Category Archives: Magazines

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

RCN to mark 30th birthday of ST Update magazine

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 a number of notable 30th anniversary celebrations in the retro computing community – from the birthdays of the humble but seminal Sinclair ZX81 and the ever-popular ZX Spectrum via the versatile BBC Micro to those mighty 16/32 bit beasts, the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga.  Now it’s the turn of the once-popular, but now largely forgotten (at least on the internet) dedicated British Atari ST magazine, ST Update.

This month sees the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Sunshine Publications magazine, which was dedicated to all aspects of Atari’s finest range of computers and competitors to the Apple Macintosh and Commodore Amiga. Certainly an occasion worthy of celebration, as it was an excellent magazine that, unfairly, has gone unrepresented online – until now.

It’s also significant because the glossy title, which was published from London, England, was also the first computer magazine to publish the work of the editor of Retro Computing News, Stuart Williams! So it’s his birthday as well, in a way.

This post is just a preliminary heads-up for ST Update’s birthday, but there will be more to come soon, as to celebrate the occasion, RCN will not only be publishing a feature about the magazine and its founding – with the invaluable help of one of the founders, Jon Beales –  but making available, for the first time ever online, a pdf scanned copy of the ultra-rare launch issue, dated ‘Spring 1987’.

We hope that Atari ST fans world-wide will take part in celebrating the birthday of ST Update by sharing the feature and the pdf around the globe – and we plan to do more to raise the profile of the magazine, making more issues available as soon as time permits.

Watch this space!

 

Top British gaming publishers recognised with blue plaque

The proposed plaque.
The proposed plaque.

One of the UK’s most prolific home computer gaming publishers of the 1980s-90s is to be honoured by Ludlow Civic Society  in the now-defunct company’s ‘birthplace’, Ludlow, with a special blue heritage plaque!

Newsfield Publications Ltd, usually referred to simply as Newsfield, was founded by Roger Kean, Franco Frey and Oliver Frey in 1983. Based in the market town of Ludlow in Shropshire, England, Newsfield is most famed for publishing a number of popular computer game magazines from the mid-1980s to early-1990s.

Crash Magazine issue 1
Crash Magazine issue 1

Newsfield’s home computer/gaming magazines included:

  • Crash (focusing on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum)
  • Zzap!64 (covering the Commodore 64)
  • Amtix! (a short-lived Amstrad CPC publication)
  • The Games Machine (a multi-format games mag)
  • Raze (rebranded from The Games Machine and focused on Japanese consoles)
  • Complete Computer Entertainment Guide (a multi-format, quarterly magazine)
Zzap!64 issue 1
Zzap!64 issue 1

This line-up was over time supplemented by a number of less successful magazines covering role-playing games, film, horror and youth culture – for more general info, see Wikipedia’s Newsfield article.

Newsfield HQ

Newfield’s headquarters between 1984-1989 was the upper three floors of number 2, King Street, a place of pilgrimage for avid 8-bit retrogamers even today. This is where the plaque will be fixed for posterity.

Importance of gaming industry

The plaque also effectively recognises the importance of the rise of the 8- and 16-bit games market in the 1980s and 90s and subsequently of retrogaming today.

It is hoped that some kind of unveiling of the plaque will be held in the near future so that fans of Newsfield’s seminal magazines can come from far and wide to view it.

Plaque icture courtesy of Roger Kean.

Micro Mart marks 30th Birthday

Micro Mart 30th Birthday issue
Micro Mart 30th Birthday issue

The UK’s only weekly printed computer hobby magazine, Micro Mart (perhaps better known by retro fans as the original Micro Computer Mart, back in the day) is celebrating its thirtieth birthday in its current issue, number 1,390!

Micro Computer Mart was launched in November 1985 as a fortnightly publication consisting of classified advert listings for the computer trade. The magazine soon expanded in editorial content to include articles and reviews from many realms of computing, at a time when the market was still full of quirky and diverse hobbyist, home and business systems and before the current domination by IBM-compatible clones, Apple and tablets. It became popular with both amateur and professional system builders. In 1991, due to reader demands, Micro Mart moved to a weekly format.

On 14 November 2002 (issue 723) the magazine moved to a full colour format, having previously been printed (internally at least) in black and white. At this time, Micro Mart also expanded in content.

Happy Birthday!

This past week’s special issue (dated 26 Nov-2 Dec), apart from the usual preponderance of hardware reviews and specialist features, is a little chunkier than usual, celebrating as it does the magazine’s birthday, mainly with two special features. The first is an article by James Hunt entitled ‘Personal Computing: 1985-2015’ which is about the huge rise and gradual decline of the IBM compatible computer (an interesting overview, if rather dismissive of the many other hobby machines which actually made the home computer revolution). The second, ‘The Writer’s Tale’, is a personal reminiscence by Mark Pickavance about his years as a computer journalist and particularly his time as a contributor to Micro Mart since 1993. There’s also a one-pager by David Briddock highlighting some events and figures from the year of Micro Computer Mart’s birth.

Back in the day

I must admit I remember the good old days of the original Micro Computer Mart in the 1980s with great fondness; I actually penned a few articles and reviews for them in 1987-1989, when their first publishers, MicroMart (UK) Ltd, were based in Olton, Solihull. I still buy the occasional copy today, usually when I spot something of particular interest in the intermittent retro columns. This time around, the mag includes a remembrance of ‘Chuckie Egg’ on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum by David Hayward and a ‘Retro Round Up’ by Dave Edward of a pretty average-looking load of modern 8-bit games.

Despite today’s apparent declining interest in ‘home’ computer magazines (apart from those covering Linux and the Raspberry Pi…), and the loss of many major monthly titles over the past three decades, Micro Mart still manages to maintain its niche on the shelves of major newsagents, albeit often thinner than it once was, and that resilience is certainly something to celebrate after all these years.

Happy Birthday, Micro Mart!

Stuart Williams