Retro Gamer Magazine Issue 4
The cultish geek interest in older computers, consoles and their software,
and the long-term popularity of emulators for this hardware is starting to
have some interesting mainstream consequences here in the UK. The Edge
magazine, loved or loathed for its "industry" viewpoint started to bring out
an occasional special edition 'Retro' magazine, I think it was a quarterly
release, looking at the collectibility and 'cult' value of older computers
Live Publishing International could not resist the dangled bait, and
launched their own quarterly title, this was to become the straightforwardly
named 'Retro Gamer'. Now this is a real newsstand publication, available
from the shelves of 'WH Smug', the high street newsagent par excellence! I
was lucky enough to get my 'review copy' at the June Jagfest UK, from Shaun
Bebbington, who describes himself as an 'occasional freelancer' for the mag.
It turns out he is a bit more involved with things, of course.
Issue number four... (First monthly issue)
Published by Live Publishing International Ltd...
Price - 5.99 UKP
Page count - 114(!)
The Retrogamer concept has proved so successful, it has gone from a
quarterly publication, to a proper monthly title. It is priced at UKP 5.99
in the shops, but that gets you a cover-mounted CD ROM as well as the packed
114 pages of text. This edition has a mixed media CD, including eighteen
audio tracks with original and remixed C64 audio tracks, and a number of
retro-themed PeeCee games. The C64 audio material ties in nicely with one of
the major features this month, an in-depth piece on the legendary SID chip,
but more of that later, as I say too often!
The overall style of the magazine is a little 'retro' itself. The cheapish
paper stock used, the layout, deliberately blocky title fonts, and use of
mad coloured backgrounds feels more than a tiny bit 1980's. I am thinking it
is a grown-up knowing brother of the old 'Computer and Video Games'
magazine. We're just missing the BASIC listing of 'Kevin's Oric Invaders'
here. This works both as a way of getting you in the retro mood, and as an
antidote to the coffee table aesthetic of many current PeeCee mags, which
are trying too hard to be like 'Vogue', but pushing texturemaps and
explosions at you, instead of posh hats and coats.
Anyway there is quite a bit to get through, so let's start now.
We kick off with some Retro News. There is plenty of old style gaming, and
even some new products cleverly dressed up in retro clothes. You remember
the '2600 in a joystick'? Well the C64 in a joystick is now to hand! This
will have 30 built-in games. There is even a section with new stuff being
made for old machines, how about Sonic the Hedgehog for the Spectrum? Yep,
there's a screengrab and all!
The headline news is the rediscovery of the 'Mega Tree' developer disks.
This is a game better known as Jet Set Willy 3. These are at a very early
stage of discovery, the contents are yet to be revealed! (The following
month finds nothing more substantial than traces of odd stuff, and some very
very early work in progress.)
The efforts of the 'ZXF' online Spectrum magazine are praised, in an
interview with its creator, Colin Woodcock. They've gone for a smart .PDF
A bunch of Retro Forum Letters is next. There are lots of suggestions for
things to do in future issues. A letter from Australia has my prizewinning
nomination for the following, "If you do an article on Sega, please have a
go at OZI-Soft. They ruined our Sega experience by being a bunch of tools."
Jonti Davies takes several pages to consider the issue of Nintendo's
greatest games, from the NES through to Ultra 64. Their rarity and
collectibility are considered. There are lots and lots of screenshots to
motivate the flagging Ebay fans out there.
My favourite feature has to be "Play it again SID". This is a very detailed
piece by Adam Dawes, on the life and times and general evolution of SID
music. From that first 'Thing on a Spring' melody, through to the SID-
Station. He covers the technical evolution of the game-tune, tells us what
the most famous composers are now up to (Rob Hubbard seems to have dropped
out to work on a cruise liner!) And even tells us all about the 'Back in
Time' live gigs. There is a slew of information about the SID afterlife and
web resources. There is one important omission in my view, this can be
summed up with the comment "Wot no demoscene?!" I'm amazed he's managed to
miss that one completely. But apart from that, nine out of ten for this
Martyn Carrol takes a good look at the surprisingly lengthy exploitation of
the 'Alien' movie franchise by the entertainment software industry. We see
them all, the first 8-bit computer games, through to the Jaguar's AvP, of
which he was very complimentary of...
The relatively short but brilliant life of Telecomsoft, the games software
arm of British Telecom, gets the treatment next. All the box artwork,
takeover deals, the launch of Rainbird in the early ST/Amiga days are all
covered. We even find out what happened to 'EPT', a space-epic designed to
beat Elite, but which never appeared. This actually got through several 3-D
demonstrators before finally being dropped in 1988. 'EPT' was a working
title, and stood for "Elite Piss-Take", one suggestion for a proper release
title was 'Frontier'. Sounds familiar, hmmm?
Simon Brew writes in some detail about the many and varied football games of
the golden age of software. A timely feature for the European Cup? This
includes a lot of material over several pages. The best of the 8-bits, the
16-bit superleague, at which point, Mr Pink's lips start watering. We even
get an interview with Dino Dini of Kick-off fame. Those games which were "as
sick as a parrot" get their own mention too, especially the cynical
marketing exercise that was US Gold's 'World Cup Carnival' and finishing off
the hilarity, with some of the worst title artworks from the Speccy era. How
about 'Freddy Mercury Soccer Manager'! Note to art director, that should
have been Graham Souness!
Chris Wild is a BIG Lords of Midnight fan, and he knows his subject very
well. Somehow he ends up telling us more about what was the first real
Speccy megagame than I thought I could contain in my brain! I like the
technical stuff myself, the huge lengths that Mike Singleton went to
squeezing the most stuff inside the 48k memory limit, managing the feat of
making a sequel with improved graphics out of the same hardware and so on.
There is even a bit about the mid-nineties PeeCee third game "Lords of
Midnight, The Citadel". This suffered from the PeeCee being a very rapidly
changing work in progress of a platform, and was marooned by the changeover
from DOS to Windows in a relatively short time.
Amstrad action is the title of the next article. David Crookes takes on the
entire Amstrad CPC range from the start to the enhanced hardware 'Plus'
series, in part designed to take on the ST/Amiga 16-bit dominance. A full
history, with lots of trivia is given to us, including the strange case of
the non-functioning extra memory fitted on the Spanish version of the CPC.
There are plenty of screenshots of Amstrad classic games, including some
very late ones. We even learn that persistent coders managed to access the
enhanced features of the 'plus', in spite of Amstrad's original intention to
lock these out to casual programmers. There were some nice homebrew games
made for it.
Emulation nation is a brief and fairly functional how-to guide on some of
the rarer emulations of old computers. This list includes my personal
favourite , the Enterprise 64/128, and Sh3's favourite first computer, the
Mattel Aquarius. The Jaguar 'Project Tempest' also gets a big mention there
Advertising and box artwork in 1986. A spread of several pages covers the
sort of magazine advertising that was available to the lucky punters reading
back in 1986. This was when the 8-bit golden age was at a mature state,
awaiting the new 16-bit machines, of which there was no trace of here
incidentally! It was just a bit too early for these to make an impact yet.
The standard of material varied widely from the very functional Romantic
Robot 'Multiface', a pure text piece dating back to the ZX81 Computing March
1982 edition for inspiration. It goes through a series of fancifully glossy
airbrushed works from Hewson, the original advertising for 'Uridium' is
there. Some are even brave enough to feature screenshots, such as the muddy
looking screengrabs of the Mirrorsoft range, and the Atari 8-bit classic
'Rescue on Fractalus' is seen here.
My favourite "Whatever happened to?" from that period is the advert for the
'Cascade fifty games for œ9.99'. Yes, fifty games on one tape. They turned
up in the back pages and small ads of just about every magazine. Suspicions
as to the overall quality of this enterprise are raised by the cheapness of
the artwork depicting superhero Captain Cascade. Furthermore, with titles
like "Fishing Mission", how could you go wrong? Ever wonder where those
wonky BASIC listings, sent in by countless wannabees, and rejected by the
big software houses ended up? Probably on this tape I think! Still, if none
of the games were any good, you could console yourself with the free
calculator watch that you got with it!
We're in the dying seconds of the mag now, a description of the cover disk
contents takes two pages, with some track descriptions of the C64 audio
tracks, and mugshots of the famous composers!
Skimming through the classifieds, onto the end bit. This is a spoiler for
the endgame sequence of Konami's 'Alien's' arcade game. The dying moments of
the Alien Queen, forcibly flung off the USS Sulaco are revealed!
Based on the contents of this issue, there is a wide range of interesting
articles, covering a wide range of retro material. There are years of
heritage to plunder from, and it looks like the Retro Gamer mag has a long
life ahead of it. With the cover disk being a bit of a relevance lottery,
especially if you don't own Wintel hardware, the asking price is a bit too
much to make it a 'must-buy' for every issue. However it does come close,
purely on the interest factor generated by the high quality and in-depth
articles alone. I can see it being a frequently worthwhile purchase,
probably every other month or so. On a related note, there are special
features planned for both the 8-bit Atari and ST series, so look out for
them, even if nothing else grabs you.
It's as big as a house!
The articles are top notch!
It's put together by people who clearly love their subject matter, (and are
not just doing it as a job.)
Lots of useful information, such as web resources given.
Lots of "whatever happened to?" questions are finally being answered!
The asking price is on the high side for a casual guilt-free purchase.
The cover disk does not always add value for non Wintel owners.
Where the opportunity presented itself in the SID chip article, they seem
manage to avoid mentioning the demo scene? (C'mon, we don't smell THAT
Overall, I'd give it nine and half out of ten. There may be the day coming
soon, when they release the perfect issue, and it rates eleven out of ten!
UPDATE:- Subsequent issues number six and seven covered Atari 8-bit and Atari
ST in some detail. The Atari ST special was handled brilliantly by the not so
shy and retiring Requiem, aka Rich Davey. The magazine managed to keep in
most of what he wrote for them too. Nice going guys!
CiH for Alive Mag,July '04