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Virgin Games Ltd
Chris Sievey
Strategy: Management
ZX Spectrum 48K

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Chris Bourne

Chris Sievey, author of The Biz is probably best known for his 'hit' single I'm in love with the girl on the Virgin Manchester megastore Checkout desk - or perhaps he's not, depending on your knowledge of pop music. If you haven't heard the song, maybe this is your chance, as it is included on the tape along with seven other 'real life hit singles' by Chris Sievey and the Freshies.

The Biz is a strategy simulation which allows the player to make his way in the world as a pop superstar, and it is so true to life, claim Virgin (who should know), that record companies are even now signing up people who have succeeded in The Biz even if they have never played or sung a note. Taking this with a sizeable pinch of salt, The Biz however, provides a sufficiently wide range of menu driven options, random horrors and musical mismanagement to provide an insight into the business and an entertaining strategy game. It follows a fairly standard routine of balance sheet and option menus. The main balance sheet provides a percentage status on subjects such as Band Tightness, Stage Presence, Visual Impact, Song Quality, Fan Following and Drive/Ambition. It also tells you where you are operating from, your record label (if any), current single, musical direction, records in stock, weekly and total sales, chart position, takings (on gigs) and money in the bank. The percentage ratings are affected by elements like the mood of the band, rehearsal time and general togetherness of the band.

The active menu offers Promotion, Musical direction (style of music), Recording a song, Pressing a record, making a video, or options to phone your manager (for advice), phone a record company or a solicitor, or start the week off by phoning your agent, who will then offer you various gigs to do. If you go to a recording studio you will be asked your label and the song's title, but insufficient funds may prohibit you pressing it or promoting it.

It is possible to record a single, press and release it on your own label, even with the record companies rejecting you (major labels are noted for their unadventurousness with new bands), and the excitement really begins when it starts appearing in the charts (around the 190-150 position!) and you are shown the local radio stations that are giving it airplay. If you can survive long enough between cheap gigs to earn money and pressing enough copies of a song to get it charted, you may even make it into a good contract by dint of hard work.

The interaction of promotion, a good song, good stage Presence and plenty of rehearsal, makes The Biz a rarely complicated simulation in which, mercifully, upsetting random elements are not as silly as is often the case with this sort of game, and sometimes the random elements are nice as well as bad.


'The cassette contains the program, an interview with Chris Sievey and 8 singles to help you in search of fame, fortune and a number 1 single. Before playing, I suggest you listen to the interview on the tape, which will teach you a little about the idea of the game and how to achieve the best results. You may also collapse laughing at interviewer Frank, who would make a great promoter for Mikrogen's Wally! On to the game: I decided to be a working class pop group from Manchester of all places. You can get a manager, but think before signing - if he's a con man then a solicitor will help, but he will charge by the second. Keep on at record companies, it will pay off in the end. Each week you contact your agent and see what's on offer. Don't expect a lot at first, you will probably begin playing at the local church hall for £16 after expenses. But as you improve, so do the gigs and the payment. If you have a manager he will be taking a cut of this, but if he's worth his salt he will be trying to get you radio interviews etc. To help your cause you can use several promotional aids starting off with leaflets distributed locally, but eventually you may be able to afford national radio ads. During the game there are additional problems which you will encounter, like someone 'nicking' your equipment. Overall I found the game very addictive and extremely hard to do well in. At present I've got a record to No 56 in the charts, made a couple of singles for Mike Reid and done gigs all over the UK, yet only gone into the red once. The Biz does not have fab graphics, it's in BASIC in fact, but after breaking the ice and getting into it, you soon find you don't want to get out. To all aspiring stars, the lure of a chance to make a recording for the first person to get to number 1 will obviously be tempting.'

'I think l can safely say that The Biz is the most enjoyable strategy/simulation I have played so far. It has a charm and fascination that goes way beyond any of the others and actually manages to arouse excitement as singles make the charts and climb, only to be dumped through lack of money to press enough 'records! l thought that the background atmosphere is helped tremendously by its realism - the other songs in the charts are real ones by real, well known people, and the sums of money involved all seem realistic. Part of the game's success lies in the involving options open to you as a rising star, as well as the pitfalls. Often, it is the limited number of options in these games that stifle the interest after a while, whereas I think The Biz will continue to fascinate for some time to come.'

Control keys: largely Yes, No and ENTER with some general input
Joystick: N/A
Keyboard play: input routine is very fast and well error-- trapped
Use of colour: screen display is clearly designed by using coloured letters and blocks
Graphics: text only
Sound: game only has some telephone beeps, cassette contains 8 singles
General Rating: An unusually absorbing and addictive strategy/simulation with a sense of humour that represents good value.


Screenshot Text

Starting off from a squat in Birmingham, your weekly status sheet looks bit gloomy.

The relevant bit of the charts - low as you might expect!