Singer-songwriter Andrew Foster is the classic “second generation” C64 owner, not getting hold of a machine until mid-1991. His first issue of CF was number 12 – the Speedball cover. Here, he remembers how “they were never kid’s mags… they were little snapshots of what growing up with a new technology was about and a large part of who I am”.
A solitary BBC Microcomputer sat un-used in a huge trolley of ridiculously exaggerated self-importance. All its cables hung down like a deflated octopus over a huge metal frame that should have been used to build a new structure of some kind or perhaps to house a delicate bomb experiment from the 1940’s!
Why schools in the ‘80s wheeled their BBC’s around in this massive frame still baffles me to this day but it did spark something in me that I didn’t quite harness until later on; Chuckie Egg, Frogger, and a text adventure, that I don’t remember, began to trigger an interest.
This interest was compounded during a rainy winter in the late ’80s when there was nothing to do but push a tape copy of Pacmania into the built in datassette of the ZX Spectrum +2. But, aside from the machine’s beautiful looks, there was something coming that would make me obsessed with all things Commodore.
Allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine (you won’t know him) – his name is Ashley Penny. He’s not famous now, unless you count a really quick completion of Fantasy Land Dizzy for celebrity status! Back in the day he was a small lad who looked like he was made from porcelain (he did actually break his arm by getting a Shoot 5 kicked at him!) and seemed to be leagues ahead of me in computer knowledge. As you’ll remember, at aged nine or ten, sleep-overs are popular and by their very nature introduce to you completely new households and family cultures… and this was the ultimate.
Ashley asked me to come round and play computer – he didn’t say what it was! I arrived to find he had a C64C with the Dizzy Collection. From the moment I saw the start-up screen, the font, the contours on the slightly creamed machine, the separate datasette and the white Annihilator joystick with the red buttons, I felt that everything about it seemed classier than the Spectrum. That evening I’d come across a Commodore Format that was lying on the floor open on a Dizzy map and I wanted in.
That was it. That’s what I wanted to start my computer career ladder and convincing my Dad to get me the Playful Intelligence pack was actually easier than I thought. Maybe he thought I was going to learn code?! I’ve tried a few code listings from CF over the years but other than that I was never going to be the next Public Domain hero by any means.
After the acquisition of this great machine it was obvious where I was going to go for my C64 literature… the magazine that I picked up from the floor that night and my love for Commodore Format was born. The first edition I remember getting through was issue 12, the Speedball 2 cover and demo. On the covertape was Rodland, PP Hammer, and Speedball 2 (which I personally think is better than the 16-bit versions although I’m aware I’m probably alone on that fact). The magazine had serious reviews with sense of humour that even a kid could understand, BUT I was aware that aspects of the writing were going over my head. Basically, it was universal with a wide range appeal, clear bold presentation and wasn’t trying to be too cool all the time like ZZAP 64! I got both mags when I could and enjoyed both, however CF always held that top spot for me as it came across a little more classy and concise.
I have so many memories of this magazine, mostly of its monthly glow of warmth; and I know that’s a hard thing to explain to someone who doesn’t have an obsessive nature like myself! When I get into something I live it, and this was no exception. It became a bible that I took everywhere with me and the covertapes became my window to the C64 world. The covertapes alone were worth the asking price as the full games were nearly always classics and the demos were exclusives and never a cop out. You normally got a full level to play or a good chance to sample the game or, like me, if you couldn’t afford the full game then you could play the cover tapes all month until you could afford a budget game; recommended by Roger Frames of course!
One of my favourite issues by far is the Elvira front cover of issue 15, it encapsulates everything about being an early teenager to me and it was also a great time for the mag. I was into zombies, having somewhat of a penchant for the undead, so getting introduced to the gorgeous creepy looking Elvira was quite something for a confused teenager… needless to say the poster went straight on my wall! That issue had everything: a round-up of driving games, reviews of PP Hammer, Smash TV, Elvira, the Clyde Guide feature on Creatures 2, a map of Aliens, previews of Mega Twins and Super Space Invaders. Not to mention the covertape that came with Dandy which I actually preferred over Gauntlet. It also came with HeroQuest holograms – every geek knows that was the board game of choice in the early ’90s!
Other favourites issues included 20, with the Space Crusade cover. Its covertape containing Catalypse and Bod the Alien were exceptional. I played issue 22’s Robocod and DJ Puff over and over again and special mentions go to UGH!, Fuzzball, Arnie, Addams Family, Cyberdyne Warrior, Demon Blue and Firelord.
Issue 17’s covertape was also probably the most complete for me which leads me ask… Who compiled these classic covertapes? Surely whoever was in control of this held the keys to potential success of games across the country? Everybody’s access to the games before the internet was through this media so they had quite the power back then!
I loved all mags on the humble C64, which was starting to really strain under the weight by 1993 – I had a Gameboy and Megadrive running alongside it. It still didn’t stop me getting CF though and as I watched it limp out of print a part of my childhood innocence went with it (by now I’d discovered girls, guitars, music, and I wanted to express myself in different ways).
I got rid of all my issues in the late ‘90s in a weird exorcism routine to try and start a new, partly because I was always getting told I was a hoarder and also to try and reinvent myself as someone who didn’t need kid’s mags… I’ve always regretted it… they were never kid’s mags… they were little snapshots of what growing up with a new technology was about and a large part of who I am.
When I was asked to do this small piece for a great resource and pool of nostalgia – this Commodore Format website – it really made me feel eleven again. I wrote in to this mag several times (I physically wrote as well, it was the ’90s!) and never got in, so this opportunity feels like redemption! I love writing about retro games now and hope to continue to do so. I want to do my bit in keeping the dream of institutes like Commodore Format alive. Lying on the floor of a 70’s styled backroom playing Flimbos’ Quest through a beaten up old Matsui colour TV on silent whilst your Dad watches the proper TV, (probably Noel’s House Party or Strike It Lucky) will never be recreated once you lose your innocence. Writing like this brings it back a little. CF