Fear and Loathing

John Minson


Does Christmas never end? Hewson obviously think not so I boycotted their January bash in protest. But that still left me time to be caned by Dave Carlos, AND get slightly the better for drink with the delightful Amanda Barry.

January means out with the old and in with the new. Out with the Christmas parties and in with the New Year orgies. Except for those weird people at Hewson!

Remember how they began celebrating Christmas at the PCW show in September? Well, they realised the error of their ways and held another Christmas party, this time in early January. Now they could be Ukranians, who celebrate the festive season about two weeks later than everyone else. Or maybe it’s just a ploy to confuse poor, befuddled hacks like me.

Anyway, I didn’t make it, I’m afraid. Anyone who read about my leaky roof last time won’t want further grisly details of the structural horrors that kept me away from the launch of Impossaball, Andrew’s speech and the truly wonderful Julia Coombes! Apologies all round.

Luckily I escaped the Curse of the Flat of Usher in time for Argus Software’s launch of Grange Hill — the Game. Rolling up to their offices I was greeted by Carlos in headmaster’s gear. “You’re late”, he bellowed. “See me after class”. It only took a moment to remember that he’d once been a school teacher. Any ex-pupils out there, do write in and tell us his nickname, won’t you!

On the subject of nicknames, I’d hardly had time to pick up my school badge — Vice Captain (it seemed most fitting!) — when somebody grabbed my sleeve. “Behind the bike sheds”, she whispered into my armpit, being rather too short to reach my ear. “Five minutes”.

Having stopped only to grab a can of beer, I headed for the rendezvous. There the mystery woman removed her gymslip disguise and revealed all. “It’s Carlos”, she told me. “You must stop calling him Cuddly. He likes it”. She then suggested an alternative, but really, I refuse to brand him Kinky Carlos until I have facts, and/or photos to prove it!

Back to the throng and I managed to take a look at the game itself. It’s based on one of the Grange Hill books and you take the role of Gonch in an after hours hunt for your confiscated Walkman. It’s neatly animated but I wasn’t able to study it in any depth, because anything to do with schools brings me out in an anxiety rash.

Luckily this allergy doesn’t run as far as Fleur Taylor, who plays Imelda, and is, I’m happy to report, nothing like her on-screen character. In fact, she confided to me that she’s even a Spectrum gamesplayer. Her faves are adventures, Atic Atac and that ancient offering, Valhalla. She’s obviously too busy acting to keep up with the state of the art!

I was about to discuss this further when the cane of Carlos descended and I was whipped off to the detention room. By the time I’d written out, ‘I must not be late for Carlos’s Press Conferences’, a hundred times — and he wouldn’t even let me use my word processor — it was time for a lunch appointment with the ever lovely Amanda Barry from Ariolasoft.

Amanda Barry — sure about the Spectrum’s position, but in soft focus after yet another Tequila Sunrise

This was meant to be a general chat about the industry, but as there have been several dramatic developments at the company in the past few days, it seemed natural to focus on these as we munched a Mexican meal at Covent Garden’s chic Cafe Pacifico.

The first topic was the new label, Starlight, which is run by Francis Lee, one of the guys who made Beyond a force to be reckoned with. We discussed it as we tried to work out how to pronounce the names on the menu, and started on the first of an endless round of Margaritas, which helped our Spanish no end... but screwed up our English.

Starlight is starting in express fashion with Deathscape, a furious shoot up which will be arriving on the Spectrum some time in the next few months. And following it is Dogfight, a one or two player head-to-head aerial combat game with split screen views and vector graphics. From the early screen shots I saw, it looks good stuff.

The label ties in with the new moves at Ariolasoft. The company has decided to pull out of distribution and concentrate on publishing. Now that may not seem particularly relevant to you, but it should be. I’ve discussed the nature of the software industry before, and this sort of change could indicate what’s happening in the business as a whole.

On the surface, nothing obvious will alter, except that Ariolasoft titles may be a little easier to obtain. That’s because the company will be concentrating on what it does best, which is not simply creating games, but helping others to create them. So Starlight, my old friends at Tigress and the rest will have the creative freedom to develop original concepts, in the knowledge that Ariolasoft will get them onto the streets.

This seems like a generally good thing to me. When a company spreads itself too wide, becomes too big, it can lose touch with its programmers. The only thing that’s important to it is grinding out product. Ariolasoft’s move could lead to more well-thought out games.

Amanda was positive too about the position of the Spectrum in the coming year too, even though the company will be releasing one of the best of the games consoles, the Sega. She thinks that this will go to a whole new market of pure gamers, while the enthusiasts will stick with the machine we all love.

Just how much we love it was demonstrated by the late January Microfair. It coincided with the last day of Harrods sale, which usually resembles an American Football scrimmage, only less polite. But this time the Knightsbridge store was near empty. Surely all the Sloanes and Arabs weren’t at the Horticultural Halls?

Okay, so I exaggerate, but there’s still a lot of enthusiasm at these gatherings. It’s interesting to see how the QL keeps ’em rolling in, too. Sir Clive’s most ambitious micro may have been a financial flop, but it still has a strong following. There were plenty of bargains at the fair too, including some very recent tapes for a few quid. Could it be that not all manufacturers had such a buoyant Christmas?

There was no CRASH stand this time though. I was forced to hang around Sinclair User’s table, swopping insults with their delightful ad manager. A good thing I did, because it was then that I caught Paul Ponting, a CRASH competition winner, actually buying a copy of their comic. Worse, the warped wretch said that he’d never read my column.

I was just about to rip out his kidneys when he explained that he’d been forced to buy the offending rag by some so-called friends. Sure enough, this crowd of infidels was torturing him as we spoke. As he promised to tear himself away from CRASH’s reviews for some Fear and Loathing, I stopped foaming at the mouth and sent him on his way. But be warned — you’re never safe from the wrath of Newsfield.

Actually, I was hoping for a word with SU’s Commie-dore loving gossip columnist, Kremlin. Seems somebody shouted into his ear trumpet that I’m getting married, and he decided to publish the fact. Well, yes it’s true and already many of the most beautiful women in the world are weeping, joining nunneries, etc — but don’t send any flowers yet, because the big day isn’t till the summer.

Kremlin seems to reckon that getting hitched will bring an end to my wild life. Poor old thing! Perhaps he’s drawing on his own experience. I can promise him that my fiancee has pledged to keep me in the weirdness to which you’ve all become accustomed! So Kremlin old buddy, if I do get any carpet slippers as a wedding present I promise to donate them to to you. I’m too busy searching out the Fear, Loathing and Free Lunches!

Olé — as we say down Mexico way.