I’ve been asked to remind people who had any trouble with their Amaurote 128 version, to send it back to Mastertronic. See last month’s news item on the subject. Some similar problems may have been experienced with Zub. Also that I was over enthusiastic last month in saying that the winner of the mapping competition had been picked, when it only closed the other day (as I write it has now closed).

Enough of that, and on with the letters, which include a couple of disenchanteds and two positively seethings. But first, Letter of the Month...

VALUE FOR MONEY

Dear Lloyd
This month, as usual, I find myself disagreeing with the opinions of many of the reviewers. I appreciate that, as you’ve stated many times, the reviewer’s comments are purely subjective opinions, I feel that the judgements given are often swayed by factors such as game price, publishing house and maybe even by the author’s reputation.

This is not an indictment upon the reviewers, more a reflection upon human nature. I, for one, still find it difficult to compare £1.99 games alongside their full priced (£7.95 upwards) counterparts, without feeling some degree of bias towards the full-priced item. In the software world, more than any other, the old adage ‘You get what you pay for!’ is proving to be less true by the day, but it’s an attitude that persists, having become subconsciously lodged in the minds of a great many of us.

In an ideal system, each reviewer would be given a game tape and playing details and nothing else. Then in isolation, they would play and review the game with a mind relatively free from preconceptions about what the game OUGHT to be like, both in terms of quality and value for money. Having written the main review, they could then be given any remaining details, whereupon they would write a brief summary based on the extra information.

If nothing else, such a system would at least ensure that each game was taken on its own merits and that they all started equal, even if they don’t finish that way!

Before I go I must just mention one review that I DID agree with; PAW. It’s awesome. Well done Gilsoft for being one of the few software houses that can truly be called innovative!

Thanx for your time Lloyd
Mat Broomfield

What a very timely letter, Mat! People will suspect I wrote it specially for this issue, because as you can now see, the Powers That Be at CRASH have decided to drop the Value For Money rating from our reviews. Can anyone argue that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa becomes a better or a worse painting day by day because influences like the international rates of exchange mean it’s worth £50 million one day and over £90 million the next? It’s still the same painting, whatever it costs.

At the more humble level of Spectrum games, it’s rather hard for us to be kept in the dark about game prices — adverts, press releases and reviewers’ presentation packs usually offer advance advice on price. What’s important is that collectively, all involved with games reviewing at CRASH have decided to try and forget the cost element when reviewing (unless it’s an essential part of a review now and then), and treat all games as equal starters regardless of their price.

You’re the first person who’s written suggesting such an attitude, Mat, so I’m giving you the prize for Letter of the Month. You wanted two CRASH subs, one for yourself and one for a friend, rather than any software — consider it done.
LM

ON GAMES QUALITY

Dear Lloydie-Babes
You asked for letters on the necessary qualities of games and here are my (possibly insignificant) opinions.

  1. Addictivity should be a result of mystery and challenge. The player’s task becomes more difficult as play progresses and the player also wishes to know what the next screen/stage looks like and what new problem it presents. Examples: Chuckie Egg, Highway Encounter. Unfortunately, in some cases, when all the screens have been seen on the game has been completed the addictivity can drop to zero, eg Knight Lore.
  2. Playability is really down to the quality of programming, the initial difficulty and the overall game design. In a playable game when a life is lost the player should blame himself and not the computer. Gradually increasing difficulty and a good high score table help to create a long term challenge, eg Commando.
  3. Depth is where the computer game can beat the coin-op. Depth does not mean lots of screens but lots of choices. Games which plonk you in a scenario and then let you do what you want often turn out to be classics, eg Elite, LOM, Rebelstar, Quazatron.
  4. Exceptions — some games seem to be severely lacking but have that ‘something’ that makes them fun after the 1000th game, eg Stop the Express, Halls of the Things, Deathchase, Battlecars.

I would like to dispute the claim that games are always improving. As far as I am concerned Stargliders come and go while my fave games include oldies like LOM, Halls of the Things, Turmoil and Krakatoa.
William Russell

A personal view from one reader (can you hear the cries of horror over those fave examples!? — mind, I agree with many of them), and here’s another...
LM

Dear Lloyd

  1. Playability and addictivity; these are probably the two hardest qualities to incorporate in a game. The programmer should try to strike a balance between a game being too hard (Glider Rider, which I find nigh-on impossible!) and a game that is too easy (Throne of Fire). This way the game is not so hard as to put you off straightaway, but just hard enough to keep you coming back for more (Ghosts ’n’ Goblins, I Ball for instance).
  2. Content or graphics? There are lots of games that are all gloss and no content (Nemesis the Warlock), and then there are games with poor graphics and sound that isn’t up to much, but are very, very playable (Gauntlet — naff sound, average graphics, but as Mike said In the review, ‘WOW!!! what a game!’ Programmers should aim for a balance on these points (as Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummond did in Head Over Heels), but if graphics have to suffer to make way for content then so be it! (but never the other way round!).
  3. Price range (value for money): the price range (in my eyes) should be from about £7.95 to £12.95 (at the most), although GAC, PAW, budget games and a few others are exceptions to this... but most of all the games should be priced according to their worth, which is indicated by the following two guidelines; before a game is launched it should be playtested by about five individuals, and then the price set according to their opinions of its worth. This way the purchaser gets his hard-earned pennies’-worth and the company sells a lot more copies.

By the way, recent changes made to CRASH have improved an already excellent magazine.
Terry Jones

On your last point, software houses obviously have cost considerations independent of playtesters’ opinions — like how much it cost to develop the game and how much the programmers want for it (!) — but I think many might sometimes be surprised at the reaction to their products by the ‘man on the street’. It’s a valid point.

Let’s hear from some more readers on this interesting subject.
LM

RE: RATINGS

Dear Lloyd
I have some points to make about the reviews in CRASH.

Firstly, how are the final marks for graphics etc arrived at? Is it a joint decision or is one reviewer picked to do the job?

Secondly, why doesn’t each reviewer give his own personal overall mark at the end of his comment? If they did this reviews would be even more accurate. For example, in the review of Loco from Alligata in the March Issue, the overall percentage was 44, which indicates a poor game, but the general rating indicated that the game would ‘appeal to younger players’, so to them the game would not be poor, would it?

Finally, I think the two most important elements in a game are playability and addictive qualities and a game should be marked according to these factors. If this were the case, games such as Cauldron II, Lightforce and Pentagram would not have been Smashed.

By the way, why doesn’t CRASH have a separate percentage for sound, as this is now an important part of games (see Cobra for example).

I hope you find my points valid enough to print this, as I am interested to see what other readers think of my suggestions.
Simon Davis

Like all the ratings currently in use, figures for graphics are arrived at by averaging out each individual reviewer’s marks. The overall percentage does take into account playability and addictive qualities much more than any other rating, and if you look, nine times out of ten the overall is an average between those two. In our continuing policy of improving the ratings system there is some discussion going on at the moment about letting each reviewer offer their overall mark, with an editorial decision then made about whether a game is a Smash or not. Sound, too, may well become a rateable factor before much longer.
LM

NEVER HAVE SO FEW...

Dear Lloyd
No! Don’t let them do it. We will fight them in the newsagents, we will fight them in the RAM and we shall fight them in the mags, and we shall not waver. Yes it’s happened, the SPOCL has sprung into existence (through a hole in the space-time tunnel but that’s another story along with the one about the time I went to Torquay... but!) — the Society for the Protection of the CRASH logo. How dare Don Elliot insult a national institution. For three years now I have looked upon the cover of CRASH and admitted the artsmanship that goes into it. In those three years many changes have been made and I kept my pen quiet, but this is too much, Don Elliot must die.

I suggest nailing him to a large sign of the CRASH logo, there to rot and be eaten by the FORUM BUGS, and to realise his mistake. The SPOCL needs members, as long as you pay £1,000 into a specified Swiss bank account, and so long as you are not called Don Elliot, you are welcome. Come on Lloyd stand up for your mag.

Yours protectively,
David Forsyth

My Toytown cheque is in the post David (it has to be Toytown on the salary I’m paid). For my part, whether it’s elegant, brash, out-of-date or whatever, changing the CRASH logo would be the equivalent of Delilah cutting off Samson’s hair. There have been magazines that altered the design of their logo, and look what happened to them (veiled reference...)
LM

AN OLI FAN WRITES

Dear Lloyd
A little message to Steve, Halesworth, Suffolk. HOW DARE YOU CRITICISE OLIVER FREY’S BRILLIANT ARTWORK!

With art as my main hobby, I know just how annoying it is when some stupid idiot comes up and moans about a picture that you’ve just spent hours painting. Especially when they’re pretty rubbishy at drawing themselves. I’m absolutely amazed at just how much work Oli gets done in the space of a month and just how brilliant it all is.

To show how strongly I feel about the matter, I’ve drawn a picture to scare all those nasty little ‘Oli’s art moaners’ out of their pitiful little boots (and anyone who says its rubbish can look forward to a short and painful future). Oh, and don’t worry Oli, at least you’ve got one real admirer!
Nik Wriglesworth

If you disrespect Oli’s Art...

I had to put this letter in because Oliver actually does read most Forum mail as it arrives, and he demanded it be printed! Loved the drawing Nik...
LM

UNCONVERTED

Dear Lloyd,
‘A conversion from the BBC on our Spectrums? No thanks!’ — Mike, re: Time Flight. What an utterly naive comment! Just two pages later the same person raves about Sentinel, by Geoff Crammond, author of Aviator, Revs and the original BBC version of Sentinel. And just for the record, the game was by Superior, called Space Pilot, and I couldn’t stand it either...
Kenton Price

They do get carried away, don’t they? True enough, some great games have made it from the BBC to other machines — what about Elite?
LM

PLAY IT AGAIN SAM

Dear Lloyd
I would like to congratulate Ocean, and in particular Martin Galway, for providing some excellent title tunes to some of their recent games such as Top Gun, Cobra, Terra Cresta, and in my view the best title tune ever on a Spectrum so far, Short Circuit.

Before Ocean started to really capture my imagination with these excellent tunes, many companies attempted to produce good sound with the Spectrum but found it impossible, given the Spectrum’s limitations, and only a few quiet burps and coughs resulted. Now, when I get a hold of a new Ocean game, I load it up excitedly, because even if the game falls short I know I can look forward to hearing some funky new sounds.

Now I have to complain to probably the best software company in UK, Elite. I’m certainly not complaining about the quality of their games, but I just think it’s a shame that they can’t be bothered to include a good title tune. I’m sure it isn’t beyond their capabilities!

Here’s my Top Five chart for music on the Spectrum:

  1. Short Circuit
  2. Top Gun
  3. Cobra
  4. Terra Cresta
  5. Ping Pong

Michael Scotney

There’s nothing like a good tune for extra added value, but more importantly, music can add tons of atmosphere — witness the 128 music on Amaurote — actually more like film music than a tune, but great stuff. How about some other CRASH readers’ music charts?
LM

CARRY ON CRASHING

Dear Lloyd
I want to comment on how the standard of software testing and debugging has declined dramatically over the past few months. Once, you could walk into a shop, buy a game and not have to return it to its creator. No more, I fear. Practically every game available at the present contains an error, from a niggling glitch to, in the worst cases, glaring bugs which cause the game to lock up inexplicably.

I offer Dandy as a case in point. Dungeon Three really put the mockers on my several hours’ work. A major error (there’s a similar one in Dungeon Two) ensured that it is impossible to complete level two of this dungeon, and thus the game.

To be fair to Electric Dreams, they immediately offered me a replacement game from their range, and said that the Dandy wouldn’t be available for some time. The replacement game which I selected (Enduro Racer, which also contains a bug — try pressing the graphics key mid-race a few times) also arrived promptly.

But there is, of course, no excuse for releasing games which don’t work. I know, as a programmer myself, that bugs can be difficult to eradicate, but the knowledge that they exist should prevent the company from marketing the product. All that’s required is a simple few days’ testing (not by the programmers) and all would be a lot better. Many errors could be found in just a few minutes; and although righting them would take longer, the end result would be a far more attractive proposition for the customer. But too few companies do so, and isn’t this highlighted by the fact that Dandy is already available for the Spectrum on another company’s compilation tape — is it still unplayable?

There are worse offenders: honour must surely be bestowed upon Superbowl (original version) which without doubt had more bugged features than working ones, even the revised version has its problems (whoever heard of a two-player game where you’re not allowed to use two joysticks? — and the keyboard layout is horrendous), DT’s Supertest still crashes on the skiing, and World Series Basketball still crashes any time it wants.

The best software house I’ve come across is Durell, and I’ve yet to find even one minor bug in any of their products.

Finally, I’d like to say how much Crash has improved in recent months. The new ratings system (and still the one I tend to go by) and more colour makes it the best Spectrum read on the market.
Calum Benson

To be honest, I’m not so sure that de-bugging is any worse (or any better either) than it used to be, but perhaps with more hype for each game these days, you notice the worst ones more. Whatever, I fully agree that enough games are definitely rushed out complete with bugs, and it shouldn’t be happening.
LM

NOT ENTHRALLED

Dear Lloyd
I’ve just flicked through my copy of CRASH 41 and there are a couple of items I am not enthralled about.

The Video Section. Stop it while it’s in it’s infancy. Just because LM has stopped, it doesn’t mean Roger Kean (blessed be his name) can add a section from the ill-fated magazine to CRASH. The section has completely nothing to do with computers in the least. (Apart from the tie-ins.) Okay, so they are a part of a standard entertainment, but not the entertainment we buy CRASH for.

Philippa Irving is so annoying. The reviews she writes are fine but in every introduction there is something about Oxford. Why? Again, it’s nothing to do with computers, so please stop Miss Irving. Or is it because you want to show off? I don’t care which but cease the Oxford crap.

The two cartoon strips are just great. Terminal Man is excellent. I’m afraid I missed the first series but the story has filled me in on what I did miss. Jetman I absolutely love. Dead funny I think. I just hope that Terminal Man doesn’t replace it. Tamara Knight is not a cartoon strip but just as good.

I know what you’re going to say now — ‘but they are not part of computers’. So, they are the likeable parts which aren’t part of computers, so keep them.

Welcome back Roger Kean. Long time no see. He has brought SOME good ideas with him, like CRASH Readers Offers, all colour screen shots, names in criticism boxes and more competitions.

Lastly, don’t change the CRASH logo, Oli Frey is great.
Robert Collier

Early indications are that many readers do like the video reviews, but it remains to be seen how widespread the approval is. As for Philippa — Oxford is where she is (as a student), it’s a nice enough place, why shouldn’t she mention it?

What you’re really saying is ‘get rid of the non-computer bits I don’t like’, which is a bit of a selfish attitude Robert. Tsk tsk.
LM

LOST MAN

Dear Newsfield,
Being a loyal reader of LM, and CRASH, I felt I must write to you and express in the strongest terms my outrage and deep disappointment at discovering that, after only four issues, you have summarily disposed of your young infant LM. You have no idea what a plonker I felt trundling around almost EVERY newsagent in London asking for a copy of LM. The responses were split about 50/50 between ‘What?’ and ‘I’ve no idea what’s happened to it this month, loads of people have asked that.’

If you were going to scrap the publication you could at least have been civil enough to tell your stockists, this isn’t Ludlow you know. And did you give us an inkling in issue 4 that it was going to be the last? Did you HELL! You gave us a questionnaire to fill in so you could improve LM for us — surely there was some indication that ‘market forces’ were about to ‘prevail’. It looks almost as if your new publication didn’t quite bring in the extra dosh you were hoping for and so you suddenly severed its umbilical before it had barely had time to stretch. What kind of a commitment to a new product is four months for heaven’s sake?? It’s close to PATHETIC.

Since when did advertisers dictate the success of a product? I doubt when CRASH started in 1984 that queues of glossy advertisers were forming. You have to build up confidence in a product for heaven’s sake. If, as you say, your sales were up in the region of 60,000 I can see no way you couldn’t justify a wide readership to ANYBODY interested in taking space in your pages — unless your sales force was grossly incompetent. Given all that I have said previously I am left with a deep disappointment and bitterness that the wondrous LM has been taken out of our hands after only four issues. My previously high opinion of your candidness and openness has been battered and I have doubts about continuing to buy CRASH — I certainly won’t be renewing my subscription.

I look forward to a reasonable reply OR the reappearance of LM.
David Bunco

Hmmmm. Well candidness and openness are relative qualities, obviously. Newsfield need not have said anything about the failure to secure advertising revenue and just kept schtumm. The newstrade were naturally informed of the non-appearance of the magazine, but you’re very naive if you think that out of the tens of thousands of newsagents, even a tenth of them ever know what’s actually happening.

The questionnaire was published in perfectly good faith, because although we were told advertising revenue was extremely low, there was always the hope it would soon improve. You’re right, LM was stopped because it didn’t bring in enough money. It might interest you to know that had the magazine sold approximately 180,000 copies every month the return on that would have JUST COVERED its monthly costs without advertising. I think you’re sensible enough to see the point. It isn’t advertisers who dictate, but their revenue does. CRASH had quite sufficient advertisers from Issue One onwards to support its costs.

As to ‘commitment’, your remarks are close to insulting (although I can see you’re obviously upset!). Thousands and thousands of man-hours went into LM and some half million of money. I can assure you, the decision to cease publishing it was not taken lightly.
LM

LOST MAG

Dear Sir/Madam Lloyd
I’ve just sat down with a fag in one hand and cup of tea in the other and CRASH on my lap (Issue 41), and read Roger Kean’s article on LM closing down. As an avid reader of CRASH and LM, I have never written to a mag, or a paper before, but I felt I really should point out how LM will be missed.

Even though it was only around for a short time it has, I believed, carved a niche in the market for youth mags. It has had varied and interesting interviews, it has provided info on pop, sport, fashion, hobbies and generally things which interest the young. There are lots of mags for the young, I hear you all cry, but not like LM. Most of the mags for the young are usually specialised like sports, or as in CRASH, computers. And as for the mags which are not specialised — well they’re 99 percent girls mags.

I think it will be missed by people like me who enjoy a good read. LM was beginning to get a cult following if you like. I personally think it was a great mag and if it goes, then there will once again be a gap in the market, because there really isn’t anything to replace it. There was nothing like it in the first place, it was one of a kind and I hope it can somehow make a comeback.
Peter Gagg

Thank you for those comments Peter. I can only echo the statements Roger made in last month’s editorial. We’re all sad about it, but Newsfield is springing back with a new magazine soon, though it’s in the realms of computers again.
LM

FANZINE ADVICE

Dear Lloyd
I read with interest the articles in issues 39 and 40 regarding fanzines and so decided to write with a bit of advice for future editors.

  1. To begin with you must have a lot of good ideas and enthusiasm, without these you won’t get very far.
  2. You need good access to photocopying facilities, copying the magazine can take an awfully long time and you may need to use it very often, so it’s important that it be near to our HQ and that the owners do not mind, if you get really stuck ask the school if you could use theirs.
  3. Make about 20 extra copies of the first issue and send them to software houses along with a polite letter explaining your position and requesting review/preview copies of games for the mag.
  4. An Alphacom 32 printer is very useful for use with utilities such as Power Print II as you can produce some pretty decent headings.
  5. If you have a Multiface 1 it is very good for producing screen shots for reviews. If you don’t own one then it’s a very good investment.
  6. Letraset is a good idea for headings and titles. It’s also important to have an attractive cover, maybe you could use coloured paper.
  7. Finally, the most important thing is good publicity. You could possibly put an advert in the free classified section of Your Sinclair. It’s also a good idea to continually send copies to CRASH, Your Sinclair and Sinclair User as these three magazines quite often produce articles on fanzines. Follow this advice and you should do alright.

Our publication costs 65p and is called TURBO.

I hope the above advice is a help to other fanziners, and I can tell you that another Fanzine File is imminent, maybe even next month.
LM

The CRASH Forum is your debating column, and any opinions you have are welcome (though some may be snarled at, I make no guarantees!). And now it’s time to pack up the ol’ Hermes (1938) and peddle off into the summer sunset (for summer, read rain).