Amiga Power had a number of principles which comprised its philosophy regarding games. Like almost all Amiga magazines of the time, they marked games according to a percentage scale. However, Amiga Power firmly believed that the full range of this scale should be used when reviewing games. A completely average game, neither overly good nor bad, on this scale would therefore be awarded 50%. Stuart Campbell offered some rationale for this in his review of Kick Off '96 in the final issue of the magazine:
"Giving something like SWOS [Sensible World of Soccer] 95% is utterly devalued if you also give, for example, Rise of the Robots [a famously overhyped fighting game, rated 5% by the magazine] 92%. Percentage ratings are meaningless unless you use the full range, and you can't give credit where it's due if you're pretending that everything's good. What encouragement does that give developers to produce quality? They might as well knock it out at half the cost and in a third of the time if they're only going to get another 3% for doing it properly. Of course, the market will die much faster if people get continually stiffed by crap games, but hey - there's always another machine to move to and start the cycle again."
Amiga magazines at the time (as with most games magazines right up to the present day) tended to give "average" games marks of around 70%, and rarely below 50% except for very poor games. Because most people - including game publishers - were used to this method of grading, AP gained a reputation among publishers for being harsh and unfair. AP occasionally hinted that game reviewers were being given incentives by game PR divisions to mark games highly.
In fact, fairness was a central part of their philosophy. They despised cheating, and frequently berated their own readers for using cheats to gain advantages in games. (They also believed that this applied in reverse; that games should not be allowed to cheat the player, either.)
They also believed that above anything else, games should be fun to play, and that if this criterion could be met, other factors such as graphical quality, age or heritage were unimportant.
Amiga Power developed and maintained a familiar style throughout its six-year run. The writers were very fond of in-jokes, obscure references and running gags, and popular phrases or literary devices would become absorbed into AP's culture (such as, for example, using capital letters for dramatic emphasis).
AP reviews were written in a very personal, informal manner, as though the reviewer were casually talking to the reader. Writers would sometimes even embark on anecdotes of recent happenings in the AP office, or of their interactions with the other AP staff. This contributed to AP's reputation for self-indulgence, but it also created a sense of familiarity that most of its readers enjoyed.
Unlike many games magazines, AP policy was to hire people on the basis of their writing skills, rather than their aptitude for or knowledge of games (although most of its staff were also very knowledgeable), on the premise that it was easier to learn about games than to learn to write. Many video game journalists like Kieron Gillen and Stuart Campbell used it as a first step in their career. Gillen, now a successful writer for Marvel Comics, was one of several writers who started off as an AP reader and letter-writer (under the name "C-Monster") before being employed by the magazine as a freelance contributor (retaining the "C-Monster" name even in his professional capacity). Another was Mil Millington (known to AP readers as "Reader Millington"), who would go on to become a successful novelist, selling over 100,000 copies of his debut Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About.
Throughout its 65 issues, AP went through several editors. The editors, roughly ordered by time, were:
- Matt Bielby, AP's first editor, whose career was remembered (sarcastically) throughout the magazine as the "Matt Bielby Golden Age" (issues 1-15)
- Mark Ramshaw (issues 16-24)
- Linda Barker, AP's only female editor (issues 25-26; issues 27-36 were edited by Stuart Campbell after Linda fell sick, although he never held the title of editor)
- Jonathan Davies (issues 37-50)
- Cam Winstanley (issues 51-55)
- Tim Norris (issues 59-62)
- Steve Faragher (issues 63-65)
Issues 56-58 were published with no designated editor, and subsequently referred to as "the anarchic collective era".
One of the most recognisable AP devices was the Ed Comment, which, although not invented by them nor indeed used exclusively by them, was employed extensively and inventively. Over time it evolved into a multi-purpose review device.
An Ed Comment is intended to be an interjection from the editor, inserted into a body of text as if spoken in real-time. The comment is italicised and bracketed, and the suffix - Ed is attached to the comment to show that it is from the editor. For example, the comment "This is a comment." would appear as (This is a comment. - Ed).
To include a comment from anyone else, the "Ed" can be replaced with the name of that person; however, this was rarely done. In actuality, most Ed Comments were never from the editor at all, but merely presented as such.
After the Apocalypse review (see Concept reviews below), the Ed Comment particularly came to be used as a device for humorous or ironic censorship. To censor a word or phrase, the offending word can be replaced by an Ed Comment, which usually provides a non-offensive alternative enclosed in quotes. For example, the word "bastards" could be replaced with ("Bus stops" - Ed).
As well as censoring violence and profanity, the Ed Comment also provided AP with a means of referring to rival magazines, by incorporating a rhyming pseudonym into the comment. For example, mentions of The One became ("Currant Bun" - Ed) and mentions of Amiga Action became ("Michael Jackson" - Ed).
Approximately halfway through the magazine's life, the practice of using capital letters for dramatic emphasis became increasingly common. An example of this would be a sentence such as "You must ELIMINATE DISSONANT ELEMENTS". Capitalisation was always used for the magazine's catchphrase, "DISSEMINATE ESSENTIAL INFORMATION".
While capitalisation in text is usually interpreted as shouting (and indeed AP did shout on occasion), the tone of this style of emphasis was meant to be more booming and sinister, judging by the contexts in which it was used. Capital letters were also separately used to represent the words of regular contributor Rich Pelley, who wrote the magazine's tips section for a long time and apparently had a very loud voice.
Among Amiga Power's running gags were ending screenshot captions with ", yesterday", for example: "Quik dying of thirst, yesterday", using traditional sub-editor parlance as an expression of dry indifference towards the goings on in the game.
From issue one, another word, natch, was often introduced to the bewilderment of the readership. For example: "It seems that Dynablaster doesn't run on the A500+ or A600, natch." Various readers sent in letters guessing what the word natch meant, until one finally got it right: it is simply a contraction of the word naturally.
Like its spiritual predecessor, Your Sinclair, Amiga Power had several joke characters who would make irregular appearances in reviews and features. These included Uncle Joe Stalin, who made occasional Ed Comments in an attempt to erase Stuart Campbell from history; The Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse, the only minor deities committed to rigorous consumer testing; Doris Stokes, who returned from the dead as an even worse medium than before, and several others besides.
One "character" who actually did exist in real life was Bob the Hamster, whose owner - one David Ripley - asked AP to wish Bob well, as he was ill at the time. This resulted in issue 44 of Amiga Power having the words "BOB IS A HAMSTER" printed down the spine. Bob made a full recovery, during which a vet discovered that "he" was actually a "she". The story was immortalised in the magazine's letters page, "Do The Write Thing", and Bob became a minor celebrity overnight. There followed numerous letters, including one from another hamster named Sparky. Bob died before the publication of issue 55, leading to that issue's spine reading "BYE-BYE BOB. YOU WERE A GIRL HAMSTER".
David Ripley later purchased New Bob.
A concept review is a review conducted in an abstract manner - basically, any review which deviates significantly from the usual practice of describing a game and analysing its strengths and weaknesses. Usually it takes the form of a work of fiction (often a screenplay) which indirectly reviews the game through allegory. Amiga Power featured concept reviews on a regular basis. The term itself (never actually used in the magazine) was an ironic play on the "concept albums" released by prog rock bands of the 1970s.
Examples of Amiga Power concept review themes include:A movie shown at half past ten on a Saturday night on ITV, and therefore excessively censored (Apocalypse).
An episode of Have I Got News For You (Impossible Mission 2025)
A chat show hosted by Michael Aspel, interviewing a game's protagonist (Woody's World).
A science fiction scenario (possibly based on an episode of The Twilight Zone) in which the game's main character has to convince an interviewer that his game is so good that he should be given passage on a colony ship away from the doomed Earth. If his game is poor, however, he will be executed with a shotgun. In the end he is deemed merely mediocre and is left on Earth to perish (Quik the Thunder Rabbit)
A review composed almost entirely of long, rambling "Ed Comments", with the supposed writer being only allowed the briefest of interjections (Dizzy's Excellent Adventures).
A loosely relevant science fiction story about a mysterious "Darren", with "Ed Comments" used to include the actual critical comment (Transarctica)
A review composed of sarcastic multiple-choice questions, at the end of which the reader would arrive at a personalised mark depending on their responses to the game's attempted humour (Worms)
A courtroom drama in which the magazine is charged with murdering the Amiga (Kick Off '96)
The final issue was composed entirely of concept reviews and articles, with the author of each one dying gruesomely. The final page of the issue was a script which revealed that they were all now in Heaven, with the exception of editor Steve Faragher and art editor Sue Huntley, who were shown on the back cover attempting a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-style shootout with The Four Cyclists of the Apocalypse.
Like most magazines, AP was required to put advertisements in its sister publications. Unlike most magazines, it eschewed the traditional, half-hearted splash page with pictures of video game characters. Instead, it came up with bizarre, sometimes interactive, ads that were rarely to do with the Amiga itself. The most memorable of these was the O.J. Simpson guilt game, which allowed readers to select OJ's verdict at random.
Competitions, a regular feature in practically all games magazines, were also run in AP's distinctive style, often challenging the readers' wit or creativity. AP also frequently provided strange additions to the normal competition rules, such as making peculiar threats to people who were ineligible to enter the competition if they tried to, or specifically disallowing reader Stuart N. Hardy from entering the competition."Design a fighter" competition: Apparently one of AP's most popular competitions, they requested the reader design a character for the fighting game Shadow Fighter. When announcing the results, they seemed a little disappointed by the lack of creativity in the responses: "What is it with you people? Do you think that because you've drawn a chef's hat and an apron on your character we won't notice he's been traced from a picture of Ken?". They proceeded to mock several of the entries, before announcing the winners.
"Design a spy trap" competition (AP41): Another popular competition, readers were asked to design a trap of the kind used by evil geniuses on heroes such as James Bond, with the important addition that, as in James Bond films, the hero had to have an unlikely or ingenious way to escape. The winning entry was a particularly complicated plot spanning several countries, consisting of over 30 successive events which mostly depended on someone just happening to be in the right place at the right time.
"Sack of cack": This competition, run by AP itself, was more a thinly disguised plot to rid the AP office of rubbish by offering it as a competition prize.
One of the earliest Amiga Power features which appeared in True Stories was Oh Dear, a small monthly feature showcasing truly terrible Amiga games. Oh Dear was removed very early on in the Amiga Power series.
Through their long computer gaming experience, the AP reviewers had developed a number of pet hates about video games. One of the more frequently mentioned ones, for example, was "slippy-slidey ice worlds" - levels in platform games with slippery, ice-covered floors, thus making progress haphazard. (The phrase "slippy-slidey ice worlds" was adopted by many of its sister magazines and appeared long after AP's death.) Another pet hate was the habit some game designers had of including a power-up that reversed the player's controls.
To address these, AP began a regular feature called Kangaroo Court, which presents the so-called gameplay "crime", followed by the "case for the prosecution", which is a section illustrating why the crime is a bad thing.
Finally there was "the penalty", which was usually an execution that evolved into something increasingly bizarre over several months.
In reflection of the nature of a real kangaroo court, there is no "case for the defence".
An "In The Style Of" is, as the name implies, a depiction of a game in the style of something else; most often another game. It started out as a Back Page feature, but was soon thrown open to readers as a kind of competition, and moved to the news section.
Readers could send in floppy disks containing their In The Style Of drawn in Deluxe Paint, and every month Amiga Power would select the one they liked best and feature it in the magazine. They would also award the picture a score out of ten, and send the contributor £20 worth of Amiga games for every point scored. As a running gag, they nearly always found a contrived excuse to halve the point score.
Perhaps the most unusual entry was It's a skull, a dance-style music track with all the vocals taken from the Amiga game Valhalla and the Lord of Infinity.
This feature appeared toward the end of AP's life. It was simply a table of recent games, and the percentage scores that they received from Amiga Power and the two main competing Amiga games magazines of the time: The One Amiga and Amiga Action.
AP hoped that by doing this they could perhaps highlight "disturbing trends" in the scores awarded by other magazines (usually the competitors reviewing unfinished versions of games – or even, on some occasions, versions from other platforms – in order to obtain the 'exclusive').
The Disseminator also contained annotations on some of the games, such as which magazine covers they had featured on, or if they had even been released at all.
While other magazines used at most a modest box (the "flannel panel") to introduce their reviewers, Amiga Power dedicated a full page to their staff, with photographs and short sections for each member. Sometimes a topical subject (for example, football) would be put to each of them to offer their opinions.
This page saw many variations and mutations over the months, becoming such things as "Who Do We Think We're Going To Be?", or "Who Drew We Think We Are?" (in which the team members drew cartoons of each other). A few times it was turned into a story featuring the AP staff in various guises.
Points of View was a table summarising each AP reviewer's opinion of the main games reviewed that month, if they had played them. The reviewers had room to make a short comment and give their personal score from one to five stars.
Latterly the section would feature at least one "guest" reviewer – usually a recently deceased celebrity or political figure, whose comments would inevitably culminate in the feature's standard disclaimer "Haven't played it".
"Do the Write Thing" (an obvious pun on the movie Do the Right Thing) was the magazine's letters page. One distinguishing feature of the letters page was that the magazine gave the letters titles by taking excerpts of the letters' contents out of context, often by going across sentence boundaries or cutting in the middle of a clause. The most celebrated example of this was when a reader wrote in humorously bemoaning the lack of national media attention given to AP's then-editor Linda Barker being seriously ill (she had suffered a brain haemorrhage and was absent from the mag for over a year, but went on to recover) compared to the blanket coverage of the trivial ailments of the Queen Mother. "Are the newspapers concerned [about Barker]?", queried the reader rhetorically. "No! But the Queen Mother swallows a fishbone and we get three days of media panic.". Naturally, AP headlined the letter with the quote "THE QUEEN MOTHER SWALLOWS". Another example was the headline "Commander/Dangerous Knob, er, sorry", derived from a letter criticising two games Commodore bundled with the CD32, Wing Commander and Dangerous Streets.
The letters, and the magazine's replies to them, started out fairly normal in style, but later became more and more bizarre. Readers even started writing in about things that had nothing to do with video games, to the point that the magazine once had to specifically ask for letters on appropriate topics. AP philosophy was that a magazine's letters pages defined both its character and its relationship with the readers, and it therefore devoted more space and attention to the letters pages than most magazines, often in the form of lengthy responses to more serious letters, explaining and justifying issues of policy.
Amiga Power was avowedly a magazine for games only, unconcerned with the Amiga's productivity uses, and it frequently advertised this fact on the letters page. If a reader wrote in with a question about hardware or productivity software, the magazine staff replied either by flaunting their ignorance, employing sarcastic mockery, or supplying blatantly false information. These letters would commonly be saved up and used as the bulk of a special irregular round-up section called Ask Amiga Power.
A well-known contributor to the letters page was Isabelle Rees, a British woman who first started writing letters to the magazine at the age of 15 years. Her letters, which were usually fairly long, had a cheerful tone about them, and many other readers took a liking to them.
Rees signed her letters as "Isabelle, L'Elf", and sometimes prefixed the signature with "hugs". Another of her trademarks was excessive use of exclamation marks. One reader pointed out that he had seen Isabelle having been 15 years old for more than two years, and thus suspected her of being a pseudonym. Another reader jocularily compared her to Bob, a female hamster (despite the name), who was also a famous character on the magazine's letters page.
The back page was traditionally reserved for something fun and irreverent, or at least, less reverent than all the preceding pages. In the first third of the magazine's life it featured profiles of Amiga game characters, interviews with people in the Amiga games industry, In The Style Ofs and other random articles of interest.
Midway into AP's run, the Back Page tended toward articles that blurred the boundary between Amiga games and real life. For example, there were a series of "Wish You Were Here" articles, which were written as holiday guides to famous Amiga game locations (such as the Rainbow Islands, or SimCity). These articles often lampooned games and mixed them other culture, for example, one issue contained the classic opening scenes of light-hearted comedy Monkey Island done in the style of a John Woo film, complete with excessive violence.
Toward the end, the Back Page became increasingly bizarre, sometimes lacking any apparent context or relevance whatsoever. It has been implied that this is largely the result of Jonathan Nash having taken over doing them.
Notable examples of bizarre Back Pages include Hoi hup la! from issue #58, advertising a fictional fitness exercise treatment, and the Bexhill theatre playbill from issue #60, advertising a fictional circus show, including such "famous" performers as Miss Kempley Toog, Disturbo, Hettie O'Jings and The Amazing Sweffo. Both of these advertisements were drawn to imitate real-life advertisements in 19th-century Britain. Neither, of course, has anything to do with video games.
Other Back Pages have dealt with T-shirt slogans, cows, and the mystery of the "Ed".
Nearly all games magazines, AP included, have a Next Month page, which offers a brief insight into the contents of next month's issue. However, for AP's first 30 issues or so, they had a thin strip on the back cover upon which they wrote a few lines on next month's issue, and included a very small screenshot of an upcoming game.
This enabled them to have a running joke for several months regarding the game Hired Guns. For several months, the game failed to arrive for review, as the publishers kept moving the release date back. In response, Amiga Power put the same screenshot of the game on their Next Month Strip every month for about six months, with repeated humble reassurances to the reader that they might, possibly, have it by next month.
When the game did finally arrive, they used the screenshot again on that issue, to illustrate their relief at having finally been able to review the game.
The next month, the screenshot was still there, because AP claimed it was stuck and they couldn't get rid of it.
APATTOH, meaning Amiga Power All Time Top One Hundred, was a yearly rather than a monthly feature. It originally started in AP issue No. 0 (a special "preview issue" of Amiga Power given away as an addition to an issue of Amiga Format), and later appeared approximately in every issue whose number was divisible by 12, plus 1.
APATTOH, true to the Amiga Power philosophy, ranked games depending on how the staff liked them, not on how well they were selling or how much advertising spend the publisher lavished on them. This meant that games which were massively hyped at the time when they came out could end up very low in (or entirely absent from) the list. A notable example is Frontier, which every other magazine touted as the greatest space flight game ever, but Amiga Power ranked #100 in their top 100 list (emphasising the point by placing it one place below a public-domain version of Pong).
There were two games which held an iron grip on the #1 spot in the list. The first was Rainbow Islands, a coin-op conversion platform game which the magazine controversially deemed the Amiga's finest game for the first two years of its existence. The second was Sensible Soccer, which took over the top position in the first AP Top 100 after its release (the game came out too late for the 1992 chart), and never relinquished it (except to its own sequel Sensible World Of Soccer) for the rest of the magazine's existence.
Usually a two-page feature printed on black pages, which discussed something that was in one state in the past and is now in a different one. The subject would vary, but it was not always about video games.
A notorious example was Whatever Happened To... Game Reviews?, in which AP suggested that there might be a correlation between incentives given by game publishers to game reviewers, and the score subsequently given to the company's latest game. They suggested, if this was the case, that 73% was the lowest mark a reviewer could give to a game without falling out of favour with the game's publishers, effectively making this the mark of an "average" game in other magazines.
There were four instances where a series of consecutive issues of AP had a feature called Diary Of A Game, where the development of a new game in progress was monitored in the form of a diary, written by the game's programmers. The games were:Mega-Lo-Mania 2: This was the sequel to the original Mega-Lo-Mania. This game never seemed to progress beyond several possibly mocked-up screenshots and was quietly dropped.
Spodland: The winner of AP's earlier "Design A Game" competition, where readers were asked to send in concept ideas for a new game, with the winning idea actually getting implemented as a real game by a programming group called The Hidden. The game reached a semi-playable prototype stage, but was never finished and never released.
Cannon Fodder: This became the best-rated (although not best-ranked) game ever reviewed in AP and was a huge success.
Sensible Golf: This was a golf game based on the Cannon Fodder engine.
In its later years, Amiga Power started advertising a fictional refreshment beverage called F-Max, the lightly sparkling fish drink, with the slogan an ocean of refreshment.