It’s fair to say that Gamebusters was by far the most popular section of Commodore Format, receiving hundreds of letters every month from anguished players and budding tipsters alike. From innovative ideas such as Samaritan’s Corner and Framebusters, to its state-of-the-art screenshot maps, Gamebusters was the de-facto tips repository for any self-respecting C64 owner.

When Gamebuster-in-Chief Andy Dyer left the magazine along with Steve Jarratt (to launch Nintendo magazine TOTAL!), the reins were handed over to veteran tipster Andy Roberts, who had already been contributing tips, maps, and POKEs for the better part of fifteen issues. Despite seeing countless staff (and half a dozen editors – Ed) come and go, Andy diligently cracked the latest C64 games wide open every month for almost five years, producing hundreds of pages of content.

In the start of a new series exclusive to Patreon backers, Andy takes a retrospective look at the Gamebusters section from every issue of CF, detailing the highs, lows, and behind-the-scenes decisions involved in creating a dozen pages of editorial each and every month.

As well as an in-depth discussion of what made the cut, Andy will also be dipping into the archives to bring you an exclusive peek at some never-before-seen material, including various items which never made it into the magazine. But before we kick off, let’s take a look at how it all began…

The summer of 1990 will be forever etched in my memory: by day I made maps for Paul Woakes’ epic 3D sandbox adventure Damocles on my newly-acquired Amiga 500 (jammy git – Ed), exploring the various planets and moons of the Gamma system as Jean-Michel Jarre’s Waiting for Cousteau blasted through my headphones. By night I’d watch the World Cup with my brother-in-law, drinking snakebite-and-black and shouting at England’s defenders. Life was good.

The hand-drawn maps I was creating would ultimately make their way to Robin Hogg at Zzap!64, as part of a mammoth playing guide I was putting together. Indeed, I’d been producing maps, tips, solutions, and POKEs for Zzap! on a casual basis ever since I’d had my first map (for Mastertronic’s Hero of the Golden Talisman) printed in issue 32; I spent my entire summer holiday in 1987 creating the map, which consisted of nine A4 sheets of paper taped together. Years later, I got to meet Wayne Allen, who had worked in Zzap!’s art department at that time. Clumsily, I asked if he remembered my map and, to my amazement, he did – mainly because it was “a monumental pain in the arse” to put into the magazine.

talisman
Andy’s first published map: an epic feat of cartography detailing every nook and cranny in Mastertronic’s sprawling budget adventure Hero of the Golden Talisman.

Despite that initial (and rather tenuous) brush with magazine stardom, it wasn’t until my maps for the budget game Zamzara were published in issue 52 that I finally plucked up the courage to call the magazine and chat to Paul Rand, who was running the tips section at the time. The calls were usually short and sweet – often a courtesy call to check that my maps had arrived safely – but when Robin Hogg took over the tips section in issue 55 he would often ask for maps, tips, and POKEs for specific games. It was a great working relationship: Robin got quality material to fill pages, and I got my name in print on a regular basis. I also got to visit the Newsfield offices on a couple of occasions, most notably to take part in the Zzap! Challenge in issue 60.

challenge
A youthful Andy (bottom-right) takes on Robin Hogg (top-left) in the Zzap! Challenge. The game in question? Thalamus’s mind-bending arcade puzzler Snare.

It was during the first of these visits that I got chatting to then editor Stuart Wynne, who commissioned me to write an article comparing Datel’s Action Replay cartridge with its closest rival the Power Cartridge. Published in the Christmas issue later that year, the Cartridge Comparison feature netted me the princely sum of £172.41, my first ever paycheque and a lot of money to a 17-year-old. Thankfully wisdom and common-sense prevailed, and rather than blow the lot I invested the funds into a shiny new Oceanic disk drive and a stack of games and utilities. It was something of a nightmare trying to carry the box and two massive bags home from the shop on my 10-speed racer, but that workhorse of a disk drive would ultimately serve me well for the best part of 30 years.

comparison
Andy’s first paid commission from Newsfield: the Cartridge Comparison feature from issue 56 of Zzap!64. BDL would later use quotes from the feature in their adverts.

Although at one point I would have gladly sacrificed an appendage in exchange for a job with Zzap!64, after a couple of rejection letters from Newsfield I’d resigned myself to simply being an ad-hoc contributor. There were only a handful of magazines dedicated to the C64 at that time, after all; vacancies were rare, the competition was fierce, and that was that.

Nevertheless, I was happy enough to see my name in print every month, and I genuinely enjoyed the process of painstakingly converting on-screen graphics into hand-drawn maps. It was the perfect marriage of my meticulous/obsessive attention to detail and deep-rooted love of video games. It was effectively a hobby, a way to pass the time while I finished my BTEC diploma in computer studies; with any luck I’d score a job with the local council’s IT department, and that would be my lot in life. However, fate had other plans.

In late July of 1990 I remember picking up a copy of Future Publishing’s New Computer Express at the local newsagent. I didn’t buy the magazine religiously; it was typically a spur of the moment purchase to give me something to read during that agonisingly long wait for Zzap!64 and Commodore User to hit the shelves. However, as I idly flicked through the newsprint pages, I spotted a news snippet that stopped me dead in my tracks: Future Publishing were launching a new C64 magazine called Commodore Format.

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The arrival of Commodore Format, as first announced in New Computer Express (issue 90 in case you were wondering – Ed).

As exciting as the news was, my heart almost exploded when I eventually reached the classified section: among the quarter-page ads for double density floppies, Olivetti printers, and Atari Lynx handhelds, was a recruitment ad from Future Publishing. Ordinarily, the ad in question probably would have slipped by without fanfare, as Future routinely advertised for new staff in its magazines. However, this particular advert was a little more cryptic than most as no magazine was mentioned. Interesting. A new launch title, perhaps? I still hadn’t mentally connected the dots until I reached the contact name at the bottom of the ad: Steve Jarratt. Then the penny finally dropped. They were looking for a games reviewer for Commodore Format!

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The recruitment ad for Commodore Format which sent an eager young Andy racing to the Post Office to send off his resume.

I seem to recall that the next few hours were something of a blur as I hastily cobbled together my application. However, being fresh out of school with no work experience to my name – and therefore, no résumé to speak of – I had to think on my feet and improvise. I typed out a letter and pulled together some corroborating materials (essentially a list of my maps, tips, and articles which had been published in Zzap!64 and a sample review of Thalamus’ Snare), sprinted the mile to the Post Office, slipped the envelope in the slot with about five minutes to spare… and then immediately forgot all about it.

 

A week later, I’m standing in my living room talking to Steve Jarratt on the phone; he says something about an interview at the Future office in Bath the following week, and reminds me to bring a receipt for my train ticket. As he talks, a slack-jawed, star-struck teenager barely manages to spit out a handful of words by way of response. The following week, I’m sitting in a side office in Future’s Monmouth Street building, nervously chatting to one of my heroes.

I didn’t get the job, of course; perhaps it was because I was only 17 at the time, or maybe it was my accurate portrayal of a deer in the headlights at my interview, but nevertheless Steve saw potential in me and commissioned a complete player’s guide for Activision’s Die Hard (which had to be completed in record time to make it into the launch issue – but more on that next time).

A month later at some computer show in London, an excited Steve hands me a copy of the first issue of Commodore Format. As I flick through the magazine, Steve occasionally interjects and points out things he wasn’t happy with or wants to address in future issues. That’s when he drops the bombshell that he’d like me to contribute on a regular basis. Two weeks later, I quit my computer studies course in order to write full-time. Fast-forward six months, and I’m writing for both Commodore Format and New Computer Express.

Little did I know at the time, but that spontaneous purchase of New Computer Express would change the course of my life and kick-start an incredible career.

Best 70p I ever spent. CF

  • This series is going to be exclusive for Patreon backers, but don’t worry. It’s only $1 a month! In return, you get early access to everything and a weekly newsletter as well as seeing this series exclusively. It won’t ever be available anywhere else. And your $1 a month – just twelve bucks a year – goes right back in to making Commodore Format. Hit donate up at the top or go here to back us.

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