PCZ RIP: Part One (Scanfest2010: Part 6)

  • 8/31/2010 05:30:00 pm
  • By Mark Gibbings-Jones
  • 4 Comments

It’s only a few days until the final issue of PC Zone magazine hits the shops. This, it’s fair to say, is a shame. Over the years, PC Zone has included content from lots of brilliant writers – most famously Charlie Brooker, but also legendary videogame journos Duncan McDonald, David McCandless, Paul “Mr Biffo” Rose, Stu Campbell, Jon Blyth, Culky and many more.

Now, admittedly, we stopped caring about PC gaming a long time ago, about the fourth time we found ourselves thinking “bah, this PC is more than a month old, it’s probably far too underpowered to play any current games”. Back in the late 1990s though, when our 233 MHZ Pentium II (32MB RAM! 6.4GB of hard disk space!) could handle almost anything (providing we turned all the graphics settings right down to 320x240), PCZ was an essential read.

Looking back through those issues now, there’s still a lot to enjoy, which is why we’ll be spending the next few updates wallowing in just how great a magazine it was. But, just to be contrary, we’re going to kick off with being needlessly spiteful about one aspect of PC Zone’s golden age. We’re going to attack the very lifeblood of the magazine itself: the adverts. Yes, it’s time for the…

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In the age of Loaded, Britpop and PlayStations, all marketing just HAD to be ‘cool’, even when the thing being marketed, well, wasn’t. A great example of this was in the PC gaming press, when advertising agencies would try and make Advanced Tractor Simulator seem so fashionable even fans of The Verve would buy it, generally by plonking a huge photo of Jo Guest chewing suggestively on a stalk of corn into the pages of PC Format, along with a ‘saucy’ tagline and precisely zero screenshots of the game in question. Here, we aim to celebrate (take the piss out of) the lost ‘art’ of Overtly Laddish Advertising For Really Rather Un-Laddish Products. Pretend you’re talking loudly in a nightclub queue about how you liked Underworld years before they did Born Slippy, no, really, and feast your eyes on the following.

12. MORTAL KOMBAT 3 (Nov 1995)

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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Ooh, daring! We especially like the way the text that comprises this ad seems to have been dreamed up by a spotty teenage work experience lad, only realising a little bit too late that he has very little actual idea of what ‘sexy and dangerous’ things he should be mentioning. “Joining the mile high club bareback with a junkie whore”? Bless.

Added points here for the fact that Mortal Kombat 3 had to be run in DOS mode, which is about as far removed from the whole “cool, sexy, dangerous” angle is it’s possible to be. Could you imagine Sid Vicious really sitting in front of a PC, clicking “Exit to DOS” in Windows 95, then typing in “cd sidz_gamez\fighty_games\mortalkombat3\”? We can’t.

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11. CREATURES (Jan 1997)

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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Sex? Drugs? Rock and… oh, hang on, there are probably some rocks in there somewhere. This game, not to be confused with the similarly-named C64 epic from Thalamus, actually has much more to do with ‘breeding’ and ‘magic potions’ than sex and drugs. Basing the marketing approach around the tagline “Breeding and potions and small boulders” wouldn’t quite have seemed so appealing to that “young affluent male aged 18-24” demographic.

Mind you, it’s not even a great advert on an aesthetic level, is it? White page, green text (OCR-A Std, font fans), a couple of sprites, and the box art. Not likely to make you rush out and spend £34.99 that could otherwise be spent on perfectly good long-sleeved Shed Seven T-shirts and K cider.

10. THE PENTIUM PROCESSOR WITH MMX TECHNOLOGY (May 1997)

THE AD:
 
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THE ACTUAL THING:

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Doesn’t look like THAT much fun, does it? But the advert promises us that MMX technology from Intel is “the technical term for fun”. And then it probably expects us to make that “bing bong be bong” jingle noise in our head, but literally no-one likes that. This really smacks of the kind of advert that can safely be used without any modifications around the globe, as it’s so bloody bland and inoffensive, and never mind the fact that practically no-one will really like it. Much like the break bumpers during live coverage of the Champions League, in fact.

We especially like the way the advert states that Purple Dustproof Suit Guy makes the Pentium even more fun, as if it were already plenty fun, and he’s merely cranking up the entertainment factor by another few notches. However, spare a thought for the rank and file Intel boffins working for the company around this time. It would have been really bloody annoying working with Purple Dustproof Suit Guy. One of the Intel boffins would be moving bits of silicon around a petri dish under a microscope (or whatever it is those people do), when suddenly Purple Dustproof Suit Guy would crash into the room, bellowing out his favourite lines from Adam Sandler movies, reading loudly from the ‘jokes’ page in the new issue of FHM, and just acting like an all-round technological cockrag. “No, Purple Dustproof Suit Guy, I don’t want to hear about what Rory McGrath said on last night’s They Think It’s All Over.”

Still, though. Copying down a complicated formula throughout a quite large Excel 95 spreadsheet might have been slightly faster thanks to the new Intel MMX technology. So, that’s pretty fun.

 

9. WARGASM (Xmas 1998)

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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The pinnacle of marketing your game to appeal to ‘ver lads’ – we totally admit that Wargasm IS a pretty brilliant name for a videogame. That advert stands out, too – in case you can’t quite make out the copy, the ad reads “It’s time to end all wars. We should run together, hold hands, skip and gather flowers in the meadow. Peace and love can swirl around us. Let us dance to the rhythm in harmony…. BOLLOCKS! WARGASM – anything else is just faking it.” Tee-hee!

So, what’s the game actually like? Can it magically combine the twin alpha male ideals of taking your body to the very pinnacle of sexual gratification, and the dizzying high of blowing up rival soldiers on a foreign shore? Surely it must! It… seems to involve trundling around a mostly empty landscape in a vector tank. This isn’t like sex AT ALL. We’ve gone and dressed up in our cartoon coyote furry costume for nothing.

AWW-GASM, more like.

 

8. THE SETTLERS III

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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“A night out with the lads… will NEVER be the same again!”

Yep, this feels pretty much the same as going out with a group of thirty or forty other blokes in replica football shirts, consuming loads of blackcurrant flavour Holsten Fusion, popping a few pills, hitting a club and spending a night of wild drunken passion with a cute girl who looks a bit like her out of Sleeper. If by all that, you mean “boss around some pretend villagers a bit”. Not that we have a problem with The Settlers, it’s a passable enough god simulator, but a bit of honesty wouldn’t go amiss here. If we’d written this advert, it would probably be closer to…

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7. LBA2: TWINSEN’S ODYSSEY (Sept 1997)

THE AD:

img351 THE ACTUAL GAME:

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A jolly little adventure game series from French publisher UbiSoft, the LBA titles were a pretty big deal at the time. Some really rather lovely isometric scenery, well-designed characters, a rendered FMV intro containing bad voice acting (as was the style at the time), the entire game was designed to instil a cheery, colourful sense of childlike glee into every player. It was very well received, with Charlie Brooker’s PC Zone review calling it “an interactive cross between The Magic Roundabout and The Crystal Maze”, awarding a huge score of 93%. So, how best to advertise a game that massages the same glee glands as a Pixar film? By sniggering “HEY, LADS! COR, SHAGGING, EH?” above a couple of tiny screenshots.

 

6. VANGERS (August 1998)

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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Again with the PHWOAR, SHAGGING EH, LAD? TITS AND THAT! WAHEY! approach. “Some things can’t be explained – they HAVE to be experienced”? We can explain Vangers pretty well: it’s a post-apocalyptic top-down driving game set on a distant planet that isn’t any good. The game itself features less naked writhing and eye-molestingly colourful fractal backdrops, but a lot more ‘playing a zoomed in version of Supercars II, only without all the fun bits’.

5. ONSIDE SOCCER (July 1996)

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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“Oh, bloody HELL!”, whined Jeremy Mupp, swashbuckling advertising creative at top London agency Mung Mung Olafsson as he distractedly received mouth-based pleasure from a Romanian sex worker, “everyone else gets to come up with ideas for Diesel Jeans, Tag Watches or Nokia mobile phones, I get another cash-in football game. When will I get to organise a photoshoot starring whichever page three stunnas are in Loaded Magazine this month?”

“Well…”, sniggered his chum Sebastian Fringe, “why don’t you just do that anyway? More cocaine and premium lager?”

That’s how we like to imagine this campaign was envisioned (legal notice: the Onside Soccer campaign was not envisioned in this way). It certainly makes sense – distracting everyone with a photo of Jo Guest (who, if you don’t remember her, was pretty much an early alpha version of Jordan) and chums in football shirts, and hoping that the punters won’t actually notice they’ve just paid £40 for one of the worst football games EVER.

 

4. THE REAP (Xmas 1997)

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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Pretty much a failure on all counts. At first glance, it seems like it might be an anti-drugs advert. On second glance, it seems like it’s actually an advert for something the marketers are trying to make SEEM like drugs, but you’ve no idea quite what. On third glance, you might notice that the name of the item itself is in there, though get no real idea of what it is. It’s only when you squint at the tiny, tiny text in the bottom-left that you suspect it’s a videogame, because of the tiny “PC CD” logo, but even then you get absolutely no idea what kind of game it actually is.

Bit of a shame, really. Turns out that The Reap is a rather fun isometric 3D shooter very much in the Zaxxon style, produced by Housemarque Games, better known for Amiga classic Stardust, and PS3 revamp Super Stardust HD. As it is, this advert doesn’t give you any clue what it is you’re supposed to be buying. It’s as if they’d taken the photo to use in a press campaign for a new kind of longer-lasting deodorant for clubbers, then used it here due to an administrative error. Just spare of thought for all the confused Mixmag readers, scratching their heads over why an advert for “Pete Tong’s Anti-Pong Spray” would have a huge photo of a spaceship blowing up a missile silo.

3. BROKEN SWORD II (November 1997)

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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PHWOAR, EH LADS? BLAH BLAH SHAGGING BLAH BLAH SPURT PREVENTION TECHNIQUES BLAH BLAH ENGLAND 1966 WORLD CUP SQUAD.

 

2. SHOGO MOBILE ARMOR DIVISION (Xmas 1998)

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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So, you’ve got a game packed with faux-anime imagery. The producers of the title were actually from Washington USA, but that shouldn’t make any difference, you’ve still got the perfect excuse to run with some gun-toting cute anime girls, and a layout that wants to ‘be’ The Designers Republic so bad it hurts (really, mid-90s advertising by TDR wannabes could be a feature in itself). But instead, we get this. A CGI gun, a tagline that could have come from one of the worst Carry On films, and a pretty lady. And… hang on. Is the advert really suggesting we stick that GUN into that woman’s vagina? Christ.

1. BATTLECRUISER 3000AD (July 1997)

THE AD:

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THE ACTUAL GAME:

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Occasionally spotted with the tagline “She REALLY wants it”, this is the real low-point of mid-to-late-90s-PC-game-advertising. Jo Guest (again), sans pants (again), perched over a stool, with the game packaging covering her ladyparts. And, er, that’s about it. There was also a ‘toned-down’ version of this advert which appeared in the more family-friendly PC magazines, where a pair of panties had been Photoshopped onto Guest’s body, but the real shocking thing about this is the game being promoted using these tactics.

It’s in DOS. It’s a space combat simulator. And, it’s not even a good one, with sole designer Derek Smart spending seven long years putting it together, then getting annoyed when publishers GameTek insisted on releasing it before it was properly finished. In an age where downloading a huge gamefixing patch over dial-up, using an internet account that you have to pay for by the hour, this wasn’t much fun, though may explain why the publishers were so very keen to try to distance themselves from the actual content of the game when it came to the advertising.

Meanwhile, whatever happened to Jo Guest? Well, BrokenTV can EXCLUSIVELY REVEAL that she’s actually at home, in front of her PC, with a copy of Battlecruiser 3000AD, and has been for most of the time since this advert was originally published. Admittedly, she’s still trying to get her pretty blonde head around the basic MS DOS commands needed in order to get the game to run, but as the advert did state, she REALLY wants it. A-ha-ha-ha.

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