Christian Cawley in a retro arcade

“Commodore” Christian Cawley: RetroGamerBase editor interviewed!

Last Updated on March 19, 2024

John Bowe decides to ask editor Christian Cawley why he still loves those old video games like Turrican.

A couple of years ago I sat down with my brother to play a round of Pro Evo on his PlayStation 4. A simple enough task; we’d been playing Pro Evo together for years across various platforms. I was actually quite excited to try it out on the most up-to-date console that I had access to, but alas, this was to be a lesson in modern gaming and its snug relationship with despondency.

We tried, but the PlayStation 4 really wanted to know my e-mail address before letting me be player two. We fell about laughing in his art studio and assumed the console would wave a hand and say, I’m just kidding! You go have fun, boys!

But no, not on your Nellie or mine.

It really wanted my details and my brother knew as well as I did that I do not know my e-mail address, so that was that and we went back to Grand Theft Auto V like usual. But something in me wasn’t satisfied, so when I went home that night I stayed up and wrote about what I had encountered with modern gaming. I was so upset that I stopped writing fiction to get real.

After some time and wondering if anyone else felt the same way, I sent the piece off in a few directions and RetroGamerBase owner, Christian Cawley got back to me about it and asked if I had anything else to say about gaming generations that I did enjoy?

Eighteen months of weekly writing later would say that yes, there is, and in the meantime, I have begun to know Christian and tested the outer limits of what he considers reasonable for me to write about. It has been fun, but there has been a proper getting-to-know-you on the cards, so this past week I have purloined deep retro prods at Master Cawley via Discord, and this I have learned…

The ultimate retro game

I started with one of those easy/difficult questions; If you could play any retro game as of this minute (5.41pm for the curious), what would it be?

‘Turrican, on the Amiga,’ Christian tells me flat and there is a certitude to it that tells me this is the case regardless of the time of day.

‘Fair do’s,’ I chime in, being a bit of a fan of it myself, although still a bit confused. ‘Was he a robot or part man?’

‘Just a man in a suit, like many others. I loved the animation they gave him, but it was the sheer amount of weapons that I really loved about it.’

Anyone who played that game couldn’t disagree, and I go for my first stupid question.

‘Platform shooters are better than horizontal shooters,’ I suggest. ‘Is that fair?’

‘Well, I certainly took to them better! I do like R-Type though – in its original form at least, and I do also have a soft spot for Uridium on the Commodore 64.’

‘And the Commodore 64 would be your first machine?’

‘First computer, but we had one of those Binatone style Pong/lightgun machines in the house before that. It was German, I think (an Ingersoll – Ed), and ran on no less than six penlight batteries which we had to sellotape over with either a birthday or Christmas card to keep them in place.’

I feverishly look up Binatone on Google Images and try to get things around to my comfort zone. I am out of my depth, but do look up the original Binatone yourself as it is a fantastic piece of design. Here, I’ll do it for you.

(Christian later dug his out for a photo, so you can compare the two below.)

‘So, what about your experiences with arcades at the time?’ I ask.

‘That’s tricky to recall. The only one I’d be certain about was Star Wars. I lost 40p in one after persuading my dad to take me to the arcades (we lived at the seaside, and I still do). I got one go after putting 50p in the machine. When Dad told me it was time to go I protested, but he wasn’t having it until we were halfway home and asked me where the rest of my 50p was…

Other than that, it’s a bit muddy until the late 80s, and games like Operation Wolf, RoboCop, etc.’

‘The arcade was a cruel place for us all, Christian. For me, it was because I didn’t live near one, and the culture around it always seemed so lively, like it did for the Commodore 64, which I saw more of. Is that computer a bit of a favourite for you?’

‘Yes, definitely. I always saw it as the affordable option for good games: the BBC Micro was at the top end of the scale, affordable to middle-class families and schools; the C64 in the middle, and the ZX Spectrum at the bottom of the pile. And because most kids wouldn’t be seen dead with a computer that schools had, the C64 and Spectrum were the most popular. In my neck of the woods, I’d say C64 outnumbered Spectrum 3:2. There was a lad with an Amstrad CPC 464, but we all felt a bit sorry for him.’

‘And you moved on to the Amiga following that then?’

‘The C64 was my main computer from 1984 until 1991. I still had it set up after this time, as we’d just got the floppy disk drive, and a bunch of new games. The Amiga 500 came along at Easter 1991 and started out as a family computer. But everyone referred to it as mine, except perhaps Dad, who wasn’t happy when I swapped it for an A600. Neither was I when it turned out the different Kickstart version wouldn’t work with some games, or that Railroad Tycoon was unplayable without a number pad.’

Piracy on the high streets

‘So what was your approach to actually getting games for these computers?’ I ask, aware from my own and all of our childhoods that the cost of playing games only gets started with a machine to play them on. ‘Did you hassle your parents, or take the paper round route? Back of a market stall for the cheaper, less kosher games?’

‘I would say 50% of my C64 games were £1.99/£2.99 efforts by Mastertronic et al. So that fell well within pocket money budget. There were pirates, but of the non-bought games, I’d say 50% were pirates, the other 50% were magazine type-ins.

When the Amiga came along, budget games were £9.99 which blew my mind. There was a lot of piracy until I got a job, by which time I owned my Amiga 1200.’

‘Tough not to underestimate the role magazines had in proliferating that culture at the time. What did you read back then?’

‘I read Commodore User/CU Amiga and Zzap! 64 mainly. Later I read Commodore Format, Amiga Format, The One, and Amiga Power. Almost always based on the contents of the disks! These days, I read Amiga Addict.”

Demo disks… cat-nip for computer heads, I think to myself and it is beginning to occur to me by this point that I have written a good deal of mean things about the Personal Computer crowd across various weeks. There is no guilt, but I have noted it. Like one of my brothers, Christian was probably the sort of character that was into Micro Plus back when it was mail-order only. Duly noted, I look for a way to round out what I hope to be a series of Discord probings. But, I do have this to say first; the retro gaming community at large, and Retro Gamer Base readers in particular, are lucky to have him. And so am I. It isn’t every day that someone asks you just to continue.

So, one more spin on the questions, for now.

‘Are you surprised to be involved to the degree that you are, in what has become retro gaming?’

‘I don’t know about surprise. It seems almost inevitable, not just with affection for old games, but missing out on some titles, feeling the desire to get to grips with holes in the library, give arcade games a better go than 50p would allow.’

There is then some explanation about a certain amount of money, which was spent in not completing Time Crisis. Many have been there. Arcades are a cruel place for us all.

‘Do modern games leave me feeling empty?’ Christian then asks of himself. ‘With a few exceptions, yes they do. So no, it is not a surprise to be involved in all this still.’

Thank goodness.

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About the author

John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90's Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.

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