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Most text of the present article comes from various explanations of ratings as published in various issues of of the British C64 magazine ZZAP!64 (1985-1994). Certain features were modified and new features introduced at various stages of the magazine's 'life', so we'll fill this up as we go...
 
  All Change (Issue 17)
Sep 1986
 

In last month's ZZAP! I announced the retirement of Gary Liddon from our reviewing team -- he's now happily ensconced in the depths of North London helping get Thalamus, the new software house, underway. He's been partly replaced by 18 year-old newcomer Richard 'Dick' Eddy, a Cornwellian (or is it Cornishman?) who hails from Helston. Dickís really an Amstrad man, but as a nifty joystick wielder and arcade player, he was pressganged by the gang and then seduced by the wonderful Commodore graphics -- at least until AMTIX! needs him back.

Avid 'masthead' watchers (that's the narrow bit on the left of the contents page) might have noticed two new names, one with a familiar ring to it -- Jonathan Rignall, and you would be right, for Jonathan is none other than ZZAP! Ego King Julian Rignallís younger brother. But thereís little In common between them except blood -- Jonathan is bright, technically clever, handsome, modest and (above all) intelligent! (Itís okay though, the Scorelord is trying to get Julian to go to evening charm school classes). He works upstairs in ĎArtí In the repro department, the ones responsible for geting all the artwork onto final printer's film.

The other new name is the rather exotic Massimo Valducci who comes from Shrewsbury (a small town near Rome). Mass is our sub-editor -- a technical term for someone who corrects all Gary Pennís spelling mistakes . . .

But there are bigger personnel changes afoot for ZZAP! because this is my last issue as Editor of the magazine. CRASH readers called me 'traitor Kean' for swapping allegience from the Spectrum to the Commodore, but ZZAP! readers need not have the same feelings for where I go next is not another machine. At Christmas Newsfield Publications launch their fourth title. It's simply called L M, and yes, you're right -- Lloyd Mangram has been persuaded to rent out his initials! I'm editing L M and Lloyd will be doing his infamous bit on the letters pages. Whatís the new mag about, well you'll find when you get your Christmas Special edition of ZZAP! because a free first issue of L M will be included for you to have a look at. What I can say is that it's a new idea in youth magazines, aimed at people like you, with a lively interest in all sorts of things. You'll be hearing more . . .

So, as from issue 18, the new Editor of ZZAP! will be Gary Penn. In eighteen months, Gary has gone from a tyro who signed his name with an X to one of the most professional writers in computer journalism -- quite a remarkable achievement! Apart from murdering the odd pet person, his record with ZZAP! has been exemplary, and certainly for the past six issues he has been responsible for arranging all of the monthís contents. I feel I can leave ZZAP! very safety In his capable hands -- maybe now he'll even smile occasionally . . .

For the last time then . . .

Roger Kean . . .

 
  A Change at ZZAP! Towers (Issue 16)
Aug 1986
 

This month sees an interesting developement and a move. The Good News is that Gary Liddon -- no, sorry, that's the Bad News. Okay. Bad News first -- the Bad News is that Gary Liddon is leaving ZZAP! He hasn't resigned and (surprise, surprise) he hasn't been sacked. The fact is he's been compromised by being appointed Technical Excutive of a new software house which means ZZAP! can no longer use his services in the game reviewing department.

The software house concerned is called THALAMUS, and the Good News is that Thalamus has been founded, and is backed by Newsfield. (In case you don't know, the thalamus is a little gland which sits at the base of the brain above the spinal cord and transmits/receives all the signals to and from the body -- but enough of the grisly biological bits). Thalamus is independant of Newsfield and the magazines ZZAP!64, CRASH and AMTIX! and is situated in a tasteful corner of what the fashionable call Islington in North London, but what genuine Islington dwellers call 'Cannonbury'. The new company is headed up by Andrew Wright who joins the software house from Activision where he was Press Officer. Andrew has often appeared on the pages of ZZAP! in one guise or another and with his famous flathead (he was one of the first) and trendy dressing, is what the press like to call 'a well known software personality'. He's a welcome if rather raucus addition to the Thalamus team.

Already, I'm told, several programs are in preparation for a September launch of software on both Commodore 64 and Spectrum, with games for the Amstrad to follow.

But what of Liddon? Well he's written his own valete (Latin for Good Bye, Lloyd Mangram tells me), which appears in Shadow Spiel, but of course this is terribly improper, and because he's such a modest fellow really, it falls to me to say the five hankie tear jerker bit. (gulp) So here goes. . .

Reference: Liddon, Gareth; age 19 (whatever Minter says)
In the ten months he's been with ZZAP! Gary Liddon has proved a dilligent, innovative and careful worker. His integrity, truthfulness and loyalty to the company has been beyond reproach and I can highly recommend him to anyone who may wish to employ him in the capacity of Tea Boy. His one and only drawback is that his propensity for unique twistings of the English language leads him into the fantasy that he is a writer. . .

Never mind, Andrew Wright is determined that the only keyboard he touches from now on will be that of a computer. We'll all miss him though, most especially the Comps Minion for whom Gary has provided so much raw material in the past, and we wish him luck as he returns to the life whence he came -- London and the Lounge Lizard society.

 
  Ratings System (Issue 10)
Feb 1986
 


THE ZZAP! RATINGS

It's some time since we carried details on the games review ratings in ZZAP! Since they were last seen, a host of new readers have joined us, not least, those from the Far East and Australia, so it seems an appropriate moment, at the start of the new software year, to repeat the vital statistics.

[Follows same text on the ratings as printed in issue 4 -- see below]

HOW TO USE THE RATINGS

Most importantly, you must realise that ratings are only a guide, important in the context of the review itself, but secondary to what is written. Of the ratings, some are more important than others as a buying consideration. PRESENTATION is only of moderate importance, for instance, but you may have your own set of criteria for judging what we say. The ratings are arrived at with discussion among the various reviewers, and of course the results cannot be considered as infalible -- the reviewers are only human (at least they think so), and sometimes there is a radical disagreement which inevitably affects the way the ratings come out.

THE ZZAP! LABELS

GOLD MEDAL AWARD: Definitely a game above all others in the month of review. There may not be a Gold Medal game every issue, but if there is, get it! Just occasionally there may be more than one . . .

SIZZLER: Hot games of the month -- must normally score around 90%. We reckon any ZZAP! Sizzler is a great buy, unless you really hate that particular type of game.

 
  Two New Reviewers (Issue 7)
Nov 1985
 


NEW ZZAPPERS

A couple of new faces are appearing for the first time in this issue of ZZAP! Sean Masterson joins the team to look after matters strategical in future, and brings with him the experience from working for Games Workshop and writing for White Dwarf magazine and the sadly defunct Imagine magazine. Sean can write those inscrutable role playing games that list thousands of technical attributes for freaks of the genre. He'll also be adding his little cartoon face to the main reviews where his strategical bent is useful.

Gary Liddon used to write for Big K (but we don't hold that against him too much), and joins the team after a spell at Domark. A wiz with the joystick, Gary admits to enjoying the odd utility or two, has written a 'sprite sucker' and is a genius at losing cassette inlay cards so no one can write anything about the games.

These two will be taking over some of Paul Sumner's review work, as Paul is off to college now, and will have less time to get in and see things -- he's opted for being intelligent rather then simply clever....

 
  Zzap!'s Relocation (Issue 4)
Aug 1985
 

Since the last issue there have been a few changes in ZZAP!, primarily a change in editorship and a change in the location of the editorial offices. These have been moved from Yeovil, close to the home of Chris Anderson, up to Ludlow in Shropshire, the head offices of Newsfield Limited, the publishers of ZZAP!64 and CRASH Magazine. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, Chris Anderson felt unable to accompany the magazine to its new base. One of the prime reasons for the move is economy, as the Ludlow offices have plenty of space to house the ZZAP! editorial without the extra cost of a second office elsewhere.

For reasons similar to those of Chris, Bob Wade also preferred not to make the move.

This means that ZZAP! is now being written and edited at the same place it is designed and published, which gives us a great deal more flexibility than in the past.

You will also notice some slight changes within the magazine itself, and these are detailed below in the various panels. I hope that you will generally approve of those alterations we have made, or at the worst, at least accept that they have been made for very good reasons.

Roger Kean . . .

 
  Zzap's New Reviewer (Issue 4)
Aug 1985
 


NEW REVIEWER

With Bob Wade leaving, we were left with a gap in the ZZAP! reviewing team, but fortunately this was almost immediately filled by this month's contestant in the ZZAP! Challenge, 19 year old Paul Sumner. For how he fared against the egregious Julian Rignall, you'll just have to turn to the Challenge pages!

Paul is almost a local, hailing from the town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, having moved there a year ago from Dunstable (not all that far from Berkhampstead, ex-hang out of Gary Penn, now spinster of Ludlow parish (there's no 'p' in Berko, so stop taking it -- GP).

Paul hates pot noodles (bad news for the Rignall breakfasts), likes Abba and the Osmonds (he's something of an historian), but fortunately he has two right hands when it comes to the joystick (not unlike his predecessor, Bob Wade, who must have been glad to get it off his chest) which makes him a right handy guy to have on the team. His taste in games is fairly catholic (despite being C of E), but he hates Boulderdash and feels that ZZAP!'s Sizzler On-Court Tennis was way out -- out of court.

 
  Changes in Ratings System (Issue 4)
Aug 1985
 


THE ZZAP! RATINGS

Two things have changed with the review ratings. One is purely graphical; as you'll see the ratings bars have gone. After canvassing opinion and from the views expressed in some letters, it appears that many people do not relate the length of the black bar to the rating percentage. The bars have also created havoc in laying out the reviews in the art department because of the time they take to do.

The second change is that the 'Originality' rating has gone and 'Value for Money' has become a sub-rating, with the creation of a new one called 'Overall' to complete the review. Originality is a difficult element within a game to rate sensibly, and in many cases is fairly irrelevant. Where a lack of originality is a serious drawback in a game, this should be adequately reflected in the reviewers' comments. The change around the Value for Money has been made because Messrs Rignall and Penn felt strongly that rating a game under the heading of Value For Money doesn't necessarily reflect their general feelings on the game.

PRESENTATION: Packaging, printed instructions, on-screen instructions, loading, play options, program facilities (including things like ease of joystick or keyboard control), on-screen impression -- everything except the game itself.

GRAPHICS: Variety, detail and effectiveness of screen pictures, quality of animation, smoothness of movement.

SOUND: Variety and effectiveness of sound effects, quality, both technically and aesthetically, of music. Also: does the sound annoy?

HOOKABILITY: How strongly does the game make you want to play it and keep playing it?

LASTABILITY: How long will it keep its hold on you?

VALUE FOR MONEY: Takes into account the price plus all the above ratings.

OVERALL: With all the above ratings in, this is IT! -- what the reviewers think in general.

The ZZAP! Labels

The three labels so far used in ZZAP! remain unchanged.

GOLD MEDAL AWARD: Definitely a game above all others in the month of review. There may not be a Gold Medal game every issue, but if there is, get it! Just occasionally there may be two . . .

SIZZLER: Hot games of the month -- must normally score around 90%. We reckon any ZZAP! Sizzler is a great buy, unless you really hate that particular type of game.

TACKY: In our view, a second-rate piece of software. Steer well clear.

 
  The ZZAP! Reviewers (Issue 2)
Jun 1985
 


The Zzap Reviewers

BOB WADE: Zzap's 20-year-old software editor. Bought a BBC, but then decided he wanted a machine you could have FUN on. Supports Wimbledon football club, otherwise fully sane. Loves Boulder Dash.

GARY PENN: Aged 19, born and bred in Berkhamstead, reckons to have played just about every single 64 title ever released. Loves drawing cartoons. Gets recognised walking about town.

JULIAN RIGNALL: Wasted his youth and money in the arcades instead of at school, but passed six A levels in tactics on Defender. 20-year-old former Atari owner who's seen the light. Eats pot noodles for breakfast.

 
  Ratings System (Issue 2)
Jun 1985
 


The Zzap Ratings

PRESENTATION: Packaging, instructions, loading, play options, program facilities, on-screen impression -- everything except the game itself.

GRAPHICS: Variety, detail and effectiveness of screen pictures, quality of animation, smoothness of movement.

SOUND: Variety and effectiveness of sound effects, quality of music. Also: does the sound annoy?

ORIGINALITY: How similar is this to programs already available on the 64?

HOOKABILITY: How strongly does the game make you want to keep playing?

LASTABILITY: How long will it keep its hold on you?

VALUE FOR MONEY: Takes into account the price plus all the above ratings, especially the last two.

The Zzap Labels

GOLD MEDAL AWARD: Our biggest rave of the month. Get it!

SIZZLER: We think it's very hot indeed -- normally must score 80% or more in value for money. We reckon any Zzap sizzler is a great buy, unless you really hate that particular type of game.

TACKY: In our view, a lousy piece of software. Steer well clear.

 
  Zzap!'s Creation (Issue 1)
May 1985
 


How Zzap was born

Like most living things, Zzap! 64 has parents. Its Ma and Pa are the magazines Crash and Personal Computer Games. Er, respectively.

It was Ma who started it off. Crash had had an incredible impact on the Spectrum games industry during 1984 and sold every month like hot cakes. So it was natural that the guys behind it would want to try to do the same for the 64.

Late in the year they printed an enticing ad: Editor wanted. It was spotted by PCG's editor, Chris Anderson, who adored working on PCG, except it meant commuting to London. From Somerset.

The people at Crash were amused to receive his application, since it was he who had started a slanging match with Crash at the start of the year with an unfortunate gossip item in PCG.

As a punishment they ordered him to start work immediately on the new magazine. Thus it was that a draughty, tumble-down, upstairs hideaway in an anonymous Somerset town became the new editorial office of Zzap! 64.

Finding staff to fill it was made easier by a sad, out-of-the-blue announcement from the publishers of PCG. The magazine's financial prospects for 1985 were said to be poor. It had to close.

One of those put out of a job was reviewer Bob Wade. He agreed to get on his bike and move West, becoming the Zzap software editor. PCG's White Wizard also agreed to divert his outpourings on the adventure scene into the new channel.

The other two main writers on Zzap were selected for their game-playing experience and expertise. Gary Penn had played just about every game ever released on the 64 and had a personal collection of several hundred titles. Julian Rignall was the Computer and Video Games arcade champion of 1983, and the nation's top scorer on Defender. Both were among the five finalists in the PCG competition to find Britain's meanest player.

The team was assembled, the games played, the words written, the issue produced. Now let it be read.

 
  Review Policy (Issue 1)
May 1985
 


The Zzap reviewing system

It won't take you long to notice that a large part of Zzap is taken up with reviews of new 64 games. Game reviews are hopeless unless they really do provide a RELIABLE guide to buying games. We've therefore put considerable effort into planning what we believe is the best reviewing system anywhere.

Here are the key points:

1. Every game is played by THREE people. This is really the only way of avoiding inaccurate reviews caused by a single person's quirky tastes.

2. Every game is played EXTENSIVELY. The Zzap reviewers are games fanatics who don't know the meaning of the term 'office hours'. Indeed, on a couple of occasions police officers have called at the office to see why the lights were on after midnight! We just say: 'Sorry officer, but to review this game fairly we just have to reach the final screen.'

3. The SAME three reviewers play every game. The advantage of this is that comparisons between the games can be fairly and consistently made.

4. Enormous care is taken over the RATINGS. All three reviewers give their own ratings, and then we argue. A lot. The final ratings aren't a strict average of the three initial ratings, more a sort of compromise reached at the end of the argument/ Obviously plenty of people will still disagree with our ratings, but at least we're ready with a detailed defense!

5. Our OPINIONS on the game are stated clearly. Some magazines are forced to devote what little space they have for reviews to simply describing a game. We think you also want a clear opinion on it. That's why on each review you'll find comments printed in speech bubbles linked to each reviewer. In some cases our reviewers disagree, and this will be reflected in the printed comments. Where there's more than one opinion on a game, you should know about it!

6. We try to make most possible use of SCREEN CAPTURES, not just to show you the game's graphics, but also to explain what's on screen. That's why you'll find detailed captions on many screen shots.

But finally, it must be stressed again that nothing can remove the element of personal taste from the appreciation of a game. No matter how much care we take, it's still possible you won't agree. It's just less likely.

 
  Ratings System (Issue 1)
May 1985
 


The Zzap ratings

Ratings are probably the most studied part of a review. We've adopted what may at first seem a strange system, but we think you'll get to like it.

Firstly, like our system magazine Crash, all ratings are marked as percentages. The advantage of this is one of extra flexibility and precision. There is a real difference between a rating of 86% and 94% - If we were marking out of 10, both would have to be rounded to 9. Certainly it would be impossible to resolve some of our arguments over ratings if we didn't have individual percentage points to play around with.

As to the ratings themselves, we've settled on seven different labels which we think cover all of a game's good and bad points.

PRESENTATION. This is the woolliest. Basically it covers all aspects of a program other than the actual game itself. For example:

- the way the game is packaged. Does it impress you right from when you first pick it up?

- the quality of the printed instructions. Some games offer a superbly-printed booklet packed with all you need to know. Others leave you in the dark, or even worse, mislead you.

- the way the game loads. Is it fast and reliable? Is there a good loading screen?

- the way the program is presented on screen. This is the most important factor. Is there an appealing introductory sequence? Is the player offered enough playing options? Is there a two-player game? A high-score feature? Are there any annoying enforced delays between games? Is the overall FEEL of the program slick or shoddy?

GRAPHICS. Fairly straightforward. How impressive are the pictures on screen? Are they large? Colourful? Detailed? Original? Is the animation good? Is movement smooth? How much variety is there to the graphics? Note: only some of these points can be judged by looking at a screen photograph.

SOUND. Again, straightforward. Is the sound impressive, exciting, effective, varied? Or is it simple, uninteresting, annoying, repetitive? Is there good multi-channel music? Is there effective speech?

ORIGINALITY. Controversial, this one, since a game can be very good without being original. Indeed there are some games where originality is very hard to award, in particular where you have a conversion from the arcades or another micro by the company licensed to make the conversion.

However, we think it is still a crucial rating, because there are many games whose originality is what makes them (or vice versa).

We shall use the term to mean this: how similar is this game to titles already available on the 64? In other words a company which makes a brilliantly original game on another computer and then converts it to the 64 some months later, will still get a high originality rating for the game.

Bear in mind also that what makes a game original is not so much an original scenario, but an original approach to gameplay itself.

HOOKABILITY. This word has been invented by us because we couldn't find another one which said what we wanted to convey. It's kind of a cross between 'playability', 'addictiveness', and 'game-feel'. When awarding it we ask:

- How difficult is the game to get into?

- How strongly does it grab you?

- How good does the control feel?

- Is the action fun, attractive, compulsive?

- How much do you want to keep playing?

Clearly this is a key rating. A low Hookability rating means either that the game isn't addictive, or that it just takes ages to get into.

LASTABILITY. Another key rating. This one measures the depth of a game. How many screens are there? How many playing levels? How much long-term challenge? Will you still be playing it a month after buying it?

Clearly the rating also has to take into account the Hookability rating. Here are some examples:

- A game with a thousand screens but which is completely unaddictive scores low on both hookability and lastability. (If it's not addictive you won't keep playing it.)

- A game which is difficult to get into, but has plenty of depth and interest once you're into it could score low on Hookability and high on Lastability.

- A game which is incredibly compulsive but only has two screens to solve could score high on Hookability and low on Lastability.

VALUE FOR MONEY. This rating takes into account all the other ratings and also the price of the game. It is not just an average since some ratings are more important than others. It represents our overall conclusion on how good a buy a particular game is.

 

 

Htmlized by Dimitris Kiminas:
Issue 1 material added 11 February 2001.
Issue 2 material added 12 August 2001.
Issue 4 material added 6 May 2002.
Issue 7 material added 26 July 2003.
Issue 10 material added 29 Aug 2004.
Issue 16 and 17 material added 18 Mar 2007.

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