“ Author: Rick Porter / Publisher: Imagine Publishing / Released: 2012 / 250 Pages „
It's hard to believe that it's 30 years since the Commodore 64 and Spectrum were released. In the UK, these two popular 8 bit home computers resulted in endless playground arguments over which was the better machine with the better games (quite why, I don't know: the C64 was clearly superior). Anyhow, this collection of articles from the archives of Retro Gamer magazine sets out to explore why both machines were so popular.
The format of this volume is slightly different to Retro Gamer's previous "bookazines". In a bid to be fair, exactly half the book is dedicated to the Spectrum and half to the Commodore 64. It's also presented in an interesting way, with a double cover, front and back. One section is dedicated to the Commodore's machine with its own cover; flip it over and turn it upside down, though, and those pages are devoted entirely to Spectrum matters.
What impresses most about this collection is the wide variety of articles. Some are straightforward re-reviews of old games, commenting on why they are still so much fun to play; others focus on how specific games were developed and the influences behind their creation. Still others look at specific software houses of the past, some of their key titles and what happened to them after the glory days of the 80s and early 90s. What's most engaging about these articles is that rather than just relating boring old facts and figures that you can find on the internet, Retro Gamer track downs and interviews some of the people behind the games, ensuring you get information straight from the horse's mouth.
As with all previous Retro Gamer compilations, the value of this collection depends on how many of the articles you already own. All the articles have previously appeared in the monthly Retro Gamer magazine and there is no new material, so if you have a massive back catalogue of that, then there's probably not much reason to part with more cash to buy something you already own. However, because content is drawn from about 70 or so issues of the magazine, only a few readers are likely to have absolutely everything.
Personally, I looked at the contents list and decided it was worth buying since there were plenty of articles I had not read previously (even though I have a back collection of around 50 items). £9.99 might sound a lot for a collection of articles available in print elsewhere, but at 256 pages, the magazine actually offers very good value for money and the concentration on just two systems gives it a strong that is sometimes missing from the standard Retro Gamer (which covers a much wider number of systems).
The quality of the writing in the articles really shines through. First off, it's clear that all the writers care passionately about Retro Gaming (and, indeed, gaming generally). This is not just something they are being paid to do; it is something they WANT to do. This comes through clearly in the articles, which are full of interesting information, well-written and uncover lots of facts and anecdotes that keep things interesting. Articles are full of detail without being overly-technical and strike an excellent balance between a sense of wistful nostalgia and an honest appraisal of the lasting impact of those games and a recognition that (in technical terms have least) they have been surpassed by later titles.
Retro Gamer's writers are either professional journalists or have considerable experience of writing about for a professional publication. Retro Gamer writers present the story from a human interest angle. They don't just focus on the technical aspects of the game, but uncover what it was like to be a programmer back in the 80s and 90s, giving an insight into both the highs and lows of the job.
The magazine is also very well designed. As you would expect from a modern magazine, it is printed in full colour and makes liberal use of images splashed on every page. Some of these are of the games themselves; some are photographs of the key players as they were back in the 1980s; others photographs of those same people today. This generous use of images and colours gives the magazine an appealing visual style. Even if you don't sit down and read it from cover to cover, it's an interesting magazine to just flick through and look at the pictures.
True, the magazine does suffer from a few layout issues. Some of the background colours chosen for pages can be a little lurid and make the text a little tricky to read in certain lights. Similarly, the use of box-outs to convey related facts and information is often done well to help break up the text, but occasionally they are over-used, making it slightly tricky to work out the most logical way to read the article. This is pretty nit-picky stuff, though as the presentation is generally of excellent quality.
If you have bought previous "bookazines" from Retro Gamer, then you will know exactly what to expect from this collection: well-written and interesting articles that give a genuine insight into the games creation process in the simpler days of the 8 bit era. The decision to feature content relating to just two systems gives the publication a real focus. Even if you never owned either machine, there's some really interesting stuff in here which shows how the games of yesterday have influenced the games of today. Even though I owned a C64 for well over 10 years and played on a friend's Speccy on a weekly basis during the same era, I still found out plenty of things that I didn't know before.
This is obviously a pretty niche publication and how much it appeals to you will depend on your level of interest in retro gaming, but if this is something you are interested in, then this represents a good buy that you will want to keep and read again. The only slight issue you might have lies in getting hold of one - the magazine is popular and has a very limited print run. These have already sold out in most places, so you might have to pay a little over the odds to get hold of a copy.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012