After the letdown of the Lightforce cover illustration, Oliver Frey steamed back in with a large close-up monster picture. The excuse for it was Ocean's Cobra, and rather than slavishly devise some illustration based on the game Oliver chose to interpret the title literally. The serpent is very much in Frey/CRASH style: chromium-plated needle fangs, slavering jaws agape dripping what could be alien machine oil. Its impact is undeniable, and I think it was the strongest image of the year.
As if to make up for the November issue, December's provided seven Smashes. Denton Designs struck back after some indeterminate games with The Great Escape for Ocean, displaying yet another form of isometric perspective to describe the World War II POW castle from which the player hoped to escape. And Hewson must have been pleased; Steve Crow, with three previous Smashes for other software houses to his name, programmed his fourth for them. Firelord was a game of chivalry set to Steve's characteristically attractive graphics. Then there was the risky conversion of Andrew Braybrook's monster Commodore 64 hit Uridium. The risk paid off - much credit to Dominic Robinson, who recreated the original fast-scrolling bas-relief graphics very well.
Durell clocked up another Smash with their dragon story Thanatos, and Mosaic's adaptation of a Dick Francis novel gave Derek a pre-Christmas treat in the Adventure Trail. Ocean hit big film tie-in time when Cobra - cynically expected to be a terrible disaster - turned out to be a fast, addictive and playable winner.
One of the year's big coin-op successes had been Gauntlet, an obvious case for conversion. US Gold had the official rights, but clones were a-cloning and it was a close race between Firebird, who got a Smash for Druid, and Electric Dreams, who just didn't for Dandy. But what was interesting was Dandy's claim to originality, for the coin-op Gauntlet was a conversion of the original Atari game called Dandy written by student John Palevich!
There were some close misses, too; Palace's The Sacred Armour Of Antiriad, for example. But if Ocean's tie-in gamble with big Cobra had paid off, US Gold's big gamble with The Goonies did not - it was a dispiriting mishmash of a game.
December was also notable for the first time budget-game reviews were grouped together; this 'budget ghetto' had (and has since) often been considered for CRASH, but rarely repeated.
Kat Trap was coming along well, and after the previous month's preview December's issue included an article about how Oliver was painting the game's packaging - and the ad appeared too, though it wasn't included in Bill Scolding's wry look at software advertising, a funny article which reviewed some recent ads and rated them in traditional CRASH style.
The first issue (Issue Zero) of LM was almost ready for printing; to reach as many readers as possible, it was to be included free in the Christmas Specials of CRASH, ZZAP! and AMTIX! rather than go on the newsagents' shelves on its own. Up in the art department life was frenzied, as they would soon be working on four magazines simultaneously. Still, two new paste-up artists appeared to help out: Sebastian Clare and Tim Croton. Sebastian's father had once owned a company called Small School Software, whose premises had been the first floor of the King Street Offices before CRASH editorial moved down there late in 1984... circles within circles.
And there were two other new staff members; in film planning Newsfield took on Nick Orchard, a school-leaver, for Matthew Uffindell to train as a colour film planner (he was bearing in mind the extra work involved on the all-colour LM). And downstairs in the photographic department, Cameron Pound received some help from Michael Parkinson, a YTS trainee from nearby Tenbury Wells.
Newsfield's first office Christmas do, held at a restaurant outside Ludlow, had been for ten people. The second had been for 40 (staff and family) and was held at the Bull Inn (home of the fictitious Old Flatulence Bitter). This year's was to be for some 64 staff and many invitees - we were getting bigger...