Product: Your Computer 3.11
Publisher: IPC Electrical-Electronic Press
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #73

It really is going to be impossible to do the contents of Your Computer 3.11 justice in a review. It is 290 pages long, with practically every page a discovery about the early days of home computing. I am therefore not even going to try to catalogue everything that you will find in it. I will say that if your interest is in the Oric, the Vic 20, the Dragon, the Commodore 64, the Sinclair Spectrum, the MTX-500, the Atari 600XL, the Spectravideo, the BBC, the ZX-81 or the Atari, then this magazine offers you at least ten pages of content dedicated to this specific machine - whether that be through type-in programs, articles, advertisements, product reviews or the slightly off-beat editorials it boasts.

I am not going to bang on either about the quality of Your Computer - the magazine was a market-leader, at least up until the market for home computers burst. In November 1983, it was all going swimmingly thank you very much and, as you might have gathered, this issue was gearing up to a Christmas when practically everyone was expecting a home computer in their Christmas stocking. Therefore it really does make for fascinating reading, not only for purient interest in perhaps the information about your favourite old machine that isn't yet available on the Internet - but also to see the parallel editorials debating computing issues pertinent to the modern day. There is a discussion, for example, about the 'evils' of software piracy, and the industry's feeble attempts to combat it. Relevant today? What do you think?

Of course, many of the pages are advertisements - zillions of them! - but all, at the same time, giving the reader a fascinating flavour of exactly what marketing was going on for what particular machine. Considering the 8-bit graphics that every game was featuring, the lavish artwork which illustrates some of these is positively misleading... and there's a fair few people protesting furiously in the mailbag section about software they have purchased that does not live up to the hype. Relevant today? Of course! (PS. Did you catch the BBC film Micro Men and the reference to the WHSmith order for Acorn Electrons that helped to sink Acorn Computers Ltd? That famous WHSmith two-page spread is in here too!)

There's a largish 'Software Shortlist' review section where Ant Attack (Spectrum), California Gold Rush (Commodore 64), Music Machine (Commodore 64), 3D Deep Space (BBC B), Pinball Arcade (BBC B) and Storm Arrows (Dragon 32) are given the once-over (although the reviews do barely scratch the surface of the games). More thorough however are the hardware sections. In the days of Your Computer, new computers were literally being released every week - with no-one really knowing which would take off and which would crash and burn. Consigned literally to the pages of history, you can read here about the Memotech MTX500, the Atari 600XL and the Spectravideo SV318. This last one does not have a real keyboard and has a joystick actually moulded on its right-hand side. However, at the same time, you cannot help but marvel at the computers that actually made it - these three computers are all cartridge-based; yet we all know that they were trounced by tape-based systems in the event. There is a lot that modern manufacturers could learn from such failed designs - storage is key. It's a pity Sony didn't pick up this issue before it launched the disastrous UMD video disc format for the PSP. (Like people were really going to buy discs when USB sticks were around!)

Back to software, if you're a ZX Spectrum owner then there's an incredibly detailed survey of games for your machine - and I don't mean a list of titles and software houses; I mean a real fully researched we've looked at all the different versions of this game and we have concluded that... article, with screenshots. Spectrum fans also get the first real review of the Interface 2 in this issue as well as a pullout 'Sinclair Special Issue 5', an assembler and even more bits and bobs we'll come to in the games roundup below.

The titles of the games might not mean much on their own and indeed, type-ins are always a bit of a mixed bag - so I should probably precede this games roundup with a bit of information. Your Computer published, by and large, extremely good, machine code games. If a game was good, it was given its own article in the magazine, referenced on the contents page. Lesser games were relegated to a 'Software File' at the magazine's back. So, bearing that in mind, we have separate articles and instructions, and code for Skyhop (for the Vic 20) (a BASIC game where you play a stuntdriver leaping over an increasing number of cars), Dungeon (for the Dragon) (a machine code graphical adventure set in a murky monochrome dungeon - from the screenshots the graphics look outstanding), Invaders (for the Oric) (a machine code Space Invaders clone), Scram-8 (ZX-81) (a nine part multi-file epic Skramble clone that pushes the 5K of this machine to its very limits!), Maggot Stomp (for the Spectrum) (a peculiar machine code arcade game), Hell Maze (for the Commodore 64) (a large text adventure in which you must escape from a maze), Snoopy (BBC) (a BASIC version of Q-Bert) and Balloons (for the Atari) (a BASIC game where you must shoot water-filled balloons).

There is a similar roundup of 'sub 100 quid micros' too, this one stretching to some 15,000 words all aimed at informing the 1983 how to investigate these apparent 'bargains' and discover whether or not they were about to buy a computer that would be obsolete in a few weeks.

Other utilities are also present - there's a tutorial on writing fast-executing machine code on the Dragon, a full commercial-quality spreadsheet package for the BBC called Calcsheet, the beginning of a Heartstop serialisation (BBC-based) and, of course, there is the regular 'Software File' alluded to earlier featuring a whole plethora of programs. There isn't space to list them all here but they include a three dimensional goblet for the Spectrum, a BASIC train game for the Vic 20, a machine code tunneling game for the ZX81 and another Maze game for the Dragon. A competition rounds off the content.

Now, how much did this monster of a magazine set you back in the day? You might expect it to have been a journal with a journal's price tag but, incredibly, it retailed for just 80p! How on earth it could be published so cheaply fair boggles the mind but one can only assume that the thousands (I kid you not!) of advertisements must have simply generated the publishers so much income that they kept the cover price low. This was the era when other magazines retailed at over a quid for 64 pages or less, remember.

Perhaps it is also worth mentioning that Your Computer has been, somewhat unfairly, almost completely forgotten about over the years. With the exception of the BBC and Acorn Electron programs housed within its pages (which are now available from Acorn Electron World), all of the programs within its pages remain precisely there, within its pages. There is not a doubt in my mind that the quality of those games not in the 'Software File' will be high. If you get your hands on a copy of this issue, you can type up these games and give them back to the retro gaming community to be enjoyed again. As one of the largest and most packed issues in the Your Computer run, I'd recommend anyone grab themselves not just a game but a copy of computing history!