Sunday, September 27, 2009


I think it's safe to say that I'm one of the least competitive people you'll ever meet. If I'm playing a game with someone, and that's any type of game, and I'm significantly better than my opponent, I'm far more likely to deliberately play worse than I can to match my opponent's skill level than to thrash them and rub it in.

This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I only ever play games for fun. Winning is a nice bonus, but I'd rather have fun and lose than not have fun and win. Secondly, in most cases, I'm playing against someone I like I would like to play with them again.

There are only two real cases where I get close to competitive…and that's when I'm playing a game 'against myself' or against some kind of course.

Which is why 'Mirror's Edge' for the 360 might just kill me.

You see, Mirror's Edge is a 'parkour' or 'free running' game. I'd already played through the story, which has you wall-running, making death-defying leaps, swinging on pipes and all other kinds of cool maneuvers in order to escape bad guys…and I'd loved every minute of it, so I thought I'd give the time-trial side a try.

The time-trial game mode is completely different. You have a fairly open area and different waypoints you have to get to in order. Now, just to pass the level is fairly easy, but there are three 'skill times' for each course, and to get the third, you have to do a perfectly flawless run taking the most direct route possible…and the most efficient route is always the trickiest.

Basically, to get the best time we're talking about absolute perfection on a course that requires split second timing, pixel-perfect jumps and laser accuracy with direction of travel. If you just want to qualify and get to the next course, it's pretty forgiving. You can make mistakes on the way, take a longer route and still come in under the qualifying time. One star is tricky. Two stars is hard. Three stars means absolute perfection. Without a hint of exaggeration, to get a three-star run, your timing has to be accurate to within just a couple of milliseconds.

…and you know what? This game may just about kill me.

There's nothing quite like getting to within a hair's breadth of the finish line after completing and absolutely perfect run, then messing up on the very last obstacle and that one second delay costing you a three star run. It's even worse when the one obstacle that's causing you problems is near the end of a long course, which means you get to screw up two and a half minutes into a two minute, forty-five second course.

I don't know about you, but this gets frustrating, and frustration leads to more mistakes.

Let's just say that earlier today I decided to play for a half hour. Three hours later I was still saying that I'd have 'just one more try'.

…and that's the worst thing about Mirror's Edge. It's ridiculously difficult to score a three-star time, but it's just fun and addictive enough to keep you playing when any sane person would just give up and play something else.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We get it…you like weed.

You wanna know what the least impressive thing in the world is?

Smoking weed.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything morally wrong with it and I don't look down on people who smoke it…but the thing I find really pathetic are the people who smoke weed and it's all they talk about. It doesn't matter who you are, how you know them…if you're in the same room, they're going to tell you how much they smoke and how totally high they got last night.

Is smoking weed even that big of a taboo anymore? I'd say that to most of society smoking weed is on a par with drinking heavily, and about as rebellious and interesting as someone on a diet telling you about the big bar of chocolate they ate last night. One of my old school teachers smoked weed. Hell, even a 65 year old, straight-laced grandma-of-four I used to work with smoked weed.

I don't mean this in an ani-drug, you're an idiot for smoking kind of way…but smoking weed just isn't all that cool. When you start talking about how high you are, you don't sound cool and rebellious…you just sound like a dick.

For example, earlier tonight I was playing some CoD over Xbox live, and because we were a man short on the team, we'd end up with a random stranger each new round.

Enter 'Tokin'6543':

"Hey guys, just lettin' you know, I'm rollin' a blunt so I might not play too good."

Translation : "Hey everyone, I smoke weed! Look how cool and rebellious I am."

Two minutes later:

"Hey guys, I just fired up my blunt, so if I suck this round it's because I'm playing one handed. I'm getting so baked!"

Translation: "Hey, didn't you hear me before? I said I'm smoking weed! Don't you realize how cool this makes me?"

Another two minutes pass:

"Oh, dudes! I'm getting so high right now off this blunt. This shit's amazing."

Translation: "Hello??? I'm smoking weed here. Why is no-one paying attention to me? WeeeeeeeeEEEEEEeeeeed!!!"

We completely ignored him (one of the things I love about MGC, they have very little tolerance for douchebags and assholes), and having been refused a reaction, I shit you not, he started coughing…really loud and fake coughing.

"COFF COFF…Wow, this shit's strong! COFF COFF."


Seriously, kids…I'm not going to tell you not to smoke weed because I know telling a teen not to do something is the one way to actually guarantee that they'll do it…just bear in mind that smoking weed in 2009 and going on and on about it makes you about as cool as the guy who tells everyone he knows about the time he drank the half a wine cooler his mom forgot about.

It's 2009 kids. Tattoos are a fashion accessory, accountants ride Harleys, your English teacher has her nipple pierced…and smoking weed is as cool and rebellious and having a five year old playboy stashed under your mattress.

So, the next time you feel the urge to tell someone about that time you got so completely high, just bear in mind that what you're really telling the world is: "I am a massive dick with no charisma or personality and I'm desperate for attention."


So, my diabetes meds are going to run out next month, so I called the doctor's office to ask if I'd need to see him or just have the pharmacist call him to authorize more refills.

Turns out that he's decided I need blood work done before he'll authorize more meds. Bloodwork that will cost around three hundred dollars that I can't afford. Apparently I need to have this bloodwork done to check that my dosage doesn't need adjusting…you know, the dosage that was just fine less than three months ago, the same dosage that's been keeping my blood sugar in the ideal range.

I explained the situation. I explained that I'm out of work, have no insurance and simply can't afford three hundred dollars. I also explained I was testing my blood sugar regularly and the meds I'm on now are keeping me well within the safe range.

He didn't want to hear it. He told me that he cannot 'in good conscience' prescribe me more meds without the blood tests that I can't afford.

Hearing an American doctor utter the word 'conscience' is like hearing the head of the KKK talk about racial tolerance.

I mean, isn't it funny that his conscience 'can't allow him' to prescribe me more meds without an expensive test…but that same conscience doesn't bother him at all to let me go completely without the meds he knows I need?

Conscience my ass. What he means is he has an opportunity to screw more money out of another faceless, production line patient because he just fucking loves money. I mean, going without my meds means I'll go blind again or fall into a fucking coma, but three hundred dollars is three hundred dollars. I mean, why should a fucking doctor care about his patients when he has the opportunity to throw another handful of cash onto the pile.

People say America has the best healthcare in the world. No it fucking doesn't. It has the most expensive healthcare, provided by greedy, corrupt doctors who care a hell of a lot more about the health of their bank balances than they do their patients.

I mean, just because the average salary for a GP in this state is almost $200,000, doesn't mean he shouldn't deny a diabetic patient medication because that patient can't pay $300 for a test that costs less than ten dollars to carry out.

You know what? It's fucking disgusting. Anyone who says America has the 'best healthcare in the world' is a fucking moron.

Monday, September 14, 2009

That's true, but...

Commenting on yesterday's post, Evan said:

"Correction: You said that health care companies stand to lose some money. That's not exactly true... they stand to lose a shit-load of money."

I was just going to answer that in the comments, but it's such a good point, I thought I'd make a whole new short blog post about it.

Yes, Healthcare companies are going to lose a shit-load of money, but we're talking about an industry that sold me a pill $2.50 pill for $200 (an 8000% markup) and charged me the equivalent $400 for five minutes of the doctor's time (that's $48,000 an hour).

There's a word for that. Greed.

So, forgive me if I have very little sympathy for them. If the Healthcare industry hadn't been so greedy in the first place there wouldn't be any need for talk about socialized healthcare.

Think of it this way: If I owned the only food store in a 500 mile radius and marked everything up by 8000%, about eight hundred bucks for a loaf of bread, because my customers either bought from me or starved... I doubt there'd be any debate if a plan came along that would force me to lower my prices.

Tha's what this whole debate is about. It's not about quality of healthcare or freedom of choice, it's about a tiny minority who would rather see millions of Americans go without healthcare so they can purchase a fourth yacht.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I've come to realize that when it comes to politics, you can always tell how shaky someone's argument is by the ridiculousness of their statements. The less reasonable and grounded in reality they are, the weaker their actual argument is.

For example, this week, the Republicans claimed that socialized healthcare would lead to 'Death Panels' and euthanasia…because, of course, the first thing we're going to when we have subsidized healthcare is start killing off the sick and the dying.

As I've said recently, America really does have the best healthcare in the world… but only as long as you can afford it. 'Death Panels' and euthanasia just aren't going to happen, but right now there are plenty of people dying all over the country because they can't afford the healthcare they need.

I think the biggest problem here is that for the majority of people, healthcare is an abstract concept. When you have no health problems and insurance, healthcare isn't a huge deal…but it's a totally different story when you have no insurance and get sick.

Let's cut to the real argument here. It's not about the quality of healthcare, protecting Americans or any of that bullshit. It's all about money.

I've been over that a million times in the past, so I'd just like to point something out to the 'average' American, grinding his teeth at the idea that 'he should have to pay for other people's healthcare'.

Exactly what do you think you're doing paying private health insurance? Do you think the insurance company puts all your premiums in a nice big pile and leaves it there in case you get sick? No. Your insurance premiums are paying for everyone else's claims. The only difference between private and socialized healthcare is that with socialized healthcare, your 'premiums' are a lot less, and because those premiums aren't being paid to a business, none of it is being skimmed off the top.

Basically, socialized healthcare is just Medicare for everyone instead of just the elderly. The only reason there's any sort of debate, and the reason for all these bullshit scare tactics, is because the medical establishment that's been screwing us over for decades, who are the very reason so many Americans can't afford healthcare, stand to lose some money.

That's the thing I want everyone to realize. The vast majority of money spent on healthcare isn't spent on our health. It's spent on lining fat cat's pockets.

It's why I've personally been charged $200 for a $2.50 pill and over $500 for three minutes with a doctor. It's why a sore throat cost me well over $1400. Not because that's what healthcare costs, but because the doctors can get away with charging that much because your only other choice is to just die.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I was just sitting here on the couch when an eHarmony ad came on the TV.

"When you run your own business, you just don't have time to go out and find someone." Said the slightly weird looking lady. "eHarmony does all the work for you."

Is it just me, or is that a completely ridiculous statement?

If you don't have enough free time to find a partner, you certainly don't have enough time for an actual relationship. Secondly, if you think just finding someone is way too much work...well you get the idea.

So, from what I can tell, eHarmony is perfectly tailored to find relationships for people who don't have the time for a relationship or the commitment to make a relationship work.

They might as well have a site that's set up to sell tarantulas to arachnophobes.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Beginning of the End.

This is it, folks. Mark your calendars. Today is the day that we finally crossed the line and decided that we'd rather take refuge in ignorance than be made uncomfortable by new ideas and knowledge.

The world's certainly changed since I was a kid. For example, when I was a kid, the President of the United States making a speech to the nation's schoolkids about the importance of education and their role in the future was not a cause of controversy.

I turned the TV on just in time to see some dumb bitch from the upstate getting teary eyed and crying at the "thought of her children being 'exposed to that'".


I used to the think political correctness had gone way too far because we'd become a society where it was unacceptable to offend anyone under any circumstances…but this is a whole new thing. It's not about offending people anymore. Apparently it's now unacceptable to publicly voice any idea that may differ from the opinions of anyone listening.

When I was a kid, the whole purpose of school was to expose kids to as many different ideas as possible, so those kids would have to actually think and make up their own minds about things. Today, we only want our kids learning things if they directly mirror our own beliefs and ideas.

Jim-Bob doesn't want his kid to grow up to be no goddamned nigger-lovers or to be turned gay by the faggots. Chastity McPrudence doesn't want her daughter getting involved with any heathen Jews, Hindus and especially not those dirty Muslims, because everyone knows that all Muslims are terrorists. Phil McKathlic doesn't want his kids listening to his science teachers because the Bible says the Earth was created in seven days six thousand years ago…and Jeff Q. Straightlaced doesn't want his son listening to that disgusting popular music, because learning to play the guitar is a waste of time and certainly won't help him become an accountant.

Here's the deal, people. If you expect to go through life and never be offended by anything you see or hear, you're in for one rough fucking ride. There are six billion of us sharing this little rock, so getting everyone to agree is impossible…and you know what? The really big ideas, the ones that changed the world for the better usually started out as unpopular and 'shocking' ideas.

Thanks to our school system putting the little kiddies' sense of self esteem before actual achievement, we've created a whole generation of people with an inflated sense of entitlement and self-importance. People who think the world revolves entirely around them, and anything that offends, contradicts or just makes them uncomfortable is totally unacceptable.

This is something that honestly scares me.

I think of the reactions when the first person suggested that racial segregation was wrong. I think of the reactions when the first person suggested that women should be able to vote of have careers just like men. I think of the reactions when the first person suggested the state and church should be two separate entities.

It's not just that someone has expressed a viewpoint and people disagree with it. That's fine and the way it should be. What scares me is the people claiming that the idea shouldn't have been expressed in the first place.

The one way to guarantee the destruction of a society is to start telling people what they can and can't say and who they can and can't say it to…and that's exactly what we're doing.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dreams Explained.

It appears that, like a few other people I know, I've been having some pretty strange and vivid dreams lately.

After a discussion about dream and what dreams 'mean', I thought I'd share my theories on what dreams are and where they come from.

Now, his first bit isn't theory, it's fact. I'm sure I'm explaining it (because it was explained to me this way) in 'discovery channel special' terms, but it makes it very easy to understand.

When we learn something new, the information is stored by new physical connections being formed in your brain. When you first learn something, this new connection is weak and easy to break, but the more often that information is repeated, the stronger and more robust that connection comes. That's why you can be introduced to someone in passing and have forgotten their name an hour later and the connections for the things we do every day, like drive, become so strong that they seem to require almost no conscious thought. It's why when someone tells you a phone number, you repeat it over and over to yourself while looking for something to write it down with, because the repetition strengthens the connection and also keeps it active while you look for your pen.

Basically, the more often you do something or think about it, the stronger those connections in your brain become, and because that stronger connection has better electrical conductivity, it's easier to recall that information.

Also, our brains are essentially 'pattern recognition engines'. Our brains are bombarded by so much sensory input that we just wouldn't be able to function if we were consciously aware of everything we sensed around us all the time (imagine trying to follow a hundred conversations at once). So our brains take everything in and look for things that we recognize or consider important. For example, while you're sitting down reading this, until I mention it, you're probably not conscious of the feel of your feet in your shoes, or the sound of the clock ticking on the wall or the TV in the other room.

The other side of this is that our brains often recognize and report patterns where there really are none. That's why people can see the Virgin Mary in a slice of burnt toast, look up at the clouds and see a bunny rabbit, or mistake the robe hanging on the back of the bedroom door for a ghost/attacker when we wake up at 3am.

Long story short, what we perceive isn't just 'reality'. It's what's left after every bit of sensory data available has been filtered for importance and interpreted in the way that makes the most sense. If you want an experiment to prove this, have two or three people start talking to you at once. The one you're looking at and paying attention to you'll be able to understand easily, while the other two will just sound like noise…unless one of them mentions your name.

So, what has this got to do with dreams?

When we dream, the synapses in our brain fire randomly, meaning what we're experiencing, in essence, is a series of random, non-related thoughts, memories and ideas. Now, because the things we think the most about have the strongest connections and better electrical conductivity, they are far more likely to 'fire', and fire strongly, than something we haven't thought about in years.

So when we're dreaming, we have this huge rush of random thoughts, memories and ideas, with the things that we've been thinking about the most being the most common. Then our brain fills its other main function, to filter and interpret all this input and present it in the form that makes the most sense.

That's my theory on what dreams actually are. It's why they can seem so nonsensical but meaningful at the same time. When you've spent all day trying to decide whether to go for that other job or ask out that girl you like, it's not surprising that those subjects would feature heavily in that night's dreams. Also, if you're convinced that you'd fail the interview or the girl would laugh in your face, there's a good chance that that will happen in your dream, also.


Monday, September 07, 2009

Just to Reiterate…

The Mature Gamer's Club rocks.

Despite the fact I've owned it almost as long as I've owned my Xbox, I've only played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance multiplayer twice. This is because both times I tried to play it online, I ended up playing in a team with at least one other player who expected everyone to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the game and thought everyone else was playing purely to follow his orders.

I pick Spider-Man as my character? I'm a noob fag because Iceman is way better. I pick up some gear, I get fifteen minutes of verbal abuse for taking 'his' power-up. I head down the left corridor when you're supposed to go to the right? Another fifteen minutes of verbal abuse. Let's just say that this was the game that convinced me the majority of online gamers don't play for fun, but to work out the frustration and aggression of their sad little lives. They may be pale, friendless virgins in real life, but online they can be M3G4-ULTRA-PWNER-XTR3M3!!!1!1!

Anyway, as you can imagine, I didn't play it online again, despite the fact the game was purposefully designed to be played as a co-op multiplayer game. I have better things to do than listen to some idiot twelve year old scream like a spoiled child.

Well, as I mentioned yesterday, playing with the MGC is like night and day.

For example, in Ulimate Alliance we got to a part in the game where all four team members have to get across a balcony where you had to time your jump over three gaps that have fire blasting through them at regular intervals. Me and another guy just couldn't make it across despite multiple attempts…and instead of getting screamed at, instead of being called 'noobs', all four of us ended up laughing our asses off at a superhero dream team being defeated by a six foot gap…especially as one who kept getting blasted and hurt by the fire trap was the Human Torch.

That's what I was looking for. A group of people to game with who just like to have fun, and realize that having fun and winning with a perfect score aren't necessarily the same thing.

All I can say is that playing online with the MGC has made online gaming fun again. It reminds me of the way PC multiplayer gaming used to be when it first took off in the early 90's. Namely intelligent, mature people playing a game for fun. Not hyper competitive, sugared-up idiots working out their frustration by screaming at people from behind the safety and anonymity of their monitors or TV screens.


Saturday, September 05, 2009

Yay Maturity!!!

Don't ask me why, but even though I've owned GTA IV for almost a year, I only tried the multiplayer game for the first time last night.

I particularly enjoyed the 'Cops 'n' Crooks' gametype. The entire city is open and if you're playing as the crooks, you have to get to a getaway vehicle (usually a helicopter or boat) and the cops have to stop you.

So you can imagine the possibilities. You can have up to four players in a car and sixteen total players. The first game was some of the most fun I've ever had playing online. It couldn't have been cooler if it had been choreographed.

I'm riding shotgun in one of the crook cars, blasting away at the pursuing cops, one of our tires gets blown out and the car rolls over. Just as I crawl out and get into cover, the car explodes, taking a police car that had just come around the corner with it. Then there was a chase through some alleyways on foot and just when I got cornered and thought it was all over, another crook in a car powerslides around the corner taking out the cops that had cornered me.

Then, things went downhill.

I joined another game, only to have all the crooks jump out of the car, run into an alley and take cover.

Turns out that GTA IV has gone the way of Halo. You see, the crooks can also win by killing all the cops. The easiest way to kill the cops is to get everyone down an easily defendable alley where the cops have to turn a blind corner to get to you. So, for the best chance of winning, you go down an alley, hide behind a dumpster and keep your gun trained on the entrance so any cop who so much as peeks around the corner gets shot in the face.

Why get involved in pulse-pounding car chases and actually have fun when you can stay perfectly still for ten or twenty minutes? It's another example of what I talked about in a previous gaming post. Winning is the most important thing. Fun isn' even a close third.

Then, the inevitable happened. A squeaky-voiced pre-teen racist joined the game and started screaming 'nigger' before we were even out of the lobby. All he did was scream into his headset for the entire game.

I quit in disgust. I seriously considered cancelling my Xbox Live account because playing online just wasn't fun anymore.

Then I found the Mature Gamer's Club. It's a group of people who, shock horror! Play games for fun. No racial epithets, no hyper-competitive idiots, just a bunch of people of all ages having fun.

I can say this because one of the people I'd sent a friend request to was playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance and I joined his game along with another couple of players from MGC, and the difference really was night and day.

I can't say how nice it was to play online with, well, nice people. Hell, forget that, it's just nice to play with people who don't consider the game secondary to screaming down their headsets.

A few days ago, one of the people I follow on Twitter had this to say:

"Guys, when you buy a girl a drink, it's just a drink. She doesn't OWE you anything for your 'generosity'."

Ok, let me start by saying I completely agree…but having said that, ladies, I really have to call shenanigans.

You see, whenever this topic comes up, the scenario is always the same. Guy offers girl a drink, girl accepts drink, guy becomes abusive and/or violent when girl won't give him a quickie in the club toilets.

Basically, ladies, I can understand you getting upset when a guy thinks buying you a Bacardi and Coke guarantees him a blowjob…but you have to understand that it's just as annoying for us when you come up to us in a club, flirt like crazy, then vanish into the crowd the second that seventeen-dollar cocktail touches your hand.

I'm sorry if I got the wrong idea, it's just when a girl walks up to me at the bar and tells me how sexy she thinks I am while rubbing up against me, I sort of assume she may be interested in me.

You see, ladies, it's true that, no matter what, you don't owe us anything for buying you a drink…but a drink isn't 'just a drink'. Buying someone a drink is dating-speak for "I am interested in you" and accepting that drink is dating-speak for "I am interested in you as well." Basically, if you're not willing to spend ten or fifteen minutes talking to the guy who bought you your drink, don't accept it. There are exceptions, of course, but that's the general rule.

Ok, ladies, I want you to imagine something:

You've had an awesome night out when an absolutely gorgeous guy strikes up a conversation with you while you wait for a cab ride home. Things are going so well that when he asks if you want to share a cab, you take him up on it. However, when the cab pulls up outside his house, he gets out, puts his head through the window and says "Thanks for the free cab ride, you ugly bitch!" Then takes off.

That's what it feels like when you're manipulated into buying someone a drink who then immediately takes off. It's saying "You have absolutely no chance with me whatsoever, but that's not going to stop me using you for free drinks…and you're so dumb I can get a drink out of you by batting my eyelashes."

Basically, ladies, you don't owe us anything…but a drink is not just a drink.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Observations from today:

  1. Grocery Store Assholes

Here's the deal. When I'm at the checkout and I'm loading my stuff onto the conveyor belt, if you're behind me, you may start putting your own groceries on the conveyor only when I have finished loading mine. Why? Because it's really fucking annoying when I've put just a few items on the conveyor, then you come along, slap down a divider and leave me with about 16 inches of space to put down a buggy full of groceries.

Then I have spend three times as long alternating between loading my groceries onto the conveyor and pushing yours back…usually while you stand there looking at me like I'm the one holding everyone up.

I get it. You're busy, you're important, you're in a rush…but tough shit, I was there before you. Wait your turn, asshole.

I swear that if I see you put down the little divider before I've emptied my buggy, I will personally take it off the conveyor and beat you about the head with it until you learn to stop being such an inconsiderate ass-clown.

Secondly, if you have a buggy full of groceries and someone joins the line behind you with a single item in their hands, for fuck's sake, let them go ahead of you. They can either keep you waiting for an extra five seconds or you can keep them waiting for ten minutes. Don't be an asshole.

  1. Pharmacists.

You know what? Fuck pharmacists. I have never met a more deluded group of self-important idiots in my entire life. They wear their white coats like they're doctors or something, talk down to people like they're geniuses having to deal with retarded children…and their job is nothing more than taking pills from big bottles and putting them in smaller bottles.

You know what another name for pharmacist is? Stock boy. Oh sure, you like to say that you actually know about the medications and what meds react badly with another, but all you're doing is reading info off a computer screen.

So, wear your white coat and prance around, I mean, you're practically a doctor, right? Keep telling yourself that. The rest of the world knows you're really just a google-using stock boy playing dress-up with a real professional's white coat.

  1. Cell-phone Douchebags

I can't believe that I actually have to mention this one, but here's the thing.

If you're at the head of any sort of line that requires interaction with someone, such as at a gas station, and there's a line behind you… this is not the time to accept or make a cell-phone call. Fucking twice today I was waiting in line when some asshole decided to answer their phone and just stand there and talk while the person behind the counter waited for them to swipe their card. No, honestly, that's ok. The nine people behind you are more than happy to wait while you have a nice chat instead of paying for your shit or answering the counter-guy's questions.

If I ever come to power, I'm going to make it perfectly legal to shove a person's cell phone right up their ass if they pull shit like this. It will also be perfectly legal to beat that person to death if they call you rude for interrupting their phone call to hurry them up.

The More Things Change…

Well, if you're wondering what kicked off my videogame nostalgia trip recently, it was finding a torrent that had every single issue of my favorite Commodore64 magazine from the 80's.

I was reading an issue today when I noticed the letter's page sounded really familiar.

First up was a letter complaining about the amount of ads in the magazine and how disruptive they were.

Secondly was a letter complaining about how disc based games were taking over from cassette based games.

Thirdly, a letter from a Spectrum owner complaining about the number of 'C64 Vs Spectrum' arguments on the letters page.

That's right people, the computers have changed, but we certainly haven't.

These letters are from 25 years ago, and we're still arguing and complaining about the same things. Too many ads, having to change media formats again and getting overzealous about which platform is better.

Just change 'ads' for 'pop-ups', cassettes and discs to DVDs and Blu-Ray and Commodore vs. Spectrum to 360 vs. PS3.

Edit - Shortly after posting this, I looked at he next issue and found a letter complaining about the magazine no longer accepting ads for software designed to copy discs or tapes. After all, the letter writer bought a piece of software to back up all his games and just because software or hardware can be used for piracy doesn't mean it will be.

Who knew? Piracy was already killing the videogame industry in 1983!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I Got the Babel Fish!

In the mid 80's one of my absolute favorite things to do was go to the local newsagent to pick up my copy of 'Zzap64'. While I read the actual magazine from cover to cover multiple times and never threw a single one away (something that happened later against my will… that I still haven't fully forgiven my parents for) my favorite part was the cover tape.

You see, we weren't what you'd call poor back then, but actually getting to buy anything other than a 1.99 budget game was a rare occurrence. On the other hand, I could easily afford a copy of Zzap or Commodore Format once a month and they usually came with a tape or two filled with demos and other fun things, and even a full game once in a while.

It was one of these tapes that introduced me to something that would take up a significant portion of my childhood. The thing that convinced me that games could be more than just a twitch-based pastime that you won by getting the high score. It was something that convinced me that videogames were actual honest-to-god art.

Back then, there was a whole section of the magazine given up to the cover tapes. There was a little bit about the games and the authors (this was when magazines might put a 'home-made' game on the cover disc) as well as instructions on how to play them.

I remember this issue of Zzap very well because I'd bought it while I was one vacation with my family…two week's camping in the New Forest. Of course, I didn't bring my Commodore 64 with me and the Gameboy was still years away from being released. I was already a massive geek, and the thing that sticks in my head the most about that whole vacation was that I couldn't wait to get home to try out the games on the cover tape. (In my defense, this wasn't as bad as it sounds as we ended up going home a few days early anyway because there was almost nothing to do in rainy weather, and it had rained almost solidly since the day we arrived. Not many young kids appreciate being stuck in a caravan with nothing but a deck of cards for entertainment for two weeks).

One game had particularly caught my eye. You see, even today a lot of games are released that have almost no story to them, and what little story they have is usually just a few sentences explaining why you're shooting all those people. Game 'stories' usually consisted of little more than "You're an elite Earth pilot and the evil Zarklonian Empire has attacked, earth's survival is in your hands. Controls: Cursors/joystick to move your ship, Fire button or spacebar to shoot."

This one, however, seemed a lot more interesting. Not only was there about half a page of back story, the instructions talked about exploring a huge derelict spaceship, investigating a mystery and doing all kinds of crazy things.

I couldn't wait.

I remember getting home weeks later and literally racing upstairs to my room, and much to my chagrin, realizing I had to wait through almost 45 minutes of cassette tape to get to the game I wanted. You see, the counter on my "datasette' (read: tape deck) was broken, so I couldn't skip right to the game I wanted, and my tape deck was second-hand and really flaky, meaning it tended to mess up if I tried to fast forward a little.

(It's weird, but until I started writing this I didn't realize that I'd completely forgotten what this game is called. Hopefully it will come back to me)

Finally, the C64 announced it had found the game on the tape, and started to load it with its characteristic flashing border, and about five minutes later…which felt more like hours to me…the game started.

Unlike most kids, I'd always loved to read and loved getting into the story behind a game, so I didn't skip through the text screen that came up, I actually read it.

It was full of awesome stuff about how there'd been some kind of distress signal from a big military starship, and I'd been sent to investigate. It described a tiny point of light in the distance slowly getting bigger until it became recognizable as a massive dreadnought.

Okay, it was time. I was finally going to play the awesome game I'd waited two excruciatingly long weeks to play.

I pressed the spacebar… nothing happened.

I pressed 'run'… nothing happened.

I pressed 'Return'…nothing happened.

What the eff?

I groaned inwardly…after waiting so long for it to load, the game had messed up before it had even started (not unusual on my C64 with its second-hand, flaky tape deck). In frustration, I half slapped the keyboard and let loose with a string of random letters.


Then, my finger hit enter and suddenly:


Whaaaaaa???? The game is talking to me? It understands what I type? I typed 'HELLO'


Of course, I was around ten years old, so after thinking for a few seconds, I typed what any normal ten year old would type when faced with a possibly sentient C64:


THAT'S NOT A VERY NICE THING TO SAY. The game scolded me.







Realizing I wasn't going to get much more of a rise out of the game, I admitted defeat and typed HELP


This was it? This was the game I'd waited two weeks to play? It didn't have any graphics and you controlled it by typing? Where was the fun in that?

I stood up and went to walk out of my room in disgust. I was almost at the door when I stopped. After all, I'd waited so long to play the damn game; I might as well give it a chance. It was going to be stupid, but a game's a game. I sat down and looked at the blinking cursor.









I was instantly and completely hooked. Other than playing on the computer, my other favorite thing in the world to do was read. It was like someone had taken my two favorite things and combined them, just for me. It was like reading this amazing story, only I got to decide what happened…or at least what decisions the protagonist made.

I couldn't wait to share my discovery, but my parents were never really interested in anything to do with computers (my experience is like most geeks of the time… the people who would spend the next 20 years bothering me for tech support vocally disapproved of all the 'time I wasted on the computer' when I could be 'doing something constructive'…and you wonder why we get so pissed off when you call us to us your computer is 'broken'.)

I told everyone who would listen how awesome this game was, unfortunately, my brother realized you had to read and think and pronounced the game 'totally gay'… and it was even a hard sell to even my geek friends.

As an aside, it's something that still makes me laugh today. There I was, playing a game that was basically like reading a good novel but with some seriously difficult puzzles that required logic, imagination and lateral thinking…while asshole aunts and uncles would 'voice their concerns' to my parents about how I was 'rotting my brain with video games'… while they sat on the couch and watched TV, of course.

That very first text adventure (known today as 'Interactive Fiction') really captured my imagination. Within a few months I'd written one of my own, which just to turn my geekometer up to 11, cast the player as a brand new officer on board the USS Enterprise just after the ship had gotten caught in sub-space anomaly.

I was convinced it was going to make me rich, until one of my friends pointed out that Paramount might not be too happy with me making a game using nothing but their copyrighted intellectual property.

Oh… there was also the minor issue that I'd programmed the whole thing in BASIC and no being really good at it, my game was literally just a series of paragraphs that you got to show up by typing the right thing. For example, you could be standing on the Bridge and if you typed "Shoot Romulan with phaser", you'd shoot the Romulan, who hadn't beamed aboard the ship yet, in engineering, that you hadn't visited yet, with the phaser you hadn't picked up yet.

I still stand by my work. As long as you weren't a giant asshole like the friend I got to test it, and just remembered what the game told you and only did things that were logical for the situation you were in, it would work fine.

Of course, there was one more very minor issue in that, for some reason, every time you pressed 'Z' you'd jump to the next step in the adventure. Not having a clue how to fix it, I did something Microsoft would later make a huge business out of. I claimed it wasn't a bug, but a 'feature' to help you along if you got stuck.

Anyway, as a kid I played some amazing text adventures and some truly awful ones as well, but good or bad, like all art, they captured my imagination. I realized that games weren't just about high scores, but they could be used really effectively for telling stories. It was a huge revelation hat I could care for a videogame character just as much as I cared for the characters in my favorite TV show or my favorite books. It was the day that, for me, videogames stopped being just a fun thing to do and became an actual art form. I was the first time I found myself playing a game not just to beat the last boss or get the high score…but for the same reason I'd stay up way past my bedtime, reading under the covers with a flashlight… because I wanted to find out what happens in the end.

It also gave me the perfect comeback for anyone who ever told me I was wasting my time or rotting my brain with video games, and the best thing is, it still works today. The next time someone looks down their nose at you when they realize you play 'mindless videogames' sit them down in front of a copy of Zork and tell them that if all games are mindless, they should be able to beat it easily.

Believe it or not, there is still a very active Interactive Fiction community today, with both new adventures and some of the old classics in any genre you can think of available for download. If you're interested, just google 'Interactive Fiction'. Give them a try.

In closing:


Tuesday, September 01, 2009


(Ok, this post's a little weird. It started off as a short 'funny story', but quickly turned into a rambling trip down memory lane…I'm going to post it anyway. Enjoy)

A couple of days ago my Stepdaughter gave my stepson a ride over to the house so he could fix the starter on our car. My Stepdaughter also brought her eldest son, TJ, and as we were all working outside, and he was the only young kid there, I put the Xbox on for him. I looked through my games and tried to find one I knew his Mom wouldn't mind him playing. I settled on Ghostbusters.

"What's Ghostbusters?" He asked, innocently.

I nearly had a heart attack. One of these days I'm going to sit all the under tens in the family down in my living room and not let them leave until they've seen Ghostbusters, Gremlins, The Goonies, He-Man, The Real Ghostbusters, TMNT, Thundercats and Transformers…the good 80's and early 90's versions, not the shitty toy-advert versions from today.

(Sorry, that's a bit of a hot-button topic for me. When a whole cartoon is based around the hero winning battles by playing a card game… a card game that just happens to be available in stores, that's not a cartoon, that's marketing. You base your merchandise on a popular cartoon, you don't base the cartoon on popular merchandise. Let's just say there's a reason there are so many different versions of the Power Rangers….because when there's fifteen different versions of the main heroes costumes, that's fifteen different sets of action figures for the kids to want.)


A little while later, I came into the living room and picked up TJ's Nintendo DS. I looked it over and was thinking about how the new DSi is a lot sleeker and smaller than his first generation DS, but I think he mistook my appraising look for one of puzzlement. He instantly paused his game on the Xbox to show me how to work his DS. He then started up the Mario game that was in it and sat next to me, showing me how to play Mario.

I really didn't want to break his stride because he seemed so happy to be talking to an adult who was showing a little interest in one of his games…but I couldn't help but chuckle every time he'd warn me that I could jump onto, but not walk into, a koopa-trooper…or that if I collect that 'thing' that's called a 'fire-flower' I can throw fireballs…oh, and collect the mushrooms, they make you bigger.

I mean, exactly how do you explain to a nine year old that you not only know how to play Mario, but that you were playing Mario almost two decades before he was born?

I mean, of course, there were graphical improvements and a few gimmicks that were different to the Mario I played, but the version he had was almost identical gameplay-wise to Mario 2, which took up a significant portion of my life on my trusty NES back in the day.

It made me think. My stepson's youngest son, a two month old, is going to grow up in a world where there has always been broadband internet that you can access anywhere at any time, wirelessly. The Xbox 360 will be his version of the Atari 2600. We were all really impressed with the touch-screen interface on the iPhone, whereas by the time he gets his first phone, that won't be impressive. Of course, you touch the screen to make things happen… it's a screen. What else would you do with it?

After my run in with TJ, in a fit of nostalgia, I downloaded a Commodore 64 emulator and a butt-load of games and after messing around with it for a while, I wondered what my step-kids kids would make of it. Imagine explaining to a kid today that when you turned the computer on, nothing happened. No start up screen, no nice graphical user interface…you took your game, which came on cassette tape and slapped it into your tape deck, typed LOAD"FILENAME", then waited anywhere up to ten minutes to play a game that was way more primitive than something you'd find on a ten year old cell phone.

Jesus H. Christ…I remember getting games out of magazines that you got onto your computer by painstakingly typing in the game code in BASIC. I also remember copying literally hundreds of lines of code and then the whole thing not working because I mistyped a single character, or the horror of discovering someone had turned off the computer before you'd saved it.

Much like Wil Wheaton's childhood assertion to his parents that the Nintendo Entertainment System was likely to be the most advanced computer system ever to be made, I remember drooling over my cousin's Amiga 500 one Christmas day as he declared that 'Graphics just couldn't possibly ever get any better' while playing 'Captain Planet'.

It makes me a little excited and a lot sad.

When I think about stuff like this, I get excited because when I was ten, if someone had told me that, not just in ten or fifteen years, but within my lifetime I'd own the entire Sega Genesis library on a USB keychain, or have well over six thousand arcade games on a single DVD, or be able to make video calls 'Star Trek style' with people anywhere in the world, I would never have believed it in a million years. I look back and think if we've come this far in just twenty years, what's the world going to be like in another twenty? Exactly what is a game console going to be capable of when the PS3 is considered as technologically advanced as we consider the Atari 2600 to be today?

It makes me sad because I realize that an entire era is over. The experiences that made me the person I am today, the experiences that I really hold dear, just aren't going to be around anymore. I remember the torture of swapping a Sega or NES cartridge at school and having to wait all day to get home and play it. Getting together with a few likeminded friends and telling someone the Mario 'turtle trick'…but only if they let you copy their hand-drawn Legend of Zelda map first. The feeling you got when you were doing so well at an arcade game that you actually started to draw a crowd. Opening an actual cardboard box that your game came in and finding goodies like cloth maps, short stories and other 'feelies' that made getting a new game feel like a real event. Running to the paper shop once a month with your pocket money in hand to buy an honest-to-god, printed on paper computer magazine with the cassette taped to the front…then pulling out the poster and adding it to the collection on the wall, putting your Turrican poster right next to James Pond: Robocod and Chuck Rock.

Guys…the box art for 'Barbarian'. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, I fired up the C64 emulator and discovered the games had aged badly. They were primitive, ugly, the sound was terrible and you can get a far more sophisticated game on a bad cell phone…but you know what?

None of that mattered.

Because once I turned off the lights, typed 'LOAD' and watched the border of the screen flash with different colors as the virtual C64 loaded the game from a simulated tape drive…I was eleven years old again, it was late at night and there was no school tomorrow.


20 GOTO 10