Andy Dyer was Commodore Format’s launch staff writer and editor Steve Jarratt’s first hire. He was also Roger Frames! Here he talks to us about his first day on CF, his favourite ever C64 moment and giving the front cover to one of the worst games of all time.
Andy! So. Before we get going…where have you been since leaving CF in late 1991? Oh my. I went on to launch TOTAL! with Stevie J, then MEGA, then various other bits and bobs, then got old and ended up here in North Devon… not retired I hasten to add, but not quite at the cutting edge of games mags either.
Let’s go back to 1990. Is it true Steve Jarratt hired you direct from a bank? A bank to CF! How did that happen? Hmmm…. it was an insurance company. I left school, fell into a job in insurance but was always passionately into gaming. I didn’t think for a moment I’d ever end up in the industry but a flatmate told me about a games job on a new launch (Commodore Format) so I went for it.
Apparently you gave Steve the impression that if you didn’t get the job on CF, you’d die….did you want to work on magazines really badly, were you a major ’64 fiend, or was it a bit of both? Ha ha. I wouldn’t have died, but I would certainly have gone insane. I always loved games, and I was an avid reader of magazines. But no, I never thought for one moment I would ever end up writing for one. I was very lucky. A friend gave me a heads up, I went for the interview (50% of which went very badly by the way) and somehow got the job. I still shudder when I look back and think what would have happened had I not got it. I should also admit that I was never a ‘64 fiend. I cut my gaming teeth in the arcades, then went on to enjoy my ZX81, Electron, and Atari ST while gaming with friends on Atari 2600, Spectrum, C64 and the like. I didn’t always own the best machines but I quite enjoyed both BASIC programming and gaming.
Can you remember much about your first day on CF? I can. I remember the bewildering but thrilling sense that there was this group of people doing what they loved, talking about all the stuff I loved and basically making it all up as they went along. A slightly less fond memory was of being given a truly awful Commodore desktop computer to write on. There was some sort of idealistic drive to get people to write on the machines they were reporting on… it didn’t really stack up for gamers. Can you imagine writing your copy on a Spectrum? Or later a Mega Drive? It didn’t last long. We all got Macs in the end.
Steve and (artist) Mike Roberts think Roger Frames might have been your idea but nobody is quite sure. Was he yours? You did really seem to run with the idea of this tragic little kid… I would like to think Roger was my idea. But if I’m honest it’s so long ago I can’t remember. I do remember being given that column though, and I did run with it. It was fun. There was a sort of freedom to write whatever I liked, partly because he was fictional and I could get away with being a bit scathing but also because a lot of budget software was awful anyway. It was great to be able to sift through the cheap games and find the odd gem in there. In a way it informed my writing later on Mac Format and Tap, where I always tried to seek out the more interesting indie titles, among the more mainstream stuff.
Over the years there’s been a fair bit of chat about the pressure magazines were under even back in the eighties and nineties to give good reviews to games. Did you get leaned on by the softies at Commodore Format? That’s a really complicated issue. If I were a politician I would say no, of course not, it’s all above board. But let’s be honest, yes, of course we got leaned on. There is pressure to give positive reviews but in general, the editorial teams and the softies (PR people) conducted themselves (ourselves) very well. The reality for me at least was that there would be a feeding frenzy over bagging exclusives for the cover, but when it came to the reviewing process, it was up to the individual to come to a conclusion regarding the quality of a game. Sure, there would be a discussion among people who were playing the game but in general if a reviewer went out on a limb and slated a high profile game (and got a load of shit for it from the games publisher), his or her editorial team would back their decision. I’m sure some individuals felt the pressure and capitulated, but the vast majority of writers, editors and magazine publishers held the readers’ interests paramount. I always believed the reader should be the beneficiary of the writing. No one else.
Everyone seems to agree that the first year of CF was the best and that it was the Steve Jarratt/Andy Dyer double act that made it. What was Steve really like to work for? He likes to pretend he’s a right miserable git, but he sounds like the most fantastic editor. I could be really cruel here and expose him as a hideous creature. But I can’t. Steve was the best boss I could have asked for. Inspirational really. I had no background in journalism or publishing but he immediately gave me the freedom to put my mark on the magazine. I made mistakes, of course, but he guided me through all that and was very generous in encouraging me. He’s an amazing – and, yes, slightly grumpy – bloke.
Are there any specific moments from your time on the magazine that make you smile? It must still be a bit special given it was your first magazine gig. It was all fun, to be honest. The thrill of getting a really good game in and having that as a shared experience was always exciting, but if anything, it was the less accomplished games that provided the most entertainment. I’m sure Steve will remember the time we had to review the game of the movie Dick Tracy. It was a dreadful game, and unfinished. To be fair I could have written a better game in BBC basic. But we had to generate at least some excitement. It was on the cover. So awful it was funny.
A few of the other guys have told us there was a lot of ill feeling at Future about the way the magazine was wound down and ended up whimpering out on 22 pages. We’ve even heard it was considered a bit of an embarrassment by 1995. Were you aware of what was going on or were you just too far off in the distance with other stuff by the time it closed? I left the magazine long before that. It’s always sad when a magazine withers and dies. But it happens, and without going into too much tedious detail, it’s quite a difficult balancing act to decide when and how a publication should bow out. I’ve worked for magazines that have been bought by outside companies and found out, at 9am on a Monday morning that I no longer work for that title. It gets boxed up and shipped out. Equally I’ve worked on titles that have stuck around far longer than is decent. It takes a stronger man than me to make those sorts of decisions.
We don’t want to end on a downer, so before you go, tell us about your favourite C64 game. That’s possibly the hardest question of all. I played a lot of great games during my time on CF but I always remember being massively impressed by Uridium – long before I ever joined the mag – and during the same era Elite was the game that changed a lot of things for me, showed me the possibilities of computer gaming. A whole universe in 32/48/64 Kilobytes? Gobsmacking. CF
Andy Dyer was Commodore Format’s launch staff writer. He stayed with the magazine until issue 14. This interview originally appeared on our Facebook page and is copyright 2013-2015 Andy Dyer and The Commodore Format Archive. It may not be reproduced in whole or part without permission. To make contact, go to our legal page.