Burn in the Fires of Eternal Torment… Through the Trap Door (C64)

Having being playing games for longer than I care to remember, I’ve been unfortunate to play some really, really shit ones. Particularly back in the C64 era, there was some real crappy titles that were released. Things like The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space MutantsSanta’s Christmas Caper and Boot Camp (AKA Combat School) stick out for me, but the one game that always comes to mind when thinking of the utterly worst game I’ve ever played is Through the Trap Door.

Oh no, where’s Boney gone! Do we stage a rescue or go and find a better game instead?

For those too young to remember, The Trap Door was a stop-motion animated series voiced by Willie Rushton and featuring an amorphous blue blob named Berk. He was the resident dogsbody in an un-named castle, working for the never-seen-Thing Upstairs, who was constantly hungry and bellowing. Aided by the disembodied skull Boney and the spider Drutt, the series followed Berk’s attempts to placate his master whilst trying to remember (and usually failing) to keep the titular trap-door closed, lest one of the many terrifying monsters from below should escape. Which they usually did.

Two 8-bit games were released based on the series. The first – simply named The Trap Door – was published in 1986 by Piranha Software. Written by Don Priestly and featuring his trademark ‘giant sprite’ style, The Trap Door was actually a pretty good adventure game. A little slow, perhaps – particularly in its C64 conversion – but entertaining and very reminiscent of the TV series. Most games of the time based on TV shows bore very little resemblance to their subject matter (*cough* Thundercats *cough*), but The Trap Door did make you feel like you were playing an episode.

Two years later, the sequel – Through the Trap Door – was published. It was shit.

Part of me just wants to end there, but I feel I should elucidate a bit. The concept behind Through the Trap Door was actually a pretty good one. Who amongst we children who watched the show back in the now rather dim and distant past didn’t at one point wonder what exactly was beneath that trap door? The story (such as it was) saw Boney being kidnapped by some skeletal-bat-thing and taken beneath the trap door for some no-doubt nefarious purpose. It is thus up to Bert and Drutt to venture forth and rescue their friend from the clutches of the aforementioned skeletal-bat-thing that I don’t think had a name.

And it’s here where the problems start. Mainly because this is where the game starts.

A giant green bat-thing, a yellow frog-thing that’s supposed to be a spider and a white key-thing that is, for some unexplained reason, hovering high in the air.

The biggest issue I have with the game are the controls. As total mismatches between game style and control schemes go, I don’t think there is a better example than this. Bert controls exactly as he did in the first game – slow and clumsily. This wasn’t as much of a problem in the original Trap Door as that was more of a puzzle adventure game, where careful consideration was crucial. Through the Trap Door is much more of standard platformer, with a few puzzle elements scattered throughout. There’s a lot of avoiding enemies and make pixel-perfect jumps, and the big, fat (though admittedly nicely animated) Berk sprite just isn’t up to it. Controlling him feels constantly like you’re trying to convince a reluctant hippopotamus to climb some stairs.

But Berk is a dream to play as in comparison to Drutt. The little gray spider is here (again, as in the first game) reimagined as a yellow blob that looks more like a frog than anything else. He moves faster than Berk but – and here’s the rub – he is constantly moving by himself, normally to chase down one of the worms that frequently appear on the screen. Even when you’re controlling him, he has a mind of his own, and one that seems to have a predilection for falling down giant pits. Which is rather unfortunate, really, as what seems to below the trap-door are a lot of pits, along with terrible collision detection. I’ve seen people complaining about the annoyances caused by Trico in last year’s The Last Guardian but trust me, he has nothing on Drutt. Play as him for longer than six seconds and you’ll want to smash the keyboard to smithereens. But don’t, kids.

Controls aside, the other main problem with Through the Trap Door is just that it’s so damned hard. To clarify that a bit, I’m not complaining here about the difficulty itself – a lot of good games are hard – but with this game the toughness comes through the fault of the game rather than purposeful design and the need to acquire a particular skill-set that you build up over the course of playing. Through the Trap Door is hard because of the awful controls and the fact that it’s so utterly obtuse. I never made it past about the fourth screen, but having watched a complete playthrough on YouTube I can say that there is just no way I would have been able to figure out some of the puzzles as a kid, even assuming I’d had the patience to make it all the way through (which I haven’t even now).

You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get Drutt to stop on this ledge without either running off-screen or leaping into the pit.

Perhaps worst of all the crimes the game commits, though, is how it squanders its premise and how utterly disappointing it is. Some games are never going to amount to much; at no point was infamous Atari title ET: The Extra-Terrestrial ever going to be anything other than a steaming pile of dung. There are chinks of light here that suggest this could have been more. The graphics, simplistic backgrounds aside, are crisp and well-animated. The game is, for the time, reasonably sizable. But it’s all for naught, as all the bad things get in the way. You’ll never appreciate the graphics because you’re be too busy swearing at the screen as Drutt starts running to the left even though you’re telling him to go right. You’ll never see most of the game has to offer because your frustrations will stop you from making it too far.

Yes, Through the Trap Door is, on reflection, the worst game I’ve ever played.

Probably.

[Thanks to MobyGames for the cover image for this blog. I couldn’t get the loading screen to appear in my emulated version… Taken from http://www.mobygames.com/game/c64/through-the-trap-door/screenshots/gameShotId,276794/ .]

I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today Without… Frontier: Elite II

Back in the dark age of computer games, when having a ‘multi-screen adventure’ was something to shout about on the back of a cassette tape inlay, along came a game called Elite that changed peoples’ perceptions of the possible. It’s hard to understand the impact the game had at the time, but if you just look at the influence it still has some thirty-odd years later, you might begin to grasp its significance.

Okay, okay: it doesn’t look great these days but you had to be there. I have no idea who Len is, incidentally.

I did play the original Elite (I had a copy on the NES, of all things) but it’s the sequel, Frontier, that I remember most fondly. Released in 1992 on the PC, ST and Amiga, Frontier basically took everything that was great about the original – the freedom, the expansive Universe – and dialed it up to eleven. Freed from the memory constraints of 8-bit computers, author David Braben created in Frontier a game that featured a singular open world (well, galaxy technically) long before the likes of Grand Theft Auto came along and popularised the concept.

You could travel to Earth, Barnard’s Star, Arcturus and thousands upon thousands more places that I can’t remember the names of, on a map intricately plotted based on real observations of the Milky Way. Apparently, anyway: I’m too stupid and ignorant to know if they were lying.

What really made Frontier stand out for me was the setting. Like many of the ‘big-box’ titles of the time, Frontier came with an extensive manual and also a copy of ‘Stories of Life on the Frontier’, a separate collection of short stories that provided some insights into the game’s world, particularly the conflict between the two galactic superpowers of the Federation and the Empire. Throughout the game you could choose to ally yourself with either faction (or both, if you wanted to be a double-crossing sneaky sneakster), completing missions for them that would raise a rank with them that was separate to your ‘Elite rating’ that gives the series its name. Higher faction ranks resulted in more dangerous missions which would reap higher monetary rewards. A bit like real-life, really, but with more lasers.

In truth, there wasn’t actually that much to do in Frontier. There were lots of missions available through the bulletin boards of the game’s various space stations and planetary bases, but the variety of these was limited to a few different types, such as ferrying passengers, delivering packages or assassinations. This didn’t matter, though: it seemed that there was a universe of possibilities through your TV screen. The procedural generation Frontier employed (again, long before the term was in common use) was clever enough to allow you to suspend your disbelief, and make it feel that everything was hand-crafted. If you’re interested in the technicalities of it all, go and look at jongware.com who have some great articles exploring it.

Bulletin boards were always full of missions and images of ugly people in strange hats.

The Amiga version that I played is, like many early 3D games, almost next to unplayable now for the modern palate. The graphics, which at the time seemed revolutionary, now look so abstract with their lack of texture mapping and horrendous jagged edges that its like being in an explosion at a geometry factory. On the hardware I played it on as well, the frame-rate can plummet in planetary locations to figures you could count on one hand, if not one finger. Space combat – honestly, never Frontier’s strongest aspect – now feels barely controllable.

None of this really matters, I guess: Frontier was amazing at the time and helped cement my love of science-fiction. I distinctly remember reading and re-reading the manuals and fiction book, buildinmg up a world in my mind. This was a game designed in some ways for the teenager, with free time coming out of their pimples. I’m not sure, even if it looked and controlled better, that I’d have the patience to play this nowadays. Frontier and – I assume – its successors such as the modern Elite: Dangerous – are games that reward a time investment that I just couldn’t commit to now.

For a time, though, Frontier was to me the greatest game ever made. Well, maybe apart from Super Mario Bros. 3. And that intro sequence will stay with me forever. I haven’t got my own video of it, so here’s one by YouTuber Trypsonite:

Note: All images in this post are from MobyGames.

Am I the Only One Who Remembers… DreamWeb

As a grizzled old man, I’m fortunate enough to remember the early days of video gaming, and looking across the gamult of its history, you can see easily a pattern that represents the growth of a man. From the early infantile days of Pong to the modern age, which in some ways seems like an early 30-year-old, clinging on to the last strands of youth. As with most things, if you look hard enough you can see the metaphor.

Lying firmly in the awkward adolescent phase is DreamWeb. The game tries so hard to be edgy it lacerates itself. As if to prove just how goddamn adult it is, the original game came packaged with a ‘Diary of a Madman’ book providing some backstory to the game, written in an authentic crazy-man scrawl font. You can tell it gets crazier towards the end as the font gets bigger AND THE AUTHOR STARTS WRITING IN CAPITALS, A PRACTICE LEFT SOLELY TO THE MENTALLY UNBALANCED. The game features violence, gore, swearing and even a sex scene.

Yes, a sex scene. In a 1994 video game. It is precisely as titilating as you would imagine.

Which is odd, because in the cutscene before the DreamWeb was shown to be circular. Time to go back to Geometry 101, red-cloak-wearing-dude.

DreamWeb tries so, so hard to be cool that, in doing so, it forgets it has to be a video game as well. In my pre-blog research I’ve seen DreamWeb described as ‘one of the greatest cyberpunk games ever made’. It isn’t. It barely manages to be one of the greatest games called ‘DreamWeb.’

Eden is your improbably-named girlfriend who really could do better for herself than a bartender who thinks he’s the ‘Deliverer’.

The gameplay consists of scanning your mouse over the fairly samey-looking overhead dystopia, using the games magnifier to find pixel-wide interactive areas. There are puzzles to solve and people to talk to, of course. You play the part of Ryan Cantrememberhissecondname, who is either a mentally unhinged psychopath or the one chosen by the mystical eponymous DreamWeb to save the world. Which, of course, he just happens to do be brutally murdering several people. Apparently they going to commit some heinous event at some point, or something. It’s hard to care, to be honest. There’s some interest to be had at the start in plotting the initial assassinations, but you’re stuck on a very linear path and there’s no scope for improvisation. This is an adventure game, ultimately, and you do what it tells you to. By the time you reach the latter stages of the game, everything seems so rushed that you half suspect the developers got a bit bored with it all too.

The problem with dystopian near-future worlds is that they can be very difficult to get right without appearing trite or unbelievable. DreamWeb doesn’t, to be fair to it, fall into this trap, but the unfortunately the world it presents just has no soul. Even with the decently-written ‘Diary of a Madman’ backstory taken into account (which obviously you shouldn’t, because it’s not in the game), it’s not fleshed out enough for you to care about the detail. But then, there isn’t an air of intrigue or mystery about it either. The characters are mostly anonymous or, particularly in the case of the protagonist, hard to care about. There was never a sequel, and I can’t imagine than many would to revisit this world.

She’s probably wondering if she’ll ever get a job in a better game.

Today, DreamWeb is pretty much forgotten. If it is remembered at all, it’s because of the sex scene – a first for a ‘mainstream’ game at the time. I seem to recall that, when it was released, that was pretty much the main selling point too. Nowadays it seems remarkably tame; nothing more than a shuffle of fleshy-coloured pixels.

If you’re after a retro steampunk adventure, seek out the likes of Beneath a Steel Sky or Westwood’s brilliant 1997 Blade Runner game instead. Leave DreamWeb where it belongs: in the broom closet of forgotten games.

 

Burn in the Fires of Eternal Torment… C64 Thundercats

If you were a child of the ’80s like myself, you will remember Thundercats. Ohboyohboyohboy, Thundercats was fantastic. It had everything you could want in a cartoon series: action, cool characters, a brilliantly scary bad guy, Cheetara (although perhaps only later was that quite so appealing). And, of course, it had that theme tune. For these who can’t remember, this is how every episode of Thundercats started off:


I mean, honestly. Everything about that (well, apart from Snarf) just screams excitement, adventure and other cool things. Even now just watching it makes me tingle weirdly inside, and not just from the sight of Cheetara doing all those gymnastics.

Thundercats was pretty massive in the 80s; perhaps not up to the popularity levels of Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but certainly there weren’t many kids who hadn’t watched it or owned some of the toys. And, of course, in the 1980s where there was a successful cartoon series and toy line, there was also a home computer platformer.

To give it it’s due, for the standards of the time this wasn’t an awful game, it was just – in the context of the show – utterly, utterly disappointing. Just go and watch that intro sequence again. Go on, I’ll wait for you. Now watch this:


I mean, honestly. It’s just shit, isn’t it? How disappointed would a 10-year-old boy be having rushed back from the shops tape in hand, to sit around waiting for the game to load for 30 minutes only to be confronted with this? Well, as one of those 10-year-old boys (at the time. Not now, obviously) I can tell you: very.

The game, released by Elite Software is a clumsy mess of a title, with stupidly high difficulty, frustrating controls and an utter lack of purpose. There’s a bit of variety with some of the glider sections, but these are so difficult to control and play they make those infamous tunnel bits in Battletoads seem forgiving in comparison. In the quick emulated replay I did for this post, I couldn’t get far enough to get to one of these bits, but luckily the nice people over at MobyGames haven’t lost all of the muscle memory they accrued for the title, so there’s a screenshot below. Looks great, doesn’t it? No. No is the answer.

He’ll be dead in approximately five seconds.

It’s only whilst writing this that, having stumbled upon the Wikipedia entry for the game, I discovered that this was never meant to actually be a Thundercats title, but is actually a hastily-reskinned game called Samurai Dawn. This goes some way to explaining why it just isn’t very Thundercats-y, some graphical motifs aside.

Ultimately, Thundercats is not a very good computer game. Okay, okay: this was 1987 and standards were different then and, perhaps, nothing could really come close to the expectations I had from the cartoon. But still, the license deserved better. And still does, really. A quick Google suggests that the only other released game based on the franchise is a 2012 Nintendo DS game, which takes its cues from the prematurely-cancelled 2011 cartoon reboot (which, incidentally, if you haven’t watched then you should: it’s great) and, apparently, is also shit. Jaga will be turning in his grave.

What’s coming next

Just a quick update on what’s happening with the blog. After a little bit of an absence you may or may not have noticed a new post on Mass Effect Andromeda appearing here the other day. This is hopefully just the first in a bit of a flurry of more frequent updates. As well as the more lengthy reviews of current titles, I’m going to also have some regular feature-ettes, ideas for which at the moment include:

  • Am I the Only One Who Remembers… – Looking at some games from the past which never get written about anywhere else because they weren’t popular enough.
  • I Didn’t Get Where I Am Today Without… – A small series on the games, films, books, TV series and events that shaped the horrendous facsimile of a human being I am.
  • Burn in the Fires of Eternal Torment… – Want to know what the worst things I’ve ever encountered are? Perhaps because the Internet has proven to us that people like reading or hearing about bad things much more than good, which is some terrible damnation of Mankind in and of itself? That’s lucky, because that’s what this will do.

And there might be more, as well as some random funny stuff. Hope you want to stick around and, hey, bring a friend! No, not that one. A nicer one. Preferably Swedish.

On… Mass Effect Andromeda

Let’s get this out of the way from the start: the facial animations haven’t bothered me in the slightest. Okay, okay, character models seemed more detailed in the likes of The Witcher 3 but, a ‘dead eyes’ problem aside, Mass Effect Andromeda is perfectly serviceable in this regard. It could be better, yes, but it’s nowhere near as bad as some people might make you think.

So, anyway, with that out of the way, let’s talk Andromeda. As a huge fan of the previous games in the series I was awaiting this with breath so baited I could have used it to catch perch. Am I disappointed, like many people seem to be? No. Yes. No. Maybe. Look, it’s complicated. Maybe the best way to look at Andromeda is to consider not what it is, but what it isn’t.

Just give me a car and a a desert, and I’ll give you a lot of ‘wheeeee’s and some tyre-tracks.

Andromeda isn’t Mass Effect 4. Well, I mean, it is, obviously, but it also isn’t. The fictional universe is very much Mass Effect but the story doesn’t follow on from the ending of ME3. Rather, this follows a separate story of a group of humans, turians, salarians, asari and krogan who have decided that the Milky Way is a bit too cramped for them, and thus decided to bugger off to the nearby-in-galactic-terms-but-not-exactly-next-door Andromeda galaxy. After six hundred years of cryogenic sleep, the hardy (and some not-so-hardy) pioneers awake to find that their long-range scans seem to have been about as accurate as a ten-day weather forecast, and crash headlong into a weird wibbly-wobbly space thingy that someone had inconveniently parked in their way.

This is much more a game about exploration and discovery, and as a result perhaps lacks the focus of the original trilogy with it’s more obvious threat and narrative drive. This, I think, is likely to turn a few people off but, for more, I found it a refreshing change of pace from the original titles.

Andromeda also isn’t an open-world game. This is no Skyrim or The Witcher 3 with vast open areas to explore and do as you wish. The game very much takes its cues from Bioware’s last major release, Dragon Age Inquisition, with its multitude of large-ish open areas with multiple quests. Some of the quests are interesting and provide a decent back-story, but, it must be said, a few too many of them revert to the MMORPG form of ‘go here, press a button, go there, press the button again, repeat eight times until the quest progress bar is full’. Compared to the likes of The Witcher 3 or even, to a lesser extent, Fallout 4 the side-quests can be pretty weak.

The game suffers a little bit from a lack of places to explore. Whether it’s just because I haven’t reached the appropriate point in the game yet (though given that I’m 20-odd hours into it that seems unlikely), but whilst there is a big number of worlds that can be visited in the not-quite-as-good-as-the-Normandy-but-still-pretty-cool-Tempest, the majority of these cannot be explored on foot. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem were it not for the fact that the whole emphasis of the game is on exploration and finding a new home, yet you find yourself restricted by a set of rules hidden behind the scenes. Why is it I can land on this frozen planet but not this other one? The answer, probably, is just because a map exists for one and not the other. I realise it would have been incredibly difficult to implement, but just from the perspective of the game as a whole, procedural-generation of planets allowing them to be explorable, even if there wasn’t a whole lot that could be done there, would have improved the game massively.

See that mountain in the distance? You can’t go there.

Finally, Andromeda also isn’t a fully-tested game. Even in the patch version 1.05 that landed (at time of writing) yesterday, there are still issues. Most annoying for me, playing on PS4 Pro, are the occasionally-strobing menu backgrounds and the almost-five-minute waiting times when loading a save that took place whilst in the Nomad all-terrain-vehicle. I’ve not yet encountered anything that fundamentally breaks the game, nor had any crashes, but I can’t help feeling that another two weeks in the oven would have benefited the title.

Still, even after all that, Mass Effect Andromeda is a very good game. The combat is the best it’s ever been, even if the more ‘open’ nature of the game means that there are fewer set-piece combat moments where everything has been tuned to work together. Ryder is a likeable protagonist, with a more fleshed-out background than Shepard had in the original trilogy. I’ve not played enough of the game yet to fully comment on the storyline, but of what I have played I’ve found it decent enough and, as mentioned earlier, a good thematic change from the previous games.

TL;DR: If you liked Mass Effects 1-3 you will like this. You might not love it, and it certainly isn’t as good as it’s predecessors, but I’m enjoying it immensely.

On… Final Fantasy XV

The last time I had a new, main-entry Final Fantasy game was when my daughter was born. Almost seven years later, FFXV has come along following a development process that sounds so painful that it makes me gladder than ever that I’m not in the games industry.

At this point I haven’t completed FFXV yet but, at some 40-odd hours in, I feel sufficiently armed to provide a bit of an assessment of it. And, just to give some context to the whole thing (and because the last time I wrote something about a Final Fantasy game I almost got lynched), let’s be clear that I’ve got a pretty good history with the series: I’ve played almost every main entry from FFIII to XV, can tell my chocobos from my moogles, and own enough related merchandise that I could probably be considered a ‘fan-boy’. That said, I hated FFXIII when it came out and, though my opinions have changed somewhat since then, I do feel that at some point the series has lost its way. There was a sense of magic and fun about an entry like FFIX that somehow seems to have been lost.

I was hopeful going into FFXV that it might mark a return to form. After 40 hours, do I think it does? Well…

First things first: the game has obviously been a labour of love for the development team, who have poured their hearts and souls into this; that much is obvious. What’s also unfortunately obvious is that, despite the game’s lengthy incubation period, it probably just needed a few months or another year more in the oven. Some things are blatantly unfinished: the story is a jumble of plot-holes, with pivotal events happening off-screen and mentioned only in passing. Major characters get little or no character development, committing actions that seemingly have no motivation behind them. The open-world is large but mostly barren, and strewn with invisible walls that make navigating it an inconsistently frustrating experience. Sub-quests are plentiful, but rarely become much more involved than the standard formula of ‘go-here-do-this-come-back’. In that sense they’re very similar to those of Xenoblade Chronicles, though at least that title had the good grace to remove the necessity to return back to the quest giver for a reward.

For all this, though, FFXV is an experience that should not be missed if you have any kind of interest in the series. There are some wonderful facets to it: the combat system is frenetic and fun (if slightly shallower than it initially seems); the world is amazingly detailed; and there are just so many little touches throughout the title that it will bury its way into your heart.

Crucially, it’s the central relationship between the four main characters that defines the game. You play as Prince Noctis, and you begin with a retinue of three other characters: Ignis; Prompto; and Gladiolus. Unlike previous FF titles, this remains pretty much the extent of your party for the entire game. Whilst at first this seems a bit disappointing, the camaraderie you build up with the others means that you legitimately care for them.

Well, except for Gladiolus. He’s just an arse.

In many ways FFXV is frustrating, because it’s obvious it could have been so much more. There are so many weird decisions made during its development that sometimes you just sit back and wonder what they were thinking about. Who, for instance, thought it was a good idea to have the majority of travel in the game take place during unskippable car journeys that take literal minutes of real-time? Who decided there shouldn’t be an option to ‘wait’ and rush through the day-night cycle when so many quests and monster hunts are only possible at certain times? Who decided those bloody frog-catching quests were a good idea?

FFXV is a work of artistic genius, and, like all such things, has idiosyncrasies that are mitigated by the brilliance elsewhere. It could have been a better game, but as it stands it is a great experience.

The Only Christmas Quiz You’ll Ever Need (Apart From All the Real Ones)

A long time ago, in a bedroom far away, I got disillusioned with the ‘production-line’ approach to Christmas cards: you write someone’s name, write your name, maybe append a Christmas salutation, and then stick it in an envelope. This all seemed a little bit dull to me, and so I vowed from that point forwards to each year attempt to write a different thing of length in every single person’s card.

This has evolved over the years into a ‘themed’ set of supposedly-humorous vignettes that people generally glance at and then throw away. Still, it makes me feel better.

In 2015, the theme was a Christmas quiz. You know, the kind of thing irritating people like me think will be a ‘fun’ idea at parties, mainly because deep down inside we like to show off how clever we think we are. Here, for your delectation, is the complete set of questions. Merry etc.

Literature.

  1. True or false: the character of John Rambo first appears in the works of Mark Twain?
    True. He appears in Tom Sawyer Part V: First Blood.
  2. In Jane Eyre, what does the title character find in the loft of Thornfield Hall alongside the Mad Mrs. Rochester?
    Mr. Rochester’s first cat, Fluffikins, stuffed in a pose resembling Lord Horatio Nelson, and an anachronistic collection of Bay City Rollers LPs.
  3. Does the fact that Jeffrey Archer has written so many books preclude the existence of the traditionally-understood Christian God?
    It certainly doesn’t help.
  4. Several Enid Blyton books have been banned in recent decades due to increasing ‘political correctness’. Can you name any of them?
    Naughty Amelia Jane Incites Racial Hatred; The Paedophile Ring at Mallory Towers; Five Join the British Union of Fascists; Noddy Visits the Mohel.
  5. Approximately what proportion of Tolstoy’s War and Peace is war?
    32%.

History.

  1. If Henry VIII had six wives, and Henry VI had eight wives (which he didn’t), how many wives would Henry IX have had if there had been one (which there hasn’t)?
    387,420,409 (9 ^ 9).
  2. Who is missing from this list of early Anglo-Saxon kings? Ethelbard, Ethelbert, Ethelred, Alfred the Great.
    Ethelernie, King Arthur and Fred Flintstone III.
  3. If the events of Star Wars happened a long, long time ago, who was king of Spain at the time?
    Philip II (and his beard).
  4. Henry VIII had six wives. How many times did he recite his wedding vows?
    Five. In order to fool the Pope, who was still a bit miffed what with the whole ‘reformation’ thing, Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was conducted entirely in an early version of semaphore, using lavishly decorated flags designed by Hans Holbein’s lesser-known sister, who was rubbish at painting, but a real whizz when it came to elaborate cross-stitching.
  5. Thanks to a competition on a box of cereal, you have been selected to take part in the world’s first time-travel event. You have chosen to go back to the time of the Elizabethan era (the first one). Assuming that you bump into William Shakespeare, what advice would you give him?
    Think about a more upbeat ending for Hamlet in order to appease future Hollywood audiences. Perhaps Ophelia could come back as a zombie and pledge her undying love to Hamlet before he dies? Also, don’t bother with Coriolanus: the lead character is an idiot and people will forever be confusing it with Julius Caesar anyway.

Technology.

  1. An essential item of modern-day computing is the mouse. Why is the mouse so-called?
    Because originally real mice were attached to computers. They were nailed to little roller-skates and, as the user moved them across a smooth surface, electronic pulses were sent to the CPU via the mouse’s tail. This practice was eventually brought to an end by the reduced manufacturing costs of plastic mice and complaints from the RSPCA, Mary Whitehouse, the Queen, and the entire population of French-Canada.
  2. A printer is an example of a computer peripheral. Name three others.
    Suitable answers include: a scanner; a dongle; a mouse; an inflatable Bill gates; a Bionic Man; a keyboard; a graphics tablet; or a giant killer robot with spikes down its back that shoots laser beams from its eyes and stomps around going ‘roooooooaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh’.
  3. Your computer displays a fatal exception error and smoke begins to pour from the air vents at the back. What do you do? Assume for the purposes of this question that the Bat-signal is broken.
    Throw a bucket of water (room temperature, not ice-cold) over the computer at once, and then immediately call the emergency services and request a fire engine and a qualified exorcist. Never, under any circumstances, attempt to open the case of your PC and tamper with the insides. No user-serviceable parts lie within, and many computer cases are home to small tribes of miniature sabre-toothed monkeys that do not appreciate their privacy being disturbed. Every year 500 people in the UK alone die from miniature-monkey-related injuries. Make sure you’re not one of them.
  4. How do mobile telephones work?
    All modern mobile telephones incorporate a tiny fairy, trained at an exclusive boot camp just outside Oslo. Whenever a telephone call is made, the fairy records your voice onto a small spool of tape roughly the size of something really small. This tape is then transferred across the sub-ether to the other telephone at a speed so fast it’s impossible to write the number on the page without the digits flying off. The receiving fairy then re-plays the tape to the call recipient. Text messaging works in the same way, only with a typewriter.
  5. What is a gigbite?
    The same as a gigabyte, but with more teeth.

Geography.

  1. What is the longest river in the world apart from all the other ones?
    The Tyne.
  2. If you were to climb Mount Everest whilst wearing a tin-foil hat, would you be able to get a 4G signal on your mobile telephone?
    Probably, although if you’re on Vodafone you might struggle to get one in your own house.
  3. What did the Hanging Gardens of Babylon hang from?
    The Colossal Coat Hanger of Marduk.
  4. If Driver A took the M4 towards Glasgow, travelled at a constant speed of 68mph and stopped for six twelve minute comfort breaks, whilst Driver B did the same journey but at an average speed of 50mph with no breaks, who would reach Glasgow first?
    Neither: the M4 doesn’t go to Glasgow, and the head gasket on Driver B’s car broke just outside Gretna.
  5. Name five types of rock.
    Any five of the following: igneous; sedimentary; metamorphic; soft; dad; fraggle; crocodile.

Movies.

  1. 1992 Paul Verhoeven film Basic Instinct is infamous for the scene in which an underwear-less Sharon Stone crosses and uncrosses her legs. What can be seen during this scene if a viewer uses freeze-frame?
    A baby owl in a trilby.
  2. True or false: initial studio cuts of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones replaced Anakin Skywalker actor Hayden Christensen with a cardboard cut-out of a young James Caan. Nobody noticed the difference.
    False: he was replaced by a glass of tepid water.
  3. 1990 Tom Selleck epic Three Men and a Little Lady had several straight-to-video sequels. Can you name any of them?
    Three Men and a Junkie; Three Men and a Contractual Obligation; Two Men and a Different Man Because We Couldn’t Afford the Same Third Man as In the Other Films.
  4. John Wayne and Bruce Wayne are related. Discuss.
    A good answer will mention that John Wayne was Bruce’s elder, cowboy-obsessed cousin. A poor answer will deny the existence of Batman. A very poor answer will deny the existence of John Wayne. An answer that denies its own existence will not be an answer. QED. Or something like that, anyway.
  5. True or false: the sequel to The Great Escape sees the survivors attempting to break back into the prison camp.
    False: the sequel (The Great Escape II: Escape Harder) has a supernatural theme where the ghost of Steve McQueen possesses his motorbike and attempts to finally make it over the fence.

What Entertainment Product(s) Have I Been Consuming This Week -October 10th

October is now in full swing or, at least, as close to ‘swing’ as October gets. Not that I’m really sure I know what ‘swing’ is or what it feels like, but I’m confident that if I did, I would be feeling it now.

The Apprentice: Or ‘the only reality show I actually watch.’ Man, I love The Apprentice. Yes, it’s full of people who were for the most part obviously picked because they are mad enough to make for good television whilst not being in danger of slitting the throats of the other contestants in their sleep. Yes, it’s obviously edited to make the smallest mistake seem like tap-dancing through a minefield. And, yes, it’s pretty much the same formula ever year with little deviation. But, boy, it’s good.

A highlight of any opening episode is the ‘choosing of the team names’ bit, and this series didn’t disappoint. My favourite exchange went something like this:

Male Candidate #1: How about Team Alpha?
Male Candidate #2: No, that’s too macho and masculine.
Male Candidate #3: How about Titans?
Others: Yes!

The female team went for ‘Team Nebula’, an ephemeral cloud of gas pretty much summing up their approach to this week’s task, which was basically a more shouty version of Bargain Hunt. The ladies lost, since it seems they were all in need of a clear pricing strategy to ensure that they didn’t sell a priceless vase for £3.50.

Roll on episode two…

Ni No Kuni: This week I was sucked into the uterus of a giant fairy, and wandered around rescuing the unborn before battling a giant jellyfish-thing and subsequently being ‘birthed’.

This game is great. 

What Entertainment Product(s) Have I Been Consuming This Week -October 1st

It’s that time of year when we all start talking about how it’s October already, and isn’t it going dark soon, and why are the supermarkets selling mince pies already, don’t they realise they’ll need to be eaten long before Santa has even considered checking the oil level in his sleigh? For introverted types like me, who prefer to stay indoors whenever possible, only venturing outdoors when I really have to, this is a great time of year. The increasingly inclement weather makes not going out seem a choice that no longer carries with it the guilt and worry about vitamin D deficiency that goes along with the warmer months. 

Ni No Kuni: I’ve finally made it past the point in the game where I gave last time, and have now managed to get access to a boat, thanks to what in retrospect was a very surreal encounter with a cheese-obsessed giant cow-woman. It did seem to make sense at the time. 

It seems ages since the last time I played a JRPG that followed as traditional a route as Ni No Kuni. No doubt it in a few hours I’ll get an airship or some similar flying thingummy. I’m still enjoying it so far, mainly because the game just oozes charm through all its various pores. It is pretty grindy, though, and not a game for those who don’t like lots of backtracking and fighting the same monsters. 

Red Dwarf XI: Back in my teenage years when, if you can believe such a thing, I was even more socially awkward than I am now, I was for a period obsessed with Red Dwarf. This was around the period of the sixth series, the last one that saw Rob Grant take part in the writing and, in a sense, the end of an era of what I’d consider ‘proper’ RD. Everything since then has never been quite as good, from the frankly awful seventh series through to the bizarre Coronation Street crossover that was Back to Earth. Anybody who was read the two third books in the novel series – Rob Grant’s Backwards and Doug Naylor’s Last Human – will have more than a rather sneaking suspicion that Grant was the funnier of the two writers, and his absence from all the later series of Red Dwarf has been keenly felt. 

Given all this, it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I watched the first episode of Red Dwarf XI, which premiered on Dave the other week. I’ll admit to being pleasantly surprised – there were a few moments that made me genuinely laugh out loud, some clever concepts and the decision to move back to using models for the special effects is undeniably a good one. The best bits were those that just featured the crew being the crew, arguably perhaps the most traditional sitcom bits. As I’ve often found with a lot of the later Dwarf stuff, the sci-fi narrative portions are the weakest. 

The cast are as good as ever, by this point so comfortable in their roles that it must be second nature to them by now. And, yes, it still makes you wish Chris Barrie was in more things (surely somebody somewhere other than me would like a one-off revival of The Brittas Empire?).

All credit to Dave as well, aside from a mostly unknown (save for Kevin Eldon) supporting cast, the lack of budget doesn’t show. This looks every bit as impressive as you remember the old shows looking.

Trump vs. Clinton: The US presidential election seems like it’s in need of a reboot. I don’t envy the choices of the American people, having to select either the stereotypical politician Clinton, who comes across as some kind of automatron whose moral programming has become corrupted, and Trump who is, well, Donald Trump. The first debate between them was a fascinating 90 minutes, particularly from the perspective of an Englishman. The differences between the two are stark, although not perhaps quite as much as they would have been had Sanders won the Democratic nomination.

To me, Trump is a man who needs to stop talking about a third of the way into every paragraph. Some of his policies are sensible (if you’re of the more right-wing persuasion), it’s just rather unfortunate that they tend to be followed up with lunacy. Clinton, on the other hand, lacks the charm of her husband and often came across as smug, which is amazing when you consider her competition. 

A fascinating show, though. Thank God it’s not real. 

Oh.

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