['Game Mag Weaseling' is a weekly column by Kevin Gifford which documents the history of video game magazines, from their birth in the early '80s to the current day. This time - a look at a classic magazine collection completed.]


Something of a major milestone in the realm of computer magazine collecting was surpassed a couple of days back -- issue 121 of COMPUTE! magazine was found and added to the DLH's Commodore Archive magazine collection as an 'unofficial' PDF - with much of the rest of the issues available elsewhere online.

I have, of course, written about COMPUTE! a few times over the history of this column -- most recently, when I made fun of the fact that they released a porn-labeled modem in 1993. That trivializes its position in PC history, of course.

It was, for a time between 1981 and '86 or so, the biggest home-oriented computer magazine out there -- but after that, it quickly faded, as PC hobbyists evolved from hardcore hackers willing to code their own programs to "regular people" who simply wanted to use their Commodore 64s and Compaqs and other PCs to do something useful with a minimum of effort.

By the time 1990 rolled around, COMPUTE! was nothing short of an anachronism. Its original founder, Robert C. Locke, had left in order to found Game Players magazine, seeking to capitalize on the Nintendo Entertainment System boom. Its original unique draw -- brand-new BASIC and machine-language programs that people could type in and learn from -- was long gone, dropped in place of coverage of more casual oriented IBM PC-compatible coverage.

Despite that, though, the magazine still tried its damndest to have coverage of both the PC compatibles that dominated the mainstream industry by 1990 and the Amiga, Apple II, C64, and other systems that were well by the mainstream wayside, but still maintained a substantial audience.

Issue 121 of COMPUTE! had been something of a holy grail to hardcore collectors like myself. For a while, there was some controversy as to whether it existed at all, as I didn't know anyone who had actually seen the bugger in real life. Many folks had instead picked up their COMPUTE! subscription anew starting in September 1990, when the magazine was purchased by General Media, publishers of Penthouse magazine, and given a new lease on life. (This new lease on life lasted for four years, until COMPUTE! folded for good in mid-1994.)

Along these lines, issue 121 is a very valuable magazine, if only to a small cadre of people (such as myself) who actually care about these sorts of things. Compute (no caps), after General Media bought it, is available in pretty decent supply, but these 1990 issues are remarkably difficult to find -- I've only seen them once or twice on eBay in the past five years, and this is the first example of Issue 121 I've seen at all, in PDF form or not.

COMPUTE! is a tremendous success, in a way, even though it technically went out of business twice. It survived through no less than three generations of computer enthusiasts -- from the "I'll build it myself" electronics hobbyists of the late '70s, through the Apple II/C64 revolution of the early-to-mid-'80s, to the rise of the PC compatibles in the late '80s and early '90s.

It started by describing how to cobble together tiny little applications on your 6502-CPU test kits; it ended by telling you about games like The Colonel's Bequest and how to enroll your children in summer computer camps.

This is a theme I've explored several times in the past, and maybe this particular issue of COMPUTE! is not a good example of it, given that it reviews games like Leisure Suit Larry III a good year after they were released. But it shows how in the early '90s, the personal computer was changing rapidly from extremely cheap 8-bit machines to "multimedia" devices that ushered in millions of new users -- users who didn't need a magazine like COMPUTE!.

Ironic, perhaps, but it still led to mags like PC Gamer and PC Accelerator down the line, so I probably shouldn't complain too loudly, eh?

[Kevin Gifford used to breed ferrets, but now he's busy running Magweasel, a really cool weblog about games and Japan and "the industry" and things. In his spare time he does writing and translation for lots of publishers and game companies.]