A look at the October 1995 issue of British C64 magazine, Commodore Format.
- This issue had no subscriber’s newsletter.
The best way to use this part of the website is to read about each issue in order (there’s a a snazzy homepage here). That way, you get the whole Commodore Format story with links to interviews and everything else along the way. It’s a good springboard to the rest of the site. But we know a lot of you like to dip in and out, or perhaps you’re finding this page via social media and it’s your first time here. So as we reach the last ever issue of the world’s greatest ever Commodore 64 magazine let’s have one last recap.
CF launched exactly five years earlier, in the late summer of 1990. England were reeling from a semi final exit to Germany in the Italian-hosted World Cup (it’s the one Gazza cried at, remember?). Margaret Thatcher was still – just – the PM. And on the surface, in computer world, it seemed as if everybody either was or already had traded up to a 16-bit Amiga or Atari ST.
But Future Publishing, headed by ex ZZAP! 64 editor Chris Anderson, saw an opportunity. The C64 was now the only machine his business didn’t have a magazine for, sure. Ultimately, CF was all about giving advertisers the “one stop” option of reaching users of every computer. Yet C64 software sales were still amazingly healthy and Commodore had pledged to support the machine for at least another two years. Armed with this knowledge, the Bath-based publisher had intended to produce around 24 to 30-ish magazines and make hay until the games stopped coming out.
THE BEST EVER
Something astounding happened, though. Commodore Format became Future Publishing’s most successful launch to date. Within two issues, it had outsold long-standing (and once magnificent) Commie title ZZAP! 64. Roger Frames appeared on the cover of a Codemasters game (Tilt), such was his iconic status, and staggered by the 60,000+ magazines being shifted every month publishers like US Gold – who’d planned a much earlier exit from the machine – decided to stick with the C64.
Just as Format hit that two year mark in October 1992, WH Smith and Boots’ decision to cease stocking 8-bit titles effectively killed production overnight. Only a handful of games spilled into 1993, with most softies not wanting to risk games that most people simply wouldn’t be able to get their hands on.
That takes us to mid ’93, making Future’s “two or three years” prediction pretty accurate. But here’s “something astounding happened” part two: people were still buying Commodore Format even if they couldn’t buy any games. Some were Amiga users who couldn’t bear to part with the C64; others were little brothers with a hand-me-down machine, some were folks who could finally afford a computer. With literally nothing new to buy most months, though, the magazine’s slow decline was inevitable. First from 98 pages to 66, then 58, 50, 34 and now 22 (just add two to each if you’re including the front and back covers, pedants – Ed). We’ve covered this month by month in this feature, so if you want to know the whats and whys you need to start here. When you’re done, come back.
You’re back? Cool. So, issue 61 marked five solid years’ coverage for the C64, yet this wafer thin final mag was more a celebration of Commodore Format rather than the machine. The first thing that strikes you – and by far the very best thing about the issue – is the clean, crisp Roger Frames cover. It was the first proper appearance from the little dude since his column was axed in mid ’93, and the only time he was drawn in Adobe rather than old fashioned pen and ink (read artist Mike Roberts’ interview here). On the inside cover contents page, the drawing is flagged up as a centre page poster and signposts you to a little easter egg. Follow it, and you discover only 5,000 copies of this last issue of CF were printed (the high, back in late‘91 and early ’92, was almost 66,000). It’s just one of many lovely little secrets we’ll leave you to find by reading ish 61 closely.
The mag kicks off with the Mighty Brain‘s plea to readers not to go off and buy a console machine but stick with things like the Amiga or PC (ironic, given CF’s adoration for the console inspired Mayhem). Over the page, the news section has only one story: CF is closing. The piece attempts to tell the history of the magazine but gets a lot of things wrong. It contains one little beaut, though: that eventual Future Publishing owner Greg Ingham’s proudest ever moment was discovering that the Commodore Format of its prime had outsold ZZAP! 64 within just a few months of launching.
Next up, in Absolutely Fabulous, reader favourite Clur Hodgson lets us in on what life was really like working on the magazine. Most of the writers lived together at one point, it turns out, and Dave Golder had a habit of falling drunk into the rivers of Somerset.
The centre pages (if you took out the ace poster) were dedicated to the Top Ten C64 Games Of All Time. It’s easy for older Commodore gamers to sneer at it, but Format was a 1990s magazine for younger C64 fans and this list reflects it well. There’s Creatures, Heroquest, Myth, Smash TV and many others that folk who think the C64 died in 1988 would do well to check out.
Then there’s So You Think You’re A C64 Expert?, a sort of checklist feature like you’d find in a woman’s weekly. You get points for everything you’ve done, like reset your computer with a paperclip or destroyed your magazine by ripping off the cover tape. Over the page again is Rogue’s Gallery, with a handful of old CF staff giving their fondest memories. Steve Jarratt reinforces Future’s pride in giving ZZAP! a kicking after just a few issues, and Trenton Webb recalls the time he found the word “fuck” on a covertape. Opposite is the last ever appearance for Roger Frames, and it’s much bemoaned by fans of the budjit skinflint. The story ignores everything we knew about Roger to this point and sort of spoils the legend, really. We prefer to think of him still travelling the world, as intended, when we left him in back in issue 32.
There is one C64 related feature to close the mag, written by 15-year-old Roy McNeil. Ultimate Hardware does what it says, and Roy’s spoken to us about the honour of writing the last ever article here.
All that’s left is for Simon to ask everybody, once again, not to go and buy a console machine in a well intended and heartfelt final editorial. For some context, and as a reminder of the magazine’s incredible long run, as Simon wrote these words the original CF editor Steve Jarratt was in another part of the building putting the finishing touches to Future’s first Official Playstation Magazine.
This last issue is a C64 magazine with not very much of the C64 in it, but even the most stubborn cynics must understand why. It is what it is: small, missing some key voices (where’s Andy Roberts and Jason Finch?), error-strewn and produced on a tiny budget by freelancers who had other full-time day jobs but the best intentions. Discussion of this last CF is sometimes unfairly weighted because it’s the most recent and fresh in people’s minds, but it’s wrong to remember the magazine like this. CF changed the computer games market. It prolonged the C64’s commercial life. And it blew a long standing rival magazine into oblivion. If you want to read more about the last days of CF, there’s plenty in previous installments of this series and Simon Forrester spoke to us about it all here. But don’t linger: remember CF for when it was great. Issues 1 and 16 are our favourites, but they’re all here to enjoy.
CF‘s influence was felt far beyond the Commodore 64 world. It is true, in spite of protestations, that ZZAP! 64 began aping CF in a relaunch soon after CF appeared. That “influence” spread to ZZAP’s sister magazine for the Spectrum, Crash, but it wasn’t just about aesthetics. Steve Jarratt’s original CF was the first computer mag to focus heavily on visualising information rather than filling the paper with acres of text, and things like the Early Warning! preview page scanner crept up in Future magazines for years afterwards. The Uppers and Downers review system is used by Future’s Games Radar even today, and the heavy use of characters to create a little “soap opera” bled into things like Total! for the Nintendo.
But perhaps the biggest legacy that Commodore Format can lay claim to is that it probably extended the commercial life of the C64 in Britain for some years. With kids still flocking in the tens of thousands to buy it every month, big publishers like US Gold who were looking to drop the Breadbin in 1990 saw that they still had an audience. In short, they were making games to get them reviewed in CF in the hope people would buy them.
It’s a reminder of how ridiculously powerful paper magazines used to be. The fact we’re still talking about CF to this day says everything. We hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and be sure to keep following us on social media because as new information or stories come to light, we’ll add them. And don’t take this as the “end” of the website, either. It isn’t. We’ll be here for as long as you want us to be. Thanks for reading. CF
ON THE POWER PACK
The last ever cassette was billed as some “truly worthy software”. Escape From Arth and Treasure Isle were actually part of last month’s Supportware pack. The idea was if you liked the games, you sent author Jon Wells a donation as a way of thanks. Having already paid for the mag most readers felt they’d already stumped up some cash and didn’t bother, though. Unfortunate to say the least.
- More issues of CF
- Commodore Format 61 is dated October 1995. It first appeared on Tuesday September 5th.