Wednesday, 7 December 2016

COMMODORE 64: A VISUAL COMMPENDIUM SECOND EDITION

After the success of the first edition, Sam Dyer of Bitmap Books expanded his Commpendium range to include the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore's Amiga, before returning to the best home computer, naturally.  But how does the sophomore album compare to the debut?



Last Christmas I received the first book in the series and eagerly devoured it, reviewing it in February right here on the blog and giving it a Commodore Format-esque Corker rating and a 95% score.  It was superb!  The only real negative point I could come up with was that it'd have been nice to have had more to read, but I was very aware it was intended to be a coffee table book, the likes of which are meant to be browsed and the visuals enjoyed first and foremost.  The clue was in the name after all.  But with the sequel Sam has upped the written content.  Will the changes improve the book over the original or will it dilute the successful formula?  Let's begin by taking a look at what's the same.

The visuals pop right off the page just as much as before.  Going back to the same starting point of 1982 and working through year-by-year until the end of the C64's commercial life, circa 1993, the giant pixels do look beautiful on the high quality glossy pages.  This is coming from someone who doesn't like emulation because the games end up looking too crisp and blocky on modern TVs and monitors compared to how we viewed them on old CRT TVs, how they were designed to be seen.  The same goes for modern gaming magazines when they look back on the classic machines.  But the style perfectly suits these books.  Their whole purpose is to celebrate each pixel, the design of the graphics and the work of those talented individuals responsible for them.  As such, they're a beautiful journey through this part of the Commodore's lifespan, full of bright colours and bold designs.

Any C64 fan will be itching to get on eBay to buy one all over
again after taking in all of this book's glorious visuals

That's not to say there aren't some strange choices in here.  Not in the choice of titles, that's pretty much a perfect selection, but with the choice of some of the images.  There's some occasions where the quote from the graphic artist or programmer talks about a certain aspect of the game and yet the image chosen has nothing to do with it.  Also, while the first book did have a mix of full screen shots and some close-ups of certain sprites etc., there's some instances here where the images chosen to zoom in on are a little... strange.  Some stunning looking titles are reduced to looking like Atari 2600 games, although this is kept to a minimum and the idea is the same as in the first edition and is sound.

Having a second volume also means there's a chance to remember some of the lesser-known titles which may have slipped through the cracks in the old grey cells.  Early games such as Lazy Jones and Pogo Joe sit comfortably alongside blockbusters like Hovver Bovver and Forbidden Forest.  We also get the chance to see some of the superb sequels often forgotten in favour of the original games, even when they improved upon what had come before.  After the first book covered some of the originals, obviously, here you'll find such wonderful and fondly remembered sequels as Creatures II: Torture Trouble, Mission Impossible II and Manic 2049er amongst others.

Coin-ops and licenced fare also make welcome appearances so fan favourites like Golden Axe and Zoids pop up here in various guises, which just wasn't possible in the first volume.  Also returning is the gorgeous Oliver Frey artwork of some of his Zzap 64 covers.  The one for the aforementioned Zoids is particularly fantastical and would've made for an amazing cover on the old Spider-Man and Zoids comic from Marvel UK back in the 80s!  Superb work and as always he's a welcome addition to the book.


Right up there with the best of our comic covers
of the 1980s is this!

Matt Wilsher and Chris Daw provide some more stunning (yes, I'm gushing by this point) double-page photography spreads too.  The three different 64 models, namely the original bread bin, the sleeker C64C and the C64 Games System console were the stars of these last time, but now everything from joysticks, ports, the datasette and even the Koala Pad drawing tablet get the star treatment.  This culminates in a lovely selection of sixteen small photos across two pages right in the middle of the book covering the gamut of hardware we all grew up with.  I hope my photograph of it can do it justice.  This alone would make for a stunning large framed print.  (Hint, hint Sam!)


Seriously, is it wrong to use the word "beautiful" when describing
photos of a decades old computer set up?

So far, so good.  To be honest if this had been simply a new book covering different games in exactly the same way as the first edition I'd be marking it with the same score, most likely.  The first book was pretty much the best book out there on the market and close to perfect.  But that formula has been tinkered with here and more features have been added.  The main ones are company profiles and developer interviews.  On the surface this sounds like a great idea, although I did have some trepidation as I loved the flow of the first book, but I was all for having more to read and the design of these were definitely in keeping with the rest of the pages.

While there's a couple of tasty bits of information to be gleaned from some of the interviews, for the most part the questions are unfortunately rather basic and formulaic.  Asking how people got started programming for the 64 is all well and good, but just as with other questions such as favourite games etc. aren't really original.  What's worse is that each interview asks exactly the same questions no matter who's answering.  To this end the interviews lack personalised questions and I found myself wishing for more queries pertaining specifically to each individual.  It actually results in some loss of personality in the answers, which is a shame as the Commodore scene was full of big characters.

The company profiles are more like a long list of titles, release dates, review scores and their success or failure in the marketplace, but written up like a narrative of the timeline.  It's an interesting idea, but again each company is given exactly the same treatment of 'name the next title, year, reception and success', then on to the next.  They can become a little bit monotonous, crying out for a more tailored write-up for each.  Companies like Thalamus were so unique and their output equally so, but fans will have already read the basics before now and this doesn't add a lot more that's new.


Llamasoft's story is complex, very adult and extremely
amusing, but unfortunately this doesn't come across

Don't get me wrong, they include some great screenshots, it's always nice to have a little more to read and for those reminiscing about a long-forgotten time both the interviews and profiles will make for fun little additions.  But I just couldn't shake the feeling that, while what's there is fine, so much more could've been done with the idea, especially with the expectations set with knowing these were to be extensions of the original Visual Commpendium idea.  Add in some spelling/grammar errors that have been missed during proof-reading and they're not my favourite sections of the book.

However, there's some other inclusions unique to this book which are more successful, such as the demo scene which you can read about in the box out below.  Rather than being additional features they're more of a replacement for the original book's loading screens and box art.  Fan-produced games released between 1993 and the present day aren't given as much space here but are included, however what's even better is the large section about unreleased ones.  There are plenty of games which were previewed in magazines of the day but never saw the light of day.  There were many reasons such as the developers moving on to the newer computers and consoles, companies going bust or a game simply being no longer viable commercially.  Titles such as Daffy Duck, Fuzzball (a particular favourite Commodore Format covertape demo of mine) and Escape from Colditz have become almost mythical in the intervening years and this section is particularly fascinating to read.  As is the inclusion of a spread dedicated to the Ocean Loader and the foreboding eye of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I simply love the inclusion of Invade-a-Load, the little Space Invaders clone we could play while some games loaded, as a full entry in the visual trip through the Commodore 64's software.

The infamous Ocean Loader kept many a young games player on their toes

- - -


PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF COMMODORE AFFECTION


The C64's Public Domain scene never really gets a mention these days.  Alongside the commercial titles there were still bedroom coders knocking out great software, all free of copyright which they put out into the ether and let people share to their heart's content.  Postal Public Domain libraries were set up which would collect together all of this greatness and sell on, charging only for the cost of the disks and the postage.  I set one up myself and I'll cover it soon.

Games were only one aspect though.  Demos weren't interactive and instead were basically coders showing off what they could make the humble C64 do.  Stunning graphics which shouldn't have been possible, wonderful sound, mesmerising animation... they had them all!  The book  goes into some depth on the scene, which never went away, and includes some classic pieces of art.  Just look at some of these!  No trickery, those were produced on C64s.  Even Commodore said back in the 90s they were amazed at what people were creating on their 8-bit.  I've chosen some of the best here, but there's some rather strange choices here too (a yellow screen with one word in black?  Why is that included in a book celebrating the 64's visuals?) but the majority just have to be seen to be believed.

- - -

This volume also includes a few pages about the magazines the Commodore 64 owning public enjoyed, showing off the covers alongside quotes just like the games and for once it's nice to see more than Zzap covered.  Commodore User and my beloved Commodore Format are in there too and I was really looking forward to these in particular when I bought my copy.  You can imagine my disappointment when I got to those pages and realised there were no quotes at all for CU, the Zzap ones were taken from C64 fanzine Reset 64 and the CF ones were simply copied from interviews on a fan website.  I felt quite cheated if I'm honest.  They were well chosen and again for many they'll make for a great read but personally it was a let down for me, as I'd already read the full interviews.  Oh well.

Remember I'm covering this superb magazine here on the blog!

Above you can see the Commodore Format logo redrawn as an actual C64 piece of graphic design.  There's a few of these throughout the book from Robin Levy and they're a treat to have, especially for the individual magazines themselves and the unreleased games.  It's unfortunate that the most-likely-superb one he designed for the introduction to the magazine section has come across as overly blown up and pixellated, so much so that it's quite hard to make out all the lovely details (unless you hold it quite far away and squint a little).

Hang on 'til I take my glasses off... ah!  Superb!

This really is a superb book, don't get me wrong!  The first volume was a hard act to follow and it's only natural to want to pack in even more with any follow-up.  In my heart I wish they'd kept closer to the original; the profiles and interviews add some more lovely visuals and a couple of bits of new info but I could take them or leave them.  The magazines and demo scene sections are a welcome chapter in the same way as the loading screens last time, and expanding on the coverage with unreleased games is a stroke of genius.  Fans of not only the C64, but of retro computing in general too will absolutely love this book for all the exact same reasons as the first edition and it's certainly worth every penny.  Even better, buy the combined Extended Edition of both books edited together!  (See the picture link to Bitmap Books' website at the bottom of the post.)

Last time I said the Visual Commpendium was the best Commodore 64 book out there and while that may not be quite as true this time, the only book which betters this is the one it's following on from!  I really can't overstate how much of a recommendation that is.    

(click to enlarge)
Sam Dyer
244 pages, softcover with jacket
Publisher: Bitmap Books
£24.99 (£10 PDF available)
Also available as a combined Extended Edition (both volumes)


Check out the full range of Bitmap Books by clicking on the image below.

Friday, 2 December 2016

TWELVE POSTS OF CHRISTMAS

Howdy all.  Well it's finally here, Christmas time is upon us and I hope you're all eager to get the festive season started.  Regular readers will know this is my very favourite time of the year and I eagerly look forward to it.  All of December is Christmas to me, not just the one day and this year it's even more special as I've decided it's the perfect time to kickstart my two blogs.

It's about time, as both of my sites have been somewhat neglected for a while now.  So, inspired by the blogosphere's current trend of writers dedicating a post to each and every day of the month for what's been named 'Blogmas', I'm doing my own Twelve Posts of Christmas.  Nope, I'm not doing thirty-one posts!  I'm not that crazy.

Instead this blog and The Oink! Blog will each have six posts apiece (the introduction for Oink! went up yesterday) to get me back into the swing of things.  Sometimes life takes a hold and leads us off in other directions whether we like it or not and it's important to find a way back to what we love.  Setting deadlines for my posts with each and every issue of Oink! (and now the issues of Commodore Format here too) was a great motivator to keep me going and I'm immensely proud of what I achieved here over nearly three years.  So with that in mind, what can you expect to see coming up on Recovering From a Scratch?

7th: VISUAL COMMPENDIUM SECOND EDITION REVIEW


Finally another review! Yes it's been a very, very long time and there's still only the two of them on the site, but that's about to change.  I've covered this second volume in the Commodore 64: a visual commpendium series before when it arrived, including my excitement at seeing my name in print in an actual book for the first time.  However, that little inclusion will not stop me from giving this the impartial once-over the first volume received when I reviewed it early this year.  Will it be another corker?  Find out on the 7th.

Wow, I've just realised I received this second book way, way back in August and have yet to write it up!  It really is time to remedy such things.

13th: WISH LIST

As I mentioned in a previous post I have a wish list which is being added to with each issue of Commodore Format I read and I'm going to start covering it here on the blog.  To begin with I'll be listing the games I had as a teen which I'd like to get my hands on and it'll interesting to see if they match up to the memories.  There's also those classics which I'd always wanted but never did get around to buying.  Then there's the games I read about every month in the aforementioned magazine and craved but again, mainly due to not exactly having disposable income at that age, I went without.

Now as I work my way through CF I'm patiently adding titles one at a time from each issue as I read their reviews or special features.  While I'm up to #16 at the moment, I'm going to go back to the start and write up the 'new' games for my wish list after each month's edition has been covered, along with some scans or photos of CF.  To begin with on the 13th I'll cover those games that were added before I even began reading CF; the ones from my childhood I just have to have again.

16th: RESET 64 FANZINE GOES INTO PRINT


Reset 64 is a popular online C64 fanzine edited by the talented Kevin Tilley in Australia.  Currently on its 9th edition each issue gets released simply when they're ready.  It's available for free on their website but for the latest issue Kevin decided to try his hand at a physical printed copy.  The result is a gorgeous, shiny 84-page magazine packed to the brim with the latest in Commodore 64 news, reviews and special features.  I'll be taking a much-overdue closer look at this on the blog on the 16th.

20th: COMMODORE FORMAT #4


The first regular feature of Scratch is the read-through of the simply awesome Commodore Format and this month #4 is a little treasure-trove of classic reviews, with a movie tie-in special and coverage of some truly brilliant games based on the cinema releases of 1990.  Movie games get a bad rap and it's usually justified these days, but it certainly wasn't so back then and I'll be showing some off on the date of the issue's original release, the 20th.

While I've tried to incorporate other features from each issue so far in order to introduce you to the format (no pun intended) of the mag, this time I will be focussing on the games and it makes for fascinating reading when you consider the cheap cash-ins players are subjected to today.

(Well, when I say "fascinating" that's me as a C64 fan reading this issue of CF, not necessarily your experience reading my post!)

21st: DIZZY REVIEW


Another review?  They're like buses aren't they?  What feels like an age ago I reviewed a childhood favourite in the guise of Fantasy World Dizzy and then purchased the first game in the series and promised I'd be working my way through them.  Finally it's happening and thanks to a friend there's more sequels awaiting my joystick in the new year too.  At the time the Dizzy games were sometimes criticised for being too similar to each other, while others would praise them for a winning formula and consistent gameplay.  Which side will I come down on?  I'm interest to find out after only ever playing one game before and loving it.  I'll start the journey on my birthday too on the 21st, which is the 25th anniversary of the purchase of not just my first Dizzy game but my first ever C64 game!

Old.  So, so old.

CHRISTMAS DAY: MY C64 STORY

For many of us our first experience with our own C64 was on some distant Christmas Morning, running into the living room and seeing it sitting there waiting for us.  We all have fond memories of unpacking it for the first time and maybe a soft spot for those first few games we played.  I've always intended to go back and write about those times and the days of Parallel Logic, the software "company" a friend and I set up in the latter days of the 64's original lifespan.  What better day to start this story than on Christmas Day?

There you have it, hopefully lots to look forward to if that doesn't sound too big-headed.  There's certainly a lot for me to do across these two blogs and I'm looking forward to a lot of writing surrounded by Christmas decorations while I drink out of my Rudolph mug and listen to Shakin' Stevens.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

COMMODORE FORMAT #3: NOW I'VE AN AXE TO GRIND

Welcome back to my ongoing series of Commodore Format write-ups, as I bring you the highlights from each issue on the date of their original release, just twenty-six years late!  After two introductory editions the third issue of the run brings a confidence and (no pun intended) format that locks everything in place.

Cover art by John Richardson

The covers are still simpler affairs than the rival magazines of the time, but eventually CF would blow the competition away with its stunning artwork sitting proudly on the shelves.  Not that this should take anything away from John Richardson's handiwork here, of course.  His Chase HQ II cover brings a lovely sense of fast action with it, the brush work and bold colours resembling a comic book adaptation of some hit movie car chase.  As such it's the perfect cover for the review of the game, a cartridge release of the coin-op in which you chase down the bad guys in your souped up sports car, arresting them before they reach the border!  The game itself received a good mid-70s score and the last time I had a C64 I also purchased it.  I didn't play it enough to get very far but it was an enjoyable blast and was a quick addition to my wish list this time around, which I'll get back to in a little bit as it's the basis for a whole new series of posts to compliment this read-through.

But first, let's take a look at the issue as a whole.  There's only one article which could really be described as a Special Feature but even its topic had already been covered in the premiere issue and was meant to be a mini-series, disappearing from #2 for reasons not disclosed, so even it is more of an occasional series.  Besides that though it's what could be called business-as-normal, if it weren't for the fact that the magazine was still new.  As such this was the first issue to drop the introductory features for the most part and concentrate on what its usual contents would be.  It very much feels like they've deliberately dropped any specials to show off what exactly its regular features will be, before bringing back the additional pieces next month again.  It's jam-packed with game reviews, but then again this is the December issue after all, backed up with a plethora of techie pages.  It really is the best of both worlds and feels like the most complete issue of the series so far.

But before I show you what makes up the bulk of the issue, let's concentrate on that one article I mentioned above.  The first issue featured a few pages about the basics of purchasing a modem, the models available and the differences to watch out for.  It promised a closer look the following month at actually getting online but this unfortunately didn't materialise.  It's back now though in #3 and Andrew Hutchinson talks the readers through the various forms of content available to them during 1990 in the brand new world of online communications.  Here's the full piece, which I find interesting as it shows the early days of the internet.  We'd no idea just how big this would become, to the point where so much of my daily life now relies on it without me even thinking about when I'm online or not, or what exactly would be affected if it were all to crash down around us.

No, back in the early-to-mid 1990s going online was just an extra; something only those who could afford it would really take part in to any great degree.  Cost was extremely prohibitive, as you'll read here.  I'll get back to that and a rather funny memory after the article.

Phone companies around the world loved the 1990s

Okay so it wasn't exactly funny when we received a £750 phone bill from BT for one quarter of the year thanks to internet use in the last couple of years of the 90s.  That was with my first PC (which would only get replaced once before I moved to the Mac) but it did produce some great entertainment for me.  Now I don't mean what you're thinking at the back there, so behave!  I was the first of all of my friends to go online and Stevie in particular found this amazing.  We were all in love with chat rooms and forums (neither of which I'd go anywhere near these days!) and on more than one occasion Stevie would come round late at night and he'd sit up chatting to strangers around the world until the early hours of the morning when the phone charges would start again.  I thought it'd be great fun to install loads of sound effects onto the computer too, including a fog horn noise from one of the Jaws films for the chat rooms.  Amazingly I'd still fall asleep, but it always makes me laugh to remember waking up eight hours later and the first thing I'd hear would be that sound.  He was still going!!

But anyway, I never did take my 64 online at the time simply due to costs and I wasn't completely sold on it being something that I'd like or would be popular enough to get the most out of, as it all revolved around there being enough people to play games with, chat to and share with.  I had my finger on the pulse, didn't I?  It is something I'm looking into now though in the modern world, so watch this space.  Yes, you read that right and I'm serious.  But for now back to Commodore Format.

While the magazine brought a great deal more serious and technical articles to the fore over its rivals, the games were still very much the heart and soul of CF.  I like to show off some of the top rated games as I write these posts simply because in speaking with some younger colleagues of mine I realised they all assumed the C64 couldn't produce the kind of games it did.  They thought it was all Atari 2600-like blocks with incredibly simplistic gameplay the likes of which we might play on a bus on our phones these days.  I showed off some titles to them in the pages of CF and they were pretty amazed at what it could do all those years ago, compared to the games most commonly shown in the pages of mainstream retro magazines and the like.

One such example is this fantastic-looking Role-Playing Game, Buck Rogers.  Developed by SSI, the same people behind the complex TSR Dungeons & Dragons games which have made a mainstream comeback in recent years thanks in part to The Big Bang Theory, this game even interacted with those other titles by allowing characters to be exchanged between them.  It's the kind of game I simply thought wouldn't have been possible on the C64 but here it is in all its glory.  Now I have to admit I'm not a fan of the D&D games and so this won't be on my wish list.  I much prefer the Legend of Zelda kind of RPGs, but it's a great example of the kind of games the C64 was producing at this mature stage of its commercial lifespan.

A more serious interpretation than the Buck Rogers I was associated
with back then

Okay, so this wish list of mine, what's all that about?

This is a good time to bring it up as it involves the next game review I'm going to show you from this issue.  As regular readers will know I may be writing these up on the correct dates but I actually started reading them at the start of the year, currently reading (and enjoying, I might add) #16, the January/Christmas issue of the next year of the run in fact.  As I've been going along I've written down the games CF has reviewed which I'd like to add to my collection at some point.

As a teen I never had any real disposable income and so it'd fall to birthdays and Christmas mainly to stock up my Commodore collection of games, with the occasional one during the year from saved pocket money.  Now though I've the time and money (well, a wee bit) to build the collection I'd always dreamed about; those games titles I'd drooled over but never got around to adding all those years ago.  I could simply have listed off a whole bunch of games by looking through websites, or rushing ahead in my CF pile but instead I'm enjoying adding to it as I read them.  Patience is also something I have more of nowadays!  I'll go into this in more depth soon as I'm planning on having the wish list run as a kid of spin-off series alongside these posts, but for now I'd like to introduce you to one which I'm eagerly looking for!

Always associated with the Mega Drive, it was actually a
multi-format release

Golden Axe was one of those games I can remember always being advertised on TV and in magazines, even if it was only for the Sega Mega Drive.  An arcade coin-op hit Sega gleefully showed off their machine running a near-perfect conversion and boasted about how it was only on their console.  But what they failed to mention (why would they?) was that versions were actually made for the home computers of the day.  The Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad and Spectrum machines all had Golden Axe gracing their microprocessors too and it was a smash!

Advert comparing the various conversions
(though they could've picked a much better
64 screenshot!)

My friend Colin who also owned a C64 went on to have a Mega Drive and an Amiga and on the former machine I remember playing many extremely fun platform games, puzzlers and scrolling beat-'em-ups similar to this game, if not the real thing.  It was one of the main releases of the early 90s and having enjoyed such games as Double Dragon at the time this looked like the epitome of the genre, but I ended up going without.  It's reached almost legendary status in the years since and it's exciting to think now it could be as easy as nipping onto eBay with a few spare quid, rather than trying to track it down somehow with weeks of hard-earned pocket money.  So yes, look out for a new series of posts as I build my wish list and indeed purchase some of those much sought after games.

Another one on the list is also reviewed in this issue and while I'm not including the full spread I just had to show off these screenshots below.  Back in the 90s the term "multimedia" was all new and sparkly, with so much potential and people were in awe of the CD-based machines which came along during the decade.  While Commodore came out with both the CDTV and the Amiga CD32 I was won over by the 3DO and had one myself which I absolutely adored.  Multimedia is a phrase we don't even use these days as everything is multimedia, combining video, audio and interactivity on so many levels, but this was something brand new back then.

When the 3DO came along, for example, games had huge cinematic stories to tell and lovingly created opening scenes introduced you to the plot and characters.  They were hailed as a way to suck the player into the gameplay experience even more and magazines such as Edge popped up on the shelves extolling the virtues of these new ways to play.  But intro sequences were nothing new and the humble C64 was doing them fantastically well already many years previously.  As I wrote about in the post for #1 of Commodore Format, the new cartridges for the C64 enabled developers to write games which took up a lot more memory without having to worry about the game being loaded in tiny bits at a time.  With only 64K the Commodore was capable of displaying graphics, producing sound and creating gameplay on a par with (or often better than) the new fangled consoles, but you'd have to play a little bit at a time.

If a developer really wanted to push the machine for example you'd often find it'd take a few minutes on cassette to load a title screen, then once you pressed the start button it'd take a few minutes more to load the introduction sequence.  Depending on how elaborate it was it could take a few more minutes to get through that before it would then begin to load the first level.  Then you could look forward to a lengthy pause between levels too, or a lengthier one and much tape rewinding if you lost all your lives and had to start again.  Of course the disks made this a good bit quicker and definitely a lot more hassle-free without the rewinding and fast-forwarding etc.  But still the constant accessing of the disks would slow it all down.  Thus more often than not developers would take this into consideration when crafting their titles and so the console games seemed more polished with intro and outro sequences, fancy title screens and other presentation pieces.

With the cartridges however the Commodore could now access up to 2 meg of data (yes, tiny by today's standards but this was 1990 remember), in any order, as much as needed and all instantly!  The lack of waiting times meant even games transferred over to the format without any additional extras still played so much better and felt much bigger.  But some publishers went that extra step further.  Two of the main players who did so were Ocean and System 3, the latter of which decided to repackage the smash-hit The Last Ninja 2 game on cart while they finished the brand new third game which would also come out on the new blocks of plastic.  To quote CF, "Ninja Re-mix features a new animated intro, a new status screen, different music for all six levels and slightly tweaked gameplay so it flows better."  Like I said previously, with a completely different marketing campaign things may have worked out a whole lot differently for the 64 and Commodore in the 90s, especially when you see things like this below!

Hard pushed to think of an
8-bit console game of such
graphic quality

I've been quoting them and talking about their review styles, so I guess it's about time I introduced you to the actual team behind the mag.  By the time I came on board they'd all changed, as with the magazine launched successfully the team moved on to launch other titles - Steve and Andy went straight to working on the new Nintendo magazine Total! - and handed CF over to a new line-up who'd eventually be with us readers over the long-term.  So these faces were all brand new to me when I read over these early issues for the first time and what a brilliantly motley crew they make; the relatively poor quality of the photos compared to what we'd get today feeling a bit quaint and unprofessional, but this wasn't the case back then I can assure you.  Here also is their own reasoning behind the highly original scoring system and icons which I introduced you to a couple of months ago.  Ladies and gents, the CF crew.

Actual proper photographs! A revelation after
the scrawny sketches of other magazines

Now, a quick diversion and simply because it's yet another chance to bind my two completely different blogs together.  The Oink! comic computer game was covered in last month's post when it was given away free with that issue and this month the team decided to give a helping hand to its readers who may have been stuck in the game.  Three characters had games based around them and while Pete & his Pimple isn't included here there was really no need, what with it being a Breakout clone where you batted a ball (pimple) against a wall of bricks.  Instead the Gamebusters section concentrated on the Tom Thug and Rubbish Man levels and here's their maps in full for any fellow pig pals out there as a quick diversion, for both those who have the game and any curiosity seekers.


As I said at the top of the post this third issue feels like it was a shining example of what the new magazine was going to be all about, distinguishing itself from the competition and bringing a fresh outlook on the world of the C64 and its users.  The focus was on games for the most part but these were backed up by some superb technical features and I've already showed you one but the main event was Inside Info.

What would later become known as Techie Tips when I was originally a reader, Inside Info was a readers' letters section but totally devoted to coding and hardware issues.  The Mighty Brain answered questions elsewhere in each issue for anything general, but here Paul Lyons solely responded to (ironically) more cerebral challenges.  I've included the whole of the section below which took up three pages and as you can see the queries range from programming tips and display issues, to upgrading the 64 and de-bugging BASIC.

The part that really places this whole thing in context though is under the banner 'Video Games', where Paul details a ground-breaking piece of new technology.  What ages it, is that this new technology relies on the good old video cassette and readers' VCRs.  Backing up files and games onto video cassette would save space and loading times, but I can't help think even back in 1990 this would've been a bit of a palaver to have so much stored on one VHS tape.  I mean, can you imagine finding one game out of a thousand on one of those?!

"So much potential"
Never seen again

I'll admit it took me a while in my original C64 days to actually read any part of the Techie Tips pages, they seemed so alien and complicated to me and for those first few months all I was interested in was playing the hugely fun games I could get my hands on at last!  But when I received my disk drive the following spring and it became apparent how I could use it to create my own programs and pieces of art and easily save them (compared to cassette) I did find myself going back to my computer's manual and starting to work my way through it.  All of a sudden a whole new world opened up to me and the Commodore took on a huge new role in my life, which eventually led to Parallel Logic, PLPD and Commodore Diskette.  If you haven't a baldy what any of that means then you'll just have to wait, as that's yet another series of posts coming your way soon.

Giving myself quite a lot to write about here aren't I?  Just as well I'm loving this blog so much.

Anyway, I eventually did get stuck into Techie Tips and even though it was answering very specific technical questions from other readers, I was often able to try out the programs and ideas featured, then plagiarise them for my own needs in crafting whatever I was working on next.  The games were the main focus for me at the start but even before the commercial sector began to move away from the machine and the games coverage became less and less, I was probably enjoying the serious side of the magazine more.  Well, I say "serious" but in reality it was still written in the Commodore Format-style with great wit and enthusiasm, which only heightened my own enthusiasm and enjoyment of the computer itself.

Commodore Format was all set to conquer the market and it certainly did so as you'll see in future coverage on here.  Special features return next month with the Movie Tie-in Special just in time for Christmas.  Lots of games based on movies sounds like a disaster, right?  Aren't all such licenced games just quickly-made cash-ins?  Maybe today, yes, but not so in 1990.  Whether that's because of the limitations of the machines we had back then resulting in more effort being put in to make something even resembling a movie, or that more effort was simply put in to produce quality games, is up for debate.  What's clear from the next issue though is there's plenty of games I want based on films I haven't even seen yet.  That should say something of their quality.  Also next month is the start of the A-Z of Classic 64 Games.  Remember CF came along many years after the 64's release and with thousands of games already out there how on earth would we choose which ones to buy?  Even today in 2016 this feature has proved invaluable for me in whittling down the vast amount of games to those I simply must have.

If you've also purchased a C64, or thinking of doing so and are thinking "Where on earth do I start?" then the A-Z series is definitely for you, but also look out for my wish list series coming soon, where I'll be cherry-picking my personal favourites to collect from the pages of Commodore Format.

To end with though, as a special treat for one particular regular blog reader called Steven Flanagan, here's this issue's review of The Amazing Spider-Man.  Steven remembered this review from the time the magazine came out and how it was very different to all the rest, played out like a scene between characters from the comics.  It's all a bit daft but it gets its points across brilliantly.  I especially like how Flash and J. Jonah Jameson are used to great effect to highlight the good and bad points about the game.  It could be seen as sparse on information compared to later issues but the review writing style across the whole publication was still evolving, plus it's all backed up with the superb CF creation of the Power Rating box.  Hope you enjoy this as much as you remember, Steven!

By special request I thought I'd STICK this up here

Another issue done and not a moment too soon!  Don't get me wrong I love these posts so far, but when your calendar flashes up telling you it's due the next day instead of the next week and you haven't even start it yet... well, it's all rather daunting and a lot of hard work believe it or not!  But when you're writing about something you love it makes it all worthwhile.

I hope you enjoyed this and look out for that spin-off feature soon.  Then pop back on Tuesday 20th December for the next issue.  Wow!  The very next issue is the day before my birthday and well into the festive season already!  Bring it on, this is MY time of year!  Speak to you all soon, folks.