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Commodore 64 fan clubs from the ’90s

Back in the 90’s when Global Hypercolor was the national uniform and Hooch was mandatory, software houses had fans in their own right. Collectors would snap up every single release from their favourite publisher – something which is still going on today. In the first of a three part series, Commodore Format takes a look at the softies who were so popular they had their own fan clubs.


One of the Darling Brothers’ earliest press shots (David’s standing here, Richard’s pretending to play Chiller). Codemasters was founded by their family in 1986, but the boys had already earned a six figure sum making games before going it alone. PHOTO CREDIT: Codemasters

WHO? The Codies were formed in 1986 by brothers Richard and David Darling. They did so with the help of their Dad Jim. He’d been a contact lens pioneer, of all things, and that work took the brothers and their five other siblings across three continents and fourteen schools in an unsettled – if hugely privileged – childhood.

It was in 1970’s Canada that the boys knocked up a text version of Dungeons and Dragons on a Commodore PET; when they returned to the UK in the early 80’s they were earning more money than their father by selling homegrown stuff in the small ads of Popular Computing Weekly (one repeatedly quoted figure is that they had trousered over £200,000 by their mid teens). Jim became their manager, and in 1982 – with Richard 15 and David aged 16 – they formed Galactic Software, flogging stuff like The Last V8 to Mastertronic and eventually owning 50% of the company. Codemasters was set up so they could cut out the middleman entirely, quickly becoming famous for its budget games: earlier C64 fans will remember them for “simulating” (generous – Ed) almost everything, from BMX Simulator to Jet Bike Simulator and even Fruit Machine Simulator.

Codemasters’ most celebrated game series, though, isn’t the brothers’ creation. They had a deal to publish the work of The Oliver Twins, the teenage boys behind the Dizzy games. The eggy adventurer needs no introduction to anybody this far deep into a Commodore Format website, but the Oliver Twins’ part in the Codies’ success can still be overlooked. Get this: at one point in 1986, 7% of all games sales in the UK – around 3 million – were programmed by them.

Some of the Codies’ best stuff came in the 90’s, when the company’s logo became a guarantee of great graphics and fun gameplay. As other publishers abandoned the Commodore, Codemasters hoovered up the trade.

As the games industry moved on and Codemasters themselves started messing about with stuff like the NES, they nonetheless remained true to the Commodore. CJ’s Elephant Antics, Stuntman Seymour, DJ Puff and Spike In Transylvania all appeared between 1991 and 1993. It’s these good-natured, colourful games which younger ’64 fans fell in love with: at the early 90’s budget price of £3.99, high quality cartoon adventures were within pocket money reach. More importantly, the Codies never forgot who their audience was: the pattern learning, repetition and gentle learning curve in stuff like Dizzy was pitch perfect for younger gamers who wanted a challenge but also to succeed.

ANORAK CORNER It’s no accident that the brothers were well known back in the day. The “whizzkid programmers turned company directors” thing was carefully crafted by Codemasters’ operations director Bruce Everiss, who set up stacks of interviews to craft the narrative. “People identify with people, not products”, Bruce told the Retro Hour podcast earlier this year.

GAMES TO PLAY Dizzy, CJ’s Elephant Antics, and the hugely underplayed Lemmings-a-like Steg The Slug.

THE FAN CLUB The Codemasters Cartoon Time Club was initially set up to try and cash in on the most obviously marketable character, Dizzy. The idea was you’d write in and they’d send a “newsletter” back which, in fact, was mainly a catalogue of merch. Clocks! Trading cards! Bags! Hats! Mugs! Look at what you could’ve won:

whizzkids ad
Four quid for a cardboard t-shirt, twelve quid for a clock that’s guaranteed to be yellow within the year. Still, that zip bag looks sturdy. Ah, 1991. IMAGE CREDIT:

Soon, though, the club was ramped up a bit. By collecting five tokens (one in every Codemasters’ game), you could send off to join. In return you got a Codies game for free, a handwritten certificate and an occasional newsletter. It was run by Claire Lucas, the same woman who’s wearing all the Dizzy tat in every photo – and you actually had to put her name on the envelope when you joined to make sure it got to her desk. Different times, eh?

yolkfolk forum
Worth every penny. PHOTO CEDIT: Marc Bowen

WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM? Codemasters co-developed the Game Genie, a game modification device for Nintendo’s NES which “modified” games (ie let you cheat). It was the fifth best selling toy in America at Christmas 1991, even though it angered Nintendo who got quite court-y about it. They’ve stayed on the international stage ever since across pretty much every format. These days, they’re known for stuff like Colin McRae Rally and Operation Flashpoint, but the brothers aren’t involved now: they sold out in 2007, netting eighty million quid. The brothers received CBEs for services to the computer games industry the next year. In 2011, David founded Kwalee to make games for iOS and Android. And the quieter brother, Richard? Direct from the man himself, he’s “retired and enjoying life.”


Darren (left) and Brian Jobling took Zeppelin way into the 21st century. As Eutechnyx, they became pioneers of console race games. Now, they also help people buy fast cars for real. Long way from The Bod Squad, eh? PHOTO CREDIT: The Journal 

WHO? Perhaps it’s because Zeppelin were late to the game, who knows. But for a company that produced over 50 games for the Commodore 64 between 1988 and 1993, the Newcastle(ish, depending on the year) software house never gets the hat tip it really deserves – especially for being one of the last C64 publishers standing back in the day.

Brian Jobling wrote a copying program that let you flawlessly pirate cassette games when he was just 14. It was so impressive and notorious that the industry sat up: one wise old head took Brian to one side and said he could probably use his cracking capabilities to make a load of cash. How? By crossing over to the other side and making protection systems for the UK’s cassette publishers. That’s what Brian did, and three years later he bought a Porsche. He was 17.

After a stint at Tynesoft, Brian founded Zeppelin with fellow coder Derek Brewster and Martin O’Donnell on November 8th, 1987. They took the name from their favourite 70’s band, but used the word’s airship origins for a logo. Early stuff like the shooter Zybex (a ZZAP! silver medal winner) and platform adventure Draconus secured them a rep for high quality stuff at budget prices early doors. A year or so after founding, Derek and Martin left: Brian’s brother Darren partnered up full-time after giving up on his dream of being a dentist (“the dissection lab changed my mind”, he told the NE Times in 2016), and the next few years spawned hit after hit. There was Kenny Dalglish Soccer Manager, platform favourite Blinky’s Scary School and a full-price label – Impulze – that licensed mohawked irritant Edd The Duck, a Match of the Day football game featuring the C64’s only digitised Des Lynam and a Paperboy inspired interpretation of Aussie soap opera Neighbours.

Zeppelin paid out a fortune on licenses for stuff like Neighbours, but Arnie‘s obvious inspirations were entirely unofficial (different ti…-Ed)

As the market deserted the Commodore in late ’91 and ’92, Zeppelin stood firm: Arnie was Chris Butler’s surprise swan song (everyone thought he was done with Turbocharge, but he’d been messing around with this neat little shooter for years). It was the hit of 1992. Amazingly, the Zeps (oh this is what we’re calling them four paragraphs in is it? Why don’t you just marry them? – Ed) cracked on with top down racer Carnage and – in mid ’93 – an Arnie sequel. In April 1993 alone, they released one C64 game every week (Fist Fighter, that Arnie 2 thing, International Truck Racing and World Championship Squash).

ANORAK CORNER If you’re to believe Commodore Format‘s feature in ish 31 which praised Zeppelin for “churning out C64 games like the Aussies churn out soap operas”, Brian was the youngest self-made millionaire in the UK at the time. He was 20 years and 7 months old when the bank balance reached seven figures.

GAMES TO PLAY The first Arnie, for sure. Round The Bend, a platformer based on the tea-time kids’ show, is good fun and doesn’t get much of a look-in. And for a real treat, hunt down the unusual and prankish Sleepwalker (there are a few games with this name, but we mean this one). Don’t forget the great looking but super hard Bod Squad, either – it has a back story we investigated here.

THE FAN CLUB Zeppelin’s Air Crew Club set you back an eye watering £7.99, but you got two “free” games when you joined (we know, we know – Ed). There was a shiny membership card that you could use for discounts, a certificate with your own “crew” number and a decent magazine called Air Crew. It was illustrated by a couple of the guys who did Viz, which had North East offices near to Zeppelin’s. The mag’s cast of characters included a crazy old blimp pilot and a hapless air attendant. They dished out hints, tips and games news and even matched you up with a pen pal. Zeppelin used to reveal their new games here first so it was essential for hardcore gamers. The Viz art has also made the newsletter much sought after by collectors, but we’re yet to see one in the wild. Apparently, they were always in a garish shade of red or green. Have you got one?  

air crew club
Zeppelin went pretty hard on their fan club from mid 1991, with application forms in the 8-bit mags. 

WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM? The 8-bit games only stopped in ’94 when Zeppelin was bought by American company Merit Studios. Two years later, they became Eutechnyx and the brothers bought the company back. Stuff like Cartoon Network Racing, Pimp My Ride and Nascar ’15 have appeared over the subsequent years and across pretty much every format, as the company focused on race games and, occasionally, business software. Darren Jobling started a company called ZeroLight in 2014, which helps posh people buy even posher cars. He carries a card around with him with his goals for the year ahead, apparently (oh, have a Cornetto Darren – Ed).


To end part one of this series, then, a slightly stranger club. When we started writing this feature we had it in mind that “fan clubs” (we’re doing air quotes here – Ed) were actually a way for softies to get information about their customers in a pre internet age (and, indeed, they all promised to “add you to our database”). The more you dig, though, the more you realise these things were really about flogging merch. Sometimes they charged kids for not much more than a photocopied certificate and a catalogue. There were brilliant exceptions, though.

You’ll know James Pond, of course: the original platformer never made it to C64, but the sequel Robocod did. It’s a divisive conversion, and its washed out appearance (a result of graphics being directly ported over from the Amiga) does mean it loses some of its character. But the pun-laden platformer, which sees you extending The Cod’s body across many screens to reach his platform destinations, was a big seller across the Amiga, ST, ’64 and consoles. T-shirts and mugs followed, before publishers Millenium set up a “secret society” called F.I.5.H. which was wonderfully executed:

james pond

To become an “agent”, kids had to send off to a mysterious PO Box in Cambridge for a “job application form”. Once accepted into the secret spy society (and after Millenium had collected £8.95), you were sent a huge dossier of James Pond branded documents. There was a board game, a “secret code decoding” ruler for your school pencil case, loads of stickers and a regular letter full of “offishal secrets”. Best of all were the regular missions you were sent in the post, often of the pen and paper puzzle variety (you had to use that ruler). If you were one of the first few people to crack the thing, you got a prize. Of what? A James Pond sweatshirt too big for any child, of course. CF


NOW, READ PART TWO:  It’s all about Alternative Software.

  • Thanks to Paul E Moz, Codemasters, the Jobling brothers, The Journal newspaper and our mates at Future PLC for contacts, fact checking and photos for this piece. Christopher Heppinstall caught the mistakes in this one, too. Cheers! 

EXCLUSIVE: Devolver Digital’s Minit is coming to the C64 courtesy of Thalamus

20th June 2019

Commodore Format can exclusively report that 2018’s critically acclaimed PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC game Minit is going to be officially released on the Commodore 64 through Thalamus Digital. We can also reveal that the coder is Jon Wells (Sceptre of BaghdadEscape From Arth and the unfinished 10th Dan), who’s formally returning to the machine for the first time since 2013’s Shaolin+. Jon will also handle  the audio, with Thalamus’ Andy Roberts handling graphics, design and production. A Spectrum Next version is also planned.

A screenshot from the prototype version of Minit64. Every pixel has been faithfully replicated from the PC and console versions.

Here’s everything you need to know 

Devolver Digital first previewed Minit at E3 in 2017, telling the press:

Minit is a peculiar little adventure played sixty seconds at a time. Journey outside the comfort of your home to help unusual folk, uncover countless secrets, and overcome dangerous foes, all in hopes of lifting a rather unfortunate curse that ends each day after just one minute.”

Indeed, CF’s own Colin Campbell previewed the game for Polygon. 

The game was developed by Jan Willem Nijman, co-founder and one-half of Vlambeer, Kitty Calis, who contributed to Horizon Zero Dawn, freelance composer Jukio Kallio, and Dominik Johann, art director of Crows Crows Crows.

Minit was released in 2018 for PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch, and has since been nominated for a whole swathe of awards including Outstanding Achievement for an Independent Game at the D.I.C.E. Awards.

Despite the game’s simplistic look, Thalamus say it’ll still be a challenge to faithfully replicate all 100+ screens on the humble C64.

The aim of the game

Presented in a top-down RPG-style viewpoint, Minit is played in 60 second chunks, hence the title (Minute = minit, innit? –  Ed). After picking up a cursed sword, the player will die every 60 seconds and wake up in their home with any items and knowledge that they may have previously acquired (a bit like Groundhog Day, but without Andie MacDowell – Ed). As the player progresses deeper into the adventure they’ll eventually plunge deep into the heart of the sword factory to face the final boss and attempt to break the curse.


We spoke exclusively to Andy Roberts about the C64 version:

Minit64 (working title) came about purely by accident: I was chatting with Jon Wells about working on a project together again, as we’d worked on numerous Game Boy titles back in the early 2000s and had a great working relationship. One of the games on my wish list was Minit and as it happened Jon had also seen the game and loved the idea of bringing it to the C64. At that point it was just a case of working out a) if it was technically possible, and b) if Devolver Digital would be interested.”

“At the time I was also talking to Devolver about another project, and so naturally the subject of Minit64 came up in conversation. Devolver loved the idea, so Jon and I played the game exhaustively then spent a couple of months putting together a small proof-of-concept demo on the C64.”

An early mockup of  the Minit 64 packaging, complete with postcard, sticker, and sexy black cartridge. 

“The C64 demo is just a handful of the 100+ screens from the finished game. Even though the original game seems quite simplistic, this apparent simplicity is extremely deceptive. Our biggest single technical challenge was how to organise the colossal amount of graphics data: the game uses hundreds of unique 2×2 tiles, and there simply aren’t enough characters in a standard C64 character set to display some of the screens in the game. In the end we chose to use hi-res bitmaps, which also allows us to easily plot software sprites and thus increase the number of on-screen enemies, etc.”

“Then there’s the animations and interactive objects to consider: flowing rivers, washing hanging on the line, rippling waves around the shoreline, the mailbox you can bash open with your sword, and so on. The original developers worked hard to make sure that the game was filled with loads of unique details to bring the world to life, so it’s important to replicate those little touches to ensure that the game retains its unique charm.”

“We also had to adjust the screen layouts slightly as the C64’s screen isn’t as tall as in the original game, so the utmost care had to be taken to make sure that the screens still flow in the same way without affecting the gameplay (especially given the time is a crucial factor in navigating the environment).”

The game is currently in development and will be arriving on cartridge for the C64 in late 2019.  CF



Parasol Stars finally comes to C64…exclusive first chat with the programmer!

13th May 2019

It’s one of the great lost games of the ’90s…but Parasol Stars is finally coming to the Commodore 64. Here, we recount the game’s bizarre history on the Bread Bin, and talk to Simon Jameson – the guy who’s making this new  version happen. We’ve even shown the video to Colin Porch, the game’s original coder…

Parasol Stars has been pined for on the Commodore 64 since 1992, when  Ocean Software sheepishly announced that the game had been cancelled for our fave computer  following a burglary at the coder’s house. They stole everything, said the Manc publishers, and  there  simply wasn’t time to start it again from scratch. The C64 was dying, and the momentum from the advertising campaigns  would be lost.

The burglary story, though, wasn’t true. Let’s just rewind for a sec before we unpick things, mind.


Stars is the third in the Bubble Bobble platformer series, following on from Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands. It first appeared on the PC Engine back in 1991 (unusually, and contrary to urban myth, it didn’t appear in the arcades). Bubby and Bobby are both present, and it’s more akin to the first game than Rainbow Islands. This time around, you have a parasol which can block as a shield, stun enemies, capture droplets or hurl enemies. At many points, it can be used as a parachute.

The C64 version  was to be the only 8-bit micro computer Parasol Stars, and with software drying up anticipation was high. Both Rainbow Islands and Bubble Bobble were huge hits on the machine, so news of the game’s demise was devastating.

parasol stars zzap story
ZZAP! 64 announces the news – no Parasol Stars for C64.

Not as devastating as the actual truth, though.


The C64 version had been farmed out to veteran coder Colin Porch – responsible for a string of greats like Head Over Heels and Operation Wolf. He was working on Parasol Stars freelance, from home, and things had been looking good. Three months in, Colin remembers taking his work to Ocean. They were pleased. “Most of the elements of the gameplay had been included”, he recalls. And then, disaster:

“My wife and I had not been getting on very well, (usually rowing about her drinking habits) and she decided to go back to her first husband of twenty years earlier. Before leaving, she broke or corrupted all the disks she could find, including all the Parasol Stars developments and back-ups. She expressed extreme remorse afterwards, (she was two different people depending on whether she had been drinking) but the damage was done. I only had a disk previously shown to Ocean, about three months old, which had remained in my briefcase since showing it to them. They, unfortunately, could not spare the time for me to repeat the work.”

And that’s where the story stopped…until this weekend.


Over the weekend, Simon Jameson posted a video of what appeared to be a work in progress version of the game on Twitter. It’s the video you see at the top of this report. Could it be real? We asked him, and it is. Parasol Stars is a thing.

“I’m a Technical Lead for a large software company in London writing tools and libraries for our internal teams, working mostly in NodeJS”, he told us. He’s got C64 previous, though (check out Doc Cosmos from this Spring), teaching himself to code but “I was born in 1977, so by the time I was old enough to work the 64 was beginning to disappear.”

Parasol Stars started as an experiment with VSP scrolling and sprite multiplexing. I wanted to learn stuff I’d missed in the time I’d been away from the scene (like 25 years!) and so knocked up a simple tech demo using Rainbow Islands art. It was a short step from that to realising I could have a go at filling the huge whole left by the missing C64 version.”

So how did Simon approach the conversion?

“I tried to be as close to the PC Engine original as possible and played that version a lot to get the gameplay to feel as close as possible, the art is heavily based on that version too. The NES version was a good source of ideas for optimisation such as reducing the size of the water element drops, and also some lower resolution art inspirations. Overall the approach was always an iterative one starting with the original tech demo and slowly adding stuff. Generally I’ll think of the next big missing feature, write some code, optimise and refactor and then add art as required”.

And the big one, then  – when’s it coming out?

“Publisher wise, it’s not something I had even considered when I wrote the code last year. Since releasing the video however, there’s been a lot of interest and I’m currently in discussions regarding the next steps.”


There’s loads to think about, for sure – including whoever publishes the game getting the appropriate rights – but Parasol Stars is on the verge of becoming real after 27 years. We’ll keep you updated with this one at Commodore Format, of  course…and before we go, just one more thing. We wondered what Colin Porch might think about this. Astounded, is the answer, but very happy:

“I wish Simon the very best of luck! Back in the day,  they said it was impossible. But I was convinced it wasn’t, after a couple of month’s work…What took so long, I wonder? (joke!)” CF


Little Big Planet C64 – exclusive interview!

10th April 2019

If you follow the C64 world on Twitter, you’ve almost certainly seen something very special of late. Blink once, blink twice, and you’ll still see LittleBigPlanet‘s Sack Boy running around in what appears to be the beginnings of a Commodore 64 game. Two days ago, a new video emerged:

The Tweets came from the British games developer Mark Healey. He’s the co-founder and creative director of Media Molecule, whose first game for PS3 was…yup, LittleBigPlanet. Mark’s also very well known for his love of the Commodore 64: his first published game was KGB Super Spy for Codemasters, and you’ll also find his work in stuff like the Fun School series and Ocean’s Hook.

So could it be true? Could the guy behind one of Playstation 3’s most iconic games be bringing Sack Boy to his beloved C64? Commodore Format spoke with Mark to find out.

“Yes, it’s real! It’s a hobby project of mine – a slow labour of love and finding time is difficult, so when it would be ready to unleash I can’t really say. As soon as there is something that can pass as a game I guess – obviously I’m not planning to do a full port of all of LBP, more a Sack Boy spin-off.”

So what’s the story behind such an exciting project?

“It’s pure self-indulgence really – working on it is like a time machine for me, I spent many happy years making stuff on C64 back in the day, it’s burnt into my soul. It’s nice sometimes to switch from working in modern game dev in a large team with the pressures that come with  that – and go back to when it was purely a hobby.”

As for those C64 days, we asked Mark what his proudest moment is.

KGB Super Spy – not because it’s a brilliant game, but it was my first released one, which felt like a big personal achievement for me at the time. And Hook, I did all the graphics for in a very short space of time – about a week I seem to remember.”

Time’s on Mark’s side as far as his Sack Boy spin-off goes, but we can’t wait to get our hands on something playable. Keep up with Mark’s progress @marcoshealey, and we’ll hopefully get to chat with him again around the time that the game surfaces. CF

Every Commodore Format Power Pack. Month by month.

Month by month, we’re wading through every single Commodore Format Power Pack with a huuuuge feature! There’s the inside story and gossip on every single game, with a new tape to read about every four weeks. Keep an eye on social media to see when the next one’s here.

Power Pack

Power Pack 2

Power Pack 3

Power Pack 4

Power Pack 5

Power Pack 6

Power Pack 7

Power Pack 8

Power Pack 9

Power Pack 10

Power Pack 11

Power Pack 12

Power Pack 13

Power Pack 14

Power Pack 15

Power Pack 16

Power Pack 17

Power Pack 18

Power Pack 19

Power Pack 20

Power Pack 21

NEXT UPDATE: Power Pack 22 on 7th September 2019 (Patrons) and 14th September (public)


A full list of all Power Pack contents is here (via C64 wiki) 

Every Power Pack box cover

3 NEW Power Packs (really) – get 62, 63 and 64 here!

Smash Hits tapes 1 and 2 feature (from issues 1 and 2, pre Power Pack)

Games of the ’90s covertape feature

Five Power Pack moments

Read, download and explore every issue of Commodore Format online here.

Here is every Commodore Format! Every issue has its own page; click to read the feature, watch videos, get behind the scenes gossip and – yes – download the mag or read it online via  If you read everything in order from issue 1 to 61, you’ll get the whole CF story.  



Latest Commodore 64 and C64 Mini news

By virtue of the fact you’re here, you probably already know this – but in case you don’t, the C64 is enjoying something of an upswing in the 21st Century. New games, books and hardware are popping up all the time. There are plenty of great C64 news sources and magazines out there, but if something’s big enough or has a CF slant to it you’ll find it here. If you’ve got a story, hit us up on social media or use the form at the bottom of this page. Here’s the latest:















Got a story? Find us on social media or use the form here:





All change!

Hello! Er, the site looks a bit different doesn’t it? Yep. Well, just be thankful we only broke the internet three times when you were sleeping to do it. It’s not finished by a long stretch, but for now we’re just happy everything has ported over here (relatively) intact. Some images aren’t quite working as they should be yet, and a couple of links have gone AWOL. But don’t freak – we’re on it and every section will soon have its own artwork and everything. We’ll also soon be able to host our own video, audio and all sorts of other cool stuff we’ve got ready for the next year. This wee transition period will be worth it, honest – and you’re a C64 fan, right? You’re used to the massive pixels (get out – Ed). Thanks for supporting Commodore FormatCF

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