Commodore Format was a very special publication for me, although it wasn’t until #14 that I discovered it. I’m writing a few posts for the OiNK Blog about it because in one of its earliest issues there was a certain porcine program on the covertape, the cassette packed every month with full games and demos of upcoming releases for readers’ Commodore 64 computers. I’ll go into the regular magazine in a special celebratory post at a future date but this month and next month I’ve something special for pig pals.
Attached to the cover of the second issue of CF (as we fans called it) from October 1990 was a cassette tape inside a little cardboard sleeve that included a highly playable Pac-Man clone called The Blob, a demo of forthcoming RPG Lords of Chaos, an intricate and complex space trading game called Empire and a game that according to the instructions pages went by the name ‘Pig Tales’. Described as “an everyday tale of small pink pigs attempting to put a magazine together”, the premise might sound familiar. As well it should.
I missed this back in 1990 when the magazine was originally launched but around 2010 I decided to purchase a C64 and began collecting Commodore Format all over again. As I started to read each issue I’d load up the cassette to see which games worked and which ones needed replacements. I did so before reading any of the instructions (that would come later once I knew which games I could actually play and which had succumbed to the ravages of time). Imagine my shock when Pig Tales stopped loading and a shoddily drawn OiNK logo appeared!
This was over a year before I even began the old blog site. I hadn’t read any OiNKs in many years, the final few remaining issues from my youth were securely packed away in a box somewhere, so this was a very pleasant surprise that immediately took me down memory lane for the first time. I knew a little about the game via the Lemon 64 site, basically that it had very little to do with the comic and because of this had a bad reputation, but I gave it a go and was pleasantly surprised. It’s a great little game with a lot of playability packed in, with just a sprinkling of not-very-good OiNK-related images.
Previously on the blog I’ve included the Zzap!64 review of the game from 1987 which was generally positive and I backed this up with my own thoughts on the game, which you can read here. Unfortunately, with so many other amazing games and childhood favourites to play through I only loaded the OiNK game a few times so I’m in no position to write a detailed review. (The C64 was sold off again several years later.) But it was great fun and rather addictive, and you can’t really ask for any more from a free game.
It was surreal to see Uncle Pigg in digitised form suddenly pop up on the small portable CRT TV I’d acquired for the Commodore, alongside the comic’s logo itself. Yes, the game itself was still called ‘OiNK’ when played, it was only inside the magazine (and the tape cover) that it was referred to as ‘Pig Tales’. A fan site has stated this was because Future Publishing had the rights to the game but not the name, which seems like a very strange set of circumstances (and at the time of writing I’ve yet to confirm this) given how they can’t be separated; it’s still called ‘OiNK’ on the screen and the character names are used in the magazine.
Within the instructions the game is likened to the creation of Commodore Format and the press puppets from Spitting Image, which were a series of pigs dressed in trench coats and trilbies but at no time is the comic itself mentioned. How quickly they forget, eh? This issue was published only six months after the final ever issue of OiNK, the Summer Collection.
Three years might seem like a quick turnaround for the game to go from full price, to budget rerelease, to being included on a covertape. While we know it didn’t sell that well, this speedy transition wasn’t uncommon and I remember amassing quite the collection of excellent games through the magazine, including ones which were top rated and had sold very well. OiNK could sit right alongside them as a fun, quirky little retro game.
Commodore Format wasn’t finished with OiNK though. In the next issue they’d include a guide to the game including maps and tips to help readers finish Uncle Pigg’s “magazine”. I’ll show you them next month but I want to finish off this post with a few select images from this issue to place it in the context of the year it was released, beginning with an advertisement for a new game which readers of my Havoc reviews will know quite well.
While the movie didn’t deserve the hype, the game certainly did (although clearly no one proof read their advert). RoboCop 2 was released on cartridge on the C64, meaning it loaded instantly and had more memory available for better gameplay, graphics and sound. It was a brilliant game and much more enjoyable than the lacklustre sequel it was based on. Elsewhere in the issue, modern day videogame players might be interested to see this next double-page spread when CF’s editor Steve Jarratt headed off to the Consumer Electronics Show to see what the world of interactive entertainment had in store for us over the coming year.
Finally, there’s an interesting three-page feature about the history of the Commodore 64 computer. Commodore Format was released at a time when more powerful computers were gaining traction but Future, which was already publishing Amiga Format and ST Format, saw an opening in the market. The C64 was still seen as the perfect starter computer (it certainly was for me in 1991 the following year) and there were also those younger siblings who were getting C64s handed down to them.
The only competition was Zzap!64 which focussed mainly on games. Commodore Format took less than a year to surpass that giant in sales, quickly becoming the world’s best-selling C64 mag. CF spread its net wider and included retrospective gaming features to get new owners up to speed, interviews, technology articles and programming and graphics tutorials. It was a meaty read and an instant hit.
The C64 Story detailed the life of the C64 up to this point, including its predecessor, its development, spin-offs and its success story. Elsewhere in these early issues were several series of articles rounding up the very best games in different genres, but in this particular feature they decided to warn readers away from wasting their money on certain titles with ‘The All-Time Top Ten Naff C64 Games’. Oh I do miss the fun of Commodore Format!
I may have sold off my C64 collection but my Commodore Formats remain. I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them (not least because I’m in later editions, more on that in a future post). They have such great memories attached to them and they’re still a brilliant read. If you’re into your retro gaming I’d highly recommend hunting any of them down on eBay. For now, that’s your look at OiNK in this issue, I’ll be back with the game guide in #3 of CF on Thursday 10th November 2022.