JUDGING from a few of the letters Lloyd Mangram receives, you’d think Spectrum-owners were old ladies. And I’m not talking about the (sometimes justifiably) shocked-and-appalled mothers, either: it’s the die-hard rubber-key recidivists of 1983, all fully paid-up members of the Society For The Preservation Of Paradroids, all bemoaning a Spectrum world they perceive as dominated by slick, gameplayless licences (hallo Robin Candy — your tie-ins feature starts this month) and slick, faceless corporate combines (hallo Newsfield).
Well, times have changed (wasn’t Platitudes some early Paradroids variant?). And since so much of CRASH this Christmas is devoted to a massive comprehensive look back — not just the mandatory Lloyd’s Lookback, but also the last two parts of that CRASH History, a complete CRASH index, more on the history of tie-ins and what have you — let’s look forward, too. After all, the future belongs to us and the past is a foreign country. (The old sayings are the best ones, I think, but we can’t stand in the way of progress; we’re all children at heart, and boys will be boys, sure as rain is rain!)
Those licences: the editorial in CRASH Issue 37 guessed that ‘this year is going to be dominated by film tie-ins and licensed versions of arcade games’. Implication: whither the game when the the name is bound to sell it?
Well, Robin Candy’s feature is a bit down on film tie-ins in general, perhaps because even Archimedes graphics will never equal the thrill of the Sensurround and the slurp of the Coke. But he does pull out Ocean’s Cobra and Top Gun, both from this year, as two of the best — sheer gameplay, not gimmickry on a big-name bandwagon.
And though there’s no big film licence this month apart from the insipid American version of Electric Dreams’s Aliens, a couple of cartoon tie-ins do well: Piranha’s Through The Trap Door, and Basil The Great Mouse Detective from Gremlin Graphics.
The point is that tie-ins are not a priori bad, and the apparent triumph of the tie-in this year is down to a couple of factors.
First, games are feeding more and more from the mainstream of entertainment and therefore flowing more and more back into the mainstream.
Today every entertainment release — film, book, TV series, album, toy — is tied in with as many other things as possible, to extract the maximum sales from a single well-known name. So, as Robin Candy observes, the computer-game tie-in is a natural part of any major film’s marketing now, and perhaps one day they’ll be making the film of the game.
The second factor is that only full-price labels can afford to produce major tie-ins (and, more cynically, one imagines the market will pay more for a name tie-in than an unheard-of original game anyway). So while the budget labels produce so many straightforward games for the whatever-’em-up fans, full-pricers like Piranha, which make more money from each of their fewer titles, can afford to concentrate resources on complex tie-ins simulations (tie-ins with real life!) and arcade conversions — and produce proportionately more of them than they used to.
The budget houses, particularly Code Masters, produce a huge number of nondescript games, often passable, rarely noteworthy, which they know will sell because they’re cheap and there are so many Spectrum-owners to buy them.
That takes care of the casual end of the market. More full-price software houses may be moving into it for quick quids — viz Hewson’s £2.99 Rack-It label, the Virgin group’s recent purchase of 45% of original budgeteers Mastertronic — but they’re not abandoning full-price games. No, the full-price games might be few and far between — but they’re going to get better, because software houses still attuned to 8-bit know that otherwise they’ll lose their Spectrum market to 16-bit, or even worse to the dedicated consoles, which are almost a closed market to most software producers.
And after all, there’s The Sentinel. There’s Driller. The Amiga 500 ad may claim ‘now other home computers are just toys’, but the signs are that the toys are growing up fast and Spectrum software is staying in the entertainment business.
Yes it’s gnu corner again — and gnu know, it s that subeditor in full (at last), the one we pleaded for in Issue 45. David Peters comes to Ludlow from the big city — well, Telford — to correct the reviewers’ worst excesses.
Speaking of our worst excesses, which perhaps I shouldn’t do in a family magazine (those shocked-and-appalled ones again!), I feel like an excessory after the fact reporting these three.
First: last issue’s PCW Show report omitted Andrew Whittaker from the list of members of Graftgold, the programming team signed to Telecomsoft amid contractual controversy. We shouldn’t believe everything we read in news releases.
Second: last issue’s review of The Fast And The Furious from GO! (released on a tape with Thunderceptor) didn’t have a percentage box. Ah, those technical reasons! Here it is, anyway:
Third: Jon North’s Speedlock loader does not work. He’d sent it into Playing Tips and it had been accepted in good faith, coming from such a trusted and prolific tipster; then (when the page was in the box on its way to the printers — we only just saved it) Jon sent in a new version because he’d noticed the original doesn’t work... Please double-check your own tips and POKEs before they go in the post (later corrections can get lost in systems) — it saves everyone from editor to reader a lot of trouble.
That’s it for a fortnight — stay multidimensional.