Hello, letter writing fans, Lloyd here again, refreshed after the LET show at Olympia. NO, I didn’t go, but all the others did, so the office was pleasantly quiet for a change!
This month has seen an enormous quantity of mail come in, some of it really quite intelligent too, so if I use only bits and pieces of some people’s letter, forgive me (it’s the ‘precious space’ bit again you know). Thank you to ‘Desperate Hyper Loader’ who went to the trouble of writing the same letter three times to grab my attention, and the answer to your question is, YES IT DOES. Regarding hyper load tapes, try loading at very low volume levels as well, since many of them respond better this way. Anyway, onto the real business in hand, and the letter of the month, which wins £12 worth of software for its writer....
May I first take the time to congratulate the Production Team on behalf of Mr Carl Irzin and myself for an excellent magazine, the contents of which are first class. (I buy the magazine, he reads it but he buys YOUR COMPUTER, and I have to show him what a reader orientated magazine is.) As a Spectrum owner since 1982 when the latest ‘ace’ program to hit the market was City Bomber from Titan (now selling discreetly packaged games that Joan Collins would ban, let alone Mary Whitehouse), I felt it was about time I made my first correspondence on the progress of the whole industry (well as much as I can fit in without Roger Kean moaning about how valuable space is).
1. Hardware. As competition dictates, so the price of the Spectrum dropped by £50 to £129.95 making it the most attractive home computer on the market, much to the annoyance of £179.95 owners like myself. Now, with no 16K machine available, the 48K machine can be found for as little as £79.95 due to the fall in the price of the Interface 1.
The microdrives finally arrived but sadly haven’t been accepted as widely as I believe they should have been. Apart from a few formatting problems at first, all my replacements have functioned faultlessly since. Let’s hope a few companies start to produce software on microdrive now they only cost £1.95 each (come on companies — do your bit)!
The numbers of add-ons have really been outstanding, catering for every aspect of computing.
In addition to Interface 1 and microdrive, I also have the Low Profile Keyboard, Protocol 4 joystick interface and Currah Microspeech. Other add-ons include Monitors, Disc Drives, ROM cartridges, Printers, Memory Boards and many interfaces to connect anything from Music Keyboards to Robots.
2. Software. How can anyone complain about the quality of the top Spectrum software on the market at the moment? Two years ago, who would have thought we would see programs of the quality of Knight Lore, Lords of Midnight, Tir Na Nog and many more produced by innovative companies. By the time this is read these standards may have been surpassed.
However, a sad story also exists with certain software companies who have far more expertise in marketing and hype than in programming skills. Far too many companies are trying to rip off the customers with more content in the adverts than in the program they are selling, and fully deserve to get the CRASH thumbs down as did The Great Space Race. (Did the quarter of a million go towards designing the boxes? Very nice they are too).
As for the future, apart from the ludicrously high price of software (excepting budget games, now improving very quickly), the next two years could be interesting. For instance, large adventure games could be possible using the microdrive to access further data during the course of the game. Food for thought? Well perhaps something to look forward to with anticipation.
3. Publications. A lot of excellent material has been released which delves deep into the secrets of the Spectrum, both in terms of hardware and operating system as well as general topics to do with the use of the computer. These include titles such as An introduction to PASCAL, The Complete Guide to Solving the Hobbit and Machine Code for the Absolute Beginner as well as other titles.
To sum up, the last two years have given me great pleasure in using the Spectrum, to the extent where it now commands a room of its own in my house (due to a little white lie to the wife claiming I needed a study to have some peace and quiet in order to revise for my work exams). I think us Spectrum Owners should be proud that a machine with so little going for it should achieve so much in a short time.
A bit ‘Churchill-ish’ that, wasn’t it?
Keep on hacking
Allan P Dixon
Well it certainly brought tears to Roger (he was almost named after Winston Churchill) Kean’s eyes, Allan. £12 worth of software for your sentiments, as soon as you let us know what you want.
Our review of Activision’s game Ghostbusters
certainly stirred up a hornets’ nest of complaint. Lots of you thought we
had been very unfair. Here come some bits of some of the letters.
I wish to complain about your review of Ghostbusters in
issue 13. One reviewer stated that he found it impossible to return to the
streets after catching a shiner. This fault only occurs if the ghost trap is
placed on the road. I thoroughly enjoy the game and have spent many hours
mastering and completing it.
The review of Ghostbusters is unfair on Activision. I
would rate this game higher than Jetpac, Wheelie, Code
Name Mat and Blue Thunder all added together.
Roger Godfrey (12)
I think your review of Activision’s Ghostbusters
is totally unfair. If the reviewers had bothered to play the game for long
enough they would have found out that yes the game does crash if the trap is
fired on the road, but it is possible to take your men onto the pavement where
ghosts can easily be caught without the program crashing. I think
Ghostbusters is very addictive and not boring or slow.
A friend of the previous letter writer no doubt
I am writing to warn people that Ghostbusters does not
take Kempston joystick. I wasted time and money taking the game back to the
shop a grand total of five times! I think that if the inlay of a game states
that you can use a joystick, you should be able to. So now I am stuck with a
crappy game that does not take Kempston joystick.
I noticed on reading the Feb issue that there was a review of
Ghostbusters. ‘Ah Good,’ I thought, because I had
recently acquired the game and had found it highly addictive and exciting.
What horror then, when to my amazement I found it received 60% overall!
Normally I, believing in your capabilities, will take note of the score given by CRASH, but after reading your review and then playing the game I could not disagree more! How can you say it is boring? You have to be alert in case Marshmallow Men or Shiners.
The part I disagree with most was the way your reviewers compared it with
the Commodore 64 version as if expecting an equivalent game. We all know that
the CBM 64 has better sound and graphics, so why compare? For those people who
agree with me, here is an account number for 83,000. Type in the name HELLO and
The CBM 64 has better sound — no disagreement, but I wouldn’t say it has better graphics, better sprites yes, but different graphics. Actually, the game on the Spectrum should (because of increased memory) have been tougher, longer or better to play than the CBM 64 version. To those complainers who felt the CRASH review team failed to understand the game or played it insufficiently, I must tell you that we were playing it on the Commodore as soon as that version arrived, loved the music but still found the playability lacking.
Who is to blame for this outrage? What kind of person could
degrade a game to such an extent? The review didn’t even say that this
game MAY appeal to a special kind of person. Mainly me!
Ken Bentley (15)
Phew! This must be the biggest set back for CRASH since YOUR SPECTRUM came out! Gosharootie (as Loony would say), what can I say? Sorry? I still find the game a bit lacking myself, but then, I’m not a special kind of person, and the CRASH team generally thought that while the CBM 64 version succeeded because of the music, the Spectrum version failed because of the poor sound (the tune was even flat, come on, admit it). I’m convinced this game has done well because the film was a box office smash, but then, we’re all entitled to our own opinions!
Just to show how opinions can differ, here’s another...
I am writing to warn readers of Atarisoft’s Pole Position. This game should not be allowed to be sold. I just went out and bought it, rushed home to load it as I had heard so much about it. I was totally disgusted with it.
Dear grovelling Lloyd,
I am in disagreement on just one of your reviews in the Christmas issue, and that is the one on Pole Position which I thought should have got at least 80%, as it is pretty good.
On reading the letter from Michael Austin in the December issue of CRASH I became more and more annoyed. I have NEVER found a game which can’t be copied. If I find a game which can’t be copied on my 30 watt double deck, Brixton style, ‘Ghetto’ Blaster, then I use a tape copier program or I hack the game to pieces and work out a routine to put in the loader so it saves once loaded. I must now praise your magazine which is ultra brilliant and which beats other magazines out of sight.
Do you also play lots of very LOUD heavy Metal on your Ghetto
Blaster whilst hacking games to bits, I wonder? Of course, you’re
obviously a talented hacker, Barry, but there are those logic-innocents who
play games and have very little clue of how to go about the arcane fiddling
you’re talking about (like me!)
Thank you for printing my last two letters.
I wrote to my MP concerning VAT on reading matter and enclose his reply. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to see his views. Also enclosed is a letter to him from Barney Hayhoe, a Treasury Minister. I’m sure you’ll find that interesting too.
I have two complaints about CRASH which ought to be remedied. One is Angus Ryall and the other is Oliver Frey.
Angus Ryall may be a fine strategist but if he cannot tell the truth in his articles (I refer to Scorpio), then he is as much use to CRASH readers as a Spectrum covered in raspberry jelly.
Oliver Frey is no doubt a fine artist but please tell him to stop drawing
pictures like that on page 94 of the January issue of CRASH. If this continues
CRASH will have to be X rated.
Thanks, James for sending the two letters which I quote below. Meanwhile I can confidentially tell you that the much-maligned John Merry of Scorpio Gamesworld went to say hello to Angus Ryall on the Games Workshop stand at the LET show at Olympia — and he was carrying a jar of raspberry jelly come to think of it. Oliver Frey has been taken ill as a result of your comments regarding his drawings. Anyway, you can blame Robin Candy for such illustrations because he always insists on plenty of gore.
Anyway, here are the two letters James received from his MP...
‘I have had a large postbag from constituents concerned at the proposals to introduce VAT on books and newspapers.
I am totally opposed to this move, as I think it could have a disastrous effect on the publishing and newspaper industries, and on those who seek enjoyment from reading. I believe a tax on learning would be quite wrong, and I have made by views known to the Chancellor.
From Anthony Steen MP
You wrote to Nigel Lawson on 11 and 17 December enclosing these letters from two constituents about the possible extension of value added tax to books.
As you will appreciate, Treasury Ministers are receiving many similar representations at this time. Indeed a number of lobbying campaigns are being organised by the particular interests concerned. In response Nigel is making it quite clear that the Government favours a shift in the burden of taxation from taxes on earnings to taxes on spending. This means that the indirect tax base may have to be further extended so that income tax can be further reduced. The Government has no set views at present on how this might be best done.
The National Book Committee have sent Nigel two documents which set out
their detailed arguments against VAT on books and journals. Their
representations are being carefully considered.
Not long after this issue is out on the streets, we shall know whether VAT goes on mags or not. Let’s hope not otherwise the CRASH staff will all have to donate 15% or whatever of their earnings to the company coffers!
In the time-honoured CRASH tradition of allowing professional programmers to
pretend that they are also readers — may I present Mr Paul
Saw the review... very fair I thought. Xaviour II should be finished soon. It’s a much better game. Here’s a quick summary of features (don’t tell anyone I told you):
256 Caverns (entirely unique)!
80 plus Passages
64 large Creature types
24 types of object
Fully definable keyboard
Xaviour takes to his GLOBE (he can get in or out, jump and walk) to travel through the caverns to retrieve all that is his people’s culture. Keys open chests, nets capture creatures, energy objects replenish/deplete his strength. The passages are full of flame gushers and lava droppers, timing being needed to negotiate them. Real conditions for movement are used, enabling omni-directional movement (not just 8 way), ie acceleration, momentum, friction and gravity. So I hope this gets me closer to getting a game to be a CRASH SMASH.
I’ve written a short game which is to be broadcast on LBC’s Computer Club slot on Sundays at 3.30pm. So if you want a free 100% machine code game, tune in (if you can pick the station up).
By the way, the Jetman POKEs are not my fault, Robin Candy left bits out.
...and after that short commercial break, we return you to the programme....
And after news of new games, news of new magazines has been causing
uncertainty in some parts of the land...
I have a complaint to make. Your magazine should be completely in black-and-white. To use as much colour as CRASH does is wrong for two reasons: first, as you keep telling us, colour is very expensive and the magazine would be cheaper without it; second, it causes me severe embarrassment when I open it on my daily commuter train into London. My fellow pin-striped first class travellers look at me in a very peculiar way when they see brightly coloured pictures and advertisements.
You may not realise this, but the brightest colour they can stand is the pink of the Financial Times, or, at a pinch, the little red flash on the Economist. Of course, they peer as closely as they do because the only colourful publications they are aware of are the ‘girlie’ magazines. (I am told this is true; I have never read one myself).
So please, have a little more decorum and change to tasteful
I know exactly how you feel, David, having swayed myself into
London strap-hanging on a Metropolitan London train morning after morning for
years (couldn’t have afforded first class even if they had it). As you
may have seen from last month’s issue, the last point in your letter about
Robin Candy, which I have omitted to print, has been remedied!
Dear Trash, or is it Crash?
Pay attention and allow me to educate you. Please tell your reviewers not to make comparisons between Commodore and Spectrum games because you know as well as I that the Commodore 64 is clearly in a different league and is superior to the Spectrum in every way. This, as we all know, is proved when it comes to comparing Ghostbusters for example, as one reviewer did in the Feb issue. You would be forgiven for thinking that he hadn’t seen the Commodore version when he wrote it, to quote one of the poor jealous fool’s lines; ‘I take the pleasure to say that the graphics are no different on the Spectrum version whatsoever.’
How did he get away with a lie like that? If he had been even the slightest bit unbiased he would have said something like: ‘Commodore version: Superb arcade quality smoothness, Sound — better than the record, overall 10/10...
‘Spectrum version: gaudy little graphics, poxy sound, and excuse me while I laugh my head off.’
So take heed all you silly little pirates who call yourselves Spectrum owners. Don’t even try to criticise the Commodore 64, you will just embarrass yourselves, and if you need to be jealous of another computer try one that’s closer matched to your own — the Jupiter Ace for example.
So try to muster some respect for the 64 and all it’s done for
computer entertainment as we know it. I hope you Spectrum owners have learned
something from this letter.
I’m tempted to give the address in full! Better not,
anyway it’s probably not the right one. Well, you little piece of
digested and voided cow food, I don’t really think I have to say very
much to this load of garbage as I’m sure plenty of CRASH readers will do
that for me. But I will say that your last remark is strictly inaccurate as far
as this country is concerned. It is definitely the Spectrum that has done the
most for games entertainment and the 64 that has followed.
Please could you publish this letter for people who get infuriated when they are typing in a complicated program and then look back several lines only to discover that a couple of important letters are missing. You pressed them all right, but perhaps too lightly.
The answer to all this is a
‘beep’, so that each time you
press a key correctly, the
Spectrum ‘beeps’. Before
you type in your program,
POKE 23609,99 (Enter)
To get rid of the ‘beep’, type:
POKE 23609,9 (Enter)
Thanks for the tip, which many people might find useful. In
fact, if you look in your Spectrum manual I think you will not only find the
same suggestion but also the POKE itself.
I’m writing to you because of what I think is an important omission in your coverage of Spectrum software. This is in the coverage of serious software and programming utilities, eg Compilers and Assemblers. I have every issue of CRASH bar the first but I can only find four or five such reviews and most of these were written by entrants to your reviewers’ competition, the notable exceptions being the excellent reviews of White Lightning and Hisoft’s Ultrakit. Let me hasten to add that this is not a deficiency in our literary diet that is solely confined to CRASH; all magazines, including YOUR SPECTRUM which claims to be for the more serious Spectrum user, are sadly lacking in this department.
I am sure that a fairly large proportion of software buyers at some time or another consider buying one of these packages and, as almost all of this type of software is expensive, help is usually needed.
I understand that your team of young reviewers may not be able to whip up the enthusiasm to review anything that does not entail blasting little green aliens to bits, but Roger Kean himself has reviewed other software that has fallen into this other type of category.
In fact I suggest maybe a couple of pages each month for such reviews, indeed, when you consider that the Hall of Slime has a page to itself then it doesn’t seem much to ask for.
So Lloyd, let’s see you use your not inconsiderable influence to push
for more reviews of the thinking man’s type of software. You never know,
such a revelation might even lead to a much needed increase in your salary.
Flattery will get you everywhere! Take a look at this issue and
you will see I’ve already done it for you! Tech Niche will be a regular
clump of pages devoted to more serious programs and relevant hardware as well.
Some things lined up for future issues include Assembler/Editors, Compilers,
Modems and Gumby learns machine code sloooowly. (I’m not sure who the
hell Gumby is, but that’s what it says on the editorial production board
anyway). And as for ‘Your Spectrum’, isn’t it simply just
lacking? NO, I’m sorry, I never said that.
Reading John Tapper’s comments several issues back about having loud music playing whilst you assault your Spectrum, set me and my friend to thinking, and the results of all that cogitation and burnt wood is the following list. Here it is, Volume I of ‘Bop as you Zap’ from Kan’t tel Records:
Sorry about all the Heavy Metal, but he did say LOUD music.
When playing any game like Antics, Monty Mole,
Mutant Sheep Fight It out With Acid Camels at the Dawn of Time etc, I
find any track from ‘Animals’ by Pink Floyd can be helpful,
although depending on your frame of mind at the time, the Smiths’
‘Meat is Murder’ might be more appropriate.
Two times I have written to CRASH,
For the greed of software, not cash,
The letters haven’t been printed before,
But with this poem I might just score.
Sabre Wulf completion was in my first letter
Followed by playing tips to make people better.
This time I write with a bit of a craze,
For I have been moved up a year in Skool Daze.
Perhaps somebody somewhere has left Skool,
Their daze are over and I’m a fool.
Atic Atic, also I have just completed,
With the aid of your map (I still cheated).
Infinite lives poke I had put in,
The poke was the only way I could win.
CRASH is the best magazine by far,
The reviews are excellent (they really are).
I could go on forever about your good side,
But there are thousands (I’ve never lied).
IF again this letter isn’t printed I’ll cry,
And never again buy CRASH (that’s a lie).
IF it is, could I have Alien 8 and Finders Keepers,
Don’t forget to print it, or for me it’s weepers.
If I have Alien 8 and Finders Keepers,
I’d be for the high jump and window leapers,
For I’m only allowed £12 to award
To one letter per month in accord
With laws laid down to be seen
In operation by His Eminence RM Kean
Dear Lloyd Mangram,
I have been reading CRASH ever since issue 5. I find your reviews quite good as they have three reviewers giving SEPARATE opinions — this is very good because one reviewer only has ONE view.
I would also like to point out to CRASH readers that the mistakes in CRASH are only typing mistakes and NOT spelling mistakes. (What mistakes...?)
My cousin has just been introduced to the Spectrum, and ever since reading CRASH has decided to buy one.
Your tips section is good and I find JETMAN hilarious! The tips are helpful, but you tend to print things that don’t have to do with anything, like in the one tip about the other boat in Jet Set Willy that would sail to an island, when you knew it wouldn’t work.
I would like to end my letter on a note about the review of
Ghostbusters. I thought it was most unfair as the reviewers compared
it to the Commodore version. The Commodore has much better sound and we all
know the Spectrum has a small speaker. I have a copy of the game and find it
fun to play. If anyone wants a sum of over £40,000 type in my name, last
first, and for the account 26027404.
Not another one! I have to say, at this important juncture,
that the reason for comparing the two versions of Ghostbusters was, in
our opinion, valid because APART from the sound, there was very little
difference between the two (compared to many conversions one way or the other).
And in our opinion, by removing the sound you removed the best bit of the game.
In other words, there wasn’t much game there to begin with.
Recently I received a copy of Hewson’s Avalon. (Previously I had one but my tape recorder got hungry and chewed it up). When I got the new one home I loaded it expecting it to ask for the usual codes, but it didn’t. Instead it went straight into the game asking what method of control I wanted. Could you please tell me if this is a unique copy?
Sounds fairly unique. I wonder whether the cassette contained
the pale blue code sheet? It is possible that this is an early or
pre-production copy which you have happened on by some error; or perhaps it
might be a commercially pirated version. The real people to ask are at Hewson
Consultants themselves. They may well be interested to know about it.
I once read in Derek Brewster’s Adventure bit that someone sent in their ideas as to the perfect adventure. So in return, I have written out what makes the perfect arcade game.
The graphics must be good in the sense that you can recognise what an object is, ie in Arcadia I haven’t the foggiest idea of what the aliens are, whereas in Pheenix the aliens are definitely birds.
The sound must add to the game. A tune is not always wonderful and sometimes slows the game down like in Booty. Ultimate’s games have never used tunes but they have nearly continuous sound because they use it for footsteps, aliens appearing etc. If a tune is used it must have an on/off switch.
The inlay card should have an eye-catching cover, screen shots from the game and a humorous storyline, Fantasy is a good example of the last point.
If the game is just a plain ‘arcade’ game, ie mindless zapping, rescuing girlfriends or eating cherries, then the inlay should explain the game in every detail. If the game is an arcade/adventure like Atic Atac, then the inlay should give nothing away. It should just explain your quest and leave you to solve the problems. In the case of Ultimate, they have taken this one step further by giving you your quest cryptically with rhymes.
The game should provide a ‘demo mode’, there are 2 types; the ‘attract’ demo, which shows all the screens, or the ‘game in action’ demo, which shows some of the screens with the hero in action. In my opinion, the latter is the best, just because it gives an idea of what to expect AND shows how ‘you’ actually fare against it.
The game must be extremely user-friendly. It must have user-definable keys (this is something that Ultimate still have to learn), plenty of joystick options and a good option is where you can change the game slightly. As such, Dark Star, Match Day and Penetrator are the only ones like this that I know of. This is not a necessity but if there is any memory left it should be thought of.
Now we come to what I call the ‘Oh ****!’ part of the game. This is where yours truly is on the last screen of a game with one life left to go. The palms are sweating, the heart is beating faster... and I lose my last life. This causes me to cry out in the above-mentioned fashion. I realise that I will have to start all over again and as it took me three hours last time to get there, I pull the plug. There are three ways to cure this type of mental breakdown...
This allows you to SAVE the details of where you are, what you are carrying, how many lives you have left, etc, onto tape (rather like an adventure). Only one game I know of does this — Strangeloop. Full marks to Virgin, even though the game is unplayable....
This is where each level of the game has an entry code. When you begin a new level you are asked which level you want to start at, and if you can enter the level entry code correctly then you are allowed to play on that level. This gets rid of the tedious ‘start to finish’ route which most games use. There are some disadvantages with this system, however, some magazines (mentioning no names but one of them rhymes with ‘Smash’) print these codes and nerds like myself can jump straight in at level 8 and not even look at the previous levels. (I still can’t complete level 1 of Wheelie yet, but I’ve played on all the other levels....
This is the worst of the three, but it is still good at that. The ideal Training Mode should only let you play one screen at a time and with a few things missing to make the actual game that bit harder. Turmoil’s trainer is very good in that it won’t let you score but does take away lives if you get killed.
You can tell these methods work well by the fact that I am now ****ed off with Kokotoni Wilf (because I get to the last level with one life left and get killed off very quickly), but I still play Wheelie.
The game must be easy to start with. This is to give you time to ‘get the feel’ of controlling ‘you’ and how the nasties work. But it must get harder as the game nears the end. This may sound obvious but it is surprising how many games take hours to get off the first level/screen.
Finally, the game must have a reasonable price, for while I was willing to
pay £10 for Knight Lore, I am not prepared to be ripped paying
£10 for Underwurlde.
Thanks for the ideas, Jeff. I have to add that it’s a pity
I couldn’t print your actual letter, because it was beautifully written
in large-size Gothic script, and proved surprisingly easy to type in on my 1876
Hermes hammerwriter. I have the feeling there are actually more games than you
mention which have some form of player-definable design feature, Omega
Run by CRL for one, Soft Proj’s Lode Runner for another. As
you say, some points might seem very obvious, but I agree that there are loads
of games that fail to get some of these points anyway.
Well that’s about it for the main letters. Just a few points at the end I have already printed a snippet from Penfold’s letter on Pole Position, but he added another dimension to the ‘what computer people are’ piece I printed recently, and I quote it here, for what it’s worth!
Thank you Penfold! Neil Hurst wants to know why Ultimate advertised Alien 8 so in advance of its release, and why the people in Yorkshire are always the last ones to get good games, since it went on sale in London before he could find it locally. Well I can’t tell you anything about Ultimate’s advertising plans really, because I don’t know. I do know that most games are available to stockists the same day everywhere. You should take up the cudgels with your local shops, Neil.
Vince Kelly writes to praise CRASH Mail Order for their prompt service but asks that as a CRASH Subscriber is he entitled to dock 50p off EACH mail order item ordered. The answer, Vince is YES. The second question is, does this include hardware? And that answer is NO. CRASH Mail Order does not handle much in the way of hardware. The principal reason for this, I am told, is because the cost of packaging and postage is far higher than it is for software, and CRASH Mail order works on a post-included basis, so hardware would not be very economical. Manufacturers can afford to do this, of course, because they aren’t paying anything like the wholesale prices that CRASH Mail order would have to pay. However, keep your eyes peeled — there may be some changes in that before very much longer.