Friday 29 November 2013

Unusual Railway Pubs - Retro Memories by Bob Barton

Writer Bob Barton, author of ‘Unusual Railway Pubs’ (Halsgrove Publishing), explains how an interest in model trains led to him travelling full-size tracks and playing pub games. Read his memories and then enter our prize draw to win the book and a Hornby train...

I've loved model trains for as long as I can remember. Grandad nurtured my interest, getting the eight year-old me a Hornby Dublo electric train-set one Christmas. He  then got the bug and built me a room-size Tri-ang Hornby layout, which he enjoyed as much as I did. I liked the realistic scenes and couldn't understand why school pals wanted to deliberately crash the trains. The Pullman express would be set up to go steaming into the back of a goods train, sending wagons flying in all directions and plastic people dying at frightening rate. As an accompaniment, a vinyl sound effects record would be interspersed with Beatles singles on my parents’ Dansette record player.

This was around 1964, long before electronic games hit the shops. Instead we had to combine three-dimensional objects with lots of imagination. Shortly after, Rovex (the company behind Tri-ang Hornby) did cotton-on to the demand for drama by bringing out some items of fictional military rolling stock. Called ‘Battle Space’, the range included spring-loaded missile launch wagons, a box car which exploded while on the move; another had a pop-up sniper in the roof. There were working searchlight wagons and low-loaders from which a helicopter or satellite would take off. Mates and I set up scenarios such as our train patrolling the West German border and being hi-jacked by the Soviet enemy (the Berlin Wall had yet to fall). Grandad’s enthusiasm grew with mine, his police pension regularly being stretched to the limit in Seymour’s model shop at Harrow-on-the-Hill (no bargain eBay purchases then). I was devastated when he died suddenly aged 70.
In the 1968 catalogue, Tri-ang Hornby advertised its trains jointly with Minic Motorways. Moving trains and cars could be combined on townscapes of tracks and highways. Minic was similar to Scalextric except it used the same 00 scale as the trains. It had level crossings where we engineered heart-stopping near-misses between steam locomotives and Porsches (please don’t try it on the real railways). Of course this was before the age of the microchip. The height of technology at that time was the R406 Automatic Train Control set. One train could be used to start and stop another and control signals and points, using a solenoid relay that the train tripped using trackside contacts.
There were board games as well and my favourite was ‘Go’, the International Travel Game by Waddington’s. You could travel the world by train and ‘plane, exchanging currency and buying tickets as you went. But real journeys beckoned. Grandad had done with travelling and dad was wedded to his car, so I had to wait until I was about 13, old enough to take long distance trains by myself or with schoolfriends. It engendered a wonderful sense of freedom to travel the country, checking timetables as I went. Mum’s Marmite sandwiches accompanied me to the wilds of Cornwall, North Wales and the Scottish Highlands. If you knew which rover ticket to buy (at half fare) you could travel hundreds of miles for little cost. There were more trains at night in those days, so there was no need for expensive hotel rooms.
Starting work at the age of 16, I was introduced to the world of pubs and, for a while, was a keen darts player. Pub games are a world of their own, with toad-in- the-hole, devil-among-the-tailors and several varieties of skittles also played widely then.
In later years. whenever I was travelling on business I went by train if possible: it was interesting checking out the pubs and refreshment rooms on the stations. Many hailed from the early days and were very ornate, though run-down. It was the era before today’s real ale and craft beer revolution. Today historic stations have been smartened up but even a decent coffee was hard to find back then.
When I was made redundant from my job as a press officer in 2007 I was looking for a project and decided to combine my twin interests of trains and pubs. I researched a guide to the best railway pubs, which no one had done before. Published by Halsgrove in 2013, ‘Unusual Railway Pubs’ ( also provided an excuse to travel on some of the preserved heritage railways, which often have great pubs with steam trains passing outside.
Models and pub games are a feature in some railway pubs. Among those in my book is one, on the line from King’s Cross, with an 0 scale model railway running below the ceiling and tunnelling through a wall. Another, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, is a cross between a railway museum, model shop and games room. Yet another is a brewery in a quirky Lincolnshire windmill. As well as relaxing with a drink in the circular bar, customers can try their hand at traditional pub games now rarely seen, such as shove shive, target bowls and cheese skittles.  
Win a copy of Bob’s book and a retro Hornby train in the free-to-enter draw on

Thursday 28 November 2013

Atari Flashback 3 in the home – Reviewer Rob Armstrong

Atari Flashback 3 - instructions, controllers and main unit

We gave the Atari Flashback 3 to one of our Team who is getting back into playing retrogames unlike many of us! Here is how he faired playing the Atari Flashback console

"When I was a kid all my friends had the latest Amiga 64 or the Nintendo NES. My parents didn’t want to buy just a games machine and so bought an Acorn Electron, a budget version of the BBC schools computer. Thanks Dad!

So now I have children I was keen to bring joy into our house this Christmas and leave education for the classroom. Which is why I have an Atari Flashback 3 console sitting at the back of the wardrobe but there’s no way I can wait until Christmas to give it go. Once you’ve set up the plug and play system you’re presented with a menu of 60 games to play. I have to be honest some of the games I’ve never played before, however lots of the titles bring back nostalgic feelings. Asteroids, Tic-tac-toe, Centipede, Dodgems and Video Pinball were all games that I spent hours playing at my mates’ houses. 

Many of the games are two player, however they will have to wait until Christmas Day before I can play them properly. There’s a game called ‘Surround’ which is like a 2 player predecessor to Snakes on the old Nokia mobile phones. Its simplicity is infectious but I’ve had to turn the TV volume down because the basic 80’s sound effects become slightly drilling after 20 minutes. I can already see that of the 60 games there are going to be some that see more action in our household than others, plus with so many to choose from, the constant temptation is to constantly try a new one.

If you only played each game for an average of 10 minutes that’s already 10 hours of retro gaming. If you’re interested in getting an Atari Flashback 3, just bear in mind that these are the original games which means the resolution of the image quality isn’t going to be excellent or widescreen, no matter what type of HD TV you play it on. That said if you’re looking for classic retro gaming, with simple yet addictive game play, then this is probably right up your street. There’s not much you could fault about the Atari Flashback 3 however if I could make one recommendation to the manufacturers, I’d point out that the 2 metre controller cable doesn’t quite stretch to the sofa. But theres a new version  the Flashback 4 with wireless controllers to solve this issue!  I’m quite aware that by the evening of Christmas Day my son will probably be better than me at most games. I’d put it down to the amount of time he spends playing on the iPad, which is on a slightly different playing field to my old Acorn Electron. Although for the time being I’ve got a few more weeks of practice."

Thanks to Rob Armstrong for his review of the Atari Flashback 3
To get your hands on a copy click here:

To order the wireless Atari Flashback 4 click here

With code GYL10 Get 10% off too!

Thursday 7 November 2013

HEWSON GAMES - Covertapes Can Yield Forgotten Classics

By Ewan Robinson

Covertapes Can Yield Forgotten Classics - a Hewson tale...

If you are a gamer of a certain age (or have a healthy interest in gaming on home micros from the 80’s and 90’s), you will almost certainly have encountered games published by Hewson Consultants and their later iteration 21st Century Entertainment.  Many of their classic games have appeared on a wide variety of platforms varying from the original Sinclair and Commodore home micros, the 16-bit successors to that market the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga and even appeared on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service as well as Commodore 64 Plug-n-Play TV Game systems in recent years.

As a collector of older hardware and software, I have a large amount of software for various systems gleaned from a wide variety of sources;  some has survived numerous house moves, others rescued from friends lofts or purchased in bulk lots from Ebay.  While emulators are the easiest choice for most people (and perfectly acceptable for playing on), I prefer to play my games in their original format and on original hardware.  For this article I decided to go back through my collection and see exactly how much Hewson and 21st Century software had accumulated and, providing my hardware was up to the task after 20-odd years, revisit these games again.

Going through my cassettes and disks I discovered that though I had few Hewson games in their original packaging many more were to be found on the fair number of Covertapes that were given away with Sinclair and Commodore games magazines.  These Covertapes included both full games and demo versions of then-newly released software.  For a retrogamer these sources should never be overlooked as there are many hidden gems hidden there.  

Crash magazine (for the Sinclair Spectrum) and Commodore Format (for the C64) seemed to host the most of these games, from around 1988-1991, though I found a few for the Atari ST & Amiga, both as Coverdisks and as software bundled with the machines themselves.  I seem to recall a budget range for 16 bit machines that also included a few titles too, I think by Prism Leisure.

(Note: Unfortunately upon setting up my machines in preparation, I discovered my Sinclair Spectrum+ has developed a malfunction and as such I have not looked over the Crash tapes in this article.  Hopefully I can repair it and bring you a Hewson Spectrum Special article in the future)

Below are the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Amiga games that by pure random chance had been lurking in my collection.  Those of you with large collections of tapes and disks may well have these and others, as it is by no means a complete list.  Dates mentioned are the date the game was copyrighted and not the date of the magazine in the case of Covertapes and Disks.

Shockway Rider (by FTL, 1988)
(C64) Commodore Format CF5
Perhaps not the most auspicious start on my journey of (re)discovery was this game.  As a futuristic trouble-maker on a set of three moving walkways, throw bricks at by-standers, avoid the other gangers and reach the objective.

Ok, the game itself isn’t particularly one of Hewsons greats, but it does use some rather nifty graphics tricks to give the impressions of parallax scrolling (technically impossible on a C64 but clever programmers could get around that) and sprite scaling and even some primitive digitisation features in the presentation.  An interesting look at some ways to bend the C64 graphically, though the game is a bit shallow, even by the standards of the day.

Anarchy (by Michael Sentinella, Music by Nigel Grove, 1987)
(C64) Commodore Format CF10
A brilliant little game that I very much still enjoy. Guide a little tank (actually, its a tank destroyer, but lets not get into semantics) around a maze, shoot out the blocks and battle enemies.  Think Atari’s Combat mixed with Boulderdash or Repton and you get the idea.

The thing I really like about Anarchy is that when you shoot out the blocks it plays musical notes. These are very nicely done as to never grate on the player’s hearing and also randomly generate the sound in a pleasing manner.  More games should have quirks like this and a good soundscape is also a feature of many Hewson titles, either in effects or musically.

(Note:  Not to be confused with Psygnosis’ Anarchy which is a Defender clone)

Mission Impossibubble (By Mat, Music by Demon, 1989)
(C64) Commodore Format CF16
Isometric puzzle-shooter with very nice music and some up to the minute effects for its time. Like many later 8-bit Hewson games, Mission Impossibubble uses many graphical techniques to make the game look a lot more advanced than the aging hardware would otherwise allow. The game is quite entertaining with a steep difficulty, but retains an all important one-more-go quality, and the charming characters and pleasant sound effects still work nicely.

Head The Ball (By Jason Page, Spectrum version by Cybadyne, 1989)
(C64) Commodore Format CF16
Combining the best elements of Wizball and Cauldron II, Head the Ball is a perfectly functional and enjoyable platform game. Guide the titular Head along screens of enemies to reach the goal.

The game is well designed, and allows various different ways of traversing most screens.  Again, the sound really stands out, specifically the music, and the controls are much more friendly (though less realistic in terms of physics) than Cauldron II’s ridiculously uncontrollable pumpkin.  I guess Heads are more maneuverable than decorative squashes!

Cyberdyne Warrior (By John & Steve Rowlands, 1989) (C64) Commodore Format CF17
A fun multi-screen platform shooter, Cyberdyne Warrior’s space marine lives in a world not unlike that of Turrican or Metroid.  However, he eschews fancy gadgets and being able to turn into a gyro-ball in favour of firepower and lots of it!

Blast, leap and collect your way through enemies of all kinds in this sci-fi action blaster. Again, Cyberdyne Warrior displays some of the graphical flourishes that would come to be much more familiar on later 16 bit machines.  A very enjoyable game all in all and one I will definately play more of.

Battle Valley (By Simon Wellard & Mark Washbrook, 1988)
(C64) Commodore Format CF17
Silkworm?  Nah.  S.W.I.V.?  Pff who needs it. Not when you have the awesome Battle Valley from Hewson!  Choose between helicopter or scorpion tank in this scrolling shooter. You choose whether to go left or right, ground or air attack.  Bases reload your ammo and enemies will try to shoot you down or destroy you no matter what method you choose.

Aim your cannon up or down in tank mode, take cover, retreat to a better position or fly high or nape-of-the-earth in the chopper in this nice well-rounded Moon Patrol-meets-Choplifter style game.

Firelord (By Stephan Crow, C64 version by John Cumming, 1986)
(C64) Commodore Format CF18
Classic flick-screen adventuring.  Firelord however does nothing to hide its roots on the ZX Spectrum, and in my opinion fails to take any advantage of the C64’s abilities.

Except in one place;  its theme-tune is one of the jolliest medieval ditties this side of Fairlight’s score and is very very good.

Paradroid (By Andrew Baybrook, 1985)
(C64) ZZap! Megatape 24
If you are a fan of the Commodore 64 and you have never heard of or played Paradroid I’m afraid you’ve missed out. Very simple graphically, though still effective, Paradroid is one of the best realised games of its time.  Explore a vast starship as the aforemention droid, evade destroy and “hack” to take over the other robots who have gone berzerk and make your way to the bridge to free the cowering captain and his cowardly crew.

With tons of replay value, for me its the slick controls and ease of play that make the game, though it is far from an easy jaunt walk in the park.

Gribbly’s Day Out (By Andrew Baybrook, 1985) (C64) ZZap! Megatape 25
Can Gribbley Grobbley save the strange things from the other, stranger things? Probably not.  But sure, go on, you might as well try. Even by early C64 standards the graphics are…. a little basic.  The game is odd, yet think Thrust with gravity and a frog with one leg instead of a spaceship and you are sort of slightly close.Hard to describe and nearly as hard to play, Gribbley’s Day Out is a game that will leave you saying…. “What"?!.

Ammotrack (By John M. Phillips, 1988) (ST) ST Action Games Disk (Unknown Issue)
This game claims at the start to be “an incomplete or demo version”. I'm not aware of a more complete version appearing, but perhaps it did. Think Roadblasters meets S.T.U.N. Runner and I think that’s what was being aimed for here.  Unfortunately, the framerate doesn’t quite cut the mustard on the speed side of things and the sound is virtually non-existant.

However, it would be unfair to totally slate Ammotrack.  The 3D effect works very well and once you get into the swing of it, pickup power-ups and dodging obstacles on the course, there’s a fair amount to be said for this little game.  I’d love to know if it was ever finally completed though.

Nebulus (By John M. Phillips, 1988)
(ST) Atari Power Pack Disk G
Another deserving classic.  Nebulus is a platformer concentrating on a rotational tower that you must ascend, avoiding or battling enemies as you do so.  Graphically impressive in all its formats, Nebulus is a brilliant game, even if its crushingly unfair at times. The ST version has unfortunately weak sound effects, but that’s more to the limitations of the platform/hardware itself rather than the game.  Graphically, its still very impressive and the game is a lot of fun, with a real “one-more-go” quality.

Steel (By Gary Biasillo & Mike Williams, 1989) (ST) Zero Cover Disk 22
This was the first “full game” I got on a cover disk for my Atari ST.  I really liked it.  You play a robot, not dissimilar in appearance from V.I.N.Cent from The Black Hole, and attempt to navigate your way around a starship filled with rogue robots, hacking computers to attempt to reach the bridge… the ...crew…  hmmmm I’ve heard this plot and style somewhere before….

Yes, its pretty much Paradroid for 16-bit machines. However, it gives and takes in equal measure. Graphically, it is very very very pretty, the metal of the robots is well coloured, the ship’s corridors look great, and the sound isnt too bad.  Unfortunately, you now play horizontally rather than top down, meaning that where you could drive around enemies in a room, you are often trapped in a corridor with them. They are much tougher to destroy than before and they damage you badly when they hit you. Get the pens out, because to complete this game you’ll need mapping skills. Odd, as in Paradroid the game had a map you could access by the ship’s computer.

Pinball Fantasies (Andreas Axelsson & Marcus Nystrom, 1992)
(Amiga) 21st Century Entertainment Original Version

Follow up to the successful Pinball Dreams, it does what it says on the tin providing four more beautifully designed pinball tables.  This game was expandable through data disks and featured brilliant sound, crisp clean graphics and a good sense of physics.

In my opinion the 21st Century Entertainment Pinball games on the Amiga blew away their competition on consoles and other home micros substantially, with only (and in my humble opinion)  Advanced Pinball Simulator on the Amstrad giving as fun (but much less graphically and audibly enriched) pinball experience.

Given that the above was a random selection of games gleaned from my collection, you can see how varied Hewson’s catalogue is.  Many games had very original features, and often some of the best sound work of their time, especially on the C64.  And I hope that this has inspired you to take another look at that heap of Covertapes gathering dust on the shelf.

Now, where did I put that screwdriver?  I have a dozen Hewson titles for the ZX Spectrum I want to play next…..

This GUEST BLOG review is by Ewan Robinson


Our Interview with Andrew Hewson can be viewed here:

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Watch the Kickstarter video below:

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Evolution of an Arcade Junkie - Part two of two

By David Campbell

Blackpool was the place most families chose as their holiday destination in the 80s and early 90s. This was fine by me as it had some of the best arcades I’d seen. They were better furnished than our local arcades, possibly due to space, but more likely due to the booming tourist cash that went into them. I know I spent many pounds in there over the years.

Because of this, Blackpool arcades had some huge machines. They had all the standard cabinets and games you’d expect, but I remember experiencing something new whilst on holiday - sit down and hydraulic cabinets. Games such as Out Run, After Burner, Wec Le Mans, Thunder Blade, Space Harrier, and Starblade. 

I distinctly remember sitting in the Out Run cabinet for the first time, and being genuinely amazed that it let you pick the soundtrack for your game. Wec Le Mans was a huge cabinet that rotated when you turned - one of the first times I had felt sick whilst playing a game. 

Games back then had the chance to terrify and excite you all at once. The first time I sat in Thunder Blade, and it asked you to make sure you had literally fastened your seatbelt.. I thought I was going to actually take off! Along side Thunder Blade was Space Harrier. A huge cabinet that lurched around to your command was amazing. It was also expensive. At this time, most standard games were 10p or 20p per play. Space Harrier was 50p. But it was so worth it. 

You could now buy home computer conversions of the popular arcade games, but the arcades still had something that the computers couldn't deliver, no matter how close a conversion.. the huge cabinets and unique controls. You couldn’t by steering wheels, flight yokes and guns for your computer back then (although they would come eventually), so the arcade still held something unique that encouraged you to part with you (or your parents) hard earned cash.  

Unfortunately, all that was about to change..

The 1990s

By the late 90s, arcades were all but dead. There were still some great games released (the Virtua Fighter series, Ferrari Challenge, Virtua Cop series, Sega Rally, Time Crisis etc), but home consoles delivered arcade quality ports. The Sega Saturn, Playstation, PS2 and Dreamcast allowed you to “own” a whole arcade, albeit without the cabinets and controls of their arcade counterparts. Arcades could no longer entice the crowds they previously had.

Home console arcade ports were great for a while, but then nostalgia seemed to kick in. People yearned for the games they had played as kids. Some “retro” compilations were released, and they satisfied some appetites, but it wasn't enough. You could only play the games provided in the compilation. However, a very clever chap named Nicola Salmoria took things into his own hands and created a program for the PC. It was called MAME.

Whilst some people find MAME controversial, it allowed arcade junkies to once again play “real” versions of they games they loved and yearned for. All of a sudden, people could access over 4,000 arcade games right on their home PC. 

This seemed to rekindle the love of arcade games, as people played them on the PC but found they wanted more. Playing the game wasn’t enough; they wanted the proper arcade experience. No one ever sat at an arcade machine and played it with a keyboard. They stood up. They mashed buttons and rattled joysticks. They held onto the cabinet. This was the element that was missing.

People like me that had grown up in the arcades now mostly had jobs, and a little disposable income. With a smattering of DIY handiwork, some MDF and lashings of paint,  you could actually build your own arcade cabinet. 

At first, it was a little complex to use real arcade controls with your PC. It generally involved hacking apart a keyboard and dabbing solder everywhere, but now you can buy an interface the size of a matchbox which allows you to easily screw in connections and add a myriad of controls; joysticks, trackballs, light guns, rotary joysticks, spinners, flight yokes.. they’re all available and (fairly) easy to connect to your computer.

To feed my arcade addiction and my nostalgia, I built myself a MAME cabinet. It took a lot of planning, deciding on controls and so on, but it’s an awesome thing to own, as now I can relive and recapture the giddy excitement I felt as a four year old. Playing MAME in a cabinet is a world apart from playing MAME on anything else (especially when you actually insert a coin to play the game), and it only took me a week to build.

If you love arcade games, I would strongly encourage you think about building (or buying) a MAME cabinet. I promise, you won’t regret it!

A great article by David Campbell as our Guest Blogger -

you can read part one to this here:

Friday 1 November 2013

Evolution of an Arcade Junkie - Part one of two

By David Campbell

I was born in Scotland, in 1975. Some people may think that makes me old, but 1975 was a great year to be born. Let me explain why.

Portobello Beach Arcade - Edinburgh
Video gaming was in its infancy. There were a few primitive games out there, but the explosion of fast paced, vibrant games that made you forget where you were was still to come. Most younger people probably cannot comprehend what a magical time this was.
If you ask a teenager today what the first console game they ever played was, I would bet that the vast majority of them wouldn’t be able to tell you. 

Now, that may be because home video games are commonplace now, and part of everyday life. Back when I was a kid, however, home video games consisted of variants of Pong, generously labelled as “Sports” games. Sure, Atari and a few other companies would change all that, but arcades.. nothing could rival an arcade experience.

The sights, the sounds, the colourful images, the transition as your eyes adjusted from normal outside life to the darkened digital sanctuary, revealing the delights within. That moment where you scan the arcade, looking for your favourite game, or maybe a new game.. deciding which coin slot would earn the right to your hard earned pocket money.

I remember the first arcade game I ever played. It was at Haggerston Castle holiday park in Northumberland. On our first explorative walk around the camp site, my mum, dad and I discovered a large white building, with what appeared to be a TV sitting outside on a large box. As we approached, we noticed a steering wheel

I ran forward, curious and excited by this neon coloured delight. I deliriously pushed the pedal, rocked the wheel, moved the  gear lever up and down. My mum examined this strange beast, and did something that changed my life forever. She gave me 10p to put in the machine. It was Atari’s “Night Driver”. It was the stand up version, with a black and white screen. Rudimentary would be a generous description of the graphics, but to my four year old overloaded brain, I was there - I was in a car, racing along at breakneck speed, in the dead of night. I crashed lots. I got another 10p.. and my addiction was born.

Onto the 80s

My arcade addiction grew almost in parallel with the exponential explosion of the arcade industry after my experience with Night Driver in 1979.

We used to visit Portobello beach in Edinburgh for a treat day. I would make a beeline for the arcades, which were now plentiful. New games seemed to turn up every time I visited.

By 1983, we were in what has now become known as the “Golden Age” of the arcade.  Classics such as Asteroids and Space Invaders which people had swarmed around had grown into full colour, polyphonic coin swallowers. Pac-Man, Joust, Defender, Robotron, Galaxian, Donkey Kong, Gorf, Pole Position and Spy Hunter were the regulars in most arcades. Vast rooms filled with the sonic and visual cacophony of coins rattling, buttons being thumped, teaser sounds, laser blasts, explosions, jingles; “noise” to our parents, but a delightful symphony to my young ears. 

1983 would also be the year that created a fusion of two things that have defined me - video games and Star Wars. Atari released the seminal game of the film and allowed youngsters to fulfill their fantasies across the globe. Stepping into the large cockpit for the first time; settling on the gloss black wooden bench, hands gently cradling the flight yoke of the X-Wing... the anticipation was incredible. Putting the coin in the slot, almost in slow motion; it was sensory overload. To hear the Star Wars them pumped into the speakers, the crawling text, then BOOM! you are part of the Rebel Alliance, and you are flying an X-Wing in space. Obi Wan provides encouragement as your ship swoops and swerves, shields dropping with each TIE Fighter hit, then you nosedive straight into the Death Star trench. Get those Photon torpedoes on target, and you are rewarded with shards of the destroyed space station flying across the screen.

You emerge slowly from that cockpit, and it takes you a few seconds to realise you aren’t in space, but in an arcade. You look back at what you've just experienced. The game may only have lasted a few moments, but the smile on your face and the memories you’ve just created will last an awful lot longer.

David Campbell's story continues soon....