October 1984, Issue No. 9

Released on September 27th

Oliver’s Ziggy cover was amongst the most popular he produced. It was really the first CRASH cover definitely promoting a specific game, Fantasy’s Backpacker’s Guide To The Universe. Here was an opportunity to use his imagination to bring to life objects, characters and weird aliens involved in a game that no-one had yet seen, all from written details offered in the prerelease description. The result is a powerful picture which, ironically, probably informed more readers of what hero Ziggy was like than anything Fantasy themselves put out.

By its ninth edition, the effect CRASH was beginning to have on the software industry was, in turn, being reapplied to its staff. Roger Kean had already been horrified a couple of months earlier at Micromania’s concern when they were informed by the most powerful software distributor of the time that unless a game achieved better than 65% in CRASH it wouldn’t be accepted for distribution. Now, proof sheets of CRASH reviews were being requested by retail chains to see whether a game was worthy of shelf space.

It put pressure on the reviewing team — Matthew, Chris Passey and Robin Candy — because software houses wanted to present unfinished games to discover what the reviewers would like to see improved, so that the game had a chance of becoming a CRASH Smash. Some may have considered that a visit with the personal touch would influence the team by putting it on the spot when it came to making an impartial judgement. If so, as many were to be disappointed by Matthew’s outspoken opinions and Robin’s downright stubbornness. Now another young reviewer had appeared (and undergone the ritual photograph pushing CRASH T-shirts on the Hotline page). He was Ben Stone, from nearby Tenbury, and he was as daunting in his opinions as the others, despite his newcomer status.

The Ziggy cover did little to help. That kind of coverage was eagerly sought by companies desperate to convince shops that their game was about to sell in its tens of thousands, and since it seemed that Fantasy got a cover with apparently no trouble, Roger found himself inundated with calls suggesting ideas that would have kept CRASH in covers until the 1990s! As a consequence, for the remainder of the year Oliver avoided game-linked cover paintings.

One of the questing visitors was Angus Ryall of Games Workshop, but he stayed longer than most, becoming our strategy columnist for the new Frontline. Another was Steve Wilcox of newly-formed Elite, who brought with him the oddly-named Kokotoni Wilf. Over several days both Matthew and Robin debated with Elite’s programmers on minor improvements before pronouncing themselves satisfied, but Steve may have been disappointed that Kokotoni Wilf still missed being a Smash.

In fact Smashes were a bit thin — the pre-Christmas period was looming and software houses were holding back, apart from Gremlin Graphics. They’d scored quite a coup with TV news coverage of their ‘mining’ game which caricatured Arthur Scargill, then very much in the news because of the national miners’ strike. Wanted: Monty Mole was a surefire Smash, capturing all the addictivity of Jet Set Willy and offering loads of new puzzling problems to solve.

Within days we achieved a cheat mode for Monty Mole and began preparing the map for a future issue. It was a typical late-afternoon situation: Ben (school over for the day) playing the game to reach every screen one by one, Roger sitting sketchpad in hand roughing out the screens for Oliver to fill in the detail later, Matthew in another corner alternating between reviewing and making halftone pictures for David Western in the layout room, Robin sorting through mail ready for me to start the Forum. The jokes about Robin taking over my desk were no jokes!

If this paints a suspiciously cosy picture of contentment and smacks of nostalgia for its own sake, don’t be fooled — it was hard work for the small team. Within a few short months a massive expansion was about to take place and the coming changes would sunder the simpler comforts we then enjoyed.

The first indication of change was the arrival of a black Apricot xi computer. For Roger Kean, at least, the days of typewriters, paper and Tipp-Ex were over.