Ian Craig returned to the cover for the New Year with Ocean's Top Gun. It proved quite a popular illustration with readers, though I thought it suffered from problems similar to those of the Lightforce painting three issues earlier - doubtful definition of areas and a very rough finish which prevented the machine from looking like polished silver. And it was a single-minded image, lacking the visual gag which had become so much the hallmark of CRASH cover paintings.
We now enter a very difficult year for Newsfield, for CRASH, and for me to describe. I shall linger less on the software, which is dealt with in my 1987 Lookback, and concentrate more on the internal affairs of the magazine. As we entered 1987 no-one had any idea the turmoil that lay ahead.
People tend to regard a company as a smooth-working entity, but that's very misleading. It would be far better to compare a company to an individual, or even at times to a family. When you meet someone you know slightly in the street and they wave hello to you, you never stop to think of the problems they may have - just like you do. And a company, however familiar and successful, has problems too. At times Newsfield has been like a large family, with all the members heading in much the same direction, yet split by family rifts, arguments, even feuds. The first upset of 1987 came when Sean Masterson resigned before Christmas to devote himself to his love of fantasy gaming; on Frontline he was replaced by Philippa Irving. But it was far from being the last change.
LM had been launched successfully, yet there were thunderclouds. It looked like it was going to be a struggle to get the essential advertising in to support the very expensive publication, with its large editorial staff and many contributors adding to the usual costs of typesetting, repro and printing. Against this worrying background were set the computer magazines' problems, few of which the public saw.
The biggest concerned CRASH. It was really a magazine without an editor, which is a bit like a ship without a captain, with no-one to guide it. Graeme Kidd's time was shared among all three computer magazines, and CRASH seemed to lose some of its direction. The spelling mistakes and the typos were slipping back in, despite Ciarán Brennan's valiant efforts to stem them. But he was working on ZZAP! and AMTIX! as well, so there was too much subbing for him to do alone. For the February issue, Roger Kean was called back from LM's Gravel Hill office to help sort it out; otherwise the issue would never even have made it to the printer on time.
In the Art Department, where Oliver was busy designing LM, there was also a serious problem. Both lan Craig and Dick Shiner had found they preferred being freelance to suffering the punishing regular schedules of magazine work, and as this issue went to press both of them resigned their jobs (though Dick, who still lives in Ludlow, continued doing some freelance work for Newsfield). Oliver was faced once again with having to do all the covers, but for the rest there were four layout artists, and Gordon Druce became art director of the three computer titles - it was sufficient.
Discussions about the CRASH reviews had been popular for quite some time, and as early as August 1986 a straw poll of the regular reviewers revealed that they would not mind having their names with their comments. To protect them, this hadn't been done before; CRASH is unlike most other computer magazines because most of the reviewers are not professional writers or critics, but local school and college people. The anonymity was beginning to irritate readers, however, and so with the New Year, we changed the system. Ben Stone, Mike Dunn and Paul Sumner became real names, and to go with it a mild revamp of the ratings took place, with Use Of Computer and Getting Started both being replaced by Presentation. It was to be the first of several changes in the three-year-old rating system.