Many moons ago, when I was gainfully employed on Zzap!'s letters pages rather than the numbing series of demeaning half-jobs that now pass through my mundane existence, news reached the Towers of a European version of our humble rag. At first we thought it was idle speculation. Then we glimpsed the evidence—a picture of Julian Rignall speaking in a tongue alien to the Ludlovian pub-crawling crowd... So it was true: Zzap! had an Italian cousin! (You can read more about it at the splendidly-designed Progetto Zzap! Italia.) In the years that followed I have often wondered what happened to our Mediterranean friends, though never to the point where I actually did anything about it. However, I was recently contacted in my bedsit on Clee Hill by none other than Paolo Besser—Zzap!'s last Italian editor, the man responsible for overseeing its transition from a magazine to a website in the 1990s, and now the translator of Zzap!107. Despite my reputation for acerbity and poor personal hygiene, he kindly agreed to an interview...

LM: Tell me the story behind Zzap! Italia...
It was based in Milan, and started life as a translation of Zzap! with added Italian content. We acquired the rights for the magazine; then, when Newsfield went out of business, we went our own way with exclusively Italian material. The first issue was published in May 1986: the magazine normally had 84 pages, but there were months with more, especially near Christmas. The last "official" issue came out in December 1992; after that it was reduced to a 16-page insert in the best-selling magazine The Games Machine. (This started, like Zzap!, as a translation: it first came out in September 1988 and is still going strong). The insert took the mag through to December 1993, at which point we decided that dwindling interest in the Commodore 64 could no longer sustain it... However, three years later, with the internet market growing, we had the idea to create an e-magazine about PC and Amiga games. We called it Zzap!, and used an html version of the original design. This website lasted until January 1999, when it was closed due to a change in the publisher's editorial policy.

LM: What was your role?
I started as a journalist writing "BovaByte's corner", a funny parody of games magazines. The articles proved popular with the Zzap! staff, and I was invited to join the crew, becoming a fully-fledged reviewer in May 1990. In November 1992 I was elected editor-in-chief by the publisher, but my role was merely to accompany the mag to its grave two months later—its fate had already been decided. I kept the title of editor-in-chief both for the 16-page insert in TGM, and on the website.

LM: What were the major differences between the UK and Italian Zzap!s?
Overall, the differences weren't huge, but perhaps the greatest was that the Italian Zzap! covered all 8-bit computer platforms, not just the C64. Apart from that, we made our own decisions about design, and the translation was never literal. For example, during the Newsfield era we preserved only the game ratings and the general substance of the comments—the rest was totally rewritten in a humorous way. On the whole, I think our Zzap! has always been something original.

LM: Are there any websites devoted to the Italian Zzap!?
There was a project called "Progetto Edicola", which was set up to collect old magazines generally; but I know of no specific collection of old Italian issues on the web. As the Italian publisher still own the rights for our version of Zzap!, it could be that our readers and collectors are a little shy to scan the magazines and put them on the web—I don't know anybody involved in a project similar to The Def Guide to Zzap!64. The situation is different for the Italian version of Issue 107: we coordinated the translation directly from our official webpage, TGM Online.

LM: What are your current projects?
Apart from working for The Games Machine, I recently organised the translation of Zzap!107 for an Italian audience. It was designed on Quark Xpress 3.3, using the Basilisk II Mac emulator on my PC... So I created a magazine about emulated games on an emulated Macintosh!

LM: What are your Top 5 C64 games?
Oh... I played so many, and every one is a special memory; I tend to remember games more for the time in which I played them than for the game itself. For example, years and years ago when I was at school, there was a strike by the students (I don't recall why); and at some point during that period, I and my friend Davide Corrado went to a local computer shop and bought a copy of R-Type. We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon playing it... Anyway, these are the games I enjoyed most:

Bubble Bobble (coin-op and C64 conversion)
The Great Giana Sisters
Road Runner

LM: And your Top 5 non-C64 games?

Guitar Freaks (and all Bemanis)
Black & White (PC)
Parappa the Rapper (Playstation)
Turrican (Amiga)
Bomb Jack (coin-op)

LM: Is there anything you'd like to add about C64 games in general?
Um... Sometimes I think I miss them very much. But I realise I don't actually miss the games themselves, but the things they represented for me in those years. I was a teenager, I went to school, I fell in love for the first time... And I played them with friends, too (and I don't even know if those friends are still alive...)

...On that wistful and slightly melancholy note, it was mutually agreed that my body odour had forced the interview to a close. I thanked Paolo for his time and olfactory endurance, and returned to Clee Hill with half a dozen copies of the Italian Zzap! stashed in my briefcase. It had been an interesting few hours, but I couldn't help wishing that we'd spoken a decade earlier, when I still had all my own hair and was a little more sane... LM





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