Sunday 26 April 2009

It Was Still Twenty(ish) Years Ago Today

Continuing a look back at PC magazines of yesteryear, moving on almost a year to PC Plus from October 1989. A noticeable change is the break in Amstrad’s PC1512/1640 stranglehold on the UK home PC market, with advertisers offering PCs from Tandon, Packard Bell, Epson, Atari and Commodore amongst others, as well as a few places building their own. M3 were offering a 16Mhz 386SX machine with 1Mb of RAM and VGA display for a fairly reasonable £1769, an uber-powerful 33Mhz 386 with 4Mb of RAM ran to £3969.

Reviews in the issue included Desktop Publishing packages (Timeworks DTP getting the thumbs up), colour printers (HP’s Paintjet winning for its good colours and crisp definition), and databases (a four-way tie between Paradox 3, dBase IV, R:Base and Delta Five). MS-DOS 4.0 was well received, though not seen as much of a step-up from version 3.3. “Specific” was the order of the day for some packages; if you needed to print spreadsheets sideways and print banners using very large sideways text, then £44.99 would get you “Twist & Shout” to do just that (I can’t help but feel they started with the name of that one, and worked out what it would actually do later).

If space on your desk was at a premium, a “breakthrough in computer technology” (according to the press release) resulted in a mono LCD monitor, only 6.5cm deep, for £684. Great excitement in communications news, with Telecom Gold catching up to the latest high-speed standards and offering 2400 bit per second access to its subscribers (no, that’s not missing a kilo- or mega- prefix); no e-mail address for the on-line correspondent who could be reached at 76:MTR007 or 919993843, depending on which service you subscribed to, while another column bemoaned the various incompatible on-line services about to be (temporarily) swept aside by the fax machine: “It takes a long time for a deeply held enthusiasm to evaporate completely, but six years is long enough if you spend it watching Prestel and Telecom Gold petrify, bulletin boards turn to pornography, racism and piracy, and unabashed hackers parading their self-importance before a credulous and uncomprehending media”. Plus ca change… Speaking of which, reader Peter M. Biss wrote in to whole-heartedly agree with a previous reader’s view that “software houses should not use anti-piracy schemes which inconvenience the very users who have parted with their hard earned cash for their products”.

Over in “Games Plus”, there was news of the soon-to-be released Bomber, with six flyable aircraft “each drawn with up to 120 polygons” and reviews of Kult (doesn’t ring any bells with me); Total Eclipse, a pyramid-exploring game using the Freescape 3D system (I vaguely recall one of the previous games in the series, Driller or Dark Side, a harbinger of much to come with its first person view, though the frame rate was possibly best measured in frames-per-minute, so not quite high speed twitch gaming at that point); Purple Saturn Day, a slightly psychedelic sounding space-sport game, and Curse of the Azure Bonds. Azure Bonds got a fairly middling review (“it may not be the most sophisticated computer role-playing game ever, but the plot is reasonably well thought out and there are some challenging puzzles to solve as well as plenty of fierce combat”), but I really loved that game and spent many hours guiding my DIY/garden tool-themed party on their quest (Games Workshop were quite into their Chainsaw Warrior phase at the time, inspiring Qualcast the Fighter, Blackndekka the Cleric and their chums). In the back of the magazine, a “Good Software Guide” rounded up recommendations in various categories, the games including Ultima V, 688 Attack Sub, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Cribbage/Gin King (the card game, not a Hogarth-inspired swig ’em up) and Tetris: “a totally new type of game that needs fast reactions and very quick thinking.”

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