IT WAS a Christmas full of surprises. Good for some, bad for others. Against expectations it was once again a Sinclair Christmas. Software houses who had gambled on bigger CBM 64 software sales and allowed their Spectrum software catalogue to dwindle to second place had rather a shock.
With a third Christmas in the market place, great emphasis was placed on grandiose packaging and slick, professional marketing hype. In many cases reliance was put on a game’s association with a TV or film original in the sadly mistaken belief that a good (or even bad but well liked) TV programme would sell a games program no matter what the game was like. There were some pleasant exceptions, but some companies who should have known better and thought better of their public, came a cropper. And the spectacular failure of The Great Space Race to deliver anything new, intriguing or even downright good, goes to show that this business needs more than overblown hype and big boxes.
So hardly a Christmas of very good cheer for some of the bigger companies. And do I hear the rumbles, once again, that the balloon has burst? Well, any software house that thinks so, should probably get the old skate board out of the cupboard, dust it off and zoom off into the sunset. It’ll be a pity if they do, because they won’t notice just how well some people have done, who have employed a little genius, a lot of hard work and borne in mind that their public doesn’t consist of mindless idiots.
A startling Christmas success was (and still is) Realtime’s Starstrike — not a lot of hype there. Another was (and still is) Gargoyle Games’ Tir Na Nog — again, not a lot of hype either. And looking to some of the biggies, success abounds — Doomdark’s Revenge, Knight Lore, Avalon, Hunchback 2, Backpackers Guide and so on. The list is much longer.
So, when you come down to it, the games software market is here to stay, and it is showing a parallel with the music industry in as much as it is the continual new blood that comes up with the exciting new ideas. And who would want it otherwise?
Reflecting on a piece of PR that recently came through from Hutchinson Computer Publishing Company Ltd (an offshoot of the renowned book publishers), I came to the conclusion that adventure and strategy games are beginning, very properly, to merge with written novels. The PR was about THE FOURTH PROTOCOL — The Game, adapted from best-selling author Frederick Forsyth’s most recent novel. It caught my eye because I had just that day finished reading The Fourth Protocol, a book which received some mixed reviews but has sold outstandingly well, and which I thoroughly enjoyed (its politics are not a part of this mention)!
In trying to explain to sceptics who still consider computer games to be a passing phase of very little merit, I have resorted to attempting to put across the value and sophistication of adventure games along these lines: An adventure game is like a novel. It can be well or badly written and the plot can be hogwash or it can be excellent, just like a novel. But the difference is that the player interacts with the characters on the screen and alters the way the plot unfolds — ergo, in some ways an adventure game is better than a novel because it involves the player/reader far more and provokes an intelligent response.
The sceptic usually remains unconvinced of course, and it’s often better to stop talking and make them play a game. But the fact remains that fiction, traditionally book-based, is branching out. Author John Fowles allowed the reader to make up his own mind as to which of the alternative endings he preferred in the novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman — a sort of literary precursor to books like Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy Series, many of which are now naturally turning into adventure games on the computer. In a sense, writers like Fowles have helped to alter the belief that a writer writes and a reader reads what is written, like it or not. A good novelist, of course, has always left a lot to the reader’s imagination; now there is a hint that writers are going to allow readers more of a hand in the creation of a novel and its contents. The computer adventure game has helped create an entirely new environment where the creator’s job is to provide a plausible scenario, a fictional but realistic population and then let the reader/player get on with the job of reacting to it all.
Looking at Hutchinson’s piece of PR about The Fourth Protocol, I wondered how much longer it would be before a best-selling computer game is sold to a book publisher to be also released as a novel. It largely depends, I would assume, on whether writers like Mr. Forsyth awake to the flexible thrills of composing literature for the computer. Perhaps the natural thing will remain to write a fixed plot as a book and then have it converted to computer data where at every stage (which was fixed by the author in the novel) the outcome can be altered by circumstances and the player’s attitudes and abilities, but I think it might prove to be a very thin line, and that soon we shall see some writers working from the computer to the book rather than the other way around.
The Fourth Protocol — The Game has been developed by games designers John Lambshead and Gordon Patterson and programmed by the Electronic Pencil Company, and should be due for release in the late Spring.
Attempting to pick up the remnants of the once-powerful CRASH empire which with one mighty blow of his pen (more powerful than the sword) Front Line columnist Angus Ryall has shattered into gin-soaked pieces, I talked on the phone the other day to John Merry of Scorpio Gamesworld, who feels he has come in for some unfair stick from the Front Line Sandinista. John feels that Angus’s last piece (in the Christmas special) implies that Scorpio Gamesworld were withdrawing advertising from CRASH because of an unfavourable review, thus putting pressure on us to improve it, whereas John’s statement strictly referred to previously made and unfair personal comments about himself. In any case, as John Merry correctly points out, Scorpio Gamesworld have not yet advertised in CRASH and have never made any bookings to do so. The big question now for 85 is will they ever want to again? Over to you Angus....
Well not quite, while we’re on the subject, John Gilbert from Sinclair User rang a few minutes later to remark that whilst he attended the Cambridge Awards presentation, he made no speech, vacuous or otherwise, although Bill Scolding did, but no one can remember Bill making any remarks about the magazine he works for, brilliant or otherwise, and further, it is Sinclair User and not Sinclair Research who sponsor the competition with C.C.S. Still, as Angus pointed out in the article, there had been a lot of gin flowing....
I hope a lot of Central Television viewers were watching Central’s News programme on Wednesday 19th December, as the last item was about CRASH magazine and its young team of reviewers. CTV News were intrigued at the idea of a national computer magazine being produced in ‘the ancient market town of Ludlow’. I got to say a little piece myself (about what a brilliant magazine I work for — yes, it was bit vacuous I admit), but star of the four minute item was undoubtedly shy and retiring head reviewer Matthew Uffindell, whose calmly authoritative Shropshire accent must have put the fear of God up some software houses when they think of him looking at their games. Programs featured briefly in the news item were Ocean’s Hunchback 2, Ultimate’s Knight Lore, Elite’s Airwolf and Realtime’s Starstrike. For any viewer wondering how we made the Spectrum sound like an arcade machine, it was the specially modified Uffindell tranny that did it.
My article on Imagine in the Christmas Special certainly stirred up a hornets nest of comment, much of it from the city of Liverpool, and ripples are still spreading outwards as I write. But one ex-Imagine director is up to his old tricks again. We were rather startled to receive a telephone call from Mark Butler, now a director of the software company Thor (Jack and the Beanstalk), to say that they would not be paying for their advert in the Christmas issue. He added that there was no point phoning him back as he didn’t want to talk to anyone and that was that. To be fair, another director of Thor when contacted, seemed a bit surprised at Butler’s call but pointed out that the ad was badly placed on a left-hand page, when it is their policy to book only right-hand pages. Our paperwork, confirmations of which they were sent, shows that no special conditions were placed on the booking. Considering how much advertising Imagine placed with computer magazines and never paid for over many, many months, it just goes to show that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks — like behaving decently for instance.
Last issue, I mentioned that we would be reviewing the new game from The Edge, Brian Bloodaxe, the game with primary imbalance.
Well we’re not, because it has been slightly delayed and has missed this issue. Hopefully next month then. A London CRASH reader, however, informs me that he has had a sneak preview and reports that the game is better than Jet Set Willy and absolutely stuffed full of primary imbalance!
WITH THE SPRING BUDGET this year, the Tory government is fully expected to introduce a VAT rate of 15% on newspapers and magazines. At present there is no VAT on periodicals or newspapers. There hasn’t been any tax on the press in fact since the last tax on newspapers and journals was repealed in 1855.
Estimates on what the government would hope to raise by this tax (somewhere in the region of £360 million) fails to take into account the fact that the tax would be levied on a drastically decreased market and thus bring in much less. According to the advertising trade press journal Campaign, the imposition of VAT might cost national newspapers £34m, regional papers £27 million and magazines as much as £50 million in lost revenue. Naturally this will mean reduced production, loss of jobs and even the closure of some magazines. If proof of this is needed, the government need only take a look at the fast food industry. In the two years since VAT was introduced on takeaway food (the reason why there was a difference of price at MacDonalds between ‘eating in’ and ‘taking away’) there has been reported a sharply reduced turnover, lost jobs and severely reduced profits — hence a far lower tax than the Treasury expected.
The Newstrade takes the view that sales of periodicals will decline by 9%, recovering in due course to show a 4-5% fall in sales. With a scheduled paper price increase of 8-9% in the early spring the loss of revenue will be catastrophic. Profit margins on periodical magazines is not exceptionally high, in fact on sales there is commonly a loss, which is made up by advertising revenue.
We have all to face the fact that there will be some losses of magazines if VAT is introduced, and reduced turnover will severely limit publishers from developing new product and improving existing titles. YOU the reader will lose out by having less to read and probably having to pay more for the privilege.
But there is a more fundamental threat here. Taxes on the press were repealed because it has been a long-cherished belief of the British that we are a free people, free to express our views. Press censorship is held in horror in this country. But through the imposition of a tax, the government have a subtle stranglehold on the information media. It sets a precedent and is the thin end of the wedge, to be able to put financial pressure on a press it may not like. The introduction of VAT on newspapers and magazines is disastrous and it must be stopped before it is too late. The Periodical Publishers Association have produced an advert which we carry here. Please take it seriously. In addition we have included a cut-out coupon for you to fill in and send to your local MP. PLEASE USE IT!
There are strong reasons to believe the Chancellor of the
Exchequer is planning to impose VAT on your magazine.
Such a move would turn the clock back 130 years — the last tax on newspapers and journals was repealed in 1855. Since then ‘No tax on knowledge’ has been a principle agreed by all Governments, even in the darkest days of war.
A free Press is a tax-free Press.
No Government should be given the power to impose financial pressure on a Press it may not like.
Tell your MP to say ‘NO’ to any tax on reading.
Issued by the Periodical Publishers Association, London
Please fill in the form below and send it to your Member for Parliament (MP) if you are over 18, or get your parents to fill out the form and send it to their MP if you are under 18.
I have been given strong reasons to believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is planning to impose VAT on newspapers and journals.
I have also been given reasons to believe that the imposition of VAT on newspapers and journals will have a seriously damaging effect on the press of this country which may result in losses of jobs and possibly even closures of some titles. Moreover, a press taxed by government is no longer a free press and a cherished British tradition will be undermined.
There should be no tax on knowledge, and to introduce one now will be to turn the clock back 130 years.
I wish my severe opposition to the imposition of VAT on newspapers and journals to go on record, and as my Member for Parliament I ask you on my behalf to say ‘NO’ to any such tax on reading. Thank you.