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.

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

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