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

  4 Responses to “Amstrad Action: History in the Making”

  1. This brought back memories. I used to collect Amstrad Action from about mid 1986 onwards and I remember the Total Recall demo – I thought it was brilliant. And I never thought that Target Renegade was that bad a game… there were definitely worse games out there.

    Thanks peeps – was great reading this.

  2. Excellent retrospective thingy. Really.

  3. Thanks guys. Oh, David, I also think Target Renegade was (is) a decent game, but when the game got 86% how on Earth did it get a ‘Master Game’ award. As we know, only games with 90% and over got that award. An error on the design layout me thinks.

  4. Amazing article. Really brought back memories . I remember the wm acc smith letters vividly. I remember the editor claiming that he really was a real person and they hadnt just invented him. For some reason i remembered him today, did a search and ended up here. 23 years ago. Amazing

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