The Retro Station – gaming fun for all in Cannock

Matt 'Kapow' Dawson (left) and Carl Lewis Jenking podcasting live from The Retro Station
Matt ‘Kapow’ Dawson (left) and Carl Lewis Jenking podcasting live from The Retro Station

Our editor Stuart Williams was lucky enough to be invited to check out a new but increasingly popular retro gaming event with a modern edge in Cannock last Saturday.

The Retro Station is the brainchild of podcasters Matt ‘Kapow’ Dawson (the event organiser) and fellow retromaniac Carl Lewis Jenking, and offers a fun and deliberately family-oriented chance for dads and mums to go retro (and sometimes modern) gaming with the youngsters in the family. What a great idea – after all, the family that plays together, stays together. Why not play arcade style?

The Retro Station is very much a family event
The Retro Station is very much a family event

Why ‘The Retro Station’? Well, as luck would have it, Matt and Carl, who go by the tag of Kapow!EMaG,  have managed to line up a great venue that just happens to be free on Saturday afternoons, which is just what they wanted. ‘The Station’ itself is a rock bar and music venue named after the Cannock Bus Station which is literally just on the doorstep, with the bar being housed in a corner of a modern shopping centre. So it is, as they say, handy for all amenities.

The bar itself is up a few flights of stairs, but there is a lift as well, and being a bar, no shortage of refreshments to buy – or the essential toilets!

A place where partners and friends or family can have retro fun together
A place where partners and friends or family can have retro fun together

What you find when you enter The Retro Station – which also happens to tie in with Matt and Carl’s podcast, ‘RetroCast Radio’, a show which mixes gaming, music and banter in fine style, and which takes place live from the event, being available FREE on iTunes and on Podbean – is a typical rock bar style venue packed full with TV’s and a wide range of games consoles from retro to modern – and lots of great games to play! Continue reading The Retro Station – gaming fun for all in Cannock

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Is that Pacman’s Liver You’re Wearing?

Mel Croucher
Mel Croucher

The Games Collector, a UK-based producer of both modern and retro gaming-related products is running a crowdfunding campaign to bring the music of the legendary Mel Croucher to the masses.

Who is Mel Croucher? Some say he is the father of the British gaming industry. Others, that he is the secret identity of that crazy 1980s Speccy ‘anti-superhero’,  The Piman.  At a time when most computers were being used to calculate the compound interest on the revenue from a year’s worth of potato sales, Mel was selling his eclectic range of games for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum through eye-catching adverts on the back pages of the popular computing magazines of the day.

What made Mel’s games particularly memorable (for those who do actually remember them) was that they often included audio tracks on the reverse side of the game cassette. From original compositions to hilarious parodies, there was something for everyone. Leider of the Pac told the tragic tale of Pacman’s lover, who wears the yellow character’s internal organs as a memento after witnessing his death in a car crash (yes, really). Put Cat Out Mother, It’s on Fire Again surprised no-one with its mention of a cat on fire, and Three Point One Four Two sounds vaguely familiar but none of us actually remember it.

Piman's Greatest Hits

Now The Games Collector has decided to inflict these sonic gems on anyone willing to part with a reasonable amount of their hard-earned wages, making the collection available on vinyl, CD and even cassette tape for real fans of the era. In total there are five albums (two are in fact doubles) that make up Insπred: The Collective Works of Mel Croucher.

Mel Croucher intro title card

The sequel to Mel’s most famous game – Deus Ex Machina 2 – featured a cast including Christopher Lee and Joaquim de Almeida, and one of the highlights of the collection is a real life ‘Evil Laugh Off’ between the two of them – almost but not quite justifying the asking price by itself.

Interested parties can reserve their collection through the campaign’s Indiegogo crowdfunding page at https://igg.me/at/pimania

A preview of Mel’s music is available on Soundcloud at http://bit.ly/2oHZlae

New Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next fully funded

Rick Dickinson-designed Spectrum Next concept-rendering
Rick Dickinson-designed Spectrum Next concept-rendering

Hot news today is that the new Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next home computer which was launched on Kickstarter in the early hours of Sunday morning to mark the 35th birthday of the original Spectrum produced by Sinclair Research has been  fully funded in less than 48 hours.

At the time of posting, the project had raised £250,534 pledged of its £250,000 goal, funded by 1,160 backers – and with 28 days of the campaign still to go!  It seems that for Speccy fans, a quality project, run by skilled, friendly and accessible people really does mean the sky is the limit for the new kid on the Sinclair block.

21st century Speccy

Dubbed the ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next’ by new UK manufacturers SpecNext Ltd, this 21st century Speccy looks both backward to a glorious gaming past and forward to what is hoped to be a bright new future, by combining a slick modern take on the classic Spectrum+ exterior design, which is once again created by original Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson, this time around with powerful modern electronics designed by gifted Brazilian retro hacker Victor Trucco.

The big question now is – how much will the Spectrum Next raise by the end of its campaign?  We hope to see the latest prototype in operation very soon, and will report back.  Watch this space!

For the full story behind the machine and its creators, and the link to the Kickstarter campaign plus other details, see yesterday’s post in RCN.

The latest pre-production fully working prototype board

Images courtesy SpecNext Ltd

New home computer marks Sinclair ZX Spectrum’s 35th

Spectrum Next concept side rendering by Rick Dickinson
Spectrum Next concept side rendering by Rick Dickinson

A brand-new Sinclair Spectrum home computer for the 21st century has been launched, in the early hours of this morning – just in time to celebrate the 35th birthday of the legendary original Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k which was launched on 23rd April 1982 – 35 years ago today.

Dubbed the ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next’ by new UK manufacturers SpecNext Ltd, the new kid on the Sinclair block looks both backward to a glorious gaming past and forward to what is hoped to be a bright new future, by combining a slick modern take on the classic Spectrum+ exterior design, which is once again created by original Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson, this time around with powerful modern electronics designed by gifted Brazilian retro hacker Victor Trucco.

The latest ‘Speccy’ to hit the market looks like it’s going to be a hot product – though we will have to wait a while yet before the real thing is available, as the delivery estimate is currently January 2018. One thing is for sure, there is certainly a demand for the Next, as evidenced by the raising of more than £157,000 for the project on Kickstarter in just 11 hours so far.  As of the time of posting, there are 709 backers, and 29 days to go to raise the £250,000 goal.

Henrique Olifiers shows off a Spectrum Next development kit board which he demonstrated at Revival Solstice 2016 (pic Stuart Williams)
Henrique Olifiers shows off a Spectrum Next development kit board which he demonstrated at Revival Solstice 2016 (pic Stuart Williams)

Also behind the project are Brazilian computer scientist and key figure in the MSX hardware scene in Brazil Fabio Belavenuto, plus celebrated British ZX Spectrum developer Jim Bagley, who is responsible for several of the Next’s new functions and drives the platform’s development requirements. The company has its registered office at 135 Bermondsey Street, London, and was incorporated on 9 February 2016 by game designer Carlos Henrique Olifiers, Co-Founder of BAFTA-winning games developers Bossa Studios, who is the project’s front man and chief evangelist here in the UK.

An early Spectrum Next prototype board built by Victor Trucco was seen in Walsall at Revival Solstice 2016 (pic Stuart Williams)
An early Spectrum Next prototype board built by Victor Trucco was seen in Walsall at Revival Solstice 2016 (pic Stuart Williams)

Continue reading New home computer marks Sinclair ZX Spectrum’s 35th

It’s curtains for Dizzy at the National Videogame Arcade!

Dizzy 30th logo

Last Saturday, the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, England saw an eggciting celebration of thirty years of a most eggcellent example of the very best of 8-bit home computer gaming – the Dizzy franchise!

Way back in 1987, the legendary Oliver Twins, two of England’s most prominent ‘bedroom coders’ who went on to become software publishers in their own right, remaining in the business right up to the present day, brought to life a tiny but fun cartoon character who was to become so popular that even today his name is known far and wide across the internet – that crazy little egg-shaped adventurer, Dizzy.

The Oliver Twins - then and now (courtesy The Oliver Twins)
The Oliver Twins – then and now (courtesy The Oliver Twins)

Philip and Andrew Oliver began to professionally develop computer games in their bedrooms while they were still at school, contributing their first type-in game to a magazine in 1983.  Starting with the Amstrad CPC664, which they also used to port their games to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, as a partnership named Complex Software they worked with software publishers Codemasters for a number of years following their first collaboration, Super Robin Hood, most notably creating the Dizzy series of games and many of Codemasters popular Simulator Series.

Later, they had their games converted to the Commodore 64 and other machines including, eventually, the 16-bit Atari ST, Amiga, and PC, and apart from their own games, the Oliver Twins were also responsible for porting a number of other prominent games to the Sega and Nintendo platforms, including Theme Park and Syndicate. At one point during the 1980s, it was reported that 7% of all UK games sales were attributable to the Oliver Twins.

Moving on from their bedroom coding days, in 1990 at the age of 22 they founded Interactive Studios which later became Blitz Games Studios. In October 2013, working with with long time friend and colleague Richard Smithies, they founded Radiant Worlds, based in Leamington Spa, UK.  Today they are often found at major hobbyist events in the UK retro gaming calendar, talking to fans about those heady days and the work they are doing today, such as SkySaga.

A bizzy day for Dizzy!
Talkin' 'bout Dizzy - The Oliver Twins
Talkin’ ’bout Dizzy – The Oliver Twins

Saturday’s special anniversary event, however, marking International Dizzy Day, was a singular and very busy occasion for a select group of the keenest of those keen to celebrate the birthday of their digital gaming pal Dizzy, and there was a buzzingly  full house in the lecture room at the National Videogame Arcade (NVA), which was not only the venue for this very special event organised by the Oliver Twins working with Chris Wilkins’ Retro Now! magazine and Fusion Retro Books, with the assistance of Andrew Joseph of the popular Dizzy fansite Yolkfolk.com, but also the official launch of a unique exhibition hosted by the NVA and dedicated to Dizzy and the twins’ work – the ‘Dizzy Room‘.

Maps and more in the Dizzy Room
Maps and more in the Dizzy Room

The exhibition, which is on now and is expected to run till at least the end of this summer, is housed in its own dedicated room, which has been deliberately made reminiscent of the twins’ bedroom where they did so much of the early work that made them famous. And apart from many showcased souvenirs of Dizzy, visitors can also view many photographs and  game maps, as well as play actual Dizzy games on a variety of home computers and consoles.

Shall we play a game? Philip left) and Andrew Oliver in the Dizzy Room
Shall we play a game? Philip left) and Andrew Oliver in the Dizzy Room

Continue reading It’s curtains for Dizzy at the National Videogame Arcade!

64 Bits celebrates WWW history in 64 moments

Iconic Apples browse the web at 64 Bits
Iconic Apples browse the web at 64 Bits

When did the world wide web become history? As the iconic ‘Dancing Baby’ turns 21, internet users, budding digital historians and the simply curious are offered a trip down www. memory. lane in London from 30th March to 21st April 2017.

64 Bits: An exhibition of the Web’s lost past, a new interactive showcase of 64 seminal moments in the web’s history, is taking place at The Press Centre, Here East, in iconic Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Billions of people use the web on a daily basis – but do you know who invented the search engine? Would you be interested in browsing the world’s first ever website? Have you ever heard of Susan Kare?

64 Bits is a fun, interactive recreation of the early years of the web. As part of a wider digital archaeology project, it seeks to plug gaps in the historical record by telling the stories of the forgotten artist engineers that shaped today’s digital culture.

Take Alan Emtage, Barbadian-born inventor of the search engine. Billions of people use the technology he created on a daily basis but very few know his name. The exhibition includes a working version of his first search engine, Archie.

Icons by Susan Kare have become part of our culture
Icons by Susan Kare have become part of our culture

Equally significant, is the work of designer Susan Kare. Her icons and fonts have been seen by billions of people, yet few know her name. The exhibition incorporates a selection of the key milestones in her career, including the original Macintosh icons, the MacPaint interface and the Microsoft Solitaire playing cards.

Legends of the lost

These are not isolated cases. Many pioneering examples of digital creativity from our recent digital past can no longer be seen. Files have been lost or stored on redundant media. People have passed away. Companies have gone out of business. Stories have been lost. 64 Bits explores these forgotten roots and offers alternate histories.

The Dancing Baby was one moment in Weird Worldwide Web history
The Dancing Baby was one moment in Weird Worldwide Web history

A key part of the exhibition is an open-door digital media archiving service, supported by the British Library, where artists and designers can bring in obsolete media to migrate inaccessible historical artwork to a modern format. Where appropriate, the excavated work will be exhibited as part of the exhibition.

Eboy pixel art
Eboy pixel art

Curator Jim Boulton says, “The early lessons of the web are in real danger of being lost forever. With Here East’s focus on digital innovation and the Olympic Park’s legacy remit, then Here East is the perfect venue for 64 Bits.”

Lucy Bawden, Programme Manager at Here East says, “The exhibition will be the starting point for a programme of related workshops and talks at Here East around digital art and the connection of technology and creativity.” Continue reading 64 Bits celebrates WWW history in 64 moments

Aliens over Ludlow – Newsfield invades the Buttercross!

Aliens Over Ludlow - handbill

Who would have thought that a small market town 150 miles away from London could become the heart of British 8-bit games magazine publishing for almost ten years? Now, you can find out something of how it happened first-hand, as a fascinating ‘time capsule’ from the late 20th century has materialised and taken its rightful place alongside displays going back thousands of years in a Shropshire museum.

Aliens over Ludlow – the Newsfield Decade is a small, but extremely interesting, exhibit currently on show at Ludlow Museum, that documents with photos, original artwork and, naturally, magazines, key elements of the all-too-short but blazing history of one of the British home computer revolution’s most prominent publishers – Newsfield, a company which had its origins literally just around the corner from the exhibit’s venue, Ludlow Museum. And they had one hell of a ride.

1-2 King Street, Ludlow (right), the one-time home of Newsfield, adjacent to The Buttercross
1-2 King Street, Ludlow (right), the one-time home of Newsfield, adjacent to The Buttercross

Newsfield Publications Ltd was founded by Roger Kean, Franco Frey and Oliver Frey in 1983. Based in the top three floors of number 1-2 King Street, Ludlow, Newsfield published a number of hugely popular computer game magazines from the mid-1980s to early-1990s, which at one time were everywhere to be found in British newsagents.

In the 1980s, the Newsfield offices, which were then above Victoria Wine, “…were a hub of games playing and reviewing, a journalistic endeavour that produced hundreds of thousands of words every month across 4 or 5 magazines, with all the design, layout and technical production carried out on the middle floor.”   They even recruited keen young games reviewers from Ludlow School!

'Crash' Editorial team meeting in 1984 at the King Street premises, 1st floor. L to R: David Western (designer, page layouts), Roger Kean, Oliver Frey, Matthew Uffindell (staff reviewer), Kevin Foster (assistant editor)
‘Crash’ Editorial team meeting in 1984 at the King Street premises, 1st floor. L to R: David Western (designer, page layouts), Roger Kean, Oliver Frey, Matthew Uffindell (staff reviewer), Kevin Foster (assistant editor)

Their top magazines were, most memorably, Zzap!64 (dedicated to the Commodore 64 and launched in May, 1985 as the sister magazine to Crash, it later incorporated Amiga game news and reviews), Crash (launched in 1983 as a software catalogue, it evolved into one of the top mags covering the Sinclair ZX Spectrum) and the short-lived but fun Amtix! (for Amstrad CPC gamers, launched in November 1985 but only running for 18 issues).

Gargoyle Games team members mix with Newsfield staffers outside ‘The Reader’s House’ close to Newsfield's offices, 1985. L to R: Roger Kean, Greg Follis (Gargoyle), Matthew Uffindell, Roy Carter (Gargoyle)
Gargoyle Games team members mix with Newsfield staffers outside ‘The Reader’s House’ close to Newsfield’s offices, 1985. L to R: Roger Kean, Greg Follis (Gargoyle), Matthew Uffindell, Roy Carter (Gargoyle)

This line-up was later supplemented by a number of interesting but rather less successful magazines covering role-playing games, film, horror and youth culture. Faced with financial difficulties at a time when the home computer and magazine market was changing, the company sadly went bankrupt towards the end of 1991.

Zzap Editorial team, 1st floor King Street, c.November 1985. L to R: Julian Rignall, Gary Liddon, Gary Penn, Roger Kean – note the Sinclair user logo, stolen off the side of the EMAP stand at the recent PCW Show.
Zzap Editorial team, 1st floor King Street, c.November 1985. L to R: Julian Rignall, Gary Liddon, Gary Penn, Roger Kean – note the Sinclair user logo, stolen off the side of the EMAP stand at the recent PCW Show.

The end of the company didn’t spell the immediate end for some of their magazines though. Another magazine publisher, Europress, continued to publish Newsfield’s flagship publications, Zzap!64 and Crash, for a further six months before the former was relaunched as Commodore Force and the latter sold to rival publisher EMAP and merged with Sinclair User. Continue reading Aliens over Ludlow – Newsfield invades the Buttercross!

Swap chicks for chips this Easter at the CCH!

Centre for Computing History logo

With the Easter holidays leaving the kids with time (and chocolate!) on their hands, why not take them along to the amazing Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, England, where they can level up on digital know-how while having fun?

As usual, the team has bags of events going on at the Centre during the school break.  Take a look at the range below and visit CCH’s What’s On page to find other exciting events. There’s lots to see and do for adults too.

The Centre will be open 7 Days a Week for the duration of the holiday.  Remember to book your tickets early to avoid disappointment!

What’s on?

From the Centre for Computing History, direct links to events and activities leading up to Easter: Continue reading Swap chicks for chips this Easter at the CCH!