Our resident TECH TIPSTER Simon Goodwin escaped from his Black Country lair a few Saturdays ago, and scurried off to the May Microfair
Uncle Clive, Alan Sugar and the PiMan may have missed the May ZX MICROFAIR, but bargain hunters thronged nonetheless, and few left disappointed.
Opus did a roaring trade in £100 Discovery Disc Systems — including a Spectrum 128 version with re-written software. Two video digitisers, from Sunset and an intrigingly named Dutch firm called Data Skip made an appearance. These gadgets let you load pictures from a video camera or recorder into your Spectrum. At £128 and £69 they are not cheap, but the possibilites for commercial software (besides Sean Masterson Strip Diplomacy) are interesting and the results look good. We hope to review both products soon.
Other hardware innovations included a radio-controlled joystick from AGF (review next issue) and a prototype percussion keyboard from Datalink Systems of Wales.
Fanzines were much in evidence and I picked up copies of the latest issues of Interface, and Games Monitor.
Interface Editor Lucien Randall conducted a fruitless search for new software on our behalf — it seems that the producers are more interested in shifting the last of their Christmas stock than in launching new games at the MICROFAIR this time of year. Last month’s tales of the QL’s death were rather premature — CST had Thor, a new QL compatible machine at the Fair, and details of the Blackberry — a super QL designed by Sinclair escapees Tony Tebby and Jan Jones — were also circulating. The non-arrival of the prototype Blackberry was blamed on a powercut during development. Both 512K machines should sell for around £500.
If the attendance at the Fair dropped off in mid afternoon, that was only to be expected on Cup Final Day! The Sinclair market seems to be thriving still, despite the upset of the last couple of months...
Apologies are due to Macsen, publishers of a range of TV gameshow games, including Bullseye, Countdown, Treasure Hunt and, of course, Blockbusters, which we attributed totally incorrectly to Britannia Software in the April review of Play Your Cards Right. Everso sorry, Macsen. Promise we won’t do it again! Expect more reviews of Macsen products next issue...
If the press release is to be believed, Virgin Games and New Generation Software are apoplectic with delight, having announced a deal between the two companies which gives Virgin all rights to the New Gen back catalogue and first option on seven new games. The first New Generation Virgin game is due out early this month and is to be called Cliffhanger.
Virgin has become almost promiscuous of late, buying out Leisure Genius lock, stock and barrel. Nothing dramatic is about to happen in the near future on the Spectrum front, however — Monopoly is planned for the Amstrad machines and a version of the 80,000 unit seller Scrabble apparently under development for Amstrad’s 8256 personal word processing machine.
A team of ardent Spectrum games players, decked out specially for the occasion in CRASH Hats and T Shirts, made a sponsored attempt at a computer game playing record down Aberystwyth way a while ago.
The event raised £100 for Aberystwyth Womens Aid, and some mega-sessions were put in at joystick and keyboard. Steve and Andy Wallis clocked up a magnificent 69 hours apiece while two thirteen year olds, Bobbie Richards and Ben kept on going for almost 40 hours. “A Commodore owner who came along did three quarters of an hour”, writes Carrol Muckersie, one of the event’s organisers!
Rapid developments on the 128K Spectrum front at Chateau Sugar lead to a price cut which Amstrad refer to as an unbundling rather than a price change. The machine on its own, without the two free games thrown in by Sinclair, should now be available for £139.95 as opposed to the launch price of £179.95 — which included 128K versions of Daley Thomson’s Supertest and Never Ending Story.
The move is presumably aimed at shifting existing stocks of the 128K machine so that High Street shelves have plenty of space for a relaunched version of the machine in time for this Christmas. No firm details as to the form the 128K Mark II will take are currently available, but Alan Sugar, Amstrad’s boss, has already spoken of ‘glueing on’ a tape deck and firmly spoken against including a monitor with the machine in an all-inclusive package.
Meanwhile, the first rumours of a new Amstrad computer using the Sinclair name have started circulating, referring to a 256K Spectrum which an industry pundit or two reckons should be in the shops by Christmas, selling for less than £200.
Ever-youthful software supremo Clem Chambers of CRL is a little disappointed having had to withdraw from a novel marketing ploy aimed at increasing CRL’s penetration of the schoolyard marketplace.
Placing small classified adverts in the press seeking youngsters still at school interested in computer games and keen to earn money, Clem’s company sought to recruit agents to sell CRL products on a commission basis.
Dreamsellers was the name of the ill-fated scheme which collapsed under the weight of a few complaints — including one from an irate computer store proprietor who referred the scheme to the police, MPs and the Advertising Standards Authority.
“Anyone would thought I was trying to sell heroin,” the ebullient Mr Chambers moaned pitifully when we contacted him.
Richard Jones of Interceptor was at the CES show, proud to be launching a new budget label — Players. Players games will sell for £1.99 retail, and the range kicks off on 29th April with sixteen titles for the popular machines.
With luck, we should be taking a look at the Players in the next issue — Richard had examples of the packaging and a very neat promotional video on his CES stand, but no games running so we couldn’t get a sneak preview organised in time for these pages! Lots of work has gone into the packaging design as well as the software, Richard assures us, and the new Interceptor venture aims to catch a significant share of the budget market.
The main contract signing extravaganza of the CES show involved British Telecom’s self proclaimed ‘leading edge’ label, Firebird, and adventure masters Level 9.
Pictured here, gathered round the contract signing table on the Level 9 stand, are Tony Rainbird and Paula Byrne from Firebird and three members of the Austin family tying up the deal.
Rainbird will be marketing selected Level 9 products in this country and in the USA — the first of which is to be a revamped version of the Colossal Adventure, Dungeon Adventure and Adventure Quest trilogy. The Level 9 team are currently hard at work adding graphics to the trilogy and improving the language parser used in the original versions of the three adventure programs. A second multiload adventure, provisionally titled Knight Orc, should be ready for release on the Rainbird label during September and a third Rainbird/Level 9 release is scheduled for December this year.
The agreement between Rainbird and Level 9 allows the Austins to continue as an independent software house, writing and marketing adventures under the Level 9 label — The Price of Magik is virtually complete, and should find its way into the shops any day now.
THE CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW, held at London’s Olympia during the last full week of April, was a bit of a damp squib as far as the home computer industry was concerned. Only a handful, albeit a fairly large handful, of software and hardware companies exhibited at the show, which was a quiet, slow paced affair according to most observers.
Amongst the names included in the show guide were Mirrorsoft who brought Biggles along to the Press Day and demoed early versions of Biggles, Dynamite Dan II and Reflex, and Rainbird, who used the show to announce tie-ins with both Level 9 and Magnetic Scrolls (a company specialising in adventures written for 68000 based machines). Beyond was the only other wing of British Telecom present— Firebird stayed at home on the nest for the duration of the show. Mastertronic, Mikro-Gen, Durell, Cheetah Marketing, and Bubble Bus also took exhibition space — Tom Prosser was available on the Bubble Bus stand to demonstrate an early version of his game Icicle Palace, which features trainee mega-hero and part time Space Council worker, Nick, on a quest to recover his 1600 Turbo Cruiser, pinched by a joy-rider. Nick finds himself inside a giant thermionic reactor, and has to find eight sections of the reactor and dispose of them appropriately in order to prevent a race of evil aliens from attaining galactic domination.
Very little in the way of new home computer product was in evidence: Amstrad stayed away, even though their range of Consumer Electronics equipment is much wider than home computers. The most popular area of activity was Satellite Television — half a dozen companies were pointing giant dishes into the ether, plucking out foreign TV broadcasts for the amusement of visitors to the show. One lady spent most of her time chucking the contents of ashtrays and cat litter boxes onto a square of carpet and vacuuming the mess back up, while row upon row of slick telephones looked on from their niches on other stands. It looks like the Personal Computer World Show in September is still set to be the main event of the home computing year.
Cheetah Marketing, flushed with the success of the Spec-Drum (look for the competition in TECH NICHE this issue) had little to demo for the Spectrum when we visited them at the CES Show. Sadly, their sound sampler and MIDI interface for the Spectrum were not ready in time to appear on their stand. Our very own musical Maestro, Jon Bates has joined the queue for review units and we should be bringing more details of both the MIDI interface and the sound sampler, priced at £49.95 and £44.95 respectively, very soon.
The only STAR attraction at the Consumer Electronics Show was arranged by Mirrorsoft who invited the real Biggles to their stand to take a look at how work was progressing on the game of the film. Well, not the REAL Biggles, he didn’t exist silly. Neil Dickson, star of the film which, as they say, ‘should be at a cinema near you’ right now.
A few more words about Biggles the computer game appear in the Preview section this issue and we hope to bring you a full review next month.