After the cosiness of February’s Mikie cover and the intricate interweaving of Max Headroom elements on the March cover, Oliver felt it was time again for an out-and-out shoot-’em-up picture. The arrival of the British 128K Spectrum gave him his opportunity for another surreal space painting, with the new machine figuring as a giant craft like something out of Star Wars. As with so many illustrations during this year, it was painted fractionally smaller than you see it reproduced, because it had to be done in a hurry.
What was life like in CRASH Towers as 1986 began to speed up? ‘Crammed’ is the answer. The art department had expanded to cope with three magazines. Dick Shiner, a freelance designer whose background was London advertising agencies but who had been living in Ludlow for some years, had helped out over the busy Christmas period... and stayed on as Art Director, relieving Oliver Frey of some workload. This also let David Western become Production Controller full-time. Then there were the two layout artists, Gordon Druce and Tony Lorton, and Matthew Uffindell looking after picture reproduction and film planning.
Next floor down, life had become a joke. The administration of accounts, advertising, mail order and subscriptions for three magazines meant every spare inch was used. And on the lowest floor the three titles fought for editorial space to write and room to photograph the screenshots. CRASH had been moved into the smallest of the three main rooms and housed its editor, newcomer Hannah Smith (she arrived near the end of this month’s schedule) and the regular coterie of reviewers. I floated to land wherever space opened up for me. It would be nice to say that despite the cramped conditions we were all a jolly bunch, and for the most part that was the case, but tight schedules, sometimes missed, led to friction and patches of bad feeling here and there.
The arrival of the 128K Spectrum was a diversion though, and it was well and truly dissected through several articles, not least one written by ZZAP! Staff Writer Julian Rignall, which investigated games upgraded to take account of the new machine’s capabilities. These included Robin Of The Wood, Nodes Of Yesod, Three Weeks In Paradise and the engagingly renamed Sweevo’s Whirled.
Sweevo’s came in for the heavy treatment in Robin Candy’s Playing Tips Supplement, 24 pages of tips and maps, and the massive listing by Phil Churchyard that created a Sweevo’s World screen editor. The value of this unique program has since been underlined by the number of mappable 3-D games that now offer game designers as a matter of course. And the success of this screen editor’s cassette version, then available from CRASH, was one of the first sparks that led to thoughts about a Newsfield software house — but realisation of that particular dream would take some time.
I had a busy time with the Forum, what with the many letters about the Friday The 13th cover (December) and Tony Bridge, adventure columnist with Popular Computing Weekly, complaining bitterly about how he had been ripped off by the CRASH Christmas Special edition. His comments were to lead to a massive vote of confidence for that issue in later Forums.
Less confidence was apparent with tie-ins. We were entering the period where software houses would grab anything licensable whether it was suitable for a game or not, often rushing out the result to capitalise on the licensed character’s popularity in other media. Elite came off best with a Smash for the venerable arcade original Bombjack, but Ocean’s Transformers was disappointing from Denton Designs, CRL’s Blade Runner was a sad affair and Britannia’s Play Your Cards Right, based on the Bruce Forsyth TV game, was dreadful. There was a warning here, but few took heed, rushing madly into more licences, while letters began suggesting that the very idea of a tie-in meant a poor product. Originality would soon become a keyword, and in the CRASH Readers’ Awards announcement that was made plain — it was Firebird’s Elite that swept the board.