Have no fear,
Lloyd Mangram’s here
Full of advice
And Christmas cheer...
Talking of which, it will be nice to have a few days off, without the thought of having to get the old bicycle out. Mind you, my form of five-minute relaxation in working hours recently has been a quick Atari ST bash on Audiogenic’s Impact — the best Breakout clone of them all (but not on the Spectrum YET, alas).
As it’s Christmas and a time of goodwill (rather than for the obvious reason all you cynics out there will think of when you’ve read the letter), I will paraphrase, if I may, the words of someone famous who once said that though the Lord likes all people, he rejoices most in a repentant sinner... and give you this month’s letter which earns its sender £30 worth of software.
I was an extremely contented subscriber for two years (Issues 16-42) and when it came to ‘recharging my mystical number’ I’m afraid that... well... I didn’t. For this, I blamed myself in the knowledge that it was pure laziness that I couldn’t be bothered to post the letter; then I thought again.
Now I’m not a man that expects much out of life, but frankly I felt that the software industry was going a bit stale. Not much new or original. Nothing that took my fancy. Inevitably I felt that CRASH was getting a bit stale around the edges too. In the Forum, for example, month after month you got the same old boring letters slagging off artwork, production techniques, et cetera, et cetera.
It was depressing.
For those reasons I didn’t feel guilty about letting my mystical number die, life was happier without it. However, last month I decided to dig deep into my pockets and produce a pound coin for a copy because I was missing you lot a bit.
‘Hang on, what’s this? It’s £1.25 now! Shock, horror, the country is going to the dogs etc.’
Anyway, digging deeper into my pocket I found myself with an extra 25p so I purchased a copy...
Having read it, I feel that to everyone at CRASH congratulations are in order. You’ve really pulled yourselves together!
A classified section, an organised video-reviewing section, someone new at Playing Tips (no offence Lloyd!), 3-D bits etc etc.
‘Oh,’ I groaned, ‘what have I been missing?’ As well as CRASH improving, I felt that there was a significant improvement in the quality of software (though it’s not true to say that the barrel is free of all the rotten apples), whereas before I felt that the industry had reached a metaphoric plateau of achievement.
It may take a month or so to scrounge the money for the subscription fee but
prepare to welcome me back with open arms: I’m coming home.
I can’t promise a fatted calf (not in these days of cholesterol
and health-consciousness anyway), but I’m sure you’re welcome back (and anyway,
why should I care if someone has once again nicked my Playing Tips, I’ve got a
big heart). Talking of hire videos... with reference to the recent debate
about whether or not CRASH should include reviews, I’ve just been shown some
independent market research carried out on the streets of somewheresville,
which asked people how often they hired video tapes. Out of some 15 ‘youth’
titles (going to readers aged 12-20), CRASH came out with one of the highest
figures. So you ARE interested in seeing up-to-date video reviews! Aren’t
Dear Lloyd Just a few quick points. I am very pleased to see you are bringing back a score page. To me, this page used to be very interesting because it gave me a good idea of how good readers were at playing software (I sent my great achievements in a couple of times but they obviously couldn’t match the successful readers). I hope Robin Candy’s Scores turns out a success.
In Issue 46 I noticed the price had gone up to £1.25 — or did us readers pay 25p extra for some 3-D glasses? When I first bought CRASH in March 1985 (Issue 14) I paid 85p, which I thought was a reasonable price for a computer magazine. Since then the price has risen by 40p, half the price I paid for Issue 14). Us readers also paid money for the CRASH Sampler, which was said by you that it was free. Come on Lloyd, let’s see these prices dropped.
Recently I wrote to several software houses asking for information on their products and a couple of posters. They returned me the following results:
Good research eh Lloyd?
To finish off I’ve included my Top Ten chart for Speccy 48K games:
Good research eh? What does it prove except that US Gold gets
more letters than Advance? (Though I’m sure Rainbird will be getting the most
now!) Also, I can’t recall anyone saying the CRASH Sampler was FREE, the word
used was EXTRA; and if you had read the Next Month panel in the previous CRASH,
you would have seen that we carefully made the point that the following issue
would cost 50p more than usual BECAUSE of the Sampler — it’s all a matter of
proper research, Graham. The price has risen by 40p, yes, but you’re talking
about a gap of two-and-a-half years! And last issue — 47 — had 148 pages
against Issue 14’s 132; nearly every screenshot is in colour now; and there is
a full-time editorial staff of six (counting myself and an editorial
assistant), double that of Issue 14, because the writing today has more
research and consideration behind it. That, besides the increasing costs of
paper, printing, administration and all the little overheads like light bulbs,
is why the price has had to rise.
Having been a rubber-keyed Spectrum-owner since August 1984, and a CRASH reader ever since, I felt it was about time I put my £1.25’s worth into the aeonian software debate.
My first point concerns the notion of innovation. Ever since Mel Croucher opened this ugly can of worms, the argument has been along the lines of ‘the big software houses release nothing than coin-ops, rehashed ideas and licence deals with no game in them at all’.
Without wanting to reiterate anything that Mr Croucher said in Issue 27, or what was subsequently written in the CRASH Forum, it is important to note that it is not the software houses nor the programmers who are to blame; it is the software-buying public, who vote with their wallets. The much-maligned companies are only producing what there is a demand for — and that does seem to be endless coin-op conversions etc.
In the Hotline Top 20 in the November issue, six games are conversions, and half the games are shoot-’em-ups in one form or other. However, that is not to say that the same old formula is a licence to print money, but I shall come onto that in a moment.
Fortunately, innovation is not necessarily synonymous with originality. The standard of current programmers and programming is still increasing at a steady rate, and hence new innovations in programming techniques are continually being developed. This is where the main problem of innovation seems to occur: a company spends a year developing a new game system for one single piece of software, but the game flops in the shops. And why is this? A disease I have labelled Croucheritis: the company has spent so much time on the implementation of an idea or technique that it forgot to put a game in the package as well.
In the long run, stunning graphics or digitised sound or whatever is only the icing on the cake; it is the playability that really counts. No matter what the game is, no matter how astounding the programming may be, no matter how original the idea is, if the game suffers in any way from its playability, it is of no use to the public.
Poor response to controls, doubtful collision-detection, painfully slow scrolling or whatever will mean the eventual downfall of a game, even if it has the most impressive window-dressing ever seen. The bad news is that it is this window-dressing that persuades the casual purchaser to part with his hard-earned pennies. He sees the game running in the shop, perhaps he has seen it previewed in a magazine and is superficially impressed. One rainy afternoon later, all he has for his cash is six minutes of noisy code and a cassette that is useless even as a blank.
This is where magazines like CRASH become so important: they can get beneath the giftwrapping and find the actual game inside. These findings can then be conveyed to the readership, and they then have someone else’s opinion, other than the publisher’s or programmers’s as to the game’s merits. Unfortunately, I feel CRASH has not been doing its duty in this department. I am not talking about previews, even though these are often misleading in that they make some quite average games seem exciting. But this is something that is inherent in the very nature of a preview; there’d be no point in showing us what is to come if it is nothing but dross and it has always been clear, in CRASH if not in certain others, that you have not seen a complete game, only a demo or some screenshots. What I am going on about is the reviews.
Obviously, a magazine is in a continual state of flux, forever trying to improve its content and design to woo more readers. Most of the changes within CRASH have been cosmetic as opposed to ideological and have improved the magazine over its four-year life. However, CRASH must not forget why it is there; it is essentially a software-review magazine. On this point I have to agree with Ian Kerr (Issue 46 Forum) on criticising the comment box at the end of the review. In fact, I have noticed a general drop in the standard of reviews over the last year.
Reviews have (with certain exceptions) been far shorter in an attempt to cram more games in. This is fine as far as the description of the game part goes, as we can read all that on the cassette inlay in our local store, but it is not so satisfactory when appertaining to the player’s criticism, which in some cases is brief to the point of obscurity. It no longer tells us enough for us to judge for ourselves without actually buying the game — when it becomes too late. One example in the November issue was in the Action Force review where Paul remarks ‘... though the idea is simple the awkward control method makes its appeal short-lived...’.
What ‘awkward’ control method? Since the keyboard-play and control-keys comments are no longer part of the review there is nowhere to look to find out. What I am trying to say is that the reviews should become more detailed as games become more complex, rather than less so. If space is the key factor, then it seems logical to keep the reviews short, but have a much larger and all-encompassing comments box at the end of the review, or a system of notes rather than solid editorial.
All this said, I still find that the reviews in CRASH are the most reliable by far, and an important source of reference before buying any new game.
I’d like to finish on a lighter (if somewhat cynical) note. As we are continually informed by the media, Christmas is once again around the corner and with it come the highly prestigious CRASH Readers’ Awards. I’d like to propose a new category — the most overrated game of the year. This would differ from the worst game of the year in that any game can be bad, but it takes something to convince us that it is great, and only now in retrospect do we wonder why we ever played it, let alone bought it.
Past winners could have included Jet Set Willy — for being programmed in such a way that the game was impossible to finish without cheating due to the Attic Bug and an invisible object that couldn’t be reached. Sabrewulf — for being nothing but a reworking of Atic Atac but with trees. Wizard’s Lair — for being a slightly more complex conglomeration of Atic Atac and Sabrewulf. Knight Lore — yes, the graphics were amazing but it’s a shame Ultimate forgot to put in a game. Sherlock — which opened up new frontiers in interactive boredom.
No doubt I’ll be burned as a heretic for taking the names of some of the industry’s sacred cows in vain but such an award, as all awards, can only be made from purely subjective opinions.
Keep up with the good work, Lloyd.
Barnaby tells me your suggestion for a new Readers’ Award is used in this issue.
A rubber-keyed Spectrum owner? The imagination boggles!
Seriously, it is really necessary to know WHAT the awkward control method is? Surely knowing that a trustworthy reviewer considers the control method awkward is enough. You don’t have to know why its awkward. And after all, if you haven’t bought it and played it you’ll never really understand why the control method is awkward anyway!
Similarly, knowing that (in some hypothetical game) it’s impossible to kick left on the third screen when the dragon is guarding the key seems unimportant; it’s just as informative, surely, to say that parts of the game are too difficult.
And why are they so short? Well, you might have noticed that in the last few
issues more details on how the game plays have been going in the long
descriptive introduction (where minor aspects of scenario are now omitted)
rather than in the criticisms; and sometimes there’s just not much to say about
a game other than a quick summary of graphics and gameplay! It would, of
course, be possible to go to absurd lengths, drop all features and regular
columns and give each review a few pages, delving into the minutiae of every
sprite and scroll. Should we do this? What do other readers think? What does
the next letter think?
I am writing about Ian Kerr’s letter in CRASH Issue 46.
I have been getting CRASH since Issue 2 and I agree with Ian completely that the comments box is getting too small.
I would prefer it if you kept the comments on keyboard control and skill levels, too — I like to know how many keys the game has.
I used to decide to buy a game just by reading the CRASH review but now I have to go down the city centre just to look at the inlay card, to see whether it has got enough screens and to make sure there aren’t too many keys etc.
I hope that enough people write in to make you change it back to CRASH’s old
You obviously have this thing about keys, Gary! But you should
bear in mind that if there are — by common consensus — too many keys, or a
spectacular (or disappointing) number of screens, the reviewers and comments
box can, and do, still mention it. The point of reducing the comments box
wasn’t to rule out mentioning some aspects of a game — just to avoid being tied
to a routine of listing control keys, screens etc when they were quite
irrelevant to the value and interest of the game. And the function of the
comments box and percentages is to summarise, not supplement or justify, the
criticisms; which was the point Ian Kerr missed.
As a trusty reader of your wonderful magazine (slurp slurp, lick lick) I am writing to you, my agony uncle, for some helpful advice, which I am sure you can give. I wouldn’t mind paying £2.25 for the magazine as long as you’re still there (I hope flattery gets me everywhere).
I have recently sold my faithful Speccy (rubber-key version) so that I can purchase a (hopefully) better computer. ‘What could be simpler?’ I hear you cry! Well, first of all I thought about buying a Spectrum +2, then an Atari; I’ve even contemplated rebuying my old Speccy. I have nightmares where all these computers are crying out to be bought. Every time I see a computer I think of buying It. As a last resort I am turning to you (no disrespect I hope).
The computer I want should be between £200 and £300, and I mainly use computers for games, but I like to do the odd spot of programming.
By the way, don’t let your judgment be swayed by whether I’ll still buy
CRASH after I’ve got my new computer, because whatever computer I have I’ll
always buy CRASH (not really). So please help me solve my dilemma.
You have an easy life of it, dear boy (said he putting on his
agonised-uncle voice). Try growing up and becoming a businessman who needs a
new computer AND THEN SEE what an impossible choice there is! No, you’re
enjoying the best days of your life at the moment. Sounds like you need a +2
and some change left over; because there wouldn’t be much from the purchase of
an Atari, not with all the bits you discover you really need. (Back to Lloyd
When I bought the November issue of CRASH I found these strange glasses in it. I tried them out on the special pictures and wow, brilliant, then a thought struck me (out of the blue like): why can’t the software houses use the same technique?
Think of games like Starglider with this 3-D style. It would bring a totally new perspective to the graphics. The graphics would almost come out of the screen or go back to give depth. This may bring some problems like collision-detection but these could be overcome.
On a different note, here is my Top Five for 48K music:
It has already been tried, years ago. Postern released a game
called Three-Deep Space and it was a technical disaster (the game
wasn’t too hot either): the glasses were uncomfortable to wear and caused
eyestrain, and the spaceships seemed to be repeated as though you had just
drunk too much alcohol. However, Mastertronic were showing a 3-D Sega game with
glasses on their PCW Show stand, and I’m told that was quite effective.
Otherwise, I should stick to Freescape — it’s the new dimension!
I don’t often get the chance to comment, but having seen it, I feel I must disagree with Mike Dunn’s obsession with the video of Buckaroo Banzai etc etc. While the comic-strip element is cleverly interwoven, the polyglot imagery and indefinite plotting shows it to be the ravings of a callow director who appears to have purchased prefabricated slabs of ideas and bunged them all in to appeal to confused trendies; I wonder why they don’t let me review videos?.
If you disagree with me (that doesn’t include you, Skippy) you’ll no doubt write in the New Year to LLOYD MANGRAM, CRASH FORUM, and tell me...