to anyone that you worked on a computer mag and they'll likely screech, incredulous,
"You got paid to play games all day?! Jammy bastard!" Well... no.
If that were the case games mags would be a very swift read - just "lives",
"score", "health" and other abstract stuff from screenshots
and that'd be it! As me old nan never used to say, reviews don't write themselves,
so at least half of each working day was spent frowning at the screen of a word
processor - dodgy Amstrad things with pirated software in the early days, mini
Apple Macs near the end.
Didn't even have one of those Amstrad "Joyces" (as they were nicknamed,
for some unfathomable reason) on my first day at Zzap!, but luckily Paul Glancey
had made me one out of a cardboard box with a felt-tip facsimile of screen and
keyboard drawn on the front! So I did play games all my first day, but on the
second my Joyce arrived - and so did Maff "shite" Evans! We got on
well 'cos we both liked the band Clan of Xymox (nice DIY extended remix of "Back
Door", Maff!), comics and stuff - and naturally, he introduced me to Front
242! With Maff, '242 music was obligatory!
Despite the streams of reviews that had to be written (games logged on a clipboard,
and review and comment boxes initialled so everyone knew the state of play),
we both loved it. Writing reviews for Zzap! was a dream come true and didn't
seem like work at all - being paid was just a bonus - so Gordo often had to
tell us to go home when we indulged in unpaid and unnecessary overtime. We even
enjoyed painstakingly drawing Bionic Commando maps (the top music helped).
We weren't keen on our "digs", though: a grimly decorated B&B
(circa 1950) run by an odd old landlady and her odder, older husband who would've
seemed more at home under newspapers on a park bench, muttering incoherently
and belching meths fumes. Sadly, the love of our jobs and dodgy B&B clashed
one night. After working late, we found the landlady had locked us out - it
was only around 9! So we went back to Zzap! Towers and wallowed in C64 history
by nosing through the old disk boxes, eventually getting some sleep on the office
You might be thinking I'm hallucinating, reminiscing over the Gordon/Paul/Maff/Kati
era when I only appeared in a few issues many months on, after Paul Rand left.
I was Gordo's rejected reviewer - I started with Maff but wasn't introduced
to the readers. My reviews and comments were mostly attributed to Paul Sumner
(PG's and Gordon's bonces were used for some) and I was listed as a contributor
rather than a staff writer, which didn't seem fair.
After a couple of months I was moved onto The Games Machine magazine. Heartbreaking
for a sensitive lad like me. I would've soon settled into the burgeoning wacky
Zzap! style, but instead was forced to stay formal on The Games Machine till
it eventually loosened up and I was allowed to use my "frivolous but informative"
Still, plenty of fun from those few issues of Zzap! I contributed to. Reviewer
heads were never drawn from them, but the photos were taken - unique in Zzap!
history because props were used. For my "great" face I held a joystick
in my thumbs-up hand, and for me "bad" reviewer head an upturned bucket
half covered my face, a shot that moody staff photographer Cameron Pound took
with much glee.
There were a few software scrapes: I reviewed US Gold's two versions of Street
Fighter (the original, where the coin-op had pads to punch), slated both...
We later found out the UK and USA-programmed games would be on the same tape!
Still would've been a crap package, and we returned fire over US Gold's sexist
"I know which I'd rather play with" ad for Psycho Pigs UXB that appeared
in the same issue.
We had to give Hawkeye at least 90% for Sizzler status, because it was released
by Thalamus, Newsfield's software house. It was a fairly solid title, nice graphical
touches and stuff; me and Maff reckoned about 80%. Then Gordon gave us the news
and the reaction was "It's gotta be a Sizzler?! No way!" Screwing
the kids with fiddled ratings - great. US Gold's Katakis was a deserved Sizzler...
but bore an uncanny resemblance to R-Type, which Activision had the licence
for! A Katakis demo was supposed to appear on issue 42's cover but was withdrawn
over the copyright wrangles; I felt guilty 'cos I wrote the prime quote from
the Zzap! review (attributed to Gordon): "the closest you can get to R-Type
on a humble 8-bit"! Oops.
Then of course there was the "tacky" Zzap! Challenge! It was Gordon's
turn and either his challenger didn't turn up or a challenger was never found
- can't remember which. So I was decked out in a ludicrous disguise: baseball
cap (can't stand the things), fake Ray-Ban shades and a big plastic nose with
plastic lips attached to the bottom. To complete the effect, a tongue was made
out of loo roll and stuck out of the lips. My, I did feel cool... It was as
bad that the challenge was on Chuckie Egg, a game I'd never played but Gordo
knew intimately (though not in the Biblical sense), so naturally I was thrashed.
Was a shame to leave the Zzap! weirdoes for the straight-laced Games Machine
crowd - which included Robin Hogg and Stuart Wynne - but soon there was an office
shuffle and TGM ended up opposite Zzap! in a kind of open-plan room. The centre
section of a dividing wall had been knocked through at some point but desks
were set across the gap, so we had a large window on each other's world. Zzap!'s
little sphere included liberal use of inflatables, strange shouts in stranger
accents, assorted objects cast in all directions, unpleasant smells (from various
foodstuffs, I think), surreal japes... and Maff's ghettoblaster playing Front
Like most people, the "Night of the Long Knives" (which took place
during the day - hmm) is a bit of a blur. I think the art department was hit
in the morning: "Yvonne's been sacked!" "What?!" rapidly
followed by "Mel's been sacked!!" "WHAT?!!" But was mini
taters compared to the triple-whammy of Gordon, Kati and Maff being sacked (it
was called "redundancy" but clearly wasn't as the positions they'd
held still existed). Those who were left behind couldn't believe it - it was
the dumbest thing the management could have done...
Closely followed by putting Stuart, Robin and Phil King on the mag, at the mercy
of Paul Rand, the living ego. Lord knows how it happened, but the mag became
an ad for Randy; can't imagine the readers were interested in seeing him (and
his family!) everywhere. We tried to liven the rest up with 'laccy-band ambushes
and friendly mickey-taking, honest.
Things settled into some kind of rhythm after Randy left and we moved to the
Case Mills building, and I did return! As a part-time staff writer (my other
"part" was writer on Fear magazine), finally getting my reviewer head
in Zzap!. Was fun while it lasted - which wasn't long, 'cos I was promoted to
sub-editor of GamesMaster International (RPG mag), then took on the same role
at Crash. I paid (too) regular visits to the Zzap! office (well, part of a corridor-like
room, to be precise) 'cos I got on well with the lads and still held Zzap! in
Then we were all made redundant by George Lucas (as I observed - Phil ripped
me off in his piece!). Zzap! came back under a different publisher but it was
duff, and the less said about the risible Commodore Force the better. Once we