A look at the April 1994 issue of British Commodore 64 magazine, Commodore Format.
- This issue had no subscriber’s newsletter.
Rival magazine Commodore Force folded in March 1994 and Commodore Format broke the news in this, their April issue. Force had been launched in January 1993 from the ashes of the legendary, wonderful ZZAP! 64 – ostensibly because “the C64 world had changed so much” and a new approach was required. In reality, it’s easier to sell advertising space across a range of magazines if they all fall under one brand, and to rename ZZAP! brought it into line with Amiga Force, SNES Force and Impact Publishing’s other offerings.
IT WASN’T AS BAD AS THEY SAY
Commodore Force is unfairly remembered for the way it fizzled out, running what one editor remembers as “one meaningless retrospective after another” (more on that in our look at issue 41 here). What’s forgotten is that it didn’t start out that badly, and when there were still games to review it was certainly better than late era ZZAP!: where it fell down was its failure to adapt to the changing C64 world it claimed to have been launched to cater for. Here’s the mag’s final editor, James Price:
“At Impact, as with many small publishing houses, the desire to write great copy was tempered by the need to fill pages: we had small teams, and no real freelance budgets…It’s not that the team didn’t want (or couldn’t be arsed) to take the magazine in the direction in needed to go in; just that we didn’t have the time or resources. It’s really easy to look back now and say that we should have been covering homebrew games, software produced in other countries, the demo scene, and so forth, but we just didn’t have the contacts.”
Most Commodore Format readers were also buying Force, usually for the impressive double covertapes. It was, after all, one of the few other places you could go for a fix of C64 stuff each month. To this end, given that so many CF fans probably had a soft spot for Force, Hutch’s editorial in Commodore Format this month is mean-spirited. “Goodbye and good riddance” is the needlessly unpleasant line that stands out. It was always Force – as the underdog – that had goaded Format, referring to it as a “fanzine” and mockingly naming its tech section The Mighty Brian. To sink to the same level in “celebration” wasn’t cool then and it looks even sadder now. This was the demise of yet another C64 institution, and nothing to be happy about at all.
Yes, issue 43 (it is what we’re here for, idiot – Ed). What would be interesting from now on is how Future would act in the absence of a rival. This month’s mag isn’t a bad start, still notching up 50 pages and with yet another striking front cover. White was a much under-used colour in CF, particularly in the neon issues from mid ’93 onwards, so this one really stood out in WHSmith. The issue was a sports special, with a range of features that went beyond the standard retrospective stuff: Great Sporting Failures really is a funny read, noting that International Truck Racing is “beyond grim” with “all the grace of a legless hippo”.
PD Format, meanwhile, took a break from the demo scene to look at free software this month, awarding just 10% to Bomber – which had actually appeared on the mag’s covertape back in issue 26. “Innocent victims are duped into playing [this sort of game for free]”, says Simon Forrester, in stark contrast to the chirpy instructions CF gave when offering it up to its own readers just 16 months earlier.
(DON’T) DROP THE DEAD DATASETTE
The rest of issue 43 is crammed with articles that still stand up as useful today: Maintaining Your C64 is full of tips and tricks to restart a dead Commodore, particularly if you’re suffering from a dodgy datassette. It’s a shame that what the article also promised – stuff on mending a knackered joystick, for example – never appeared. Then there’s the regular wad of tech at the back, with features this month on getting your games scrolling, variables and strings.
It’s a decent mix, but by far the most interesting story is buried into a few paragraphs on the news pages. Since the end of 1993, CF had been encouraging its readers to get active and produce their own games, utilities and fanzines to keep the C64 alive. People had listened: Finnish programmer Jani Hirvo sent in Penguin Tower, a sort of DynaBlaster clone, with the intention of getting it noticed and a UK distributor. “It’s an exceptionally excellent game”, enthused Hutch. “We’ll give it a humongous review next issue”.
That they would – but it wouldn’t be the only major event of May 1994. Next issue would see the return of a familiar face and a LOT of games. CF
ON THE POWER PACK
This month’s lead game was supposed to be the Zeppelin top-down racer Carnage, but the code arrived too late to be included on the tape. It meant that the supporting cast of reader games were unexpectedly thrown centre stage. The Shoot ‘Em Up Construction Kit stuff at least shows some decent creativity, with Chaos Road swapping outer space for the desert -and Pud and Dawsey impressively fooling the utility into a platformer, but a SEUCK game is a SEUCK game and you can never completely hide the fact. There’s nothing wrong with the games by themselves, but the lack of variety does make for one of the Power Pack’s flatter offerings.