It’s difficult to know what to say in the first editorial of a new magazine. Apart from the usual formalities like ‘Hi!’ and, ‘Hope you enjoy it,’ there are tons of other things to say, but I’ll keep it fairly short!
Perhaps the first item is the magazine’s name. As editor of CRASH I’ve been surprised by how few people in the software industry have pointed out that it is a strange name, or that in computer terminology a crash is not a particularly Good Thing. In fact not a single person has said it yet so perhaps I should keep quiet, but the name arrived, like most titles, in a flash and simply seemed right. I like to think it symbolises more the power and strength of the computer game than anything else. As a magazine title CRASH is short, sharp and to the point, and anyway it makes it the only computer magazine without the word computer stuck somewhere in it, and that must be worth some points!
‘It is always important to realise that reviews are only personal preferences,’ Ian Sinclair of IJK told a reporter from Home Computing Weekly last summer. His statement reflects the fears most software houses feel regarding games reviews.
The spokesman for another very well known software house told me at the PCW show recently that he had ‘heaved’ when he saw the details sent him by CRASH and went on to explain that his company’s games have ‘honest covers’. It transpired that he disapproved of trying to con people with exciting artwork that has little to do with the quality of graphics contained in the programs available, and our intention of having plenty of exciting artwork in the magazine was basically dishonest. But what seemed uppermost in his mind was the fear that reviewers didn’t understand his games or play them well enough to be able to review them fairly. He told me he wouldn’t be releasing review copies of new games until he could write the reviews himself.
These two opinions are nothing new, of course. The battle between reviewer and reviewed has been going on since the beginning of time. But they do underline two points which we at CRASH feel strongly about. Firstly: hardly anyone except a real first-timer on the Spectrum expects the game to look exactly like the art on the inlay. Whilst I have nothing at all against the ‘honest cover’ approach, I fail to see why covers should not be as exciting as possible. We’re all used to LP and book covers being zappy and interesting. Why shouldn’t computer games cassettes look as good? Probably one fair argument against would be that books and LPs can be read in the shop or heard on the radio, so you have a pretty good idea of what it is you’re buying; whereas shop assistants aren’t going to waste their time loading several cassettes for you to see, so you are very reliant on the description of the game and the artwork.
Which brings us to the second point; Reviews are all the more vital for the games software buyer because of the above.
Are reviewers unfair? Are they biased and incompetent? Would it be better for the programmers to write their own reviews? Well the latter is obviously not on. Artists are awful liars, and never so bad as when talking about their own work. Whatever the software houses may feel and say about reviews, they want them as much as the public want them. There is an obvious conflict — the player wants to be told whether the game’s worth buying and the producer wants the player to be told that it is worth buying. Happily the conflict isn’t always irreconcilable!
What this underlines is that from either side responsibility is placed on the reviewer to be honest, but he or she is only human, so the resulting review is bound to be a personal preference — how can it be otherwise? In fact that is the reviewer’s strength — he is likely to say what he thinks no matter how much pressure he’s under from the advertiser. Pleasing the software producer is not a reviewer’s task. Besides, if you listen to software people they’ll all tell you that such-and-such a game got terrible and unfair reviews yet it sold fantastically, thus proving what they already knew; reviewers don’t know what they’re talking about.
At CRASH we have tried to bear all this in mind. Our responsibility seems heightened because our major concern is reviewing games. That is why all the major reviews and criticisms are undertaken by at least three reviewers. In this way we hope a fair balance will be maintained, that the resulting review will even out personal preferences. And the reviews are done by games players, not professional reviewers in the usual sense. So if we say a game isn’t liked, it isn’t just because the reviewer was tired and bad-tempered because the cat just peed on the carpet or the wife walked out last night. And if a game is liked, it isn’t because the manufacturer told us it was good.
Anyway, in the long run the readers of CRASH — yes that’s you — will be the final critic. You can write and tell us what you think, or you can use the CRASH HOTLINE and vote on those games that don’t seem to get the chart placings they deserve, and if you’re really keen, you can always have a go at the Reviewers’ Competition in this issue.
The 3 and 4 December saw London’s Ally Pally packed with eager crowds for the ninth ZX Microfair with 130 companies taking part. Notable absentees were Imagine, Bug-Byte and Virgin, but among the biggies Quicksilva, DK Tronics, Artic, Mikrogen, Carnell, CCS, CDS and Silversoft all had stands. Vortex created great interest with Android 2, shown for the first time, as did Fantasy with their follow up to The Pyramid. Pole Position fans were treated to Speed Duel from DK Tronics, Grand Prix Driver, from Britannia, Road Racer from Thorn EMI and tantalised by the non-existent Chequered Flag from Psion. But the most popular draw was Micromega’s Deathchase.
Lots of Manic Miner fans were in search of the follow up Jet Set Willy from Software Projects, and as many wanted a glimpse of Imagine’s Stonkers which hadn’t been released in time. Mikrogen and Artic had a dramatic presence with numerous new games, and at Gilsoft’s stand The Quill had many adherents; a new product written with The Quill made its first appearance — Dennis Through The Drinking Glasses by Applications, a story about the Prime Minister’s husband.
Difficult and attractive Wheelie was visible next to The Train Game at Microsphere’s stand, and at Phipps Associates armchair sportsmen could go orienteering with The Forest. One of the bigger stirs was caused by Digital Integration with their superb jet fighter simulation game, Fighter Pilot. More about that in the next issue. Abbex were showing their new Krakatoa and Carnell let us glimpse the screen of The Wrath of Magra, due out soon. Automata held a noisy lucky dip where games were to be had for a pound apiece, and on the Crash Micro stand newcomers Starzone Software showed their Zaxxan, the much awaited Spectrum version of the famous arcade original.
Due to the lack of space it’s impossible to cover even a fraction of the software on show at the ZX Microfair but you’ll be able to catch up with it in the next issue of CRASH. The tenth ZX Microfair is at the same venue on the 4 February.