I really get sick when people start throwing their weight around on the grounds of ‘knowing the business’. Mr. Jones of Interceptor Micro’s is one such. He telephoned to complain about a lot of inaccuracies in Derek Brewster’s review of Interceptor’s recent adventure game The Jewels of Babylon (CRASH February issue) after receiving ‘loads’ of phone calls from owners of the game. He went out and bought a copy, then phoned. Although Mr. Jones was unable to detail all the inaccuracies of the review, he was at pains to point out that whoever did the review knew nothing about the Spectrum or programming. I asked him if he knew who Derek Brewster was and Mr. Jones said he had never heard of him. I asked Mr. Jones if he knew anything about the Spectrum in that case and informed him of the games Derek has written. Mr. Jones then replied to the effect that if this reviewer wrote software for other companies then he could understand why the review was written the way it was and implied that Interceptor would hardly be booking ads if those were the sort of reviews they got. He also implied, when I pointed out that Interceptor had never advertised in CRASH, that that was why they got a bad review, ‘You’re having a go at us,’ he said. Mr. Jones seems to have forgotten that Message from Andromeda was well received by Derek in review and that Forest at World’s End was a medium review if not a wow. Were we likely to ‘have a go’ at Interceptor Micro’s for not advertising, then the best time would have been some months back. Before people like Mr Jones start to throw slanderous comments about the British Telecom system, I wish they would get their facts as correct as they expect Derek Brewster’s to be. If Mr Jones really knew the Spectrum market he would know and have seen that many advertisers over the months have received good reviews in CRASH and never advertised and the reverse is also true — big ads, poor reviews. Mr. Jones concluded by saying that he would be writing to other magazines to inform them that CRASH employs the services of professional programmers who write games software for software houses to do reviews, the implication being that they are biased. Hardly anyone who reads CRASH could fail to know what Derek Brewster has written and for whom. I told Mr. Jones he could write to whom he liked (including us with a list of the inaccuracies in the Jewels of Babylon review) and tell them what he liked. But my advice to him is to look a bit more thoroughly at CRASH before he makes such a fool of himself. And my advice to anyone is not to raise the spectre of advertisement versus good reviews number ever again. I get annoyed.
As the close of the Ultimate Christmas competition draws near, we have been flooded with masses of Underwurlde and Knight Lore maps of varying proportions. The CRASH team were all astonished, however when the Ultimate trophies arrived, which as you can see from the pictures, are really beautiful. Additionally Ultimate sent through six large boxes each containing an Ultimate cap, two sweatshirts, a T-shirt, a large diary and the Spectrums with six-packs of games. Having looked at some of the entries I am filled with despair! The choice is going to be a very hard one! Results next month.
There have been some shake-outs this past month among the computer magazines. Publishers have been predicting the demise of some titles because there are too many on the news shelves. Editors and publishing executives of London-based mags have been extensively reported in the trade press stating that others will go but theirs will survive because it’s the best. Tony Tyler of Big K went to great lengths in Computer Trade Weekly to say that only good quality magazines like Big K would be left. Two days after his pronouncement IPC Magazines axed Big K with little warning. It wasn’t selling well enough and had failed to grab a significant chunk of the advertising base, and when it did get ads it was giving them away at loss-making prices.
Argus Press are also making a change, Games Computing becomes Computer Gamer, but whether the change of name will do much to lift their limp image is another matter. And of course the biggest crash of all has been that of Personal Computer Games from VNU Business Publications. Despite PCG’s popularity, it too failed to get the right prices for ads, without which a modern magazine cannot remain healthy.
In a sense, a lot of this is good news for CRASH, since obviously there are less mags around competing for advertisers’ money. In contrast with other publishers, we are expanding by launching a new title in April when ZZAP!64 is released. I’m surprised by how many letters we receive that say the writer has a Commodore 64 owning friend who is jealous because there isn’t a ‘CRASH for Commodore owners’. Well from April onwards there will be.
Heading up the editorial team is Chris Anderson who was editor of PCG until he heard about ZZAP!64. He brings with him Bob Wade and a few other writers from PCG including the White Wizard and the talents of Jeff Minter for a column. CRASH readers who don’t like hearing about other computers shouldn’t worry therefore that the Commodore magazine will interfere with CRASH as ZZAP!64 has an entirely separate editorial team and in fact will be written elsewhere although production will take place in Ludlow. You will notice that there is an advertisement for ZZAP!64 in this issue — it isn’t to persuade you to buy a Commodore 64! But it does have some interesting relevance to CRASH readers who have Commodore-owning friends, so don’t ignore it!
I was away for two weeks holiday after the New Year and when I got back it was to discover that Television South West (TSW) had rung to ask whether they could feature CRASH and reviewers Matthew Uffindell and Robin Candy on the ‘Soft Spot’ feature of their popular programme FREEZE FRAME, which goes out on Saturday mornings. FREEZE FRAME is aimed at young people, is recorded with a studio audience of school kids, and incorporates several interesting items every week including pop videos, a line band and the ‘Soft Spot’ computer games section.
The programme in which CRASH featured also included a piece on teenage romance illustrator GARRY COBB, a duo called MIME THEATRE who conclude their stage show with a satirical version of the famous TV puppet series THUNDERBIRDS, and the latest record from COOK DA BOOKS who were live in the studio. I went down to TSW’s Plymouth studios with Matthew and Robin for the ride and to record the event in diary form for CRASH.
Tuesday 29th Feb. 4.00pm
Arrive in Plymouth. The weather is foul, pouring rain end misty. Only Mat has been to Plymouth before — when he was 6.
4.05pm Pull up outside central Post Office to ask way to TSW studios, send Mat out to get wet. He’s back in seconds with the info, what’s more, he remembers it.
4.10pm Park car outside building. TSW is a fairly new place which used to be the old Westward TV studios before the ITV franchises changed hands. We’re delivering a bundle of CRASHes to the programme producer MARCUS KIMBA. I take my pullover off to wrap around them so they won’t get soggy in the rain. The sacrifices we make. Matthew and I discover a juvenile streak in Robin — he likes automatic doors and spends the minutes as we wait to be greeted by the producer jumping up and down on the operating mat.
4.15pm Marcus comes down to Reception and introduces himself, then takes us upstairs to the FREEZE FRAME production office. Like any TV studio complex, TSW is a rabbit warren. They put numbers on all the doors so people won’t get lost. It doesn’t help. In the office the FF programme director is sitting in a bemused state trying to get to Hampstead. We shake hands and he asks us if anyone knows. Matthew politely informs him that Derek Brewster does all that sort of stuff. The two men give Mat and Rob a brief outline of what will happen tomorrow, who’s doing and saying what. They want to ask Mat how he got into all this and then get him to introduce Rob as a reviewer. Rob will then look at a game and talk about it. Robin looks a bit alarmed but agrees. Marcus then takes us down a floor to have a look at the studio which has already been set and lit ready for the morning. The ‘kids gantry’ is on the left, the Soft Spot desks on the right. Five huge cameras skulk under protective covers. ‘That’s where all the kids sit?’ Robin asks looking at the arrangement dubiously. I can see him making catapult sight line assessments between the area where they will be and the Soft Spot desk. It looks like an easy shot. I ask how big the audience will be and Marcus tells us 45. Rob’s face looks no happier. Marcus then tells us that last week’s was a pretty rough school, ours will be much nicer.
4.45pm We return to the car and find the hotel which is just a few minutes walk away. TSW have taken care of everything. There is about three hours before a car will call to take us to dinner. Mat wants a walk on the sea front and daftly, I agree. It pours with rain, we’re soaked. It was from here that Drake spotted the Armada while playing bowls (it obviously wasn’t raining then), and from here the Mayflower pilgrims set sail for America (undoubtedly raining). These great moments of history pass Matthew by, he’s wondering how to say what on the morrow. I give him a pep talk based on my vast experience of being on TV (twice to date, once with Mat anyway). To make him feel better about the ordeal I tell him what it was like when I filmed interviews with people and some anecdotes about the funny things that went wrong. It doesn’t make him feel better. We return to the hotel drenched.
6.00pm Sit in hotel bar for a drink to wait for the car. Mat and Rob feeling better now and starting to tell jokes about what they will really say.
7.30pm Taxi collects us and takes us to Mo’s Bistro.
7.30½pm Arrive at Mo’s Bistro. The 30 seconds cost a quid. I’m pleased to see taxis are the same everywhere. Already seated at the table are Marcus, Carrie Gray (the young new co-presenter of Freeze Frame and who used to be in the British group that entered the 83 Eurovision Song Contest), and the young illustrator Garry Cobb. A few moments later Andrew Dawson and Gavin Robertson (the Mime Theatre) arrive. Dinner and conversation is very lively but Rob falls silent and I wonder if he’s alright, but it turns out that he didn’t know he disliked garlic bread.
Wednesday 30th Feb. 8.00am
At breakfast Garry Cobb reveals he’s terrified. They told him he will be interviewed standing amongst the kids. Robin smirks — if he’s seated at the SoftSpot desk doing a game, then it will be Matthew who runs the ‘kids gantry’ gauntlet. Mat isn’t amused.
8.50am Mat and I take some air on the sea front. It isn’t raining. I tell him deep breaths help before the red light comes on. He starts deep breathing, then feels faint.
9.10am Walk to the studio and wait in reception for the ‘Hostess’. Everyone’s names are up on a ‘welcome board’. The hostess turns out to be a delightful lady called Jen who has obviously dealt with nervous super stars before — she’s kind, informative and firm. We’re taken upstairs and shown into a sparse dressing room shared with Garry, who’s just finishing make up.
9.25am Jen returns and takes us along to Make Up. The boys are horrified. The two make up girls seat them before mirrors in barber chairs and start spotting chins and cheeks with paint brushes. On an overhead monitor Carrie Gray is talking to the studio kids. The cameras move about ‘blocking in’ shots ready to record. A voice comes out of the speaker, ‘Five seconds to cheer....’ They cheer. Mat and Rob are being powdered down to ensure their noses won’t shine. I look up to see a rigidly frightened Garry waiting on screen. Fortunately the CRASH review team have their eyes closed against the powder.
9.46am Back to the dressing room. Tension growing. I’m beginning to feel as awful as they are and I’m not even going on. Mat says he feels like a puffed up poof. Robin’s eyes are running from the powder. The make up girl thought he looked tired — now he just looks anguished. ‘I’m not nervous!’ they keep saying unconvincingly.
10.20am Still waiting in the dressing room. Mat says he wishes it were all over. It’s like being in a dentist’s waiting room. There’s noise outside. Is this it? No, it’s tea break. We’re taken to the canteen. Garry is looking relaxed and cocky. He’s finished of course and is regretting all the things he didn’t get to say about his work. It’s hot in the canteen, Mat and Rob are beginning to sweat their make up off. After tea break we’re led to the studio to watch. The studio kids are lively. The crew are recording a bit on the nature of laughter using puppets. The director disappears up stairs to the gallery. ‘Right, here we go,’ calls the floor manager. They take the entire sequence twice to get it right. Beside me, Carrie Gray is rehearsing her interview with the two Mime Theatre guys. Mat and Rob are taken off to Accounts to get paid. They get paid quite a lot. It seems to help. I join them in the Viewing Room and watch the Mime Theatre get interviewed and start their act. We think we’re on soon but Lunch Break intervenes.
12.38pm The three of us leave the studio to go and buy a blank VHS cassette so we can have a recording of the programme after it’s been edited. In the sunshine Mat and Rob look healthy, but it’s only the miracle of make up. We check in WH Smith to see if there are any CRASH. There aren’t — they sold out and are waiting for more.
2.00pm We’re taken down to the studio as the Mime Theatre do some pick up shots. A sound engineer wires the boys up with radio mikes and tiny lapel microphones. They stand at the edge of the chaos of camera cables watching and looking remarkably cool after all the nerve-wracking waiting. Mime Theatre do two more takes, then another. It’s good.
The floor manager comes and takes Mat and Rob over to the Soft Spot set. All the cameras shuffle in and take up positions. The audience are holding copies of CRASH. Matthew goes into a huddle with Marcus and the presenter, Ian. Technicians set up the computers and monitors while Carrie sits on the gantry and records a link shot to a pop video of Chicago’s latest, You’re My Inspiration.
2.10pm Matthew is positioned to stand behind the desk with the presenter while Robin is seated at the Spectrum. He loads Knight Lore from microdrive. The sound department puts a microphone under the Spectrum and then plays around with an echo chamber to create science fiction noises with the Ultimate game’s sound. I can see Mat laughing at something Ian has said. A good sign. The director appears for a minute and there is another huddle. The audience are kept amused by watching the Chicago video on a monitor, while stage hands start extending the gantry podium ready for Cook Da Books afterwards.
2.15pm The director returns to the gallery. Ian takes up position next to Matthew and they line up a shot of the last CRASH cover. I can see Mat taking surreptitious deep breaths. Robin looks over his shoulder against the bright studio tights searching with his eyes for me. He smiles and doesn’t took very nervous.
2.20pm Robin starts playing Knight Lore. The floor manager counts down and waves his hand — they’re away at last — no they’re not. There’s a hold.
2.23pm More set up discussions and some voice rehearsals with Robin. The director wants Ian to ask Rob specific questions about the game. Some last minute lighting adjustments. Robin looks relaxed but his voice is tight. Mat is chatting animatedly with Ian.
2.27pm ‘We’re ready!’ Countdown starts again. Robin starts playing. I watch on the monitor, a close up of the game screen, then a cut to Ian and Matthew. Ian introduces Matthew who hesitates and then warms up. Robin plays and talks and then it’s all over at 2.34 with a link from Ian to Cook Da Books.
2.45pm The three of us stand and watch Cook Da Books surrounded by the audience as they mime to playback their latest release Golden Age. Carrie Gray who is standing beside us says she thought Robin was clever to play all the while and talk without getting killed off on the game. Robin shrugs and tells her he had an infinite lives poke in. Her illusions are shattered — but I reflect she should know better, after all, this is TV where everything is a cheat of one sort or another.
3.15pm The recording finishes and Marcus comes over to ask how the boys feel. They both feel great now it’s over and Matthew says he would like to appear again. He’s got stardust in his eyes — or is it make up? We’re given a cup of tea and depart. Later on, stopping at the same motorway service area we stopped at on the way down to Plymouth Robin says very sagely, ‘When we stopped here yesterday we were just nobodies. Now we’re just bigger nobodies.’