Of all the covers in 1986, Oliver most looked forward to doing September’s. He had been an avid Dan Dare/Eagle fan as a boy, admired Frank Hampson (Dare’s creator) and Frank Bellamy, who both had drawn some of the original strips, and finally got to draw Dan Dare himself when Eagle was relaunched in the Eighties. But Oliver never rated the relaunched Eagle, so the notion of recreating an original Fifties-style Eagle front page for Virgin’s acclaimed Dan Dare was close to his heart — as was having a comic as a CRASH cover.
The long-running Genesis — Birth Of A Game competition had reached midway point by September’s issue. The judges, Domark and Design Design, had finally whittled the enormous amount of entries down to John Eggleton and Kat Trap. The rest of the series would now deal with the programming, packaging and marketing.
Programming, packaging and marketing was a problem Beyond were just about to walk headlong into as the company blithely announced to John Minson exciting plans for the official Star Trek game, little knowing that production of the game would take almost as long as a voyage of the starship Enterprise. Minson had another laugh up his sleeve: Gary Liddon and Andrew Wright had managed to crash their company car a week after getting it. The accident took place in a Manchester one-way street (they were going the wrong way, of course) and the car belonged to Thalamus. Yes, Newsfield had taken the plunge and created its own software house.
Thalamus really started at the July Commodore Show when a young man from Finland introduced himself in halting English as Stavros Fasoulas and showed Roger Kean a Commodore 64 game called Rainbow Warrior. Roger was so impressed with it that he persuaded the other directors to start a label and market the game. Stavros signed up, Gary Liddon was moved from Newsfield’s magazines to look after programming technicalities, and Andrew Wright of Activision was appointed to head Thalamus (a name which he and Gary Liddon devised). Rainbow Warrior changed name to Sanxion and the rest, as they say, would be history — at least for the 64. Thalamus has yet to produce a Spectrum game.
Tie-in time looked pretty good for a change. Virgin’s Dan Dare proved to be addictive, playable and quite original. It was also clever of them to make the game different on each of the main 8-bit machines, avoiding the inevitable, and often invidious, comparisons. Going from one Dan to another, Mirrorsoft repeated a success with Dynamite Dan II, improving elements of the original to make an entirely new game. Mikro-Gen just missed a Smash by a hair’s breadth with Stainless Steel, a shoot-em-up based loosely on Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat character as re-envisaged by 2000AD, while CRL found themselves in Derek Brewster’s good books with Fergus McNeill’s lampoon The Boggit. Incidentally, The Hobbit was still at Number 7 in the CRASH Charts!
Another near-Smash was ACE, one of the best flight simulations on the Spectrum at the time, and it came from Cascade — one of the earliest Spectrum houses, but usually known for their classified ads for cheap compilations.
Upstairs was beginning to resemble the moment before the Great Flood, when the ark was incomplete and rain threatened. The administrative move to Gravel Hill was held up by decorating, but the new LM team was getting busy writing and designing a dummy of the magazine to be presented to potential advertisers at a launch party set for mid-September. To add to the problems, the art department needed more people to cope with a fourth magazine. The solution seemed to be to move Matthew Uffindell and his huge light table down a floor, but only once the administrative people and LM had moved off to Gravel Hill. Somehow we packed the animals in two by two — and it rained chaos.