All posts by retrocomputingnews

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!

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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!

Commodore Story documentary heads for stardom

The Blu-rayA new techno-nostalgia film production is headed for Kickstarter stardom – and is set to become an essential addition to the collections of fans of classic Commodore computers, games and software, including as it does, many of the charismatic creators and movers and shakers who feature in the dramatic tale of so much of that seminal computer industry and hobby community history.

The Commodore Story is a cram packed two hour documentary that will take us through American home and business computer company Commodore’s evolution from the 1970s to the 1990s, and from the PET, Vic20 and Commodore 64 to the Amiga and beyond, including many game makers and composers from the 80s and early 90s.

Well-supported already, the soon-to-be-classic crowd-funded flick has now broken its own latest £32,500 goal target and is rapidly heading for the next level – funding of £35,000 – meaning that it will hopefully be published as a double Blu-ray package alongside The Chiptune Story – Creating retro music 8-bits and 16-bits at a time.

Major Commodore collaboration
Steven Fletcher, Director - recording his Behind The Scenes Video Diary
Steven Fletcher, Director – recording his Behind The Scenes Video Diary

Produced by Wavem Studios, a feature and short film company based in London and Essex, The Commodore Story is helmed by Director Steven Fletcher, a passionate advocate for Commodore, and boasts an impressive number of 30+ collaborators, interviewees and contributors, including Commodore and Amiga Legends Leonard Tramiel, Dave Haynie, Michael Tomczyk, Greg Berlin, Randell Jesup, Hedley Davis, Ronald Nicholson and David John Pleasance with more to come as well as games programmers, 8-bit music composers, and Commodore book and magazine authors.

Pages of history
A 150 page companion book and a free copy of Wavem's DeVoid feature film are also options
A 150 page companion book and a free copy of Wavem’s DeVoid feature film are also options

Not only a documentary, the film, which will have special features and has a range of options for pledges from £10 (digital download) up to £1,850 (offering Executive Producer status, no less!) will also be published alongside a complementary full colour book. The book has its own separate starter pledge (ebook for a tenner) to upward of £25 for a printed book and ebook package.  There are also other pledge possibilities including limited-edition t-shirts, additional films, and London premiere and aftershow party tickets!

4K wahey!

4K

An earlier stretch goal now means that the production will be in 4K ultra HD definition video resolution, meaning that the highest quality will be maintained, with downloads in full resolution, and you might actually find yourself with something good to show on that expensive 4K telly you bought at last!

Come on, make your pledge

There’s just 15 days to go on Kickstarter with £33,402
pledged of the original £17,500 goal.  Why not join our editor, former Amiga User International writer Stuart Williams, and the other 855 backers in supporting the project now?

To make your own pledge and help push that top end stretch goal over £35,000, or to find out more information, beat a path to this exciting retro computing project’s Kickstarter page and get in on the act with the latest major contribution to recording the amazing boom and bust story of one of the world’s top, and it has to be said life-changing, computer companies ever.

Follow this link:  The Commodore Story

 

Images courtesy Wavem Studios

Cracking new fanzine for Amstrad computer fans

CPC issue 1

Amstrad and other home computing hobby fanzines were a big thing back in the good old days of 8 bit – and we should know, our chief pen-pusher Stuart Williams started his editing career publishing one using a screeching Citizen 120D printer and a photocopier for the West Midlands Amstrad User Group here in England!

Decades on, though, surely fanzines are more of a thing with the terminally-obsessed followers of footie, fantasy fan-fiction or TV sci-fi? Aren’t websites, forums, Facebook and blogs the true, deep-burrowed homes and hangouts of geekish ‘amsters these days? Maybe not entirely – because a cracking little real-world, honest-to-goodness paper-based fanzine dedicated to our favourite Arnold has now come to the attention of RCN direct from the pen, or should that be the virtual dot-matrix printer, of James Ford from cpcfanzine.com.

Colour Personal Computing 1 contents
Colour Personal Computing 1 contents

The first issue of COLOUR PERSONAL COMPUTING (catchy title, eh?) was released to general acclaim back before Christmas, tagged as the Winter 2016/17 issue (arriving in January) and costing just three quid in the UK.  It was packed chock-full of enough goodies, cheeky fun and useful info to fill the Oh, Mummy-obsessed bonce of any CPC-trufan.  And we couldn’t wait to take a closer look ourselves (thanks, James!). Continue reading Cracking new fanzine for Amstrad computer fans

ST Update – 30 Years After  PART TWO

By Jonathan Beales and Stuart Williams
A prophetic heading from the cover of the 'pilot' issue of ST Update
A prophetic heading from the cover of the ‘pilot’ issue of ST Update

Last week, Retro Computing News began our exclusive celebration of the 30th birthday of ST Update magazine, which was first published for Atari ST computer fans in March 1987, but which has since then become largely (and unfairly) forgotten, at least on the internet.  We published the first part of a two-part article by our editor Stuart Williams (who first wrote for ST Update in 1987) and Jonathan Beales, who was one of the founding managers of the Sunshine Publications magazine and whose hard work managing advertising was an essential part of its initial success. We also provided a full download of the first ‘Spring 1987’ pilot issue of the magazine.

Today we conclude with this, the second part of the article, focusing on the continuation of an exclusive piece of oral history kindly recounted to Retro Computing News by Jonathan, and for which we are very grateful to have had the opportunity to publish and set the record straight about what was a great, pioneering British magazine of the 16-bit era.

If you have not already read part 1, we highly recommend you do so first before continuing with Jon’s narrative below.

Part the second

Over to Jon Beales:

Cover of Atari ST User, March 1986
Cover of Atari ST User, March 1986

“And, Database Publications (Europress) based up in Stockport, in Macclesfield, they again were looking at doing an Atari magazine.  Their editorial skills weren’t that great, well, they were good, but they didn’t quite have that kind of polish.  Future weren’t doing anything, EMAP weren’t doing anything, and I just thought yeah, we’re gonna push on this and we’re gonna get this [ST Update] together, so I worked on the first issue, did very well. I think I sold £17,000 worth of advertising – and all I had was an A4 flyer, a telephone, some contacts and just self-belief, in this magazine.  And, everybody loved it!

Advertising - Jon Beales

“And people came on board, and I’m not sure what the sales figures were on the first one, the print run was quite low, I think the print run was only about 20-25,000 because the numbers on the installed [Atari ST] base thirty years ago in March 1987 were very, very low.  I mean, I don’t think there were probably more than about, combined 16-bit audience, ST and Amiga, wouldn’t have been upwards of 20,000.  Because it wasn’t stocked [the ST], there were very few Atari ST and Amiga games, they weren’t really on the High Street, the independents sold them but the chains, which were W.H. Smiths and Boots, they were nowhere near them, because you did not have the user base.  Back then, it was the old thing – software sells hardware.  And because there weren’t many games, there wasn’t enough software to sell the hardware, and the hardware was too expensive. 

What a game
Leader Board (Access, 1986)
Leader Board (Access, 1986)

“One of the reasons why I think Peter Worlock [the managing and launch editor] loved the ST so much, one of the reasons why he saw it as the away ahead was because in the summer of ’86 the Popular Computing Weekly editorial team loved the game Leader Board. Leader Board arrived on import on the Atari ST, and it was great.  It was one of these really brilliant, well-executed first ST games around.  And it was really, really good – everybody loved it.  You know, you had tournaments between the Popular Computing Weekly team, the editorial staff, and everybody loved it because it was, I say ‘next-gen graphics’, slightly upgraded graphics compared to what a Commodore 64 could do, but it offered next-gen gaming.  The first time that we’d really seen next-gen ahead of 8-bit. 

Leader Board - birdie time (Access, 1986)
Leader Board – birdie time (Access, 1986)

But then, going back to 1986, in the UK there was no Nintendo, there was certainly no PlayStation, there was certainly no Xbox. There were no consoles. That is all you had.  Leaderboard on the ST, on import, it wasn’t even actually released [in the UK] on the ST until 1987, about a year later, because all their stuff went through US Gold.  So, we had next-gen gaming in the Popular Computing Weekly office via Leaderboard, which was a very playable and good game.  I didn’t really like it myself, because I’m not really into golf games, but it was great and I think Peter [Worlock] saw that, and the editorial team saw it, and they thought yeah, this is going to be the way ahead.  Which was very good. 

Early days at ST Update
A mix of ads, right from the start (ST Update pilot issue)
A mix of ads, right from the start (ST Update pilot issue)

“So, ST Update came out, and sales were very encouraging.  There wasn’t a lot of marketing on it, we put a half-page advert in Personal Computer World (PCW), I think that was about £500, I did the media buying on that because I was really into it.  And yeah it was great.  It was very, very good and for me, that was going to be the next big thing.  And, eventually it was.  But at first, we had no competition; Database arrived with their Atari ST User magazine in about April, I spoke to one of the guys there, a guy called John Snowdon, very nice guy “Snowy’, a bit of friendly banter, I was a lot more competitive than he was, he was quite a laid-back Manchester guy, very nice guy, and I was pretty ferocious, bit of a Rottweiler.  Jack Tramiel’s famous quote was “Business is war”, and I was very much along the same lines, ‘cause at the end of the day, if you don’t have any self-belief you’re not going to get anything done, and you have to go up, because if you’re not going to get the deal, somebody else will.  And you’ll lose out.

The machine of the future...
The machine of the future…

“But it was fun.  And I think we published it [ST Update] monthly from about April or May time.  I worked on it myself pretty much, we had Chris Jenkins who was the editor, Chris had come across from Popular Computing Weekly, Chris’s bag was very much music, he loved Atari ST music because Steinberg had released a software package on the Atari ST, which he was well into, and he loved his kind of MIDI stuff on the ST.  And the Atari ST as we know went on to bigger things and the 1040 model came out, and it did well because they got the price down on that.  So, Chris worked on that and he got us a few freelancers in, Kenn Garroch was hired from his work on Popular Computing Weekly for his peek and poke stuff, the programming side of things.  A few other freelancers from Popular Computing Weekly, Duncan Evans came on board just to get the games out, but on the games side, there just really weren’t the games, you had a Microsoft Flight Simulator, you had the Harrier game on the ST from Mirrorsoft, these were reasonable games but they were very early in the cycle of the generation.  And so, you really hadn’t seen much stuff. Continue reading ST Update – 30 Years After  PART TWO

ST Update – 30 Years After

By Stuart Williams and Jonathan Beales

 

Cover of the launch issue of ST Update, Spring 1987
Cover of the launch issue of ST Update, Spring 1987

The past few years have seen many notable 30th anniversary celebrations in the retro computing/gaming community.  This month it’s the turn of the once-popular, but now largely forgotten (at least on the internet) dedicated British Atari ST magazine, ST Update, which was first published in spring 1987. And here at Retro Computing News [RCN], we’re doing our best to celebrate that birthday, with this, the first of a two-part article focusing on an exclusive piece of oral history given to RCN, plus a very special download for our readers, for those involved with the magazine, and for the Atari ST community at large.

Having recently spotted the rapidly approaching anniversary of the birth of ST Update, and finding almost nothing about it online, our editor Stuart Williams decided that it really deserved more of a remembrance than to fall between the cracks of Wikipedia and the various online archivers of old computer magazines, which at the time of writing still hold nothing of significance about the magazine. ST Update was also the first commercial magazine to publish Stuart’s own work, again in 1987.

Sunshine on a rainy day
ST Update Pilot Issue contents extract
ST Update Pilot Issue contents extract

March 1987, thirty years ago to this month,  saw the birth of ST Update, then a Sunshine Publications magazine, out of the same stable as the also much-missed Popular Computing Weekly.

ST Update was an excellent magazine that, unfairly, has until now gone mostly unrepresented online.  Based in Little Newport Street, London, this new kid on the Atari block was dedicated to all aspects of Atari’s finest range of computers, the ‘Atari ST’ (representing Sixteen/Thirty-two, after the Motorola 68000 CPU at its heart).  As you will read below, the magazine came out at what was becoming a gloomy time for the home computer market and computer publishing in the UK, with the 8-bit market heading towards the end of an era.

Slow, slow, quick quick slow
The Atari 1040STF (ST Update Spring 1987)
The Atari 1040STF (ST Update Spring 1987)

Launched in June 1985, the American-designed Atari 520ST and its successors were, after a relatively slow start,  set to become increasingly popular and affordable competitors, especially in Europe, to the somewhat similar but much more expensive Apple Macintosh, and the audio-visually more powerful Commodore Amiga, although the new 16-bit micros perhaps sat uneasily, not quite sure of their market, between their cheaper, better-supported 8-bit predecessors and what was to be the eventual wave of the future – the rise of the next generation Apple Mac and the IBM PC and clones. It would take a while for the new, more expensive market to mature, at least on the UK games front, which was inevitably where home computers stood or fell at the time. But for approximately a decade, the 16-bit next generation still held out the prospect of ‘power without the price’.

Competition on paper
Cover of Atari ST User, March 1986
Cover of Atari ST User, March 1986

To put things into a publishing context, of which you’ll again read more below, Atari ST User, published by Europress, had been around since March 1986, and even before that when it had started life as a pull-out section in Atari User magazine. Although Atari ST User did review games and carry demos, far more of the magazine was concerned with ‘serious’ issues such as hardware, programming, and music than its later rivals ST Action (launched in April 1998 by Gollner Publishing Ltd., the first dedicated games magazine for the 16-bit Atari) and ST Format. The latter launched August 1989 when its predecessor, the short-lived (June 1988-July 1989) dual coverage ST/Amiga Format magazine was split into two separate publications by Future Publishing.

So, ST Update was launched into a new world of sixteen-bit publishing, while the market was still forming, and as it turns out, the story of the magazine is also the story of that market.

At the suggestion of Darren Doyle, admin of the Green Meditations /|\ Atari ST group on Facebook, and the man behind http://www.atarigamer.co.uk/ and http://www.retrovideogamer.co.uk/RCN and Stuart Williams reached out to the former advertising manager and co-founder of the magazine, Jonathan Beales, now a sports broadcaster and documentary producer, who kindly spoke to Stuart at some length about ST Update, its ethos, the market it was launched into and how it got going all those years ago.

The following remarks are from the first half of what Jon told Stuart about how ST Update came into being, as he saw it back in the day – and with the benefit of his modern perspective. We’re splitting up Jon’s contribution over two pieces so we can do justice to this, over the next week or so.  Please stick with us on this, it’s a fascinating story to mark the 30th birthday of ST Update! Continue reading ST Update – 30 Years After