News Team Current issue History Online Support Download Forum @Pouet

01 - 02 - SE - 03 - 04 - 05 - 06 - 07 - 08 - 09 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14

Alive 9

         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
and consoles.

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
as well.

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

Alive 9