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The story of the British laptop journal cowl tape – Commodore Format Archive

The story of the British laptop journal cowl tape – Commodore Format Archive

2023-03-20 06:17:24

Amstrad Motion 4, and the second which saved Chris Anderson’s younger enterprise. “Is that this the best recreation ever caught to {a magazine} cowl?” 

Future Publishing constructed its fortune and popularity by covermounting magazines. In truth, a humble cassette is what saved the enterprise.

The corporate was based by Chris Anderson after he was sacked from ZZAP! 64 writer Newsfield. In a Somerset storage he set about producing concern 1 of Amstrad Motion. The sensation was that his former employers had the Speccy and  C64 markets sewn up, and that the hole was with CPC customers.


The journal didn’t go to plan. Amstrad Motion concern 1 offered poorly. So did points 2 and three. It was make or break time, so for the Christmas 1985 version Chris pulled out all of the stops and shipped a bumper version with a video games tape, one thing he’d beforehand conceived of in 1984 at Private Pc Video gamesAA‘s “Christmas current”  featured two beforehand unreleased Ocean video games – Kung Fu and Number one. Situation 4 flew off the cabinets – doubling gross sales of earlier points –  convincing WH Smith to proceed stocking Amstrad Motion. It actually was that shut: with out a covertape, Future Publishing (residence of Edge, Official Ps Magazine and lots of others right now) would’ve folded earlier than it even acquired going. If you wish to pinpoint the beginning of covertapes as we all know them, this iconic second might be it: cassettes had appeared earlier than, however by no means with full, business high quality video games.

The primary Commodore Format tape made an enormous assertion, paying Simon Choose £2000 to publish his unreleased recreation Revolution.

AA‘s tapes had been initially only for Christmas and “birthday” problems with the mags, however by the point Commodore Format rolled round in 1990 the development for 8-bit mags had grow to be to characteristic “free” software program each month. “Nicely, it was by no means actually free”, remembers Commodore Format writer Greg Ingham. “Extra a part of the general month-to-month package deal.” “It was by no means a query of can we characteristic a tape or not”, says first editor Steve Jarratt. “It was at all times a part of the marketing strategy. The Energy Pack was an integral a part of making CF engaging.”


For some, the tape was the package deal – a lot to the frustration of journalists who labored exhausting on the journal. Right here’s CF editor Simon Forrester:

“Oh, yeah. It grew to become horribly obvious {that a} massive chunk of the readership solely purchased us for the tape, and just about threw the journal away – you’d put directions for it on a variety instantly after the contents web page, or generally earlier than, and also you’d nonetheless get inundated with calls on newsstand day from individuals who hadn’t a lot as opened the magazine to seek out them. That used to get you down, as a result of it kind of devalued the time you’d spent on the nice bit – the magazine itself.”

Covertapes had been a win win, actually. Software program homes like Ocean needed readers to see their new video games (on this case, Midnight Resistance) and magazines needed full video games, so exchanges typically passed off with no cash concerned. Right here in CF3, Ocean supplied CF with the complete model of Gutz in return for the Midnight demo.

It wasn’t simply the readers who liked the tapes, although. Software program homes did too. Launch editor, Steve Jarratt:

“Cash hardly ever modified arms [for covertape games] – a number of publishers favored the thought of getting a demo out to publicise their video games, and again then I believe it was a a lot simpler proposition. In the event you needed C64 homeowners to attempt earlier than they purchase, what higher approach to do it?” Living proof, concern 3’s Midnight Resistance demo: Ocean had been so eager to get that onto the cassette and attain potential clients that they gave CF the complete model of 1988’s Gutz in return. Commodore Format paid out solely hardly ever within the very early days and provided that one thing was particular. To mark concern one, £2,000 was given to Simon Choose for his unreleased shooter Revolution. As time went on, although, and the C64 market declined, the covertape market took a little bit of a twist:

“There weren’t demos to cut price with any extra as a result of no person was making video games”, remembers fourth editor Andy Hutchinson. “However, a number of publishers needed to squeeze a ultimate little bit of juice out of their business titles and supplied issues to us actually cheaply.” It’s for that reason there are some absolute stonkers on later Energy Packs corresponding to Hewson’s Nebulus and Codemasters’ Fantasy World Dizzy.

Rival magazine Commodore Drive put covertapes on the centre of its providing, carrying two cassettes every month. There was the occasional scoop, corresponding to concern 9’s Blues Brothers, however the tapes had been typically substandard. The CPC model was offered months earlier to Amstrad Motion suggesting that Titus went to Future Publishing with the sport first, and that it’s true CF refused to get right into a bidding warfare over C64 tape rights. “Allow them to have this one” kind of factor.    

Commodore Format‘s major rival, ZZAP! 64, had slowly joined the covertape celebration within the late ’80s having seen the wonders Chris Anderson had labored with Amstrad Motion. They’d produced some staggering ones, too, with each Doomdark’s Revenge and Spy Vs Spy showing  on the identical tape in October 1991.


It was when ZZAP! rebranded as Commodore Drive in January 1993 that issues acquired attention-grabbing. With C64 software program turning into very exhausting to seek out, Drive opened its cheque e-book and moved itself right into a central place out there, publishing not one however two tapes every month, instantly turning into the largest C64 video games supply of the second. Drive had some wins – The Blues Brothers was given away in full lower than two years after its £10.99 launch, for instance – however editor James Value recollects the slog, to the detriment of spending time on the precise journal:

“By the top, the covertape funds was tiny; I’m fairly positive it had been decreased to round a thousand kilos monthly, perhaps much less. A big quantity of my time was spent monitoring down individuals who owned the rights to previous classics, then making an attempt to influence them that it was price their whereas to just accept 5 hundred quid in return for the non-exclusive proper to publish Recreation X. Within the overwhelming majority of situations, it wasn’t. It was a soul-fucking, spirit-crushing chore: a lot of monitoring folks down and, as we didn’t have electronic mail at [publishers] Impression, limitless telephone conversations and bouts of “fax tennis”. Fairly a couple of Commodore Drive covertape video games had been purchased in a cope with Beau Jolly – bear in mind their compilations? This deal included Barbarian 2, which appeared a little bit of a scoop, however we found after the problem hit the stands that Kixx – US Gold’s funds label – was nonetheless promoting it at retail. Furthermore, Beau Jolly wasn’t technically able to promote it to us. Do not forget that abysmal Kixx advertorial? It was both that, or have the Barbarian 2 concern pulled from the cabinets.”

Commodore Format had at all times made the tape a part of the general journal package deal, tying the 2 collectively the place potential. It’s finished rather well in concern 19, the place a Jeff Minter interview is accompanied by two of his well-known video games.

Again in Tub at Commodore Format, the publishers refused to be drawn in to the kind of covertape wars that had descended right into a farce in Spectrum world only a few years’ earlier (with the mags competing for sheer quantity of titles, no matter high quality). Commodore Drive was nudging itself ever nearer to losses for little apparent good points, and was getting a popularity for substandard choices. CF’s single tape continued to hold some classics like Dropzone and concern 19’s Jeff Minter double invoice.  However third editor Trenton Webb recollects that they’d their horror tales too:

“Making ready the tapes was horrible. The stuff would at all times arrive late and must be compiled on the final minute. They’d be late again from the duplicators and exit with much less testing than we’d have favored… We had been journal people and by no means actually had the technical talent to make them and they also nonetheless give me the concern to this present day. We knew they had been highly effective, and I’m glad you all favored them, however I nonetheless get shivers each time I see a C15.” CF even had their Barbarian 2 second with Lunar JailBreak on concern 38. It seems the sport – despatched to CF for consideration – was printed with out permission or cost. The case ended up in Manchester Justice of the Peace’s Courtroom, and the programmers gained a payout and bills (more on that in our ish 38 feature here – Ed) .

luna jailbreak page.PNG
Situation 38 of Commodore Format is most well-known for being The One With The 100% Rating For Mayhem. Much less recognized is that the mistaken inclusion of Lunar Jailbreak (right here as Luna) noticed Future Publishing in courtroom. 

CF was the final 8-bit journal within the UK and the final business micro magazine on earth carrying a cassette, so when it died in October 1995 so did the covertape – and in controverisal circumstances once more, with writer Jon Wells claiming Future didn’t pay him for Escape From Arth or Treasure Isle; a bitter finish to an exquisite innovation. It’s tough to articulate to youthful folks simply how necessary these bits of plastic had been, or the month-to-month construct up and pleasure which went proper to the wire of the newsagent’s shelf while you’d see for the primary time what you’d be enjoying all month. For a lot of, it was the one alternative they acquired to frequently mess about with one thing new on their C64. Little surprise, then, that the reminiscences are so vivid and fond:

See Also

 CF18, Firelord. The unforgettable Daglish theme and the evocative environment, strolling across the countryside and exploring the cities and cosy little homes. I used to be a brand new C64 proprietor and I don’t know the way else I’d have skilled such a gem from yesteryear, at simply the best time for it to get its hooks in my creativeness. One among my favorite video games to this present day.

 Vidcom with CF3. It blew me away that I used to be getting a robust artwork package deal free of charge! I didn’t use it for greater than about half an hour as a result of I’m horrible at something like that, however that wasn’t the purpose. Not lengthy after that, the tape with Bounder and Past the Forbidden Forest was an absolute stunner. I owned each of the video games already, however what an announcement that made.

 Need to say CF2 because it was my first concern. Actually loved enjoying Empire, Couldn’t imagine a recreation with that a lot depth was given away.

 The perfect tape in my e-book was the one which featured Slicks and John Lowe’s Final Darts. Two nice titles, one a full playable demo, the opposite a full recreation that captured the thrill of the darts video games on the Beeb. My Dad and I performed it for hours and hours, each competing within the Championship mode, and ending up within the finals. So many nice reminiscences. 


Here are five big Power Pack moments and a more detailed look at what made them so great. READ IT NOW! Due to Frank Gasking and Damian McKeon for his or her assist with this piece. CF


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