Reset Podcast Episode 01: The Hewson Episode

reset_podcast_eps1_hdrIf you have ever wondered what shenanigans go on behind the scenes in creating a retro computing magazine, then you are in luck! For those of you in the know, the Reset magazine crew got together for the inaugural podcast of the same name to chat about the making of Reset issue #9 (it was the Hewson Consultants theme issue).

If you weren’t in the know, now you know! Listen in and make sure you grab the issue for free over here!


source: Reset on Soundcloud

 

Blast From The Past: Hewson Consultants

BFtP_Hewson_HDRThere were a number of big name publishers back in the day that had multiple chart toppers with an equal share of stinkers on the Commodore 64. The exception to this rule was Hewson Consultants (or simply Hewson as we affectionately called them). With absolute classics like Uridium, Paradroid, Ranarama, Cybernoid (this list could get quite exhaustive, such was their pedigree), Hewson was always going to leave a delectable and an ever lasting legacy on the C64. Their games had an undeniable quality to them which is probably why they are still spoken of so fondly even to this day, which is testament to the top notch software they pumped out for the 8-bit Commodore behemoth.

With a ton of games to choose from, our favourite Hewson title was the 1987 hit, Nebulus! We were suckers for brain teasing platform games, and Nebulus provided a mind bending experience in spades. The central character, Pogo was so damn cute and yet so very deadly – once we took control of him, we were addicted. Moving Pogo and jumping over obstacles to try and get to the top of each tower felt as natural as breathing. We remember the first time we saw the tower spin as Pogo walked left and then right, we were all wide-eyed with mouth open as if we were swallowing flies! This innovation was refreshing and executed inch perfect, which only Hewson could pull off.

To read the rest of this story, grab Reset #9 now and turn to page 28! Oh yeh, Reset is totally free!

For the latest on Hewson Consultants projects, check out their Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight now!

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Reset C64 Magazine Issue 8: It’s Adventure Time!

Reset_issue8_titleReady, (Re)Set, Go! Rejoice C64 fans as issue 8 of the world’s most awesome free C64 magazine, Reset, is out now! Grab yours right now and go on a great adventure down memory lane.

In this issue, the Reset team take a look at Heroes & Cowards (Protovision), as well as Caren and the Tangled Tentacles (PriorArt) and Knight ‘N’ Grail (Psytronik). Ant Stiller delves deep into the murky depths of the D42 Adventure System and Ray Carlsen returns to tell us all about his replacement PLA chip. Martin Grundy makes his Reset debut, taking us back 30 years to January 1986 in his Reset Reloaded column. All your regular columns, news and reviews are still in there for this issue, so don’t miss out!

 

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

Reset C64 Magazine Issue 7 Out Now!

Reset_issue7_TitleExtra! Extra! Read all about it! Get your Reset issue 7 now, it is totally free! Extra! Extra!

Just when you thought that the free C64-centric magazine couldn’t get any better. Pow! Right in the kisser! Issue 7 of Reset celebrates the 30th anniversary of Zzap!64 with an awesome front cover by Ant Stiller channeling Oli Frey, and contributions from former Zzap!64 writers and editors, you will not be disappointed. All your regular columns, news and reviews are still in there for this issue, so don’t miss out, go and download the mag now!

Reset_back_coverimage source: Reset

 

C64 Game Review: Rocket Smash Ex

Rocket_HDRGET READY Commander 64! Fly up, down, and all around, avoid the aliens or pew pew pew them with your screen penetrating laser! Scramble around the stage to collect rocket pieces to reassemble your rocket to freedom. But wait, there is more! Once the rocket is assembled, it will need to be fully fuelled (via dropped fuel cells) so you can make your escape and land on the next challenging stage!

To keep things interesting and to get the adrenaline pumping, you will need to get the objectives completed before your oxygen runs out. Alas, oxygen cells do fall from the top of the screen, so grab them to ensure you keep going, otherwise, it is curtains for Commander 64! Oh yeh, if you collide with an alien, it is instant death! Sounds all easy aye? With three difficulty levels, you will probably find yourself playing Rocket Smash Ex in either easy or normal mode. For those sadists among you, try the hard mode!

Enter the Charlie-Bravo-Mike system if you dare. Rocket Smash Ex is a frantic shoot’em-up come semi-puzzle-assembler where your twitch reflexes will be tested to the max. The control is sublime and feels second nature. The single screen gameplay is complimented by satisfying music (you’re feet will be tapping in no time) with awesome meaty sound effects. Rocket Smash Ex is exactly what your C64 is craving for – it is simply brilliant!

For more information on Rocket Smash Ex or to download the game, visit RGCD.

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image source: RGCD

Blast From The Past: Oo’er, Magazines

BFTP_Magazine_HDRVideo gaming magazines may become a thing of the past, but in the 80s and 90s they were thriving publications, full of information for gamers hungry for news, interviews, reviews & previews. The words contained within these magazines were the lifeblood for readers wanting to be connected and up to date on the goings on in the industry and their particular system(s) of choice.

The magazines were household titles and the British seemed to have had a monopoly on churning out quality publications – from their mesmerising covers to their ribald humour, there were many ingredients that endeared us to their magazines. I vividly recall rushing to the newsagent every month to grab the latest Zzap!64 (or simply just, Zzap!), Your Commodore, Your 64, Commodore Format and C&VG (Computer and Video Games). The cover price wasn’t cheap and they were three months old by the time they reached our shores, but goddamn they were worth every cent (and the wait)! Who could forget Yob ripping into the punters that dared to send in mail – absolutely priceless! I tried reading a few US based magazines, with the exception of RUN, I found the rest to be too serious, too dry and devoid of humour and fun, so the British magazines reigned supreme in this part of the world in the 80s and early 90s.

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I knew it was going to be interesting when I posed the question of “what was your favourite Commodore 64 related magazine” to the Reset team. Once the dust settled and the passionate discussions quietened down, this is what each of them had to say about their favourite old school magazines:

Rob Caporetto: As a kid, I missed out on the golden age of C64 magazines (considering, I’m only a few years older than Zzap!, that shouldn’t be a surprise), so coming into things later on did make for a unique perspective on things.

I started out by borrowing a fair few issues of RUN from my local library. With its angle being less games, and more general Commodore usage, it was great to see a wider angle of the landscape (including more exotic peripherals), as well as learn some programming bits and pieces.

Games-wise, the first mag I really got into was Zzap! – even though it was way after its heyday (and in fact, probably at its lowest point, though it recovered a bit before changing into Commodore Force). It was solid enough, and whilst there were features I liked more than others (mainly the roundups covering genres or highlights in the C64’s history), it was solid enough reading each month.

I got into Commodore Format a bit later (mainly as it was trickier to find for a while) and overall, I think it was the better read at that point. Having regular columns devoted to programming tricks was great when starting to try and get a grip on C64 programming, along with Gamebusters (hey, I appreciated having cheat listings for the cover tape games for a change). Though, I do remember seeing the start of its descent as the C64 market died off – and of course was shocked to see how long it eventually survived for!

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Kevin Tilley: I was a bit late to the party for the UK gaming magazines. By the time I discovered Zzap! and Commodore Format, they were already in decline and their best years were well behind them.  But before that, my father used to religiously buy Compute’s Gazette! – which is the magazine I remember most fondly. Originating from the US, I grew up with this magazine, its type-ins and cover disks (which I could also use with my VIC20!). I spent countless hours typing in many programs in BASIC and machine code via Automatic Proofreader and MLX respectively, with my father. Not just games, but other programs such as Speedscript, which I went on to use for many years to publish school projects. The articles were informative and challenging.

Compute’s Gazette was a wealth of useful information, not just a collection of cheap gags, innuendo and mediocre game reviews which plagued the later era of UK gaming magazines. It had depth and substance, and will always be my favourite of the many different C64 publications I purchased over the years.

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Merman: The first C64 magazine I saw was Zzap! issue 18, with the gory Beyond The Forbidden Forest cover. 25 years later I got to interview the artist Oli Frey and publisher Roger Kean at the Replay retro event, talking about the history of their magazines.

After buying a few issues of Your Commodore (which swallowed up Your 64), we subscribed to Zzap! from issue 31, getting a free Quickshot Joyball with the subscription. Zzap! became our guide to buying good games and it rarely steered us wrong. What made it special was the way there was more than one opinion on a game.

My first brush with publications came through Commodore Disk User. Starting out bi-monthly, this publication came with a disk full of programs (to save you typing them in) then became monthly and asked for reader submissions. I sent several programs, got signed contracts for publication – and then suffered the heartache of seeing the company fail.

Then in 1993, after a brief gap when Newsfield became Europress Impact, two things happened – I wrote to Zzap! suggesting a technical column, after their reader survey had asked if people would be interested. My letter went to Phil King, but it was Steve Shields who wrote back telling me about the other big news – Zzap! was rebranding itself as Commodore Force, and my technical column would feature from the first issue.

I wrote for all 16 issues of Commodore Force incorporating Zzap! as Professor Brian Strain (the Mighty Brian, so-called because of Commodore Format’s Mighty Brain). In fact, I wrote an extra 3 pages for issue 17 at 48 hours notice – but with deadlines close, that text became part of issue 16. I was a freelancer, writing my text using a C64 word processor (Word Writer v5) and printing it out to send in. The magazine closed, I wrote for several issues of Commodore Format before it closed and years later I became a regular on Retro Gamer. It was Retro Gamer that gave me the chance to be a Zzap! reviewer, appearing in the incredible DEF Tribute to Zzap! supplement.

I will always remember Zzap! for giving me the chance to be a professional writer, even if it can be a precarious profession at times.

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Frank Gasking: In a typical UK answer, my favourite two magazines were both Commodore Format and Zzap! (later Commodore Force).  I had previously read Lets Compute! and Your Commodore, which were shockingly bad at the time, but the main pull for Your Commodore was the free tape on the front.

Commodore Format caught my eye due to its brightly coloured red and white banner head. I spotted it in my local newsagent when I had popped down to get some sweets. I ended up buying issue 11 (with the Terminator 2 cover) due to it not only having a fantastic tape with two full games and two demos, but also a map of Fantasy World Dizzy, which was one of my favourite games at the time.  It was aimed at a sort of teenage market, so the magazine was up my street.  I loved it due to the regular excellent tapes, which were great for someone with not a huge amount of money to even get budget games.  The tips section was fantastic, and reading about new games was a great thing.  It sadly declined in my opinion after the redesign (and certainly when it shrank down in page size), but I have many fond memories of getting up at 7am to get it at the paper shop and dreaming what was on the tape!

Then comes Zzap!/Commodore Force – ironically, I first got the magazine with its Terminator 2 issue (78) – which was almost its last when Newsfield went under.  The tape pulled me in, but it wasn’t as great as the Commodore Format tape.  At the time, I didn’t feel the magazine was as good as Commodore Format, but it was different enough to be enjoyable.  Once Mrs. Whiplash was rid of, the magazine actually got better and more so when they put two tapes on the cover each month, which was just amazing.  I actually liked the transition to Commodore Force at the time (the quality of games were unbelievable as the market died – like Blues Brothers on one issue only a year after it first came out). Looking back, I would have preferred to have started with Zzap! in its heyday – but I was far too young!

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Cameron Davis (Gazunta): Now I know it sounds a bit hyperbolic to say that my life would be not the same without Zzap! – it’s the magazine that inspired me to get into the games industry, and through it I made lifelong friends and a great career – but today i want to shine the spotlight on a truly under-appreciated Commodore mag: the one and only Commodore Computing International (CCI).

CCI looked different from the likes of Zzap!, Commodore User or C&VG. It was hard bound, for one thing, and considerably more drab looking than its competition. If there were any artistically-inclined people on the magazine layout team, I would be surprised. Every cover looked like it was laid out by a high school art student with scissors and glue, made from whatever promotional pamphlets were laying about the office at the time.

Inside, full colour screenshots were rare, and in fact the majority of each issue was spent on full-page text pieces sometimes paired with blurry, monochrome images taking up minuscule space in the corner. It wasn’t uncommon to see 10 pages of BASIC listings just…sitting there, waiting to be laboriously typed in. The news section had page after page of stories about new printers, mice, modems and dodgy light pens that cost a fortune but never worked right. It was not a visually enticing publication by any stretch of the imagination.

But there was…something that lured you in. Scribbles of the magazine’s mascot, Felix, adorned the pages with little sarcastic quips about the editors. He was not as funny as Rockford and Thingy, but he had more character, helped by the fact he had his own column in the magazine where he talked about the latest happenings in the software industry. All the writers were largely anonymous, and they were clearly just writing about what interested them, rather than what was considered ‘hot’ at the time. This ended up making the magazine feel really enthusiastic even if a lot of it went over my head.

One of the things that appealed to me about it is that it was obvious the magazine was aimed for (and made by) people much older than the Zzap! / CU crowd, who were not really the typical gaming demographic. I’d hazard a guess that many of them were just interested in the serious side of computers and just put games stuff in there as an afterthought, but their heart wasn’t really into such frivolous activities. With the exception of their keen interest in the latest role playing games (their monthly column devoted to exploring every inch of The Bard’s Tale was a must-read), even the best action or arcade games were afforded passing reviews, in a “I guess this is OK if you’re into this sort of thing, have fun with it” kind of way. You know, the way you might talk to your kids after they pressure you into playing the latest Pokémon game with them or whatever.

But that was kind of the appeal, at least for me: If Zzap! was the cool older brother who you idolised, then CCI was the slightly weird uncle who never moved out of his parent’s place and everything he said was a bit out of your comprehension but he was awesome anyway.

And speaking of weird but cool uncles, the jewel in CCI’s crown for me was the monthly column by Jeff Minter. While Zzap! pioneered the ‘diary of a game’ feature with his, CCI just gave Jeff a page (often more) to just let loose on any subject that took his fancy. His development antics (by this point he had well and truly moved on to the Amiga and Atari ST, and was heavily into the evolution of Colourspace) were often mentioned briefly if at all, and columns would instead be focused on the latest Pink Floyd gig, or the hot new exotic imports like Super Mario Brothers or the fabled PC Engine. Reading these really opened my eyes to a world beyond my own. There was one article in particular where he wrote about the future of computers, and predicted Google Earth and monitors with retina displays – it was pretty mind blowing stuff!

While CCI never got the fan following that the usual suspects enjoyed, I urge you to seek out a couple of issues and see a different side of the world from that era. You might just get a taste for it.

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Roberto Dillon: In Italy we actually had a rather lively scene regarding C64 magazines back in the day. Needless to say, the Italian edition of Zzap!64, simply named “Zzap!“, was the favourite of many. Published from May 1986, it was a high quality localisation that left all the great content of the original British magazine intact and also added a few original articles, making the likes of JR (Jaz Rignall) and GP (Gary Penn) well known to a new crowd of fans.

But Zzap! wasn’t the first, and those like me who were also keen to tinker and mess around with their C64, had other resources as well: Commodore Computer Club for example, was a very good magazine, officially endorsed by the Italian branch of Commodore, that started publication as early as 1982. Besides game reviews, it featured technical articles including a few type-in listings. The latter also had magazines entirely dedicated to them, like the “Paper Soft” weekly series started in June 1984. Only listings there, nothing more, nothing less, for those who really wanted to spend the whole weekend at home by typing new games and programs that never worked at first but could provide a true cathartic experience when the last bug and typo were finally fixed!

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It is saddening to see magazines going out of print or confining themselves to an online presence. Going to the newsagent isn’t what it used to be – nothing can replace flicking through magazines and having dog-ears on pages for future reference. For those that had foresight and kept their old magazines, I commend you – please ensure they never end up in landfill! For those of us that threw them out and are now wanting to rebuild their magazine library, I salute you! Nostalgia is a powerful force – it is great to see that our loyalty for certain publications was, and still is, as fierce as our loyalty for our chosen system(s). Let the schoolyard argument of which magazine is best, begin!

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Images source: various – supplied on request