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80sNostalgia

Digitiser : The Show – Interview with Mr. Biffo!

If you were alive in the 80s, and you’re still alive today, the chances are you were also alive throughout the 90s. What an exciting time they were! Full of futuristic things like flying cars, teleporters and time travel. Who am I trying to kid?!? The 80s were obviously far better. I mean, for a start, they were 1 day longer than the 90s. #Fact

Having said that, one of the greatest things to come out of the late 80s and early 90s was the huge amount of gaming magazines and TV programmes. We had things like Games Master and Bad Influence on TV, and whole magazines dedicated to games consoles and arcades. As a nation we were getting quite high-tech.

One such magazine, Digitiser written by Mr. Biffo, was not only dedicated to computers and gaming, but was also the UKs only daily computer games magazine. It was only available on via Teletext but brought superb humour, Amiga-based rants and subtle innuendo to millions of teens all for free.

I had a brief chat with Mr. Biffo at Play Blackpool after his Digitiser talk, (which you can watch via the link at the end of this interview,) and was pleased to learn that he was planning a Kickstarter campaign to launch Digitiser : The Show.

Huge thanks to Mr. Biffo (Paul Rose) not only for answering my questions, but for proof-reading them all, correcting my spelling and amending a few facts. He has inadvertently made this possibly the most accurate interview I have ever done!

Read on, adventurer… and #GirdThyself


Digitiser, the daily computer game magazine, ran on Teletext for years. When you first had the idea for it, did you think it would have such longevity?

Not in the slightest. It’s bonkers, not least the fact that I’m still doing it. I mean, when I suggested it to my bosses I fully expected somebody else to write the thing. I worked at Teletext as a graphic designer, not a journalist, so the fact I’ve somehow made a career out of writing, and that I’m still working on things under the Digitiser brand on my own terms, is a total headspin. I feel very, very, very lucky.

Thing is, I don’t really feel like Digi is mine as such. There’s a really lovely community that has sprung up around it in the last four years or so, and I feel like the custodian of Digi, rather than writer or creator, if that makes sense. It might sound perverse, but I love it every bit as much as its fans do, and it’s important to me that I don’t screw it up.


How intensive was the writing process for Digitiser? It was a daily electronic magazine, so I imagine writing new content daily was a huge undertaking?

It honestly never felt like intensive or a huge undertaking. It was a pleasure to do. I never, not once, took it for granted that I was getting to write about games for a living. I used to meet other games journos, and a lot of them seemed jaded, or arrogant, and I used to think ‘How do you not realise how lucky you are?!’.

Plus, it’s worth considering that the word count of Digi was relatively low. I was actually wondering about this the other day, funnily enough, and I worked out that I probably wrote way less than 1,000 words a day back then. These days I write way, far more than that in a day – both on Digitiser2000 and in my day job writing scripts.

To be honest, once I started writing Digi from home it only used to take me an hour in the morning. It takes me far longer to writer Digitiser2000!


How many characters did you create for Digitiser? I remember Gossi the Dog, the Man with the Long Chin, Turner the Worm, something about a Tin Man who used to get his chopper out… (sorry if I have completely imagined this, my memory is hazy and, apparently, somewhat disturbed.) It felt as though there were hundreds! And were they based on real people?

Jeez. I’ve no idea. There were indeed loads. Plus lots of one-offs. I created the vast majority of the characters, barring a handful on the Chips & Teats pages and the Charts page, which were created by a guy called Gavin Lambert who wrote those sections in the latter years.

But yeah, The Man, his Daddy, the Tin Man, Mr T, and others were pretty much all me. It was a benefit of being a graphic designer really that I could draw the characters. I always tend to think quite visually.


Did you get many freebies because of it, or get to go to any big events?

Oh absolutely. It was a huge perk of the job. Every day there’d be a stack of new games to review, and though we didn’t get invited to as many exciting events as some of the paper mag journos, I did get to go to Norway, Germany and Los Angeles. There are loads of weird little events we got to go to – the launch of Sonic 2 and The 7th Guest, the Atari Jaguar… plus the big annual trade shows.

I’m a bit of a homebody these days, so I can’t say I miss it, but I’m glad to have had those experiences!


Digitiser was possibly the most popular gaming magazine in the UK, based on monthly reader numbers. Did you face much resentment from other publishers or authors?

Sort of. We had a long-running feud with various Emap magazines, and Dave Perry’s company weren’t fans either. I mean, we totally courted it.

We even ran an occasional featuring reviewing other games mags, just as an excuse to slag them off. And the fact we were daily meant we’d always have the last word! Oddly, I’m actually rather friendly now with Dave and some of the Emap journos who we used to have a bit of a to-do with. Everybody grows up.

What was weird is that Future Publishing always loved us. I never really understood that, but I think we were – on the whole – a bit nicer to them. Plus, we had a tie-up where we used to give away subscriptions to Future mags on the letters pages…


The last day of Digitiser, with Turner the Worm being sick, has gone down in history as possibly the funniest thing ever to happen on Teletext. What was the story behind why you drew it? Was it a culmination of emotion which manifested in a rude rant, or was it planned to be a subtle dig? Was it a genuine “What are they going to do, fire me?” moment?

It was the latter. Just a case of trying to come up with the most outrageous and subversive thing you could possibly see on a teletext page. Not a great deal of thought went into it, and I honestly didn’t think they’d let it run, but somehow… they did.

It’s weird really. I’m actually slightly embarrassed by it. I write for kids TV nowadays, and I’m really quite militant about not putting anything inappropriate in scripts… and yet a large, dripping, teletext phallus will apparently be my epitaph.


You moved onto writing for Edge magazine and were there for 6 years, I believe? How was the transition between having to write daily for Digitiser, to writing every other day still with Digi, to writing monthly for Edge? And did you / do you write for any other magazines?

Oh, there was no real transition. I mean, I wrote 500 words once a month for Edge, so I barely even noticed I was doing it. Plus, I’d been writing for proper games mags on the side for years, and I had a column in a bunch of regional newspapers.

At first it was weird not to have Digi to do every day, but I soon got busy enough with other work.

I write a column now for Retro Gamer, which is a magazine that I’ve long admired. I think we can pretty much put the current popularity of retrogaming down to them.


I started my gaming journey on the 48k Spectrum, then slowly progressed onto a 128k Spectrum followed by an Atari ST. What did you spend your childhood playing, computer-wise?

We had a Binatone, then an Atari 2600, but I was very much a Speccy boy. That’s the system which made me fall in love with games. I just found it magical. There was something about games – particularly on the Spectrum, with its limited colour palette – which never felt to me as if they were the work of human beings, if that makes sense.

It’s hard to put into words, but they always felt as if they were from somewhere else – like we were seeing into another dimension with the games. The Spectrum got to me on quite a profound, deep level.

After the Speccy, I got an Atari ST – yes, I know, should’ve got an Amiga – then a Master System, and then a Mega Drive. But it wasn’t until the Super NES that I found another games machine that I loved as much the Spectrum. Though I was well out of my childhood by that point.


Amiga fans, eh? Pffft! Whats all that about?

Well. There’s a story. In short, we didn’t have an Amiga when we started Digi, and we didn’t go out of our way to get one as we (rightly as it turned out) believed the future lay with PCs and consoles. Unfortunately, Amiga owners disagreed, in quite an aggressive way, flooding Teletext with complaints and trying to get us fired! We eventually relented and asked our bosses to buy us an Amiga, but suffice to say that it rather soured my opinion of Amiga owners.


What made you realise there was a demand for a new computer game show?

It just feels like the right time. It’s a gut thing, to be honest. I think about what I want to see in a gaming TV show and – for better or worse – it’s old games.

Also, we’re not really being served by broadcasters or YouTube in that regard. On TV we have Go 8-Bit, but – much as I like a lot of it – it feels a bit safe for my tastes, and is a game show rather than a magazine show. Plus, I want something with a bit more character, something a bit more distinct. Take the games out of Go 8-Bit and, as polished as it is, it could be any celebrity game show.

There’s a lot of great stuff on YouTube, but in terms of games it generally feels a bit lacking in ambition and scale. That’s what we want to address.


Digitiser : The Show will be your second Kickstarter, the first being Mr Biffos Found Footage which raised WAAAAY more than the amount you asked for to get it funded. Do you think demand for Digitiser : The Show will be as great, or even more so?

To be honest, I’ve no idea! Obviously, that’d be great, because we’ve got some really ambitious ideas which we can only afford to do if we raise some big money.

Plus, just in terms of it feeling like a proper show, with regard to sets, crew, and equipment, we need a decent chunk of money. However, we’re not setting our initial target particularly high, but even if we raise the minimum amount we’re still going to do something. It just won’t be quite as huge in scale and as slick as I’d like!


Digitiser initially appeared on Teletext in 1993, so just after the peak of Spectrum and C64 gaming. What old systems can we expect to see on Digitiser : The Show? Tell me there will be enough retro goodness to keep me happy? I’d love to see some Spectrum and C-64 content?

We’re not going to come at things the way other YouTube channels do. There are plenty of Let’s Play and review shows out there, and we want to avoid doing that sort of stuff.

We’re going to use gaming as a jumping off point to do things that can appeal to – hopefully – as broad an audience as possible. So, of course we’ll be doing stuff to do with the Spectrum and C64 (and, yes, the Amiga), but we don’t want people to click away just because we’re not talking about their favourite system. It’ll be a bit more unpredictable than us going “Let’s talk about an old game” and then show some footage of it. Anybody can do that, and a lot of people would read Digitiser regardless of whether they were into games. Primarily, we want to entertain first, then inform second.

That said, we’ll be having a debate panel each episode, tackling gaming topics that we all recognise – such as whether the Spectrum was better than the Commodore 64 – and a few that come a bit more from left-field. It wouldn’t be Digitiser if we didn’t come at the show from a slightly bonkers perspective.

As well as covering all the major retro formats, I’m also keen for us to feature some more obscure systems. So, we’ll hopefully also be doing unspeakable nonsense with the Barcode Battler and Coleco Telstar Arcade.


Have you been working on perks for the new Kickstarter? Any clues on what we can expect to see as perks?

Yep. We’ve got a ton of different perk tiers, so that – hopefully – everybody gets exactly what they want. We’ll be offering stuff from Ashens and Super Play cover legend Will Overton, as well as tickets to a live show, and… much as it pains me… the chance to get your hands on my actual Astro Wars machine… Plus lots more!


Now, I think its fair to say that some of Found Footage was intentionally a bit disturbing! Don’t get me wrong, most of the people I know are already quite disturbed, so it went down really well! Will Digitiser be aimed at a more general audience? Will I be ok showing it to my elderly relatives?

Yeah, I’ve told the team that our rating will be PG-13! It won’t be anywhere near as out-there and bizarre as Found Footage, but it will – hopefully – feel like Digitiser. My reason for doing this isn’t to get the biggest available audience. I’m not going to cynically tailor what I do just to get views. I’m not in it to try to become famous, or a YouTube billionaire.

My aim is to make the games show that I would want to watch, and have fun while doing it, otherwise there’s no point. I set myself a challenge with Found Footage, and I’m doing the same with this; to make a slick, professional-looking, magazine show which will also – hopefully – be really funny. That’s the main thing.

It might not be for people looking for a more sober, serious, gaming show, but games are meant to be fun… and we want to reflect that.


Will any of the original Digitiser characters appear on Digitiser : The Show? Will you have an actual fat sow giving opinions on things? Will the last show have a vomiting snake? Do you need me to message Mr. T?

It wouldn’t be Digi without characters! The thing I will say is that I’m conscious of giving too many of the characters a voice – because, inevitably, people already have a voice in their heads for what the characters sound like.

So, there’ll be characters, but they’ll be used in a way which doesn’t betray them for people who are familiar with them, or come across as a bit clunky. Hopefully anyway. We’ll be using some new characters created just for the show as well, but I don’t want it to end up as a sketch show.

It’s a tongue-in-cheek retro gaming magazine show which will surprise you with something utterly unexpected every now and then. Much like Digitiser used to.


When does the Digitiser Kickstarter go live? And are you giddy about it?

Friday March 9th at 7am! I dunno about giddy… I’m excited, but nervous. It marks the start of an enormous mountain of work, plus… I’m not going to get away with being behind-the-scenes like I mostly was with Found Footage.

People keep telling me I need to be on camera, which isn’t something I’m particularly keen to do, but I shall suffer for my art…!


I saw an interview between you and The Back Office Show at Play Blackpool in which you discussed your favourite cheeses. *link to cheese chat* Just want to get clarification on something….. why didn’t Philadelphia appear in your top 5? It is surely the Queen to the King of cheeses – Brie? It goes SO well on crackers. It is inexpensive. I need answers.

Philadelphia is nice and all, especially the garlic one… but I see it as more of a spread than a cheese. I will fight anybody who disagrees.


Links:

Digitiser2000 Website
Mr Biffo on Twitter
Mr Biffos Found Footage


Watch Mr. Biffos full chat from Play Blackpool:

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