re trying to take out a gigantic starship.

There’s probably more, but those happen to be the ones which spring to mind when I sit down with this on. So many games, so there’s probably some which I’ve forgotten though!

RobC_Assorted C64 Games

ARG: And finally Rob, where can people get in touch with you or check up on what you are up to?
RC: I guess the first port of call is the YouTube channel – the “Rob Plays” episodes are usually published every Friday evening (Australian time), so the best way to keep up to date with them as they go out is to go and subscribe to the channel. If you’re enjoying what I do over there, and want to support it in a more active way (and get early access to upcoming episodes and warm fuzzy feeling of helping a smaller channel thrive), then I have a Patreon page for it.

For those of you on Facebook, you check out my page – alongside promoting videos, I use it as a way to share any retro pickups I’ve gotten, link to various cool pieces of retro homebrew, or retro computing pieces that I find across my travels online.

For development projects – I guess the best port of call is on Twitter. Among other things, that’s where I tend to share most of my development pieces – at least for my own projects.

As for being able to check out my games, there’s links to my blog for most of them, but I also publish on itch.io (an indie games storefront) – where you’ll see the stuff I’ve put out, and hopefully consider buying my titles as they’re released!

Finally, I just want to thank everyone out there for all their support – whether by purchasing my games, watching/sharing/commenting on my videos, or supporting what I do via Patreon. One thing that’s amazing about the internet is that it’s possible for niche things to thrive in, especially with the support of fans who appreciate them!

RobC_Getting down to Recording (2014)

As is always the case with interviews, they have to stop at some point. As much as we would like to keep Rob in the hot seat and probe him some more, we must allow him to get back to his classic gaming duties! As we unshackle Rob and thank him for his time, we thought we would share a few more photos of Rob’s exquisite collection of retro systems and awesome games – let the drooling continue!

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RobC_More Tapesimage source: Rob Caporetto

 

Blast From The Past: A Zzap! Retrospective

reset64In issue 6 of Reset, it was abundantly clear which C64 related magazine the staffers held most dear – the one and only, Zzap!64. How apt then that we are celebrating all things Zzap for this issue of Reset!

While indulging in Zzap!64 nostalgia, we take the staffers down Memory Lane to reminisce about this once-mighty British gaming magazine and how we discovered it all those years ago. The first cab off the rank with their story is me!

Upon discovering micro computers in the mid 80s, I was thirsty to learn more about these new machines and their wares. Once I found out that there were magazines filled to the brim with news and game reviews dedicated to these computers, I knew I had to hit my local newsagency to see what was on offer. Since I had a C64, my natural inclination was to look for the latest C64-centric magazine. Being in Australia, it meant that the latest British magazines were always three months old. We didn’t care about this, we just wanted to get our grubby mits on the latest issue, no matter how old it was. Among the gaming magazines on the newsstand, one mag stood out head and shoulders above the rest – well, its cover stood out! The magazine in question was Zzap!64 (oh those beautiful Oli Frey covers!). All wide-eyed, I immediately grabbed the issue and started flicking through its pages. The newsagent wasn’t impressed with me being in there for over an hour reading the magazine cover to cover. The secret to the Zzap!64 formula was its great writers – they knew how to draw you in and hang on their every word, guys like, Julian ‘Jaz’ Rignall, Paul Glancey, Gary Penn and Gordon Houghton were wordsmiths like no other. To say I was hooked, would be a great understatement. From that day forth, Zzap!64 became my monthly bible for C64 information (well, it was till its demise).

As we keep traveling down Memory Lane, I realise I have rambled on for too long and ask the rest of the Reset staff to share their personal Zzap!64 stories. Here we go!

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Rob Caporetto: Coming late in the grand scheme of things (1989), I missed a lot of the early buzz around Zzap and it’s early peers. So, the first time I heard about it was after buying some other mag, which after showing to my ‘cool’ cousin at the time, told me was rubbish and I should have gotten Zzap instead…

Advice I’d forgotten about… until early 1992. I was at one of my local newsagencies, and I saw Issue 79 – the first of the post-Newsfield issues. Seeing that Oli Frey art (tying into the Smash TV review in the issue), and of course Megatape 23, with Boulderdash 4 (and Construction Kit) & Spy vs. Spy 2 both giving me plenty of play time.

As a kid without much pocket-money, especially in an era where finding C64 titles to purchase was becoming tougher, it rapidly became my source for reading about the newest releases & other aspects of C64 life. Plus, the Megatape

Whilst it had its ups & downs, when it made the transition into Commodore Force, it stabilised and became a solid read each month. Despite the name not having the same character, features like “Back to the Feature” covering earlier years of the C64’s history (and some of the hits & misses of the era), along with peeks into the demoscene, and the return of “Diary of a Game” to cover the development of Lemmings.

I’ve been lucky to read some of the early issues recently, and whilst I’d have loved to have been old enough to enjoy it during the C64’s heyday, I think it’s as special in its own way to be there at the C64’s twilight.

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Cameron Davis: I blame my baby brother for all of this! He was born in 1985, and I was eleven years old at the time – a once-promising smart kid who had been bitten by the gaming bug and spent his weekends alone in his room writing imaginary BASIC programs on dozens of exercise pads. I didn’t actually own a computer, but I excitedly studied those Usborne “write your own game” books for every technique I could find and entertained the notion I could make my own games one day.

My parents had heard that older siblings often felt left out when a new baby arrives, so they bought me my very own Commodore 64 to help keep me entertained. It was the C model and had a tape drive and I could plug it into the dodgy 14” TV I was given a year previously and I could not think of anything I could ever want more again. I told my parents that the only games I would be playing on it would be ones I wrote myself. They smiled politely and had no idea what I was talking about. I guess they were just glad I wasn’t riding BMX bikes to breakdancing parties while huffing paint or whatever kids did back in the ‘80s.

I spent that summer holiday laboriously typing in all those BASIC games I wrote, trying to run them, debugging them and then saving them to tape. They were all terrible. Text adventures that were more like simple Choose Your Own Adventure stories with worse writing. Overhead racing games that stored every possible outcome as a separate screen (what the hell was I thinking?!). A strategy game where you choose which country to nuke and then saw where the radiation cloud went (I worried about Chernobyl a lot). And so on. Rotten stuff but good God I was a happy camper for the first few weeks.

It seemed like half the kids in my school had gotten a C64 over the Christmas break – schoolyard conversations changed from Ghostbusters the movie to Ghostbusters the game, and copies of Commodore User, C&VG and Zzap! 64 were passed around and devoured like they were made of curry, hot dogs and pizza at the same time. This was valuable intel. Nobody seemed to know where the magazines came from, but we knew they were full of powerful secrets that we had to keep safe at all costs.

Curious, I started peeking over people’s shoulders while they read the latest issues. It wouldn’t hurt to see what games are out now, right? Just for research purposes of course, to inspire my game programming skills.

I didn’t know what most of the games were about, but I quickly learned which ones were worth playing, and which magazines were worth reading. Those wacky reviewer heads and in-jokey cartoon drawings of Thingy and Rockford in each Zzap! 64 review were so much more inviting than the text-heavy competition. C&VG felt like a bore in comparison. Heck, CU felt more like a games-themed issue of Smash Hits magazine than a gaming publication. Zzap! 64 was filled with photographs of reviewers and developers hanging out and playing games all day – how cool would that be to do, we all thought!

I started playing the real games that got the coveted Sizzlers and Gold Medals. I had to know. How were such amazing things as sprites and sound effects and scrolling possible? I kept hoping that if I pressed Run/Stop I could get a LISTing of all the program to study. I had no idea about Machine Code. There were no books in my library about this stuff and I didn’t know anyone I could learn from. I quickly hit a wall in my fledging game programming career so started picking up the joystick for a quick game of whatever I could find or borrow more and more often.

C64 magazines started appearing next to the comics at my local newsagent. The first issue of Zzap! 64 I picked up was issue 35, with Apollo 18 on the cover, and it was a revelation. All these games I could buy! All the lingo to learn. Shmup. Aardvark. Coin-op conversion. Oh man.

Every month a new issue of Zzap! 64 appeared, containing all the reviewer’s worldly wisdom that I just had to know. What games were cool now? Which ones were to be avoided? In the wild west of early computer gaming, Zzap! 64 was the lawbook, and I was a devoted reader. It’s hard to pin down my favourite era – I stuck with the mag from that point on – but it’s hard even now for me to put down an issue from the Gordon Houghton era. The energy, humour and giddy enthusiasm for gaming is still infectious, and the C64 played host to some tremendous games that I still fire up today.

My career as a game programmer was clearly doomed from that point on. On the upside my brother and I got to spend years playing all the great games that Zzap! 64 introduced me to.

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Frank Gasking: I was very late to the Zzap party (as I was to the C64), and didn’t discover the magazine until issue 78, where the cover depicting Terminator 2 had grabbed my attention. I was starting to get into magazines, as being on a small budget – the cover tapes were a real draw, and Zzap’s was no exception that month. It was here that I discovered Spy Vs Spy for the first time and fell in love with the series and then got to enjoy a magazine which was very different to Commodore Format (which I had also started getting around the same time). The magazine felt glossier compared to Commodore Format, but the content not quite as good and seemed to be aimed at the older reader. What I didn’t know at the time was that Zzap had been on a decline and wasn’t anywhere near as good as it used to be.  Still, I enjoyed the magazine and took to the idea of getting both Zzap and CF every month. Issue 78 was ironically though to be the last issue published by Newsfield, so when I couldn’t find the next promised issue – I had assumed it had died a death. A few months later, and missing an issue – I discovered the magazine had resurfaced.  So my (short) journey with Zzap began.

Things got a little crap unfortunately with the inclusions of Miss Whiplash, but I managed to see a period where things improved vastly. The magazine went full colour, and then expanded in page size and doubled its cover mount. Due to mostly buying the magazines for their cover mounts, this was my favorite period of Zzap at the time – where I discovered games like Silkworm, Cops and Ninja Warriors for the first time and for a bargain price. The journey was short, as issue 90 was to be the last ever issue of Zzap. Next issue saw a transformation into Commodore Force, which was an era I actually enjoyed very much (even though the ardent Zzap readers were not so keen). The cover mounts were even more impressive, but little did I realize was it down to the dwindling market! It wasn’t until the later years that I picked up back issues and saw the amazing 1986/87 era, where the pages were full and alive and so many games were coming out every month.  It was then I realized the truly great era of Zzap and just how much I had missed.

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Andrew Fisher (MERMAN): We got our first C64 in 1985, and we’d read a few issues of Your Commodore. Then one evening Dad brought home a different mag – issue 18 of ZZAP!, with the gory Beyond the Forbidden Forest cover by Oli Frey. It looked cool and there were so many great games reviewed in that issue, including Super Cycle. But it was almost a year later when I next bought a copy – while on holiday, issue 28 was purchased and read repeatedly. That issue had two amazing games, Head Over Heels and The Last Ninja.

In issue 28 there was a subscriber’s offer – buy 12 issues and get a FREE Quickshot VIII Joyball. This looked like a giant trackball but acted like a stick, rocking in four directions. Our subscription started with issue 31 and the 3D tips supplement.

Fast-forward to a much later issue and a reader’s survey – what did readers want? A suggestion for a technical column lead me to write to the editor Phil King, suggesting I could write it – enclosing a dummy column illustrated with pictures cut out of back issues. Steve Shields replied, telling me I would start work when the magazine rebranded as Commodore Force. I wrote as Professor Brian Strain for 16 issues, then made my reviewer debut in 2005’s Def Guide to ZZAP! (given away with Retro Gamer magazine).

My favourite era has to be 1988, culminating in the immense Christmas special (issue 44). A great year for games including Armalyte and Great Giana Sisters, plus so many great features alongside the reviews.

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Kenz / Psytronik: I was a big Sinclair ZX Spectrum fan before I got into the C64 scene and was an avid reader of CRASH magazine.  This was until a friend of mine showed me his C64 and I was totally blown away by games like Uridium and Paradroid etc.  From that moment I desperately wanted a C64 but life dealt me an unexpected card – my dad bought me an Amstrad CPC!!  Although it wasn’t the C64 I craved I duly immersed myself in the Amstrad scene and migrated from CRASH to AMTIX magazine.  I eventually saved up enough money myself and bought my beloved C64.  It was a very exciting time for me as I was now officially a C64 owner and so I went out and bought the current issue of Zzap!64 that was available – issue 13 (the one with the zombies on the cover).  I still have that very issue (carefully stored in a proper Zzap! binder) and still get a buzz looking through it as it brings back memories of when I first became a proud C64 owner.

My favourite era of the mag is definitely the early few years (the Julian Rignall / Gary Penn / Gary Liddon era), those early issues had a great sense of fun to them and I loved the wacky photos depicting the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes, it looked like everyone involved with the mag was having a great time!  I would buy every issue as soon as it came out and scour the reviews to see what C64 games were worth buying (usually anything with a sizzler or gold medal award).  I would also pay particular attention to the rating the sound received as I was (and still am) a huge SID music fan.  There are plenty of games in my collection that I bought purely because Zzap! gave the music a high rating – including some dubious games with AMAZING soundtracks (Knucklebusters, I’m looking at YOU!).

Something else that comes to mind when I think about Zzap!64 are the AMAZING airbrushed covers painted by Oliver Frey.  I was lucky enough to meet Oliver (along with Newsfield co-founder Roger Kean) at the Revival retro events and it was great to chat with them both about the good old days of Zzap!64.  One of my proudest moments in the running of Psytronik Software has been getting permission to feature amazing artwork by Oli on the Psytronik releases ‘Ultimate Cops’, ‘the Shoot ‘Em Up Destruction Set 3’ and the upcoming releases of the ‘Kung Fu Maniacs Trilogy’ and ‘X-Force’!

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Kevin Tilley: I first discovered Zzap!64 after exploring a newsagency in Ocean Grove after a school excursion. At the time, I had no idea there were magazines like Zzap!64. Instead, I was used to the more serious nature of mags such as Compute! and Australian Commodore Review. This was just about the time I was earning my own money from my first part time job while still at school, and I was beginning to buy my own original C64 games from the local K-Mart after years of pirating (not having any clue of how naughty it actually was!).

I remember in the weeks before at a computer club meeting my father had taken me to, some of the older guys were demonstrating the brand new, just released C64 Terminator 2, and I was blown away. THAT INTRO!!! Well, imagine my surprise when I saw that cover, Zzap!64 issue #78, with Terminator 2 on the front and a tape!! Yes, a freakin tape, they were giving away games!!  Jackpot! After flicking through the mag, I was stunned at the amount of games there were and I felt like I wanted them all! In the months to come, I actually bought a few from that very issue! But, it was Terminator 2 that I wanted, and loading up that tape and seeing that intro on my own C64 was a magical moment. My next original game purchase was indeed Terminator 2, which I still proudly have on my shelf to this day. Zzap would only last another issue or two before Newsfield went under, so I think in the end I only ended up with a handful of issues, maybe a few more when it reappeared under the Europress banner.

My favourite Zzap era? In retrospect, having read through the classic issues years later, the best era for the mag is clearly when Jaz Rignall was at the helm. However, those few issues of Zzap I got  will always remain prized possessions, given that they introduced me to C64 games magazines and opened up a whole new world for me. After that, it was Commodore Format all the way, although I did also get Commodore Force for their excellent cover-tapes *smiles*

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Anthony Stiller: I always loved going to the newsagency. Comics, magazines, books. I could spend hours in there.

Our family had only just bought our first C64 (ok, our second as the first was faulty) which in itself was a bit of a story. I loved it dearly and the games on it, even the bad games, were amazing.

But, while my friends also had C64s (except for that one guy with the Speccy) they weren’t really into it like how I was. I read every scrap I could about it and the games on it. I wanted to know what was being made for it. Who made them. How.

I’d seen other “personal computer” magazines, of course. Some seemed very adult and business-like and boring, others were full of listings and short reviews and that was great and all but …

Oh, what is this? Glossy. A beautiful painted cover of spaceships and explosions. Zzap! 64? That sounded … exciting. It looked like a comic book. But for the C64. That cover art. I flicked through the magazine. Immediately found the Elite spread. I already knew that I would love that game.

Onwards, blurring through the pages. Stopping at more sketches of people, like in a comic book. Wait. Those are the reviewers! It’s like I knew them already. There’s the grumpy one and there’s the cool one.

Back to the cover. The Elite review. Back to that beautiful cover again. I reached for my thin wallet.

As time passed I would continue to cherish each Zzap! 64 mag and I can still recall the anticipation of hoping to see a new Oli cover standing out on the shelves.

The Houghton era would be the one that I would come to love the most. The gang seemed just like regular people, like they could be your mates, having a bit of a laugh while you play Spindizzy together.

But for now I paid the newsagent five dollars and took my Zzap! 64 issue 1 and stepped out of the store and into the sun.

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Ah, the love of Zzap!64 shines through and through! Even after 30 years, everyone that remembers the mag speaks fondly of it – that is a true testament to a great magazine! Zzap! (and everyone involved with it) has always been deserving of all the plaudits thrown its way. The mag always knew how to engage with its target audience and by doing so, it was an expert at extracting your hard earned out of your pocket to feast your eyes on its pages. Long live Zzap! (and Reset)!

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image source: Reset and The Def Guide to Zzap!64