Interview with David McCandless
November 1997

How did you get started in computer journalism?

Started doing POKES around 1986 (when I was at my most spottiest) and sent them in to Crash and YS. Would wait two long months to see if they appeared and then feel enormously thrilled when they mis-spelt my name in bold. Became a regular 'hacker' for YS and in 1987, sent in a speculative article. Marcus Berkmann got back to me, saying they were looking for someone to take over their hacks page (ZZKJ had left). I came down to London looking a sizeable prick with a tie on and my mum in tow. They gave me the column to write every month (for �35 - a King's ransom in Cola Bottles those days). Then I started doing Program Pitstop. Then I did work experience for a week and asked to do a review of Cybernoid. They liked it. I started doing reviews.

When did you first see a Spectrum and what were your first impressions?

I first saw a Spectrum in a glossy brochure which I was using for my 4th year primary school project on computers. I think they were about two hundred quid at the time and every piece of advertising had Sir Clive's gory visage plastered over it, alongside a disgusting white anglo saxon family in cardigans who were gathered around a huge TV saying "Wow" and "Crikey". I would have happily spooged over the Spectrum but alas, I lacked the anatomy at the time.

How did you leave the Spectrum scene? Were you sad to leave?

Like many people, I 'graduated' to the Amiga and ST. A few of the YS writers (well me and Duncan MacDonald) went off to launch ZERO (still, in my opinion, the best computer magazine ever created). I soon blagged myself an ST, discovered Dungeon Master and Mercenary and it was cheerio to the old rubber massage mat. I wasn't really sad because the Spec had served its purpose by advancing the human race. With 16 colours on our TV screens, soon we would surely conquer space and start exploring the galaxy with warp drives and phasers.

What are you doing now?

I am still writing. A lot. I have worked regularly for PC Zone since its inception, and you also see my stuff in MacUser, PC Pro, Escape, Stuff, and a bunch of other mags including: Wired US and UK, Q Magazine, The Daily Telegraph. I've been on TV numerous times (in my guise as UK Doom Champion), been on the BBC Radio 5 (I have a semi-regular games reviewing slot on Sundays, 8:30 The Big Byte). Um, I've written two books (both for the money): TrekMaster (Boxtree), and Queen: The Eye (Macmillian). I was also news editor on TV Hits magazine for six months back in 1990. I went to University to study English and er, Drama. Er, I am also a musician now and have just finished recording an album. You can check out details and buy a copy (only �6.99) at my web-site:

http://www.wakeywakey.com

and you can read a Wired article of mine at:

http://www.hotwired.com/wired/5.04/warez/ff_warez.html

Oh I am a qualified video editor and camera man. I have directed 18 corporate videos, 3 pop promos, and worked for Channel Four on two documentary series.

(Blimey! Busy man!)

What were the best/worse things about the Speccy?

The best thing was that it was hard to use. Those key combinations, weird memory addresses, and spooky BASIC kept those scummy Commodore 64 gits away. Also, it was around for ages (far longer than any home computer platform at the time) and so allowed people to really push it to the extremes of its ability. I mean, I can still remember when I first saw KnightLore. My friend and I was just gob-smacked. This was 3D - three bloody dimensions - on a Spectrum. It was amazing, and its no coincidence that a lot a major, world-reknown talent these days sprang from that little rubber box.

What were your favourite Speccy games and why?

In no particular order:
Manic Miner - because it was the first Spectrum game I ever played and it is still a work of genius.
Avalon - because it was hard and huge and a brilliant RPG.
StarQuake - because Steve Crow (?) was great.
Lunar Jetman - I spent fucking weeks looking for that trailer.
KnightLore - ground breaking and irritating in equal measure.
Sabre Wulf - those mountains made me drool. (Also, like most Ultimate Play The Game games, its code was beautifully written, like nothing else around. Optimised and complex. It took me five days to get a single POKE for this game, and I could only find one to make the monsters disappear).
Laser Squad - brilliant game.
I have others but I can't remember their names.

Favourite Speccy coders/artists/musicians?

In no particular order:
The Gollops - for Laser Squad.
Matthew Smith - naturally.
Ultimate Play The Game
- and all the usuals
Musicians-wise, the guy who programmed the GhostBusters theme into the game. The Spectrum actually said (in a low quality Metal Mickey sort of way): "GhostBusters".

Favourite Speccy journalists?

Phil South and Marcus Berkmann, both progenitors of the very distinct YS style, passed down to myself, Duncan MacDonald, and Johnathon Davis. Duncan MacDonald did some of his funniest work for Zero, did work for PC Zone, but, alas, has disappeared.

Phil actually came up with my nickname "Macca" which everyone *still*, 10 years later calls me at Dennis.

Do you use an emulator to play Speccy games?

Yeah. I've got a full version of Z80 and a Gold Disk Of Everything.

What did you think of Crash and Sinclair User?

Loved Crash - it really was old school with Oliver Frey's (?) illustrations and terrible design (in fact the newsagent opposite Dennis Publishing still has a copy of Crash on the shelves circa 1990 and the newsagenteur is still selling it for the 95p cover price). Stopped reading it after I heard about the scary origins of Newsfield.

Never really liked Sinclair User. They were also a poor imitation of YS, I thought. Incidentally, the last time I heard of Tony Dillon he had been sacked from EMAP for leaving the word 'C*NT' in a screenshot in ACE ( I think), W.H.Smith banned the magazine and EMAP had to pay for eight ladies in Birmingham to sit in an office with black felt-tips crossing out the offending word from 80,000 magazines. Har-de-har.

What do you think about modern games? Can they compete with the classics? Aren't they all presentation and no gameplay?

Um, difficult one. The most depressing/enlightening things about emulators is that most of the games are shit. Really really bad. You browse the list and you say "Cool. Deathchase - what a game". You load it up and it's absolute crap. There are some that are still brilliant but most are poo. Nowadays, games are, on the whole, better. Obviously visually, but also in terms of depth and gameplay. Tell the truth, I don't really play games anymore. After ten years, they bore me. I'm only interested in Quake and Doom style titles and on-line multiplayer games. I don't really have the time anymore.

Is there anything you miss about the old days?

One thing - journalism. Games magazines are not about consumer journalism anymore. It's all marketing, spin, cover discs, and advertorial. PC magazines, especially, have become newsletters attached to CD's. Scores are constantly upped to please advertisers. PR people wine and dine reviewers to get better scores. And deals are struck to promote shit games in order to snaffle exclusives on big games. It's boring and shit. In 'ye olden days', we could quite happily slap a score of "2" on a turkey and spent 500 words moaning about its laughable graphics. Nowadays, you'd get spanked by a lawsuit.

Any amusing anecdotes/stories etc about the old days?

The only amusing thing I can think of is how I truly believed that "Cookie" was the best game ever, in the universe. I giggle to myself that I believed a game where you control a 2D cook as he smacks dough balls with eyes into a bowl over and over again with sacks of flour could be the summit of interactive entertainment.

Have you anything to say to people who still use the Speccy today?

People still use the Speccy today? Jesus.

 


Thanks to David for doing the interview.

Interview conducted by Philip Bee.
Text Copyright (c) Philip Bee and David McCandless.