The Commodore Force that never was

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Prompted by a recent discussion on Lemon 64 that cropped up – I realised that I had a bit of a story to share regarding an actual magazine issue that never was.  The elusive Commodore Force issue 17.

In addition to this, a forum thread over at the Zzap 64 forum also gives additional input into this feature which i’ve recently updated this article with.

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Due for release on the 10th March 1994, the magazine was never to appear due to Impact Magazines going under.   Not due to the demise of the C64 itself, though the last few issues of the magazine showed vast signs of a deteriorating readership.  It was claimed by a few people that they had tried to get Commodore Force to push focus more so on the home brew market that was appearing (Psytronik, Jon Wells, EBES etc) and like Commodore Format had done successfully to spin along a little longer.  However, James Price suggested that no-one really came forward with ideas like this and he was pretty much alone at the age of 19 working on the magazine effectively by himself with Miles Guttery.

But that is all past – however, for years, various people have often wondered what the mysterious all time favourite game would have been on that next issue, not knowing that there was actually more than just a game to find out about – as you will see in a moment.

Firstly, thanks to the Zzap 64 website – over the years recently there has been chance to ask the old Commodore Force team questions about the magazine, but also about what the game was actually meant to have been.  I spoke with James Price back in 2008 who solved the mystery… and it wasn’t the Frankie Goes To Hollywood game that we were expecting…

“The only thing I can definitely remember is that Julian Gollop’s excellent Laser Squad (plus the extra mission pack originally sold exclusively via mail order) had been signed as the lead game for the next issue’s cover tape. That Gollop’s minor classic didn’t enjoy an Indian summer was a real shame; the lack of a final Commodore Force to accompany it, much less so.”

On the Zzap forums, James confirmed this again:

“Issue 17 was going to feature, as Ian Osbourne correctly remembered, Laser Squad. I think we’d also persuaded Julian Gollop (the game’s creator) to let us include the separate mission pack, too. I can’t remember what else we had on there. I vaguely recall ongoing negotiations to publish Mayhem in Monsterland in some form, but I think the Apex boys were disappointed by the negligible sums of hard cash both Force and Format had to offer. “

Rather surprisingly it was the second game in the CF team’s top 100 games of all time that was to appear.  Most likely it seems that the licencing costs to get Frankie Goes To Hollywood were far too great for a magazine bleeding readers and money.

However, that wasn’t all… it seems issue 17 actually got completed and ready to go before Impact went down…  Not quite at the printers as first thought… James Price confirmed this within the forums of Commodore Force and recalled the following:

“Can’t for the life of me remember what was in it, but it was definitely smaller: down to thirty-two pages, I think.

A couple of weeks (or thereabouts) before Impact closed its doors, I was called into a meeting and told that I would, from that point forward, be editing Commodore Force on a freelance basis. I was to be given a modest copy budget every month, a reasonable boost to my salary – I crossed the 10k barrier! – and was told I’d have to do a fair amount of the work “in my own time”.

Impact had bought Amiga Force back in-house from Computerfacts (the contract publishing firm, later known as Rapide, that had produced it for several issues), and I was given the reviews ed job in Nick Roberts’s new team. “

Ian Osbourne however had more revelations, which i’ve quoted directly below from the forum post – namely that an Issue 18 was actually started!   Some fixes have been made in 2013, as Ian got a few issues mixed up (which can happen after a long time – dates get blurred!).  I’ve added some corrections into place from myself and Ian.

* Issue 16 was completed and sent to the printers (Frank – And was the last issue to be released of course).  I was drafted in at the end of the schedule for this one because the issue had fallen behind its deadlines (again), and wrote several sections, including the final (I think) Back to the Feature and a piece on how Commodore Force was put together.  Interestingly, this was meant to be the last issue of CF. The magazine was put on Firm Sale (so the newsagents had to pay for every issue they put on the shelves, whether or not they were sold), but when orders exceeded expectations, the title was reprieved and ‘Goodbye, readers’ messages were quickly removed. (Frank – “Ian confirmed in 2013 that he got mixed up and the final planned issue was 15 which had its reprieve”).

* Issue 17 saw me rejoin the team. Apart from the Megatape pages, which James earmarked for himself, the magazine was completed over a week ahead of schedule. For this issue, I did everything that wasn’t freelanced out. I can’t remember much about what went into it, but it definitely had a substantial reviews and previews section, for the first time in months. Also, Bash the Barbarian was replaced by an old healer-type figure for the adventure column, largely because we forgot to remove his farewells in the previous issue. (Ian – “This wasn’t at the printers. We were still waiting for the cover tape pages to be written, and IIRC, Impact went down a week or so before our deadline anyway”)

* Having finished Issue 17, I moved on to Issue 18. I can’t remember how much of it was completed or what was written, but it was probably only half a dozen pages or so.  (Ian – “I’d started Issue 18, but only barely. I don’t think anything had been designed.”)

It’s great to see people interested in seeking out the missing issues, but it’s a mission that’s doomed to failure. I doubt the issue that went to the printers was printed at all, and if it was, it certainly wasn’t bound. If anything went through the rollers at all, it would be a single section of the mag, printed on an enormously wide roll and not even cut into pages. These would’ve gone straight in the bin when Impact went down the tubes. The only way anything could survive is if a journo or designer had kept printouts or files after the crash, and that doesn’t seem to have happened.”

So we can confirm that there was no other issue of Commodore Force at the printers which never got released.  This was in fact Issue 16, which did get released and was the final issue.  But Issue 17 was well under way and believed to have been fully written and ahead of schedule.  See more below regarding why it was ahead of schedule.

James later added to Ian’s original memories – here he refers to Issue 18 that was never actually properly started.  Ian pretty much had started his own work on 18, but no design or layouts were done…

“I can’t remember where I saw it, but I’m pretty sure someone suggested that there was an issue “in production” in addition to the finished magazine at the printers. This isn’t strictly true: I hadn’t got around to starting it. Besides, I think we all knew that Impact was fucked by that point. I don’t think anyone really worked too hard over the last (very depressing) couple of weeks.”

However as we’ve already mentioned,  Ian highlighted that it seemed C-Force were preparing for the end and issue 15 was officially meant to be the very last issue – but after surprisingly strong sales and firm orders, it got a reprieve and issue 15 was slated for release. However, after frantically removing all the “goodbye’s” they had splattered all over the magazine – they forgot to remove Bash The Barbarians 🙂

In a separate email, James gave more details about the issue 17 which was apparently finished (albeit, minus its cover tape pages)…

“Weeks before Impact Magazines went into liquidation, the decision was made to cut the Commodore Force page count to 16 and have each issue produced by a ‘freelance’ team of Impact staff in their spare time; the few remaining team members (including me) were reassigned to other titles.

I was given the job of co-ordinating things on a part-time basis in addition to working on the relaunched Amiga Force. The general consensus was that sales of CF were driven by its cover tape games, not each issue’s content. As I shudder to recall, the endless four-weekly parade of lazy retrospectives, budget reviews and – I cringe as I write this – pisspoor editorial standards made CF a pretty abysmal read in its last six months or so. I take full responsibility for this, of course – I was 19 and still struggling to find my voice as a writer, let alone cope with an editor’s responsibilities. 

Much of the content of the new “slimline” CF would have focused on the covertape games, with a few reviews (where available), and small articles – I remember planning to conduct interviews with classic programmers/developers, ideally linked with the covertape software – on other pages. I think there would have been a small letters section as well, written by whoever felt like playing Mangram with the diminished monthly mailbag, but that’s about it.

Any copy that might have been written has long since been deleted from the hard drives of obsolete Apple Macs sold on by the liquidators – I certainly didn’t keep anything. A few potential suitors (including Mark Smith’s Computerfacts, later known as Rapide Publishing) circled the corpse of Impact Magazines and eyed choice morsels such as CF and SNES Force, which I heard were the only Impact publications that were still profitable/breaking even before the company’s closure. Interested parties were apparently deterred by the liquidator’s asking price and potential subscriber liability, though, and I know nothing of any firm offer being made.”

So it seems that issue 17 may have also been the start of a rapidly smaller magazine with a focus on the cover mount – rather much like Commodore Disk User was in the late 80’s and early 90’s.   And the smaller page count no doubt shows why Ian suggested that Issue 17 was finished ahead of the usual schedule.  With less pages to write and prepare, there was a good chance it could be knocked out quickly.

 

The big question now is if this long lost issue could be found at all? …. Many claim that anything of the elusive issue 17 is now gone for good.  But is that really the case?   Although liquidators probably did obtain most of the materials – there is always the chance that someone kept bits of the magazine.

In 2005, Mark Kendrick recovered remains of an unreleased Nintendo Force issue and bits were printed in Retro Gamer magazine at the time.  Mark had offered hope that he may have something of the magazine on one of his old Macs in his garage.  However, after a few attempts to try and ask Mark to take a look – the line went dead.  Mark is possibly the only one who may have something of the long lost Issue 17.

Maybe some day we’ll find something of the magazine to look at as an interest point and a glimpse of what we could have picked up from the newsagents back on the 10th March 1994.

4 Responses to The Commodore Force that never was

  1. Andy Vaisey says:

    An illuminating read! Thanks!

  2. MrJay says:

    Hey Frank,

    What a brilliant and very interesting bit of work! Have you any more chats with James you can share?

    On another topic if you are reading this Frank, I have included my real email address in the form. I’m putting together some stuff on Commodore Format magazine and would love to have your input as I know like me you’re a great fan of the magazine. Please do say hello 🙂

    • fgasking says:

      Thanks Neil! Glad you liked it! That was pretty much all I had from James – nothing else of note at this stage.

      I’d be happy to give some input if you’re putting stuff together on Commodore Format. I’ve shared a few of my memories already on my blog at http://fgasking.wordpress.com/ and over various forums, but if you have any specific questions – then bung them over.

  3. Brilliant detective work buddy 🙂

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