Rather incredibly, EUG now started over 22 years ago. In that period, and across 8bit computers in general, we've seen hundreds of fanzines come and go (most after a few issues!). Running a fanzine is difficult; it takes dedication in the face of what seems to be abject apathy (i.e. not a single e-mail for months on end) from the very readers you're marketing to.
It's also difficult to get your fanzine noticed - with mags like Micromart, Edge and Retro Gamer on the shelves of your local newsagent, your would-be audience can scratch that retro itch whenever they wish. So you're really going to have to offer them something of the same, or better, calibre.
Retroaction #001 is a fanzine from a team of six: Neil Reive, Gnome, Duncan Rule, Mark Hall, Richard Goulstone and Duffman. I use the term fanzine with some reluctance because to all intents and purposes this is a full-blown professional magazine. In fact, it's even better than a full-blown magazine, because it is completely free of advertisements and is simply 62 pages of retro content. And what a sweeping selection of content we have in its first issue. Meticulously researched articles (The controversy of Barbarian's marketing campaign, the Computer Warrior comic strip and many, many more) plus a large smattering of news and reviews, all in full colour and all illustrated with screenshots and cover art.
This issue is dated Spring 2009 - so it came out just over two years ago. I have no idea if the date is accurate or if it was available on the Internet immediately it was released. I suspect it was - because the whole Unique Selling Point of the magazine is that it is 'hooked up' to the Internet, in a way that the paper-based magazines on the shelves cannot be. The trouble is that I only learned of its existence now through a random google search; unfortunately no-one has ever mentioned it on any of the BBC Micro/Acorn Electron forums and so I didn't know it existed.
Retroaction's introduction, which is written on a BBC micro loading screen for The Way Of The Exploding Fist, states that it is a magazine devoted to "any action that has an influence due to a past event" and its reviewers intend to "waffle on about retro games from all platforms whether they are good, bad or ugly." Actually, there's zero waffle throughout the whole of the magazine, and I have to admit that it's quite amazing that the resurgence of interest in these old platforms is such as to support such an intention. At no point does it feel as if any of the news, which touches development for practically every 8bit, 16bit and 32bit system imaginable, will not be relevant or pertinent to somebody. You'll find no digressions to movies or Sinclair C5s here...!
A feature I immediately admired was the page 3 boxout headed "New Games Featured In This Issue". It could do with having the machine type as well, but this summarises the sheer scale of new retro games in a single column. As this was written in 2009, we have BBC Micro games Blurp and Mountain Panic included. (Blurp never made it, although Mountain Panic is scheduled for release at Play Expo this year.) In full, and by machine, this list states:
|Machine Type||Games Featured|
|Amstrad CPC 464||Sudoku (Cronosoft)|
|BBC Micro||Mountain Panic (Retro Software)
Blurp (Retro Software)
|Commodore 64||Sub Hunter (Psytronik)|
|MSX||Perfect Fit (Pazanga Soft)|
|Sega Megadrive||Legend Of Wukong (Super Fighter Team)
Pier Solar (Water Melon)
Factory Daze (Bob Smith)
Shoot Redux (Computer Emuzone Games Studio)
|PC||Cosmic Prison Commando (Carnivac Games)
Deathchase (James Kett)
Electro Freddy (Musti)
Game Of The Dead (Ood)
Kick Off 2 (MikeDee)
Kung Fu 2 (KNPMaster)
Rick Dangerous 2 (Rox271)
Sewer Shark (Park Productions)
Super Mario Kart (Grindalf)
The Empire Strikes Back (Minionsoft)
Ultimate Bruce Lee (Trevor (Smila) Storey))
The large number of PC games is a result of the magazine fully reviewing a number of the games submitted for the 2008 Retro Remakes competition. In fact, I believe Retroaction may be the only truly independent reviewer of each of these games, which makes it a fairly important historical document in its own right!
You'll find references to other new games scattered throughout the pages too - for example, I had no idea that the Acorn Electron Micro Power title Bandits At 3'o Clock had been remade as quite a splended PC game until I read through that report on the Retro Remakes. This magazine has a lot of power within its pages - because it is flagging up, as a good retro magazine should, exactly what there is out there to be enjoyed, no matter how limited the audience might be.
The page numbering style of the magazine is a little odd. It is produced rather like an A5 style magazine, to be printed out and folded over, but the page numbering is such that if you tried that, it wouldn't work in its printed format. Now, I suppose it's been produced the way it has been for a reason - maybe because it can be viewed better on tablets or eReaders? - but it is awkward to read it on a modern PC.
You can either download a PDF version of the magazine through the Retroaction website, or you can view images of the magazine through issuu (issuu.com). The PDF version seems to be the better option as with issuu, you're stuck with its method of presenting things to you, i.e. through a web browser where you end up having to scroll around a large 'image' of the area you're trying to read.
Howsoever you're viewing Retroaction #001, in line with its raison d' etre, you'll find copious links within its text such as "Click here for the YouTube clip". Such links are meant to take you directly to YouTube.
I assume that when this magazine was produced, all of the links worked and all of the resources were available. Needless to say, not any more. There's a mention of the supplier 'retrogamez' but following the link to it just brings up a 404 Not Found error. Similarly, there's a large interview with Zenobi Software (a text adventure publisher for the Spectrum) and notice of the DVD that can be purchased. The DVD is no longer available.
It probably didn't occur to Retroaction at the time that, even only a few months down the line, many of the links in the magazine would no longer work. I don't know whether that's a good or a bad thing for the magazine itself. Clearly if your USP is that you're all 'hooked up' to the resources with a single click, if your reader clicks and just gets an error, it's probably worse than not being hooked up at all. What it also illustrates is the precarious nature of Internet resources. Retroaction is available now, and there's pages and pages of really amazing stuff to enjoy, but perhaps it too won't be available in a few years either.
As if to lay home this point, Retroaction's site at the moment states it won't be producing any more issues either. The reasons given? Exactly as I stated in my introduction to this review. That there weren't enough contributions and the team didn't want to continue the magazine if it didn't have the quality they desired. The website also hasn't been updated since March 2012.
This is a real shame. The quality of the magazine is tip-top - apart from it being a bit difficult to read the text sometimes (dark blue on black for example!). Here at Acorn Electron World, we were so impressed with Retroaction that we'll get its magazines uploaded to a special section of the site if it ever does go down.
Now there's little more for me to say other than what a good read this magazine is. You may have got the impression so far that it is based mostly on modern developments, i.e. the releases of new homebrew on the old formats and PC versions of the older retro games. This is only half the story. There are also the reviews, interviews and game testing of games that did the rounds back in the Eighties.
As you'd imagine, my focus was mainly BBC and Electron so it was nice to read all the details about the Barbarian controversy, the release of Bandits and the upcoming (for the time) Mountain Panic and Blurp. By all means, check it out just for these inclusions.
However, the broad-brush approach of the magazine means that there will be both something to suit everyone with an interest in what's trending in the world of their current system. The quality of this magazine is that of a professional magazine. As we said in the intro, we've seen hundreds of fanzines come and go in the 22 years EUG has been running. However, this one may go - and although we've only just seen it! - it's too good to be allowed to be forgotten.