Happy 30th Birthday, Zzap! 64!on April 11, 2015 at 10:23 pm
30 years ago today, the first issue of Zzap! 64 hit newstands across the United Kingdom!
Zzap! 64 was a magazine dedicated to Commodore 64 games. It was fresh, it was funny, and it became the most important thing that ever happened to me.
Started by hotshot new magazine publisher Newsfield and staffed by kids who were barely out of high school, Zzap! 64 had a feel unlike anything else you could have read at the time. Most magazines of the era were focused on the technology, or serious subjects like word processing or printing letters. Zzap! 64 (and its older sister magazine Crash for Spectrum owners) was all about the one thing kids actually cared about: hot new computer games!
Most mags covered games, but the reviews (such as they were) were usually written by the same people who filled the pages with staid opinion columns about the latest database editing suite, so they were usually drier than a week old biscuit. Zzap!’s reviews were markedly different: every game was reviewed by multiple reviewers, and they were always brutally honest. They actually cared about the games that were competing for our meager pocket money, and had tastes in games that matched our own. It was a review system that frankly, has yet to be matched in terms of quality and honesty.
Imagine life before the internet. Imagine only being able to find out about new games by buying a magazine once a month and reading the reviews. A new issue of Zzap! 64 landing was the highlight of my month. The Commodore 64 was my everything, and all I wanted to do was play Commodore 64 games all the time. Issues were traded around the schoolyard during lunch. Review scores were treated as if they were written on stone tablets delivered from Mount Sinai.
Just look at those covers! Each one was painted by the masterful Oliver Frey, and they kicked your eyeballs right out of their sockets. They made every game look freaking fantastic.
The magazine had ebbs and lows just like the machine it was based on, but it still remained the cornerstone of any C64 fans’s hobby. There were lots of staff changes and revamps and “eras” of the magazine but the same games-hungry, cheeky style remained until the magazine eventually ceased publication in March 1994. The fact that it ran for 106 issues was testament to how good the formula was.
It was issue 35 that changed my life, though.
I was 13. I was not a smart kid, and had already started the habit of just not going to school at all during the day, and spending my time at the local comic shop until it was time to go home and play Commodore 64 games all night. I knew that I didn’t have a bright future. I guess I could have a career in painting houses to look forward to?
Flicking through issue 35 was like flicking through any other issue, but for some reason something clicked. I realised that Julian Rignall and Gary Penn and Paul Glancey and all that lot weren’t just writing the magazine for a laugh – this was an actual job. A job anyone could learn to do. A job I could learn to do.
It was a major revelation. I could become a game reviewer! I could escape the life that was awaiting me!
And…to cut a long story short, that’s exactly what I did. Reading Zzap! 64 led to me becoming a for-real game reviewer, which in turn led to me becoming a for-real game maker, which in turn led to many many years of adventures and victories. I feel like I owe my entire career to Zzap! 64.
But that’s not all. Many years ago, as a lark more than anything, I helped make the “final” issue of Zzap! 64, issue 107. It was…wow,13 years ago now? Not only was it a great opportunity to pay tribute to the magazine but I also got to work with some of the actual staff! I made some dear, dear friends through working on that issue, and I will always be thankful for that.
So…thanks for everything, Zzap! 64, and I’ll love you forever.