The Commodore Format Archive is an unofficial appreciation of Future Publishing’s magazine for the C64 home computer, which ran from October 1990 to October 1995. We started out life as a Facebook page in 2013. Readers and staff were quick to arrive with their memories, so we wanted a home for our interviews, scans and features somewhere more permanent. This website launched in Summer 2014.
20th September, 1990. LAUNCH Commodore Format first appeared on September 20th, 1990 (cover month October). The editor was ex ZZAP! 64 journalist Steve Jarratt. Andy Dyer was the magazine’s first staff writer. He’d been working in insurance since leaving school, but was addicted to computer games and was convinced to apply for the job by his flatmate. “We thought he might die if he didn’t get the job”, remembers Steve. “He just had so much enthusiasm”.
The pair were joined by another former ZZAP! writer – Sean Masterston – who’d been working on RPG magazine White Dwarf. He was surprised to get the call from publisher Chris Anderson, though:
“I thought, “They can’t be serious. Everybody’s trading up to an Amiga or ST”, Sean recalls. “In fact, I must have said something along those lines, because the next thing they were telling me was that they were certain there was still a huge market for the C64. They knew about Commodore’s plans to keep supporting the C64 and that developers were working on exciting new titles. They foresaw a new golden age for the C64. At the same time, they could see that ZZAP! 64 was wobbling.
Their enthusiasm was infectious. By the end of the interview, I was convinced.”
The Mighty Brain‘s letters section and Roger Frames’ Buys Budjit Games were both in the magazine from the start. But the full price C64 games market was still strong, so Roger’s section – in fact written by Andy Dyer – was small and in black and white.
The cover of CF1 was dominated by a picture of the new Commodore C64GS games console – a machine which sank without trace. “I was hopelessly optimistic [about the C64GS]”, editor Steve Jarratt told us. “But I’m immensely proud of CF. More so than of any other title I worked on. I’ve still got issue one in my loft”.
Summer, 1991. CF GOES TO NUMBER 1 As Commodore Format approached its first birthday, official ABC stats revealed that it was the top selling Commodore 64 magazine in the British market.
In its first year, Commodore Format sold an average of 50,135 copies a month. But it didn’t stop there. Under Colin Campbell and Trenton Webb, the magazine grew further to an all time high of 60,045 copies a month in the first half of 1992.
“We knew it was something special from day one”, Steve Jarratt said at the time. On these pages, he also remembers how it was easy because “ZZAP! 64 had been losing its way for some time”.
CF12, August 1991. MORE GAMES! During the warm English summer of 1991, CF celebrated its first anniversary with demos of Speedball 2, Rodland, PP Hammer and 3D Construction Kit on the covermounted Power Pack tape. There were other goodies too, all made possible by a new tape loader. Games loaded more quickly than ever…so there was extra spool for more software! Every editor we’ve spoken to reminds us how much of a big deal the Power Pack was for the magazine’s success. So much so that Simon Forrester wonders if the majority of the audience “just saw it as paper cellotaped to the back of their games”.
CF15, December 1991. COLIN CAMPBELL BECOMES EDITOR Paul Lyons joined the writing team too as Steve Jarratt and Andy Dyer left the magazine to launch new Nintendo magazine TOTAL!. The publisher’s first choice had been deputy editor Sean Masterson, but he declined: “I just wanted to do something different”.
Colin’s first issue was dated December 1991. A page increase coincided, and the next month’s christmas issue – which many of our readers think is one of the magazine’s very best – featured two covertapes full of games instead of the usual one.
Staff writers from across Future Publishing freelanced on CF during Colin’s reign, giving the magazine a very different feel. Reviewers included Stuart Campbell of Amiga Power, and Your Sinclair‘s Linda Barker.
CF18, March 1992. TRENTON WEBB BECOMES EDITOR After just three issues in charge of CF, Colin Campbell was promoted to publisher status at Future. Trenton Webb became the magazine’s third editor. James Leach was the new staff writer, moving from Your Sinclair – and Cathy Parnham became production editor. Paul Lyons, who had reviewed games under Colin Campbell, returned to writing technical articles and became the full-time editor of the Inside Info section. That position was shortlived, though, and he was soon replaced by Leeds University student – and former Commodore Disk User journalist – Jason Finch. The feature was renamed Techie Tips.
Trenton arrived at an important point in the C64’s lifespan: the machine was by now in real decline. With fewer games to review, original budget titles received the full-page treatment.
August, 1992. CF SALES REACH AN ALL TIME HIGH In the first half of 1992, Commodore Format sales reached an average of 60,045 – an increase of 5,000 copies – a month. It was no mean feat for a magazine to continue to grow as the machine it was dedicated to declined.
CF33, June 1993. MAGAZINE REDESIGN In June 1993, Trenton Webb oversaw the biggest redesign of Commodore Format that the magazine would ever have. From the logo to the page numbers and colours, everything was brighter and bigger and intentionally younger. A reader survey and CF‘s own research suggested that as people upgraded to more powerful machines – the Amiga was now at the height of its popularity – Commodore 64s were being passed down to younger siblings and the magazine’s readership was following the trend. The average age of a reader was now 14 according to the data, but Future reckoned the majority were actually a bit younger.
CF33 saw the axing of Roger Frames Buys Budjit Games. It caused controversy, but there simply weren’t enough games around to fill the column. “I hated it”, remembers Trenton. “It was like sacking a friend”.
CF36, SEPTEMBER 1993. ANDY HUTCHINSON BECOMES EDITOR Moving over from Your Sinclair, Andy took the reigns of Commodore Format just a few months after Trenton’s redesign of the magazine…and took it off in arguably what should have been the new direction in the first place.
Although Andy’s first cover – CF36 – was of the upcoming Alien3, he arrived on the scene at a crossroads in the life of the C64 market. With just Mayhem In Monsterland, Alien and Lemmings confirmed as full-price games releases for the future, Andy was faced with a real problem. What would the pages be filled with?
Ambitiously, Andy began to move Commodore Format into the center of the UK market, promising funds to readers for programming new games that would appear on the covertape. “The future’s you lot”, he said. Articles began to appear on how to code your own games, and new staff writer Simon ‘Hairy’ Forrester wrote a “call to arms” to C64 users asking them to form their own Public Domain groups and write fanzines.
The most memorable aspect of Andy’s time on the magazine was the 100% review score given to Apex Computer Production’s Mayhem In Monsterland. CF had followed the game’s development in a monthly diary and had made the most of such an exciting title appearing on a declining machine.
“Is it the perfect game?”, asked Andy in the review. “No. Is it the best thing you’ll see on the C64 this decade or next? Yes.”
CF44, May 1994. DAVE GOLDER BECOMES EDITOR Andy Hutchinson was CF‘s editor for eight issues. Dave Golder – who first appeared in Commodore Format as a reviewer under Colin Campbell in late 1991 – was his successor. The production editor of the magazine under Trenton Webb, Dave had been keen to get the editor’s role at CF for some time. Indeed, as he told us in an interview for this website, he walked out on the magazine and threatened to resign from Future Publishing when he was first passed over for the job. “I feel bad now though”, he remembers. “Andy Hutchinson was alright.”
Simon Forrester continued as staff writer under Dave, and would remain on the magazine in one way or another until its closure.
As the C64 market continued to decline, Dave was in charge as the magazine underwent the first of two severe cuts in its page count. Commodore Format was reduced from 50 pages to 34 in July 1994 (CF46), although the content remained strong and similar to the hobbyist theme introduced by Andy Hutchinson.
Dave was the editor who looked further afield for new C64 software and was the first to give major coverage to games from Europe, where the indie scene remained quite active. “We had to fill the pages“, he told us in February 2014.
CF51, Christmas 1994. LIVE OR DIE With Dave Golder moved at short notice onto next gen title Ultimate Future Games, CF51 was the only issue of Commodore Format published without an editor. It was put together by Dave and writer Tim Norris when they weren’t working on other titles. But there simply wasn’t very much to read – because Future Publishing’s new owners, Pearson, had reduced the magazine’s size to just 22 pages. “The magazine was downsized pretty much overnight“, recalls Andy Roberts.
Issue 51 was more important than readers realised: the next issue of CF was only to be given the go ahead if enough copies were sold for it to still be considered viable. Happily, that happened.
CF52, January 1995. KAREN LEVELL BECOMES EDITOR Commodore Format enters its last year of life with new editor Karen Levell. It’s now quite hard to get CF in the shops, and subscriptions are no longer available. In reference to just how close the mag came to closure, his month’s issue is nicknamed “The Pheonix”.
Karen squeezed a lot of very good content into the magazine’s remaining 22 pages – unofficially helped by Dave Golder (credited in this month’s magazine as “deserter”). In one of the most technically oriented issues ever, CF52 covered the point and click software GEOS. There was the first nod that the world really was moving on from the C64, too – with a review of a Commodore emulator for the PC.
The magazine’s credit masthead called CF52 “The Phoenix”, one of a few suggestions in issues 51 and 52 that the magazine was very nearly cancelled at issue 50. Certainly from now on, the magazine was running on an issue to issue basis.
CF55, April 1995. REBECCA LACK BECOMES “EDITORIAL CONTROLLER” …only for Karen to re-appear the next month! Rebecca continued as CF‘s production editor.
CF59, August 1995. SIMON FORRESTER BECOMES EDITOR Previously a staff writer on the magazine after originally joining Future to write for Amstrad Action, Simon’s humour was a welcome breath of character into a magazine which had become somewhat dry and impersonal as it was passed around editors in the last year of its life. And finally – an editor who understood the machine again! “I was the only one left in the office who knew enough to write for CF”, he told us in 2013.
His editorship was controversial to some – both in terms of the new bitesize article style that was introduced and the increasingly mediocre covertape software. But unbeknown to readers, Simon was working on a “bulk discount contract” for the magazine with an almost impossible workload. The budget for the covertape was almost zero, too. “It was a nightmare”, he remembers. Future Publishing had decided that the only way CF could continue was if one writer – and it fell to Simon – wrote pretty much everything. Even tips section Gamesbusters, by ever present Andy Roberts, was now gone. He’d been on the magazine since the very start – but CF could no longer afford him.
CF59 carried a piece on the closure of Amstrad Action, but deflected rumours that CF was about to follow suit. CF60’s editorial was entitled “Still Here”, but also told readers that the next magazine would be an issue to remember. And it was.
CF61. OCTOBER 1995. THE END “We had a meeting with the publisher around issue 59”, remembers Simon Forrester. “And it just had a feeling of yeah, it’s time. CF was sliding into the fanzine model”.
It’s difficult to argue otherwise. And so five years to the month it unexpectedly appeared and changed the market, Commodore Format was gone. The cover was a large painting of Roger Frames and The Mighty Brain walking off into the sunset – perhaps the most striking cover the magazine had had in years.
A revealing sentence on the inside front cover tells you everything you need to know – just 5,000 copies of the final issue were printed.
The arguments around whether or not CF should have continued for so long have raged around the UK scene ever since, and you’ll find a lot of those thoughts around this website and on many other Commodore 64 forums. It’s sad and wrong to dwell on the last few months of its life, though – but it’s indicative of the love people had for Commodore Format that they still care.
Us? We prefer to remember the highs of the likes of CF16. Have a look around the rest of the site and knock yourself out with the memories. CF
|Former editors||Steve Jarratt
Tim Norris & Karen Levell
|Circulation||50,135 Jan-Jun ’91
55,178 Jul-Dec ’91
60,045 Jan-Jun ’92
44,442 Jul-Dec ’92
41,626 Jan-Jun ’93
25,063 Jul-Dec ’93
|First issue||October 1990|