Lloyd Mangram’s Forum

Trying to please all of the people all of the time is the main theme of most of this month’s letters; quite honestly, if we could get that trick right we would be the very best magazine ever printed. As it is, CRASH like any other publication is a collection of individuals working hard to get most of it right most of the time — and even succeeding now and again! However, for letter of the month, and that all-important £30 worth of software, I have chosen a writer who has noticed, as many others have, that the seductiveness of the 16-bit may only be skin deep...

LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND 16-BITS

Dear Lloyd
Well, the fiftieth edition of CRASH has been and gone, and I thought it was about time I put pen to paper and whinged about the state of CRASH, the software industry, life, etc.

The former to begin with. I must admit, despite being an avid CRASH fan for many years, that since the considerable price rise, the magazine has if anything, got thinner. Gone are the days of 130 — 140 page issues which kept me reading for many an hour. But, as my English teacher reminds me, quality is better than quantity, and CRASH still beats the socks off its rivals, particularly since Sinclair User has invented the unbelievably childish Kamikaze Bear. Still, each to their own, and if Sinclair User (whoops!) thinks a market exists for Spectrum owners whose idea of intellectual reading is ‘The Sun’, then no doubt their new style will do well. Enough of the ‘Well done CRASH, can I have my £30 of software now please’ — and onto more wide-ranging matters.

Upgrades. Let’s be honest here, who among my fellow Spectrum owners, hasn’t once looked at an Atari ST/Amiga screen shot and said ‘Damn those attribute problems’ or something similar and perhaps a little more colourful. I am lucky (?) enough to have a 16-bit owning friend who takes great pride in showing me the latest software (‘I don t believe US Gold did such a good job on the Spectrum version...’ or ‘So the Spectrum version of Starglider wasn’t this fast then?’) and making snide remarks at the Spectrum’s expense. Of course, now many Spectrum owners are selling up and saving for the latest in gaming technology. But having seen all these games on the 16-bit machines, every single one seems to lack that extra level of addiction that the Spectrum versions had. My friend plays each new game for a week. and then it collects dust in his disk box, while I play games such as Match Day II for months and still come back to them a year hence and play them again (for example I have just dug up Minder by DK’Tronics and begun playing that again). And that’s after paying a fraction of the price for new software. Such sentimentality, however, cannot halt the flood of upgrading Spectrum users enticed by superb graphics and attractive sound (or should it be the other way round? Never mind...). I would still advise anyone thinking of making the giant leap to keep their Speccy: they won’t get much for it after all, and at least it means you’ll still be able to play Match Day II if Ocean don’t do a 16-bit conversion.

Partly on the subject of the Atari ST, I see that Silica Shop are still advertising it at the ‘new’ price of £299. The very same advert has been with us since pre-1987 PCW Show — hardly very new. Still, time — as one great time traveller once said — is relative, and I suppose Silica thought that it is still new compared with the Acropolis or Stonehenge.

Talking of advertising gimmicks and blurb brings me nicely onto the subject of slogans (that sentence appears courtesy of the ‘BBC Book Of Contrived Links Vol IV’). It appears to me that most of the major software houses now have new slogans. It all began many years ago with companies like Cheetah (‘Soft we’re not’) coming up with an oily line to complement an even sillier logo. Well it seems that slogans are now ‘in’. Imagine have always been ‘The name of the game’, but since when have Firebird been ‘A Legend in Games Software’ (to be read in a deep, macho voice). Gremlin are ‘Worlds apart from other software’ and Go!! take the award for the corniest in the shape of ‘Tomorrow’s software today’. (A million speccy owners now murmur, ‘Well if that’s tomorrow’s software then I hope tomorrow never comes’).

I couldn’t sign off after this mature ramble around the Computer World without mentioning THE GAMES MACHINE. In my opinion it’s very good, with in-depth reviews and interesting features. Its only annoying factor is the repetition of screen shots between it and CRASH. If I’ve just bought CRASH I want to see different pictures of different parts of the game — not the same ones I saw in CRASH. Nuff said?

All good things, as they say, must came to an end. Although that excludes my wafflings I think it’s about time I came to the point of this letter. Unfortunately there isn’t one so I’ll stop now. If it’s not too late a well deserved Happy New Year can go to the CRASH team, who — despite odd exceptions — all keep the mag to a very high standard. Vorsprung Durch Technik as they say in all the best car commercials...
Nigel Palmer, Norwich

During my occasional forays into THE GAMES MACHINE office, I get to see and play more 16-bit games than you can shake a stick at. And to a large extent I agree with your views : the majority of the releases thus far are very pretty to look at, and positively terpsichorean to listen to — but they play like a brick. There are the odd one or two at which this criticism cannot be levelled, but if you rate playability higher than the merely aesthetic, then the evergreen Spectrum still has plenty to offer in the games department.

As regards upgrading to a 16-bit machine, (bearing in mind that the Amiga costs £450, the ST is due for a £100 price increase and the software currently hovers around the £20 mark), selling your Spectrum and software collection would appear to be a false economy.

CRASH a bit thinner? Well, yes and no (how’s that for an equivocal answer?). But sometimes you’re up against unarguable financial facts, and the men with the books at our Gravel Hill office say that compared to two years ago CRASH is not quite as profitable as it was — probably because there’s more colour in it now. Some issues are thicker than others — it depends a bit on the time of year, and after Christmas each year there have been thinner issues. Prior to Christmas there were several fatter CRASHes too you know.
LM

PLAY IT AGAIN, LOKI?

Dear Lloyd
In the dim, dark past before I started reading CRASH, I read Sinclair User for many months. In their June l986 issue there was an article about a new Superspectrum, the ZX Spectrum Loki. This machine was to be similar in specification to the Amiga but at a fraction of the cost. In the August 1986 of CRASH you denied that such a machine existed, but after reading the article in Issue 5O about MGT’s superclone I’m not so sure.

The specification of the Loki said that the microprocessor would run twice as fast as the current Spectrum’s CPU and that it would have many connections such as MIDI IN and OUT, built-in joystick ports, RGB monitors, video composite monitors plus VHF TV sockets. In addition, the Loki would boast a significant improvement in graphics display (256 pixels per line and 64 colours). If you then check these features against the SAM specification, you find that all these features are available on SAM, In fact, SAM would advance on the Loki’s graphic handling by allowing 512 pixels across the screen, and the normal 192 lines if required. It was mentioned that with the Loki a light pen came as standard, and of course SAM has this facility, so it seems to me that MGT have taken their ideas from the fabled Loki machine.

As a rubber-keyed Spectrum owner, I hope that SAM does make it onto the market because I personally feel that it is a better upgrade for 48K Spectrum owners rather than Amstrad’s inferior Spectrums +2/3, which on closer examination are only Amstrad CPCs with the Sinclair name stuck onto them.

Clive Sinclair’s humble machine is a technological miracle, but as Amstrad’s only care is to make money and not consider existing users I say to MG, ‘Good luck and bring back Sir Clive’s pioneering spirit which in Amstrad’s hands seems to have gone down the drain’.
Ian Lacy, Ilkeston, Derby

After a lengthy telephone discussion, Simon N Goodwin assures me that there is little ground for any comparison between the two machines. Unlike SAM, the Loki has never and will never exist outside of a few sheets of typed paper, simply outlining the features Sinclair deemed to be necessary in a next generation machine-cum-Spectrum clone. Also, a few of the features you mentioned aren’t really applicable: the Loki was to include sampled sound and hundreds of colours: SAM is essentially a ZX Spectrum but with slightly improved sound and limited attribute problems.
LM

TIPS DEFICIT

Dear Lloyd
There are a number of issues I’m a bit cut up about here. For a start I am infuriated about the attitude of Henry Shades towards the Spectrum (Issue 49). That sort of attitude is killing humble Spectrum owners who don’t have £299 kicking about to buy an expensive computer. I have an original 48K bought first-hand for £45 in February last year. Does Mr Shades think that Driller, Exolon, and Head Over Heels are not improvements on games such as Scuba Dive and Atic Atac. To pick GFL Championship Football is not a very good example of assessing Spectrum games. Spectrum games are competing avidly with the Commodore, Amstrad and Atari games, and they are rising in standard rapidly. I may be an old ‘fuddy-duddy’ but I don’t think that Spectrums are ancient. When you can purchase Speccies for £ why not save yourself £250 and get one? You won’t regret it.

My final complaint is about the Playing Tips section. In Issue 49, of the nine pages there were only three POKES and five tips. Two pages were wasted with an advert for the ‘new’ +3 (put it somewhere else) and an amazing five pages of maps were used. These maps do not have to be so big do they? just make them neat and smaller — not mega. I do not rate maps to be as important as tips and POKEs. So Nick, more tips and POKEs please, and if you can’t be bothered to test them bring back LM to playing tips.

I still like CRASH though. Reviews are excellent, having more than one opinion. The competitions are okay (we want more) and Oli Frey’s artwork is excellent. Forum is good for letting off steam, and special indexes and features like Run It Again are very interesting. Keep up the quality that has enabled you to reach issue 50 and still be the best Spectrum mag around.
Christopher Harby, Sleaford, Lincs

Thank you for the final compliments Chris, but I feel (as an old hand so to speak) I must defend Nick and say he does a fine job of the Playing Tips. I feel most people would agree that maps are an important facet of the tips section, giving aid in playing while not ‘cheating’ as with POKEs or hints. However, it’s also true that all maps and no words make for a dull section, and some months maybe we’re guilty of filling space with maps that are printed bigger than they need be. But a deficit of POKEs and tips can hardly be Nick’s fault, for he merely checks and collates the information sent into him: he can’t print POKEs he hasn’t got! Get the message? The tips section is only as good as the stuff sent in, so get working!
LM

REVIEWS RUN OUT

Dear Lloyd
I am writing to complain about the accuracy, or rather the lack of it, in many of the reviews in Issue 49.

Firstly, the review of Out Run. The resounding opinion amongst my friends is that this has been vastly underrated. I agree that the multiload 48K, is to say the least, a pain the backside. The graphics are extremely well detailed, and the animation is great, especially the movement of the car as it negotiates hills and turns. I have to point out that only Nick was accurate in his review. Mike has a tendency to either overrate or underrate games (the latter with Out Run). Out Run should have been given in the high eighties, if not a Smash.

This leads me onto Rampage, which, in my opinion, is sheer violence, sheer brilliance. Again, only Nick was anywhere near accurate in his review in my opinion. Perhaps the game could have done with a bit more action. but this problem has been solved with the inclusion of a three-player mode, which adds spice to the proceedings.

Gary Lineker’s Superstar Soccer... AAARGH! This game, to put it politely, is PURE CRAP (there’s an oxymoron for you!) How on Earth did that game pass? When your opponent is about to kick off, you can run up and snatch the ball from him, and consequently score.

Scruples is another game which the locals think has been underrated. When played amongst friends, the game is great, it merits approximately 80%.

Not having IK+, I perhaps should not comment on this, but do the graphics really merit 90%?

Having Gauntlet II and Gauntlet, I agree that they are very similar. Has the overall appeal dropped 27% in a year? I doubt it very much.

Usually, the reviews are accurate, but I felt I had to comment on the aforementioned games. Incidentally, what happened to World Class Leaderboard and The Double. Why were they not reviewed?

Here are a couple of general comments about the mag: When reading the Scores page, I experienced deja vu. Was it an error or was it deliberate?

When printing competition winners, how about printing the answers?

Subscription: why do present subscribers have to pay more if they want to renew their subscription and get Platoon?

Finally, congratulations Newsfield, for the excellent GAMES MACHINE. Issue 3 was my first purchase of TGM, and it won’t be the last. Congrats, again!
Scott McGlashan, Glasgow

The perennial argument! And, as ever, the answer to your disagreement of reviewers’ ratings is down to personal taste: the ratings and comments given to each game are based solely upon the feelings of the reviewers in question. You can’t expect to agree with all of the ratings, all of the time — we only try to give as comprehensive and unbiased a review as possible to help guide your decision to purchase the game. For instance, I did not think very highly of Out Run, although it wasn’t exactly bad, it also wasn’t as well implemented as it should have been; still, it can be very playable. As for Rampage, I thought it was tedious and a waste of time — and I don’t even get to write reviews any more!

Since the reviews mentioned, Mike Dunn has left the reviewing team to pursue his academic quests and is replaced as of this issue with two very knowledgeable new reviewers. However, Nick (with whom you appear to agree with most of the time) is staying. The subscription was something of an error, although one that many readers spotted, happily assuming to their benefit that it didn’t really make sense the way it was. Sorry about that.
LM

ADVENTURE DEFICIT

Dear Lloyd
Although I agree with you that Peter Hoar’s letter (issue 50) did appear more cynical then strictly necessary, I feel that several of his points are ones I (sadly) have to concur with. Although I have been a faithful CRASH reader since issue 11, I have decided not to renew my subscription as I, like Mr Hoar, feel that CRASH has been going downhill for some time. I am not going to accuse CRASH of daylight robbery or indirect bribe-taking (in the form of advertisement contracts), but I do sympathise strongly with Mr Hoar’s points on adventure games.

I am an adventure game fan, like many others, and to me the difference between Derek Brewster’s old reviews and the new ones is obvious. The first difference is an easily noticed one — Brewster had six summary ratings; Difficulty, Graphics, Presentation, Input facility, Response and General Rating, as well as five percentage ratings: Atmosphere. Vocabulary, Logic, Addictive quality and Overall. The latest reviews have only one rating Overall — although Knight Orc in issue 49 had eight ratings in all.

The next difference, a serious one, is the lack of detail in the newer reviews. Even the Knight Orc review — a Smashed game — only gave a very general impression of the first part of a three-part game. More detail would not have gone amiss — some more quotation to give the flavour of the game, some description of the complicated parser (giving, as it does, commands such as FOLLOW, GO TO, RUN TO etc), some mention of the way the characters interact (DENZYL, GET KNIFE AND RUN TO CASTLE), mention of the RAM SAVE/LOAD or OOPS options on the 128K version, and so on.

Another serious difference was not in the reviews but in the SIGNSTUMPS section — I was worried by its complete disappearance just after Derek left — ‘they’re not going to drop it now that he’s gone, are they?’, I thought at the time, and felt incredulous when I turned to the SIGNSTUMPS section in Issue 50. The unthinkable had happened — twice — yes, CRASH published TWO COMPLETE (almost) SOLUTIONS! Not only this, but it had happened once before (in Issue 41) and this incident had turned out to be the work of ‘an arcade-nervous joystick jocky’ at CRASH towers. The worthy Mr Brewster apologized profusely on behalf of this unfortunate being, and assured us it would not happen again. It didn’t.. . until he left.

It is vary sad that whoever was responsible for this did not realise how the printing of such an obscene thing can completely ruin the enjoyment of a game or prevent people from buying It. This letter may not have been of such great importance in the two solutions in question, but the former still applies. It is not a simple matter to ‘just not read it’ — the temptation is too great for many adventurers (myself not included, as I do not have any of the games in question, but I know how people feel) who later curse themselves for their weakness. Lead us not into temptation!

Another point is the disappearance of SIGNPOST (I know this is a weak joke, but ‘is that why more money is going to tipsters and map-makers as prizes?’) — the adventure equivalent of the FORUM just upped and went, which is why I’m writing to the FORUM and not there.

Also, ‘the policy is that full-price games are more important to review because people risk more money when they buy them’ — If this were applied to arcade games as well, over 40% of issue 50’s reviews would have gone. Obviously, budget games are more numerous than budget adventures, but if there are so few budget and mail-order adventures that they can be ‘rounded up occasionally’ (I doubt it), why bother rounding them up? Surely such a small number could simply be reviewed when they come out (I assume that Issue 50, by the way, contained such a ‘roundup’).

I also recognise that you are not personally responsible for editorial policy, and for this reason I am not basing any attack on you personally with this letter. However, you are, I’m afraid, guilty of faulty (unlikely) or incomplete (more probable) logic in your replay to Mr Hoar’s letter. Derek Brewster’s position as a writer of arcade games does not necessarily imply that the CRASH reviewers are adventurers. I am willing to believe that they do play adventure games (although it appears they play arcade games more often), but your somewhat incongruous reply seemed slightly unclear. (By the way, if the reviewers are such keen adventurers why do you later on in the magazine state that ‘an interest in adventures would be useful’ for new CRASH employees? I hope it is because CRASH is trying to repair, in part, the gap left by Derek Brewster).

I do hope CRASH is not gradually phasing out the adventure game world. It may be, and it will sadden me if this is so, that CRASH is merely reflecting general interest in these games — maybe adventure games are doing worse in questionnaire-type surveys — or perhaps a tendency in the computer game world to cater less and less for minorities such as adventurers or strategy garners (I do not play many myself, but I have noticed that the strategy section of the magazine is also dwindling and in Issue 50 is pushed up against the adventure section — are they to be eventually rounded up into just an ‘adventure and strategy’ section?)

Perhaps these developments are only a temporary disturbance. My subscription is still good for a couple more issues — maybe CRASH can persuade me to change my mind and renew it.
Simon McGregor, London NW3

I certainly shan’t apologise for my reply to Peter Hoar’s letter, because if people write stupid end calculatedly offensive letters full of deliberate misinformation and cheap innuendo, then they can hardly expect a sympathetic reply — even though his did earn him the bumper software bundle; the first time I ever recall awarding it in a fit of pique!

Everyone will have to accept (and may well expect) that when a talented specialist writer like Derek Brewster stops working for a magazine after four years, there is bound to be a very great change; and to be a touch cynical about it, no-one really likes changes (whether they be good or bad), which can often explain the more savage criticism in these cases.

It isn’t really a case of not catering for what you refer to as ‘minority’ interests — adventures have always been important to CRASH — but they have become decidedly less important to software producers in general, simply because hardly anyone buys enough to warrant the cost of producing them.

The result has been, as we have all seen, that almost all Spectrum adventures available now come from independent individuals at budget prices on mail order. No, there’s nothing wrong with that except technically the only way we can tell you where to get them from is to print the address and tell you what money to send, which in turn means we are legally bound to refund you in the case of your having any compliant, since the review effectively becomes an ad in such cases — and to be fair, why should we do that? But we have done so, consistently, for over a year now. Indeed, even Derek — despite being aware of the quality of some of these adventures — felt that the state of the Spectrum adventure market hardly warranted all of his time on every issue.

And there is a significant difference between a budget arcade game from a company like Code Masters, widely available in numerous shops in its thousands, and one from an individual, produced at home with a run sometimes only in the low hundreds and available only by post at the risk of the sender.

Among the new reviewers working on CRASH, and at Newsfield, are several who not only enjoy playing adventure games and do so regularly, but are also quite expert on the subject itself (why take arcade experts who enjoy the occasional adventure off their job for one that always takes so much more time to assess? — the reason for the wording in the ad you refer to). Their Impact has hardly been felt. All I can ask you to do is be patient enough to see how they work out. No editorial policy hers at Newsfield is cast in concrete; things change all the while. Quite possibly adventures won’t merely be round ups, and certainly strategy and adventures are not intended to merge in the near future. The results of our next CRASHtionnaire will be interesting — tell us how you feel about adventures that way — as you told us that Ocean was the best software house last year in the Readers’ Awards... did Ocean bribe all of you to vote for them?

I hope you feel, Simon — since your letter was constructive end polite — that I have answered it more logically and completely than you think I did Mr Hoar’s.

What an exhausting set of answers that proved to be! Sorry if it sounded long-winded, but sometimes you can’t do a reply in two lines. How about a few more constructively jolly letters next month?! And if you have something to say, send it to LLOYD MANGRAM’S FORUM, CRASH, and I’ll try and fit you in.