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Jul 222011

As we conclude our Laser Squad week, we take a look at some of the remakes that have been developed over the past few years…

This is essentially a straight remake of the Spectrum version, but playable in your browser. All the original scenarios are here, including the expansion packs and ‘The Return to Moonbase’ homebrew scenario. It is a very accurate port and does feature some benefits over the 8-bit classic. For one, screen updates are virtually instantaneous, which helps speed up the flow of the game. However, there are some oddities such as shooting, which seem slower and enemy accuracy, which seems to be way off, even at close quarters. The remake is also available to download and play in Java. A Java based scenario editor can also be downloaded with which fans can create their own missions.

Weblinks: and William Fraser Laser Squad page

L. Squad

This is a Java J2SE based remake of the PC version by Tim Stridmann. Unfortunately, there is only one scenario available: Moonbase Assault. This is a nice update, though, with better streamlined menus than the original PC version. Armour and weapons selection are much smoother. The main screen is improved on from the PC version, with handy scroll bars, and better visual identification of commands. When selecting a unit, the cursor will display how many APs it will take to move across certain areas. Music, while initially atmospheric, can begin to irritate after a while, although, thankfully, music and sound effects can be turned off. The game can be played windowed or full screen. Overall, a superb effort and we only wish more scenarios were produced.

Weblink: LSquad 0.0.4 download

Stellar Forces

Stellar Forces has previously been known as Laser Tactics, Nuclear Graveyard and Laser Squad 3D in its ever changing development history. This is an online multi-player turn based strategy game in the same vein as Laser Squad, but with play by email elements. Developed by Stephen Smith, the game can run on a Windows or Linux system. There are many different missions to take part in against many opponents from around the world. A superb idea and one that has proven to be successful. The website also features results of completed games and league tables.


Other Laser Squad Week articles:
Laser Squad week – Retrospective
Laser Squad week – The 8-bit Versions
Laser Squad week – The 16-bit Versions
Laser Squad week – The Homebrew Missions
Laser Squad week – The Remakes

Notes and further Laser Squad goodness: – “A celebration of the greatest strategy game ever written.” A website about Laser Squad, naturally, with posts about gamers’ memories and news items. The website also features the homebrew missions for the Spectrum, along with downloads of the C64 and Spectrum game. A superb website by William Fraser which is home to a remake of the Spectrum version, which is playable in a browser. Also on here is an HTML version of the original instruction manual, a Java scenario editor, downloads (a downloadable version of the remake in Java form) and links to other Laser Squad related sites. (also mirrored here) Play Laser Squad in a browser…. Essentially, the first three scenarios available in browser format.

Laser Squad Wikipedia entry A pretty good resource on the game. Someone called Nreive contributed to this article during 2007, so it must be good (smiles).

 Posted by at 6:29 pm
Jul 212011

As we continue our Laser Squad week, we take a look at the homebrew missions that have been developed for the Spectrum…

Those resourceful chaps from Russia have only created their very own scenarios for Laser Squad. 13 extra missions are known to exist, saved as mere Z80 files which can be loaded as a snapshot straight into a Spectrum emulator. The missions themselves range from fairy easy to rock hard and, despite the odd translation issues, the missions are very enjoyable. Here is a list of all known missions with a brief summary on some of the better ones. And if you fancy trying your hand at creating a Laser Squad scenario then head over to the World of Spectrum to get one of the level editors. Be warned, though, as the language is in Russian and will require a Spectrum emulator compatible with TR-DOS.

1) Mafia

2) Blue Planet

In Blue Planet, the player takes control of Laser Squad with one officer in control of a squad of droids. There are some nifty new weapons to try out here, including the AK-55 Auto-gun, MZ-10D2, USI Las-gun and the MZ-10D8. Blue Planet features quite a large map area. Although there are no instructions or guide to the scenarios, this appears to be a ‘seek and destroy’ the databanks and analyzers mission. Just watch out for the gas canisters. The base has some long corridors as well, so don’t get caught napping down any of these. Unnervingly, there are some dead bodies lined up in one room that we encountered. There are also stacks of weapons that are abandoned near the deployment squares, which comes in handy. The disk is located in a room to the bottom centre of the map. Even on easy setting, don’t think this will be a walk in the park, as the enemy are rock hard and will ambush your troops from the very first two turns.

3) Rescue Rangers
4) The Aliens
5) Amazones
6) Coal Corp.

7) Biowar

In just 34 turns, your Assassin Squad must take on the Killer Squad in a survival of the fittest. Veteran Laser Squad Corporal Jonlan leads a team of privates along with four pre-equipped Razor Rats and Sterner Regnix. Yes, in what might pass as a prequel to the original Assassins scenario, Regnix is on the good side. Do keep Regnix alive, though, because if he dies then it’s game over.

There is some hi-tech weaponry to be found here, but at ludicrously high costs, considering your budget of only 200 credits: Marsec Auto-gun priced at 21 credits, Rocket Launcher at 30 credits and the desirable Fire Gun a whopping 50 credits. The enemy squad consists of killer droids and a ‘Killer Sterner’? As with the original scenario, you need to kill Sterner, the bad one that is.

Sometimes the Assassin squad sprites can be corrupted, but this does not hamper the gameplay too much. Watch out for the land mines scattered around the building complex, and yes, the mines are randomly placed for each mission – bugger. If you do splash out on a Fire Gun, keep you men some distance away, for obvious reasons. Also, don’t hang around outside as the bio mass grows and begins investing any open entrances to the buildings.

8] Dead City
9) Saboteur

10) The Melter Squad

Don’t let the rather amusing names within The Melter Squad distract you from a rather tough scenario. Here Officer Softhead and his crew take on the Assassin Squad led by Corporal Jonlan. This map features a ground base in a jungle setting, but something isn’t quite right. There is evidence of chaos in the buildings: demolished walls, blocked doors, dead bodies, droid remains, demolished consoles, monitors and weapons lie abandoned (including Melter packs, rocket launcher, heavy laser, rifle and a key).

11) The Assassins 2
12) Hostile Takeover
13) Return to the Moonbase

Mission downloads are available from
Mission editors for the Spectrum are available from

Other Laser Squad Week articles:
Laser Squad week – Retrospective
Laser Squad week – The 8-bit Versions
Laser Squad week – The 16-bit Versions
Laser Squad week – The Remakes

 Posted by at 6:23 pm

Laser Squad Week: The 16-bit Versions

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Jul 202011

Following our look at the 8-bit versions of Laser Squad – as part of our Laser Squad week special – we now take a look at the 16-bit versions of the game along with the videogaming magazine’s views at the time…

Amiga/Atari ST (1990)

Obviously, the 16-bit versions have notably better graphics, with full use of the respective machine’s colour and sprite capabilities. While not a huge impact on the game itself, each scenario is introduced with a static rendered image reflecting the mission ahead. The Amiga and Atari ST versions were also outsourced to Teque Software Development, who did an excellent job in porting the original game.

Amiga Format Gold’ – “The game system is simple but very effective and it doesn’t take long to get to grips with. The seven difficulty levels for most scenarios will keep you playing against the computer – which takes no prisoners – for a long time. Laser Squad is a terrific game that is superbly playable and can definitely be recommended as one for the library of any gameplayer.” – 93%, Andy Smith, Amiga Format issue 5, December 1989.

CU Screen Star’ – “Essentially, Amiga Laser Squad bar from some improved graphics and its extremely atmospheric sound effects is identical to the 8-bit game. Laser Squad is excellent, although I can’t help but feel slightly put out by the lack of improvement to the original. But if you’re somebody who likes the idea of plenty of over-the-top violence, explosions and some thinking you won’t go far wrong with this little baby.” – 87%, Mark Patterson, CU Amiga-64, November 1989.

Golden Scroll’ – “Although initially similar to Omnitrend’s Breach, it’s soon apparent that Laser Squad blows Breach clean out of the water. It is far superior in every way… movement and action in eight directions, the variety of fire, delayed explosions, close combat, etc. There can be no doubt that Laser Squad is the best tactical strategy game on the Amiga at the moment. It is a strong candidate for the best strategy game of any sort on the Amiga!” – The Games Machine issue 26, January 1990.

“In terms of tactics, realism and the way your troops interact with each other and their equipment, Laser Squad is very true to life, although enjoyment is slightly limited by the small number of scenarios. A good attempt to produce a role-playing game, combining graphics, gameplay and realism.” – 84%, Lucinda Orr, Amiga Computing vol. 2 no 10, March 1990.

“The combat system is among the most exciting I’ve used, allowing for some very sophisticated strategies to be employed… With each game lasting several hours, and the release of further scenario disks, Laser Squad certainly offers great value for money to fans of the wargame genre, and I’m convinced that many people who have previously considered wargames to be too boring, will find themselves pleasantly surprised by this highly playable release.” – 8/10, M.B., Amiga User International vol. 3 no 12, December 1989.

“I kept getting the impression that I was playing a Spectrum game on an Amiga monitor. Nothing’s changed. Okay, so there’s been a dab of colour here and there, and the odd sample clash of thunder in the background but I couldn’t help thinking ‘Where’s the Amiga?’ However, Laser Squad still remains a brilliant game, even though the Amiga could probably sit back, have a cigarette and clean out the fluffy bits between its toes while running the game. I think half the attraction of the game is the suspense element (“What’s awaiting round the corner? Where’s Keith Chegwin”) and the intellectual ego-massage you can give yourself when you do finally defeat the computer (who plays a mean game). Laser Squad has that elusive blend of excitement, challenge and addictiveness all mashed into one. Definitely on the short list for all time classics and definitely the best strategy game you’ll find in the shops today.” – 88%, David McCandless, Zero issue 2, December 1989, page 53 and 54.

Weblink: Amiga Laser Squad page at LemonAmiga

PC (1992)

With a mouse driven interface, the DOS version feels totally different to the others. Certainly, the icons, which replace the menu driven interface, take a bit of getting used to. Each scenario is also presented by an impressive intro sequence detailing the back-story. Visuals are even more impressive than the 16-bit computers, with high-res graphics and backgrounds. Gameplay is smooth and quick, especially using the mouse. One frustrating aspect of the game, however, is when purchasing armour and weapons before the game. Scrolling up and down the weapons screen can be annoyingly sluggish. Other than that, a very fine conversion of Laser Squad.

Other Laser Squad Week articles:
Laser Squad week – Retrospective
Laser Squad week – The 8-bit Versions
Laser Squad week – The Homebrew Missions
Laser Squad week – The Remakes

 Posted by at 6:17 pm
Jul 192011

Following our retrospective intro, we continue our Laser Squad week by looking at the 8-bit versions of the game and the videogaming magazine’s views at the time…

ZX Spectrum (1988)

The original, as mentioned, is a fine game with minimalist aesthetics. While the graphics may well be monochrome, they are functional and suffer no colour clash. Sound is very sparse but effective. The gameplay is where it matters with Laser Squad and the original version is as good as any others that followed.

C+VG Hit!’ “Graphics are large colourful, full of character and instantly recognizable. The attention to detail is amazing. Sound is fab. It’s actually quite amazing the sounds Mr Gollop has managed to get out of the little rubber keyed thing. Laser Squad is one of the hottest games I’ve ever played. If that isn’t enough, Target is releasing expansion packs for the game, with more scenarios and more ideas.” 97%, Tony Dillon, Computer & Video Games issue 86, page 89, December 1988.

“Target Games have not only managed to produce a great game in Laser Squad, but the whole game system and the ability to play further scenarios when they’re released makes this almost indispensable for 8-bit tactical wargame fans.” 873, Andy Smith, ACE issue 14, November 1988.

“The game reminds me of nothing so much more than Gauntlet. Right down to the way the main characters move. All the graphics are incredibly well defined, right down to little background details, like the toilets, for example. Sound ain’t bad either. There are some really nice laser type effects when you shoot and some terrific selection sounds on the menus. It plays well too. If you’re after a good alternative to wiping out another line of kamikaze aliens in a bout of mindless joystick thrashing, you could do a lot worse than buy this. You couldn’t do much better, in fact.” 89, Sinclair User issue 80, November 1988.

“Through the combination of tactical play and arcade graphics, Laser Squad certainly stands out from the rest. Graphics bring a new sense of realism to the game without sacrificing the strategy/tactical elements. Play is satisfyingly complex across all levels and despite the limited scope of the three missions, future scenarios are catered for through an expansion facility.” 84%, The Games Machine issue 14, January 1989.

“The first thing that strikes you about these games is how arcade-like they are rather than the normal ‘for-strategy-read-boring-blue-blocks’. Each landscape has been carefully drawn in detail, and the fast scrolling takes you back to the heady days of TLL and other arcade classics. If you’re wondering whether I would recommend this game then I suggest you never waste your money on a Mensa Test. I think Laser Squad is mega fab, and I’m looking forward already to the expansions… And that’s the opinion of someone who has never been interested in strategy wargaming before.” 9/10, Pete, Your Sinclair issue 35, November 1988.

“There is a one- or two-player option, though no choice of sides in the one-player option, and the three scenarios offer several levels of play and a sufficient variety of setting and tactics to be genuinely worthwile. The original concept of Rebelstar was elegant and addictive, and Laser Squad takes it much further without losing any of its playability. Definitely recommended.” 89%, Philipa Irving, Crash issue 59, Christmas Special 1988.

Weblink: ZX Spectrum Laser Squad page at World of Spectrum

Laser Squad in action on the ZX Spectrum:

Commodore 64 (1989)

With such an excellent conversion to the C64, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was coded by Julian Gollop, but it was in fact ported by his brother, Nick. The essential gameplay has been ported over successfully with nothing left out. As you would expect from the increased colour palette of the C64, the graphics look more colourful. Good use is also made of the C64’s sound capabilities, with some fine spot effects throughout.

CU Screen Star’ “Graphically, Laser Squad is nothing to write home about, but there’s plenty of detail. All moveable objects are animated, though curiously enough the main characters aren’t. Colour has been well used, but the use of single colour sprites [is] a little disappointing. The sound is great. The droning effect when a scanner is switched on is really nice, as are most of the laser effects. Laser Squad is on of the best games ever to appear.” 92%, Tony Dillon, Commodore User Amiga-64 issue 54, March 1989.

“One of Laser Squad’s strengths is its expansion on the ideas of hidden movements. As marines can only see enemies within a 90º field of view it’s all too easy for an enemy robot to sneak up behind someone and take them out unless another marine guards their flank. With hidden movement the player doesn’t know for sure what lies around the next corner and moving into a long corridor can be a kill zone if a sniper is waiting with opportunity fire selected. The tension that builds up is very strong indeed, forming a major part of the game’s atmosphere with the impressive combat graphics adding to the game’s surprisingly fast pace. The great thing about Laser Squad is that you really do feel part of the team and want to use each marine’s unique advantages and weapons to the full.” Zzap!64 issue 53, September 1989.

Weblink: Commodore 64 Laser Squad page at Lemon64

Laser Squad in action on the C64:

Amstrad CPC (1989)

Julian ported the CPC version over from the Spectrum and it matches the other 8-bits with ease. Essentially, this is the original Spectrum game with added colour. However, this isn’t just a splash of added colour here and there, the scenery and squad units are subtly shaded, giving the game a more realistic feel to it, which also makes the C64 version look rather washed out. Sound, while not up to the C64 standard, is non the less just as impressive.

AA Mastergame’ “The fun in Laser Squad stems from its flexibility and its playability. With two players and four levels of difficulty (seven on the expansion modules) the games playing life is a long one indeed. It’s the armaments on offer that really make the whole show worthwhile, because even when you’ve beaten a scenario you can give fresh life by tackling it with over the top or completely inappropriate weapons. Laser Squad will have any ‘intelligent agro freak’ coming back time and time again. You’ll love the smell of Auto Cannon in the morning. It smells of Victory.” 91%, Trenton Webb, Amstrad Action issue 49, October 1989, page 50 and 51.

“This one or two player strategy combat with five scenarios ensures some serious thought and some serious blasting.” Verdict: sparkling smile, Adrian Pumphrey, Amstrad Computer User issue 65, April 1990.

Laser Squad in action on the Amstrad CPC:

MSX (1989)


The MSX version is hardly known within the retrogaming community and was even disputed that it existed in the first place. Hydra Soft was the company that produced the MSX Italian language port and a fine version it is, indeed. There is also a Spanish version available. Visually, the game looks similar to the C64 version, while the sound is indistinguishable from the others. No reviews of the MSX version were found, which is a shame.

Laser Squad in action on the MSX:

Plus/4, C16 (1991)


Laser Squad +4 is an unofficial Plus/4 conversion of the Commodore 64 game and a very successful attempt it is too. Retaining every bit of the all-important gameplay, Laser Squad +4 is a solid version of our favourite turn-based strategy wargame. The visuals are virtually identical to the C64, however, the sound seems to have been stretched out, producing some rather clunky sounding effects throughout. Converted by T., Attila (TGMS), the game can be freely downloaded in disk format.

Other Laser Squad Week articles:
Laser Squad week – Retrospective
Laser Squad week – The 16-bit Versions
Laser Squad week – The Homebrew Missions
Laser Squad week – The Remakes

 Posted by at 11:38 pm

Laser Squad Retrospective

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Jul 182011

With Laser Squad being one of my all time favourite games it was inevitable that I would revisit the game. With issue 5 of Retroaction put on definite hold, the planned ‘mega article’ on the game can now be published in a week long special of Laser Squad articles, starting with a look at the game itself…

Going by personal experience, films or music which are regarded as all time favourites are ones that have taken me by surprise with their rather low key arrival, winning me over with fantastic plot, design and atmosphere. Videogames have proven to be no exception to this rule. In 1989, this author was more into arcade gaming, shoot-‘em-ups and beat-‘em-ups to even think about playing strategy games. Stick to what you know was the thinking back then. However, nearing Christmas of 1989, my perception of gaming changed forever, and that was thanks to Laser Squad.

Having joined a videogaming mail order company, where you were required to purchase at least one game per month, one month had passed by without a purchase. So, as explained in the terms and conditions, if a game were not chosen by month end, the editor’s choice for that month would be sent out. Despite not having previously played any strategy game, there was something intriguing about the game. The box art alone made me want to know more about this science fiction turn based strategy war game.

Laser Squad comes with some fantastic scenarios, including the two official expansion kits, which all come with their own back story, but the most challenging and most rewarding mission must be that of Cyber Hordes. In this scenario, player one is tasked with defending a rebel planet station from the attacking Imperial droid squad. Using a small band of soldiers, seven stabilizer cores, which are used to stabilize the planets seismic activity, must be defended and saved from destruction. With the rebels strategically placed to the right hand side of the map, they lie in wait for the oncoming attack form the left by the droid army.

This fourth scenario was the very first expansion kit mission, but if you bought a later version of the game, this was included as standard along with the fifth scenario, Paradise Valley. With the expansion kit, Julian Gollop ramped up the visuals, gameplay and overall design. The difficulty was noticeably increased, with an enemy that seemed to have improved AI. The Cyber Hordes scenario in particular was a tough nut, what with the droids having a super reinforced Battle Droid with a Blaster and a never ending supply of reinforcements. The scenario also introduced some neat new weapons, with the desirable accurate rifle, the MK-1, and the destructible MS Auto Cannon. Just watch that cannon, though, as it packs a fair punch.

With missions including destroying lab equipment, rescuing POWs from mine prisons, defending a rebel base against a never ending droid army and retrieving and escaping an alien planet with the blueprints for a rebel starfighter, Laser Squad is challenging enough for the most hardened strategy buff. Building upon his previous games, coder Julian Gollop achieved the pinnacle of strategy games for the 8-bits. Sure the graphics and sound may not amount to much, but the game immerses you into each scenario with the only concern being to keep the squad alive to complete the mission.

Laser Squad introduced gamers to the ‘hidden movement’ system, which means that the player will not know the whereabouts of the enemy and will not appear on the map until they have moved into the ‘field of vision’ of one the player’s units. The ‘field of vision’ covers the 45 degrees from the front of the unit, with various types of terrain such as walls or doors blocking this line of sight. Because an enemy unit is not seen until it is clearly in view, this very much 2D game has a First Perspective feel to it.

With the use of familiar names like Corporal Jonlan in many of the scenarios, the game has a feel of continuity through the many scenarios. You really start to care about your squad when you get to know them as much as you do with Corporal Jonlan. Out of all Gollop’s games, Laser Squad is arguably the most influential, having been the blueprint for UFO: Enemy Unknown (aka X-COM: UFO Defense), the critically acclaimed PC strategy hit, and the whole genre as a whole. I’ve never ever come close to giving a game ludicrous 100% scores, but Laser Squad would certainly be a contender.

Other Laser Squad Week articles:
Laser Squad week – The 8-bit Versions
Laser Squad week – The 16-bit Versions
Laser Squad week – The Homebrew Missions
Laser Squad week – The Remakes

 Posted by at 6:19 pm

Back in Time: 2011

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Jan 022012

As another year has just ended, we take a look back at the year’s highlights: the games, the ezines, magazines, podcasts and other retrogaming activities…


One of the first homebrew games reported in January 2011 was 1,000 Kung-Fu Maniacs. Developed by Alf Yngve and released through Psytronik, the game follows the kung-fu exploits of Master of Awesome as he travels through the Ninja invested city of Blapsville in search of a stolen toy robot. Next up was an interesting demake of Halo. This was a PC game made in the style of an NES arcade platformer by Eric Ruth Games.   This author’s monthly classic magazine lookback, Back in Time, kicked off for the new year with its January 1991 edition, featuring the likes of John Madden Football, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Navy Seals and Captive

February arrived along with an interesting new midzine in the form of SCROLL. Produced by Ray Barnholt, the zine launched with a Super NES 20th anniversary special. As well as the SNES love, there are other articles of interest.   Continuing the zine trend was issue 4 of PC Engine Gamer, an online digital retrogaming zine which is naturally dedicated to NEC’s underrated PC Engine console.   It’s not very often you will see a magazine digitally preserved and released, so this is a rarety indeed. The digital version of Mega Drive Advanced Gaming issue 3 was released this month with the full permission from its orginal publisher/company, Hugh Gollner/Maverick Magazines.   February also marked the conclusion of the 2011 MSXDev game making competition with Heroes Arena, a futuristic tennis style game developed by Imanok, winning the main award, along with ‘Game with Best Graphics’, ‘Most Polished Game’ and ‘Most Original Game’ awards, sharing the latter.

The fine One Man & His Mic returned for a very special Psytronik Software special.  Originally released as a bonus extra with the Armalyte PC remake, the podcast was now available as a free download. The updated podcast includes remastered, extended and extra tracks from early Psytronik releases such as Sceptre of Baghdad right up to more recent titles like Sub Hunter, Knight ‘n’ Grail and, of course, Armalyte.  The seventh issue of C&A Fan was released in this month. The Polish retrogaming ezine covers the Commodore and Amiga range of computers with news, articles, interviews, reviews and more.  

Lotek64, a quarterly German retrogaming zine, released its first issue of 2011 in April with issue 36.   Despite receiving massive amounts of coverage across the globe with previews – even a four-page article in Retro Gamer – the Streets of Rage Remake was pulled down from Bombergames’ website just a few days after being completed. Eight years in the making, Sega decided to pull their weight after all the hard work was done. If you can manage to grab a copy of the game then you will experience a remake that is as professional as the original and even improves on many areas.   One of the best zines we have come across is  RetroManiac, a Spanish retrogaming zine which covers both classic and modern retro with news, previews, reviews and more. With their third issue, they continued the high quality producion and content.  C&A Games issue 3 was also released this month. The spin-off from Polish publication C&A Fan is dedicated to Commodore gaming with news, reviews, interviews and more. Hot on the tail of the Streets of Rage Remake was Golden Axe Myth, a PC Windows fanmade prequel to Sega’s classic side-scrolling brawler. There is also an impressive array of extras available with the game, including a professionally produced instruction manual, art book (detailing concept artwork) and an original soundtrack.  Classic L337 celebrated its 50th episode this month. The weekly videogaming podcast features the best of both worlds, with Tony covering modern gaming and Scott covering retrogaming. This week’s interviews included Zebbe of Pier Solar (the fabulous recently released Mega Drive/Genesis game)…


May brought us a new Commodore 64 adventure in the shape of The Adventures of Jim Slim in Dragonland, courtesy of Protovision.   Commodore Free had reached its 50th issue this month, which is quite an achievement for a ezine. Launched towards the end of 2006, the Commodore dedicated retrogaming zine has been published every month since, with the odd exception.  May was also a packed month personally, as this author was asked to come on board the US gaming magazine, GameFan, as one of the Retro Editors to work on the website and soon to be launched retro section in future issues of the magazine itself. Things kicked off with a handful of articles on the website, which covered Road Rash II, The Genesis of EA SportsGhouls ‘n Ghosts and Remembrance of an Arcade Gaming Pastime.  With Retroaction issue 5 now deader than a long time dead thing, it seemed natural to publish the planned articles online. First up was Martian Gothic, an underrated PC survival horror from developers Creative Reality

We continued to publish Retroaction issue 5’s planned articles with the Weird and Wonderful World of Retrogaming feature. When it comes to weird games you can’t get any weirder than the appropriately titled Weird Dreams.  To celebrate the X-Men: First Class movie, GameFan published a multi-part retrospective which covered the many X-Men videogames with contributions from three of the Retro Editors, Anthony Earnst, Michael Chrisman and this very author.   The new Mega Drive RPG, Star Odyssey, was available to order online. The game, originally known as Blue Almanac, was only previously available in the Japanese market during the Mega Drive’s reign in the 1990s, but was now finally available in all its English translated glory.  Although not quite retro by our standards, this author couldn’t resist covering Rebelstar: Tactical Command in GameFan‘s doomed GBA special (hey, it’s almost Laser Squad 2, has a character named Corporal Jonlan and was developed by Julian Gollop – how many excuses do you need). With its 91st issue, Retro Gamer celebrated the 20th Anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog with a foil coated front cover along with a Sonic map and timeline within the folds, as well as a multi-page feature on the blue spiky mammal and others.   Following up on our Martian Gothic article, we wanted to find out more about this gothic horror adventure and what better person to ask than Stephen Marley, the game’s script writer and designer?

After quickly starting July off with a GameFan retrospective of Flashback – an all time favourite – things slowed down somewhat this month. Following a lengthy period in hibernation, the NintendoAGE eZine was back with Vol. 5 Issue 1.  With Laser Squad being one of my all time favourite games it was inevitable that I would revisit the game. And with issue 5 of Retroaction on definite hold, the planned ‘mega article’ on the game was published in a week long special of articles, starting with a look at the original Speccy game, followed by a look at the various 8-bit versions, the 16-bit versions, the homebrew missions and the remakes.

August began with the release of GameFan issue 6. This was the first issue to feature the newly introduced retro section and new retro contributors. Personal contributions from this author included Best Bits articles on Super Star Wars and Decap Attack. Hoping to quench the thirst for ST magazine preservation, The Atari ST Magazine Archive opened its digital doors this month. A new Hungarian Amiga PDF magazine called Amiga Mania released its first issue. The Best Bits: Pulseman article would turn out to be the last that this author would contribute to GameFan and what a game to go out on. I’m quite happy with that article, despite it being online rather than the preferred format of a zine. (A side note about GameFan: when I was on staff as Retro Editor, the magazine had great plans and with the retro section, things seemed to be going in the right direction. However, things didn’t work out as well as everyone had hoped and with the whole retro editing team leaving, as well as the Art Director, it’s hard to see where GameFan will go from here. Indeed, with the latest issue still being this issue 6, the future doesn’t look great at all for print magazines in North America).

With the upcoming release of the X-Com reboot straying away from the franchises’ origins than humanly thought possible, we looked back at the first, and best, game in the series. For the first in a series of Format Wars, Edge Grinder was simultaneously released on both the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC. It was the big 100 for The Retro League podcast as they hurled towards that centenary episode in a flash this month. A new zine titled NES-Bit Magazine System was  finally released. Created by the Nintendo community, the zine is devoted to the NES with articles, reviews and more. With a colourful design and enthusiastic team of writers, this is one zine to look out for.

October brought us a handful of retrogaming zines. First up was the belated issue 2 of Abandoned Times Magazine, which covers the PC gaming scene. Nest up was ZX Spectrum Gamer issue 1 which is from the same publisher as PC Engine Gamer, so expect high quality content and design. In between all the zine action, the Commodore 64 finally got its own version of Jordan Mechner’s classic 1989 platform game, Prince of Persia, courtesty of Mr SID.  GunLord, a Turrican style scolling shooter, was made available to pre-order for the Sega Dreamcast, Neo Geo MVS and Neo Geo AES.  Rounding off the zine releases this month was Retrocade Magazine.

While the holiday season meant that things slowed down somewhat, there was still time to look at  Protovision’s 4 Player Games Compilation on the Commodore 64, Psytronik Software’s Shoot ‘Em Up Destruction Set 2 (developed by Alf Yngve) and a rare homebrew release for the NES in the form of Zooming Secretary.

Well, that was 2011, so what can we expect to see in 2012. Undoubtedly, some more Back in Time articles, a small amount of digital scans of classic gaming magazines and interviews with people from the classic gaming magazine scene, oh, and maybe, just maybe, some sort of Retroaction publication, but keep it hush for now.

 Posted by at 12:30 am

Making of… Amstrad Action tribute magazine

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Sep 072010

[Amstrad Action, the first magazine from Future Publishing, celebrates its 25th anniversary this week and to celebrate that fact we’re featuring articles specifically related to the Amstrad’s number one magazine all week. Yesterday, we looked at the history of Amstrad Action. Today, we take a behind-the-scenes look at how the Amstrad Action tribute issue was produced.]

Back in time, November 2006 to be precise, I came across CPC Oxygen, who have permission from Future Publishing to host Amstrad Action scans. This brought back nostalgic retro memories of my first computer, the Amstrad CPC, and my first computing magazine. Admittedly, I hadn’t seen the last couple of years of AA and now had the chance to read them for the first time. A very interesting read and saddening to see that the last issue ended with no proper farewell, unlike sister publications Your Sinclair and Commodore Format, so I’m thinking “wouldn’t it be great if we could do our own farewell issue for AA”. A sort of tribute magazine.

In January 2007 ‘nreive’ posts a comment on CPC Zone’s forum pages. Here is the post as seen:

“Posted: Tue Jan 09, 2007 9:53 am Post subject: Amstrad Action issue 118?
Amstrad Action ended abruptly after issue 117. How about a commemorative issue to say farewell and goodbye to the readers properly. Contents could include the regular Amscene (updated news), Action Test (reviews of games that appeared after AA117), emulator features, an in depth look at 10 years of AA at the top, a special look at the best CPC games ever, and many more features. Any further ideas anyone? Maybe some ex editors or staff writers can get involved or even just contribute. Any input from ex-AAers would be great.”

Despite some initial interest, there was no one willing to offer their help, apparently CPC users are far too busy to work on such a project, and it looked like an on going solo effort. According to some of the replies, this had been attempted previously, without success. However, someone is interested in helping out with AA118: cpc4eva.

Work on the AA tribute magazine began in January 2007. To help me keep track of all the issues, Mastergames, Raves, staff timeline, etc. I had devised the AA Archives, a spreadsheet detailing all these stats and more (you can download this from here).

Detailing the history of AA for the main feature wasn’t too difficult but researching the AA staff history proved a little more difficult. Intensive internet searches can come up with people who only want to be found. Researching other games magazines brought more info. Your Sinclair and Commodore Format, for instance, had familiar faces during their runs. Bit by bit, the history began to take shape.

By February 2007, it was becoming apparent that Word just couldn’t handle a lot of columns, images and text. Word is great for text and spell check, but it’s not a Desk Top Publishing package. That’s where my old copy of PageMaker 6.5 came in. Yes, it’s ancient, but it’s much better at handling text, columns and images than Word.

March 2007 and using my ever useful AA Archives spreadsheet I had compiled the AA top 100 games feature. Featuring screenshots and snippets of reviews from past AAs. Rick Dangerous 2 came top just ahead of Lemmings, which lost out in the ‘Staying Power’ rating. Snippets of AA comments were added to the list. However, as time went on, I began to feel that the feature was too reliant on AA snippets and, at over 10 pages long, filled a lot of space that could be used for new stuff.

It was also around about this time that the front cover was played about with. The first design of the AA118 cover had the AA vertical logo, the header and a close up of Rick Dangerous 2 in the centre. It had always been suggested that Rick Dangerous 2, being the highest rated AA game, would feature on the front cover.

It wasn’t until July that year that I did any more stuff on AA118. I had just moved house, the computer was packed away for over a month and there was a load of work to be done to the new house. cpc4eva was also beavering away with his two full time jobs and tried to squeeze some sleep in between writing up reviews and articles.

As far back as January 2007 I had started searching the for ex-AA staff – mainly to get background info and what they’re up to now – for the AA History feature. It wasn’t until August/September 2007 that I had started searching for them to get a Q&A session from them. After extensive searches I managed to find Rod Lawton (longest serving Editor) first, then I found Steve Carey (notable Editor) through persistence and good fortune. I also managed to track down Adam Waring (longest serving Technical Editor), Ollie Aldteron (Art Editor for many years), Dave Golder (editor during the 100th issue) and many more. I must thank them all for their time in replying to the questions and for their patience in waiting for the finished result.

By October 2007 there was still no reviews done. Despite the main section of the magazine being the reviews. Panic time. It wasn’t until December time that I actually began seeing any reviews appear: Fres Fighter II, Groops! , Black Land and more.

November 2007 and time was getting on, I had already drafted in an old buddy to do some reviews for the mag, but there was still other stuff needing done. In the next five months I would be working like a Japanese beaver to get this project done and dusted. I felt that working on the tribute mag for over a year was long enough. It was now or never.

Features that were produced during this time were CPC on your PC (CPC emulators feature), most of the Amscene news pages, Retro Action feature, CPC adverts, editorial, AAfterthought and farewell, Brief CPC history. Not to mention all the relevant images, screenshots, etc. Phew. But it wasn’t until I had received the reviews and started designing their layout that the mag started to take a proper shape of some sort. It was looking good.

The new year arrived and it would nearly be a year since this project had first started. I contacted cpc4eva to tell him of the progress and that completion was needing done ASAP. He replied back stating that he would have some time in the next few weeks to come up with some stuff.

January/February 2008 and cpc4eva was now producing features and reviews faster than I could lay them out. He was apparently getting around two hours sleep at this time. He wrote at least a dozen reviews for ‘Action Test’, a handful of retro reviews, a demos feature, an arcade feature, a sports game feature, interviews with Nich Campbell, ‘Executioner’, not to mention more tips for ‘Cheat Mode’ section and probably more.

The arcade feature was a brilliant piece and inspired me to do a similar one for film licence games, after all retro gaming and films are two of my most favourite things. I wrote the four page film licence games feature quite quickly with the help of my trusted AA Archives spreadsheet. It was gathering all the film poster images and game screenshots that took the most time. The images and screenshots were added to the feature and it began to take shape. The first draft of it was completed in a few days.

By March 2008 we now had everything we needed for the mag. It was now just a matter of getting the massive amount of cpc4eva’s features and reviews onto the pages. One by one the bare text was laid out onto the pages to get an idea of the final size of the magazine.

I was also playing about with another cover design. I found a great image of Laser Squad from the PC version. “Best CPC game ever?” was the heading. The reviews were all taking shape now, then cpc4eva informed me of a CPC Street Fighter II game. Unbelievable, as any CPC fan will know this game was never meant to appear on the CPC despite several mentions in AA. Although it was quite a poor conversion – as all the 8-bit versions were – I still felt it was big enough to warrant front cover status.

By the end of March everything was in place with a handful of pages needing designed. The PageMaker file was now reaching over 140 pages (70mb in size), with an 11mb size when exported to PDF. Some last few pages were sorted out and completed. Now all that was needing done was a spell check, proof read, production editing and we were ready for launch.

Weblink: Amstrad Action tribute magazine

[Retroaction will be continuing the celebration of Amstrad Action’s 25th anniversary tomorrow with more nostalgic-ness. Join us then.]

 Posted by at 12:21 pm
Sep 062010

[Amstrad Action, the first magazine from Future Publishing, celebrates its 25th anniversary this week and to celebrate that fact we will feature articles all week specifically related to the Amstrad’s number one magazine. Today, we take a nostalgic trip back through the magazine’s history.]

Amstrad Action was without doubt the most successful and popular magazine in its field, giving Future Publishing the success to launch further magazines and grow into one of the most popular magazine publishers in the UK, and indeed the world. However, it could have been all so different for both Amstrad Action and Future Publishing…

Issue 1 launched with some familiar faces and some familiar content. Chris Anderson (former Editor of Personal Computer Gamers and Zzap!64) assembled a small group to produce the new magazine. Peter Connor (former Personal Computer Games writer) was brought in as Editor, Bob Wade (who worked with Chris on both Personal Computer Games and Zzap!64) came in as Software Editor and Trevor Gilham was drafted in as Art Editor.

It had later emerged that issues one, two and three had sold poorly. Very poorly, in fact. So poor that had issue 4 not picked up so dramatically as it had, the magazine would not have lasted. For the Christmas bumper edition issue 4, Amstrad Action featured a covertape on its front cover, featuring two previously unreleased full games from Ocean Software: Kung Fu and Number 1. The covertape would be a regular occurrence for AA’s birthday and at Christmas. The issue was a huge success, Amstrad Action, and subsequently Future Publishing, were saved and were on their way up.

Amstrad Action’s games review section was called ‘Action Test’ and the reviews were often one or two pages long with the usual ratings of graphics, sound, overall, etc. As usual for magazines during the time, accolades were given out to the better games reviewed that issue. Amstrad Action were no different, giving out the ‘Master Gamer’ award to the best game of the month and ‘AA Rave’ awards to games rated 80% or over. In issue 12, September 1986, Firebird’s Thrust was given 94%, but was still denied the ‘Master Game’ award by Starstrike II, which also got 94%. This injustice was perhaps one of the reasons why the awards process was adjusted a few years into the magazine’s life: any game 90% or above was given the award.

“I’ve watched it grow from a pretty amateurish first issue into a very professional, entertaining mag. It also started the whole of Future Publishing going, which now boasts six impressive titles – all the envy of many rival publishers.” – Bob Wade, July 1988

With issue 35, Steve Carey arrived as the new Editor, brining with him a more rigid no nonsense attitude to the magazine, helping tighten up the editorial to new heights. Target Renegade went down in history as being the lowest rated game to ever receive a ‘Master Game’ award with an overall rating of 86%. Quite why it was awarded the award rather than an ‘AA Rave’, which is what is statistically deserved, remained a mystery.

A certain Wm. A. C. C. Smith would regularly appear in the letters pages (ReAction), ranting about language and violence used in video games. The complaints magnified following the responses of readers who wrote in to oppose Mr Smith’s opinions. It continued in issue 42 until the Editor, Steve Carey, quickly cut off one letter and declared this correspondence firmly closed.

Issue 46’s ReAction pages featured a common query among some simple minded readers: how is the overall rating never the average of all the other individual ratings? For the benefit of those readers here is the Editor’s reply: “magazines never use averages to rate games overall, for the simple reason that one poor rating out of the four ratings would, unjustifiably, bring the overall rating down…”

Issue 49 is arguably this author’s favourite issue. Why? Because it featured a review of Laser Squad (getting 91% and a ‘Master Game’), it had a covertape (playable demo of Shinobi and loads more), it had a feature on Virgin/Mastertronic’s Magnum light gun (which was compatible with Operation Wolf – nice) and the following… A reader wanted to know why AA hadn’t reviewed two of the biggest games released that year: RoboCop and Last Ninja II. The Editor replied stating that they “looked at it [Last Ninja II], and decided it was the biggest load of old rubbish since Psycho Pigs UXB… As for RoboCop – which incidentally we liked very much – we had such problems getting a review copy out of Ocean at the time that we thought, ‘Stuff ‘em, we’ll review something else.’”

Rod Lawton, the longest serving Editor on AA, with over three years and 39 issues of service, arrived for issue 52. Just in time then to see Code Masters’ revolutionary CD Games Pack, which featured 30 games on a CD-ROM and loaded each one in around 30 seconds. Unfortunately, the package didn’t set the games industry on fire.

Chase H.Q. would be the next casualty in the accolades ceremonies. The hit arcade conversion from Ocean Software got a final rating of 90% in issue 54, the highest rated game that month and the required rating for a ‘Master Game’ award, but it only got an ‘AA Rave’.

97%. That was the overall rating given to Rick Dangerous 2 in issue 62, December 1990. The game review was spread over four pages, which included a lengthy write up on the game and a map to the first level.

As announced in the previous issue, April 1991, AA67 came with the first of the permanent cover tapes called the Action Pack. This included a playable demo of Total Recall and complete games Hydrofool and Dizzy. Just the following month, Action Pack #2 would cause outrage amongst many readers due to the inclusion of How To Be A Complete Bastard, a game where the player controls a potty mouthed obnoxious Adrian Edmonson.

March 1993 and issue 90 featured the first highly rated game not to receive an accolade. Nigel Mansell’s World Championship got an overall rating of 93%, but no ‘AA Rave’ or ‘Master Game’. It seemed that the long standing accolade presentation had been discarded. The sweeping changes to Amstrad Action continued the following month when the front cover sported a redesign of the AA logo, running horizontally across the top of the cover, totally abandoning the traditional vertical logo that made AA unique. Changes in the ranks included the departure of longest serving editor, Rod Lawton, to be replaced by the shortest reigning editor, Linda Barker.

Eight years on and AA acquired its eighth editor in issue 96: Dave Golder. This issue was also notable for another reason: this issue was the first not to include a review for any new commercial games release. All reviews included re-released budget games.

Issue 99’s covertape, which was now named ‘Serious Action’, included the complete game, albeit a censored version, of Stormlord. With the comical self-censoring of the game, it seemed that AA was trying to avoid similar controversy that followed the inclusion of How To Be A Complete Bastard way back in AA68’s Action Pack #2.

January 1994 and Amstrad Action was 100 issues old and remains only one of the very few machine dedicated magazines to reach such a feat. To celebrate, AA looked at the top 100 products for the CPC and took a trip down memory lane, recalling past Editors and other staff.

“AA118 on sale: Thursday, 22 June, 1995.” – AA Line Up page, AA117, June 1995. Although everything appeared as normal in issue 117 and, though AA118 was advertised in the next month box, this was the last AA ever. North and South was the last full game to grace the covertape. Coming just short of a decade of issues, AA’s pages of features, news, PD software, Cheat Mode, fanzines, programming and Reaction come to an end. Amstrad Action should always be rightly remembered as the first title published by Future Publishing, and therefore a very important publication in the grand scheme of computer and videogaming journalism.

[Retroaction will be continuing the celebration of Amstrad Action’s 25th anniversary tomorrow with more nostalgicness. Join us then.]

 Posted by at 12:00 pm