Strange times indeed. Sitting here in early August, sorting through your letters as I begin work on another FORUM, the snow is gently falling on Ludlow! Perhaps the unseasonal weather has something to do with the Russian nuclear disaster... Somehow I doubt we’ll all be sunbathing on Christmas Day! I really should remember to pack a raincape in the saddlebag of my bicycle, no matter what time of year it is.

Anyway, on with the FORUM this month — space is short enough as it is, owing to a slight holiday recess, and I’ve got to persuade the Doc Martened One not to insist I attend the PCW Show...

STAR LETTER
CRITICAL LITANY

Dear Lloyd
Just this minute read your letters, so I thought I’d comment on a few points while they’re still fresh in my mind.

1) The ULTIMATE Pentagram Shock Horror controversy. Another sucker bites the dust on your letters page. S Valente should have known better than to write in like that, surely he must have known what the response would be. But with regard to 3D rotation games, I think they really have gone on for long enough. When I first saw Knight Lore, I thought it was excellent, but a month later I was sick and fed up of it. Now, with the plethora of this type of game, I get bored of them in about three days. I mean Alien 8, MOVIE, Nightshade, Batman, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Gunfright ad nauseum. I can’t understand how people’s attention can be held for so long by this one type of game. The same problem occurs with every new type of game (eg the Gyroscope Marble Madness craze which I predict is just about to finish, and the karate games) but it does not go on for as long as the 3D walkabout game has. It’s interesting to note how when a fighting game comes out now, the reviewers first response is Oh no, not another fighting game, yet this does not seem to happen with the 3D style games. Surely 3D games cannot survive much longer...

2) Sexism in computing. This is fast becoming a popular topic. The sexist problem stems from the enormous majority of males in the computing business and anything else to do with computers. It is not helped by individuals such as Mr Schofield. No doubt issue 32’s letter column will be jam-packed with hordes of outraged bra-burners demanding Mr Schofield be burned at the stake.

Role-playing suffers from the same problem of gender. WHITE DWARF’s letter col has the occasional slanging match about portrayal of women as helpless on the covers, as they are usually seen being carried off by a beasty or protected by a Conan lookalike. On the other hand, you never see letters from males in knitting magazines moaning about lack of attention (or perhaps you do, I can’t say I’ve looked). Anyway, both computing and role-playing are hobbies which are likely to remain male-dominated, so there’s not a lot can be done about the problem.

3) Minson. You asked for comments, and I’m afraid I must agree with Mr Evans. Mr Minson’s articles have become totally predictable, a few free lunches, Mr Minson gets drunk, and wanders to another free lunch with a hangover to get drunk again etc. Mr Minson also takes great delight in sniping at other journalists and making ‘witty’ comments on the food at his free lunches (they probably just invite him to get rid of the leftovers). Get rid of him, and expand the excellent PBM section.

Pete Tamlyn’s (that guy sure gets around) article comparing adventures, gamebooks and RPG’s was interesting and objective, something which the opinionated offerings on this subject in the adventure trail most definitely are not.

Anyway, after a mammoth effort of writing almost a page of constructive criticism I’ll finish off with some gratuitous slanging: Melissa Ravenflame is a coward and a sexual stereotype of the worst kind. Go get her Hannah (great cover by the way, though I just bet there’ll be complaints, eg “Immediately after seeing CRASH my son went out and was smothered to death whilst trying to mud wrestle an alien gorilla”).
Phillip Coggins

An interesting set of views Philip. Some people argue that there are only four or five basic types of computer game and that everything is either a variation on a theme or a combination of a couple of themes. It’s not that surprising that there have been lots of 3D games — a lot of them clones admittedly, but some, like Batman, add a little more to the genre. As I’ve said before, it’s not what you do with an artistic form, it’s how you exploit it.

Sexism in the computer games world is no doubt a product of the domination of sexist males in the field — which doesn’t mean that women should be excluded or referred to as ‘bra burners’ if they occasionally make a voice of complaint heard.

Quite a few people have written in on the subject of Mr Minson’s column, and it seems people either love him or hate him — so far opinion seems split about 50/50. More letters on that particular subject next month.

Anyway, as a reward for your long epistle of constructive criticism I have decided to award you this month’s £20 of software. Try not to ask Aunt Aggie for a knitting program!

MANORAMANAGRAM

Dear Lloyd Mangram
I’ve sussed you Mangram, I was deep in thought counting computer games tapes jumping into cassette recorders, and I had just reached Make A Chip and was very nearly asleep. It hit me like a bullet from John Marsh’s gun, Mangram had always been a misprint it was really aangram, an anagram of anagram.

‘Now,’ I thought, ‘to find an anagram of LLOYD! I found it: Olly’d! The ’d bit standing for ver, hence Ollyver. You are Oliver Frey. As for the spelling it’s the proof readers fault. So Lloyd, you and Oliver are the same person. Admit it!
Francis Irving

Alwyas been a misprint indeed!
LM

128k BLUES

Dear Lloyd
I am a 128K Spectrum owner and, like many others sold my 48K Spectrum to buy it. Right now I am feeling quite depressed about my computer, as about a week after I bought it the price was slashed by forty pounds! Also adding to my dilemma is the fact that Alan Sugar is going to launch a new 128K Spectrum, which could make me lose all hope in what I have just bought, so much so that if Alan Sugar’s new 128K Spectrum does hit off with the people, I will definitely be selling my 128K Spectrum to buy the new one. Either I will do that or the 128K Spectrum picks itself up, in quality of games and in popularity. But for the moment I’m afraid the chances are I will be selling my computer, as time is running out for Sir Clive’s machine.
Lee Sayers

Which all goes to prove that our esteemed Editor was offering constructive advice in that editorial of his which attracted some criticism. Had you hung on in there a little longer you would have saved some money! (Can I have that pay rise now, please Graeme?)

Don’t worry about Alan Sugar’s new 128 — it will be compatible with your machine and could well provide such a boost to the 128 Spectrum world that companies actually start writing games for 128K Spectrums. You shouldn’t have to sell your pride and joy Lee.
LM

LOOKING BACK IN ANGER?

Dear Lloyd
As a computer veteran (ie aged over 18) who spends half his life standing in the dole queue, it has become increasingly apparent to me that the software industry though still entertaining, has lost some of its attractiveness and freshness. The businessmen behind the business are ‘progressing’ into bureaucrats who speak of ‘net profits, units of sale, marketing techniques and prospective themes’ rather than ‘play our games you’ll enjoy them!’

What I’m getting at is that the innocence seems to have evaporated from this once fun field. Either that, or someone has fabricated a well-constructed but now crumbling facade.

I accept that there has to be a business side to any industry but I’m talking about software marketing not car sales or insurance policies. The attitude of shoving the product via advertising down the public’s throat (even if we never see it) is typified by one of the true giants of the now-cynical software business: some companies persist in advertising products for ages before their release and the games may be getting more polished while we wait but at the same time, they get tarnished. Do you get the feeling their heart is not in entertaining but in making money?

I don’t know whether it is me that has mixed priorities or someone else... Contrastingly, people like Gargoyle Games impress me with their fresh approach; they seem to hold a determination as well as an ability to enjoy themselves and make money. Perhaps previously I was so naive and had so many expectations that I was blinded by the more attractive side of the then booming computer industry.

As more and more small companies vanish over the precipice into bankruptcy so larger companies consisting of board-rooms and directors swallow each other up... No I’m not some miserable old sod who despises people who are richer than myself, but I thought computers were supposed to be FUN not about capitalising nor opportunism to such a degree.

1982 was a year for entrepreneurs, sadly 1986 is a year for business-men and chartered accountants. In those days (strains of Hovis theme-tune can now be heard) a game was considered a bad deal at £3.95 and it probably was, now £9.95 is accepted as the norm... inflation? Or have people’s wallets fattened? Mine hasn’t. Believe it or not I’m not really nostalgic, well only a little.
Brian Gillespi

Nostalgia, like the game market, ain’t what it used to be. Yes, I agree that much of the raw fun element and energy has gone out of computer gaming nowadays, and it is perhaps sad that large businesses have moved into the market.

But the arrival of professional businesses has had a number of positive effects too, Brian. The shady deals of past years have been rendered almost extinct — people will always moan about poor product though, and that’s not actually a rip-off, more a case of Caveat Emptor as my mother used to remind me before I spent my pocket money.

In the days when games were sold for under a fiver from the programmer’s front room, distributors and retailers didn’t have to be paid and advertising budgets were minimal. Without advertising, significant sales of a product — be it a computer game or a fridge — can’t be achieved and without significant sales there’s not enough profit left to invest in development work. You must agree that the technical sophistication and game content of Spectrum software has risen dramatically since 1982, and I doubt you’d still be impressed with a £3.95 game today that offered 1982 graphics and playability.

The next correspondents have something to add about the advertising debate...
LM

ADVERTS WITHOUT SUBSTANCE

Dear Lloyd
I am writing to complain about the advertising of software in magazines. It’s not that I think there are too many adverts, it’s the software companies who have millions (!) of adverts all over the place, to promote games that don’t exist.

I think that software companies should not be allowed to advertise a game before it is released in the shops. Domark managed to do this with their game, Splitting Images and the game is still set to be a hit, so if Domark can do it why can’t Ocean, Elite and US Gold?
Simon Machell

LOST BUS FARES

Dear Lloyd
I know this subject has been in FORUM many a time before but I have had enough with software houses always advertising their games but when you go down town and go to a good computer store and ask for a game they always say it has not even been published yet! Please, please print advertisements with at least a date of release or I am going to keep losing 24p on bus fare.
Clive Stonebridge

Very valid points, Clive and Simon. Some while ago Roger Bennet, our Advertising Supremo, wrote to all the software houses who buy pages in CRASH asking them to refrain from putting ‘Available Now’ on their adverts if the game was not in the shops.

The trouble is, last minute delays often creep in, and given that companies have to let us have their advertising copy at least a month before their ad is printed in CRASH, all sorts of things can go wrong with an advertised game’s launch schedule while CRASH is being printed.

Advertisements are expensive, and I’m sure software houses would like to avoid ‘wasting’ advertising money Simon. It’s just that we don’t live in an ideal world where everything goes according to Plan A! The next correspondent has something to add to the advertising debate....
LM

COPYWRITER’S NIGHTMARE

Dear Lloyd
Advertising as it is today is a waste of resources and adds unnecessarily to the fixed costs of producing software. I’m not saying that all advertising is bad, in fact advertising is essential for both the consumer and the firm. People need INFORMATIVE advertising so that they can rationally decide whether or not a particular program suits their tastes and whether it is worth the asking price. This could be done in half a page containing clear screen shots accompanied by a brief but concise explanation of the game, what joysticks it works with and other relevant pieces of information like whether or not it is Microdrive compatible and so on. For monochromatic games (eg Knight Lore, Bobby Bearing et al) there need not be any colour. Black and White ads still work, as long as they are clear (which happens to be the case in CRASH because of the glossy paper used).

What I object to is the pages of hype that we are faced with when reading computer mags. This PERSUASIVE advertising entices people to make irrational decisions which they very much regret afterwards. Software houses cannot keep conning the consumer who has to pay ten pounds for a lot of garbage which was advertised in two pages of bright colours as being ‘the ultimate experience’ etc etc.

Firms are now paying the price for this; high fixed costs because of advertising, increases in the levels of piracy, and the growing success of the budget labels. It is time the software houses changed their marketing strategy and used the money they save to reduce the price of software, but maybe it is now too late...
Michael Imprato

One thing’s for sure — you’ll never get a job with SAATCHI AND SAATCHI Mike! Advertising has been blamed for a range of society’s ills, and it’s not surprising to hear that adverts have damaged the software industry.

As you so rightly say, advertising is an essential part of any industry — but it must be up to the consumer to decide which products to buy. Adverts don’t MAKE people buy things, they just let people know that something is available and they are bound to attempt to catch the consumer’s eye. Reviews, on the other hand, attempt to offer assistance when it comes to making the purchasing decision, so read the ads and the reviews and at least look, if not try, before you buy.
LM

BIRTHDAY TREAT

Dear Lloyd
I have been an avid reader of your column since July 1984 when I bought my Spectrum 16K. I then upgraded to 48K. However I have, on average, sent you two letters a month. Yet not one of these letters has been printed in CRASH so please print this letter in time for my 18th birthday.

I have recently bought a Spectrum 128 and was wondering if there were any other 128 owners who would like a pen pal who also owns a 128 so could you print my address please? I have been trying to get a MIDI lead for a synth so could you tell me where I could get hold of this lead?
JA Morrison

Happy Birthday To Yoo, Happy Birthday to Yoooo. Can anyone out there help Mr Morrison?

LONG LIVE HANNAH SMIFF!

Dear Lloyd
I have been reading CRASH since November 1984 (and that is 2 months even before I got my Spectrum!) I am writing about Robin Candy (RIP) leaving. At first I was disappointed at this and I didn’t think Hannah Smith would be much but how wrong I was.

In June she printed tips for Way of the Tiger, and Spellbound, then pokes for Spellbound, Bombjack, Green Beret and Starstrike 2. ‘Just a lucky month for me’, I thought. As I have a paper round all these games have joined my collection of 80 games.

But again I was proved wrong as the month afterwards (July) she printed tips for Knight Tyme, Turbo Esprit and again Way of the Tiger, Also pokes for Turbo Esprit, Batman and Bounder and a map for Rambo.

Just one plea, how about POKEs tips or maps for Ghosts ’n Goblins and Jack the Nipper, long live Hannah Smith.
Garth O’Mara

Glad to hear you like the output of our new ‘Girlie Tipster’. I’m not that much of a fortune teller, but I can predict a long life for her as she annoys Graeme Kidd rather than me! Now her predecessor has gone on to other things, my desk space is safe...
LM

PHOTOCOPIER PROBLEMS

Dear Lloyd
I am writing this letter concerning CRASH No 30. On page 101 there is a competition for the Biggles computer game etc... On page 102 there is a competition to win a disk drive. I was keen on both these competitions, so I went ahead and did the Biggles one first. I completed the wordsearch, so I got out the scissors and started to cut. I realized I had cut part of the disc drive entry coupon.

Next day I went down to my local library to use the photocopier. This was so I could cut one out and photocopy the other. To my astonishment the lady said it is illegal to photocopy competitions! I left disappointed. I do not know if she was right or not, but this would not happen if CRASH took their time to space the competitions out. The only solution I can think of when comps are on either side of the page is to buy two mags...
Gary Ballingall

Well, buying two copies of CRASH every month would be a nice idea...

Seriously though, we do try and avoid such awkward positioning — but the Artroom boys do slip up from time to time which is understandable given the pressure of work they have to cope with. (Can I come to tea now ART?) I think the librarian was being a bit of a stickler for regulations — we don't mind if you photocopy an entry form and often say as much, because some folks don't like cutting up their copies of the magazine. We only get cross if you photocopy an entry form so you can enter the same competition dozens of times.
LM

CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

Dear Lloyd
In the wake of Ultimate’s recent criticism I thought I would add a few point for the defence. Often the games have been criticised for being alike with different graphics. Taking this approach then surely Mikro-Gen should be in the firing line for their never ending supply of dashing Wally games. ‘Ah’, I hear the prosecution say ‘this was a sequel and required a similar plot and the same graphics’. This is so but also the Sabreman saga was a line of sequels, a point which is frequently overlooked. In addition why were Gargoyle not criticised for their games (Tir Na Nog, Dun Darach, and lately Marsport) when these too could be construed to be the same game with a different scenario and graphics.

Branching from this I would like to ask the prosecution why, when Ultimate copy a game idea that was theirs in the first place, other software houses like Ocean (Batman), Gargoyle (Sweevo’s), Firebird (Cylu), and Mastertronic (Molecule Man), receive nothing but praise and not a hint of criticism. The crime of copying an idea which many believe is overplayed, is surely more serious than simply using your own idea.

I do happen to think that Ultimate have come to the end of the road with Sabreman, but they were more entitled to repeatedly capitalise from the 3D set up than other software houses.
Peter Whelerton

It seems the debate is set to continue. Maybe it’s time we had a change of topic, and stopped arguing the case for and against Ultimate until we’ve all seen their next game. And no, I don’t know what the wizards from Ashby de la Zouche have planned...
LM

PRICE PROBLEMS

Dear Lloyd
After reading the letter by Sean Powne in the July edition of your magazine complaining about Smith’s, over pricing their games, I have seen the £1.99 game Snodgits by Creative Sparks priced at £9.95! I don’t know what Smiths are trying to pull but if they don’t stop doing it they will lose customers to rival stores.
Graham Leech

I’ve had quite a few letters recently about strange prices appearing on games in the major chain stores — most of them pointing out that games have been overpriced rather than underpriced. I get the impression that people are more likely to write in if they see a game overpriced and tend to buy an underpriced game double quick and not put pen to paper about it.

Large and reputable stores simply can’t afford to deliberately overprice products. Mistakes do happen. Why didn’t you approach the departmental manager and point out the error as well as write to me Graham?
LM

128K PLEA

Dear Lloyd
I was recently reading through my old issues of CRASH and noticed in a reply to a letter in the May issue you said that insufficient Spectrum 128s are sold, then there will not be the sales incentive for software houses.

Now in my opinion someone will not buy a computer unless there is a reasonable amount of software available for that machine. In which case the software houses are waiting for an increase in sales of the 128 before they start writing games for it and prospective 128 buyers are waiting for software to be released before they buy one. The result is that the 128, which is a perfectly good machine will eventually be withdrawn from the shelves.

What the 128 needs is for someone to start producing decent amounts of software for it. ‘Ah’, I hear you say, ‘but they won’t do that until there are sufficient sales.’ In reply to that I would like to take you back four years to the release of a computer which we all now know and love, the 48K Spectrum. Was there any software for it? Very little! But people wrote games for it and marketed them and effectively increased demand for the 48K. Now here’s a plea to any software house reading this, stop worrying about whether or not a game written for the 128 will make your company a fortune and try to be a bit more pioneering like the early games programmers.

If nothing else it will increase demand, providing that if the game is original and not just an enlarged 48K game. The 128 is a good machine and should not be killed off by businessmen who are worried about their profits. Where are the people who helped make the 48K Spectrum what it is today?
Timothy Reed

You are quite right, Tim, it’s very much a ‘Chicken and Egg’ situation as far as the 128K machine goes. Maybe the launch of the Spectrum Plus Two will make a difference and achieve enough sales to chivvy software houses into writing programs for the larger machine.

There is one difference about the situation now, as compared to the launch of the 48K (or indeed the 16K machine). In those days, people writing software for the Spectrum didn’t have a massive user base of 48K machines to rely on, and had to take the plunge. Today many of the people who helped make the 48K machine what it is are still busy writing for it, producing games for a certain market. Understandably they are a bit reluctant to abandon a solid market temporarily while they write for the 128 machine — and don’t forget more effort and time has to go into a game which takes advantage of the larger memory and increased facilities of the Spectrum’s big brother.
LM

ARMCHAIR SPORTSPERSON

Dear Crash
I have always liked sports simulations. I find them compelling and I think their lasting appeal is much longer than the usual run of the mill games. I still often play such games as Match Day, Match Point, and Daley Thompson’s Decathlon, years after they first came out.

Why then are such classics as Match Day so underrated? Has the CRASH reviewing team got something against sports games? Why is it that Match Day wasn’t smashed? It was and indeed still is the best soccer game around. Match Point is another example of CRASH’S apparent knock-the-sports-simulations policy.

Even the fantastic Ping Pong, one of my most recent software acquisitions, was only just Smashed with 90%. Is the reason for CRASH not liking sports simulations that they think they are gimicky and unoriginal in their concept? If this is true then surely CRASH fell for the biggest gimmick of all in World Series Baseball. All the pretty graphics and jingly tunes that were surely the main factors if not the only factors, in winning it the highest acclaim in the pages of CRASH, somewhat hide the fact that the game hasn’t got as much lasting appeal as the two Matches (Point and Day), both of which weren’t Smashed.

When I first got Barry McGuigan’s Boxing I thought it was a refreshing change to have a game that had so much depth built into the humble beat ’em up. Having to use strategy and forward planning as well as skill and reflexes, I thought made the perfect blend. Was it a CRASH Smash? Not likely!

Now after all that you probably think that I only play sports simulations and that I am totally biased for them. This is untrue however because in my opinion Elite is the best game ever to be made and Quazatron is at the moment my favourite game.

So finally, a plea, please, please, please give sports simulations the credit they deserve as I cannot see why such utter rubbish as Zoids (which only people at CRASH seem to like) can be rated 10% above the all time Football Classic Match Day.
Timothy Wormleighton

We certainly haven’t got anything against sports simulations Timothy. Indeed, most of the corpulent members of the CRASH team get no closer to a sports field than their Spectrum screens! But reviewers’ (and readers’) tastes do differ widely and we can’t keep everyone happy all of the time...

As far as Match Day goes we’ve already apologised — take a look at the editorial pages for a bit of interesting news applicable to Match Day fans. We’re hosting a Match Day challenge soon, and are inviting readers to pit their on screen footballing skills against the game’s programmers!
LM

TRAITOROUS INTENT!

Dear Lloyd
All Spectrum owners, take a deep breath, count to 3 and read on. Now prepare yourself for a bout of blasphemous burble. I too have been a Spectrum owner for 3 long years: releases such as Lords of Midnight, Shadowfire, Lords of Time, Fairlight and Starquake have left me breathless to say the least. However I have noticed that recently 3D games have flooded the market (Fairlight being the best) and I have become very bored... Yawn!...

In the last few months there have been two games worthy of a mention. Zoids and Quazatron (more 3D) otherwise the Spectrum has been left in the dust. C64 owners have been treated to Uridium, The Eidolon, Silent Service and LCP. Not one iota of similarity between any of them. So I’ve decided to hang out my Spectrum and join the immortal ranks of the ZZAP! following and buy myself a wonderful Commodore 64...

I have waited too long for the software industry to waken up and rise to new heights on the Spectrum, and as for Pentagram, drop dead Ultimate!
N Potter

Goodbye Mr Potter, it was nice knowing you... See you in ZZAP! I’m not sure how many readers will agree with your views, however...
LM

NAMEDROPPING

Dear Lloyd
One day, I sneaked into CRASH Towers, the first thing I noticed was a sweet stall where someone was ROBIN CANDY. I then entered the reviewing room and noticed CAMERON POUNDing the keyboard. Someone was watching him, obviously ROGER KEEN to have a go himself. I then saw GRAEME KIDDing around, with NICK WILD as a tiger. A fight broke out and someone gave DICK a SHINER. (Is CRASH Towers really this chaotic?)

I could see that OLIVER’S FREYed temper was running out. Somehow, order was restored, mainly due to the efforts of a delectable young woman. ‘I’m CAROL KIN see, I keep the peace’. A strange fellow suddenly introduced himself. ‘I’m DEREK-I BREW, stir, and boil the CRASH cooking pot.’

Two other fellows were playing Exploding Fist. ‘GOODWIN, SIMON’ said poor Lloyd after his man had been dropped. ‘JON BATES his opponents even quicker,’ grinned Lloyd, and I was eventually thrown out of the building by DAVID (WESTERN exit).

I couldn’t fit your second name into the story Lloyd — your name is hard enough to say, never mind fitting it into the story! And I know Robin has gone now, but I thought I’d put him in anyway, out of respect. What’s happened to him anyway? Are his ‘PASTURES NEW’ really a field at the bottom of his garden?
Jer Nallist

You think MY name is hard to fit into a story Jer! ‘WeLL OY’D better better weigh in, MAN, GRAMs make all the difference when you are on a diet’ said Auntie Aggie...

Well, it’s the best I can do!
LM

And that just about wraps it all up for another wintry summer’s day of FORUM compiling. Keep your letters coming in to me at the usual address. If there’s enough correspondence, I might have to spend all September back at base reading through your epistles...