Monday 6 January 2020

Video Games and first M20L Machin Launch 2020 GB Stamp Programme on 21 January

Much to the delight of - I suspect - very few stamp collectors, Royal Mail kicks off the new year with the first of this year's retro subjects, acknowledging the contribution of UK companies and individuals to the worldwide Video Game industry and to the the demise of traditional hobbies such as, er, stamp collecting.  (With apologies to Private Eye.)  The good news is that the issue includes 2nd class stamps.

(In case you landed on this post, the whole 2020 programme is in the one above this, to be posted 7 January.)

Of course with the basic design of many computer screens having a black backround, these are not ideal subjects for stamps, so prepare for pencancels!   But which of these do you remember your children playing, or even playing yourself?  This is what Royal Mail have to say about the issue.

[Update 30 January: I didn't see any details in the information  provided by Royal Mail that required me to use my UV lamp, so my thanks to the writers in the Modern British Philatelic Circle Bookmark journal for alerting me to the hidden gems on these stamps.  I have used my standard Uvitech Micro SW lamp, and I hope that other people who have a UV lamp for some reason will also be able to see what I am now showing below.]

The UK has been at the forefront of the video games industry for decades. In fact, a strong claim can be made for the UK to be the birthplace of the games industry in the 1980s when teenagers grappled with coding on 8-bit microcomputers, and set the template for the industry with iconic games.

Today, the UK is the third largest producer of games in the world, with a home market worth £3.8n annually, accounting for more than half the UK home entertainment industry - it is worth more than the combined music and video market.

The intention with the stamp issue is to celebrate the joy of video gaming through pioneering and influential British designed games. The 8 individual stamps feature classic games from the 1980s and 90s, which represent the range of genres, and to invoke a strong sense of nostalgia.



The set
2nd class - Elite, 1984.  BBC Micro and Acorn Electron / Joystick or keys
Originally created in 1984 by David Braben and Ian Bell for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron home computers, but released on all the popular platforms of the era shortly thereafter, Elite is a seminal 3D space-trading, combat simulator in which the player travels the galaxy in search of action, adventure and profit. Starting out with a basic spaceship and a meagre 100-credit bank balance, the objective is to amass a financial fortune by engaging in activities such as asteroid mining and the trading of goods from star system to star system, or more risky pursuits such as piracy, bounty hunting and military missions. Success in any of these endeavours earns credits that the player can use to buy increasingly more powerful and sophisticated spaceships, enabling them to partake in even more perilous adventures with the ultimate goal of reaching the game’s topmost rank of ʻEliteʼ.

2nd class - Worms, 1995.  Commodore Amiga / Mouse
Created by Andy Davidson, Worms started out as a home-brewed entry for a magazineʼs programming contest. The game didn’t win the competition but was signed up by Team17 a few months later after Davidson showed it to representatives of the long-running British software publisher at a computer trade show. The game is very simple but highly addictive. It tasks the player to take control of a squad of armed worms and use them to eliminate an opposing group of worms situated on the other side of the screen. Each worm is equipped with over 20 different weapons and tools, all of which have their own unique functionalities. It is up to the player to decide how best to use these items to destroy the opposing army of worms, which adds an element of puzzling to the artillery-orientated action. With its cartoon-like graphics and amusing sound effects, Worms is a highly original game that proved very popular during the mid-1990s.

1st class - Sensible Soccer, 1992.  Commodore Amiga / Joystick
Football video games have been consistently popular since the start of the computer age. Initially simple in nature, these games grew in graphical and gameplay complexity throughout the 1980s until, in 1992, Sensible Software created what many believed was one of the fi nest digital iterations of the sport. Featuring a zoomed-out, top-down view of the field, Sensible Soccer incorporates an innovative and highly responsive control scheme that delivers slick and smooth football action. The highlight of the game is the playerʼs ability to bend and lift the ball after they kick it, resulting in spectacular banana shots and inch-perfect curled passes. With its fiercely competitive gameplay between two players, Sensible Soccer was an instant hit and continues to be seen as the classic arcade-style football game.

1st class - Lemmings, 1991.  Commodore Amiga / Mouse
The product of a Commodore Amiga Deluxe Paint animation experiment, Lemmings was created by DMA Design’s Mike Dailly and David Jones. The action-puzzle game, which plays out over a number of increasingly difficult screens, requires the player to safely guide a group of lemmings to the clearly marked exit. Sounds simple? It is anything but. Each lemming continually walks in the direction it is facing, meaning that it will unwittingly stroll into any hazard in its path – of which there are many – from precipitous drops to pits of fire. To prevent that from happening, the player assigns different skills to the lemmings, such as a blocker that will make other lemmings turn around, climbers that will create steps over hazards or diggers that can burrow through the landscape. All must be used together to create a safe route for the lemmings to reach the exit, in order to move onto the next, more challenging level.


£1.55 - Wipeout, 1995.   Sony PlayStation / Joypad
Take a trip to 2052 and compete in the F3600 Anti-Gravity League in this phenomenal racing game. Developed in Liverpool at Sony Psygnosisʼs offices, Wipeout features a fleet of super-fast floating rocket-like craft that players use to race along tight, twisting tracks that wend their way through a series of futuristic cityscapes. The action is highly competitive; even more so when you consider that participants can pick up a variety of weapons such as missiles, bombs and mines to use offensively against their fellow competitors. As well as featuring excellent racing action, Wipeout boasts one of the first fully licensed gaming soundtracks, headlined by leading electronic dance music artists of the mid-1990s such as The Chemical Brothers, Orbital and Leftfield. Add to that notable visual touches created by famed graphics company The Designers Republic, and you have a game that looks, sounds and plays brilliantly.

£1.55 - Micro Machines, 1991.  Sega Mega Drive / Joypad
Initially conceived in 1989 as an original racing title called California Buggy Boys, Codemasters subsequently struck a deal with US toymaker Galoob in 1990 to licence its popular Micro Machines toy-car line and turn the game into a fully endorsed product. The result was an absolutely terrific viewed-from-above racing game that met with a rapturous critical reception when it was released the following year. The gameʼs objective is simple: players take control of a miniature car and race against computer-controlled opponents to be fi rst past the finishing post. The action is fast and furious, taking place on tracks in a variety of household settings, such as on a breakfast table, a pool table and in a tree house. However, each course is packed with many humorous hazards, making the racing both challenging and fun.

£1.60 - Dizzy, 1987.  ZX Spectrum / Joystick or keys
The brainchild of a pair of very young coders, Andrew and Philip Oliver – better known to gaming fans as the Oliver Twins – Dizzy is a whimsical platform game starring the titular character, an anthropomorphic egg. The objective of this much-loved piece of British software is to guide Dizzy through the fairy-tale land of Katmandu and search for a variety of magical items which, when combined in a magic cauldron, can be used to defeat the evil wizard Zaks. This might sound like a straightforward task, but Dizzyʼs mission is impeded by a variety of fiendishly tricky riddles and object-orientated puzzles that he has to solve – all while avoiding the dangerous denizens that inhabit the game’s many screens. Dizzy is a notoriously difficult game but that didn’t stop it from becoming popular with players when it was released by Codemasters in mid-1987 for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC home computers.

£1.60 - Populous, 1989.
  Commodore Amiga / Mouse
What would you do if you were a deity? That was the question posed by Populous’ designer Peter Molyneux and his team at Bullfrog Productions when they created the first-ever ʻgod gameʼ in 1989. Players of this highly original piece of software assume the mantle of a divine being charged with overseeing the health and well-being of their followers. To this end, the player uses their supreme powers to cultivate the land so that their followers can prosper, growing in strength and numbers to eventually overcome their enemy – another group of followers who have their own god looking out for them. The player can unleash earthquakes, swamps and floods on the enemy to set back their development – but the opposing god can do likewise, resulting in an apocalyptic battle where there can be only one victor...

Technical details - stamps
Designed by Supple Studios and Bitmap Books the stamps are printed by ISP in litho with PVA gum. The stamps are 50 x 30 mm in se-tenant vertical pairs.  [See acknolwedgements at end.]

Miniature Sheet
Designed and created at Derby-based Core Design, the very first Tomb Raider game was released in 1996 on Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn and PC. Starring archaeologist Lara Croft, the game took the form of a grand 3D adventure in which the eponymous tomb raider travels the world in search of the three parts of the Atlantean Scion, a powerful artefact used by a former ruler of Atlantis to create an army of mutant beings.

Tomb Raider was a massive hit, selling over seven million copies and kicking off a series of subsequent Lara Croft adventures that spanned 17 games and three big-screen movies. The latest game in the series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, was released in 2018 and sold over four million copies worldwide.

1st Class - Tomb Raider, 1996
Atlantean Scion: Discovered in 1996 by Lara Croft in the very first Tomb Raider game, the
Atlantean Scion is a three-piece artefact whose component parts were originally held by the rulers
of Atlantis.

£1.55 - Adventures of Lara Croft, 1998
Ora Dagger: Featured in the 1998 game, Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft, the Ora Dagger
enables its wielder to summon beasts and manipulate static electricity to create powerful bolts of

£1.55 - Tomb Raider Chronicles, 2000
Philosopher’s Stone: Imbued with the power to transmute metal into gold, the Philosopher’s Stone
is the artefact that leads Lara Croft on some very dangerous adventures in the 2000 release, Tomb
Raider Chronicles.

1st Class - Tomb Raider, 2013
Ceremonial Dagger: In the 2013 reboot of the original Tomb Raider game, Lara Croft collects a
variety of objects as she battles the Solarii Brotherhood and the Stormguard. These items include
statues, urns and ceremonial daggers

Technical details - miniature sheet
Designed by Supple Studios and Bitmap Books the stamps are printed by ISP in litho with PVA gum. The stamps are 41 x 30 mm in the sheet of 115 x 89 mm.  [See acknowledgements at end.]

Retail booklet
Scan of actual booklet and 1st class Machin M20L MCIL

The retail booklet is printed in gravure by ISP/Walsall.

Cylinder strip, with W1 cylinders in cyan, magenta, yellow, black, Royal Mail red, iridescent (defnitives), yellow fluorescent, phosphor:

(A reminder that the last? M19L stamps will be distributed with this issue:

Update from Royal Mail 21 November:
"The First Day of Availability for the Walsall prints of the 50p (code: DS500WL) & 1st Recorded Signed For (code: DS155LWL) stamps is confirmed for 21st January 2020.")

Collectors Sheet / Generic Sheet
Rather than adapt all of the designs to provide 10 different self-adhesive stamps in a sheet, Royal Mail have used the miniature sheet to produce a Tomb Raider sheet.  This contains 6 x 1st class stamps and 2 x £1.55 stamps. (Remember when such sheets had 10 x 1st class stamps? This one costs £11.40.)   The sheet is self-adhesive in litho, probably printed by ISP/Cartor.

Other Products for the stamp market
FDC x 2, presentation pack, stamp cards,

Other Products for gaming fans
Gamer Collectors Pack - 8 unique postcards, one for each design, complete with a stamp affixed - it's not clear whether this is postmarked but the description states 'uniquely tying the stamp tot the postcard'.  Limited edition of 2,500 units, individually numbered.

Acknowledgements and game credits:
a. Set
Elite image © 1984 Ian Bell and David Braben; 
Worms © 1995–2020 Team17. Team17 and Worms are trademarks or registered trademarks of Team17 Digital Limited. Original concept Andy Davidson; 
Sensible Soccer, Dizzy and Micro Machines © The Codemasters Software Company Ltd. Micro Machines is a trademark of Hasbro and is used with permission © 2020 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved. Licensed by Hasbro; 
Lemmings™ © 2007–2020 Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe. 
WIPEOUT™ © 1995–2020 Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe. “Lemmings” and “WIPEOUT” are trademarks or registered trademarks of Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe. All rights reserved; 
Populous © 1989 to 1998 Electronic Arts Inc

b. Mini-sheet: Produced under licence. © 1996–2013 Square Enix Limited. All rights reserved. TOMB RAIDER, TOMB RAIDER CHRONICLES and LARA CROFT are registered trademarks or trademarks of Square Enix Limited


  1. Might even have Elite somewhere!

  2. In my (admittedly limited) experience, a Venn diagram showing the relationship between video gamers and stamp collectors would have only the merest sliver of overlap.

    Or maybe that is the point - Royal Mail knows that ardent philatelists will buy whatever it puts out, and some recent issues seem to have sought actively to court otherwise disinterested parties (even if they buy just the one issue and never return).

  3. I suspect of much more interest to stamp collectors: I see that the 50p and 1st RSF from Walsall are also available from Royal Mail on 21 January.

  4. I just sent a link to this page to my boyfriend who is an avid player of Wipeout, Lemmings and Worms and their subsequent editions. While they are not a stamp collector they are a collector of other items, support my interest kn stamps and are keen to get a set. It's going to make a perfect birthday present.

  5. Interesting to see on RM's website the image of the 50p due out on 21st January has security coding MA19 MRIL. Surely not! It also states 'This is a non visible change as the previous version was printed by Walsall', but corrects this lower down to De La Rue.

    1. Link please - these things are terribly difficult to find, especially if you start from the wrong place!


  6. Maybe the Royal Mail should have just kept the theme of Tomb Raiders as the set of stamps. The images are more interesting on the stamp sheet than those they used as the Video Games.

    1. But an entirely Tomb Raider edition wouldn't have a hook unless there was a new film due. Having been around in the days of Elite etc., it's a great reminder of how much the graphics have improved since then and the contribution of British designers and authors rather than a money-grabbing tie-in.


Thank you for reading the blog and commenting: please use an identity (name or pseudonym) rather than being Anonymous; it helps us to know which 'anonymous' comments are from the same person to avoid confusion. Comments are moderated to avoid spam, but will be published as soon as possible.