Category: Uncategorized

skeptical, never cynical

Hey, there. This post is really just a reminder for me; if you read what I’m about to write below this sentence, I don’t want you to take it as sanctimonious. Okay. Here we go…

Everything we assume to be true is belief, not fact. When I say “everything,” I’m really thinking about the sorts of things you would find in a high school science textbook. So, gravity, evolution of homo sapiens, the age of the planet, the origin of the Universe… All of those are explained with very good working theories. And each of those theories works very well up to a point, or runs out of evidence before it can be proven without doubt. Such explanations found in a textbook are therefore beliefs, not truths.

Keep these theories, but keep working on them!

As humans, as Earthlings, we each live a little while, and hold beliefs about the many years before our time. Some of us find evidence for theories, the rest of us accept the findings and move on happily with the resulting assumptions. And the next generation does the same. We can’t really be expected to know anything. For example, if there had been a high-tech or even magical empire occupying this planet a couple of hundred-thousand years ago, how could we be expected to know? It’s so long ago that all of the buildings and metallic things would be dissolved and buried and destroyed. Yet it is well within recent history for a planet that is many billions of years old; intelligent creatures could have evolved or made a home here, and been wiped out here (or left), many times. Now, because there’s no evidence for this civilisation I mentioned – none that I’m aware of – please don’t believe it. It’s fantasy; but no fantasy is ridiculous.

So I guess what I’d like to be the moral of this story is: be questioning of all your assumptions. For instance, question this: why pledge allegiance to textbook teachings? It’s like hitching your boat to some giant, government ship. I guess it’ll tug you a long way for no effort, but you won’t have the joy of sailing off in your own direction; you won’t have freedom of thought. Likewise, you should be skeptical of the kook on the street telling you that the Moon is an ancient machine; but never cynical.


Mario 64!

Thought I’d share a letter I just wrote to a couple of developers who make a nice podcast…

I’m in this right alongside you guys. Last night I managed to find my 50th star. This is my first time playing the game, and… oh man! That camera… I don’t need to tell you two how moody it is. Sometimes I really don’t know what Lakitu’s thinking!

There’ve also been so many times I’ve made it up onto the apex of some hellish verticality, only for Mario to slide off the edge, whilst I fall into loud spells of swearing. This may be an issue of inertia, and also the directional responsiveness of Mario. (Notice how he can turn 180 degrees instantly if you flick the stick just so, but will do a kind of meandering turn with his feet if you don’t. I could mention Dark Souls 2, here, which has a similar problem; but I won’t.)

These are just trivialities. Like that other game, Mario 64’s imaginative content more than makes up for things. The whole premise of being in a quiet castle filled with painted portals is just delightful! I can only imagine how a child would have felt about it, at the time of release. Bitter-sweetly, I wasn’t one of those children. Back then, in late ’96, my twelfth birthday saw the bountiful gift of a Saturn with Tomb Raider. Which I in no way regret. My cousin Catherine and I would have scary sleep-overs, delving into that subterranean world well into the night. (And as I said to Tim on Twitter, it’s almost unbelievable that a team of six devs in England could have made that, with no similar game to learn from, in about a year.) And even though Catey and almost all my friends would get an N64, none of us felt like playing Mario 64 together. Perhaps we intuited that it was a game of trials to be overcome alone. Or perhaps the multiplayer to be had in other titles was too irresistible.

And in early ’98, my dad decided we needed a PlayStation. (Which, before the year was out, would lead us to Spyro – the game that surprised everyone by how 64-ish it was.)

Anyway, back to my point (which I do have)… I think you two and I are really lucky to be going through this journey almost fresh in 2017. Tomorrow I’ll be 33, and I’m so grateful to be experiencing this. I find myself alternately appreciating every aspect of the game historically, and then being overcome by wonder or delight at some unexpected turn; brought back into the moment.


Breath Mimic

On the occasional morning, when still half-asleep in bed, when there is no-one else in the room, I have heard someone breathing. The sound comes from very close-by, as if they are lying on my bed. Their breath adopts the same cadence as mine, but they inhale as I ex. Maybe mimicking.

It’s not scary when it happens, though. It’s scary to think of now, but when it happens it’s just a little weird. Not even weird enough to shock me out of bed. I only think, “They’re here again. I don’t know why.” For some reason a question never forms.

Yesterday morning I was lying on my stomach when it happened. It was as though they were lying across my back, weightlessly, resting their chin above my shoulder blade, breathing across the back of my neck. ■

Sega-blue Skies

Recently, I was sitting in a café by the train station of a small town, somewhere on my travels, with an Edge magazine keeping me company. I had been going through some emotional upset, and was feeling pretty much as far from home as I’ve ever felt; so I really was glad to have the company. Inside the magazine, there was a preview for an upcoming PS4 exclusive, and therein I came to a passage where the writer was praising the work as having “Sega-blue skies.”
Suddenly I was struck with a strong feeling— let’s call it nostalgia. The phrase “Sega-blue skies” itself was not familiar to me, but I understood it instantly, and was transported back to the time when “Sega” was a magical word for me.
I remembered as a little kid, when I bought — or received (hold on, which was it?) — a Siiga Mega Drive (which is how my family pronounced it, anyway). It was late in 1994, when perhaps the heyday of the Mega Drive was coming to a close — but I had no conception of that. Nor did anyone else around me. It was as if we were on a small, drifting island of time, disconnected from the Web and not yet interested in magazines like Edge. I was a Sega kid by default — my loyalty stemming from chance more than choice. Which seems strange to me now, but if I take a look at how I got there, it makes a kind of sense…
A couple of years before, someone had passed down their old Commodore 64 to me along with a caché of disks. I loved playing Paradroid; somehow that name has stuck with me. But the whole set-up was quite convoluted, with an arcane habitat of cords and power adaptors that had to be packed away between uses; I rarely played it. At the time, games were only a curiosity for me, along with many other hobbies. I wasn’t really the computing type. I’m not sure what type I was; other than eccentric – going to school with my Beatles haircut and boots.
Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.21.51 PM.png

I also remember not knowing what the hell was going on.

But after that, perhaps towards the end of 1993, I did spend a year’s worth of pocket money ($2 per week) on the $99 Sega Master System (with in-built Alex Kidd in Miracle World!). As I said, we were on a little island of time, oblivious to the industry’s history or where it was headed (after all, the Sega Saturn was due to come out in Japan only a year later). Yet here I was, absolutely delighted by a game that had been released some seven years earlier, on very nearly obsolete hardware. But I think, up until I bought the Master System, I had had no console experience.


(Photographed tonight)

I’m sure, contemporaneously, my older cousin Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.28.41 PM
(two years older and impossibly grown-up) was playing Duck Tales and Super Mario Bros. 3 on her Nintendo, but I was completely ignorant of that. When I was at her house, I would spend most of my time with her brother, who was closer to my age, and equally mad; and we were obsessed with “imagination.”
The Master System didn’t get a whole heap of play – maybe getting set up every other weekend. I had a small gaggle of games that were mostly too hard; so there wasn’t any chance of my becoming addicted. But when we did play the console, it was kind of special. I remember my sister sitting on the floor near the thing, ready to press the big, round “Pause” button when necessary. And my family and I were all pretty enchanted by the Alex Kidd music.
And so, following on from the positivity of having a Master System, the next year I got the console that really exemplified the emotion that prompted me to write this ramble.
IMG_8695 ed
I don’t remember first setting up the Mega Drive or playing it. Dad must have been there, and quite probably Mum as well, who wasn’t typically keen to play video games, but who has always had a good attitude towards them. What I played first, though, is easy to remember: Sonic the Hedgehog. From memory, I had bought the game a couple of months beforehand; though time would often drag so much in my childhood that it may actually have been less than a few weeks. This was also the first time I had got a game before its corresponding console — a habit or tradition, I suppose, that would recur throughout the years.
After we switched on the machine, Dad must have tuned our analogue, wood-panelled television. Stunningly beautiful graphics and sound greeted us when the right channel was found. I experienced a new sensation: being impressed whilst feeling hope and bewilderment at a journey opening up to me. I don’t know if there’s a word for that (perhaps one exists in some language, somewhere).
spiky flower
If I remember back to how I felt in those days — the effect that the Mega Drive’s colour palette had on me — the skies were indeed lovely. As was everything else. Flowers rotating, tropical trees, spiky grass, and distant cascades over crags above a vast ocean lake. All this set against music that was so inspired! As Dad would sometimes comment, it was “quite proggy” , with a bass-led interlude very reminiscent of the progressive rock band Yes.
To see it back then, on a lovely CRT screen with its roundness and sparkly shine, was to see the game in its purest form. And to hear it on that bassy (though in-built) sound system was also charming. It was a moment that can never be experienced again. Sure, we could probably recreate the same environment and interconnection of vintage machines, but it wouldn’t be that time for any of us—that time when we knew of nothing beyond the mid-nineties.
Fate is a quirky fellow. It complicates things in my head. Do I regret choosing the path I went down, or am I proud of having made it through? If I had noticed a Nintendo Entertainment System on that store shelf, back in 1993 — going for $99 with included Mario game — then I probably would have become a Nintendo kid. And been a little happier at school when my friends would draw Sonic’s decapitated head being slam-dunked by Mario. But if I wasn’t so much of an outsider in some aspects (like my soft spot for Sega), I probably wouldn’t have become as interesting an individual as I am now. (My mom says I’m cool.) I suppose there’s a string of weird choices I’ve made that have led me to becoming more characterful. Same thing goes for you, I bet! And besides, if I hadn’t chosen to adopt the black consoles when all my friends were playing grey, I wouldn’t have relived those sensations in my mind’s eye when reading the phrase “deep, Sega-blue skies.” And so I would have left that café, in a foreign land, feeling just as sad as when I walked in.