“PC Zone’s Alive!?”

Yes, it is, and it’s with that exclamation from Brian Blessed, grabbed from the Zone archives and neatly repurposed as part of the introductory jingle, that the greatest PC magazine of the 1990s returns, this time in podcast form.

It’s all down to the sterling efforts of ex-Deputy Editor Richie Shoemaker (occasionally spotted in these parts), who has summoned an impressive array of former staff from across the span of Zone’s history to spend some time talking about their time on the magazine.

(If you’re new here, we were both big fans of PC Zone, and for a bit of a look back from a reader’s perspective, you might want to check out our retrospective from a few years ago.)

The first episode acts as a general overview, with pairs of former editors discussing each era of Zone. First up, there’s Paul Lakin and Laurence Scotford talking about the early years, followed by John Davison and Jeremy Wells, who were in charge during Zone’s mid-90s heyday. Then we hear from Chris Anderson, who took over after the 1998 redesign, and Dave Woods, who oversaw the next one in 2005. Finally, there are contributions from Jamie Sefton (who also provides the podcast’s intro music) and Will Porter, who were in the hot seat during the mid-late 00s.

(Perhaps understandably, there are no contributions from anyone representing the final, allegedly rather unhappy, years at Zone).

Other than being really excited about the project, I wasn’t sure in advance exactly what to expect, but figured that it was likely to be a deeper dive into the history of the magazine than had ever before been attempted, and would therefore go beyond the usual surface-level potted history of ‘notable incidents’ with which long-time fans will already be familiar.

Early signs are extremely promising. The first episode is reassuringly candid, and a bit more serious – in a good way – than I was expecting. Although the interviews were conducted in pairs, the sense of shared history, and shared pride in having been a part of PC Zone, really comes across. The rapidly changing nature of magazine publishing meant that each editor faced different challenges, but all relay fond memories of their time working on Zone.

The format of the podcast going forward will be to look at individual issues with some of the writers that worked on them, and Richie acting as host. So, it seems likely that there’ll be different combinations of writers contributing to each future episode, which could be fun.

Episode two looks at an issue that was slightly before my Zone-reading days: issue 19 from 1994, when Wing Commander III and Under A Killing Moon were the big games of the day and Virtual Reality seemed like it would be the next big technological breakthrough around the corner.

With more contributors this time (Scotford returns, alongside Phil South, Daniel Emery, and Warren Chrismas), the episode is slightly more freewheeling than the first, and provides a few laughs as well as a look back to a different era of PC gaming: when PCs were becoming more affordable, but still weren’t actually that affordable (and came with mammoth software bundles), and when technology was moving so quickly that the VR headsets of the day were quickly rendered redundant almost as soon as they were released.

More specifically, if you were a Zone reader, it’ll take you back to a time when you could either give no score or two scores to a high-profile but power-hungry release, and to a time when the answer to the question posed at the start of a VR headset review face-off, ‘which VR headset should I buy?’ was ‘neither of them’.

(Super cool dude that I am, I actually remembered the later VR feature discussed in this episode and the names of the two competing headsets, and had to stop myself guessing out loud at the scores awarded. The quiz questions posed by Richie about the different games reviewed in the issue were a bit harder, though).

The second episode is dedicated to the late Duncan MacDonald, who sadly died in 2017. Duncan was a talented contributor to Zone’s review pages as well as providing regular back-page laughs as his alter-ego Mr. Cursor. Before that, he also entertained readers of Zone’s spiritual predecessors Your Sinclair and Zero.

Certainly, Zone wouldn’t have been the same without him, and no doubt some of his contributions will come up in future episodes. Through the podcast I learned that he had written a book – South Coast Diaries – and I plan to check that out very soon.

Anyway, PC Zone Lives! is a bit of a dream come true for any former Zone aficionado who wants to get some insight into what it was really like to work on the magazine. In the unlikely event that you used to read PC Zone, and now read this website, but also somehow haven’t checked it out yet, I’d certainly urge you to do so.

PC Zone Lives! is available here, and on Spotify, and a few other places.