Product: Retro The Making Of Special
Publisher: Edge
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #64

The 'Edge' magazine has been dabbling in retro gaming for a good few years now but has tended to concentrate on games for the more 'popular' computers of the Eighties. Also, on thumbing through the latest section on retroland in a few issues, its approach was always on 'popular' games. Whilst a misty-eyed "Do you remember playing Thunderbirds on the Commodore 64?" article is all very well for keeping up interest in retro computing as a whole, it doesn't make for sales to BBC/Electron owners. This being the case, although I was aware Edge was out there, I gave it merely a passing glance in the past.

However, September 2003, and browsing the magazines in the local WHSmith, my eye fell upon a glossy, A4 firmbacked, professional, publication done in classy black and white. "Edge presents Retro 'The Making Of...' Special" boomed the title over an artistic display of red Meteors' style shapes. And, continued the inner blurb, "the stories behind the classics, fascinating to those who played them - rarely orthodox, frequently characterised by hardship, and sometimes just plain odd." Flipping over, there they all were - Manic Miner, Chuckie Egg, Elite, Repton, Tetris, Exile, The Way Of The Exploding Fist. In fact, 33 separate articles, all fully researched, beautifully illustrated and presented and, best of all, each name an instantly recognisable tour de force of its time.

Now I cannot recommend this hugely enjoyable read highly enough - it weighs in at 146 pages and is the possibly the most attractive Bible of Nostalgia ever published. It costs just a fiver, which is peanuts when you consider the amount of work that has to have gone into it. Of course, it's not strictly a BBC family publication. In fact, some of the games it traces the lives of are not even 8bit ones - eg. Dragon's Lair, The Secret Of Monkey Island, Lemmings and Sensible Soccer. But the seven articles on the BBC/Elk titles to which it tips the proverbial hat (See above) include interviews with their creators, marketting managers and in-house developers. You'll learn the inside story of the development of the Repton series, the incredulity caused by the success of Chuckie Egg, how Exile began life as nothing more than a spaceman taking a walk in the park...

Of course, the 16bit games are just as famous, and to this reviewer (who has played all of them at one time or another) just as intriguing. In the other titles you'll find parallels with Acorn games. For instance from the Atari game Asteroids came the Acornsoft clone Meteors. And of course, Centipede is practically universal. Read all the articles and you'll be a guru of computer game development - the very first article on Spacewar, the very first videogame published in 1962 will introduce you to the PDP-1 and the fact that when it was created, there was no law available to copyright it. Even more remarkable is Russia's failure for decades to realise the importance of Tetris.

The articles themselves generally cover three to four pages and are written in a very concise and frequently funny style. I didn't spot a single spelling or grammatical error in the whole of the text and the whole magazine has a certain indescribable design flair. You don't just get screenshots, you get animation character blowups, screenshots with narratives, enlarged quotations of important sentences, even prints of the original cels for Dragon's Lair and a copy of the original graph paper used by Asteroids' coders to design the meteors.

The paper on which everything is printed gives a very clear finish. If there is anything to complain about, it is only that the paper is also quite glossy and, unless you hold the magazine wearing gloves, you quickly find fingerprint impressions appear on the black backgrounds.

In these days of the all-prevalent internet I spent half an hour scouting around cyberspace in hope of finding an on-line version of the magazine to which I could refer all Electroneers. Unfortunately, and possibly understandably, no on-line version does exist and it is unlikely by the time you read this that WHSmith will still have the magazine in stock. Instead, you can order it direct from Future Publishing, either on their hotline (+44 (0)80 4448466) or by emailing them at backissues@futurenet.co.uk and quoting Edge Special Retro 2.

What's that you say? Retro 2? So is there a Retro 1, then? Well, from the back page advertisement, it appears there is; it was published in 2002 and it's still available. Personally, just as I whipped up this 2003 edition from the shelf on sight, it was time to put my order in for the 2002 edition on gaining this knowledge. After the joy of reading Retro 'The Making Of...' Special, its predecessor is anxiously awaited. For now though, I would urge you to beg, borrow or steal to raise the money for this magazine. But be warned - keep it to one side until the weekend - once you start reading it, it's impossible to put down!