Monday, 21 July 2014

ReMEMBer #3: July 1984, Computer and Video Games


ReMEMBeR : Retro Magazine Examination, Musings, Belittling & Ranting

Review by Trantor

Magazine:  Computer and Video Games
Cover Date:
July 1984
Country of Origin:
UK


Today's ReMeMBER takes us all the way back to July 1984's issue of Computer and Video Games.

Computer and Video Games, a UK publication, was one of the first game related magazines to hit the market.  From 1981 to 2004, CVG covered arcade, console and computers games every month, until the magazine became a digital only endeavour, living on through its website computerandvideogames.com. 


News:
So what was new and exciting back in 1984?  


Two of the hottest media properties of the time, the TV show Dallas and the movie The Evil Dead have been picked up for computer game adaptations.  Dallas is to be released by Datasoft and unlike many text adventures of the time, this one will be "heavily biased towards graphics and the manufacturers claim that anyone can play Dallas successfully, even if they have had no previous experience of Adventures."  One of the company reps even says he's optimistic that the game will encourage more women to get involved in computers.

Evil Dead, from Palace Software gets labelled as the "controversial" film by director "Sam Raimer" (It's Sam Raimi).  While history has shown that the game was not very gory (instead relying on graphics that are almost icon like), at the time the Bright Bill (a UK censorship bill targeting movies on video cassette, which went into effect in 1985 under the name Video Recordings Act 1984 was not yet law, and due to the connection between the game and movie, CVG wonders whether or not Evil Dead the game would open up the doorway to allowing the law to censor games as well (even though these are not included specifically in the law), and what effect that may have on software producer's attempts to get legislative support in the fight against piracy.

Some pretty heady stuff there for a gaming mag.

Ultimate Play the Game (the company that would later become Rare) announces a new range of software, and leading the pack is Sabre Wulf!  They promise that the game would be "a gigantic leap forward in games" Not sure that was completely true, but it was a lot of fun and gave us one of the best characters in Killer Instinct years later.  ;)

A curious entry talks about the game Matty Goes Mining.  This is a sequel to Manic Miner by Bug Byte, who apparently still own the rights to Manic Miner, but the game's creator Matthew Smith had left the company to make the unofficial sequel Jet Set Willy over at Software Projects.  Matty the Miner would sadly never see the light of day.


 
Software piracy is a major concern in this era and Buzzard Bait releases a new dongle protection system for the Dragon 32, with versions for both the Spectrum and C64 also being announced as coming soon.  For those who simply loved having to deal with dongles years later for Robocop 3, isn't it nice to see that bad ideas can hang around a LONG time?

And finally the classic game Bruce Lee gets announced for the C64.  The plot is described in some pretty wonky terms, and the accompanying sketch is a bit dorky, but given how awesome the final game was, who cares, right?

Reviews:
There are a LOT of reviews in this mag, so let's just look at some of the highlights.

The game of the month is the BBC Micro release of Frak.  This game about a yo-yo swinging caveman is praised for it's amazing graphics and animation, which set a new standard for the BBC Micro and the reviewer hopes will "provide the kick in the backside that the BBC games producers desperately need to wake them up to the fact that their products haven't progressed in the last two years".  

Pretty harsh words.  Now the big criticism of the game is that "occasionally the caveman doesn't jump when you want him to and he invariably falls off the ledge."  Well, I guess graphics winning out over gameplay isn't a new thing.

 

Two classic C64 flight simulators get reviewed: Flight
Path 737 and Solo Flight.  Both are fun games with the instruction manual for Flight Path getting a particularly negative mention and Solo Flight being praised for  the variety of action and the extensive manual and other materials (typical for the Microprose games of the time).  It's also published in the UK by U.S. Gold, back when they really were a game importer and not the murderer of ports.  

The first ever licensed sports game is also reviewed in this issue, Electronic Arts' One on One.  The innovative game introduces different statistical values for each of the two characters, fatigue and bonus values for "hot streaks".  The game is praised for being the only game, with the possible exception of International Soccer, to manage to capture the feel of the sport it is trying to simulate.

The major criticism of the title is its retail price of 30£, an exorbitant amount (the pound was about 1.30 times higher than the dollar at the time).  compared to other game software that was retailing for under 10£.  The same criticism gets levied against the C64 port of Zaxxon several pages later with 9 out of 10 ratings for Graphics and Playability but a question mark in the place of value given that there is no price available and a high retail cost is expected (

The Summer Olympics of that year are not going unnoticed either with a whole page of Olympic game reviews being added to the mix, with then UK heptathlon star Judy Livermore giving her take on a selection of existing games.  Sadly Summer Games isn't in the mix yet.  Also, not sure how much she really contributed to this, but it's a fun idea.

Her total diss of CRL's Computer Olympics is entertaining, though.

The arcade game section highlights the introduction of Bomb Jack, one of the classics of the age, but gives no screenshots or any real info other than a brief description and a piece of publicity artwork.

The video game section of this issue has some of the best games ever released on the Atari 2600 and Colecovision!  It's clear that the writers know that consoles are going the way of the dodo at this point, and that for European gamers the age of the computer has dawned, but the introduction of Activision, the world's first third party cart publisher is giving the market a clear boost in quality.
 
Reviews of H.E.R.O., River Raid, Pitfall, Centipede and Crystal Castles make this a bit of a maelstrom of quality in what was a swamp of mediocre titles at the time.  The one blemish in this review list is Return of the Jedi Death Star Battle which is seen as passable but not up there with the likes of Pitfall, Ms Pacman and Centipede.  

Features:

In addition to a nice multipage round up of adventure games (most notably the Infocom classic Starcross for Atari 8-bit computers), there is an article explaining what a M.U.D. is and how you can access it through newly founded online services (granted, you'll have to log on between midnight and 6 a.m. as the game is running on a university mainframe and the free accounts would otherwise bog the servers down too much for actual student work).  The article is a fascinating read and foreshadows the addictiveness of MMOs two decades later.

There are also a good 20 pages of type yourself programs in the back of the magazine, filling it out.  

Oddly there seems to be a small section of puzzles and activities designed for 3-5 year olds, featuring very cute little bears in suits, that I simply do not understand.

I mean... dang it's weird....










 Ads:

The modern age of bumped map, high resolution 3D graphics has made gaming advertisements a bit boring.  Take a nice screen capture and add a logo and you are home free.

The day and age of graphics being more or less monochrome sprites attempting to represent game characters forced publishers to get creative with their artwork and advertising.  

Cutting edge developers of the time like Jeff Minter with Llamasoft and Ultimate Play The Game with Sabre Wulf, just let the cover art and logos do all the talking for them (and let's face it, can you blame them?)  

Other companies like Activision try to give a feel for what the game is representing, as seen in the amazing one page ad for H.E.R.O.


Other companies are promoting various games from their catalogues, especially as ports are released to new systems.  U.S. Gold is promoting the American heritage of their import product while Ocean is still not in their licensed games phase yet, with classics like High Noon and Hunchback showing up in their ads.

Beyond is promoting amongst others Lords of Midnight, the seminal classic by Mike Singleton.

Finally, there are multiple ads throughout the magazine for peripherals, and one category that was especially interesting to me as a yank was the Sinclair Spectrum add-ons, which were necessary for the system to support multiple joysticks, printer hook ups, etc.  Theses came in a variety of configurations, and really did show how vibrant the market was and how many companies were involved.


In Conclusion:

The summer of 1984 is clearly showing signs of the video game crash that is brewing, but in Europe at least, a flood of new computer software, while not all of the highest quality, is beginning to dominate the market and some true classics are beginning to emerge.  The plethora of systems on the market seems to have its days numbered, with quality software for Spectrum and Commodore 64 beginning to make life hard for the BBC Micro, Atari 8-bit and Dragon 32 lines.

You can find the complete issue here.

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