Day 43 - come on, Tim!

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

It's the Wimbledon final today.  Normally I watch it, but when there's "home" involvement (and Andy Murray is always classed as British until he loses), I just can't bear to sit there and see another plucky failure.  As I write, the match is level, but every time I flick it over, Our Boy is either hitting the ball tamely into the net or seeing it fly past him.  So I'm a jinx, and I refuse to curse the lad further.  Instead, I've gone for a bit of computer tennis.

It's one of the oldest forms of video game, is tennis.  From its humble beginnings with Pong right up to the current motion-based efforts on modern consoles, we've always quite enjoyed whacking a ball over an electronic net.  It's much easier than actually going out and doing it for real, and risking getting wet or something.

Trouble is, it's a very difficult game to get right.  There's too much subtlety to the game that is hard to capture in video game form.  Some games get the hitting of the ball right, but not the running around the court.  Some games get the running around the court right, but not the hitting of the ball.  Some games are hateful bastards, like Mario Power Tennis.  Very few get everything right, but still they try.

Andy Murray never smiles, so he must be the one in black.
One of the games I bought on the Commodore 64 was Sensible Software's International 3D Tennis.  I always enjoyed Sensi's games, and when I read the review in ZZAP! 64 I was intrigued.  For one thing, it featured vector graphics, something that the C64 had struggled with in most cases.  The screenshots looked a bit odd, but the ZZAP! lads insisted it moved well and played better.  I trusted them, and I bought it.

I enjoyed it a fair bit at the time, but it never grabbed me as much as I'd hoped it would.  It was a very brave effort, and playing it again now I can appreciate it in a different light.  I probably wouldn't play it ahead of Virtua Tennis, but it certainly stands out from the crowd in many ways.  If I manage to get hold of any of the Sensible Software guys, and I'll certainly be making every effort to do so, then I'd love to ask a few questions about this game.

Day 40 - can I have some chocolate please?

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

So, that's forty days I've been doing this thing for.  Sounds ages, doesn't it?  And yet, it's been like the blink of an eye.  I reckon you can at least add a nought to the end of that before you'll see this finished, too.  Everything comes to he who waits, they say...

It also feels like it's been raining for forty days and forty nights.  Christ, it's depressing.  I can't believe there's any water left in the sky.  I suppose that the rain means I'm spending more time indoors, which means that I've got a bit more time to work on this book.  Even these miserable rain clouds have a silver lining.

Not that I've done any work on it today.  I've actually been playing a game on my XBox 360... something that I first played for free on the PC quite some time ago.  It's an intriguing little effort called Spelunky.

Bring you to your knees, it's a Bomber!
One of the things I've always wondered is whether the game was inspired at all by a crusty American C64 platformer called Spelunker.  I'm pretty sure it must have been, although that would imply that the programmers are getting on a bit, and I don't know if that's the case.  On the other hand, after Cave Story, there's not much else you could call a game that involves cave exploration.

It's a fun game, anyway, if a bit on the brutal side.  Something that I feel helps in this regards is the fact that the levels are randomised every time you play.  Obviously, that means you never play exactly the same game twice.  For a game made up of short levels, that's a great way to keep you playing even after you've finished it.

It's good to see games modelled on the old-school getting such a high profile these days.  Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with the massive 3D efforts that dominate the charts, but there's room for all kinds of games, not just the ones that look like Hollywood movies, and I like the fact that the industry seems to be realising that and catering for all tastes again.

Day 39 - head over heels with today's progress

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

This morning saw an e-mail full of answers drop into my inbox, which made for good reading and a good start to the day.  I'll be looking at sending off a few responses, and then I can work on putting some rough pages together. I find that pretty exciting.  Now that a couple of people have replied, I can play around with ideas a bit more

Of course, the main focus for now has to be the writing (and finding contact details, naturally), but it doesn't hurt to play around with images and layouts and so on.  I like the idea of having a "CONTRIBUTIONS FROM" section on the front page of the blog.  I really want to do that, but I think I'd be getting carried away with myself if I put it there now with just two confirmed names.  If I wait until I've got replies from the others I've sent e-mails to, it'll be a bit more valid.

Awww.  So cute!  But how do I get to the bunny?
Basically, though, I can play games, get a ton of screenshots, write text and insert comments for those that have replied.  Effectively, I can finish sections of the book at this point.  That's great.  It's going to be a giant step forward, having real pages' worth of material prepared and ready for formatting.

Now I'm in the position where I need to be soliciting for more participants.  It's a dirty job, but I have to do it.  There are still people that can be contacted through the likes of Twitter, so that's my next avenue.  I do hate to be a bother, but it's the only way forward.

Oh, THAT'S how!  Hey, why am I playing this game, I wonder...?
You know, our guys wrote some stuff that was really amazing for the time.  I know, I'm stating the obvious... that's the reason for this book, after all.  But when you play some of these old games again, it's extraordinary just how creative they were.  Some of them may not seem as good in the cold light of day, but today's technology is light years ahead of what was available then.  It's still a thrill to load up some of the classics and get stuck in.  We really were lucky back then.

Day 38 - all work and no play makes Moz a dull boy

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

I'm off work for the first half of this week, and part of my book work has revolved around thinking up suitable questions to ask people.  It takes much more time than you'd think!  I've finally got questions out to all of the initial batch that responded positively, which means I can concentrate on writing and more prep work.  But before that, as a bit of a break, I've been playing a few games today.  I haven't had proper gaming sessions... I've just been testing out the new laptop.

To be honest, I haven't got many games that will actually give it a real workout.  If I want to play most modern games, I tend to play them on my XBox 360.  So it was really just a matter of seeing how some of the games I own actually run on this baby.

First up was Hydorah, Locomalito's amazing free homage to Nemesis/Gradius and other arcade shooters of the Eighties.  If you haven't downloaded this yet then you're quite mad, and I challenge you to go and do so now.  I love it so much, I paid for a limited edition disc version.

Prepare to meet your nemesis.  What?  At least I didn't use "It's R-Type of game"!
Hydorah is a horizontally-scrolling shmup, so I was expecting good things from my nice wide screen.  And I wasn't disappointed at all... it looks stunning.  It really is like playing a top-quality arcade shmup.  It's difficult but fair, there's plenty of variety in the levels, and it's just such good fun to play.  I urge, nay, implore you to go and get it if you don't already own it.  And think about lobbing something in the lad's tip jar while you're there, something of such high quality really deserves it.

Next up, I went on a bit of a Minter-fest.  Inspired by my post of the other day, I loaded up Steam and installed a couple of The Yak's most recent efforts - Space Giraffe and Gridrunner Revolution.  Although both are fairly simple games, they're renowned for shifting a lot about the screen in glorious/horrendous technicolour, depending on your viewpoint.  Both games benefitted substantially from the extra processing power and screen real estate... a good amount of time passed very quickly indeed.

Gridrunner Revolution.  I actually know exactly what's going on here.
From there, I hopped onto my iPhone for some more Minter goodness.  Llamasoft have so far released seven games on the iPhone and iPad, and I own them all.  They're cheap, and are among the best iOS games you can find.

First of all, I went from Gridrunner Revolution on the PC to Gridrunner on the iPhone.  And whereas Revolution changed the game mechanics of the original substantially, iOS Gridrunner goes back to the basics... to a degree.  Naturally though, there's a twist, which in this case comes in the form of extra weapons and classic arcade sound effects.  In fact, if you close your eyes while someone else is playing it, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd stepped into your own version of Narnia, located in an Eighties' seaside arcade.  Fast and frantic, Gridrunner is easily one of the very best iOS games available.

Gridrunner (iOS).  I actually know exactly what's going on here.
Then, I went with Minotaur Rescue.  Based on the game mechanic found in Gridrunner Revolution but with Atari VCS graphics, it's a phenomenal shooter, once you get your eye in.  The controls take a bit of time to master, but it's worth the effort, and if you click with it you'll have a tremendous time.

Finally, I moved back to the PC for one of my all-time faves... Sid Meier's Sim Golf.  Now, I know that Sid Meier is a genius... but I haven't really got on with many of his games.  Mine is but a feeble brain, incapable of processing all the commands needed to win at the likes of Alpha Centauri and Civilization.  Similarly, I have no great love for The Sims series of games.  But Sim Golf?  Pure, unadulterated joy.

I could have made the first hole a little easier... but why?
I've written about it many times before in different places.  Suffice to say, it's my desert island game, the one I could play until the end of time as it has infinite potential as you set about building and refining golf courses over a variety of locations and landscapes.  It's not something I'd play non-stop for weeks, but I can always come back to it for an hour or two and know I won't be sick of it.  That said, I had problems running it on my Windows Vista laptop... with the new Windows 7 rig, it just works.  Brilliant.

So, that was good fun.  I enjoyed myself.  Tomorrow, it'll be time to crack on.  I've got questions out with all the positive responders now, and have one reply to work on.  Things have slowed down a bit... my last three e-mails have received no responses.  It may be that the addresses are dead by now, or at least aren't checked very often, but it's a little bit of a downer.  Still, that just means I have to look elsewhere for the time being.  I have a few people in my sights...

Day 37 - the transfer game

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

I love my new laptop.  The keyboard is great, and it's nice to be able to hit the 'X' button and have an 'X' appear on the screen immediately.  I can also now recondition myself to using the left shift key and the left control key... the ones on my old laptop were knackered.

Of course, the problem is that all my resources are on my old laptop, and I need to transfer them over.  I think I'll be spending a lot of today doing that.  I've got a 1TB external hard drive which you would think would be great for that kind of thing, but despite the fact I haven't used it much, I find it somewhat unreliable.  The connection keeps cutting out, which isn't ideal.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Die, rubbish crew droid!
Still, if I want to port across my vast libraries of old games, it's pretty much a necessary evil (unless I buy a USB to USB cable, but why do that if it's not necessary?).  I've got three days off work, but I've got other things that must be done, so we'll see how much time I get for that.

I'm going to play another transfer game too, one that I suspect a lot of people will have expected to see when they saw the title of this post.  If there's one game that's endured the last twenty-five years for me, it's Andrew Braybrook's Paradroid.  It's just such a great concept, so well executed, that I never get tired of it.  And with its various "upgrades", it's so much fun to play.

I'm on the slippery slope in this game...
I'm going to have another go at Steve Turner's Quazatron, too.  I played that a while ago and found it pretty difficult.  The change of perspective and gameplay differences make it a different beast, but one that I think might be worth sticking with.

Steve and Andrew were the brains behind Graftgold, and I'd love to include both of them in this book.  That might be easier said than done, though.  I think that Steve Turner might be a little easier to get hold of, but they're such an important part of that era that this book would be the worse off without them.

Day 36 - Minter fix

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

I haven't been in the house very much today.  I had to take my eldest child to a friend's birthday party, I had a lovely wedding anniversary meal, and I had some shopping to do.  In the time while I was at home, I was digging through my things for stuff to put on eBay.

I've got loads of clutter in the house and, much as I hate to part with anything, some of it just isn't getting used and is taking up space that could be used for other things.  Like a child's bed, for instance.  So it's important to prioritise and then get rid of the things that just aren't going to see any action.

While I was rummaging, though, I came across this:

What a mean old goat!
I remember when I bought this.  I was in WH Smith in Newcastle, and they had a clearance sale on.  I bought this and Scarabaeus for 99p each.  What a bargain!  I loved Batalyx so much that I barely even loaded Scarabaeus... and that's something I need to rectify in the near future, too.

Batalyx was really a game of mini-games... not the first time its programmer, Jeff Minter, had released such a game.  This one came together especially well, though, with each mini-game being very enjoyable in its own right, and the resultant sum of its parts being an off-the-wall classic.

It's a game I will naturally be writing more about in the course of this venture, and hopefully I'll be able to include a few words from Yak himself.  I would expect, given his output of the time, that his will be one of the larger sections in the book...

Day 34 - fair's fair

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

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!

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

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...

Day 32 - today, I'm wearing many hats

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , , ,

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!

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

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

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.

Day 30 - Day 30!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

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...

Day 29 - same old, same old...

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

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...?

Day 28 - speculate to accumulate

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

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?

Day 27 - great news!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

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

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

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?

Day 25 - word up!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , ,

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.

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

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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!

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

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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!

Day 22 - Happy Father's Day!

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

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!

Day 21 - a multi-event extravaganza

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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...