Archive for January, 2014

I posted on my other blog about visiting the Cambridge museum of the history of computing. But I wanted to talk as about it from a personal view point now, why I think it’s so important and my ideas for their future.

When I went to visit I immediately thought it was amazing. Having all these computers and consoles in one place that you can sit down on and play. They really focus on making everything interactive where possible which is brilliant. Just having them in display cabinets would be really boring, but actually being able to sit down on a C64 and play old games is great and really helps to make you understand how the technology has changed over the decades.

The thing I did keep thinking though was how they can split games from applications. Right now the majority of the hardware is showing old games and not much in the way of applications, so maybe they could split applications into a separate area. This would allow for an Amiga in the games area with a flash drive loaded with old games, and then a separate one in the applications area running Deluxe paint or Octamed (music tracker software).

I also think it would be cool to have screens above each systems showing videos of all the best games on them and more in information on how each system has been used in the past (such as the Amiga being used to generate the 3d effects in the Babylon 5 TV series)

And maybe when you walk in, there could be a timeline on the floor that you follow with the exhibits on either side of you going through the decades. So the PDP 1 showing space war would be at the entrance ending with a PS4 at the exit of the main room.

Then maybe in a side room, there could be a “future of computing” exhibit, showing things like the oculus rift headset for visitors to try out and interviews showing on video screens with developers and hardware designers talking about the future of computing.

That’s just my thoughts anyway. I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s visited the museum and tell me what you think. And what would be your ideas for a fun and interesting computing museum?

A new mini documentary just popped up on Youtube for the museum:

You can find my original post on the museum here:


Towards the end of the last decade it was looking like only large development studios with huge budgets had a chance of releasing games that could become popular. Fast forward a few  years and look how the situation has changed. The most popular game on android and possibly PC too is Minecraft, written for the first few releases by a single developer. Thanks partly to YouTube it exploded overnight and sold millions of copies directly from its website.

Does Minecraft have amazing graphics? NO
Does it have great sound and voice acting? NO
Does it have tie ins with movies or sports? NO
Did it get advertised everywhere? NO
So why did it sell so well? It was FUN? And introduced a little originality which the other big games weren’t doing.
You only have to watch a few minutes on YouTube of mine craft to see it’s all about emergent gameplay and not AAA quality graphics and movie quality storylines and acting. It allowed players to shape the game world how they wanted and to play with each other in their own worlds without any dictation on game rules or monthly subscriptions. In a similar way to how “cat and mouse” became such a popular made up game mode in Project Gothem Racing on the Xbox.

This was written by one person and there no reason more and more future hits came be written by either individual or very small groups of between two and five people. The internet allows these people to work completely remotely and the current crop of game engines available like Unity allow for the team to focus purely on gameplay and content without needing engineering and maths degrees to get a decent engine together first. The cost of development has also dropped drastically too, android games can be developed for free as can PC and Mac games. Even the iPhone only has a small cost of entry to submit apps (assuming you already own a Mac and iPhone/iPad that is).

That raises another point. The market for phone games is huge, and looking at them, there no reason most of the big hitters like Candy Crush Saga, or any of the angry birds games  couldn’t have Bern written by very small teams sitting in their bedrooms, in all likely hood some of them might have been!

My advice if your thinking of writing games but are worried about finding a job with an established developer is to simply do it yourself! There’s never been a better time since the mid 1980s to be a bedroom based programmer, so get on with it!

I just finished reading “Just a Geek” written by Wil Wheaton. The very same that played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek the Next Generation.

Third book came out quite a while ago now. Around 2006 I think.  He spends a  lot of time going over his  feelings after leaving star trek, how he hated the way the writers treated the Wesley character and the abuse he got from fans for the storylines he had to act out but got no say in.

He talks about auditions for films and TV shows, becoming a writer and his association with non Hollywood work like the Video toaster device that worked with the old Amiga computers.

It’s a really interesting book for anyone wondering what happened post star trek and worth it just for reading how star trek conventions work and the behaviour of the organisers.

He’s done a lot since the publication of “Just a geek”, such as voicing the joker in the batman cartoons and appearing on “The big bang theory”,  so I’m sure they’ll be a sequel soon enough.

A good read well worth the effort to find a copy.

The original Xbox was the first games console to come with a built in hard disk and network adaptor. This should have made for some very special features the PS2 couldn’t match.

The first game I ever played on an Xbox was Mechassault at a friends house. He was playing it over Xbox live wearing a headset and fighting against eleven other players. I could immediately see the graphics were superior to the PS2 and the online part was amazingly smooth with no lag in games and matchmaking that seemed to work great.

The Xbox was released as a first entry into the home console market by Microsoft and as a competitor to the PS2.  Hardware wise, it was estimated to be about twice as powerful and I’m some games this showed quite clearly, such as in the GTA series. There was also a release of doom 3 and half life 2 which the PS2 couldn’t hope to come close to doing justice too.

Aside from games, what am I posting about? Well, several years after seeing the Xbox for the first time I discovered modding.

Modding allows for some pretty amazing functions on the Xbox. Such a accessing it from your PC, installing games onto the hard drive, running emulators, and streaming videos and music.

Basically Microsoft could have had something like the Wii’s virtual console on the Xbox, they could also have released an iPlayer app, and had a streaming TV/movie service like Netflix, over ten years ago!!! Now I know the hard disk was only 6 gigs but the controller ports were based on USB, so a small adaptor cable could have easily allowed for an external drive to be connected.

The Xbox was also very close to being a PC, CPU architecture wise, so they could have easily written a visual studio express edition to let indie developers write games for it, then use XBox Live as the marketplace, but they didn’t do this till the 360.

What else? Well many European readers won’t know this but the Xbox was HD capable, and in the US, a number of games could be played at 720p resolution. Making better use of this in Europe would have been awesome and really shown off what the system was capable of, maybe it could of even upscaled DVDs to 720p quality?

Basically what I’m saying is everything the 360 did was possible on the first Xbox and Microsoft would have blown Sony out the water, but they didn’t.

And now they’re failing to beat Sony with the Xbox one…. Will you never learn Microsoft?

Oculus Rift at CES 2014

Posted: January 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

I’ve been reading all the news updates online about the new Oculus Rift prototype being shown at CES in Las Vegas this month.

This headset was first down more than a year ago and went on to have a very successful kickstarter campaign. But the latest prototype names Crystal Cove is almost ready for release. Its high resolution, has position tracking and they’ve got rid of the blur you can see when turning your head quickly.

Many games including half life 2, team fortress 2, minecraft and even the upcoming Elite dangerous game have support for it either officially or by mods.

You can buy a developer version now that runs at a lower resolution and doesn’t have position tracking at now.

Ready player one – by Ernest Cline

I stumbled across this book on Amazon I think and after reading the blurb decided it was a “must read”. After reading it, I have to say anyone who grew up in the 1980’s needs to read this, it will also help to be interested in technology and now a little pop culture from that era.

The basic premise of the book is that it’s around the year 2045 and the owner of the worlds most popular world wide virtual reality based internet simulation had died, leaving a challenge that anyone to find the hidden secrets he’s left in the vast virtual world he developed will inherit his fortune and complete control and ownership of the world known as the OASIS.

The book focusses around a teenager called Wade Watts who has been practically raised by the OASIS and due to a massively dysfunctional family life spends all his time logged in. The virtual environment known as the OASIS is a fully 3D virtual universe accessed using a stand alone computer console, a set of retinal goggles ( which project the image directly onto your retinas ) and a pair of  haptic gloves. Wade decides to devote his life to searching for the secret to inherit the billions of dollars up for offer. Facing up to other players trying to stop him as well as a huge corporation. The story is literally rammed full of references to games like adventure on the Atari 2600 to tempest to Joust, and films like Wargames, Monty Python and the holy grail, and the breakfast club come up among many others.

The book had me gripped straight away and I finished it in three sittings.

The movie rights have been bought by Warner Bros, and if they can sort out the licencing issues to include all the games, film and music references in the story it would be a brilliant film to go see.

My conclusion is if you like old games, virtual reality, or anything to do with 80’s pop culture then you’ll love this book.

Now I’m just waiting for the Oculas Rift to be finished so I can live the book for real!

Are games anti-social?

Posted: January 6, 2014 in Uncategorized
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I’ve played computer games for as long as I can remember. The first game I remember pitting much time into was called “Roland in time” for the Amstrad CPC. I must have been around seven and I loved it. It played like Manic Miner on the Spectrum, but I didn’t know that at the time as I’d never used a Spectrum. I never thought at the time how anti social some games can be, but this would have been a good example of such a game. It was single player only and I’d often sit and play for an hour or more at a time in the dining room on the computer while my family were in the sitting room. Did this sort of involvement in games stunt my social  development? I can’t say really. But with my wife being pregnant, the topic of hour much if any time we allow our child to spend playing computer games has come up, and needs discussing.

My wife had a very active upbringing, focused on activities like swimming, music and going to brownies. Where as mine, though it did include some playing with friends outside and going to scouts for a while, was mostly spent watching TV or playing on the computer. I wasn’t just playing games, I did try learning programming, but games was my main interest.

My wife argues that games are at their root, very anti social, causing children to grow into being teenagers without the ability to communicate  effectively with other human beings. I can’t say I totally disagree with her but I think the tide is turning. Take MMOs for example, much of the game is generally linked to teaming up with other players to complete tasks, thus can take quite a lot of planning for bigger missions and you even have to account for the other players real lives when planning when to go ahead with the plan. I’m obviously talking about things like 25 man raids in World of Warcraft here but the argument stands for other examples too.

Also, as voice has become standard across all formats for online play, players now speak to each other directly in game. When I play against friends online, we generally use the in game chat just like a phone call to catch up on each others news and almost ignore the game we’re playing unless we need to say something about it.

A friend of mine years ago, actually learnt to speak Japanese through paying Xbox games online and then went on to visit Japan and visit the people he’d met via the games.

And look at how games are going now. Itsy all focused on multiplayer and improving interactions between players, either by the platform the game chooses such as Facebook or by the technology like voice chat.

I would argue that games historically have been  antisocial, but with the developments happening with multiplayer online games, thus level of anti socialness is dropping and by the time my child is old enough to play games online, they may even be socially acceptable as a way to make friends and learn how to interact with society.

I welcome people’s thoughts on this. I think right now it’s very easy to say technology is turning us into an  antisocial society but the future may bring all that tech together and reunite society with itself.

My new blog!

Posted: January 6, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Hello to all you future readers who come across this blog!
Firstly I should  I introduce myself. I’m Andy, I’m 33 years old, an IT software consultant, married and have a child on the way. I used to be much more nerdy than I am now, but being married seems to stop me spending quite so many evenings sat on the PC as I otherwise would have.

So this is a blog on my interests, my hobbies and how they tie in with my general nerdiness in life.
I’ll review books I like, games I like, websites, TV programme’s and anything else I feel like talking about.

Feel free to comment if I hit on anything you want to chat about, or even if you don’t agree with me!