Right from the start Oliver had been illustrating CRASH with a mixture of action-packed comic-strip pictures and gentler, more humorous cartoons of variously-shaped alien beings. The latter became very popular with readers, who dubbed them ‘Oli-bugs’. They can still be seen at the top of the editorial page today. To mark the holiday season, Oliver gave dynamic game themes a rest — and the bugs a cover. A typical CRASH reader relaxes with friends on the sands of some far off planet, complete with all the luggage he needs — a monitor, joystick and his Spectrum.
During July, as the August issue was being written, Newsfield moved into its new premises in King Street — in spirit if not in fact. Hold ups over the lease meant that we were still crammed like sprats in a pickling jar in Roger’s house where we had started out.
Space wasn’t the only concern, the need for more professional equipment to produce the magazine’s black-and-white pictures had led to the procurement of a large, computer-operated process camera. It was important to have it, and it had been thought that there would be space to put it. The machine arrived in July with no home, but the directors took the risk of installing it in the new offices hoping that the lease problems would be sorted out quickly. Fortunately they were, although not in time for this edition. The camera went on the third floor and weighed a ton; it would have been awful to have had to carry it all the way down again!
Out in the wide world, a terrible event had taken place: the great British software hope, Imagine, had collapsed owing fortunes, including several thousand pounds of advertising revenue to CRASH. At the time, it seemed to be the most visible tip of an iceberg of financial strains for the software industry, and directly led to the notion of the summer software slump, a concept that’s stayed with us ever since.
And yet this issue provided some excellent games. The three arcade Smashes were from Micro-something-or-others. There was Micromega’s marvellous bike road-racer, Full Throttle, Micromania’s Kosmic Kanga and Mikro-Gen’s Automania. Of the last, the review kicked off saying ‘Meet a new hero ... Wally Week is destined for big things...’ It wasn’t a psychic prediction but a reference to the pay rise he hoped to get from working hard in a car factory. Now, it’s a matter of history that Mr Week was indeed destined to become very big. The other biggie was Beyond’s Lords Of Midnight, which had finally arrived and sent Derek into paroxysms of delight. It set ‘new high standards in Spectrum software,’ he declared.
Among those that just missed being a Smash were Ocean’s Cavelon, another Panayi 3-D game from Vortex, TLL and 3-D Tank Duel, this last from a new software house called Realtime, now developers of many Spectrum games for large companies. One of the three programmers, Andrew Onions, was originally from Ludlow. His parents lived five doors away from Roger Kean (incidentally, the house is now rented by Richard Eddy and some others from Newsfield). Everyone loved Tank Duel, the best-ever implementation of that old arcade original, Battlezone. But we were also aware that the review could be called biased if the Ludlow connection became recognised, so Matthew Uffindell and Chris Passey were kept in the dark as to who Andrew Onions was!
Advertising was becoming increasingly more professional, better images, better designs and more impact. Along with the improvement, however, came an additional helping of hype — classier boasting doesn’t necessarily mean a classier product. The more pre-release exposure a game received, the harder it could fall — companies too. One such game, well advertised and eagerly awaited, was also one of the earliest ‘big’ licences, CRL’s War Of The Worlds. Based on HG Wells’s famous novel and with a helping hand from Jeff Wayne’s equally famous music, the game proved only too well that a good idea and loads of hype aren’t set for success unless there’s also good game design and a decent program in there somewhere. Soon enough, the established companies would be able to employ the talents of individuals and teams, but in 1984 the best of those people were struggling to make their names as independent outfits, like Realtime.