- amiga history guide Supporting Amiga and compatibles since 1997 -
- banners - disclaimer - faq
- - -
- -     -
recent updates
amiga history
amiga models
internet links



© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
All Rights reserved




CU Amiga, December 1996 - September 1998
© Tony Horgan 2006

I was invited to write a bit about CU Amiga for the Amiga History Guide, so here it is.

I was Editor of the magazine from September 1996 until its closure in August 1998. I joined as Staff Writer in September 1991, and prior to that wrote a number of audio-related features for the mag as a freelancer.

I don't have much in the way of hilarious anecdotes to relay (sorry!), but I can tell you a bit about how the magazine was when I started, and then I'll have a go at discussing the issues that I edited.
So children, are we sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.

Enter stage left
I was interviewed for the Staff Writer job in the summer of 1991. That year I'd been freelancing for them, doing a regular feature called Sound Check (later to become Sound Lab) in the Blue Pages section at the back of the mag. Nick Veitch, then Technical Editor, commissioned the articles. I'd met Nick and his friend John Kennedy a couple of years before, when they were freelancers working for Amiga User International, where I was Staff Writer at the time.

At the time, CU Amiga was run by a two-man team: Dan Slingsby and Steve James, the Editor and Managing Editor respectively. Dan was the young ideas man, while Steve, having recently relinquished his editorship of the mag, lent his experience, providing a steady hand on the tiller. For reasons unknown to me, they found themselves having to hire three editorial staff at once, so there was quite an influx of new faces at the time.

CU Amiga was published by EMAP, and their Farringdon Lane office was somewhere I'd wanted to work for ages, as it was the home of some of the best games mags of the era, including Computer and Video Games, Sinclair User, The One (at its best in the early days, when it covered the ST, Amiga and PC), ACE, and also around that time, console mags such as the Official Nintendo magazine, Mean Machines and Maximum. It was the games mag capital of the world, although Future Publishing would no doubt disagree. For me, it represented the spiritual home of computer and video games magazines.

At the back of the CU Amiga office we had a little room where all the technical stuff happened. You could mess around with hardware without incurring the wrath of the Health And Safety-obsessed HR manager, and make a racket without annoying the rest of the office. Needless to say, I spent most of my time in there, much to the exasperation of Dan. Sorry Dan!

Time marched on and people came and went (but mostly went). Nick was eventually lured down to Bath by Amiga Format, which in time set up a great friendly rivalry between the two of us. Dan departed a short time after, also poached by Future Publishing, to edit Amiga Format's sister publication PC Format. With the Ed's chair vacant, the popular vote from the team was for regular freelancer John Kennedy to take the helm, but John declined, preferring to stay a free agent.

And so it was that Alan Dykes ("Dykesy", we called him - what a crazy bunch we were!) stepped across from one of EMAP's PC mags and ushered in a new era.

The Dykes Dynasty
Dykesy had more of an affinity with the games side of things than the "serious" subjects, and was keen to advance the games coverage in the mag, which was quite a challenge given that by the mid-90s all of the big game publishers had cut the Amiga loose to concentrate on the PC and consoles.

While there were still plenty of decent graphics and audio products coming out, games-wise it was getting a bit desperate, and I felt it became almost impossible for us to review Amiga games honestly without upsetting the fanatical Amiga purists, who by now were feeling threatened and didn't want to read anything negative about the format, especially from a magazine that in their eyes was supposed to be "supporting" the platform. I saw the magazine's purpose as "servicing" Amiga users, which is somewhat different.

On the games front we were forced to settle for whatever Team 17 put out and a few scraps from the PC table. Ultimately, it was the Amiga's inability to handle 3D graphics that killed it as a games machine. Compared to the PlayStation's Ridge Racer, the Amiga's Alien Breed 3D was a joke. It was a good job I was Technical Editor by then, so the dirty work of reviewing substandard beat 'em ups and ageing adventure games fell to other members of the team.

After Dykesy left to head up PC Gaming World, joining a number of former EMAP games mag staff, I got the big chair. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with the mag, but it was a difficult time. When I joined CU it was at its peak, selling over 100,000 copies every month. That's a lot of magazines, and it made a lot of money for the company from copy sales and advertising. In contrast, the mag I took over was selling about a quarter of that, supported by a much smaller pool of advertisers with a lot less money to spend.

Editing a magazine that's making lots of money is fun. The bosses have plenty of time for you. They know your name. They take you and your team go-karting in the name of team-bonding, and throw little parties to celebrate hitting sales targets and setting up lucrative promotional deals with big companies. The downside to that situation is that where there's a lot of money at stake, there's a lot of pressure to succeed, and all your bosses and their bosses have an opinion on how things should be done.

When you're editing a magazine that's on an unstoppable descent into oblivion, as CU was (and had been since the early 90s), things are rather different. It's not hard to imagine the downsides, but there are positives too. If no one above you really cares about the mag (which is understandable if it's only breaking even at best), it's a lot easier to just get on with the job in hand without having to filter everything through focus groups and board meetings. Fortunately we did have a very good publisher (that's the editor's direct boss, as opposed to the publishing company) towards the end, who let us get on with things. Just as importantly, Andy McVittie (for it was he) also allowed us to close the magazine properly, rather than following the publishing convention of pulling the plug on a dead magazine without informing either the magazine's staff or its readers.

I'll now prattle on for a bit about the issues I edited. I'm just doing this by looking at the covers and jotting down what comes to mind. Think of it like a Director's Commentary on a DVD. Now, let's see...

December 1996 issue
I'd already sorted out the deal with the publisher of Wordworth to put a full version of it on the cover disks and CD, which would have cost us a fair amount in the scheme of our budget at the time. I wanted to make the most of it, and decided to go for a bold, simple, type-based cover. To maximise the impact, we used what's called a fifth colour, in this case a metallic bronzey gold. I was really happy with how the cover came out. I think it was Helen, the art ed, who did the design work.

In a strategy meeting held between the magazine being printed and sales figures coming back, one of my bosses was adamant that it was a terrible cover, mainly because it didn't use every colour in the rainbow. When the figures came back, it turned out to be the best-selling issue for six months.

January 1997 issue
This was supposed to be a really cool render of a drooling T-Rex, close up, roaring like scary dinosaurs do. I'm pretty sure I even specified to the illustrator NOT to use this dinosaur model, which had been doing the rounds for years. By the time we got the render it was too late to change it or get a new one done, so we ended up with a cover that was more Toy Story than Jurassic Park.

We'd built up quite a good relationship with the Imagine people in the States. While they were never that happy with the idea of selling us the rights to put full versions of the program on the disks, we came to agreements based on cash up front (and there wasn't much cash coming into the coffers of any Amiga software publisher at the time), backed up with coverage in the magazine encouraging readers to upgrade to the latest version, along with long-running tutorials to help maintain its profile.

Many people blamed the demise of Amiga software on covermounts, but in most cases (by this time, at least), money paid by the likes of CU Amiga for covermount rights helped keep the software companies afloat. Unfortunately, the number of readers that upgraded to the latest versions was often disappointingly low.

February 1997 issue
The announcement of a new Amiga, the A\Box from German peripheral manufacturer Phase 5, gave new hope to those of us that refused to "defect" to Windows PCs. It was a huge story, but all we had to work with was a list of specs and a whole load of promises from Phase 5, neither of which would look very good on a magazine cover. We decided to create our own "artist's impression" of how it might look.

Fortunately, this time the render was great, and most people took it in the spirit in which it was intended, telling us they hoped it would really look like that, rather than feeling they'd been "conned" by a faked image. Alas, as with most big ideas at the time, the A\Box came to nothing.

March 1997 issue
This marked a departure from the policy of themeing covers and issues around the main cover disk content. The March 1997 issue came with a full version of OctaMED SoundStudio, but sales data from previous years suggested that issues that lead with OctaMED as the main cover subject didn't sell that well, so in order to cover the bases, it shared the limelight with a graphics feature and a Chaos Engine 2 demo.

The graphics feature presented another problem. Illustrating the concept of graphics might seem simple, but actually it's not (see the Aladdin 4D cover for proof of how it can go a bit wrong). Nobody wants to see a graphics card on a front cover, so we went for this idea of a bank of TV screens displaying various images. I made most of them with ImageFX and a video grabber. I think it still looks good today, and is certainly different.

April 1997 issue
Uh-oh, another tricky concept to craft a cover from. Directory Opus 5.11. Hmm... let's see, it's really good for copying files around the place... you can use it like a replacement for Workbench... it's really good for copying files around the place... Oh, we already said that one.

We didn't exactly admit defeat on this one, but had to be realistic. There really was no way to make it look exciting. It wasn't exciting. It wasn't fun. It was serious, and useful, so we went for a serious and useful-looking cover. It was as dull as dusk in Dulwich, but then so were a lot of Amiga users. Joke! (not really)

May 1997 issue
This cover upset a lot of people who saw the image and headline as a rather too tenuous link to the main story. To be fair, it was, but the main story was another confusing ragbag of promises and specifications from various companies all doing their own bit to create some sort of next-generation Amiga platform.

I'll throw the ball back at you. Find a headline and a means of illustrating a story based around these elements: A\Box, Amiga buyout, P.OS. Pios, QuikPak, Power Amiga (and more). Answers on a postcard...

Inside the mag, we reported on internet radio (this was 1997, remember!), with Mat Bettinson writing a great forward-looking piece that, unlike all the hot air that came from the gaggle of well-meaning but hopelessly ambitious companies in the cover feature, actually turned out to be a true vision of the future!

June 1997 issue
American PC retailer Gateway somehow ended up with the Amiga patents, describing their acquisition - not entirely encouragingly - as "a large box with 'stuff' in it. You have an idea of what the stuff is, but no clue what the details of the contents are". Yay! We're saved!

So that trumped the cover disk software to gain prominence on the cover. I think Mat rendered the Gateway "G" logo in Imagine, while Anthony, who was in charge of the magazine's design, showed that those years at art college weren't wasted, drawing the black and white cowhide backdrop that was Gateway's trademark.

July 1997 issue
It's been said (on this website ;-) that we shot ourselves in the foot by telling our readers how to get onto the net. I can see that logic, but when you're struggling to sell enough copies just to survive from one month to the next, you have to give people what they want, and this is what they wanted.

Getting connected to the net was a complicated job at the time, and it needed something like this cover feature to make sense of it all. It was all TCP/IP stacks and that sort of nonsense that these days is all done for you.

This was an issue in which you can see we were facing up to the truth, tired of all the broken promises, tired of telling the readers everything will be OK. The "What Went Wrong?" feature went against the rulebook of the sort of things you should flag on a cover, but what the hell, it needed to be said!

August 1997 issue
I finally crumbled after months of pressure to lead with a programming feature and cover disk. I was convinced those calling for such a thing were a vocal minority, and was concerned about how we'd illustrate the concept.

Most programming features were illustrated with wooly, bland abstract montages of ones and zeros that just wouldn't work as a cover. I decided to go for a Max Headroom-inspired image of a robotic, "computerised" face (textured, of course, in the obligatory binary code). I think we did as good a job as we could with the subject matter. It didn't sell brilliantly, but then mid-summer issues never do.

September 1997 issue
A decent bit of graphics software on the disk (it rendered 3D landscapes) demanded that it be used to create the cover to have any credibility. So we rendered this rather rubbish moonscape and put an Imagine-rendered earth in the background. The final result was very disappointing. I seem to remember the original render was somehow corrupted, and we had to do this one again at the last minute. It needed a subject to work, but ended up just being a featureless background. Never mind!

We also had a great DIY hardware feature, based on a General MIDI soundcard from Yamaha.

October 1997 issue
This was a great moment for the mag, as we finally got to publish the unreleased TFX, a great flight sim from the creators of F-29 Retaliator. We managed to winkle the code out of the original programmer and set up a deal for some free ads in some other EMAP magazines. A triumph! Well done us!

November 1997 issue
Not my favourite cover. In theory it should work, as it illustrates a review of a 3D rendering package called Aladdin with a 3D render of Aladdin, but it just looks like a bit of artwork from a game about a magic carpet.

Elsewhere, we had Mat's brilliant AIR Link DIY hardware thing, a sort of remote control gizmo. I still use mine to operate the automatic doors and air conditioning system in my subterranean recording studio.

December 1997 issue
As if by magic, a game appeared! Well, sort of. Myst arrived on the Amiga via ClickBOOM and made us all feel a little less abnormal. I never really liked the game, on any platform, so it was just as well I didn't write anything much about it. Not a great issue overall, with a selection of pretty boring software and hardware on test. Next!

January 1998 issue
Increasingly, it became a requirement for us to make our own news. Nothing was happening, and Gateway had put their "box of stuff" in the loft. There are two indicators of the state of the market here. The first is the cover feature, which was our attempt to draw together the best shareware utilities to create someone approaching a modern operating system - seeing as there was no sign of an update from Amiga Inc. The second was the feature called "1997: We Made It!" The mere fact that we (the magazine, the readers, and the few advertisers) were still around was seen as a big enough achievement that it warranted a self-congratulatory feature.

The cover didn't quite come off the way I'd hoped. It was supposed to be a simple, smart, stylised icon that represented a new operating system, but the execution was poor.

February 1998 issue
Scala, the video-titling system, was another great bit of software on the cover disk that really played to the Amiga's strengths, and in many ways still out-performed anything you could get for a desktop PC at the time. This was pretty tough to get, as I remember. It was something we pursued for quite a while before bagging it. We used its own, bold artwork style for cover, which I think came off quite well.

Other features in the issue tended towards the technical side of things. Anyone for OpenBSD or a CDDA mixer? We were scratching around, to be honest. Does it show?

March 1998
I tried to make CU's covers as simple and striking as possible. Some subjects were better suited to this treatment than others. The release of Quake for the Amiga (via ClickBOOM), almost two years after its PC release, was a certainly a big enough story to warrant the entire cover. We hadn't done many games-related covers because the Amiga had ceased to be primarily a games machine a long time ago. However, this worked on a few levels. First of all it was a big, important game. Second, it was a major morale-boost for Amiga enthusiasts, as its very existence on the Amiga platform was like sticking two fingers up at the mainstream games industry. Third, it was a technical curiosity, working on relatively low-spec machines but also taking advantage of the best graphics cards.

It's a great cover, even if the other coverlines are pretty bland in subject. User groups? Well, if you'd had as many emails asking for a big list of user groups as I had, you'd write "user groups" on the cover too. We used that metallic bronzey gold colour again, which was an unexpected extravagance by this stage.

April 1998 issue
Here's another cover that worked well in that simple, iconic way. The theme was Mac emulation, so the idea was to combine the Amiga and Mac logos into one. The Amiga never really had a strong logo. The original rainbow-striped letter "A" had been ditched a while ago, and the red and white chequered Boing Ball had become the most recognisable Amiga logo.

By this time, all the permanent art staff had left the magazine and we were using freelancers to lay out the pages and create the covers. I had wanted a proper 3D apple to be rendered with the red and white pattern as a texture, but limitations of budget, time and staff meant that we had to take a short cut. In the end, this was made by rendering a Boing Ball (in Imagine, I think), then using a simple 2D Apple logo to "mask" it into the apple shape. The leaf and shadow where then added separately.

The Millennium Bug feature was interesting at the time, although the other coverlines tell the story of how was going on aside from that.

May 1998 issue
Digital cameras were in their infancy at the time. Long-time contributor John Kennedy had been telling me about how you can put a digital camera on a kite and take aerial photos of your house. Fantastic! Let's do a feature!

A bright fluorescent orange ink helped the cover stand out, but it wasn't one of the best. A picture of a camera would have looked pretty boring. Maybe it's what the readers would have wanted though. This was one of those covers that provoked peeved responses from readers who didn't see the connection. Fair enough, there's really no connection between a snowboarder and a digital camera. It was an attempt to create what appeared to be a "digital photo". Oh well, you can't win them all!

Two other good features in this issue helped though: The Big Amiga Poll (for which I rendered a red and white chequered pole as an illustration - hilarious, eh?), and one about Interactive Fiction (that's text adventures to you and me) which also had a nice illustration that I got the freelance designer to do using bits of old artwork we found lying around the place.

June 1998 issue
The controversial Spaceboy cover! This is easily the best cover we ever did, despite and partly because of the amount of debate it caused. Some people loved it, some hated it, seeing it as childish. I commissioned Rian Hughes to do the illustration along with some supporting artwork to accompany the feature in the mag. Not only is the cover art incredibly eye-catching and stylish, but it works with the theme of the cover CD (a DIY game creator program), and is also totally brilliant. Fact.

The supporting coverlines also show that this was a pretty good issue for the time, with decent products in for review and a couple of handy features.

July 1998 issue
The Bombshell Issue - this is another great cover in my opinion. Designing interesting covers was never easy, but then easy isn't fun, so that's OK. The problem we had here was that we had to send the magazine to the printers a few days before the World Of Amiga Show, being held in Hammersmith, London, in May. Amiga Inc, then part of Gateway, had promised to "drop a bombshell" in their press conference at the show, but they wouldn't be drawn on the matter before then.

We found out that we could squeeze details of the announcement into the magazine via a flyer printed right after the announcement and inserted into the magazines as they came off the presses.

All very well, but how would we sell this on the cover? We decided to take Amiga Inc's promise literally, with the coverline "Amiga Drops The Bombshell" illustrated by a bomb falling over a city centre. We rendered the bomb ourselves and combined it with a background from a photo library, using a metallic silver/grey ink for the logo and a deliberately limited colour palette to create a quite austere mood.

As it turned out, the "bombshell" was a confusing, somewhat vague list of promises mixed in with a bunch of technical specifications that never came to anything. After that press conference we were shown "the new Amiga", which was actually nothing but an empty wooden prop with a flashing LED stuck onto it.

We also managed to get some "Powered By Amiga" stickers out of Petro Tyshchenko as a little free gift, which further added to the issue's novelty value.

August 1998 issue
Wow! How tenuous is the link on this cover? Again, the task of illustrating a concept on the cover threw up a hefty challenge. The concept here was a big music and audio feature, backed up by some audio software on the disks. I seem to remember I was quite into The X-Files at the time, which is probably why this cover looks like something from its title sequence. So, somehow I got to thinking that scanning someone's hand would be a good idea, then bridged the huge chasm between the image and the subject matter with the coverlines "Audio Magic! It's in your hands" and put a little speaker over the palm of the hand for good measure.

A picture of a synthesiser keyboard, a mixer or a soundwave would have been more conventional, and certainly would have got the message across more directly than this, but that would have been boring. Retracing those thought processes, I suspect this may have been done the Monday after a particularly active weekend's clubbing.

September 1998 issue
How To Illustrate Apparently Boring, Non-visual Computing Concepts On Magazine Covers, Part 251: Networking. Go on, you try it. See, it's easy to mock those "Future's Bright" and "Audio Magic" covers, but what do you do?

I think this one worked really well, even though the colours are a bit garish. With the Amiga platform becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the computing world, the idea of connecting it up to a network - either harnessing the power of multiple Amigas or talking to PCs and Macs - was very inviting. However, it was a technical minefield and needed a lot of explanation. The concept of "coming together" seemed more tangible than simply "networking", while the slightly risque double-entendre of the coverline was a good fit with the sperm and egg imagery, which also suggested the potential of two things combining to create something more than the sum of their parts.

October 1998 issue
The end. I knew it was coming, fortunately. I say "fortunately", because the standard practice for closing a magazine is for the editor's boss to call the editorial team into a meeting room one morning out of the blue and announce that the magazine has been closed. Then someone asks, "You mean, after we've finished the issue we're doing now?" and the editor's boss says, "No, as of this moment. Thanks for your time, clear your desks, and the HR manager will see you individually after this meeting to discuss alternative employment redundancy options.

Then there's this depressing realisation that the issue you're halfway through making will never be printed. The current issue will then sit on the shelves of WHSmith for the next six months, until someone in the shop realises that the next issue is never going to turn up and sends the remaining copies off to the big pulping machine in the sky.

But this is not what happened with CU Amiga, thankfully.

We were given the chance to complete a final issue. It was a tricky thing to decide how much of it should be a "proper" issue, with all the usual news, reviews and stuff, and how much of it should be a bookend to the magazine's existence. I think we got most of it right, although as has been said by others, it would have been nice to have included a complete history of the magazine from the start. The trouble with that was that we simply didn't have anything like a complete archive of the magazine. It had been through so many guises, involving so many different editors and staff that each time the magazine had moved, say, from the second floor to the fourth, loads of the magazine's history, contained in filing cabinets and random boxes under desks, had been lost or thrown out, partly because most of the people working on the mag at any one time had no particular connection to its past, and so nobody was ever compelled to oversee a proper archive. We did what we could with the old issues and team photos that remained.

It was nice to be able to direct readers to other Amiga mags as well. EMAP didn't own any rival mags to those we recommended, which helped.

As for the cover, it was fitting to go out with a bit of humour, and as it really didn't matter if the magazine sold one copy or sold out (as far as the team were concerned), it gave us an opportunity and legitimate excuse to do our most self-indulgent cover of them all. It's based on Terry Gilliam's Monty Python foot, of course. It seemed a fitting way to illustrate the end. I think, also, all of us on the team quite liked the quirky Britishness of the humour, knowing that CU Amiga was read quite widely around the world, and that the Monty Python imagery was also well known internationally. For the benefit of anyone who never saw an actual copy, I should point out that we printed the cover upside down, so that the squashed logo was at the bottom of the page. It was just another nice little quirk that under normal circumstances we'd never have been able to get away with.

And then that was that. The End.

Back to Magazine Index


Latest updates to the Amiga History Guide. (more)

· Amiga Hardware
· Amiga History.de
· Amiga Magazine Rack
· Amiga-news(en)(de)
· Amiga.org
· Amiga World
· AmigaOS 4.0
· Amiga University
· Commodore Retrobits
· Dave Haynie archive
· Lemon Amiga
· MorphOS Support
· morphos-news.de


Other interesting items in the archive!



home · changes · amiga history · features · amiga models
magazines · technical · interviews · internet links · downloads

Hosted by:
Bambi - The Amiga Web Server