CRASH ex-editor Dominic Handy kindly spared me some of his time to reminisce about the good old days — with some surprising news about a certain game review...
So an easy question to start with: how did you get involved at Newsfield?
There are no easy questions when it comes to CRASH. It’s 20 years ago now, which is quite a test for my memory. Luckily, I still have the complete first 1-2 years of CRASH mags, so I thought reading through those would jog my memory... It didn’t... It just confused me even more!
I was definitely hanging around CRASH Towers soon after the first issue appeared, as I lived in Ludlow already and used to get my Speccy games from Newsfield. After a few months of me being in awe of the reviewers who I would occasionally catch a glimpse of, the Art Director asked me if he could take my photo wearing the famous CRASH T-shirt. I didn’t know what to say, and he soon had me pulling a stupid pose in front of the church door behind the offices. I even got to keep the T-shirt! I can’t find the picture in any of my issues, but I do have the original print of me looking a dork. When I popped in to buy another game a couple of days later, Roger Kean just asked me what I thought about a game (can’t remember which!), during which he was furiously tapping my comments into the computer. I guess that was my first review, and I didn’t even realise it. All the reviews were anonymous to start with, and they used to pay me £2 for each comment (the bit at the end), or £5 for a review (the main bit at the beginning). As you can imagine, that was big bucks for a 15-year-old just raising cash for games. (And they knew that I’d just go and spend the money in the mail order department anyway!)
It was when Zzap moved into the Towers that things got confusing for me. You see, they wanted a new reviewer, but just a face as Jaz and Gaz would write the reviews themselves. And so Paul Sumner, my alter ego was born. I didn’t do any reviews for Zzap, but my face was all over it. I’m even on the cover of Zzap issue 4, and in CRASH 44 (page 90) as Paul Sumner. All very confusing as they could never have my face in CRASH with my real name next to it! (The masthead of issue 55 has me down as editor and Paul Sumner as a contributor...)
Here’s an insider fact to whet your appetite... The access code for the door to CRASH Towers was 2169! I still remember it now, as when someone explained why it was 21-69, I was disgusted ! <G>
I had read on a ZZAP site that PS was an alias — very confusing. Was anyone else fictional (apart from Lloyd that is)?
Lloyd, fictional? I wondered why the guy never turned up for work? I thought it was just a tax dodge...
I can’t remember anyone else who wasn’t real. It was confusing enough for me as it was! People like Lloyd and Paul Sumner were just made up because of the lack of good staff in the Ludlow area, and the need to make the mag look bigger than it really was. Ludlow is only a small town in the middle of the countryside and so it was always difficult to get quality writers moving there.
Eventually, they realised that as I was hanging around the offices so much, and raking in tons of “cash” from writing reviews (I also did a few bits for TechNiche), they might as well give me a full time job! I think it was Graeme Kidd who actually got me reviewing on a regular basis, and Barnaby Page who really taught me how to edit a magazine. Both of ’em good blokes.
And then, now I’ve softened you up with the easy one — what happened with Great Giana Sisters? I don’t know whether you remember, but it was reviewed in CRASH, but, as far as anyone can tell, never reached the shelves due to a legal dispute. Did you get to play GGS yourself?
Wow, The Great Giana Sisters! That was quite a time for me. It was my first issue in charge of the mag, and I had all the pressures that come with being an editor yet I was only 19. I had companies hassling me like crazy to get a CRASH Smash, and can reveal that I caved in when it came to The Great Giana Sisters. You see US Gold, who owned the Rainbow Arts label, were struggling for hits at the time, yet were one of the biggest advertisers in the mag and had a lot of clout with “the powers that be”. Their PR people were putting pressure on me saying that it was going to be great game and we could have the exclusive if we could guarantee them the cover picture, and I was desperate for a big exclusive on my first issue as editor. I kept trying to say to them that we needed to see the game first, but they kept on putting it off. So I was left having to make the decision to get Oli Frey to do the artwork in the hope that when the game did finally arrive it would be a good game and warrant a CRASH Smash. Of course, in the event it was a crap game but we didn’t have much choice than give it a CRASH Smash as we’d put it on the cover. I didn’t have much of a like for PR people before that incident, and I’ve had a strong dislike of them since... I’m not sure why it didn’t actually see the light of day though. I think it was some licensing wrangle with the coin-op people and US Gold. (Anyway, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything!)
You know you’re shattering a few illusions here... In the early days CRASH used to boast of turning down advertising when the company demanded good scores. I suppose there was no way you could give the game the cover image but not a SMASH — it would have looked a bit odd I guess.
Was there a lot of this kind of pressure from advertisers going on?
Yes, it would have looked odd to have TGGS on the cover and slag it off inside, and we were really only stretching the truth a bit. I can’t remember any other time when I was editor that it happened.
During your time as editor there was an increasing use of covertapes with CRASH. At this point YS had been running regular covertapes, often with very high quality games, for some time, whereas CRASH had tended to offer only occasional demo tapes. Was CRASH forced to offer covertapes to compete?
The period of my editorship was quite painful for CRASH as the competitors just tried to beat us by giving away games on the cover. That was one of the reasons why I left, because the “powers that be” wanted to turn CRASH from a good read into a cassette with a few pages attached. I was there from the beginning, and it went against a lot of the editorial principles for the mag, just trying to squeeze every last penny out of the magazine and forget about our editorial integrity. But that’s business in the real world. I guess it was just the natural life of the market that forced it in this direction, but I didn’t want to be around at the end as it all looked very depressing.
By the way, I worked in some capacity on pretty much every mag that Newsfield produced, from CRASH to FEAR, AMTIX to MOVIE, and when I left Newsfield I worked on RAZE, before being one of the founder members of Paragon Publishing, so if you’ve got any more questions about anything, I might just be able to help :-)
I managed to acquire a few issues of FEAR recently, quite interesting (a 1980s mag with news that George Lucas was about to start work in the Star Wars prequels) but very “niche”. Indeed the liquidator’s report says that it “achieved only limited circulation figures”.
Yeah, FEAR was good, but a bit geeky for my liking. Lasted longer than MOVIE and LM though. Geeks rule!
I know nothing about AMTIX or MOVIE though...
Amtix was basically a CRASH for Amstrad owners. It tried hard and looked good, but Amstrad owners just weren’t in the same league as us Speccy owners :-)
MOVIE was a good mag and a great idea, but ahead of its time. It came out just when you could buy video films in Woolworths (as opposed to renting them). MOVIE appear before the likes of Empire and Popcorn and did a similar job but for a smaller market. The film companies weren’t mature enough to understand about advertising in it either, so it didn’t last very long.
Did you work on LM at all?
I probably did an odd game or video review, but the LM crew kept pretty much to themselves. Us gamers weren’t good enough to hang around such cool people...
Thanks to Dominic for giving his time for this interview.