Gratefulness in Survival

I am 32.

Each day I awake feeling very grateful to have a caring wife, two healthy, bright, mischievious daughters, parents and in-laws that are wonderful and present, and dear friends to share food, drink and stories with.

There are many things in our lives we have no say in, or cannot change. These things; essentially, we can either learn to accept, or keep poisoning ourselves with in negative loops until death washes all away. (And I hope death will wait until I’ve had a long and healthy life first.)

I believe what we choose from the things we do have a say in—and how we react to situations and emotions presented to us—define who we are. Memory plays a part, but using naivety while being present in the here and now can break us from the wagon wheel ruts of autopilot decision making and judgement.

Aspirations amd challenges

My aspiration is to be a gentleman, to always be caring and kind to people, even those who oppose me or my plans, because revenge is immature and violence breeds violence. I’ve long since stopped spending considerable time trying to forcibly change people's opinions when they are out of kilter to what I wish.

Not everyone can understand you, or be understood by you. Some will despise you without knowing you, just because you remind them of someone else who hurt them in the past. Some will despise you for doing wrong by them, because you slipped up, or prioritised something above them.

We’re all walking wounded, some more wounded than others. Our psychic wounds leave scars, are reopened, infected, or healed over, depending on how we treat them, and how we eventually accept them or continue to deny them.

How to self-actualise

What I do, how I listen, how I speak, what I wear; these are all external demonstrations of the values I live by. I take care to set an example for me, my wife, my daughters, and my family, to better us all.

We live by three simple family rules, defined together a year ago to teach my eldest daughter (four years old at the time):

  1. Listen to each other.
  2. Look after each other.
  3. Spend time together.

The Pain Body of Youth

Digging around old files from almost twenty years ago, including some hand-coded HMTL sites for old bands and Windows wallpaper, short stories, and songs, I found this poem.

I wrote this poem in my early-teens. Bathed in acidic hormonal angst, simple prose and a clipped tempo, it expressed how I felt at the time, while I kept those feelings private.

When I look back to my younger self, I am glad to have suffered through all kinds of torment (mostly self-inflicted) at the time. I no longer can feel or identify with that pain in my current life, but am grateful to know what rock bottom is, how far I am from that now, and what do to when I feel myself slipping down that path before I gain too much negative momentum.

I am 14. Here is my poem.

Poem: A Thousand Shrapnel Fragments by Iain B. Simpson (1999)

I'm sitting here watching you, You lie to me, You lie to you, Why oh why do you,

You're hurting me, You're hurting you, I'm scarring now, But I'll still live, I can't see yours, what is it to give,

I've forgotten now, It's in my head, Was it fun, It hurt like lead,

You could've said, You felt disdain, All I felt was hurt and pain,

You didn't have to do this, Should've ended at the start,

Now it's too late, You can't take back, What you did, I've got the scars,

In my heart, It split in two, Because of you, And your ways,

You could've said, You could've told, But now it's too late, And I feel cold.

Bonus

Download an eclectic assortment of desktop wallpapers I created between 2000 and 2004 (including the image associated with this post):

☞ 2000-2004_wallpaper.zip

"Crackle" Iain B. Simpson (2003)

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AuthorI.B. Simpson

This is a tale about how I received a 2007 Mac mini (1,1) from my closest and dearest friend, how I've fixed it up, and what I intend to use it for.

Background

In Scottish schools, from Primary 1 (around age 5), the students learn to read and write. Every bedtime in our home consists of reading a few new books, thanks to regular use of the local public library.

As my eldest of two daughters nears her sixth year and started school last autumn, I thought it high time to introduce her to a traditional computer for her to develop mouse and keyboard skills, because I doubt these user interface technologies will go away anytime soon, so will prove useful to her.

Indeed, I am convinced mouse and keyboard will be around for many more years. Blade Runner came out almost forty years ago yet voice recognition still isn't reliable enough to manipulate an image based on commands from a surly, mumbling voice. I’m not familiar with Amazon’s Alexa but hear it’s another step closer to machines understanding human speech patterns. Siri is quite limited in parsing natural language, and modifying my own speech to (or teaching my daughter to) speak in command-line grammar does not seem intuitive.

My daughter is competent enough with my iPad. She can navigate the Operating System and controls, and surf YouTube Kids for awful toy unboxing videos conducted by adults with sparkily-painted nails, glittery hands, and faux-sincere excited accents. But she also plays a selection of excellent games by Toca Boca, and doodles using some BBC apps for children.

Selection

Initially, I pulled down two old iBooks from the loft (tangerine and blue), however the batteries were stone dead. One ran OS 9, and the other OS X 10.4. Both were incredibly noisy; a cacophony of chittering hard disks and leaf blower frequency fans.

It was then that I considered the mid '90s PowerBook that I received as a birthday present many years ago from the same friend mentioned in the introduction to this post, but I treasure that too much to give to my daughter, who is still learning mechanical sympathy.

Having exhausted the Apple options—I have a lot of love for nineties and aughties Apple products, not so much for '10s (except iPhones which peaked at 4S and 6Plus for me)—I found a couple of old laptops from the early aughties, which would be serviceable as linux machines, however could not find/rescue the power supplies from the Akira-like sprawl of decades of accumulated technology in my loft (ranging from Fostex four-track and Acorn Electron to PS4 Pro cardboard box).

Finally, my mind turned to the Raspberry Pi matchbox machines gathering dust in a drawer near my main PC. A pretty good option, but still a bit fiddly for a first computer.

It would have been easy at this point to bite the bullet and buy a secondhand machine. I'm quite fond of Lenovo ThinkPads and Windows 10, but it was at this stage that fortune smiled upon me.

My good friend came into a 2007 Mac mini (not literally) from an acquaintance via a niche internet user group (I think), and learning of my plight, found a good home for it with us.

Bring your own Mouse, Display and Keyboard

Knowing that I would soon have a Mac mini with a DVI connection, I set about researching monitors, as I quickly learned that you cannot buy a simple adapter to convert port and signal between 27" Apple Cinema Display with Mini DisplayPort into the Mac mini’s DVI.

Newer monitors were coming in at around £80 online, whereas an old HP, or Dell, etc. would have been around £20. But the older Apple Cinema Displays are very, very good screens. Searching eBay, the 20" model can be found for around £50 at time of writing, however this is without a crucial component (the power supply), with the fashion being to list this part separately for a further £28–50.

I wrestled with the decision for a day, but decided the aluminium frame would look better in my home sat next to the silver and white Mac mini, and it really does look quite beautiful. The 16:10 aspect is pleasing to the eye, the brightness is impressive, and the 1680 by 1050 pixels are very nice and not too demanding of the system to push around the screen.

Preparations and first boot

The monitor and supply both arrived separately on 03 Jan 2018. I paired the monitor with a tangerine accented USB Apple roller mouse and a white Apple bluetooth keyboard, crossed my fingers and booted it up.

It booted, and I was grateful to be presented with the purple star field background and glass-shelf dock of OS X Snow Leopard (my personal favourite of all the variants of OS X, perhaps for nostalgic reasons of it being on my 2008 unibody MacBook when I said goodbye to Windows at home in the Vista-era, right up until building a gaming PC with Windows 8 during August 2013).

My daughter and I started downloading Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing from the Mac App Store (I bought it in 2012, also for nostalgic reasons). I went to create a new user for her and then…

…crash and do not burn

The machine froze up. I left it for a good twenty minutes and tried all the GUI and keyboard commands to force quit or restart, but to no avail. I killed it by smothering the power nubbin at the back of the machine with my index finger. When I restarted it, I was not greeted by the star field, but by a flashing folder with a question mark.

Oh, no. Recovery by holding Command-R on boot up didn't work. Holding the alt-key on boot up just brought up a grey screen. Thankfully, I had the original retail disc for Snow Leopard in my loft (along with iLife and iWork '09).

The Snow Leopard DVD was popped in and back to alt-key on boot up, but the mini wasn't recognising it, and ejected the disc in a worrying, stuttering manner. I also noted the sound of the hard disk was just the arm moving every few seconds but the disk failed to spool up.

So I opened the mini to dissemble it for clues, sadly breaking the interconnect board optical ribbon cable port by not having the right tools (being too rough). After cursing my stupidity for not reviewing the instructions on iFixIt first, and receiving a set of tools from Amazon, I reviewed iFixIt and completed disassembly.

Then I replaced the hard disk with the one from a dead 2009 MacBook Pro; one not so careful lady owner (my mother) had killed the trackpad and display, with numerous bashes and dents to the casing, and three of the four black feet missing. Miraculously, the hard disk works (though I may replace with an SSD in the near-future to be safe and for the speed boost).

Reassembly complete, I jumped onto my PC running Windows 10, ripped the discs using imgBurn and transferred the ISO images to my trusty old Western Digital MyBookLive 1TB NAS drive. I then used Disk Utility on my wife's 2012 MacBook Air to restore the Snow Leopard image onto a 16Gb USB.

Fingers were crossed once more and back to the Mac mini and alt-key on boot up.

It saw the USB as Snow Leopard install media and off we go!

Final Furlong

I completed the OS install, then installed iWork '09 and iLife '09 by mounting the ISOs from the Apple desktop. Finally, I updated via software update to 10.6.8 and once more downloaded Mavis Beacon via the Mac App Store.

The computer and monitor lack speakers. It is pleasantly surprising to note that this pre-2011 Mac mini supports digital audio output via a TOSLINK mini-plug adapter, but I'll need to do some more exploring. Ideally some cute little aluminium and white speakers would do the job, and 2.0 speakers will be more than enough.

The 2007 Mac Mini (1,1) can only support 2Gb RAM, which is enough for Snow Leopard. Web browsing is okay on Firefox 47, though it labours like a small-engined car up a steep hill if it encounters too many ads on a page (ad-blocker incoming).

I may put an SSD into it, but this is not essential, and I may reapply thermal paste, as smcFanControl is reporting 45-75 DegC typing this up in MultiMarkdown Composer with a single apple support page open in Firefox, and I think it could run even quieter than it already is with a thorough de-fluffing and blow through with condensed air and new paste.

Conclusions

And that pretty much wraps it up. I am delighted and must admit to being smitten by this tiny wee old machine and it's matching monitor. I need to resist the urge to perfect the machine as its main purpose is to serve my daughter, and once it’s in situ with speakers, I'll need to think of it as her PC.

Given that my wife has the 2012 MacBook Air, I have a five year old big rig gaming PC, as well as a family iPad Air and phones for grown-ups, we're more than set for general computing. But this compact, light and airy setup (with a full-size keyboard mind), might be the future of my own desktop setup.

I'm mulling over getting a 2011 Mac mini for myself and relegating the gaming machine to another room. Gaming, however, is a whole other story which I look forward to covering in my next post.

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While browsing through Lightroom, I found this among my 2009 photos. I found these spiderlings outside our flat in Aberdeen one day, and I've never seen anything quite like it before or since. I got as close as I could with my best camera at the time, a Canon PowerShot G10, and this is the result.

I feel that the rough wall and depth of field focus works well with the soft bokeh of green vegetation and potato tub in the background. The palette of green, orange and brown, and surreal suspension of the tiny spiderlings is intriguing and repelling at the same time.

spiderlings.jpg
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AuthorI.B. Simpson
CategoriesPhotography

Or, my week with an Apple Watch.

In 2013/4, as modern smart watches began hitting the market, my thoughts were, “Oh, that’s a neat idea. I’ll wait for some year-on-year advances to the functionality and single-charge longevity and get one.”

The Pebble, Apple Watch, Samsung and so many little known manufacturers launched their take on the smart watch.

Fast forward to the last week in September 2017. I ashamedly and impulsively caved to my inner Inspector Gadget while in proximity to the local Apple Store, then was drawn inside like a moth to the flame. Excoriating my mind to splash out on the latest Apple Watch offering: A Series 3 + Cellular. Aluminium in a dark “space gray”, with a nylon sport loop, and the same magnetic induction charging technology as my toothbrush. All for the princely sum of £429 (the watch, not the toothbrush).

Now, my first foray into smart watches came earlier this year, in the form of a ~£30 fitness band from Amazon (affiliate link). This watch-come-band is indeed smart and unobtrusive, finished in a satin black. It holds a charge for several days, has a nice OLED monochrome display, measures heart rate, light/deep sleep, steps and even blood pressure. And it displays the time and date. It syncs to Apple Health API in the phone via a very usable proprietary app. It can vibrate to notify of an incoming call when Bluetooth paired to your phone. The iPhone app also flashes the band’s firmware, has nice infographics, and is regularly updated.

What then—except the obvious price difference of ~£400?—differentiates the Apple Watch from the fitness band (to me)?

Well, in my week of use, I’m confident that the body metrics were more accurate with the Apple Watch. But the band offers a less bulky form factor than the phone, and at £30, I’m far less precious about damaging it than any marginal accuracy gains from the £429 watch.

In the UK, EE is the only carrier that currently has the technology allowing the Apple Watch to share the same phone number as your phone (thus allowing direct calling and texting from the watch without the phone being on).

The Apple Watch battery never went lower than 67% in 24 hours of use, but the band lasted for many days without a charge. And to charge the band, you just slid one of the straps off to reveal a male-USB socket, which plugs into any [USB] port in a storm.

The Apple Watch has no camera and did not play back any video or gifs for me (except live photos). Companion apps would prompt me to “view on the iPhone”.

At first, it was neat to have my watch tapping me on the wrist with notifications and messages, but it quickly grew tiresome. It reinforced that I do not wish for the instant, immediate and regular distractions this helpful device tap-tap-taps me with. I am happier checking my phone when I choose to, and when it is not impolite to do so.

The form factor of the watch is nice enough, though could be a bit thinner.

The swappable straps on the watch are very clever and easy to switch, meaning you could sport many different looks with only a few different bands/straps. I’d definitely go third-party for these, as the Apple steel bracelets especially are magnificently expensive.

Some of the functionality of the watch, like syncing your latest photos and some music was a nice to have, but in almost every case, all I could think of was that my phone would be better and I have it very close to hand, albeit not on my wrist (see earlier point regarding immediacy).

I purchased the official Tamagotchi app for nostalgic reasons (that prompted me to hatch each pet using my phone) and the sleep watch app which was very slick. But I couldn’t find any killer apps. Perhaps I did not research enough on the companion apps that would enhance the functionality and value of the watch. Certainly, I trawled several “best” of articles.

Even calling them companion apps, by definition means the full app is elsewhere, i.e., on the phone, and a limited version is on the watch.

Ultimately, I was quick to conclude that trying to retrofit a use case to justify this purchase was a fool’s errand.

I realise this applies equally to any purchase one might make.

I’m thankful of Apple’s no-fuss 14 calendar day return policy. The associate in the store didn’t ask why I was returning it, but I briefly stated anyway that I’ll try one again in a few years.

I do think wearable technology and the wristwatch form function has a lot of potential, but it’s still early days. It was after all only ten years ago that the first iPhone came out and it took a few years for that to have a quality third-party App Store ecosystem. The iPhone 4S runnning iOS 6 (if memory serves, that was the combination) was sublime, and even as I sit here in a flying metal fart-tube typing this article out in Byword on my iPhone 6S Plus, I do yearn for a smaller device with the same functionality but even more impressive longevity between charge cycles.

And so, this week I returned my Apple Watch and strapped-on my self-winding mechanical watch again, to put the Apple Watch money to other uses, like the upcoming Switch Mario and Xenoblade games and useful Christmas presents for my loved ones.

Oh, and I was fortunate enough to pre-order a SNES Mini from a Spanish department store online a couple of weeks after the immediate UK preorder sell-out. And that arrived today for me to power on when I got home. Looking forward to playing some two player games with the family this weekend on that. And so the consumerist cycle continues.

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AuthorI.B. Simpson

A friend recently pointed out EDGE:the 100 greatest videogames (3rd edition, Aug 2017), and confessed to only having played seventeen of the games on the list.

Intrigued, I took a quick browse of the list, and thought it'd make an interesting exercise to review against my own three decades of gaming and that it would be a fitting follow-up to my recent post, One Solution to Game Selection Paralysis, and a 2015 to May 2017 Retrospective, along with my 2012 post on Choosing Games -Through the Ages.

The purpose of this post is not to decry or rally against EDGE's list, but to briefly comment on each game from my perspective. In time, I may follow-up with my own 100 greatest videogames post, and link back to this.

I've also attached the Excel file I used to create the table below in case you, dear reader, wish to make your own commentary.

EDGE 100 greatest games (2017 edition)

EDGE Order + Game Name Comments Possess? 12hrs+ or Completed?
100. Super Hexagon Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
99. Her Story Meaning to play through eventually. Yes No
98. Super Monkey Ball GameCube version is amazing. Unparalleled precision of Nintendo controllers. Yes No
97. Final Fantasy XII Played at an awkward stage in early adulthood, and did not hook me at the time. Yes Yes
96. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
95. Hyper Light Drifter Hard to fathom this was made in Game Maker Studio (as was Undertale). Have not played since 60fps update. Yes No
94. Katamari Damacy Always wanted to play this. Looks like great fun. No No
93. Animal Crossing: New Leaf Lovely. Played more than 100 hours Stardew Valley (spiritual successor) Yes Yes
92. Resogun Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
91. Puzzle Bobble Along with Puyo Puyo, my favourite puzzle-em-up. Yes Yes
90. F-Zero GX Have not played any F-Zero games. No No
89. The Sims 3 Played the original to death. No No
88. R-Type Final C64 was the definitive edition for me (as it was what I had as a child). No No
87. Elite: Dangerous Under 5 hours. Was not fun enough for me, but appreciated the tight controls. Almost bought flight controllers but could not justify expense for something I probably would not use much. Happy with my decision. Yes No
86. Bomberman Great game but never had worthy challengers growing up, and it is only fun with other humans. Yes No
85. StarCraft II Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
84. Pac-Man: Championship Edition Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
83. BioShock Played at an awkward stage in early adulthood, and did not hook me at the time. The story far exceeds the controls and shooting across all Bioshock games. Yes No
82. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Enjoyed every minute of the campaign and spent a lot of time in multiplayer. Yes Yes
81. Puzzle & Dragons Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
80. Tearaway Under 1 hour Yes No
79. League of Legends Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
78. Super Meat Boy Under 1 hour Yes No
77. Xenoblade Chronicles One of my favourite games ever. Yes Yes
76. OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast Still beautiful and fun on PC, playing 1440p 60fps. Yes Yes
75. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Played more than 10 hours original CS No No
74. Civilization IV Played this almost as much as original CIV. Yes Yes
73. Battlefield 4 Played more than 100 hours. Amazing fun playing on PC with a European clan 2013/2014. Yes Yes
72. Metroid Prime Bought trilogy via Wii U. Yet to get into it. Yes No
71. Hearthstone Would probably enjoy this. Played Magic:The Gathering when I was a young teenager. No No
70. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night One of my favourite games ever. Yes Yes
69. Limbo Fun and short in a good way. Yes Yes
68. Towerfall Ascension Fun little multiplayer. Yes No
67. EarthBound One of my favourite games ever. Yes Yes
66. Batman: Arkham Knight Bought, not played. Yes No
65. Transistor Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
64. Puyo Puyo I knew this as "Qwirks" in the 1990s and it was my favourite puzzle game growing up. Yes Yes
63. FTL: Advanced Edition Addictive gameplay and great music. Yes Yes
62: Persona 4 Golden God knows, I tried to get into this on the PSVita. Yes No
61. Mass Effect 2 Meaning to play this through with partner someday. Really enjoyed ME1. Yes No
60. Okami Playe on Wii / ennui Yes No
59. The Stanley Parable Great take on Groundhog day mechanic. Yes Yes
58. XCOM: Enemy Unknown Loved this reinvention of the 1990s version. Yes Yes
57. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Did not enjoy this game, despite spending hours trying to. Yes No
56. The Witcher III: Wild Hunt Meaning to play this through with partner someday. Yes No
55. Far Cry 4 Barely played Far Cry 2 or 3 so left this one alone. No No
54. Titanfall 2 Currently playing through in small doses (Jun-Sep 2017) Yes No
53. Doom (2016) Currently playing through in small doses (2016-2017) Yes No
52. Trials Fusion Think I played a lot of predecessor on XBOX360. Neither are a patch on Elasto Mania with its ace level editor. No No
51. Nidhogg Fun little multiplayer. Yes No
50. Fez Great. Played several hours but no drive to finish. Yes No
49. Overwatch As fun as it looks, when I play games nowadays, I am usually sitting on the sofa with my wife beside me playing along, and single-screen multiplayer FPS games are not an intersting genre for that scenario. Might pick-up during a PS4 sale. Yes No
48. Super Mario 3D World Excellent and fun to play with family. Yes Yes
47. Journey Gorgeous game, but quite forgettable. Yes Yes
46. Dead Space Got a fair way through. Yes No.
45. Dota 2 Played a bit Yes No
44. Vanquish Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
43. Super Mario Maker Enjoyed for a while, but have not got my teeth into it yet. My daughter has fun designing daft levels. Yes Yes
42. Fire Emblem Fates Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
41. Inside Those death animations are brutal and chilling. Yes No
40. Shadow of the Colossus PS3 version, to play after ICO. Yes No
39. Halo 3 I found this quite boring. Yes No
38. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask Love all the Zelda games on this list. Yes Yes
37. Spelunky Fun to play a little. Yes No
36. Destiny I am not a fan of Halo so never thought to try this. See Overwatch comments above. No No
35. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Love all the Zelda games on this list. Yes Yes
34. Kerbal Space Program Ignorant of this at time of writing. No No
33. Dishonored Meaning to play through someday… Yes No
32. Splatoon Tempted to get sequel for Switch. Looks like a lot of fun, and can play with daughter. No No
31. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Love all the Zelda games on this list. Yes Yes
30. Rock Band 3 Rocksmith is an amazing alternative, as you use a real guitar, and the difficulty varies each phrase of the song, depending on your skill. No No
29. The Last Guardian This was a wonderful and gripping experience from start to finish. Yes Yes
28. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 70 hours XBOX360 version. Several bugs left three main quests unfinishable, and moved on to something else. Yes Yes
27. Ico PS3 version. Got a fair way through. Since completing Last Guardian, may go back to Ico Yes No
26. Super Metroid Castlevania:SOTN is in my top 10, not played through this one. Yes No
25. Demon’s Souls Missed this at time of release. No No
24. Horizon: Zero Dawn Not started. Bought in PSStore sale summer 2017. Yes No
23. Advance Wars Love this game but never finished it. Yes No
22. The Witness In the final area, no drive to go back to it though. Yes Yes
21. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Own and love on Wii U. Not rebuying as I use Switch docked 99% of the time, next to Wii U. Yes Yes
20. Ultra Street Fighter IV Never been much of a Street Fighter fan. Soul Blade, OMF:2097 and Tekken are my favourites, in that order. Yes No
19. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Bored after 15-20 hours. Beautiful but not fun for me. Yes Yes
18. Rez Infinite Played original Rez a few years ago, possibly the XBOX360 port? No No
17. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Highly enjoyed, and my first Uncharted experience, but not a patch on The Last of Us. Yes Yes
16. Super Mario World Still play occassionally. Way higher on my unwritten top 100. Yes Yes
15. Red Dead Redemption Borrowed from a friend and had lots of potential but distracted by something else and never go into it. No No
14. Super Mario 64 I bought an N64 at end of its lifecycle but never owned SM64, and did not even play through Ocarina of Time until 2015 via the Wii U (Wii Virtual Console). Yes No
13. Portal Awesome game. For me, Portal 2 is far better due to split-screen co-op nature. Yes Yes
12. Bayonetta 2 Birthday or christmas present, not yet played through, but highly enjoyed few hours spent with it so far. Yes No
11. Minecraft Never got into Minecraft, WoW or EVE:online, depsite several attempts. Yes No
10. Resident Evil 4 Very scary. I have the GameCube version from a friend, and am too scared to play it very much. Yes No
9. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Love all the Zelda games on this list. Yes Yes
8. Super Mario Galaxy 2 Playing through sporadically with daughter via Wii U Yes No
7. Tetris Gameboy green and unforgettable music. Yes Yes
6. Half-Life 2 Very fond memories of this and original Half-life. Yes Yes
5. Bloodborne Have not tried to get into this genre yet. No No
4. The Last of Us One of my favourite games ever. Yes Yes
3. Grand Theft Auto V Played though quite far on XBOX360. Played through not as far on PC. Have not tried online yet. Yes Yes
2. Dark Souls Have not tried to get into this genre yet. Yes No
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild One of my favourite games ever, however played Xenoblade Chronicles for the first time shortly after BoTW and it is better in almost every aspect. Yes Yes

Notes

List order (100–1) gleaned from Nintendoeverything - EDGE ranks the top 100 greatest games (2017 edition)

List order (alphabetically) taken from Table of Contents viewable within EDGE list purchase page (I have not purchased as £15.99 is a bit too rich for my blood, but I would have paid £5 for pdf if I had the option).

Edge: the 100 greatest videogames (3rd edition) - Table of Contents (C) Future Publishing 2017

Edge: the 100 greatest videogames (3rd edition) - Table of Contents (C) Future Publishing 2017

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During a walk around the outskirts of my local town, I saw this bin while grasping for cherries from the trees in the lane.

I found the brittle slate-like coating lifting from the corroding metal cut-out letters and bleeding into the white border utterly beautiful.

The shape of the space delineated by the coating's edge looks like a map (topography), fish or boat (side-view).

FullSizeRender.jpg
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So many games. It's cruel really. It hurts to think how many games I have bought but will barely or never play, as being a groan-up, there are only so many free hours in my week.

When I make the time to indulge in my lifelong obsession, by flopping onto the sofa and picking up a controller, or contorting my body back into the tortured shape of the workweek at my PC, I am often at a loss for what to load up.

My already exhausted mind tries to weigh-up what the most valuable return on my playtime would be. And so, I sit there; staring at my burgeoning Steam account, then at my new consoles, then at my old consoles and, sometimes, I just give up and zombify my night away on YouTube, Twitter, or go back to the seemingly endless but brilliantly strange book I've been reading since March 2016 (Infinite Jest by David Foster-Wallace)] [finished in December 2016, now ploughing through the Laundry Files by Charles Stross].

Steve Burns, previously of Videogamer.com called this phenomenon "shit-muncher paralysis", which I feel is a more authentic title in this context than "decision fatigue" or "analysis paralysis".

I've had some success in combatting this by pre-selecting what to play and committing to it without experiencing the remorse of a poor choice:

On 1st January 2015, at around 2am, I completed Zelda: Windwaker (Wii U version), and resolved along with my wife to play the remainder of the 3D Zelda games that year. If not for her, I never would have made it through the first 10 hours of Majora's Mask (I kept feeling very tired and drifting off when playing it for some reason).

By setting that as our mission and sticking doggedly to it, these masterpieces were very much enjoyed without the distraction of choice over a period of 6 months or so, and I now have very fond memories of journeying through these games to the finish for the first time, and of sharing that experience with my wife.

Such was the success of this, that I proposed our next series would be Final Fantasy (starting with VII, as it was my first and the one which most deeply affected my early pubescent self).

With its beautifully hand-painted backgrounds and a soundtrack that more powerfully than any other game I've played provokes all kinds of emotions, Final Fantasy VII was another masterpiece which we played through. I secretly worried that it wouldn't have aged well, and was so delighted and relieved to relive this experience and share it with my wife, who had never seen a JRPG before, and enjoyed the story, graphics and music too. Years before, I repeatedly exposed our firstborn in utero to the soundtrack, so there was a familiar nostalgia for us all.

Interestingly for me, the next game, Final Fantasy VIII, had much better writing and localisation, while somewhat annoyingly pushing the teen angst and cauldron of emotion and morbid ennui of lead protagonist, Squall. The other characters are far more interesting. Their interactions and character development outshine Final Fantasy VII, and replaying in 2015, I can say that the maturity of the writing, story and world makes it a much more adult and deeper experience than VII, though it lacks the raw power of the music. It also took me a while to prefer the steal and craft magic system in VIII to the materia combinations and MP of VII.

Following this we tried Final Fantasy IX. Sadly, even after fifteen hours, I felt no attachment to the characters or story, and the loading times and delay in starting each random battle, which of course there are many, were utterly dreadful. The same happened with Final Fantasy X, so it was back to the drawing board for 2016.

Three massive games took care of most of last year: Fallout 4, Stardew Valley, and Final Fantasy XV, with Stardew Valley being ideal for our busy family and work lives. Such a charming, colourful, relaxed, and utterly stress-free world. Pick up and play for twenty minutes or two hours and family-friendly too. The variety of activities, soothing music and feeling of accomplishment in building your farm and relationships with the villagers was immensely satisfying.

Fallout 4 was a very fulfilling open-world-a-thon which felt as good as I remember 2008's Fallout 3 being. And Final Fantasy XV was an interesting mess of superficial beauty, and a handsome boyband group of friends, which while plagued with many years of development hell, would have benefited from a lot more dialogue and a more complex story character development to flesh out the best part of the game—the friendship between your characters. My biggest bugbear was the repeated dialogue, which broke immersion so much as to become laughable and quickly spawned memes all over the net. "I've come up with a new recipe!"

The big game of 2017 so far is Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As of May, we've completed the main story, all the shrines, all the memories, most of the armour sets are fully upgraded, and we're still playing to explore and collect Koroks, with 160 of 900 in the game found after 140+ hours. That's some serious value for money, even considering the eye-watering cost of the Nintendo Switch, Pro controller and game.

Alas, I now feel my gaming feet itching for pastures new. The dopamine tickle from Zelda is still there, reduced from a bonfire to a bright candle now, and when I look elsewhere, all I can see is the fiery cold abyss and cranial tension of thousands of choices clambering for my evaluation and commitment.

A close friend has come to the rescue with a solution he has catchily named "35 by 35". This is his title for a project encompassing 35 new gaming experiences by the time he reaches 35 years old. His conditions are that each game gets at least six hours play a week for two weeks, giving a minimum of 12 hours per game (or until the end if it's a shorter game). Then after playing each game, he'll write a short review, then collate and publish at the end of the project.

So now, I'm off to tailor this approach into my own project, which I'll share in my next post. I'd be interested to hear in the comments how you, dear reader, select which games you'll play, and your current backlog.

You are launched into a dark street, with violent hoodlums looming into view and circling menacingly. Brawling through eight stages of unspeaking, violent thugs, your goal is to eliminate the clichéd gang lord, Mr X.

Streets of Rage is a rhythmic experience. The fusion of control, movement and music.

Feeling, seeing, hearing, thinking, reacting, planning ahead.

Immersing yourself into a state of consciousness where you feel directly and immediately connected to the cause and effects of the world you are traversing.

An abstract world, processed and enhanced by the capacity and range of your imagination and empathy.

Streets of Rage, Sega Megadrive Title Screen

Streets of Rage, Sega Megadrive Title Screen

Combination Lock

You move in eight directions, have a jump button, a special button, and a single attack button.

With that single attack button you are able to unleash a plethora of devastating combinations by varying the timing, pauses and rhythm of your button pressing. If you down a stronger opponent too quickly, they’ll spring up again, all the while your screen will be fill with other creeps. If you come to the brink of felling a powerful bad guy with your final blow, you can pause for a split second to break the chain, then resume with a fresh volley to put them down for good, or even use their death throes to launch their spent cadaver into a group of nearby unfortunates.

The beauty of the game comes from combining short and long combos with powerful judo throws, and controlling your position on screen to take cover behind human shields, and avoid getting swarmed.

To grapple, simply embrace a foe by walking into them, and for a few seconds you are free to decide what to do with them. A Glasgow kiss and a knee to the groin? Throw them over and behind you like a rag doll, spilling the enemies behind you like bowling pins? Reposition to their back by Jumping, followed by a quick standing spoon, and ending in a lethal suplex?

Whether your strikes meet flesh or air, they are punctuated by an impressive sound response. At times, your character grunts or whines with the focus of power. In Karate this is called kiai. The theory being that making a noise while you attack makes the attack more powerful, e.g., Sonic; Boom!

Kiai Aside

I am not entirely convinced of the efficacy in kiai, having seen its misuse by [a thankfully small number] of meatloafs in the gym. However, as a sensory and fear-inspiring climax to your attack, it can be quite impressive. Also, see Muad’Dib’s army of fremen and their sonic weapons, made even more popular in David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s brilliant novel, Dune.

Back to the Streets…

When the screen fills with enemies you can summon a police reinforcement special attack. This pans the screen to the left, a police car rolls up and screeches to a halt, then an officer pops his top-half out the passenger window and fires a bazooka into the play area, resulting in a wall of flames or raining fire, toppling bosses and eliminating weaker enemies on contact.

Withering Heights

Interestingly, there is no block button. A block mechanic might have added another dimension to the game but was not easily possible as the stock Sega Megadrive/Genesis controller only had three main face buttons and no shoulder buttons. By default the special summon attack is mapped to (A) but would have been far better off mapped to the (select) button; the amount of times I wasted a summon by my thumb slipping off (B) and onto (A).

While writing this pice, I imagined a block, attack, jump setup opening up even more attack options. For example, in the current game, if you press the attack and jump button together, you perform a back attack. What if there was a block button that let you parry or stagger the enemy? Akin to modern Batman brawlers. Upon reflection, the attack-only approach keeps the action moving forward at an intense pace, which is in perfect harmony to the music.

Cid[SID] is in every one

The game is accompanied by an absolutely banging techno soundtrack, which squeezes a lot of interesting sounds and voices out of the Megadrive’s Yamaha sound-chip. I'm not a big fan of most Megadrive tunes. I grew up with the gorgeous C64 SID chip which produced a richness of sound and symphony that made a lifelong impression on my soul. I now plug my C64 into a sound system far more competent than the little B&W telly I had as a child, and can relive the greats of my youth, such as Silkworm and Pit Stop II (both also hold-up well for two-player gaming today).

To my ears, the Megadrive’s sound often felt muddy, flat, and lacking in dynamic range. But Streets of Rage has a pulsing, throbbing techno-beat throughout, with the game's composer, Yuzo Koshiro, matching the mood of each level with a layered, thrusting effort. I've bought the soundtracks for Streets of Rage 1 and 2 from iTunes, which I listen to often, and they bring me great joy, even though I'm not sure if the remastering adds to the experience.

Sharp, Grimy, Fast, Sleek

From the outset, Streets of Rage burns grimy, neon patterns into your retinas. Outside the Pine Pot diner, its luminous sign shines upon a cold, blue cobbled city street. The player lands gracefully, and their sprite is expertly animated with a smoothness to their walking and jumping, and a snappiness to their attacks. This juxtaposition makes the whole movement of the game, the flow and fury, so slick and harmonious. Each of the levels has a distinct theme, graphically and aurally distinct from one other. There are incidental touches, like a gust of particle-filled wind as you enter the inner city, waves lapping onto the beach, the sickening bobbing onboard the ship, and the flashing beacons within the industrial complex.

The co-operative

The replayablity factor is huge as the core mechanic of gracefully beating everyone you see into pulp does not easily dull. The other timeless factor is the two-player mode, or in modern parlance: same-screen couch co-op.

This elevates the game into my top-ten of all-time, as you must carefully manage and adjust your tactics with your partner so as not to accidentally kill them with a misplaced combo, or immobilise them with a spoon embrace at a juncture where several "Nora" dominatrices/lion tamers[?] are funnelling towards you both with whips tensed.

You could also use the spoon embrace cooperatively, with the spooned player able to kick out their legs in front of them to knock down approaching enemies. Another tag-team move is to grab then vault over your partner to perform a high-jump attack on unsuspecting opponents.

Double the players also means double the bosses, which keeps things exciting. Also, when you make it to the end of the game and are invited to join forces with the evil Mr X, three endings are possible in co-op mode, with my favourite, the bad ending, occurring when one player wants to join Mr X, and the other doesn't. This leads to a duel to the death, followed by the bad player dethroning Mr X. A fitting end.

Then and Now

The Megadrive II has the superior sound-chip (to the Megadrive I), as Koshiro says himself. In 2015, a special remaster was published for the Nintendo 3DS which comes with many options, including MDI/MDII sound emulation switch, and an excellent stereoscopic 3D effect, which actually helps in aligning vertical position of self and enemies. The 3DS version also has a two-player mode (wirelessly connect two 3DS handhelds).

In my opinion, you can't beat playing on a big TV screen as part of the PS3/XBOX 360 Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection, Steam, or even iOS (AirPlay).

Posted
AuthorI.B. Simpson

Note: This post is part of a consolidation exercise, and was originally published 16 September 2011 at http://ibsimpson.calepin.co

16 September 2011

Mulling over Hans Petter Eikemo's thoughts on iPhone photo lag. Echoing his sentiments; the problem occurs as I experience some fleeting event. I want to capture it. From my trouser pocket to taking the photo takes me about six seconds, three if camera.app was open and active before I locked my iPhone. I have missed the moment. No Henri Cartier-Bresson chance; the man has met the puddle.

Hans Petter Eikemo of Ideon proposes [for a future iPhone]:

  1. When the camera app is inactive, a press on the new [camera] button will launch it.
  2. Every press captures a photo, even outside the camera app. As a remedy for the most fleeting of photo ops; you shoot instantly from the hip, and when the app is ready, you may review the results or continue to shoot assisted by the viewfinder.
  3. Press and hold the button momentarily to record video. The subsequent press stops recording.

I am against a new button, because we don't need one. The shutter release (sic - pixel sensor ready and capture) could be initiated in different ways depending on the situation. Let's go through some [iPhone] scenarios.

The phone is asleep in your pocket. You want to take a photo. Quick! Take if out of your pocket and either:

  1. double-click volume-up button (hold for video)
  2. double-click volume-down button (hold for video)
  3. depress volume-up and volume-down button simultaneously (hold for video)
  4. depress-volume-up and home button simultaneously (hold for video)
  5. depress volume-down and home button simultaneously (hold for video)

Notes:

  • A setting would allow you to enable the feature to capture photos and/or video from sleep mode. Thus, Private Percy's Privacy is Protected from Prankster Peter.
  • A setting would allow you to launch into camera.app (or not) after taking photos from sleep mode.
  • Initiating video capture from sleep mode would launch camera.app while you are shooting that video.

Any thoughts?

Posted
AuthorI.B. Simpson

Note: This post is part of a consolidation exercise, and was originally published 12 December 2011 at http://ibsimpson.calepin.co

12 December 2011

Booted up the Playstation to have a quick game of Battlefield 3. However, Sony demands I download a ~180Mb update (version 4.00). In countryside broadband terms, that's an hour gone.

What is the frequency of Sony PS3 updates? Because it seems every time I turn it on (infrequently since I bought an XBOX 360 when HALO: Reach was released ☟), I have to download another system update.

Whereas, the XBOX 360 updates are occasional and very small in comparison. I've never had to wait more than ten minutes.

So, Battlefield 3, I'm afraid you'll have to wait. I'm going back to Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on the XBOX 360. And don't even get me started on the huge launch-day patch for Battlefield 3.

Perhaps I'l just buy a Dingoo A380 instead.

☞ Halo: Reach was a very disappointing game, I thought. Killzone 2 does it so much better and came out far earlier [than HALO: Reach] (Feb 2009 versus September 2010).

I delight in watching the whole process.

It begins with weird and wonderful egos and the initial inability to work in a team. Disgusting caterpillars.

Slowly, for the more diligent competitors, repulsive behaviour and ego is moulded into decency and teamwork.

As the process continues, you begin to learn about the individuals, and want the good ones to prevail.

Finally, a winner emerges and they have over the course of 3 months (our watching time, not sure if it's filmed over 3 months) emerged into a beautiful butterfly, their life forever transformed.

Posted
AuthorI.B. Simpson
CategoriesWriting