Andy “Hutch” Hutchinson was CF’s fourth editor. He arrived in mid 1993 to edit a games magazine that no longer had any games to review – except for something on the horizon called Mayhem In Monsterland. Here, for the very first time, Hutch talks about life on CF, that 100% review score and moving to Oz.
Andy! Pleased to meet you. So. Before we get started…where have you been since leaving CF in mid 1994? I honestly can’t remember the order but I edited Your Sinclair first, then ST Format (I think that was next) and Commodore Format when I was at Fewtch (Future Publishing – Ed). My last stop was on the Amiga Format specials with Marcus Dyson and Tim Smith, but I was made redundant not long after that and had the life of a freelancer sprung on me. I freelanced (semi)successfully for the next six years or so, did a lot of work on both sides of the games industry including marketing stuff for Virgin Interactive, writing manuals, brochures, that sort of thing.
Like many people I found myself in trouble when the magazine industry (and Future in particular) imploded and they slashed the budget spent on freelance writers and brought everything in-house to save costs. It was a tough business before, but after that very few freelancers were making the mortgage payments. Instead I’d been DJing for some time and that became my main source of income – it was the ‘big room’ dance boom of the ’90s and I did a lot of nights in and around Bath.
In about ’98 the freelance writing stuff dried up completely and I set up a web design business with my wife Catherine (another ex-Future employee) and we did alright out of the first web boom. We moved from Bath to the Cotswolds and continued with the web design/graphic design, business was steady. Then in 2004 we went on holiday to Australia to visit my parents who’d retired there in 2000 and we loved the place so much that we decided to emigrate. My dad was born in Australia so I had dual-nationality and so visas weren’t an issue. We relocated the web business with us but it wasn’t making enough cash to keep us afloat so I got an IT job with Surf Life Saving Australia. And that’s what I’ve been doing since – I get to travel around Australia training surf lifesavers how to use the various systems we create and I also manage several iOS and Android apps that we produce. It’s a cool job and they’re cool employers. In my spare time I take photographs.
Let’s go back to the summer of 1993, then. How’d you get the job on CF? Weren’t you a bit of a legendary Your Sinclair editor? Yeah, I was on the up at the time. Future was a crazy place to be then. I’d landed a job as Staff Writer on ST Format two weeks before I graduated from college and just eight months later I was offered the editorship of YS when Andy Ide decided to leave and go and make porn movies. Had a good time at YS and tried to grapple with the dying Spectrum market by introducing some lifestyle stuff. Not sure I’m looked back on with any fondness by the Spec-chums though because of my attempts to make the mag more mainstream in order to save it. So yeah, then on to CF with Ollie Alderton and Simon Forrester. Both awesome human beings. Similar market to be honest – dying on its arse and with a rapidly dwindling readership. I always thought I’d be the last editor of it.
What was the “transition”, as it were, to the C64 like – were you a fan? Yeah, I was way more of a Commodore fan than I was the Spectrum. When I was at secondary school (I started in 1978) computers suddenly arrived and I got a ZX-81, then a Sharp MZ-80K, followed by a BBC Model B. Then when I was in the 4th year (I think) I bought a C64 and the 1451 drive and a huge selection of pirated games in a job-lot from a guy who was going into the army. As such my knowledge of that games scene was much more complete and I had a better understanding of the games and the gamers.
You joined CF at quite a tricky time. You were a games magazine but the games were about to dry up. Can you tell us a bit about how you shifted the focus? Was it difficult to fill the pages? Yeah, it’s a shitty job trying to fill pages with entertaining content in a dying market place. Any chump can edit a magazine when the product’s on the up, but trying to find content and sound optimistic when the punters are jumping ship is a singularly draining experience. As to the focus, I didn’t want to shake things up as dramatically as I had at YS, so I more or less went with the flow but brought some of that YS sensibility to it. I was lead by the existing team and guided by them and by that I mean the whole team – [art editor] Ollie had just as much input as [writers] Simon and Clur.
Tell us a bit about day to day life in the CF office for you. Was there ever such a thing as a typical day? Nothing was ever typical at Future, certainly not at that time. It was a shit-load of hard work and very long days but we made up for it in the evenings. One of the main things I remember from that time was my constant battling with the IT manager over what I could and couldn’t install my work Mac. He tried to make us use this crappy word processor that didn’t even had a word-count, so I ‘reviewed’ a copy of Office for another magazine. It was a fun place to be though and I really enjoyed working with the team who were all a very talented bunch.
Did it fall to you to sort out the Power Packs? Quite a few people have told us they were a right pain in the arse to do. Especially as CF‘s budget dropped… Nope – that was entirely down to Simon. Horrible job it was too. Sorry, Simon.
Do you remember the one sided “rivalry” that came from Commodore Force, who seemed to keep ripping you off? And then of course they closed while you were editor. Was it flattering or annoying? Haha – I’d totally forgotten about that. It was the strangest thing at the time that they’d launch a competing mag when it was obvious the Commodore 64 was dying on its arse. Never really gave them much thought to be honest, just found the wholesale copying of the magazine a bit pathetic.
Perhaps you’re not aware of how loved your era of the magazine was. We think it was how personal it became – the little messages on the page footers, and the exaggeration of all the writer’s characters. People connected to you opinions because they felt they knew you – was it the intention to create a little “gang”? Thanks – I wasn’t aware of that. Yeah, I stole the idea lock-stock from YS where it was clear to me that the entire team should be characters in a little CF soap opera. The reason YS continued for so long was because it was more than a computer magazine about an 8-bit computer and I tried to bring a bit of that to CF. I wasn’t actually aware it had succeeded so it’s nice to hear.
There was of course at least ONE major game that dominated the C64 scene in 1993. Mayhem In Monsterland! It was you who decided on that famous 100% review score. Bit of mischief, or did you really love it that much? I remember being blown away by how good Mayhem was and, in all honesty, I couldn’t believe that the Rowland brothers had made something so cool for the little old C64. It seemed to me like this perfect full stop at the end of the C64’s history – a classic, well-honed little platformer, exclusive to the 64. Let’s not forget that this was at a time when the Megadrive and SNES were huge and I’m sure the Rowlands could have got work with any number of coding teamswith their skills, but they didn’t, they worked their arses off on that game.
I remember us talking about the score for it. I can’t remember exactly, but I don’t think Simon and Clur agreed with me and I don’t blame them because it’s bats-arse isn’t it? Nothing is ever completely perfect, is it? But the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that the score was right. I gave it 100% not because it was perfect but because it was the last great game on the last great 8-bit home computer. It was like its swan-song. I wanted it to go out on a high and, as I mentioned, I honestly thought I’d be the last editor. What better end can there be for this awesome computer than a last amazing game?
Would you be surprised to know people still play the game and talk about that review score? When Simon Forrester wrote a piece for us on the 20th birthday last year, it opened a huge can of worms again! Sorry Simon (again). You know, that score is probably the thing I’m most proud of. It caused a bit of a sensation and brought attention to a dying 8-bit platform at the height of the console wars. I even vaguely remember Dominic Diamond door-stepping me at some awards thing and asking me about it. Yes, it was supposed to be contentious, yes it was a very deliberate act, yes I stand by it. But! If it had been any other game than Mayhem, if it had not been in that upper 90s range that would more ordinarily have been awarded to it, then I wouldn’t have done it. I thought fuck it, let’s go out with a bang.
Also, being pedantic about it, as Simon said in his interview – what’s the point of a zero to 100 score system if nothing can ever get 100? Why not make it one to 95 instead? I mean Empire give films five star reviews (which is the equivalent of a 100% score) and people just say, “well it must be a fucking good film then,” not “are they saying it’s perfect? What idiots!”
So yeah, 100% all the way. It was the right score at the time and it’s the right score now.
How does it feel to know that people still talk about the magazine 20 years after it closed – and more crazily, that the C64 games scene is actually more active than it was in 1994? You can buy games on cartridge again now, and there’s a coffee table book out this year… It’s awesome – totally awesome. We all lived through a magical period. All those computers coming and going, the concepts being invented, the characters in the industry and above all, the fact that you could create your own games too. It was a joy to be part of it in some small way and it’s great to see that sort of ethos being revived now with things like the Raspberry Pi and games like Minecraft. But those computers have a place in the heart of everyone that lived through that era, so why not carry on enjoying it? We don’t stop listening to music because it’s more than a year old.
Somebody sent us some clips of the TV show Gamesmaster recently, with you as a guest reviewer! What was that like for you? Showbiz, or was it a lot of waiting around and nerves? Bit of both. First time you do it you get a very dry mouth, but at that time I was DJing and used to standing in front of large crowds who were expecting to be entertained so it wasn’t as bad for me as for some of the others. My claim to fame is that I caused one of the show’s major controversies. They’d lined up an exclusive – a new Mortal Kombat – can’t remember which one – and it had these grisly (for the time!) finishing moves. So the producer speaks to me and asks me to really play up the violence during the head-to-head challenge I was commentating on with Dominic. So the pair of us really start getting into it, “Slice and dice! Let’s see some entrails on the floor” that sort of thing and we sort of egged each other on and got the giggles. So, job done.
Anyway I didn’t know but the show aired before the watershed – 5:30 I think and there was a bit of outrage when it aired. The following Sunday I’m sitting in bed with the missus sipping coffee when one of those ‘Right to Reply’ shows comes on Channel 4 and there’s me and Dominic doing our commentary! And then they interviewed this outraged mum who was all “How can they air this before the watershed, it’s irresponsible … blah blah blah …” And the head of Channel 4 came on and apologised. It was so funny and, thinking back to the those graphics and how things look now on a PC or PS4, so very very tame. Well played by the producer though, wasn’t it?
What’s your take on the decline of the magazine market? Kids now want information for free, out of the air. It seems as if at least the computer and games scene is a little less warm and fuzzy for it…. It makes me sad but the writing was on the wall. I actually wrote one of the very first ever regular Internet columns in a magazine – a page called Comms in ST Format back in 1990 which I had to blackmail the editor, Steve Carey, into running. Even then it was clear to me that this technology was going to change everything. So yes, the magazine industry utterly failed to move with the times and now they’re paying the price. They failed to find new ways to monetise the writing produced by their expert journalists and companies like Future are now paying a very heavy price for that lack of foresight.
My son’s 12 years old and has never read a computer magazine. Not a single one. He’s into the usual games – Black Ops, TF2, Minecraft etc, but he gets all his information, reviews, tips and general entertainment from YouTube. And as we all know there are lots of people making very good money from YouTube videos. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different.
Do you have a favourite C64 game? And do you play anything current gen, or have you moved on? It’d be a toss-up between Wizball, Rainbow Islands, California Games and Mayhem. Probably Wizball if I was really pushed to pick one. I still love my games – I’m a PC gamer these days – not a fan of consoles at all. I play TF2 most nights (on Australian servers, natch) and was heavily into WoW for several years. I also love my iOS games, currently cursing my way through the utterly brilliant Sometimes You Die on my iPhone.
And finally – is Vanessa Paradis still looking fit? We haven’t seen her in ages. Had to Google her. Ermmm, no she hasn’t aged too well – still rocking the gap-tooth smile though, which is awesome. CF
- Hutch was CF’s editor from issues 36 to 43.
- Go to our MAYHEM homepage and read all the articles!