Christmas comes but once a year... and so do friendly aliens, this time not bearing gifts but taking them back to a planet underprivileged enough not to have Spectrums, joysticks and Cub monitors. Perhaps that spacecraft glowing ET-like in the background is more used to descending aggressively in the face of fearsome Earth defence fire. This picture could easily have been mawkish if it weren’t for Oliver’s knack of adding the uneasy element; the visual gag is the Space Invaders cassette, but it is the alien’s dubious expression that makes it tautly funny.
Once again it was a giant special edition, and brought with it the now-familiar problems of a drastically shortened schedule because the issue would be on sale earlier in the month than usual. And the pressure wasn’t helped by the flurry of late-for-Christmas games to review.
Seven Smashes was a fair crop. Odin’s Robin Of The Wood with presentation reminiscent of Sabre Wulf scored because of the character interaction. Mastertronic’s sequel to Finders Keepers, Spellbound, found favour, as did the finished version of Durell’s Saboteur, which hadn’t looked quite as promising when seen at The PCW Show.
A new name, Insight, hit the mark with a shoot-’em-up called Vectron, whose ultrafast 3-D graphics impressed everyone. Derek pronounced Swords And Sorcery to be a Smash, justifying the 18 months that had gone into it. And Elite received two Smashes, one for an unusually playable platform game, Roller Coaster, and the other for the long-awaited Capcom Commando conversion.
Commando, already released on the 64, had been disappointing, but its Spectrum counterpart was much better. In reverse, however, System 3’s International Karate, a big 64 hit, missed the mark on the Spectrum and only got 68%.
In the year since the last Christmas Special, Newsfield’s offices in King Street had altered dramatically. What a year earlier had been spacious and under-occupied was now cramped a situation that was to get worse still, and one we’ve had to live with since. The editorial floor, which had been home to Roger Kean, Matthew Uffindell, myself on a few days and two part-timers after school hours, now had to support eight full-time staff, five part-timers and the increasingly complex photographic setup.
The middle floor was worse still, with nine staff whose tasks included mail order, subscriptions, advertisement administration, reception, accounts and mail order/subscription storage and packing.
With subscriptions running at several thousand per magazine, it was becoming obvious that King Street could no longer hold all the subscription copies, even for the few days it took to send them out. A solution would not be found till 1986, but in the meantime the entire company, including the five art-department staff, formed chain gangs once a week to transport magazine bundles from the street up the stairs to a room on the middle floor. The lorries delivering our subscription copies were frequently the juggernauts Pete Cooke had so vividly described in his CRL game, definitely not suited to Ludlow’s quaintly narrow streets. Newsfield unloading sessions became a fraught business, a battle against time and the inevitable intervention of the traffic warden.
Eventually a real fight did ensue with Ludlow’s solitary traffic warden, a moment of sublime looniness when the large ex-policeman warden, driven mad by our constant blockages, pinned Oliver Frey to Victoria Wine’s wall and threatened assault before several bemused Newsfield witnesses. Ludlow now has two traffic wardens — is this progress or retaliation?
As soon as the Christmas issues had gone to press, February’s had to be considered, for ZZAP! at least had to be at the printer before the Christmas break. It was a weary team that gathered at the Bull Hotel for the Newsfield Christmas Dinner a few days before the holiday, but no-one could fail to be pleased. CRASH’s circulation figures were among the highest ever achieved for a computer title in Britain, ZZAP! was doing splendidly and hopes for AMTIX! were running high. It seemed a good way to go into the New Year.