Saturday, 14 February 2015

A Laserdisc renaissance?

Laserdiscs, those shiny LP size discs that a majority of people over the age of thirty know about but have never seen in person; reflective givers of joy that in many cases made falling asleep in-front of a film quite a dangerous experience, especially if you were watching on a big screen or projector as half way through you would wake to a sea of dark blue burning into your retinas signalling the need for you to have to get up (yep physically move), throwing blankets, beer cans and peanuts asunder to open the disc tray to either turn the disc over, or perhaps load another disc into the machine. Of course, there were latterly machines that would turn the disc over for you and some that even had a memory function that would prevent your viewing/sleeping pleasure from being interrupted by such an incursion. However, not in the late 70s or early 80s when they were first released. Hell, back then a remote control on a wire was an optional extra that few could afford.

I imagine, with little to no thought of research to prove my assertions (somewhat like a Fox News anchor then) that at least in Europe and the US Laserdiscs and their players were aimed at men; they were big expensive things and they had a rather dangerous and mysterious sounding object in their title: Laser(s). You see, much more so back then than now, lasers were shrouded in mystery. People knew (at least from watching James Bond movies and the like) that if only in their imaginations, lasers could be used to make weapons – weapons that could melt through vault doors or burn through your legs. Naturally, whilst these things were/are technically possible, for reasons I won’t go into here (mainly because I don’t know entirely what I am talking about) such applications were entirely unlikely. However, no matter how improbable this was and how safe consumer products with lasers in them were in actuality, like a toddler with a feral cat, many men carried these into their home at arm’s length and presumably stared in wonderment at them (hopefully just the buttons and things on the outside of the case - staring at the laser would be a bit dangerous). Adverts at the time captured the moment quite well: Pioneer specifically had a magazine piece with Benjamin Franklin clutching both a CD and a Laserdisc in his hands, staring in wonderment; whilst
in the foreground Pioneer’s latest laserdisc player took pride of place. The tag line of the advert was “Catch the spirit of a true pioneer” – a rather obvious pun referring to the company’s name and the pioneering nature of both the product being sold and Franklin himself. Using lasers to do things other than burn objects or people was in a way quite pioneering and this, in my opinion is what makes the advert so effective.

In some respects, by invoking such images of pioneering endeavors and placing such equipment in the company of great thinkers is an attempt by the manufacturer to dull the impact of the very high price tag for these machines. Adverts such as the one mentioned above seem to be pragmatically implying that this product is expensive by default and the potential consumer should be expecting and accepting of this; it is both pioneering in nature and made by Pioneer. However, much like Faustus selling his soul to the devil, one assumes that if your significant other ever found out truly how much they cost, you would wish you had too.

So other than the wonderment surrounding the laser and the general shiny nature of the media, what were the benefits of having such a machine in your home? Were they worth buying and indeed is there any point in keeping or buying one of these today? The answer to these questions are respectively “The benefits were limited, at least in the first instance”, “No” and “Hell yes!” If this sounds confusing, paradoxical and oxymoronic it probably is. However, as with all obscure technologies that are not considered a necessity, there is a certain desirability factor that needs to be taken into consideration. One does not need a pink VW Beetle to go to work in, however, some people would love the idea of owning one. Equally, one does not need to buy a Bang & Olufsen television when something from Walmart will do the same job insofar as allowing you to watch television. The same can be said of Laserdisc players. They were not an essential purchase in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s and they most certainly are not an essential purchase now. However, I personally made it my mission to buy one after (oddly enough) seeing my maths teacher watching a film on one in his office. With that preamble out of the way, on with the vindication of my (and presumably the actions of many before me) laserdisc purchasing decisions:

The first laserdiscs (films) sold into the consumer marketplace were simultaneously labelled LaserVision or Laser Video Discs. The term Laserdisc wasn’t really used that much till a few years later. In any case, those early LaserVision discs (of which I have several) were recorded with an analogue, single channel sound track and it seems that the video “file” was a direct transfer of the master tape of the original film. Note that I said tape. Whilst Laserdisc always was an analogue format and not digital, these early discs seem to have the artifacts of the tape from which they were copied onto them and as such the image/sound replicates the “noise” that would be associated with watching the same content on a tape based player. So, in effect were you essentially buying a player much like a VCR with the same tape degradation issues? Put simply, no. Whilst Laserdiscs do degrade over time, the degradation is a much more gradual process and is more the result of a physical oxidation; usually bought on as a consequence of poor storage and handling whereas, if you watched a video cassette, the physical movement of the heads over the tape cause it to stretch and damage so that this damage is evident in subsequent viewings. Thus, Laserdisc film recordings mirror exactly the artifacts found on the original tape media that was used to transfer the content onto the disc. However, these artifacts become a part of the recording and remain constant. They are not indicative of the gradual degradation of the media as Laserdiscs don’t degrade in this way. In summary however, if I had been around when the first players were available and bought a copy of Death Wish (for example) and eagerly placed it in my top-loading machine, I would have been disappointed. Yes I could watch the film over and over again without the picture quality degrading and yes the sound would be better. However, equally, I could just buy a new copy of my favourite films on VHS several times over as and when they got stretched instead of investing so much money in this new piece of equipment.

That said, as the product matured, so too did the technology used to transfer the video content onto the Laserdiscs themselves and image quality improved greatly with less evident artifacts Furthermore, as stereo sound became more prevalent, discs were recorded with both stereo digital soundtracks as opposed to the analogue monophonic sound of the early releases. Also, when companies such as THX (a spin-out of Lucasfilm) and Dolby started encoding films such as the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogy, purchasing a Laserdisc player became a more rewarding experience. To my mind the sound quality is absolutely fantastic with THX or Dolby encoded discs and depending upon the compression ratio of a film recorded on DVD, a Laserdisc version of the same movie can look markedly better.

So to conclude, if you are of the geeky persuasion or just simply like watching films I can definitely recommend buying a player. I personally gain hours of pleasure from watching films on these machines and the artwork on the LP-sized covers for the physical media is often fantastic. Yes, as the product reached the end of its life in the mid-nineties, studios got a bit lazy and instead of turning out beautifully designed gate-fold covers they just had pictures placed on the back and front of a single sleeve, but the early special edition or box-set versions of films truly are something to behold. Also, there are some films that were released on Laserdisc that have never made it to DVD due to copyright issues for soundtracks and other reasons so it is possible that you can pick up an obscure title that may be worth a small fortune in the future. That said, there are many drawbacks and pitfalls to buying such equipment and media. This will probably be the subject of another post. However, in summary, like many retro items these players have gained quite a cult following over the years and have gone from being “useless” items that most people didn't want and as such could be picked up from places like Cash Converters for around £30.00 and thrift stores and boot sales for far less, to items that have such prefixes as “RARE” or suffixes such as “This cost £1000 when new, grab yourself a bargain and buy this now at [insert ridiculous price here]”. It is true that these machines are becoming more obscure as with all consumer electronics – eventually they fail and end up in landfill. This issue is compounded by the fact that these are notoriously difficult to repair by hobbyists that do not have specialist knowledge and long gone are the days when you could take such a player to your average TV repair shop. That said, in many respects, it is because of these issues that you should consider such purchases carefully. Should you really invest £150 or more in an average player or £500+ on a flagship model that is inevitably going to break at some point in the near future? I would suggest not. So, if you are thinking of buying one, consider importing from the US (please note that American NTSC players unless stated will not play PAL, European discs) as players seem to be cheaper there. Or, hope that you get lucky on an eBay auction or thrift store find.



Monday, 25 August 2014

Gaming goes mainstream - Videogames and the TV show.

From the late '80s to the late '90s computer gaming went through what I would like to call a grudging-acceptance phase. Despite the complaining, both official and otherwise, it was widely understood that gaming as a hobby and even as an industry was not going to disappear no-matter how much people protested. Perhaps the rise of the internet became the new peoples' scapegoat or perhaps that was mere coincidence.

Gaming as a pastime was evolving. Even though the first Pong machines in their rudimentary cabinets were installed in bars around Silicon Valley, for the most part computing and gaming were seen as mutually exclusive; so much so that as technology developed, computer manufacturers quite often created machines either for the business or home markets. There were attempts by some to create a machine that was capable of operating in both markets but by-and-large, these did not gain much market traction and ultimately failed. The only exception to this rule I can bring to bear is the Atari ST range that although  quite  successful home computers with  extensive game libraries, as a consequence of the systems' inclusion of on-board midi ports, some recording studios and school music departments and musicians made extensive use of them. The reverse can be said of the BBC Micro and later the Acorn Archimedes line of computers, which whilst very popular in British schools, did not have the same appeal for the home market.

Meanwhile, within the home  computing camp there were two divisions: computer and videogame systems. The former could be used as a spurious salve for collective parents' consciences - "at least" they would think "if I get my son [or daughter] a computer, they can do their homework on it and learn how to program"; whereas the latter, used exclusively for game playing were generally frowned upon by teachers and the chattering classes alike. In reality however, if a computer was owned by any of the aforementioned children of yesteryear, you can guarantee that a vast amount of time was spent playing games and hardly any doing any sort of meaningful work. As computers, and videogame systems began appearing in houses in large numbers during this period, even the parents that had metaphorically buried their heads in the sand and believed that there was lots of coding and school report writing going on in little Johnny's bedroom were starting to realise that a vast majority of time that would have been spent in their youth perhaps riding bikes and building campfires was going to be spent riding bikes and smashing windows (during the course of a game of Paperboy) or using a flamethrower to torch aliens (in the course of a game of Alien 3).

At about this time, the media were beginning to pick-up on this trend: On the one hand, news outlets were running stories that in someway predicted excessive game playing as a catalyst for the downfall of society. Often they would use tenuous isolated  examples of  juveniles who having murdered a group of people; it was discovered (after the event) that at some point in the intermediate build-up to the crime had played a video game that involved guns. On the other hand were the producers of a very new type of TV show that in some respects deliberately courted this controversy and, in a tongue in cheek way, exacerbated it. These shows were of course the video game/computer review show that were produced either as part of the children's television provision of several broadcasters, or were clearly aimed at young adults given the time-slot in which they were shown and the content they provided.

The  two shows that I am going to provide an overview of here were not (I strongly assume) the only ones to be aired during this time period. However, they are the only two that I had direct and regular viewing experience of both at the time of original broadcast and subsequently. This is due in large part to the following reasons:


  1. I am British and was bought up in England,
  2. At this time I only had access to terrestrial television channels (of which there were four in the UK during this period). My parents did not have a Sky or cable subscription.

On with the reviews:

Name of Show: Bad Influence!
Presenters: Violet Berlin, Andy Crane; Andy Wear (as Nam Rood); Sam Wright and Sonya Saul.
Original run: 1992 - 1996 airing on CITV (a sub-section of ITV that during weekdays broadcast TV                           shows for children.

Oveview

Bad Influence! title card
Despite being aired during the children's slot of ITV air-time once per week during its series run, Bad Influence! was enjoyed by teens and young adults alike as a consequence of its factual content which usually consisted of several reviews of gaming hardware and software (mainly) and infrequently developments in the then emerging fields of Virtual Reality and PC Gaming; These were often filmed on location at company offices in the US and presented by Z Wright (a then teen, American correspondent) There was also a cheats section hosted by Nam Rood, a fictitious anarchic character that I can best describe as a cross between Vivian of The Young Ones and a supermarket trolley collector. The set from which he gave out cheats to viewers was made to look like either a garden shed or basement and Rood would often refer to the audience in a puerile and mock-offensive way.

Nam Rood who despite being
childishly err...rude was quite tame in
comparison to Dominik Diamond
 
Despite the series title, which was clearly a nod to the prevailing notion held at the time by many (as descried above) that pass times involving video gaming or computing were indeed a bad influence on young people, the show itself had a healthy mix of both entertainment and factual content that was not based exclusively (albeit extensively) on the subject of gaming. Youtube channel DynamiteHeaddy has quite an extensive (if not complete) back catalog of episodes from this series that are available to view should you feel so inclined. The show has aged quite well and if you fancy a trip down Memory Lane in this regard, this would not be a bad place to start.





Name of Show: Games Master

Presenters: Dominik Diamond; Dexter Fletcher; Patrick Moore
Original run: 1992 - 1998 airing on Channel 4

Despite being credited as the first British television series dedicated to gaming and indeed the first gaming series to air on British terrestrial television, I have chosen to review Gamesmaster second, as this was the order in which I first saw these two shows.

Overview

Patrick Moore latterly Sir Patrick Moore in his digitised
role as the Gamesmaster
Whilst not aimed directly at the children's television market, indeed, if memory serves, Channel 4 did not have dedicated childrens programming on weekday afternoons - unlike the BBC and ITV, the content of both Bad Influence! and Gamesmaster was in many respects quite similar. However, as will be discussed later, the presentational style of Dominik diamond especially was quite different to that of Violet Berlin, Andy Crane et al.

On balance, it could be argued that whereas Bad Influence! despite its title was careful not to annoy the parents of children viewing the show and perhaps this is why more balanced content was provided, the producers of Gamesmaster, which seemed to cater for a more late teen market and screened at a slightly later time of 6 pm did not seem overly concerned about parental opinion regarding the show. Indeed, on many occasions it could be argued that Diamond (scripted or otherwise) deliberately walked a fine line between being funny and lascivious or creepy. Reviews of games on multiple platforms ranging from the Amiga to the 3DO and Playstation 1 (depending upon what series you were watching) from both teenage panelists and industry veterans such a videogame magazine
Dominick Diamond, one of the main presenters of
Gamesmaster.
editors and game designers were interspersed with thinly veiled innuendo laden statements relating to how much fun teenage boys could be having furiously waggling joysticks in their bedrooms (as opposed to the obvious smutty equivalent). Weekly competitions were also held between both regular teenage game players (who I assume had contacted the show) and less frequently father and son or other family combinations along with celebrity challenges in which regular viewers would compete against a celebrity associated with the game of choice in someway or another. For example a viewer might play Sensible Soccer on the Amiga against Ian Wright. The winner of both varients of this competition were then awarded the golden Joystick a type of trophy shaped like a joystick, gold in colour and placed in a presentation case.

The namesake of the show and the main feature was the Gamesmaster, somewhat like Krang in the animated series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in appearance, and perhaps a direct homage, the Gamesmaster was in-fact a digitised representation of Patrick Moore's head (Patrick Moore being a famous British astronomer, now deceased) which voiced by Moore himself would provide gaming tips and cheats to people that had contacted the show. The way this was carried out was quite eclectic, as Moore even at the time of broadcast being both quite elderly and quintessentially British was probably the last person expected to be chosen to take on this role, especially in a digitised guise. Nevertheless, Moore's quips and put-downs often made for entertaining viewing.  The Youtube channel DynamiteHeaddy once again holds an extensive selection of episodes from this series if you feel like revisiting them.

Concluding remarks

Whilst in many respects Bad Influence and Gamesmaster are both entertaining programmes and are both worthy of a revisit; I cannot help but think that Dominik Diamond's persona (constructed or otherwise) in this show is somewhat cringe-worthy. Perhaps as a teen viewer his innuendos passed me by. However, on a recent viewing (and perhaps it is because I am now a parent myself), I cannot help but think that in some respects, some of the remarks he made were near the knuckle to say the least and in places were creepy. Thus, if you like that sense of humor, you will of course be likely to find this presentational style funny. However, needless to say, I don't, and for that reason, if I were to choose between the two programmes both then and now, I would have to go with Bad Influence! 


Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Youtube subscriptions overview

The genesis of this post is as follows: I would say that I have been a passive member of the Youtube retrogaming/hobbyist/geek community since the summer of 2010 when I accidentally stumbled upon a video by Steve Benway - a system review of the Acorn Archimedes  A3010. I would describe myself as "passive" back then because my use of Youtube was much like how I used Google. If I wanted to watch something or find something out, I would type it in the search box and see what came up. At this point, I didn't have a Youtube account and therefore, neither did I have a subscriptions list. Indeed for quite some time I would trawl through Steve Benway's videos in a rather non-intuitive way, I would navigate to the aforementioned Acorn video and then gain access to his channel by clicking through the various videos on the side bar.

To this day, I do not have an active Youtube channel. I do have plans to develop one but this will be for school based educational purposes only. Indeed, the only reason that I actually have a Youtube account now is because somebody told me that I could use its upload features to store (not publish) videos so that I could access them at school (I had experimented with creating a remote access Apache server with some success but decided against this in the long-run as my home Wifi is a bit flaky and not to be relied upon when I need access to crucial files at work). Therefore, the evolution of my subscription list started off being somewhat incidental as opposed to deliberate. That said, at the time of writing, I would now say that I use Youtube in much the same way as many other users. I do not upload videos for public consumption but I do actively seek out, view and subscribe to particular channels on a daily basis. Indeed, when Youtube was first available, I wasn't sure that I would find a use for it, especially in its first iteration when video length was restricted to (I believe) seven or so minutes and  user generated content was envisioned to be home movies and the like. However, fast forward seven years and it is clear that Youtube has evolved. So much so that I would say well over 90 per-cent of my media viewing comes from  Netflix and Youtube.

In any case, before going off at a complete tangent, as an active member of at least one retrogaming/hobbyist group on Facebook and a passive observer on another, it dawned on me of late that even though we (as participants/contributors to these groups) share some similar interests and watch some of the same videos as a consequence of people perhaps posting them to the aforementioned groups or, due to the fact that by pure coincidence, we are subscribed to the same channels, we don't all have the same channels in our subscription lists. Indeed, a friend of mine posted to a group recently that he had just discovered Colin Furze's channel, commenting upon how good it was. Incidentally, I agree, it is a fantastic channel. However, I have been subscribed to it for over six months. This therefore begs the question, how many other excellent channels out there are yet to be discovered by the general retrogaming/hobbyist/geek community at large and as a consequence, how much potentially excellent content is passing us by?
Naturally the answer to this question is unquantifiable. However, in an attempt to prevent channels from at least escaping my notice and hopefully the collective notice of those that read this blog, what follows is an overview of the relevant channels that are in my Youtube subscription list. As usual, please feel free to leave a comment but before doing so please read the information contained under each of the sub-headings below:

Aims/scope

An overview would probably be the best way of describing my intentions for this particular post. I aim to state in each segment the following things (if the information is available):
  • The name of the channel;
  • The name of the owner of the channel;
  • Some sort of breakdown by genre;
  • The approximate frequency at which content is uploaded;
  • Some basic comments about the style of the channel (formal/informal etc);
  • Some summative comments i.e. influence/contribution to the community etc.
It is not my intention to provide reviews of the channels in the list below. Naturally, to both avoid upset/insult and to maintain good feeling, what I write will be phrased in a positive way.
However, it goes without saying that if a channel is in my subscription list, I must like it otherwise I wouldn't be watching its output.
I am more than happy to edit this post after the fact if it becomes clear that I have got something wrong or missed the point. Also, I will be more than happy to view channels upon request and then include information about them in this post if I think they are relevant. However, this is not an invitation for free publicity or "shout-outs". Of course, the central aim of this post is to raise awareness of channels that I/the community as a whole may not have seen etc. However, as the author of this blog, I have the final say on what is written about a particular channel (if anything at all). Of course I hope to collaborate with people to avoid ill-feeling and if you are not happy with what I write I will of course remove the relevant entry from the post all together.

Comments

Please do feel free to leave comments on this or any other of the posts in this blog. However, please do consider the following points when doing so:
  • Comments are supposed to stimulate conversation/dialogue and debate, not childish slanging matches;
  • Having read the information above, you are aware of the aims of this post and therefore will raise issues you may have with this post (or any other) appropriately and without engaging in negative behaviour;
  • I reserve the right to remove posts that I perceive to be derogatory/divisive in nature.

Channel nameAshens
Owner’s nameStuart Ashen
Rough content guide (genre)Reviews of computer and video game hardware and software interspersed with other geek culture items such as Loot Crate un-boxings; Poundland Special in which various items from any number of pound stores (similar to dollar marts in the US) are reviewed in a light hearted manner. There are also “special” food reviews in which viewers send obscure and often deliberately disgusting food for Stuart (the narrator) to taste and comment upon. Foods that have been reviewed recently include a Trekking Burger in which a whole burger including bread bun, meat filling etc is sold in a can only for Stuart to pop it open and eat it.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Quite regularly, usually at least one video per week.
Number of subscribers600 thousand approx.
General overviewStuart “Ashens” Ashen has a rather large following on Youtube and seems to be going from strength to strength with his both seemingly off-the-cuff and off-the-wall presentational style. This is primarily a review channel with the self-styled tag line “Comedy, Technology, Idiocy” which is a fantastic summary of the content on display here. Rarely seeing Ashen’s face in shot, the viewer tends to face a rather dated yet comfortable looking sofa from the ‘80s which he uses as his display area. He then presumably crouches in-front of it facing the back rest using the seat part of the sofa as a bit of a dissection table, narrating as he goes in an often stream of consciousness style which is often very amusing indeed. Incidentally, Stuart has a job in the film industry. (I am not sure exactly what it is that he does) He co-directed the film Ashens and the quest for the Gamechild a comedy romp which sees Ashens pursuing the fictitious Gamechild a supposed cheap imitation of the Nintendo Gameboy which he hopes to add to his collection of useless electronic junk. The first feature film to be exclusively released on Youtube for people to watch for free, it is definitely worth a view if you haven’t already.
Channel nameAussie50
Owner’s nameEd Jones
Rough content guide (genre)Technical videos and teardowns of a smorgasbord of equipment ranging from consumer to industrial equipment. Highlights have included re-commissioning a 1930s vintage power station generator and re-purposing an XP embedded ATM so that it runs Doom and other games.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Quite regularly, usually at least one video per week.
Number of subscribers30 thousand approx
General overviewA down-to-earth Australian channel ran by a down to earth Australian guy. As stated above, Ed carries out a variety of restorations, teardowns and overviews of a wide variety of equipment and cars. A vast majority of filming takes place in his home workshop/garage which is absolutely chock-full with all manner of servers, engines, ATMs, generators etc.
If you are after a light-hearted look at how things work (or don’t) that are not often seen by the average man on the street, Ed’s channel is often a good port-of-call.
Channel nameCarl’s TechShed
Owner’s nameCarl
Rough content guide (genre)In the main, this channel deals with the teardown of computer and other consumer electronic equipment. Unfortunately, the TechShed that is referenced in the channel title is no-more and as a consequence, a variety of the equipment that was on display/in operation in the background /the subject of many of his videos is now in storage. That said, despite the fairly infrequent output of late, the videos that are produced are very informative from a component level.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Infrequent – perhaps one or two videos per month.
Number of subscribers1600 subscribers approx.
General overviewA technical channel operated by a technical guy. Despite the TechShed now being the tech/dining table, Carl produces some excellent teardown videos in which he uses his extensive component/electronic knowledge to inform the viewer to the best of his ability how particular products function.
Channel nameCinemassacre
Owner’s nameJames Rolfe is both an amateur film creator and graduate in a film related discipline. Thus despite debuting as The Angry Nintendo Nerd and then The Angry Video Game Nerd as independent entities, these have now been taken under the umbrella production company (also owned by Rolfe) entitled Cinemassacre.
Rough content guide (genre)The Angry Video Game Nerd is the titular character (played by Rolfe) of an on-going web series which concerns the exploits of an angry/exasperated video game player who has decided to review “shitty games” for his viewers. The character deliberately focuses on the negative elements of any given game and uses hyperbole and profanity/toilet based references to get across how awful particular games are. When the series started in 2007 the games reviewed were for the original Nintendo Entertainment System but as the series has evolved reviews now encompass other platforms and games.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Infrequently – once a month. However, other content is produced on a weekly basis on the Cinemassacre channel including James and Mike Mondays in which James Rolfe and his friend Mike Matei review games out of character.
Number of subscribers1.5 million approx.
General overviewA fusion of crude scatological humour and gaming reviews is the best way I can describe this channel. If you were a child growing up in the ‘80s (which I was), this provides a fantastic yet somewhat depraved trip down memory lane. As the channel has matured, production values have gone up and this shows in the later videos.
Channel nameColinFurze
Owner’s nameColin Furze
Rough content guide (genre)Colin Furze is a self-styled garden shed tinkerer who (to use his own phrase) has turned this somewhat pedestrian pastime “up to eleven”. Projects of note include building “the world’s fastest mobility scooter” using a motocross engine; various projects involving homemade pulse jets and creating gadgets such as magnetic shoes and retractable blades that can be attached to the hands to mimic X-Men super powers.
(Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Fairly frequently - perhaps 3 - 4 videos per month depending upon the tpye of project being worked upon.
Number of subscribers570 thousand approx.
General overviewColin Furze and his channel are a combination of ingenuity and anarchy fuelled dangerous mischief set to the music of independent British punk band March to the Grave. The builds he both demonstrates and operates are a lethal combination of dangerous materials and irresponsible behaviour but I think this is what makes everyone keep watching…you should too.
Channel nameComputerphile
Owner’s nameBrady Haran
Rough content guide (genre)Academic discussion of computer and technology related developments both past and present.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Fairly frequently – one or two videos per month approx.
Number of subscribers286 thousand approx
General overviewAlthough owned by Brady Haran who is himself a journalist with a fairly robust professional reputation, this channel provides interview/discussion/demonstration based videos which feature a variety of academic institutions/academics who discuss a variety of topics computing and technology related. Given its rather academic content, one could be forgiven for thinking it is a bit “dry”. That said the knowledge and information provided is first class.
Channel nameDynamiteHeaddy
Owner’s nameUnknown
Rough content guide (genre)Not containing any original, user/owner generated content, this channel does provide archived copies of popular TV based videogame, wrestling and fantasy style game-shows including Bad Influence!; Gamesmaster; Knightmare and The Crystal Maze. These programs were produced and aired in the United Kingdom and therefore whilst well worth a view, I imagine that most of these will be unknown to those not based in/from the UK.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Sporadically (I assume as and when content becomes available)
Number of subscribers4 thousand approx.
General overviewIf you want a dose of nostalgia in the form of viewing geeky TV shows from your youth, look no further than this channel which offers a wide variety of TV based content that has infrequently (if ever) been shown subsequently to its original release.
Channel nameKookytech.net
Owner’s nameDan Wood
Rough content guide (genre)This channel has evolved somewhat since I originally subscribed. Whilst clearly a Commodore Amiga fan at heart (a large proportion of his videos are about the Amiga line of machines), there are also other “talkie” and review type videos on a variety of gaming systems, peripherals and consumer electronics.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Infrequent – perhaps one or two videos per month.
Number of subscribers5 thousand approx.
General overviewA good channel for the Amiga or Commodore enthusiast in general. Dan’s knowledgeable yet warm and chatty style make for a pleasant viewing experience.
Channel nameLazy Game Reviews (LGR)
Owner’s nameUnknown
Rough content guide (genre)A channel dedicated to all things retro (and not so retro) consumer computing related, with specific video series including LGR Oddware – the review of computer peripherals that in one way or another could be considered “odd”; LGR Hardware Reviews – the review of more standard hardware; LGR Plays – the review of a range of computer and console games including a wide selection of DOS games and, my personal favourite LGR Thrifts – videos in which the channel owner visits Goodwill [charity shops for those outside the US) and pawn shops in search of cheap computer/videogame hardware and software along with other random consumer electronics,
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Frequently, perhaps one or two videos per week.
Number of subscribers200 thousand approx.
General overviewA friendly American channel with a friendly American owner. LGR is the home of excellent computing/gameplay and technology reviews from the early DOS era to the present day. This channel is definitely worth a look if you like Steve Benway and RetrogamerVX’s channels who are the closest British counterparts that spring to mind.
Channel nameMark Fixes Stuff – Retro Console and Computer Repairs, Reviews and MORE!
Owner’s nameMark Payne
Rough content guide (genre)As it says in the channel title, a channel home to the fixing (and breaking), unboxing and discussion of electronic (but mainly computer and videogame related) stuff.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Fairly frequently, one or two videos per month.
Number of subscribers650 approx
General overviewThe opening sequence of each of Mark’s videos, can, at first viewing appear (or sound) quite scary. Set to the backing of a varied popular rock track the viewer is presented with a sequence of light bulbs exploding before coming back together again in time-lapse. Unfortunately, this clever visual pun often gives way to some not so clever yet often very funny puns and fart jokes of the verbal variety. All of these accompany some excellent videos on the unboxing, repair and discussion of computer and videogame equipment. To steal one of Mark’s phrases, if you haven’t “got your fix”, I suggest you go and subscribe now…you won’t be disappointed.
Channel namePaul Jenkinson [The Spectrum Show]
Owner’s namePaul Jenkinson
Rough content guide (genre)A channel which provides monthly episodic videos dedicated to the ZX Spectrum (mainly) and other computers in the Sinclair stable.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)One episode per month, regularly.
Number of subscribers870 approx
General overviewPaul Jenkinson provides an as close to a TV magazine show experience as is possible on Youtube with his The Spectrum Show. Each episode, published monthly provides regular features that deal exclusively with the Sinclair line of computers. Each episode is highly polished and clearly demonstrate the passion that Jenkinson has for both the Spectrum and producing such high quality videos with a homebrew feel.
Channel nameRetroGamerVX
Owner’s nameStephen Twigg
Rough content guide (genre)A quirky channel with a quirky owner/host covering an eclectic range of retro videogame and computer hardware and software along with some more obscure items such as the Quantel Paintbox, server equipment etc. Some videos are created using green screen special effects including “the vortex”, a personified…vortex
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Frequently, one every 1-2 weeks.
Number of subscribers4700 approx.
General overviewAll videos are recorded in the Geek Lab, of which there have been several iterations over the years. The lab’s current home is the attic of a house somewhere in the Northeast of England and it is absolutely chock full with electronic gizmos and gadgets from yesteryear; many of which have been repaired by Steve and this is documented in his videos. However, despite the technical nature of some of this channel’s content, Steve’s friendly disposition ensures that there is never a dull moment.
Channel nameRetroGame Tech
Owner’s nameMartin
Rough content guide (genre)A Scottish channel with a Scottish presenter. Martin uploads content on a fairly regular basis (although more infrequently of late) which includes (in the main) repair videos from his Lets repair – Ebay junk series in which the viewer is taken through the process of purchasing broken or faulty items on eBay, diagnosis and then generally successful repair attempts. Other videos include product reviews and “pickups”.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)At the time of writing, fairly infrequently, perhaps one a month.
Number of subscribers34 thousand approx.
General overviewAn excellent channel, which although predominantly technical and factual in output, the way in which the viewer is almost taken on the “purchasing journey” and gets to see the evolution of the various repairs that Martin undertakes ensures captivating viewing.
Channel nameRetro Gaming Collector
Owner’s nameSteve Benway [Benway is a pseudonym]
Rough content guide (genre)Retro gameplay videos with commentary. Content is uploaded at an extremely frequent and regular rate. Gameplay spans a variety of systems and unless there are genuine technical restraints, all gameplay is carried out on Steve’s original hardware, of which he has an extensive collection.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Very frequently – 1 a day [although at the time of writing, Steve is taking a break from producing and uploading content).
Number of subscribers10500 approx.
General overviewThis is where it all began – not life, the universe and all that, but my understanding that I wasn’t the only person who liked retro gaming and computer hardware. Since subscribing to Steve’s channel little under four years ago I have discovered a part of the Youtube community dedicated to my favourite hobby. In many ways, he is indirectly responsible for this blog. Whether you think this is a good or a bad thing, go and subscribe…now.
Channel nameTerry Stewart
Owner’s nameTerry Stewart
Rough content guide (genre)Terry Stewart is a New Zealander who through his videos takes his viewers on a very analytical yet enjoyable look at his classic computer collection. Each of his videos concentrates on a particular machine from either the 8/16 bit or IBM/IBM clone line-up and makes fascinating viewing.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Fairly frequently – 1 or 2 a month.
Number of subscribers2 thousand approx.
General overviewEach video provides a detailed overview of one of the many machines in Terry’s personal collection. Each upload is quite structured in format and includes a socio-historical context of each machine, a camera fly-past of their externals and internals (with commentary); some gameplay footage and a look at the printed literature provided with the machine. I find this channel particularly interesting as Terry talks about each machine from an adult perspective…many of these machines he was familiar with at some point in his working life. Also, given that he is from New Zealand, he provides insight into an area of the computer market that I assume most English/Americans no little about.
Channel nameThe EPROM9
Owner’s nameSimon Lyne
Rough content guide (genre)A recent graduate in Computer & Network Engineering, Simon’s channel provides a technical yet entertaining look at computing and other items of consumer and commercial grade electronics.
Frequency at which content is uploaded (approx.)Sporadically – once or twice a month.
Number of subscribers700 approx.
General overviewAn interesting channel for the technically minded crazy geeks amongst us. Somewhat like a young, crazy professor, Simon takes the viewer through repairs and rambles regarding electronics, both of which are very entertaining. Look out for the special guest star, Todd the Dalmatian who despite most of the time is quite happy as a semi-sleeping critic, will sporadically make himself known on camera.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

When playing games on the Amiga transparency seems to be your friend

There seems to be a slight trend in the Youtube retro gaming community of late whereby people discuss and demonstrate the gaming peripherals of their youth: the good, the bad and the ugly as it were. Continuing the trend and putting my own spin on it is an overview of two most excellent joysticks from the Amiga era.


videoI got my first computer in the late '80s it was an Amiga 500 and in hindsight I do not know how my parents afforded it. The retail price back then was £400 (if memory serves) which equates to over £800 in today's money (according to very rudimentary internet research). Whilst I think one of the main reasons that my parents bought this machine was because of its potential as an educational tool; its vast library of games is what kept me hooked long after Fun School 3 had been lost (read hidden) by me under my bed.

My parents didn't mind me playing games. In fact, the first Christmas that I had the machine I remember that they bought me Batman: The Movie,  Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade and Time Machine. Whilst I could never get past the first few screens on Time Machine (something to do with interacting with a blue gemstone encased in a rock), the first two games were very good and I believe that Batman: The Movie stands up to scrutiny even today. Based quite faithfully on the plot of Batman (the feature film of 1989), gameplay spanned both platforming and driving/flying levels. Yes, you got to both drive the Batmobile and fly the Batwing. If I remember correctly, unless a game specifically required keyboard inputs - for example, flight sims etc, there was very little in the way of controller configuration and certainly none of the extensive keyboard mapping that one engages in when playing PC games of both the era and now. I never have quite worked out why that was the case.

Given this information, it would be very difficult/impossible to play a broad range of games on the Amiga without a joystick. Indeed, the first peripheral that was bought by many Amiga (and I presume ST owners) was a joystick and the market was absolutely saturated with different variants. Almost all of which were also compatible with the Atari ST. As an indicator of how many different models of joystick there were, out of my twenty or so friends that either had Amigas or STs, not one of them had the same joystick as anybody else and I was no exception.

videoAs you most likely know if you were an Amiga/Atari user during the 80s and 90s, other than price being a fairly good indicator, joystick buying was a fairly hit and miss experience. This was a time pre-Internet remember. The Youtube review was decades away. Yes there were several machine specific periodicals on the market that dealt with game and hardware reviews: CU Amiga; Amiga Format and Amiga Power to name but a few. However, despite being an avid reader of at least two of these publications, I cannot remember joysticks ever being placed under any critical scrutiny. Indeed, if I remember rightly, I never saw a review of any joystick in  these magazines. Consequently, I consider myself quite lucky as my first joystick (again purchased by my parents) stood the test of time admirably. Admittedly, I don't own it now...it did eventually break irreparably and was discarded. However, it lasted for approximately six years before that happened.

The Quickjoy Topstar in all its glory. Picture
taken from www.richardlagendijk.nl
The joystick I am referring to is the Quickjoy TopStar (at least that is how Richard Lagendijk refers to it on his website. However, I am not convinced that marketers penchant for joining words together and capitalising them in this way was popular back when this was released. For that reason, I shall hereafter refer to it as the Quickjoy Top Star). Again, this was purchased by my parents and it was, if memory serves a relatively expensive piece of equipment coming in at the equivalent of £40.00. My parents bought it for me solely because it had a transparent base and they thought that I would probably like to "see how it worked". Perhaps this was an adroit move on their part, if I could see inside it, why would I want to take it apart and risk breaking it (I had been known to do this before...and since!)? They didn't know this at the time but it was a very high quality piece of hardware, fully micro-switched with a robust yet comfortable feel. Its only weakness was the trigger button which after months of hammering would come loose from its spring mount and not make contact with one of the aforementioned micro-switches. That said, unlike many of its cheaper competitors, my Dad actually managed to take this apart and fix it relatively easily. Ok, it only meant hooking the switch back onto the spring mechanism but so many other more cheaply made joysticks couldn't be repaired like this.

 
 
 
 
I don't think I "needed" to replace this joystick. Yes, after a good few years the trigger button fault did occur more frequently and this did become  an annoyance (by this stage I too had learnt to repair it); instead, I think it was more a case of "I have birthday money to spend and I am going to spend it". Thus, when the opportunity arose, I found in a local branch of Electronics Boutique (now defunct)  an arcade stick which was in some respects an even more versatile gaming implement than its predecessor. The QJ Megastar (QJ denotes Quality Joystick but the branding on the stick only included QJ) was, in hindsight a fantastic piece of equipment. Like the Topstar it was fully micro-switched and the fire buttons laid out in arcade style next to the stick as opposed to on it had a very definite, responsive feel to them. Another "feature" that I found or invented was the ability to hook one's finger around the metal shaft of the stick [minds out of gutters please] and force the stick in the direction required. I don't know why I considered this a feature but I think it took the strain out of playing certain games that required character movement that involved moving the stick one way or another for a long period of time. Also, its form factor was small enough that I could arch my hand under the stick in a cradling motion and yet still access the fire buttons whilst operating the stick with my other hand. Alas, it didn't need to be suction-cupped in line of sight between me and the TV!
 
So, "what on earth has all this got to do with the rather cryptic sounding headline of this piece?" I hear you cry [well actually murmur as this blog doesn't have that many followers yet], well the main feature that both of these products had in common was their transparent cases. Now I assume that much like eyes are the windows to your soul, transparent joystick cases are a window to their internal mechanisms. Thus, even the least observant consumer could spot cheap construction and those with a bit more knowledge could pinpoint poor soldering or cheap component use. Therefore, my rule of thumb would be if you want a good joystick of the period one potential indicator of quality is whether the manufacturer has been bold enough to build their product into a see-through case.
 
Please feel free to comment below and provide details of any of your gaming hardware related experiences.


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Does realism always have to become tedium?

It seems that since the dawn of video gaming, with each evolution in technology a key benchmark used to measure success has been the graphical power of the machine in question and ergo how realistic or lifelike the games or peripherals released for each system are. However, is this relentless pursuit of realism a flawed ideal?

 
As a general disclaimer I would like to state that I do not intend to précis every single piece of videogame or computer hardware and software whose designers have promised either explicitly or otherwise that their equipment will produce a lifelike gaming experience, nor do I expect people to necessarily agree with my opinion. That said, I hope that this article provides scope for debate on the concept of realism in games. Caveat concluded, on with the post:
 
Tomy's Top Shot Pilot in all its glory
My earliest memory of playing a videogame purely for pleasure was around a neighbour's house at about the age of eight or nine. He had inherited an Atari 2600 "woody" from his stepdad, along with quite a large selection of games. Prior to this, I had access to Systema style LCD handheld games and Tomy's Top Shot Pilot & Turnin' Turbo Dashboard. The former I tired of quite quickly as the LCD display and limited gameplay restricted their long-term appeal. The latter faired slightly better as the ability to turn the key or flick the throttle control before grasping the steering wheel or flight stick (albeit that they were crude approximations) enabled me to cling onto the idea that I actually was driving a car or piloting a plane. That was until I asked my grandfather how both of these machines worked and he proceeded to tell me that the road or sky was not computer generated at all and that they were just constructed out of a continually rolling picture held on rollers. Dream smashed, these too were put to one side.
The Turnin' Turbo Dashboard (also by Tomy) dissected to
show how it works...thanks Granddad.
Even to this day at the "mature" age of 31, I still face such crushing disappointments. Being a big fan of Star Trek and especially Deep Space 9, when watching a making of documentary I was saddened to realise that the set wasn't actually a full size mock-up of the station that the actors walked through and acted out their parts in and that instead, each set was isolated from the others and was therefore quite small scale. All rather silly really but food for thought.
 
All of the information above, apart from providing a clear indicator of the fact that I want to live in a fantasy world, provides a paradox which I am sure is experienced by many game players. Most people, I assume, play games to escape reality for a while and engage in activities that have no consequence or significance in the real world; yet they want  their game playing environments in many respects to mirror their real world counterparts. This is most clearly evident when we consider games such as the later iterations of Grand Theft Auto that are modelled on real world cities. Naturally GTA does provide scope for the player to behave in ways that would get them seriously hurt/killed/arrested in the real world and this goes some way to explain the appeal: to be able to behave in a totally reckless way with total impunity, but why people enjoy conducting these activities  against the backdrop of a loose replica of their own urban environments is something that intrigues me. I am not casting aspersions about people that do it; I too am guilty of it but the inanity is amusing...I come home from work on a an underground train and then I ride on one in GTA
I guess the key here is realism, if it is realistic or believable it would appear that game developers are in many ways likely to be onto a winner. That said, is this pursuit of realism likely to become tiresome?
 
In an effort to answer this question, I am going to attempt to re-become my eight year old self in early '90s England. I don't mean by farting in the bath and laughing or running away from bees (...wait I still do that) but by remembering what systems, games or experiences captivated my interest, both at home and in the arcades (or anywhere else):
 
 

The Sega Video Driver distributed in Europe by Tyco
My first port of call is my grandparents' living room (incidentally their spare room still houses the aforementioned Tops hot Pilot and Turnin' Turbo Dashboard). When my parents were working over the school holidays the task of babysitting often fell to them. When it did, once I had exhausted all other avenues of entertainment, I would spend quite a lot of time in-front of the TV watching western or war films and perusing from cover to cover the Argos and Index catalogues (for those of you from America, these were the equivalent of the Sears catalogue). I would always gravitate towards the computer or videogame section and over various years both catalogues would sell Amstrad CPCs; Atari STs; Commodore 64s; Nintendo Entertainment Systems; Super Nintendos; Master Systems etc, etc. However, none of these interested me as much as the now rather obscure and mostly forgotten about Sega/Tyco Video Driver. I have never to this day seen one in the plastic and the only thing that fuelled my desire to own one was the description and small picture of it in the aforementioned catalogues and television advertisements that relied heavily on the VHS racing tapes provided with the system to sell it. To be fair, not taking into consideration the limited technical aspects of the system and poor levels of interactivity, no matter how dated and hammy the tapes may look now, to an eight year old child lacking the ability to separate fact from fiction in commercials, being told that you will drive the cars depicted which by their very nature were realistic (it was real video footage after all) was enough to make me want one.
 
videoObviously, having never owned one at the time, I cannot tell how impressed or disappointed I would have been if I actually had the opportunity to play with this. That said, I guess that I would have enjoyed the first few goes on it and as long as my grandfather resisted the temptation to tell me that my moving of the plastic car stuck in-front of the TV had no real bearing on the cars or people driving them on the video tape (for a breakdown of what the product looks like and how it works, see the video to the left). However, I know full well that if I had it to hand now, I would be utterly disappointed with it. The same is true of the Action Max. Having never owned one at the time and only being vaguely familiar with it as a consequence of taking one apart with a friend when I was about 16 (it was in a box of junk and wasn't connected to a TV in either my or his presence), it was Retro Gamer VX's video review of the system that in many respects provided me with the impetus create this post. In any case, if I was aware of this product at the time it was sold, especially if it was marketed as well as the Video Driver I would have been sure to of wanted one because they appeared realistic.
 
My pursuit for realism wasn't confined to my home either. Whenever I went on holiday and happened upon an arcade, I would gravitate towards games that had cabinets I could sit in or on. Indeed, any interactivity would grab my attention even if the game itself was poor, the fact that I was sitting within the cabinet made me enjoy the experience all the more than if I were playing the same game standing up. However, in hindsight perhaps this wasn't due to realism but because I enjoy playing games in private. Perhaps being encapsulated in such an immersive environment fuelled my enjoyment. Similarly, at around the same time, if the opportunity arose to travel on a real roller coaster or sit in a simulator ride of one, you can guess which option I chose. Even now, if I had the money and space I would buy one of these. They just look cool. A cross between the Runabout in Star Trek and a space shuttle, the anticipation as I climb inside, strap myself in and watch the door slowly and automatically close never gets old, even though I am fully aware that in effect I am watching a video and being moved up and down in time to it. Virtual Reality has always been in my (metaphorical) peripheral vision. Having always been a geek, I have waited with anticipation for developments in this era. Perhaps this is because I grew up on a diet of 2001: A Space Odyssey; Star Trek; The X Files and The Lawnmower Man. That said, until this point, any experiences I have had with consumer equipment that could be described as VR based has always ended in crushing disappointment...whether it be donning one of those massively cumbersome VR headsets in the arcades or purchasing the Aura Interactor virtual reality vest which makes for both a loud and painful gaming experience. That said, the Oculus Rift and Sony's VR offering seem very promising indeed. However, if these are simply going to be used to heighten the realism of already quite realistic gaming environments found in games such as GTA and Call of Duty, how long will it be until this becomes boring in itself? There are already murmurings from the game playing community that with each iteration of our favourite franchises we are presented with more of the same, how long will it be until we get bored with virtually walking down the streets of Los Santos or virtually walking through a battlefield. Indeed, surely one enticement for gamers is the fact that it is a fairly sedentary activity? If I want to take some exercise I go outside for a walk and similarly, if I want to walk around a battlefield shooting at people pretending to be 'ard, I'll go paintballing!  

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Interstate series

Possibly now fading into the distant collective memories of those that have played these games, Interstate 76 and a majority of its sequels and spin-offs definitely deserve a revisit.

This image served as the cover-art of the game
jewel case and  instruction manual.
There are three main games in the Interstate series and one spin-off entitled Vigilante 8 which was developed for the Nintendo 64; Playstation 1 and Gameboy Color. However, the main focus of this post will be the first game: Interstate 76.
 
The genre of the game can be defined as vehicular combat but this classification alone does not do it justice. Yes, ultimately you do drive around in cars attacking other vehicles but the game is so much more than that. Indeed, when one considers that it was released in 1997, the level of interaction with both the environment and the car you drive, combined with a fantastically immersive storyline and sound track make for a truly emotive gameplay experience.
 

Synopsis

The year is 1976 "the economy is in the throes of a deep recession. Flames of riot rule the cities. Gas[oline] is expensive and scarce. Crime is rampant. No one seems to care". No one that is except for you, Groove Champion, a rather apathetic individual it would seem who reluctantly gets involved with a group of vigilantes. Their mission is to prevent various gangs from disrupting the petrol supply and generally terrorising towns in the south-western states of America; yours is to avenge the death of your sister, Jade "Vixen" Champion.
 
The game plays out in a very cinematic way right from the opening credits which look like a cross between Dallas and The A Team backed by a big funk band sound composed and played by (amongst others) Arion Salazar who would later achieve fame in his band Third Eye Blind. Each character (although clearly drawn in a cartoon style) is represented as though they are played (read voiced) by an actor and indeed they are. Also, each mission is preceded by a cut-scene which is equally cinematic in style, often situated in a parking lot outside a truck stop or at the side of a road.  This is by no means a strange thing today. However, for my fifteen year old self this was a mind-blowing concept. Also (and this is something I will keep repeating), this was published in 1997. No "full motion video" was used yet this was a far more realistic and engrossing gameplay experience than anything produced for Sega's MegaCD at the time.
 
So, after watching a cut-scene which provides the back-story and rationale for your character getting involved in the action (your sister has been murdered by a mysterious aviator wearing villain called Carlo DeFungi) you are introduced to your friend Taurus, an afro sporting African-American funk stereotype of the era...think a more philosophical and less volatile Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction and you are there. He tells you that your sister was a vigilante as well as a good amateur racing driver. It is a shock to you that your sister had bolted guns to her Picard Piranha (a fictionalised version of the Plymouth Barracuda) for the purposes of crime fighting and it appears that she has been living somewhat of a double life. At first you don't want to join the cause thus replacing your sister. However, Taurus attempts to convince you by saying that is why on her death Jade gave you her car. In an attempt to get some headspace you say that you "think better on the road" before driving out of the parking lot and along the interstate. Cue a brief cut-scene and you are seamlessly placed into the first scenario which serves as the training mission of the game. 
 

Gameplay

The Plymouth Barracuda: the real world inspiration for the
Pickford Piranha that you drive for most of the game.  
The game plays out from mission to mission in a linear yet immersive story mode in which you engage in various activities including escorting school buses; protecting buildings and civilians and sometimes racing. It is almost certain that at some point in each mission you are going to have to engage in a fire fight with local villains who drive often equally well armed and armoured vehicles as yours. This may sound predictable and samey. However, as discussed above, the storyline, use of in-car equipment (you have a CB which you use to keep in contact with your crew, a damage indicator, weapons selector and radar) and ability to control almost every function of your car as if it were real (for example, you can manually turn headlights on or off, use the ignition and honk the horn amongst many other things) make for a truly atmospheric and immersive experience. Nothing seems rushed. For example, quite often you have to drive from a given point some distance away from where your primary mission is based and use a map to navigate without computer assisted waypoints or indicators. Thus, you often drive for what seems like just the right period of time to get to where you need to be. You find yourself frantically scanning the radar in the top left of your screen and listening out for the crackle of your CB to give you some indication of what is going on. If you couple this game with a steering wheel and pedals, the experience becomes all the more magical.
 

Graphics/presentation

From left to right: Taurus; Groove Champion &
Jade Champion who is murdered before you take to the road
in her car.
Obviously this game is (at the time of writing) seventeen years old. It is not going to look like GTA IV. That said, it plays very well and has an artistic style all of its own. I believe that from a technical standpoint the graphics were not top drawer even back then, the characters are drawn in what I can only describe as an elongated polygon style which for some reason seems to prevent facial features such as mouths being evident on all of the characters. Indeed, sometimes, when the characters are supposedly engaged in dialogue they are expressionless - even Postman Pat had an inane smile on his face when conversing with the characters of Greendale. That said, this does not detract from the overall experience. Yes the characters look unrealistic, but so to is the premise of the game. Everything else about the characters is of the era, sun glasses, open necked shirts and medallions, cigarettes and suits to name but a few.
 

Replayability

Unlike Knightrider (the TV series), this game has aged well and is definitely worth playing again and again, as is its immediate sequel/expansion pack: Interstate 76: Nitro Riders. It is available for download (legally) from a variety of places but it does have graphical glitches when run on modern (XP and above) systems. This is more of an annoyance than something that prevents enjoyment of the game. That said, the best way to experience it is to dust off an old Windows 95 machine, connect up a steering wheel & pedals and hit the road.