"Fear not, readers - AMIGA POWER is committed to reviewing only finished, fully-tested versions of games, and steps are being taken as you read this to ensure that nothing like this happens again."
(Jonathan Davies, AP39.)
"All magazines review unfinished games from time to time."
(Jonathan Davies, AP48.)
Everyone knows about the internal misunderstanding over Arcade Pool (basically, someone at the software publisher's office sent us the wrong copy for review), which is what prompted gentleman editor Jonathan Davies' words in the news pages of AP41.
And everyone knows about the shambles over Sensible World Of Soccer (basically, we were told lots of bugs would be fixed, but they weren't), which is what prompted Jonathan's words at the end of AP48's investigation into the game's remarkable shoddiness.
But was there something else?
Anyone remember the AMIGA POWER Policy Of Truth? It was this.
AMIGA POWER POLICY OF TRUTH
1. We won't review unfinished games just to claim an exclusive.
2. We don't pander to games publishers - we say what we really think.
3. We only use experienced, professional reviewers.
4. We won't bore you with mountains of technical-jargon-hardware tedium.
5. We take games seriously, because you do too.
It was instituted by Colin The Publisher as an incentive to subscribe, and dropped as a hideously smug and pompous embarrassment as soon as possible.
As it turned out, in the nick of time.
As if having gone a bit sunstrokey, Jonathan Davies, misguidedly fixated with securing AMIGA POWER's position at the top of the Amiga games magazine pole, lapsed for the only time in an otherwise blotless career. In the three months from October to December 1995, AMIGA POWER reviewed three unfinished games just to claim exclusives.*
And by extension, all who were there at the time are guilty. We could have argued that he was risking everything for a stupid "Exclusive!" logo (which research had already proven no one cared about because every mag so hopelessly overused them). We could have jogged his conscience by bringing a selection of tiny, limping readers into the office and making him explain his reasons directly to them. Or we could have tried him on decaffeinated tea. But no. We kept our silence because he was the Editor and therefore knew what he was doing. We collaborated in three criminal deceptions.
CRIMINAL DECEPTION ONE
Super Stardust, AP42
We were desperately unlucky with Super Stardust. Having thought the original game fantastically great, we'd snapped up the review of the sequel straightaway and, based on the programmers' estimates, pencilled it in for AP41. We waited until the last possible moment, but were told the game was going to miss the deadline - barely.
And yet, hurrah! because that meant it would be in plenty of time for AP42. We had a cover game!
The cover was planned - an elaborate, silver-coated one with a lovely spaceship. A demo was arranged as a special third coverdisk. We were committed.
The game was late.
Three of the five levels were finished. There was no demo. (To their credit, Super Stardust's publishers, Team 17, stepped in with one for their forthcoming Alien Breed game, Tower Assault.)
But we couldn't back out. Out of the other games reviewed that issue, only Theme Park and Ruff and Tumble were good enough for the cover, and rival mags had done both (far more infuriating, using the box art in each case, which is the only picture we could have got at such short notice). The decision was made.
We reviewed Super Stardust.
CRIMINAL DECEPTION TWO
Pinball Illusions, AP43
We bagsied it for the cover. We waited for a bit. 21st Century said only the Law and Justice table was finished; the other two had about half their features still to be added. We reviewed it anyway. There is no excuse.
Wandering in to interfere with the cover as usual, Steve The Publisher found out the game was unfinished and had a bit of a showdown with Jonathan, throwing out the argument that exclusives sold the mag because reviews of unfinished games were cheating the readers and endangering AP's reputation. All tremendously commendable, except it was Steve The Publisher who'd drummed into Jonathan that exclusives sold the mag in the first place. (We were even told to put "exclusive" on PD coverdisk games, on the grounds that they weren't on a rival's coverdisk at the same time and therefore linguistically justified.)
Whatever, we silently breathed a sigh of relief.
CRIMINAL DECEPTION THREE
Sensible World Of Soccer, AP44
Once again, the game's deadline fell just beyond AMIGA POWER's, by about a week. We could either wait until the next issue, or (oh no!) review the unfinished game to claim an exclusive. Though not on the cover (AP44 was the issue with the stylish black Mortal Kombat 2 one), SWOS was possibly the single most-awaited game on the Amiga of all time. We went with the review.
The sin was compounded by this: not wishing to put anyone else on the spot, Jonathan reviewed SWOS himself, as he'd done with Pinball Illusions. (Although he reviewed SWOS anonymously, as an overflow error meant his name fell off the page.) But he was unfamiliar with Sensible Soccer, and therefore had to have the game demo'd and explained to him by Sensible's representative who'd driven at speed to bring us the latest possible version, ex-AP Dep Ed Stuart Campbell.
Certainly there was no hint of PR Man On My Shoulder - the suggestion is a gross discourtesy to both Jonathan and Stuart, though this didn't stop a rival mag doing exactly that when they reviewed the completed SWOS some time later (though queerly they missed all the problems as well) - but Jonathan's uncomfortableness with the game is evident and, though footy fans Steve and Paul lend technical support, the review has little of the depth a Sensi fan's would. As a punchline, the problems Jonathan skated around after being assured they'd be fixed for the release proper, weren't.
This was the last straw. As if having taken to wearing a large, floppy hat, Jonathan came to his senses (and, in an improving-kidvid-moral sort of way, hasn't transgressed since). We'd been extraordinarily lucky in that, when the finished games finally appeared, they were as good as we'd said, but it could so easily have gone catastrophically wrong.
(Indeed, the SWOS review led to a flood of complaints about bugs in the game which we seemingly hadn't noticed. We replied with Swiz. Clever wording, we know.)
There can be no apologies deep enough to excuse these three acts of criminal deception. Jonathan must have been mad, and we were stupid not to stop him. We are all culpable.
In fact, it's a good job we were all brutally slain in AP65. It's no more than we deserved.