Is Saturn near Uranus..?

7 May, 1998

Hmmmm. Yes. Apologies well in advance for the puerile chapter heading of this diary entry...designed to draw attention, cause controversy, and highlight my unoriginal and immature sense of humour/humor (delete as applicable). There IS a vaguely justifiable reason for this ‘Saturn’ malarkey, which I’ll get into later. Anyway, sorry for the gap in updates but I’ve just had a busy couple of weeks after my slightly "happy-go-lucky" attitude to university work last term caught up with me. Thankfully, I’m now out of the danger zone and can afford to spend my time doing the things I love. Like writing this diary for you lot!

Instead of waffling on about general gaming issues, then slipping in some vague references to what I’ve been doing with my Yaroze, I’ve decided to reverse the order this week. I suppose the first Yaroze-related event of Spring 1998 was the Grand Edinburgh Yarozers Conference, with myself, James Rutherford and Graeme Evans all partaking in a highly intellectual debate (hmmm) before the evening descended into a fiercely competitive - for me, anyway - multi-player Micro Machines session (James’ multi-tap boomerang coming in quite handy for a change). The standard of gamesmanship was pretty mixed throughout the evening, but the self-styled Mr Frosty’s ice-cool driving (and early string of victories) cushioned him from my desperately aggressive ramming tactics in the closing races. As consolation, I got James and Graeme to sign the issue of EDGE they were quoted in (and you thought I was sad before, right?) so I can sell it for megabucks when they become game-design gurus. Ahem. Hey, it was all James’ idea..!

Some of you may know that a select group of Yarozers (i.e. EDGE competition winners and runners-up) were invited down to SCEE HQ in London for ‘a tour of the facilities’ as Lando Calrissian might have said (if he really existed). No, of course I wasn’t one of them, but (diary regular) James Rutherford was, and he made the extremely wise decision to tape the whole event (controversially, even his encounter with Lewis Evans in the men’s room). So far I’ve had a listen to the opening talk given by Juan "SCEE top brass" Montes which was very enlightening - it reminded me that games software really is a serious business, not just some hobby you get paid for. I gather most of the other talks were also really interesting (so geeze a loan of yer tapes, Jimbo)! Oh yeah, the lucky EDGE compo gits also got a ‘free’ lunch at Planet Hollywood. So, that’s where the membership funds go, huh (*joke* - to avoid being put on SCEE blacklist)? Those SCEE visitors among you will be insanely jealous to discover that I too have one of Mr Frosty’s "Snowball Fight" promo T-shirts, putting Sony’s recent PS clothing label to shame (although I quite fancy getting my girlfriend one of those "Playstation Widow" T-shirts - ahhh, the irony). Still, they're not as nifty as Frosty’s freebie "Polygon-count-reduction Man" effort! *ahem*

As far as my programming ‘progress’ was concerned, by the time I got round to dusting off C for Dummies II a whole month happened to have passed since I last typed "void main()" or used the ‘{‘ key of my PC. Erp! To jog my memory, I went through the whole chapter on pointers again, and I understood it soooo much better. Hey, I guess revision DOES make a difference! As I write, I’m now getting into structures and stuff, with the distinctly non-Yaroze related chapter on disk access ahead. Only a week to go and I’ll have finished the book, I reckon. Then I’ll have to start ploughing through all the tutorials I’ve downloaded - it’ll be "Hello World" all over again - erp! Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The final bit of Yaroze-y news is that I decided to splash out on a Hauppauge TV card for my PC, thus returning my temperamental Sony Trinitron to the N64 and ‘proper’ Playstation in the corner of my room. What do I reckon? Well, I ended up paying 115 for the TV/Teletext card (model 406) and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. It DOES play back in full-colour (PAL or NTSC), it DOES have a sharp S-Video picture and it DOES look pretty good, even on a puny 14-inch monitor. The only downer is that the picture is slightly bordered (particularly in NTSC mode) on all 4 sides, and on my increasingly creaky P133 (or is it my dutiful but malnourished 2MB video card?) the full screen picture gets a bit motion-blurry - I reckon this is due to a slow frame rate or interlace problems (which a nifty processor/video card upgrade should solve). Still, it’s not that noticeable when you’re actually playing a game, like Wipeout 2097 or Psychon (yes, I helpfully gave you examples of games there). FYI, my first TV card actually fizzed out after a few days (the screen was perpetually ultra-bright) so I changed it and the replacement has been fine (so far). Technology, eh? I also plan on digitising some of my more accomplished camcorder movies for your enjoyment at some point. Watch out for AVI-formatted classics like "The Great Milk Robbery", "Pool Shark" and "Enemy UFO". You’ll wonder how I never got a job in special effects with that last one.

Far more exciting (and increasingly detrimental to my Yaroze programming schedule) has been my recent purchase of a cheapo second-hand Sega Saturn with Virtua Fighter 2! I also managed to pick up Virtua Cop (with gun), an extra pad, Christmas Nights and a memory pack on the cheap. Excellent! I’m well chuffed, but I know some people don’t exactly hold Sega’s machine in high regard - and they tend to be Playstation owners. Allow me to explain the wisdom of buying a Saturn in it’s twilight years by saying, prophet-like:

I’m well aware that the last game due to come out (in PAL territories) is Shining Force III this June, so it’s essentially a "dead" format in Europe. Oh well - I hope my fellow UK Saturn owners are foolish enough to sell off their old games at ludicrously low prices this summer! In the meantime, Burning Rangers, House of the Dead and Panzer Dragoon Saga look extremely promising! Mmmm, more zombies!

The next diary entry will hopefully chronicle (yes, I said ‘chronicle’ - it will be *that* epic!) my first attempts to get the Yaroze to do something. Anything. I have a few ideas for very basic graphics demos and "fun things" that will work as a precursor to actually writing my first game: they might even keep you guys entertained (at least for a few seconds). Alas, I heard from Graeme that my genius "Etch-A-Sketch emulator" idea has already been done. Grrr - that makes me feel for those New Zealand guys who claim their play inspired ‘The Full Monty’! Anyone got any nominations for other cheesy 80’s kids toys that I can "convert" to the PS? ‘Simple Simon’ comes to mind (but that always got dead boring, didn’t it)?

It’s my li’l brother Chris’ 20th birthday today. In misty-eyed celebration, I salute three great 2-player games that we used to play all the time (and I mean ALL the time)...

  • Super Mario Bros (NES)

  • Super Mario Kart (SNES)

  • Street Fighter II (SNES)

We were talking on the phone a few weeks ago, about the way some people lose interest in games as they get older. He still likes video games, but I think they no longer grab him the way they did even 5 years ago. I mean, Chris doesn’t exactly leap on my Playstation when he visits, demanding to play Resident Evil 2 or Gran Turismo. Hell, we no longer even fight over who gets to play next! Multi-player games are pretty much all that go on when he’s up - Goldeneye gets bags of play time, as does Mario Kart 64. I’ve asked him to write about his thoughts on this matter for my Game Design section, which IS in the works but is proceeding a bit slower than I had planned (hey, blame the Saturn and my impending literary dissertation deadline). As for me, I sometimes worry that I’m too into games to appreciate what "regular" gamers (i.e. those who don’t own 8 gaming platforms) want... Maybe hardcore gamers like myself really are freaks with social ‘issues’? Hey, if anyone has any thoughts along these lines, please mail me and I’ll quote you in the forthcoming Game Design article!

(BTW, didn’t the UK do well in Eurovision? I can’t work out whether to be proud or ashamed...)

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