Saturday, 30 June 2012

Day 35 - that new tech smell

Mmmmmm.  Don't you love that?  The opening of a new box, the rustle of new packaging, the smell of new tech?  It's awesome, and lifts the spirits in a way not much else can.

I have the new tech high at the moment... yes, I've got my new laptop.  And I love it.  LOVE IT!  Thanks to Steve, David and the guys at the Metro Centre branch of Currys for being genuinely good guys, and helping me along the path to new tech glory.

Now I have the job of transferring files and programs.  Some parts of this will be easy, while others will be time consuming.  Not to worry; the end will justify the means.  It's not something I see as a chore... who doesn't love playing around with new stuff?

I might try a couple of newer games, just to see how they run.  They should work pretty well... this is a decently-specced laptop.  I've never been that big of a PC gamer, barring a spell around 2003-4, but I might have grab a few demos of newer games and see how they look.

Not that I've really got any time to be playing modern games...

Friday, 29 June 2012

Day 34 - fair's fair

A while ago, you might remember, I made two attempts to buy a new laptop on the same day, from different branches of Currys, and for whatever reason, it didn't happen.  I had a bit of a whinge about it here, which the top brass at Currys were terribly disappointed to hear about (although it wasn't actually me that went to them about it).

In my book, if you've complained about shabby treatment or service, it's only fair that you give praise when you get treated very well.

I went back to Currys today, again with the aim of buying a laptop.  I chose the Metro Centre branch in Gateshead, as I'd had to go to the Metro Centre for something else anyway.

I had my customary wander around the displays, and after a few short minutes was approached  by a member of the management team, asking if I'd like assistance.  We then proceeded to have a long conversation about what I was looking for in my new laptop, what I would primarily be using it for, what it might be useful (or useless) to have installed on there, and various other things.

I have to say, it was a very pleasant and informal conversation with a very well-informed and knowledgeable salesman.  There was never any pressure to do anything or sign up to anything I didn't want, I had pros and cons of various systems pointed out to me, and I was able to make a very informed choice with my purchase.

I'll be going back to the branch tomorrow to pick up my splendid-looking new laptop, and in the meantime, I'd like to give a big shout-out and thanks to David of the management team, who was everything you'd want in an assistant when you're buying something.  And I never even mentioned that I'd had a problem there before... his entire approach was obviously natural and commonplace.

Everyone's entitled to an off-day, whether it's an individual or a large corporation.  Not everyone gets it right every time.  I'm heartened to know that my bad in-store experience at Currys doesn't seem likely to happen again, either to me or anyone else, at least at that branch.  And tomorrow, I'll be posting from my new laptop.  Yay!

Day 33 - Mega-Apocalypse!

I didn't get to write a post yesterday.  I left the house to go to work at 6:45 am, and didn't get home until almost 10:30pm.  The reason I didn't get home until so late is simple... a massive thunderstorm system hit the north-east of England.

I have to say, it was awesome.  It was just like the classic storms I used to see all the time when I lived near Detroit.  I'm a bit of a weather geek and I used to love the big storms, and I've missed them since I moved back to England.  So this was great for me.

Yeah.  I was outside when that was going on.  I might be a bit mad.
I will concede that I may have made a mistake when I left work, thinking it had eased off, only to be trapped under a metal bus shelter as the full raging fury of the storm kicked in.  But even that was entertaining.  For one, there's something very refreshing and exciting about being outside in a thunderstorm.  OK, so they can be dangerous, but I felt OK where I was.  Everybody else that was under there with me, though, clearly didn't like thunderstorms.  And so I had a little laugh to myself at their Mexican Wave of terror, with everybody jumping off the seat in unison at every crack of thunder.

Unfortunately, the incredible deluge of rain flooded most of the roads in the region and caused massive delays.  So it was somewhat disappointing to get home at around 10:30pm when I'd expected to be home at six.  I was knackered by then and I hadn't had anything to eat for ten hours, so any kind of fun activities had to be knocked on the head.

My God!  It's full of stars!
But let's tie this post in with the title.  Yesterday's weather may have seemed like the end of the world, but back in 1987 there actually was a Mega-Apocalypse!  It was a follow-up to cult shooter Crazy Comets, which was itself based on obscure arcade blaster Mad Planets.  Being a big fan of Crazy Comets, I ran out to buy Mega-Apocalypse as soon as it was released, and I wasn't disappointed.  It was loud, fast and frantic, and great fun to play.

Simon Nicol wrote the Commodore 64 game, and although he isn't credited with many games, the ones he did write were all of high quality, and I'd certainly like to include them in this book.  His is a name that's on my "hit list"... I suspect he might be tricky to find, though...

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Day 32 - today, I'm wearing many hats

Today hasn't been the greatest day.  I had to do the jobs of two or three people at work, and go to meetings as well.  I'm exhausted this evening.  I've basically just sat and watched the footy.

I feel like the fella on the left:

I hat to do it.
Tomorrow is likely to be the same, and then Friday is new computer day, so I'll be doing a lot of setting up and transferring of files.  I'm going to really enjoy that, but it won't be very productive.  Still, I'll try and make sure I write something here... that's the whole point of having the blog.  Bear with me... I'll have more interesting stuff at the weekend!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Day 31 - dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner...

Another rough day today, with work getting in the way.  I really need to get some questions fired off, because at this rate, people will tell me not to bother as I'm taking so long!  Hope not...

Anyway, what little time I have had has been spent playing games for research purposes.  Sometimes, you think you know what questions you want to ask someone, only to draw a blank when you're trying to put them down.  It's ridiculous, really... these are people I've wanted to speak to for 25 years, and now that I'm getting the chances, I'm drying up!

Now, why would I be playing this game, in particular...?
It's no great hardship, playing some of the classics of yesteryear.  Some of them, I'll be playing for the first time.  Some are treasured favourites that I still play today, out of choice.  I might even find the odd stinker... not everybody made an excellent game with every effort, after all!

Still, once I've got the rest of the week out of the way at work, I'll have five days where I can concentrate mostly on this.  I'll be hunting for more contacts then, but I think I'll mostly be writing, and knocking some things into shape.  I might even experiment with some layouts... that could be fun.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Day 30 - Day 30!

It seems like just the other day when I decided "Right, let's announce this thing and get it out there".  And yet, that's an entire month gone by.  Amazing.

It's been quite a month, too.  The initial burst of page views for the blog has settled down to a relatively small amount... I guess word hasn't spread that far yet.  On the other hand, the response from the people I want to include in this book has been generally very positive.  Most have been enthusiastic and willing to take part.  I've only had one refusal so far, and I'm waiting for answers from some... hopefully they are forthcoming.

I've also written over 5,000 words.  That sounds like a lot, looking at it as a figure, but it isn't much at all at this point.  I don't know just how big the figure will be at the end, and it's likely to go down as well as up, but it seems like a decent figure for the first month, especially as I'm doing a lot of research at this point.

I think this project will stand or fall on the quality and quantity of people I manage to interview.  I doubt if many people are really all that interested in what I have to say on Eighties' computer games.  But I know they'll be interested in what I have to say if it's backed up by the words of the people in question.  So it's very important that I keep pushing on in my attempt to find and make contacts.  I know of a few that are reasonably easy to get hold of... they will be my "Phase 2" interviews.

"Phase 3" and beyond will be more difficult.  They're the ones that I'll have to get from other people.  I just hope those people will be generous with the information.  I wouldn't want this to stall two or three months in.  It's all going well so far, and I know that some will be impossible to get hold of, but I reckon if I shoot for 80 per cent then I'll have done well.

I haven't played anything today... it's been a challenging day in the "real world".  Could be a tough week, in fact, and then I have five days off work, and should have a new computer.  They will be fun times...

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Day 29 - same old, same old...

Bah.  I feel deflated as I write this.  I do love my footy, and today's England game was one of the most depressing matches I think I've ever watched.  I'd allowed myself to buy into the team, having thought all along that England had no chance of winning only to be pleasantly surprised by their performances.  Then, as soon as I changed my opinion, they resorted to being utterly dreadful.

Oh well.

It was a wasted day all round, really.  I wasted hours trying to do some food shopping... I made three trips out for the bus, but the first two were hopeless as the buses weren't running to the timetable and I missed them.  It's an hour between buses on Sundays, so the time between buses wasn't much use for anything.

I've done a little bit of gaming today, though.  Nothing for the book, just some iOS gaming... oh, and a blast on the arcade version of Alien Syndrome.

Ugh! Look at that ugly bugger!
I never did play that game in the arcades back in the day.  I did, though, own it on the Commodore 64, and loved it to bits.  It was absolutely rock hard, but extremely enjoyable nonetheless, and I gave it some serious hammer for quite a long period of time.

Playing the arcade version now, I realise just what a great conversion the Commodore 64 version was.  I can tell you this because I can reach the exact same spot in the arcade version as I could in the C64 game!  It's a really faithful version, with the only thing really missing being the Options you could pick up as extra weapons.  Other than that, it's all there, although there's some odd scrolling which makes the game slightly more difficult.

So, it's been an enjoyable day for that part of it.  Wonder if I could get hold of Tim Rogers to ask him about the game...?

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Day 28 - speculate to accumulate

Today might not be the most exciting day in book-or-blog-ville.  The reason for this is that I might be spending my day writing other stuff... eBay auctions.

It's a bit of a lottery, eBay, and it can be quite annoying.  I've only ever had two negative feedbacks, for instance, but they were very annoying indeed and I suspect that the dip below 100% on my rating will now hit my sales quite significantly.  Here's the story...

Last November, as part of a clearout and to make a bit of extra cash for Christmas, I figured I'd sell some of my stuff that wasn't getting used. Some of my XBox 360 games fell into that category, and they say you don't miss what you haven't had.  Among these games were Assassin's Creed 1 & 2.

Bastard games, costing me unwarranted negative feedback.  At least I did sell them, eventually.
I was contacted by a "buyer", who asked if they could pay in person, in cash, as they didn't have a Paypal account. The auction clearly stated Paypal only, but as the buyer said they lived locally (depsite their profile saying otherwise) they said they could collect. I was wary, and in fact I let them know that due to my working patterns this would be difficult. They insisted they could pick the games up from me at any time, so I reluctantly agreed that, should they win, they could collect them from me.

They won.

I should have known things would go wrong when the buyer contacted me to say "cheers for the games, let me know when I can get them and, oh, put a SCART lead in there for me".
This puzzled me. I wasn't selling a SCART lead in any of my other auctions, and I'd made no mention of one in any of my eBay auctions, ever. What's more, I didn't even have a spare SCART lead. I told the person this and they said "Oh OK, no worries then, just bring the games". Well, yeah... you do tend to only give people the stuff they've bought, after all...

I let the person know that, as I'd previously stated, I had no idea when I would be able to meet up with them to complete the transaction, due to my working patterns. They told me that this was OK, they would wait. They asked again a few days later if I still wanted to sell them the games... then the next thing I knew, they'd left me negative feedback for both games.

I asked if they would revise the negative feedback, on account of how they hadn't actually paid any money for the items that they hadn't yet received. I offered to work something out with them, and was told this was fine and that they had revised my feedback. To this day, the negatives remain... my only negatives... and I heard nothing further. Maybe I should have given them the free SCART lead after all...

I really liked using this phone, actually...
So, eBay is a bit of a curate's egg for me.  Usually my dealings are fine, and so I'm about to venture onto there once more.  "But whyyyy?", I hear you ask?  Well, I need to have a clearout again, for one thing.  I've got a small boy who needs his bedroom back, and as that room is being used as a storage facility for my tat right now, some of it needs to go.

I also need to accumulate a bit of cash for the book.  You see, even though I'm only in the very early stages, I'm already thinking about its presentation and layout.  And to that end, Open Office and Paint Shop Pro won't cut it.  I'm going to need to buy some Adobe software...

That's a big commitment, because those programs aren't cheap, at all.  But I'm fully committed to this, so I want to do it properly.  Of course, I'll be downloading a trial when I buy my new laptop, just to experiment and see how it all feels, but really, that's the way forward.  I'll need a few hundred pounds... unless somebody fancies being a "sponsor" or something.  I can't imagine that would happen, so it's out with the old.  Anybody want to buy a used Blackberry, or an X-Arcade?

Friday, 22 June 2012

Day 27 - great news!

Brilliant news, everyone!

I can pack in my job and concentrate on this book!  And I'll have all the resources I need for artwork, printing and everything!  Not only that, I'm going to be able to give away the book for free, to anyone that wants it!

All I have to do is reply to Mikail Kerr.  Sadly, Mikail only has six months to live, but if I get back to him he'll give me over a million dollars!  I feel bad for him, but finally lady luck has smiled on me!

I guess I'd better get serious now.  I'm not going to be getting a million dollars.  I did get some good news, though... I got my first set of answers from one of our Gods.  This is great news, as I can start putting a few complete pages together and play around with some design ideas.  So today represents a significant step forward... you can rest assured that this thing really is happening!

On another note, I've decided to get my new laptop next Friday.  I figured I might as well wait until I got paid, so that I could put down a bigger deposit.  And, fair play to Currys, their managers are very upset that I was unable to buy one the last time I went in, and have promised I'll have a better experience next time.  So, I'll look forward to giving them more positive press next week.

I've got a busy work week ahead, and I'll be on public transport, meaning I'll have at least a 90-minute journey each way.  So I'm not sure how much I'll be able to get done next week, but I will be off work for five days after that (including the weekend)... I'll have some fun playing with my new laptop (hopefully) and getting all my software and saved information transferred across, and pushing forward in earnest.  I've got a couple of laptops in mind as potential buys, but have any of you got any suggestions you think I should bear in mind?

Day 26 - the impossible dream

One thing I'll be focusing on in the course of this book will be the people who had the impossible job - converting arcade machines to the home computers.

Of course, in most cases the coders weren't literally converting the arcade games. It would be ridiculous to even try. I mean, Chris Butler attempted to make Space Harrier on the Commodore 64. Space Harrier! On the Commodore 64! Preposterous.

That said though, he actually managed to produce a pretty playable shooter, featuring elements that were recognisable from the arcade behemoth. And really, that was all we could hope for, and all these guys could attempt. If they were able to put out something that was an approximation of the arcade game, something that looked something along the lines of the original and had at least some of the necessary gameplay elements, we were happy.

Oh, come on... what did you expect?  It played pretty well though.

In some respects it must have been like writing a new game, but with a stricter template to work with. We all anticipated these games eagerly, and inevitably there were disappointments, but by and large we were very happy to get to play versions of the big games in our own homes.

This brought me to a very interesting conversation with some mates: were there any arcade conversions on the 8-bits that were actually better than the arcade versions?  Initially, you'd have to say, "No"... despite some amazing technical achievements, the home machines couldn't compete on so many levels.  But there's one thing that's more important than everything else... playability.  And you can get that right on any machine.

Games that were mentioned were Spy Hunter on the Commodore 64, and Buggy Boy, also on the Commodore 64.  Having recently played Buggy Boy Jr. in MAME, I would say Buggy Boy on the C64 does play better than the arcade game (even if I didn't play the exact arcade game in comparison).  And I never really got on with the arcade version of Spy Hunter, but loved the C64 version.  Have you got any others?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Day 25 - word up!

Good day, today.  I got a good chunk of words down (see the increased word count totaliser!), and played a lot of Spectrum games whilst formulating an e-mail of questions.  So that's three steps forward for the book today!

There are a few schools of thought when it comes to old games.  One is that they were great for their time, but in the cold light of day, up against today's epic efforts, they're unplayable rubbish.  Another is that old games are awesome, and that today's games can't match them for originality and even playability.

Tanks a million.

A third school of thought is that a good game is a good game, and a bad game is a bad game, and it doesn't matter when it was programmed.  I think I tend to sit with this one.  I do still enjoy playing old games, and not just for nostalgic reasons.  A good number of them are still genuinely fun to play.  And I always enjoy discovering games that I never got the chance to try when they were originally released, whether they turn out to be good or bad.

Today's games were mostly good, and they were all programmed by the same person.  And that person will soon have an e-mail from me, with a load of questions that they've told me they're happy to answer.  This will constitute an important and sizeable chunk of the book, so I'll be excited to start putting everything together when I have my answers.  I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Day 24 - we're gonna score one more than you

And we did.  England 1, Ukraine 0.

In case you hadn't guessed, this evening has been a footy evening.  It doesn't leave a lot of time for writing or blogging or playing games, or anything else, really.  That's not very interesting to read about.  Sorry.

I did finish and send off an e-mail to a Speccy legend, though.  Hopefully the questions I posed aren't too annoying.  It's hard to know where to stop when you're firing off questions to the people responsible for so many of the fun times of your teenage years.  I'm quite conscious of the fact that they're not likely to want to spend hours reading through this stuff... again.

On the other hand, though, if I don't at least cover everything with a question or two, the book will be a lot lighter or less authentic.  Quotes from the programmers enhance my text massively, so it's well worth the effort.  It's just knowing where to draw the line.

And with that in mind, I'm planning to send out two more e-mails of questions tomorrow.  Once they're gone, I'll just be sitting waiting for answers.  And writing.  And playing.  And taking screenshots.  And looking for more contacts.  Not that busy, then!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Day 23 - brought to you by the letters E and X

EX-hausted.  I've been incredibly tired all day.  The whole time I was at work, I felt like I was in a fog and needed to sleep.  I was out of the house for thirteen hours, so that didn't help.  And since I got home I haven't felt any better!  I've got no idea why I've been like that, and I can't say I've enjoyed it.

EX-cited.  I've been sending out a couple more e-mails in the hope of making some more contacts.  I've also been looking into the possibility of attending a gaming event, which could bring further contacts and opportunities.  That might come off and it might not... I'm not sure yet.

EX-panding.  I've added yet more folders of possible subjects to my book folder on my computer.  I just need to find more ways to reach them and ask for their participation.  Many of the contact details listed on the internet have EX-pired, which makes things tricky.  But, as I've said, there's plenty of time yet.

I hope there wasn't a fly in that teleporter...

EX-olon.  I needed a blast on a game I'll be writing about... Raffaele Cecco's Spectrum shooter Exolon fit the bill nicely.  It's a game I played and quite enjoyed back in the day, although I didn't give it quite the attention it deserved.  It's very arcade-like in some ways... once you've memorised each screen you should pass it fairly easily next time, getting further and further each game.  That's the theory, anyway!  I did get a fair way into it, and I'll be going back to it to try again.

EX-hausted.  Did I mention I was really tired?  I'm off to bed.  See you tomorrow!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Day 22 - Happy Father's Day!

Today is Father's Day, and I've spent the vast majority of it actually being a father, with childcare being the order of the day.  I haven't really managed to squeeze in much of anything besides running around after my two lads.  Oh well, I did say that some of these updates might not be all that interesting.

You might notice that I've added a "Current Word Count" total for the book to the front of the blog.  I might add more information to that as time goes on... well, I'm almost certain to.  But I thought it would be a nice little thing to have there, just so people can have some idea that tangible progress is being made, and that I'm not just sitting on my arse pretending that I'm writing a book.

I might add a page count at some point, but I'll definitely add the names of people that have contributed, once I get their information back and therefore they are guaranteed to be in there.  In the meantime, I'm trying hard to track people down but it ain't that easy.  But there are plenty of avenues open for that sort of thing yet, and I don't need to have too many people ready and willing just yet, otherwise I'll be overwhelmed with the need to come up with interesting questions.

It's harder than you might think, coming up with interesting questions.  You can have a framework, where you might be able to ask the same questions of several people, but a lot of the time you have to have a completely different set of questions ready.  I'm almost tempted to ask for a "Creative Assistant" in that respect!  I suspect that I'll just sit myself down, go through my list of prospective interviewees, and formulate the questions in advance.  I was quite surprised to get as many positive replies as quickly as I did at this early stage!

So, I hope all the fathers have had a good day.  And if any of you have any comments, ideas or contacts, please get in touch!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Day 21 - a multi-event extravaganza

Today, the Olympic torch will come right past where I live.  Judging by all the footage I've seen from previous days, it seems quite underwhelming.  But that doesn't matter.  I'm going to go out and see it anyway, even if it's thundering and pissing down with rain, because it's part of history and I will never get the chance again.  So, why not?

Feeling suitably inspired, I've decided exactly what I'm going to play and write about for the book today - multi-event sports games.  I used to love those games back in the day... right from Activision's Decathlon on the Atari 2600 and Track and Field in the arcades, through to, oh, probably Combat School in the arcade and on the Commodore 64.  Most of them were great fun, especially when they had some good variety in the events, and they were good for a physical workout too!

Yep, I'm awesome.

I used to be pretty good at them, particularly Track and Field and Hyper Sports.  I could usually go right through each game at least twice, although the weightlifting could cause some real pain second time around.  I know that those games broke a lot of my friends' joysticks when they played the home computer versions, but that was their own fault for buying Quickshots instead of proper joysticks.

So, I expect to have a right arm like Popeye tonight, after playing that lot.  I always enjoy myself, testing my body to the limit in the name of scoring lots of points.  And I'll be able to get a weighty batch of screenshots out of the way.  Now, if you'll excuse me... out into the rain I go...

Day 21 - hang on, what happened to day 20?

Good question.

It went by in a bit of a footy-induced fog, to be honest.  And all after I'd left work early, too.  I thought I'd have loads of time for, well, anything really.  As it was I watched footy all evening after I'd got home, and then felt a bit drained after the Sweden vs. England game.

It's hard to know what to say about England.  There's always loads of hype and hope, which they tend to dash in painful ways.  This time, for Euro 2012, I had no expectations whatsoever.   And that was great.  And then they went and did pretty well against France, who I thought might actually go on and win this thing, and stupidly I raised my hopes.

It seemed that this was justified, when England controlled the first half against Sweden.  Typically, though, it all went terribly, terribly wrong in the space of ten minutes.  But, miraculously, they actually fought back for an exciting win!

Still, my expectations have once again been tempered by the realisation that England's team is, after all, pretty average.  I'll just allow myself to get back to the business of enjoying the tournament, and anything else would be a bonus.

Juliet always knew that forming cheerleader pyramids would come in handy one day.

After that, I played a little bit of Lollipop Chainsaw, the new game from Suda 51.  I love Suda's games, they're totally bonkers and usually fun to play.  Lollipop Chainsaw puts you in the trainers of an American cheerleader on her 18th birthday.  Unfortunately, before she's even had a chance to have her party, the zombie apocalypse takes hold.  How inconsiderate!

I've only played the first level, but it's pretty much what I expected, which is good from my point of view.  I don't think it's going to live up to the brilliance of Shadows of the Damned, Suda's previous game, but I'm 100% certain that I'm going to have a good time with it, which is what gaming should be about, isn't it?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Day 19 - when Roy Keane was knee-high to a grasshopper

Well, I had quite a lot going on today, including not getting home from work until around 7:30pm.  I didn't know what I was going to be up to this evening, to be honest.  But something drew me to YouTube, where I found a bonkers new instrumental track from guitarist Steve Vai.  That perked me up a bit.  Then I put the footy on.

I would have like to have seen the Republic of Ireland get a result, but Spain really did play the beautiful game.  And it inspired me.

So today, I've written about a couple of football games.  They were tricky things to get right in the halcyon days of the Commodore 64 and Spectrum... which you're probably well aware of if you played a reasonable number of them.  The thing is, we were so desperate to play football on the computer that we grabbed hold of any footy game eagerly, only to be bitterly disappointed soon afterwards in many cases.

Some people are on the pitch... well of course they are, there wouldn't be a match otherwise!
The limitations of the machines made it difficult to produce a good football game, of course.  But that couldn't excuse some of the pathetic efforts we had to suffer.  Still, that made it all the sweeter when somebody did get it right.  Then, we played those games to death.

It's interesting to relive those games in the light of EA's FIFA and Sports Interactive's Football Manager (née Championship Manager).  It should also be interesting to hear what the authors of our favourite old-school footy games think of the new breed (and I will be asking).  It's inevitable that we would have had those games now, but it's nice to think that the games of the Eighties paved the way.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Day 18 - mental block

And so it was that today my brain came to a halt.  I woke up at quarter to five this morning, and couldn't get back to sleep.  Couple that with an eleven-hour work day, and the chance of making  progress on this was always likely to be slim.

That said, there has been progress... I received another e-mail from someone agreeing to answer some questions.  I'm very happy about this one, too... I'm less than three weeks in, and I'm already attracting a pretty stellar line-up.  This thing is going to happen, and it's going to be a serious piece of work with real people of interest featured.

Pity, then, that with three people waiting for questions from me, my sleep-deprived brain is refusing to think of any decent questions.  Normally I'd be able to rattle off loads of them, but nothing is coming at the moment.  They will, of that I'm sure, but I don't want to keep these people hanging around.  So this is a bit of a concern to me.

Still, this block won't last, they never do.  I'll probably send off all three e-mails tomorrow, and all will be well.  And then I'll start trying to track down some more of our Gods...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Day 17 - strange days

What a weird day today was.  It started with me having my Twitter account, erm, "compromised", and ended with me finding a baby.

Told you it was weird.

I apologise to anyone that received dodgy messages from me... I received one myself this morning, but given the source it seemed legit.  I clicked on the link, and it was broken.  An hour later, my Twitter account started sending out the same message to everyone on my Follow list.  So, I do apologise, and may the Twitter hackers, or whatever they are, rot in Mortal Kombat's acid pool.

The baby thing was a different tale altogether.  I went to WH Smith to buy a magazine and some notepads and pens.  I picked up the magazine and went upstairs to the stationery section, past the pram at the bottom of the stairs... wait, what?

I looked into the pram... took some doing, as it was about as closed-up as it could be.  But yep, there was a baby, which started gurgling when it saw my face.  I get that a lot.

I went upstairs and then looked around... not only was there nobody with the baby, there was nobody else in sight!  I waited for a minute... still nobody.  So I told a cashier, and she arranged for one of the downstairs staff to look after the baby.

It was gone by the time I'd finished shopping.  Hopefully the mother had just absent-mindedly wandered further away than she'd realise, but I don't know how it ended up.  Very strange, though.

Since I've got home, at least, progress has been made.  I had a great chat with someone who may be able to help in some way or offer me the benefit of his experience... any of which would be very much appreciated.  And I'm now plugging away at drafting some questions for a couple of industry legends, both of whom I am very happy to have on board.  I'm sure you will be too...

Monday, 11 June 2012

Day 16 - who do we love?

I doubt I'll get a whole lot done today... Euro 2012 is kicking in, and I've just finished watching the England match.  I might not get away with two games in one day though, so I'll have a bit of a play with some stuff.

I've been thinking about publicity and getting contacts, and something did spring into my mind.  I've been looking at all the gadgets available for Blogger, and one simple addition you can put on the front page is a list.  But what could I possibly list that might be of interest, you might ask?

What I'm going to do is this: once I have somebody confirmed for the book, and when I say "confirmed" I mean they've agreed to it and I have their replies to my questions, then I'll add their name to a "Confirmed for the book" list.  That way, you'll all see that there's been tangible progress, and your faith that this project will happen will grow, as you realise I really do mean it.

I have a few people that have agreed to take part already, and I'm in the process of compiling questions for them, or in some cases I've already sent the questions and am awaiting the answers.  So you'll see some names popping up on the front page pretty soon.

I think this should add an element of excitement to this thing.  And maybe when others see who is already involved, it might help persuade them to be part of it too.  I definitely think this is a good idea... what say you?

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Day 15 - if you build it, they will come

Yesterday's flurry of e-mail activity has proven to be the right thing to do, because I've had replies to almost all of them, all enthusiastic about the project and agreeing to answer my questions.  There are some big names in there, real legends of the gaming scene, and I'm very excited to have them on board at this early stage.

Of course, I now have to come up with questions that will do them justice, but that's a great position to be in.  I don't expect everyone to answer or to accept, but if they keep coming at this rate and I get more contact details, then this should go very well indeed.

So, my rainy Sunday afternoon will be spent composing a number of e-mails featuring a number of different questions.  This is a good thing, because I'm trying to do as much as possible that won't need to be saved on this computer.  I'm definitely getting a new one, even after Friday's debacle, so I want to save as much of the work as possible for that new computer.  I suppose it doesn't matter that much... in terms of today's file sizes, it makes no difference whether I'm transferring 500MB or 600MB or 1GB of data.

Still, that's the way I'm heading.  I'm also looking into getting hold of a few already-published video game books that I haven't already read.  Not for ideas, as such... I know what I want from this book, and I'm confident it will be different from anything out there.  But they may prove to be inspirational in other ways, or at the very least interesting to read.  Should make my lunch breaks at work more interesting, anway!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Day 14 - and there was much sadness.

I'm still on a bit of a downer today over the new computer thing, so I thought that rather than do any actual work on the book on a computer that I won't be using, I'd try and find a few people and fire out a few e-mails.

What I've been saddened to discover is that quite a few of our Gods have, sadly, been taken from us too soon.  I know, life is random and you never know when your time will come, but it's always sad to see that someone you admired has passed away.

Still, I definitely intend to cover these people in the book.  It could turn out to be a rather nice tribute; after all, these people did so many things that we remain grateful for.  It would be an honour to include them here.

Something else I found out while I was looking people up is that Pete Cooke, author of the awesome Tau Ceti amongst others, has released an iOS game, his first game of any kind for twelve years!  It's called Zenfit, and it's a nice little puzzler where you have to match shapes to remove them from the board.  It's both relaxing and maddening at the same time, so check it out.  And if you can get me Pete Cooke's contact details while you're at it, that would be awesome...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Day 13 - unlucky for some

And in this case, the unlucky one was me.

It was just a small thing, in the grand scheme of things.  I went into town after work to buy a new laptop.  There aren't many places left where you can actually buy computers these days, so I went to the obvious... Currys/PC World.

As you would expect, there were plenty to choose from.  I mulled over my options, narrowing it down to two or three.  I stood, and wandered backwards and forwards between them, considering the pros and cons.  And I waited.

Now, I could have marched up to one of the "assistants" and asked them to sell me a damn computer, but no, I wanted a bit of actual customer service.  I wanted someone to approach me and ask if I needed any help, or if there was anything I was interested in.  But it didn't happen.  At all.

No laptop for you!

So I left.  They weren't going to help me or serve me it seemed, no matter how long I hung around looking shifty.  I decided I'd try the other branch on the way home.  The selection was pretty much identical, so I figured it would be second time lucky.


The staff in that branch were exactly the same.  Not a single one of them made any attempt to see if I wanted to buy anything, and seemed to be actually avoiding the opportunity to make a sale.

I found it all very strange.  I was quite looking forward to playing with a new computer over the weekend... shame that it won't be happening.  I might try again tomorrow or on Sunday if I can be bothered to make the trip, but I'll have to be in a forgiving mood.  In the meantime, I hereby award Currys/PC World the award for "Worst Customer Service 2012".  Rubbish!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Day 12 - that's a bonus!

Hey gang!

I got a nice little surprise today... I found out that I'll be getting a decent-sized bonus on my pay at the end of this month.  That being the case, I'm going to treat myself to a new laptop for this book project.  The one I've got now is OK, but it's three years old, the battery is dead and some of the keys are missing or broken.  Those things can all be replaced, of course, but my eldest son is getting right into Minecraft and it's not fair that I hog the family computer all the time.

It's always exciting getting new computer tech... it has been right since the 8-bit days.  You never forget that Christmas morning in the Eighties when you opened your big present and a computer was waiting inside.  Best morning of your life, most probably.  It's moments like those that have forged our tech-geek personalities, and why every tech purchase is still a joyous occasion for us.

I've also been looking into software.  I'm just getting words and pictures down for now, and that's fine.  But this is my first book effort, and I'm aware that I'll need more than just OpenOffice and Paint Shop Pro to put this together and have it looking like more than just a fanzine.  I was looking on Adobe's website yesterday, and bloody hell!  Their programs are really expensive!  I'll need one, though, so it looks like I'll be heading off to eBay to "de-clutter" before long!  It's either that, or crowdfunding... unless any of you out there knows anybody who'd like to help an interesting project out...

Hey, you can only try, right?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Day 11 - Great Odin's raven!

It was a late day at work for me today, meaning I didn't have a lot of time for this project.  And as my efforts to turn up more contact details actually turned up no details at all, I thought I'd just delve through the back catalogues for a blast on an old favourite.  I picked one of my all-time favourite games on both Spectrum and Commodore 64... Nodes of Yesod.

The moon-bound adventures of Charlemagne Fotheringham-Grunes have long held a place in my heart.  From the moment the Spectrum version loaded and shouted "NODES OF YESOD BY ODIN COMPUTER GRAPHICS", I had a feeling the game would be special.

I say, what a splendid little trinket. One may have to add that to one's collection.

It was.  Charlie's quest to collect alchiems and find the Monolith was addictive, playable and full of charm.  Nodes of Yesod was a relatively standard platform game by-and-large, enhanced with cute touches such as your mole sidekick who could eat through walls to create shortcuts, and the evil red spaceman who stalked your every move and stole your precious alchiems.

In fact, Odin went on a run where they released the highest quality games, all gorgeous-looking and filled with cute touches.  Robin of the Wood, The Arc of Yesod, Heartland... lovely games that kept me playing for ages, even if I did occasionally get frustrated with tramping around the same damn bits of Sherwood Forest!

The run couldn't, and didn't last, and later titles lacked a little of the spark of the early days.  But for a while, Odin Computer Graphics shone as brightly as anyone.  If any of the chaps involved is out there now, I'd love to ask a few questions...

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Day 10 - first contact

Today is my last day of a week off work.  It was my last chance to make some headway into the book... and I haven't written anything for it.

That doesn't mean I haven't made progress.

I sent out a cold e-mail, and received a very nice response with the promise of information for the book.  This is a major step forward.  I've spent all day composing an e-mail full of chat and questions.  My only hope is that this doesn't put this person off!  I don't think that will happen though.

Once I get a response, I can write up all the games they worked on, and it'll give me a great idea how the book is going to pan out.  So this has been a pretty exciting day and a major point of note on the book's path to completion.

Now, I think I've earned a bottle of something cheeky and a bit of gaming.  Got to have that bit of balance...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Day 9 - the pen is mightier than the sword.

Hey, what happened to Day 8?  Oh, that... I wrote something on Day 8, but forgot to put it in the title.  And without any further ado, it's onto Day 9!

I've managed to squeeze in a bit of actual writing for the book today.  I've been doing a lot of setting-up so far, and not a lot of actual playing or writing, so to let off steam I had a blast on Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior.

It's a game I remember fondly from the Eighties, as I used to have many a frenzied battle with a mate, hacking and slashing long into the evening.  It capitalised on the audience for Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian film quite nicely, with webs of death being woven and heads flying all over the place, and even an interpretation of the film's theme music.

On second thoughts, let's see you do that with your pen.

I did enjoy playing it, but I won't go into too much detail... as with any game I play in this venture, most of my thoughts on it will end up in the book.  It was a pretty bold game for its time, though... most fighting games didn't even show injuries, let alone spurting blood and decapitation.  I'm a little surprised there wasn't more controversy, but maybe the papers hadn't yet caught on that video games were evil...

So, as a result of this, I've got down to some serious writing, and got another page under my belt. I've also done some writing of another kind... I've fired off a couple of e-mails to potential subjects.  It would be great to have their involvement, so I'll be interested to see how they respond.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Elite... or Elite?

Today, I'm going to play some Spectrum games.  Or, I might just play one Spectrum game.  I'm either going to play Elite, or I'm going to play several games by Elite.

I've played Elite on and off over the years, without ever really getting anywhere.  It's a great game, but I never quite mastered it and therefore never explored as much of the galaxy as I could, or should have.  I remember watching one of my mates play it though, and he was pretty awesome at it.  His skills meant that watching those dogfights was pretty exciting!

Please don't crash.  Please don't crash.  Bet you I crash.

I've searched for accessible Elite-type games ever since, and none has quite hit the spot.  Freelancer came pretty close, I have to admit.  The X series was also a good attempt.  I've chipped in to a Kickstarter called Drifter that looks pretty promising, too.  And then there's Oolite, which I really need to spend more time with.  So the space pirate genre is well catered for, but for this book, I need to go back to the beginning.

Can't we all just get along?

But it might serve a wider purpose right now if I play a range of games released by Elite Systems Ltd.  Some of the Spectrum's most revered programmers were in their stable, knocking out a huge number of successful arcade conversions and original games.  It would do me some good to get a batch of screenshots and I'd probably have more fun into the bargain.  It's not that Elite isn't fun, it's just not as... immediate.

On a different note, I've been contacted by a programmer offering support, quotes and, crucially, contacts.  This is a big step forward, even at this early stage, and I'm very grateful for that.  If I can get everybody on board as willingly and easily as that, I'll be a happy man.  Of course, the road ahead is probably about as smooth as a level of Moon Patrol...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Day 7 - if you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail

I'm very conscious of the fact that I've got loads of work ahead of me.  And I really want to make sure I get as many things right as possible.  I don't want to get confused, or accidentally delete anything, or have the whole thing looking a mess.

With that in mind, I've spent some time today making sure I'm organised for the task ahead.  I've got a dedicated folder on my laptop that will contain everything.  And every person I'm writing about has their own folder within that folder, and each of their folders contains a separate sub-folder for each game they worked on (with the exception of musicians and magazine writers...).

A taster of some of the games you could be reading about...

I've currently got sixty folders... that's sixty people to write about.  That sounds a lot, but it's not, really!  Within those folders, there are over three hundred sub-folders.  So if I wrote one page on each, that would be the book.  I've already decided that one page per entry is too much though.  Still, the list of subjects will grow, and I suspect the final product will be pushing four hundred pages.  Hello, coffee table!

I can't believe I'm so organised... it's not normally one of my traits.  But it's pointless just meandering along taking pot luck as to what I decide to write about.  If I'm not organised, then the book will suffer.  I'm determined that won't happen... I want this book to be something we can all be proud of.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Day 6 - Covering the Spectrum

Obviously, a large part of any book on the British gaming scene in the Eighties must feature the Sinclair Spectrum pretty heavily (unless, of course, I end up doing separate volumes for each machine).  That'll be fun for me in some ways, as I never owned a Spectrum back in the day.  I played on them quite a bit, as some of my mates had them, and I remember a lot of my favourite games.  But I'm not as well up on the Speccy as I might need to be.

I do actually own one of these fellas.  Must take a picture of it at some point...

I've got a decent-sized list of Speccy superstars that I want to cover, and their games.  But I'd be grateful if anybody more knowledgeable than me would chip in with some of their favourites.  You'd be sure to cover ground that I've left untrodden, which would help to fill in a few gaps.

So, who were your favourite Spectrum programmers, or what were your favourite Speccy games?  Let's see how they fit in with what I've already got, which amounts to twenty-odd programmers and about a hundred games.  There are bound to be some obvious ones that I've missed...