Day 162 - reviewing, and reviewing

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

I wouldn't say I've been having writer's block lately... although I have had a few problems with what I've been writing for the blog.  I've had a couple of articles on the go, one of which is unfinished because I realised it needed a lot more research, and one of which I'll probably bin because it just feels like something is missing and I don't know what that something is.  I might be able to re-use some of it, but for now, I've cast it aside.

It's not all bad, though!  The book is steaming ahead at a steady rate, although none of the recent work has been juicy, from-the-horse's mouth stuff.  Instead, I've been writing my mini-reviews of games, which has seen me do a bit of interesting re-evaluation.

I really wanted to be a games reviewer when I was younger.  The lads at ZZAP! 64 were to blame for that... they got to play games for a living, and made it sound fantastic.  You imagined that they had a right laugh in ZZAP! Towers, too.  I applied for a Staff Writer's job there when a position opened up after I'd left school... there was no chance I'd ever get it, though.

Howay the lads!
I used to write my own ZZAP!-style reviews of games.  I even had a BASIC program on my Commodore 64 which separated all my games by genre... you could select the genre you wanted, and then choose a game review.  I was quite pleased with it, even if it was made up almost entirely of PRINT statements.  Computer programming has never been my forte.

That's really how I've ended up doing this.  I was lucky enough to write for the fan-produced Issue 107 of ZZAP! 64, and its subsequent Def Guide tribute.  And from there, I went on to write a fair number of games-related articles online, which really whetted my appetite for writing.  Going from online magazine to blogs to book seemed the most logical progression.

I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride...
Anyway... back to what I've been doing lately. I've been choosing a programmer who I would like to include in the book and then playing through all of their games.  I've then written about each game, and taken screenshots.  My intention is to be well-armed when I go out to them about their games, and then I can add their comments and edit my pieces where necessary.

It seems so much better that way, that I don't know why I wasn't working like that before.  I suppose that organisation was never my strongest suit, either, but it's something that I've found coming to me over the last five or six months as I've worked on this, and that's how I'll continue with this from now on.  I'm improving my working practices all the time... which is pretty good for something that is essentially a hobby.

You saw me standing alone... I actually played this when it was originally released.
It's also forced me to have a look at how I intend to lay out the book.  My intention has always been to write about a programmer and their games, with comments from them on each where possible.  But an issue has cropped up there.  There are games, and there are conversions of those game.  Whenever someone wrote an original game, there was a fair chance it would be converted to other platforms... but not usually by the same person.

So, potentially I could be writing about the same games twice (or even more than that), on many occasions.  And it strikes me that, although there would be different challenges involved for each person's version of the game, it might not be that great to have different sections about the same game spread all throughout the book.

I don't know what I might do about this yet... it might be too early to tell.  I might find a way to tie together all comments under one heading... but then I'd be writing about the game, rather than the programmer.  Maybe my original idea is still the best one.  Luckily, it's something I can continue to play with as the words mount up.

Day 44 - the Gods of print

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You know, finding all those old coders is quite difficult.  Many of them are no longer in the games "biz", and those that remain are now often much smaller fish in a pond that's bigger than the Atlantic Ocean.  It's a far cry from the days when a title screen gave the name of the game and the name of the programmer, and that was it.

There are some people that we looked up to then that are, for some reason or other, easier to locate... and those people are the writers.

If you owned a ZX Spectrum or a Commodore 64, you either bought a games mag or stood and read it in John Menzies for as long as you could escape without a clip round the ear from a store detective.  What was great about those magazines was that, in many cases, their reviewers also had distinct personalities.  It got to be that you would identify with certain reviewers, either because they were funny or because you trusted their judgement or had similar tastes in games.

Haunt of many a teenage gamer...
As the shelf lives of the computers expired, the magazines we loved died out.  There were others, for newer, shinier machines, and they did their best to fill the voids.  Some of them were really good... I particularly loved Mean Machines Sega, myself.  Now, there's not really that much beyond EDGE.  It's all gone online, where news is so hot off the presses it could burn your retinas out.

So, what happened to some of our favourite reviewers?  Like I said, many of them are a little easier to track down than the coders, and I hope to include some of them in this book.  If you ever read Your Sinclair, you probably either loved or hated Stuart Campbell.  Never shy to offer a controversial opinion, "Rev. Stu" continues to prod and poke at the games-playing public today, whether in magazines or on his website, World of Stuart.  Love him or hate him, it's hard to argue with him (primarily because he will hunt you down and give you a verbal battering).

From ZZAP! 64, Julian "Jaz" Rignall stayed mostly in the games industry.  He was at GamePro until they recently closed down; now he has a cool gaming blog called Playotron, and a very active, informative and entertaining Twitter account.

Gary Penn continued to work on games mags, but is now at Denki, producers of such great puzzle games as Denki Blocks! and Quarrel.  Gary Liddon is head of successful games studio Ruffian Games, who can name the Crackdown games among their successes.  Steve Jarratt has remained in games journalism this entire time.

Look, prizes! Things you can win! And they're good for you!
Gordon Houghton has taken his wordsmithing skills in a different direction, writing a number of novels (five, in fact) which are, in turn, interesting, entertaining and challenging.  Not only that, but they're all vastly different, which is quite refreshing in today's cut-and-paste world of novels, where even your favourite authors seem to merely change the names and locations. His website, The Burrow, has these available to buy in various formats, and also has a number of links to ZZAP! 64 and Commodore 64-related things.

His latest, Another World, is a sci-fi novel set toward the end of the twenty-second century.  If you want to know more, go here for links to buy them at very reasonable prices!  Alternatively, I have an e-copy of Another World to give away... just post a comment telling me what is your favourite Commodore 64 or Spectrum review of all time, and I'll put you in the draw.  And as a bonus, I have an e-copy of Gordon's book Game Boy, which is a novel filled with more video game references than you could shake a Konix Speedking at.  If you love video games and reading, this book is for you.  Winner gets their choice of novel, second place gets what's left.  You have until Sunday to post - go!