There were moments when people glibly assumed Oliver Frey loathed Spectrums owing to the number he destroyed in CRASH cover illustrations, but the opposite was the truth. As he remarked when ZZAP! came along, the old Spectrum was one of the friendliest objects which simply lent itself to painting, unlike the brown Commodore 64 which merely resembled a piece of fudge. Here’s another cover unrelated to any game, excepting perhaps Mizar’s Out Of The Shadows, and one that was actually a reworking of an old mail order catalogue cover, featuring a hero bursting forth from a TV screen.
The promise Realtime had shown in 3-D Tank Duel was well and truly realised in their second release, Starstrike, which recreated all the thrills of the popular coin-op Star Wars. It was in a bit of a race with Design Design’s Dark Star, a similar game in principle. But both Smashes showed how a closely related concept can be very differently implemented. In their own ways, they were state-of-the-art software.
Equally excellent and very different from either ‘Star’ game and from each other were the Smashes Tir Na Nòg and Skool Daze. Gargoyle Games gave us Cuchulainn, Sidhe and Greg Follis’s Grego-Cel’ mythology, giant animated characters, mental 3-D and a game hard to distinguish between pure adventure and arcade/explorer. Microsphere’s characters were smaller, but beautifully animated against authentic school backgrounds, providing another sort of adventure game but with properly crude schoolboy humour as its theme. These two were also state-of-the-art. Bug-Byte’s Turmoil and Melbourne’s Sir Lancelot were not, but were still highly playable and addictive games of sufficient quality to make them stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Deep down in the Adventure Trail (or rather up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne where he lives) Derek was telling everyone who had packed away their Spectrums to get them out and fill the boxes with straw and tortoises, for ‘when it comes to Spectrum software, you’ve never had it so good.’ He was excited by Level 9’s Return To Eden, Bug-Byte’s Twin Kingdom Valley, Games Workshop’s Tower Of Despair and the ebulliently, wickedly funny Valkyrie 17 from the anarchic Ram Jam Corporation (through Palace Software).
To cap it off Out Of The Shadows from unknown Mizar was a Smash, and thereby hangs a tale — and a CRASH failure. If anyone at CRASH felt unhappy about the reliance distributors and retailers were putting on CRASH reviews for stocking, then they were probably equally happy at being able to employ this unasked for power on the behalf of new or very small software houses. Some were finding it harder to get a look in with the increasingly professional and hard-nosed market place. Our record in their favour had been encouraging. But with Mizar, we drew a blank. No distributor would accept the game, having failed to spot its marketability, despite its CRASH Smash status. It was galling. And it showed more clearly than ever that the world was changing with blinding speed. At the beginning of 1984, an advertisement helped sales, by the end of the year even a full-scale marketing campaign was capable of failing to attract the distributors’ attention. For the small independent software house, it looked like the beginning of the end.
Up until this time much of CRASH editorial was written without travelling the country visiting software houses, most being done over the phone. More recently we had been happy to see how many people would actually trek up to Ludlow to visit us, a mark indeed of acceptance. But two pleasant occasions forced first Roger and Oliver to visit London, and then Matthew and Roger. The first was a trip to see a preview of the film The Last Starfighter (about which Roger wrote an article on its use of computer graphics), and the second was to see a preview of Ghostbusters, set to be the first real big film tie-in. But for the game from conquering American company Activision we had to wait ...