Lloyd Mangram’s Forum

Another thirty days (give or take a few) have passed, and once again it’s time for me to delve into another bulging mailbag. Microprose come under fire from a couple of conscientious objectors, and there are also more opinions on the new breed of 16-bit computers, and their apparent impending takeover. Captain Paranoia has never had it so good!

DON’T SELL OUT

Dear Lloyd
After reading the letters in CRASH I feet obliged, even if my views are insignificant, to write (well type) to you and voice my opinions on the state of the Spectrum and upgrading.

I (a mere 13 year old) have decided to upgrade this year and buy an Atari ST. So far I’ve saved half the money through hard work (delivering 400 papers a week isn’t my idea of fun) and I hope to have saved the money up buy September.

£300 is a hell of a lot of money for anyone, let alone a schoolboy but I have set my eyes on that target. Many other people as you know are upgrading and this is where they make their big mistake — THEY SELL OUT!

Christ! It makes me mad. The amount of classified adverts selling Speccys is huge. And worse than that they’re grossly underpriced, a common price being £50. The Spectrum is an excellent games machine and contrary to common belief, I think it has many more years to go. With 4 million Spectrums around, the software companies are continuing to produce software, and people are still buying the games. So as long as the public buy Spectrum games the companies will continue producing them. Simple isn’t it?

With that thought in mind, when I purchase my ST twill hang on to my Spectrum and carry on buying software which is 10%-50% cheaper than 16-bit stuff.

Quite frankly I wish the press would stop being so negative about the Spectrum. Home computers are primarily for entertainment and that’s what I get. True, you can get superior entertainment from a 16-bit computer but at a much superior price. Think about it.

I hope that you print my letter even if it just makes readers aware that the Spectrum has a long way to go yet.

Scott McNab

‘Selling out’, as you call it, is no Bad Thing. The purchaser of a second hand Spectrum obviously wants to use the computer, and will therefore go out and buy games, thus keeping the Spectrum games market active. Yes, the Spectrum has plenty of years in it yet — you don’t need 16-bit graphics and sound to make a brilliant game! For your sensible comments, I’ve decided to award you this month’s £40 software voucher.
LM

GUNSHIP’S ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES

Dear Lloyd
As an old fogey who has been reading CRASH for several years, I thought it was time I got upon my soapbox.

I was going to write in glowing praise of Microprose’s Gunship, but on getting more deeply involved I came across some worrying aspects of the game.

After reading through the manual carefully, I loaded up and was soon zooming across the training ground with cannon blazing. ‘At Last!’ I thought. A real flying simulation. No childish arcade games for me. But closer inspection of the subsequent zones brought me up short. What was this? 82nd Airborne in Central America?

I wondered how many young people happily playing Gunship realise that the US involvement in Central America has been condemned as illegal by the world court at the Hague, and President Reagan’s Contra arms deal contravenes not only several American laws, but the constitution of the United States itself.

‘So what?’ some of you may say. ‘It’s only a game.’ But the point is that it’s NOT a game. This is an accurate simulation based on a real incident which is still going on today.

Thousands of innocent people have been killed in Central America now because of terrorist action sponsored by the US Government.

Is it right to allow a computer ‘game’ to broadcast a subliminal message via a leisure medium? Such things are banned on British television.

The result of all this soul searching is that I’ve come to think maybe the mindless arcade games which are constantly condemned as harmful are in fact less harmful because they are mindless. Nobody cares if yellow aliens from planet Zeta, or evil Orcs are blasted into fragments.

The final message to remember is this: the greater the realism, the greater the responsibility needed.
Trevor Parrish

The fact that the US Army shouldn’t be in South America is beside the point — they are, and this simulation, as you say, is ‘real’.
LM

A FEW POINTS

Dear Lloyd
A question. Has Peter Hoar got a brain? If he can tell me about a better Spectrum magazine than CRASH I shall be very surprised. Who has maintained a constantly high standard of reviews, news, artwork and enjoyment over the last few years? Who has been first with interviews, reviews and features? Ask yourselves these questions and in each case the answer is CRASH. And he’s complaining about the price! Doesn’t he think any other Spectrum magazine will increase price? It just shows that CRASH has got the guts to lead the way as they have for the last few years in Spectrum computing.

You’re telling me someone over the Christmas holiday has counted the number of advertisements. Has he nothing else to do? If he thought £1.95 is too much, then why did he buy it?

Another thing, why did he think the CRASH history was pointless because he had all the issues? Most people I know found the history both well written and interesting, as the first issues of CRASH are like gold-dust!

And he thinks Match Day II is just an upgrade of Match Day. He must be barmy! Why does he think Match Day II has just gone to Number 1 in the CRASH readers chart?

All I can say is that he must be stupid, and I’m sure lots of others share my views.
Mark J Taylor

Yes, yes, yes.
LM

COMPUTER PROPAGANDA?

Dear Lloyd
I’m writing to complain about the anti-Russian bias in the products of Microprose. I own Gunship, which is the only game I have from this company, and have found the instruction booklet to be full of propaganda. Yet more recently I have been incensed by reading a review by Stealth Fighter in ZZAP! — a game which is soon to appear on the Spectrum. This ‘game’ is even more extreme than Gunship, and has the distaste to include missions over Libya and the Persian Gulf. In fact one ZZAP! reviewer even commented that the game was so topical that he felt we might see what he did, on the nine o’clock news that evening.

Seen from a purely ‘playability’ standpoint, both Gunship and Stealth Fighter are very good. Thus it seems likely that many people will buy these products, and Microprose’s propaganda will receive inside coverage. Thus these products are more than just games, as their bias is so strong and widespread. Computer games, I firmly believe, should not contain such propaganda, and should certainly not try to make a game out of a current conflict, where people at this moment people may actually be being killed. This kind of program must be discouraged.

Digital Integration are an example of a company whose games contain no propaganda, and yet their games Tomahawk and ATF are on exactly the same subjects as Gunship and Stealth Fighter respectively. Clearly it is not necessary to simulate topical battles for a game of this type to be playable. The trend which Microprose is leading will only bring computer gaming into the midst of the political stage, and this is surely undesirable. I for one will not be buying Stealth Fighter, and hope others will soon join me.
Nigel Voak

It’s so easy to get het up in this sort of situation. Personally I think that flying ‘realistic’ simulated missions over ‘real’ places helps bring your attention to the fact that this sort of thing could really happen. You can’t just turn your back on the possibility of conflict in the Middle East in the hope that it’ll go away. The sickening jingoism of the Microprose instruction manual, however, does tend to grate.
LM

ATTRIBUTE ’ASSLE

Dear Lloyd
I am writing to you for the first time. After several years of owning a Spectrum 128, I have always enjoyed the On The Screen as I like to do a bit of art myself. Only, there is one problem, I own an AMX-mouse and the Artist II. These two are both very good, but they both lack one thing: COLOUR. Before anyone corrects me, they do have colour but only to a pathetic standard. They put the colour in in big blocks, so circles become squares. So what I would like to know is am I using them correctly or not. Also what packages do the people use on the On The Screen to get the colour they do?

Thank you for reading my letter and hope you will be able to help me.
John Mather

The ‘problems’ you’re having are what every Spectrum owner has — attributes. The Spectrum computer can only accept two colours in every character space — every 8x8 pixel block. Consequently, when you try and put three colours into a block, one of them disappears and turns into the colour you’re using, thus ruining the picture. Artists have to be very clever to get around these problems, and basically it means planning out your picture around character squares. Try looking at loading screens to get an idea of what you can or cannot do. It takes quite a lot of practise, but once you get the idea, you should be able to produce some brilliant pictures with the art packages you’ve already got.
LM

WOT? NO 128 GAMES?

Dear Lloyd
I am the proud owner of a Spectrum 128 and I think this is a great machine, but I am finding it very hard to buy 128K games to get the most out of my Speccy. The 128K was brought out to show people the difference in graphics and sound compared to the 48K, but what is the sense in buying a 128 or +3 if you cannot buy 128K software. Can you please tell me why it is so hard to find 128K games.

My second question is, if the new SAM computer (reviewed in last months Tech Niche) is going to be compatible with Spectrum 48K software, is there going to be much new software for it or will SAM owners have to make do with 48k software like us that own 128K machines?

I hope you write a reply for my questions as I am sure there are plenty of people who would like to know the answer. Keep up the good work there at the CRASH offices.
Robert Hanway

Yes, apart from a few exceptions, Spectrum 128 only games are very scarce indeed. The reason for this is beyond me. There are plenty of 128s around, so why don’t games manufacturers spend some extra time improving their programs to include extra features and screens? I should think SAM owners will be in exactly the same boat as you...
LM

NOT JUST A FAD

Dear Lloyd
First of all congratulations for 50 excellent issues. Ever since I started reading CRASH I have always found it to be the best magazine, standing head and shoulders above all it rivals. Everything about it is totally superior including your letters page, where at least you bother to answer the letters and don’t print pure drivel like some mags. However enough of this grovelling, and on to my point.

The main reason I have written is regarding the editorial article written by Barnaby Page, I don’t really agree that the industry is in that bad a shape. It offers a great variety of entertainment and practical uses for the Home Computer owner, at what I consider a fair price.

I do agree however that the industry could do with more media coverage by the national press. It is definitely not a minority hobby and it is obviously not some craze that will fade shortly.

Myself and some friends have all written to various national and local papers asking why they don’t feature a regular section on home computing, but they seem content to leave that sort of thing to people like yourselves and are not really interested.

It looks as if we will all have to stick with CRASH and to be totally honest that is just fine with me. By the way £1.25 is a bit expensive but I suppose it’s worth it for the value you get.
Matt Connolly

Computer sections in newspapers are on the increase these days, but what I really think is lacking is a television programme on computers. There’s absolutely nothing around at the moment, which is very sad indeed. Perhaps other readers have views on this matter?
LM

ARIOLASOFT CLOSEDOWN: WAS IT THEIR FAULT?

Dear Lloyd
I read in the March CRASH about the closing down of Ariolasoft UK. In the report ‘disappointing’ sales were blamed. If you take a look at Ariolasoft’s Summer ’87 range you wouldn’t be surprised — stuff like Killer Ring (47%), Mountie Mick’s Deathride (47%), Triaxos (53%) and Dogfight 2187 (56%). Perhaps if they’d been more choosy about what got released and compared them to other software releases they wouldn’t have been in the position they’re in now. Even Ocean got it together last year to bring us Smashes such as Head Over Heels and Wizball. Incidentally, I hear that Ocean plan to cut the amount of ’88 releases to 2/3 of last years’ in order to spend more time developing the games, which means a better standard of software.

Ariolasoft were capable of making great games (remember Think!, Skyfox, Camelot Warriors, Deactivators and Terrors of Trantoss? Although I admit these didn’t seem to sell in great quantities — a wrong marketing mix perhaps?) The ‘downfall’ of Ariolasoft seems to have started at the beginning of 1987 when they stopped publishing in their own right and emerged with a fistful of labels (Starlight, Reaktor, 39 Steps, Viz Design and Magic Bytes — phew!)

On a lighter note Magic Bytes is now being marketed by Gremlin Graphics — does this mean that they now have the rights to Pink Panther the game?
Tim Baker

I’m sad to see Ariolasoft pull out of the UK, but I’m afraid in this industry it’s survival of the fittest. Magic Bytes’ Pink Panther is soon to be available on the Gremlin label.
LM

MARKS AWRY?

Dear Lloyd
You did it with Daley’s Decathlon. You did it with Match Day. You did it to Arkanoid and you’ve done it to Tetris (issue 50). I’m talking, of course, about seriously underrating great games. How on earth did your reviewers have the gall to pen such phrases as ‘poorly implemented’ and ‘becomes boring’?

True, Tetris is maybe not the most visually stunning of games on the Spectrum, but in a game like this looks don’t count for anything. ZZAP! gibbered over the Commodore version (rightly so), yet I think that the Spectrum implementation is far better. In the type of game Tetris is, fancy programming and slick touches can often mar its playability. If you look at the Atari ST version, with its Pseudo-3D blocks and things, you’ll see what I mean.

The Tetris review highlights many of CRASH’s faults. The ratings are often too close together, seemingly being (consciously or not) fiddled to make them so. One of the comments was ‘a fiendishly addictive game’; yet it got only 79% for ‘addictive qualities’! How? I have ATF as well, and although I think it’s a great game, it doesn’t even come close to Tetris in addictiveness, yet it gets 85%.

Of course, you’ll probably pour out the standard reply, Lloyd, saying that the reviewers form their own opinions, and I say fine! But when the reviewers’ opinions start varying too much from those of everyone else, it’s time to get new reviewers. I say the last statement with some authority — work in a computer shop, and I am certainly not alone in my adoration of Tetris.

I reckon you’ll probably receive more than a few letters of complaint about the review, and I think you deserve it. Then again, if you print this letter, you will most probably be sent sackfuls of letters from babbling hordes screaming, ‘Heretic! Heretic!’.

Summing up, I believe that CRASH has done too much laurel-resting, and has begun to take its readership for granted. If you continue to become less and less reliable as far as reviews go, then there are plenty of other magazines out there just waiting to net disillusioned CRASH readers. I have been buying CRASH ever since Issue 1, and for some time now I have been less satisfied with what was once a great magazine. For the moment, I will continue to buy CRASH to maintain my collection, and in the hope that you will give yourselves a big shake and raise up to your old, high, standards.
Ewan Dalton

Well, Ewan, we’ve got a new set of deluxe reviewers, and have also dumped the individual ratings system, which served only to undermine the overall mark. Hopefully you’ll find their marks more consistent and thoughtful. To be honest, I agree with you about Tetris — it’s a fabulous little game, and illustrates what I was talking about earlier. Who needs 16-bit graphics and sound?
LM

IS THIS MAN SANE?

Dear Lloyd
I was once a fanatic of the highest degree. My life was dedicated to the golden tunes of Manic Miner, the glowing screens of Jetpac, Halls of Things, right through to Elite, GAC and the stunning sound effects of Fist (grunt grunt). Death stalked my very dreams, shadowy forms lurked in the depths of thought, occasionally appearing in a malignant burst of conscience, Ben Stone’s face would leer out of my innermost sanctuaries of thought screaming ‘You went and bought it, you prune, you even fell for the ‘Commodore screens shown’ and ‘Some screens may vary’ tricks’, but still I went on. Many nights were spent awake in the acrid haze that always seemed to come from the power pack and smelled like burning socks, and sweating, shaking like a beast possessed as I tried to lose my thoughts in sleep, oh those horrific memories of the grating tunes of Mr Wong’s Loopy Laundry.

Then came the fatal mistake that was to lead to near self destruction of mind numbing proportions, I... I... bought a Commodore. Only for a few brief months did this lapse, this justification of my place in Satan’s toilet. Okay, I know that’s very immature, but it did crash a lot and the games didn’t quite hold it for me, I... LOOK! If you’re going to start acting like that, you can jolly well... well you can stop starting to act like that right now, miladdo. Sorry, sorry, look this, these lapses hardly happen any each more. I’m really quite aa-AAARgurr fine bleurgh now, I mean what with the Commodore coming down in price two weeks after I bought one, and then... it’s such a cruel, heartless, cold, rrrruthless computer. Oh my God, I’m mad aar-AaArnaAAgurrghh snarl (Okay, so Russ Abbott did it first, big fat hairy deal! Sorry, I just had to say that, Garfield’s my fave). But now, after many a dark month of loneliness and maturation (I SAID MATURATION!) I am ready to return to the world of funny shaped power packs and tapes that only work on my mate’s machine, a new generation of computer kids who make me feel like getting out the Grecian 2000 (What do you mean you haven’t got a bottle?) Well, my Speccy’s out an’ ready for a blasting, if only I can get the damn thing out of the box aar- AARn-nn-narghgggh... oh no, not the twitch aaah...

What can I say...

agarhgnn...

it’s great to be back... ugh!
Gus, Lockerbie

Don’t worry Gus — the men in white coats are heading to Lockerbie this very minute.
LM

MORE MARKS AWRY

Dear Lloyd
I’d like to comment on your review of the computer game Dan Dare II (reviewed issue 49). I read CRASH regularly and have agreed with every review, give or take a few, until now.

Your review of Dan Dare II was the worst review you have ever written and I think your reviewers Nathan, Mike and Nick should be asked why they gave the game such a bad rating. In the review, Mike stated that if anything, it was worse than the original Dan Dare. As far as I’m concerned, this is utter nonsense. The original Dan Dare is fun at first but it’s too easy and can be completed after a few goes. Dan Dare II, however is much more compelling and totally addictive.

Also, in the overall comments box it said that the colour is distributed without thought. That could not be further from the truth. The colours have been mixed to create some excellent new colours and the shading is incredible. I agree that the white colour of the characters is not very good, but it avoids lots of bad colour clash and it’s nicer than the green of the original Dan Dare game.

I also noticed that only Nick mentioned the sequence on the options page with the spaceship moving along. The spaceship itself is superbly drawn and the triple scroll of the stars behind it is excellent animation.

Dan Dare II improves on Dan Dare in every aspect of the game and I fail to see why it should get an overall rating of 74%, when you give trash like Flying Shark a rating of 85%. In my opinion, Dan Dare II deserves a rating of at least 90% and if it had been released earlier, it would have got my vote for the game of the year.

It irks me to have to write to you but I feel it was necessary to highlight this blatant miscarriage of justice shown by your review of the Dan Dare II game.
Jonathan Gyngell

You said it yourself, ‘in my opinion’. As the old adage goes, one man’s meat is another man’s poison — and when it comes down to reviewing, it’s always a matter of personal opinion. I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks that Dan Dare II was overrated!
LM

ON THE 16-BIT FRONT

Dear Lloyd
I was already thinking about writing to you, when I saw your letters page in issue 50. That definitely made my mind up, and so I’ve put pen to paper (or finger to key) to write you these few lines. I’m not going to criticise Mr Hoar’s letter (though he certainly deserved it), as you probably are already flooded with criticisms on the said letter.

Instead I’ll be making a constructive criticism on your reply to Patrick Taylor’s letter. I do think it takes a lot of courage to say that 16-bit machines are just ‘minor disturbances’, and compare them to desktop publishing. In my own, humble, opinion these machines are indeed a great step forward in entertainment software. There is one point you should have taken into consideration: the 16-bit machines are now on their Horace goes Skiing phase. What I mean is, programming techniques are far from achieving their best. Graphically, games won’t get much better, but on the playability side, they will get much, much better and some great games will be possible only on these machines, It’s obvious it’ll take quite sometime, but it will happen.

And where does this leave our good faithful Spectrum? Well, obviously in the darkest corners of consumer’s households. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be worth keeping it for another couple of years (yes, that’s all the time you’ve got left), because it is now a totally explored computer with some very playable games. This computer’s decadence might even make software get better, as software houses won’t be able to afford sales disasters.

What I really meant to remark was that I think you’re cheating your readers. You really can’t believe what you said, can you??? I don’t want to be thought of as a traitor to our common cause. I saw Spectrum software grow with the passing of the years (mine has 5 years now), and I will see it die, And it will be worth every single second, at least to tell my grandsons what computers were like in my time. And the two years we’ve got ahead of us will also be worth it. It is a shame that everything must end, but on the other hand, better things may come ahead.

I hope I haven’t hurt any feelings and I do believe there aren’t many CRASH readers who want to believe in what I just said, but it is quite evident. Anyway, I will never sell my Spectrum, and I will always buy CRASH as long as it lasts.
Bruno Taborda

Of course, the 16-bit machines will eventually take over — what I mean is that it’s not going to happen overnight as is often made out by the manufacturers and owners of these computers. The Spectrum has plenty of life in it yet, and I’m sure that there are many programmers out there ready to demonstrate that you can still teach an old dog new tricks.
LM

There goes another month, and another mailbag. If you have any comments on... anything really, write to LLOYD MANGRAM, CRASH FORUM. You never know — if your letter is interesting, you could well see it in print. If you’re REALLY lucky, you might even find a software voucher dropping onto your doormat.