Ace cover this month. But there was a comedy error. There’s no price tag or month underneath the word “FORMAT”, so a sticker had to be hastily placed on the front of every cover after printing. D’oh!

The late winter and spring of 1994. Green Day released Dookie. Nintendo showed us the design of their new console, the Game Cube (although it wasn’t called that yet). Kurt Cobain died in Seattle, and Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president. Meantime, Four Weddings and a Funeral premiered at the Sundance festival.

It was also a surprisingly eventful time for those of us still left playing C64. Commodore Format‘s remaining British rival – the charming, if mediocre Commodore Force – unexpectedly published its final issue in March. What may surprise you, though, is that Force closed because publishers Impact Magazines went into administration. It wasn’t because people had stopped buying the magazine. Indeed, when there had been plans to close Force towards the end of 1993, a surge in sales stopped the plan in its tracks and “goodbye, readers” messages were hastily removed from what was intended to be the final ever issue. A new issue was being worked on – and later, it would also emerge that Commodore Force was one of only two Impact magazines that turned a profit.

There were, then, still people out there who wanted to carrying on using and spending money on their C64s – problem being, there wasn’t a lot to spend their money on. The last of the industry’s big boys – US Gold and Ocean – had bowed out on the computer in the latter half of ’93. And that wasn’t just serious shit for anybody with a C2N and the urge for new games: it also meant that the huge, expensive advertisments they took out in the C64 press each month dried up after the release of Sleepwalker – a loss of many thousands of pounds for Commodore Format.

Penguin Towers looked great. In the end, it was never released when the UK distributer was unable to make contact with the Finland based programmer. Over 700 forms expressing interest had been returned at that point. It turned out that the game was never finished, in spite of this glowing review. Naughty.

CF did still have 34,000 readers. Something needed to be done – and fast – to engage and convince them to stick with the ’64 and keep buying the magazine.  Enter, then, Commodore Format’s fifth editor Dave Golder. May ’94 – issue 44 – was his first in charge of the magazine. He’d been favourite to get the gig in the summer of 1993, and had actually resigned from Future in protest at not getting the job. Now he was in the hot-seat, though, and made an immediate impact. CF44’s cover carried the news we’d all been waiting months for – new things to play! “GAMES EXPLOSION”, it said. “FOUR NEW REVIEWS AND TONS MORE ON THE WAY.”

It was, of course, all about narrative. These games had been out there all along – in Europe, and sent in by readers, but nobody had really been looking properly. It’s ridiculous – infuriating, even –  to think of the meaningless retrospectives and filler that adorned the pages the previous winter when stuff like CF44‘s rave review, Penguin Towers, had been there all along. It was the first double page spread devoted to a new game in quite some time. It came from Finland and could easily have been released in a big cardboard box and put on the shelf in Boots in years gone by. There was also a look at 3D game Time Crystal by CF reader Phillip Boyce and no less than 12 new games announced by Psytronik. “Anybody who thinks the C64 is dead can think again”, said Dave in this month’s Snippets.

Mayhem wasn’t the only decent thing on the covertape this month: car racing ‘sim Carnage hadn’t been released that long ago, but software houses were willing to re-release stuff via CF now no shops were stocking C64 games. Dave would get stuff like Dizzy and Steg The Slug on the Power Pack this way in months to come.

May’s coverstar was a fitting enough figurehead for this new era – Mayhem was back! The Mayhem Mega Mix acted a bit like a CD player, and let you listen to – and muck about with – loads of decent C64 tunes. It was written by Andy Roberts and one half of the Mayhem creators, John Rowlands. Here’s Andy:

“Steve [Rowlands] was in Cyprus at the time, and John and I were looking for ways to earn extra money (we had moved on to the PC at that point, and were learning the ropes but still needed to pay the bills).

We co-designed the main demo during long days working on a construction site for John and Steve’s father (again, we had to pay the bills!). We’d then code bits of the demo in evenings and weekends.

We used all the best bits from previous Apex demos, including the CF demo of Creatures 2. The tiny stars in the background were based on Retrograde‘s starfield, if memory serves.

I wrote the little intro (with Mayhem in the circle), and the little landscape routine at the bottom where Mayhem walks left and right and jumps on the creatures’ heads.

John had the arduous task of pulling in the music from dozens of source disks, and also listening to every tune and assigning a time limit to each one, so that the ‘continuous play’ option worked properly.

They were fun projects to work on, and I occasionally still boot them up when I’m in an Apex groove (it’s pretty nice to have all their music in one spot).”

A feature inside the magazine tied everything together and things just felt right in CF world again. Games to talk about, new things to try. A future. One that had been there all along, of course – but you wonder if this final commercial wind would ever had happened if Dave hadn’t returned. In retrospect, it seems as if Andy Hutchinson – who himself told us he thought he’d be CF‘s last editor and saw Mayhem as the machine and magazine’s finale – was just counting down the clock. Again – it’s all about narrative, and perhaps he was preparing us for what he thought was the near-future inevitable.

It felt good to own a C64 again. Even with a page count drop to 36 this new, positive voice would be the one of CF‘s final great summer. CF

1 Comment »

  1. Ahh yes my favourite issue. But then again, I am biased! That’s me on the Snippets page with the “godsend” (apparently) of a fluffy duck on my shoulder. Also had my game The Time Crystal reviewed, I was so chuffed! Yes it only received 45% but over the years they seemed to have lost patience over the slow, slow nature of the Freescape 3D system they’d raved about previously. But they did say I’d done a great job within the slow limitations. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself! Phil.


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