Gaming & Me: A History, Part 1

I distinctly remember early in my time at primary school seeing Santa at the Christmas party and excitingly conveying my desperation to please, please, please have a computer. I am clueless as to what sparked such a desire or even how I reacted when on Christmas day I unwrapped a ZX Spectrum. I don’t even remember what happened to it but I do remember avidly playing it, hooked up to an old black and white telly, in my room. I recall that many of the games I had were on floppy discs but also that some came on casette tapes and that these games inspired me to try and make my own, that never went anywhere. Despite my vague memory on this console and my time with it, I know I must have enjoyed it because when years later I found some of the games on the eshop of my Nintendo Wii I got giddy with nostalgia and promptly downloaded several of them.

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My ZX spectrum setup as featured in a home video from when I was 7.

Then came what I consider to be the life changing, and defining point of my interest and relationship with gaming. The Nintendo Gameboy. As a child this was my most coveted item. Year after year I would ask for one and would always instead get a bubble bath one where you had to get the rings on spikes by pressing the buttons to shoot air into the water screen. I was deseprate for this device because many of the kids at my school started getting them and now when I went round to their house they didn’t want to play with me. I was ignored in favour of this small, grey, handheld device. Talk at school started changing to this game and that game and who was excitingly waiting for what. The fervour surrounding the gameboy camera and printer was insane and eventually they were banned from being brought into school. I was always out the loop and I hated it.

Not that my lack of a Gameboy halted my interest in gaming. My focus instead shifted to my Grandad’s PC. Every visit to my grandparents resulted in me playing on it, not there was a lot to choose from but I took what I could get. Eventaully I convinced them that for my birthday I should be allowed to get my own game. This took time because they were concerned about how I would only be able to play it when I visited them but I was so set on a particular game that I insisted it really wasn’t a problem. The game? The Magic School Bus Explores the Solar System. This is something I distinctly remember. It involved a whole day’s shopping trip as shop after shop we went to only had the Human Body Magic School Bus game and I was adament this wouldn’t do instead. It is my first memory of that ecstatic joy that only comes with finally getting your hands on game you’ve been after.

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The Magic School Bus Explores the Solar System is also fondly remembered because after I had got it I spoke to my Dad on the phone who informed me that whilst I had been staying at my grandparents he had bought a PC for our house so I could bring it home! Talk about best birthday ever. This started a love affair with PC gaming. My memory here is less distinct, whether the games we had were our choice or stuff my Dad had found and thought we would like I cannot be sure but I know I loved playing all of them. I definitely remember we had a magazine collection that came with stuff to play, the mighty power of vague internet searching has lead me to the fact this was called PC Genius.

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Also thanks to the brilliance that is the internet and the fact you can find anything on it I have been able to look up my vague memories of some of the games. I know we had a Thomas the Tank Engine game where you repeatedly bashed a button, space I think, to race down the track. Impressively “90s Thomas Pc game” brought up some immediately familiar images and I ended watching YouTube lets play videos of it, nostalgia is a powerful thing. Equally impressive is that my faint memory of a game involving a knight lead me to disocver that I was recalling “Last Knight at Camelot”. I also remember playing “Jazz the Jackrabbit”, something Indiana Jones and a game based on Ace Ventura.

 

The next game I clearly remember is “Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Spellbound”. It was on one of our many trips to PC World that I spotted this gem on the shelf and strenuously negoiated with my parents to advance me enough pocket money to buy it right there and then. It took a fair amount of persuading, I think the game cost £10 and at the time I was getting about £2 a week pocket money. I don’t think they believed I could cope five weeks without pocket money. I was sure the game would be worth it though, after all Sabrina was one of my favourite tv shows at the time and I can safely say that it is a decsion I have never regreted. I loved this game. In fact I’m pretty sure I ended up with another Sabrina game later on as well.

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For reasons I can’t understand we never owned The Sims. I remember watching other people play it but until The Sims 4 it was never a series I owned. I can confirm though, I do love The Sims 4. What we did have though was Theme Park Builder and Zoo Tycoon. I don’t remember much about building theme parks, except balloons = happy customers and the only memory I have of Zoo Tycoon is the amusement of unleashing the lions on unsuspecting customers.

Oh and I cannot finish this piece without mentioning one other PC game that had a big impact on me early on. Grim Fandango. For, what felt like, years we only had a demo of this game, which was really good. It took you just enough into the story to get you hooked and then like demos are supposed to, it left you wanting more. My favourite thing about it was the way you had different options to speak to characters, and those interaction would influence the game. Some of them progressed the sotry, others were just amusing. I had never seen anything like that before. Given how much I liked this I’m not sure why it was so long before we got the full game, but eventually we did and completeing it was extremely satisfying.

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That concludes my early history with gaming, from approximately 1988-2000. I am sorry for the vagueness of it all, I really don’t remember a lot of it clearly and what I do remember is very disjointed. Unfortunately my parents are no longer around for me to ask about such things. I did consult my sibling whilst writing this but as they are younger than me their memory is even more vague on it all. Still I have throughly enjoyed romping down memory lane with this and in part two I’ll be focusing on 2004 – 2009 which was mostly console gaming and I will be able to provide clearer, more detailed recollections, hopefully. Please feel free to share your early gaming memories in the comments, I’d love to know your first games/console/memories.

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Book Review: The Miniaturist

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During the time between Christmas and New Year we visited my side of the family. The first evening we were there, after putting the kids to bed I came down to them watching the final part of something, The Miniaturist. I had never heard of it and having missed the first two parts was completely unaware of the setup but still what I did see and the ending were compelling. So much so that by the time the credits were rolling I had already reserved a copy of the book from the library.

When I picked it up a couple of weeks later I was still very eager to read it, partly because I was intrigued to know the whole story but also because I have never read a book before where I know the ending and only the ending. I have of course read books that have been films/tv shows after seeing the media version but never knowing only the ending. It was a very strange sensation knowing, or thinking I knew (we all know how media can take creative licence) how things were going to conclude.

Inspired by a real life doll’s house in an Amsterdam museum that belonged to Petronella Oortman, the story follows young, newly wed Petronella as she adjusts to her life in Amsterdam with her husband. As a wedding present she receives a miniature version of their house and upon comissioning a miniaturist to furnish it, starts receiving things that were not ordered which cast an ominous shadow on the fortunes of the household.

The book was a pleasant, easy read but I wasn’t compelled to binge read and there was no struggle over putting it down after a chapter or two. Overall I found it disappointing and honestly I preferred the ending I had seen on the television. There was potential but it never went anywhere, I finished reading with an overwhelming sensation of “is that it?” Even more frustrating is that by the time I had finished the tv show had stopped being on demand. I would have liked to go back and watch the whole thing to see whether it was more satisfying than the book altogether or whether it just improved the ending. That said I would still recommend the book as it’s an interesting premise and worth a read.

Get your head in the game

We have finally made it to February and aside from my down time with flu I have actually had a rather awesome start to the year. I am attributing my positive start to the active engagement I have had with my New Year’s Goals. Over in my 2018 preview post I wrote about how I wished to keep up with anime, which actually reminds me I haven’t seen this week’s episodes of The Ancient Magus Bride and Black Clover, but I have read my most recent Neo Magazine and watched a few new animes as well. I also wanted to do more art which I have,and not just my normal copying a reference image either, actual composition, sketching and building on a framework. I’ve also challenged myself to colour in which I am usually quite happy to ignore through fear of failure but I can’t improve that way so out of my comfort zone I ventured.

However the real joy of this year, and the actual point of this post, has been gaming. The big to-do for me this year really is to finally dedicate the attention I have always wanted to, to video gaming. Right at the beginning of the month I went into town with intention to hide myself away in a coffee shop to read a book (see this post). Before this I idly stopped into one the game stores to have a browse and noticed that all the PS3 games were insanely cheap. A barrier between me and gaming has frequently been price, the thought of spending so much on a game I don’t know I’ll like made it too easy to make excuses to not bother. But there I was infront of all these big name games for next to nothing and got carried away.

 

The logic here is that by investing in all these cheaply I’ll be able to discern exactly what kind of game I enjoy playing so that once we buy our Nintendon Switch and eventually a new PlayStation it’ll be easier to decide which games to invest in for them. Current games average about £50 so I need to be as sure as I can about wanting to play them which is why I also picked up a few games for my kids as well. The only problem with now having so many games is I didn’t know where to start. After much deliberation I decided the best thing to do was to was to play a little bit of each and then carry on with the one I enjoyed most.

Being the impatient person that I am, first on the list were the kid friendly games after school. We started with Rabbids, which immediately struck me as familiar, turns out I owned this game before when I was at University. This was a good family game as although my children weren’t confident using the Wii controls they were still able to join in with the mini games. Not like with Wall-E which was a reminder of why I only like multiplayer games on the Wii. I really dislike having to control things with the motion controller, it makes everything so much more frustrating. Lastly Eye Pet is something I have been considering for ages and as I expected the kids loved it. Being a pre-owned game it was missing something it should have come with but I managed to print a replacement online and we eventually got going with it.

I chose to start my gaming adventure with Skyrim, this is because the sales assistant was so flabergasted that I had never played it before it felt necessary to investigate what the fervor was about.

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I was suitably impressed to come back to it again the following evening, only to find that all the progress I had made had been lost as it didn’t save. A quick internet search revealed that this is a common glitch and made me over paranoid about saving as I replayed everything. It has a lot of good points, I like the third person camera option, the freedom to roam and the actual extensiveness of the open world. I have heard that the new Zelda Breath of The Wild is very similar so I feel confident I’ll enjoy that game as well.

Next I played Final Fantasy XIII, another game series I have never played any of to the disbelief of many.

final_fantasy_xiii_eu_box_artThe first thing that stood out to me was how visually stunning the game is, even with it’s outdated PS3 graphics. I can’t wait to get a PS4 Pro and see what the graphics are like on there. I am also a big fan of the whole turn based strategy thing, I really like the structure and routine of knowing how battles are going to go. Something that surprised me is just how much reading there is to do with this game, with all the different chapters and fact files to unlock I feel fairly certain I spent more time reading about the game than playing it.

Devil May Cry 4 was my next choice. I used to watch my friend play Devil May Cry 2 on their PS2 back in the day so I was vaguely familiar with this game series.headerVery handily this game with a recap of the entire series as it was loading so even if you had never heard of this series and picke dup this game to play you wouldn’t be completely lost as to what was happening. Unfortunately the time it took the game to load and reach a part where you could actually play was painfully long, 40 minutes. Given I only had about an hour to play this was extremely frustrating plus remmeber the whole impatient thing? Still once it did finally get going it was very enjoyable, especially the music, and I immediately remembered why my friend and I had enjoyed DMC2 so much.

Next up was Assassin’s Creed, it took a while of sifting through the shop shelves for me to find the original one, plenty of the sequals about so I’m guessing people liked the first one enough to keep hold of it. ubicom-assassins_creed_1-search-gameinfo-boxart-568x698_tablet_278343Honestly I had a total knowledge of nothing about this game. I picked it because it is one I have always heard about and know several friends who very much enjoy the series. My expectations were just that it would be a run around kill people, complete quests kind of thing, which to be fair it is but the story is much more than I was expecting. Initially I wondered what on earth was going on as I couldn’t control the character properly and the world looked like something out of The Matrix, so I was actually very impressed when the whole situation was explained. Impressed enough that I returned to the game a second time at which point I started getting frustrated because the game actually requires patience, forethought and the guy doesn’t run anywhere and who wants to travel to places at walking speed.

Then it was on to Tomb Raider. Like many I have very fond memories of Tomb Raider from my childhood so I was already expecting to like this game.220px-tombraider2013 I was aware of it being a reboot, a new Lara and a tale of origin rather than her being a ready badass. That said I was not prepared for the utter onslaught she was to suffer early on. I mean sheesh, she goes through it and then some giving the game quite a horror movie feel. That said I cannot fault the gameplay at all, I absolutely love the way the game works and how it is an updated version of the classic game. Still plenty to explore, discover and learn Ijust really wish they could have done it without being quite so harsh to Lara, it really was unecessairly excessive.

When I was shopping some of the games were in a 3 for 2 offer and I needed a third game. At this point I had exhausted my database of games and had no idea what to pick from what was on the shelf so the sales assistant, seeing I had picked Tomb Raider suggested Uncharted because, and I quote, “it’s basically Tomb Raider with a bloke.”a1er5nla3el-_sl1500_That sales pitch was not an exaggeration, entirely accurate and honestly, I loved it. I loved it so much that I didn’t stop to play the other two games I picked up and just carried on with this. It’s practically the perfect game for me with all the elements I love, exploring, collecting, adventure and very little dark, scary, attacking stuff. In fact one of my favourite things about this is how much it is out in the open, bright daylight, with  lovely scenery. It took me about a week to complete and I will be writing a seperate review post on it at some point.

Lastly, The Last Of Us. I have heard so much about this game, in both game shops I visited the staff said it was a must play game. My brother in law claims it as one of the best games ever and I have several other friends who rave about how good it is. Unfortuantely there were no copies in store when I was shopping so I ordered it online instead.the-last-of-us1Truthfully I only want to play this because of the hype surrounding it. I want to know what the dramatic, emotional storyline is but not from reading about it online. Which is why despite the fact I hate zombies and apocalypses, which you might know if you ever read any of posts from when I started watching The Walking Dead, I am playing this game. This, this is everything I hate in a game and infact the start is quite literally my worst nightmare but everyone assures me the story is worth it. To be fair the gameplay is amazing, incredibly realistic (which is part of the problem) and I am aiming to complete this it by the end of the year. It’s going to take at least that long based on my play the other night where I had to pause and hide under a blanket for 20 miutes to recover from experiencing my first group of the undead.

I still have Metal Gear Solid 4 to try out and Lost but I don’t see that happening any time soon as I am halfway through Tomb Raider, itching to replay Uncharted on a more difficult setting and it is half term next week when I won’t be able to play anything unsuitable for the kids during the day, oh and we are getting the Switch. Gaming so far has been great fun and I’m really glad I made it a new year goal of mine. I can’t wait to do more!

Must See Musical

On Sunday I finally got to go and see the greatest cinematic event of recent history, something I have been longing for in excess of a decade, Zac Efron in another musical! It was glorious, phenomenal, splendiferous, truly worth the wait and boy howdy do I hope he finds more he is happy to star in, I’ll wait another 10years if I have to (but I’d rather not).

I am of course talking about this movie

I saw the trailer for it before Christmas when I went to see The Last Jedi. Immediately it struck me as my kind of film, even before I saw Zac but once I clocked him I knew this was something I could not miss at the cinema. So much so I actually messaged a friend to see if they would like to go and see it too, something I haven’t done since Big Hero 6 back in 2014.

Knowing most people are not as ardent fans of Zac Efron as I am (I wrote essays on him at uni and had a cardboard cutout for reference) I took the precaution of listening to him sing beforehand, but only one song because spoilers. Despite this I was still caught completely off guard by his first number which wasn’t the song I had listened to.

I was thoroughly unprepared for him to have a song and dance number with Hugh Jackman, despite knowing they were in the film together. It took all I had to keep a calm demeanour when internally I was

As enjoyable as it was though it didn’t top my favourite musical film, Moulin Rouge. The actual plot, and characters, seemed thin and undeveloped with a lot of wasted potential. However I didn’t go to see The Greatest Showman for an intense biopic or complicated drama, no the the appeal was that it looked fun and sounded great.

I was not left disappointed in either regard and if the razzle dazzle of musical numbers is something you enjoy then I definitely recommend it. Even if you’re not a fan of Zac Efron I recommend it. The cost of cinema tickets is the only thing preventing me seeing it again, and again. So instead I shall be waiting impatiently for the Blu-Ray whilst listening to the soundtrack on Spotify.

Book Review: In Bloom by Matthew Crow

Over Christmas I was in a “listen to nothing but Nirvana” mood which piqued my interest into what books there might be to do with the band. Using the app for my local library I searched “Nirvana” and “Kurt Cobain” and was very disappointed with the results. Far fewer books than I anticipated showed up and they were all novels that mentioned Kurt or the band in the blurb rather than any books about them. I’m couldn’t say what made me pick this one over any of the others but I reserved it then collected it a week later.

A review on the back likened it to a cross between “The Fault In Our Stars” and “Adrian Mole” and I don’t think I could give a better summarisation than that. If you’ve never read either of those though it equates to the story of loner teenage boy who falls ill with cancer, meets a girl and has his life changed by the experience. That might seem like a bland description but I wouldn’t like to spoil anything.

The great thing about this book is the characters, they are written and developed in a well rounded, realistic way making them very easy to relate to and care about. Whilst the plot may have been predictable, perhaps even cliche, the endearing nature of the characters coupled with a satisfying ending made it a pleasant and enjoyable read.

Heath Ledger Day – 10th Anniversary

Another year, another January 22nd, another Heath Ledger Day but it’s not just another. This year is a milestone, it is the tenth anniversary. It has been ten years since the news of his death. I don’t really have anything different to write about that I didn’t cover in the post I did two years ago. I still miss him, despite having never met him. I still haven’t watched every film he starred in because I can’t bring myself to accept there’ll never be another once I have, I still fully intend to watch a Heath Ledger film later whilst eating junk food, and I still wonder how his family are doing, especially his daughter.

What is different about this year is, in the interest of self reflection, I have been working on why having Heath Ledger Day is so important to me. It is always marked on our calendar, I always post the same image on social media about it, my husband accepts it as part of our lives and always acknowledges which I am especially grateful for, but why is this all so necessary for me? I struggled to sleep last night for pondering this but I did eventually have an epiphany and the conclusion I have drawn is that it is not just about Heath Ledger and being sad that he died.

Growing up there was trauma and grief in my life, it is not something I have ever healthily dealt with. In fact the only way I have dealt with it is to ignore and repress it but over the years it seems that I have turned Heath Ledger Day into the one time a year I acknowldge any of those feelings and am okay with feeling them. It is a day I book in every year to just feel sad, to mourn, to lament about all the “what ifs”. I know it’s coming, I prepare for it, I accept it and move on afterwards. I find it very cathartic especially as I am still not ready to deal with a lot of the real issues, it’s almost like a halfway house. I hope that in the future I can tackle these things head on without the facade of Heath Ledger but until then I am grateful for all the hope and strength he has enabled me to find, for all the brilliant movies he made and the inspiration he left behind.

Australian actor Heath Ledger in Melbourne for the premiere of his latest film 'Ned Kelly',
Image from Entertainment Weekly’s “Heath Ledger: The Untold Stories” article

Attack On Titan – No Regrets, Full Colour Hardback Edition

Having become a big fan of Attack On Titan last year, especially Levi, there was no way I could pass up this special edition of how humanity’s strongest soldier came to join the infamous Scouting Legion. I pre-ordered it as soon as I learnt about it, September 1st. At this point it had a release date at the end of October, which became the middle of November which became no date at all! Fortunately an Original Video Animation (OVA) exists of it so I was able to watch the story whilst I impatiently waited for the book.

The length of time this book took to arrive ended up becoming an in joke within our family but then finally on December 14th I received my long awaited “item dispatched” email. When it finally arrived a few days later I could not have been more thrilled.

Carefully turning it over inspecting the print and paper quality whilst also fangirling over all the awesome Levi art I realised that reading it was an experience I wanted to savour, to enjoy without interruptions. With that in mind I could think of only one solution, to take it out to a coffee shop by myself.

Over the Christmas holidays this wasn’t going to be possible so I lovingly shelved my book eagerly awaiting our future date. After a wonderful Christmas and New Year it was time to get back to the routine of school and work. With the first time to myself in two and a half weeks I headed into town, hit the shops, spent far too much money before settling cosily in Starbucks with a large mug of tea and a bar of chocolate.

It took me about an hour to read. I had to keep re-reading parts as although I have read a few mangas before it’s not enough to remember to read in the right direction all the time. Having watched the OVA there were no surprises in the story, which didn’t make the events any less heartbreaking. Personally the real joy was from just reading it, taking in the art and getting bonus stuff at the end of the book. It’s a fantastic collector’s piece and I would definitely recommend it to Attack On Titan fans, especially those who favour Levi.