Tonight's Double Bill: "Son of ECTS" & "GDUK-Zilla!"

19 January, 1999

This diary entry is dedicated to Sarah Bennett at SCEE, for thinking of myself and Mr Frosty when those spare tickets for GDUK came up!

A funny thing happened - I woke up and two months had gone by without me noticing. Errrr, so where have I been and what have I been doing? Good question - I am determined not to become one of those people who fizzles enthusiastically and then mysteriously vanishes from the Net Yaroze scene BUT it is increasingly hard to maintain this page and do all the other things I want to do. I mean, which is more important - keeping up with the diary, or continuing the "personal development" (to be pronounced in sickly Californian drawl) that it is meant to describe? Glancing back over the past few entries, there has been precious little about my Net Yaroze progress, and there's a reason for that: I haven't made any. Not a jot since ECTS - Mud 'n Blood was the last thing I wrote - how bad is that?

So, what to do? Suggestions from the audience please! I'm not going away, but - well, let me list the things going on in my life in horrendously mundane detail:

  • University work. I've been at Edinburgh Uni for 3-and-a-half years and there's no way I'm not graduating this summer with a 2.1 or a 1st, thanks very much. I might not want to be a Psychologist when I grow up, but I am interested in my degree and want to do my family some justice for paying me to doss about for 4 years. I need to get stuck into some serious coursework from now on - I probably know less about my subject than any other Masters student in the history of mankind.
  • Social life. There can be no escaping the fact that things got a bit anorak-y last summer. Not that I particularly care, but I don't think focusing every bit of spare time on my Net Yaroze (or, indeed, computers) is a very healthy idea. Go out and have a pint, lad, for chrissake!
  • Job hunting. Let it begin in earnest! I'm finished composing letters for a few games companies, and I'm thinking seriously about where I'm prepared to move to and what sort of positions I'll go for (read: anywhere and anything). I've already made the decision NOT to go for the traditional "milk round" jobs (consulting, accountancy, middle management) that many of my peers are falling over each other to get, even if the starting salaries are mucho grande than what I can expect as a newbie in the games industry. At least I'll be happy (he naively thought).
  • Writing. Yup, aside from this diary I have a few other commitments - not least my new post as resident console expert at Loonygames, writing the fortnightly "Pad Happy" column. I also want to redesign my personal webpage, making something a bit sharper, more stylish and professional - something for prospective employers to visit. You must realise that my ultimate dream for this diary is to chart my eventual employment by a real company, at which point I'll vanish from the NY scene like so many other Yarozers who have found industry jobs? Just kidding, I'd like to keep this up for as long as I think it's worth it - only a vicious NDA will stop me!
  • Other games-related stuff. Despite going on about starting it (I haven't), I'm still crap at 3D stuff and anything mathematically more complex than very simple equations. Hmmm. I also want to get into some serious level-editing for Half-Life and Unreal - basically, get skilled at Worldcraft, make some good levels, and take them round to prove I have a clue. Similarly, I have a few cheapo books on 3D art and modelling I want to get into. Oh, and I still want to play a few games, too - thank God the Christmas blitz of titles is over, though (yeah, I know you don't have to buy them the day they come out).
  • Girlfriend. I want to keep her around, especially considering the lack of females in my chosen profession. 'nuff said, I think.
  • There is far too much above for me to fit into the next 6 months, after which time I'll no longer be a student (and will hopefully be spending a month or so visiting the US of A, my spiritual homeland). So what's going to give? We'll just have to wait and see. Anyway, I believe I promised a few things in the last diary entry, so here's a bit more of the sort of thing you were probably expecting when you innocently clicked on this link, not expecting my little crisis of faith...

    ECTS? I remember that! Well, let's just continue by saying the Konami stand was one of my favourites - boasting Metal Gear Solid (*hem* - bought and finished it now, of course, but at the time it was very exciting!) plus the strangely engrossing Silent Hill - a game that impressed me so much I'm probably going to make it the one game I'm allowing myself to buy between now and the summer. There were two short demos you could play at the show, and I sat and played them both. Silent Hill - spooky, atmospheric, psychological horror (Twin Peaks meets The Fog). I'm hooked, boys. Castlevania 64 was another game I had a long shot of - very nice to see all the familiar stuff in 3D, but I wasn't convinced of the control system, nor the quality of the graphics and animation. Why is it nobody can match Nintendo, Rare or Acclaim when it comes to programming the N64? Grrr...

    Interplay had a few goodies - namely Shiny's Messiah and Earthworm Jim 3D. Messiah looked amazing, and I had the knee-trembling opportunity to "chat" briefly with Dave Perry about it. The conversation went something like this...

    The (very tall) Dave Perry notices some street urchin with unconvincing "PRESS" pass watching him play Messiah
    Dave: Hi there.
    Me: Uuuh, hi. Is this Messiah? (Duh - why not say "I'm an amoeba"?)
    Dave: Yeah, this is Messiah, a game we're releasing in 1999 for the PC.
    Me: It's, uh, cool - the way you can take over people and set them on fire.
    Dave: Well, this spontaneous combustion is just a feature we have for the show - the fire effect is started by a button-press, in the real game you'd have to make the guy run into a fire. But you will be able to throw people over ledges and break their legs 'n stuff.
    Me: Cool. (No!!!! Ferguson, say something intelligent!) What else?
    Dave: (Lengthy explanation of "scaling" polygon tessellation technology everyone now knows about)
    Me: So, what machine is this running on?
    Dave: Uh, a P2 450.
    Me: Is there a machine here demonstrating the game's performance on a slower machine?
    Dave: No, but that would have been a good idea (yay!). Well, excuse me, I gotta go...

    So, once again, sorry Dave Perry for ruining your day. Heh. The other embarrassing incident was when I got a call on my mobile and walked off the show floor into some quiet area to answer it. So engrossed was I in my conversation that it took a good few seconds before I realised I was standing in the middle of the ladies "restroom". Erp! Thankfully, this is ECTS we're talking about so it wasn't too busy, but still a bit of a faux pas. Damn those phones!

    The Acclaim stand was one of my favourites - and not just because the big video screen gave me something to watch while queuing for the Metal Gear show. Turok 2 was a very impressive-looking game (the N64 memory pack-enhanced version, especially) and the 15 or so minutes I spent playing the opening level convinced me that, yes, this game was going on my Xmas shopping list, along with the RAM pack. And then there were those Acclaim dancers - if anyone tries to tell you that the games industry ISN'T sad, let me assure you that judging from the desperate gazes of assorted geeks, it very much IS. And this from a guy who queued to get his photo taken with "the real Lara Croft".

    The freebies at ECTS weren't too bad. A bumper crop from Sony - including a demo CD, a PRESS PACK (woo-hoo!), a tacky Tekken 3 bag and a Net Yaroze pen. Most of the other giveaways were pretty dull, but I was particularly chuffed with my Metal Gear Solid dog-tag and my EDGE t-shirt. Lots of PC demo discs, but the only one I bothered to install was Grand Prix Legends and it ran so slowly that it was immediately deleted. Had a bit of trouble getting the Sony Press CD to run in my PlayStation until I realised it was probably a PC disc. Aaaaanyway...

    I was in Hong Kong for a fortnight after that and managed to get hold of the Japanese version of Metal Gear Solid (not all that good an idea, but worth it for the Premium Pack freebies) and F-Zero X for Nintendo 64. My flatmate Ross was out and spent a fortune on stuff (a DVD player, a PlayStation, assorted games, PC hardware and a Philips Nino handheld PC - very nice). I bought a couple of DVDs for the flat's new DVD player and I have to say - DVD rocks! Yes, I know I'm a movie buff with a distinct technological bent so you'd expect me to like it, but these li'l things are sooo much better than VHS you wouldn't believe it (and the extra stuff you can get on some of the better discs is brilliant). I now have "The Thing" in widescreen with a John Carpenter/Kurt Russell commentary - I can die a happy man. I returned to university in October a very relaxed person - and waited with not-particularly-bated breath for news of GDUK. Turned out I wasn't nominated (duh) - but good things lay in store anyway.

    On the morning of the Game Design UK awards, I was rudely awoken by a fairly excited-sounding James Rutherford telling me we MIGHT be getting to go to the GDUK awards, as a couple of people scheduled to travel with the Sony party had pulled out at the last minute. I guess we were picked because we were 1) fairly local (to Stirling, that is) 2) students (and thus well able to skip lectures for the opportunity to dine with the cream of Scottish game design talent) 3) GDUK entrants and 4) keen gits. Well, one confirmatory phone call later that afternoon and we were on the train to Stirling faster than you could say, er, Bannockburn. A night of feasting, quaffing and industry hob-nobbing lay ahead!

    We arrived at the Holiday Inn Express at about 5 o'clock, giving us a few minutes to chat with some of the nominees, including Net Yaroze heroes Chris Chadwick, Nick Slaven and Rob Swan. The other nominees were a mixed bunch - some quiet, reticent chappies, some a bit outspoken; Mark Gallear, with a design nomination for "Roman Gladiators", was a bit loud and abrasive (so we were glad he didn't win in the end), and French lass Florence Richer, who had created some multimedia demo (she described it to me but I think that just made my understanding worse) was an interesting character. After I'd finished my beer, I hopped into my DJ and boarded the bus to the awards dinner and ceremony!

    The reception was in a big hall at Stirling Castle - there was a video screen displaying what I think were sequences from Red Lemon's upcoming "Aeronauts" title and a web-browsing set-up (with just the Scottish Games Alliance site on it). I ended up chatting to Andrew Dobson, one of the nominees for "Best Music" - turns out he was more into film music, but thought writing something for a game would be fun. Nice one! Amid the throng of people I spotted Dominik Diamond - and memories of watching Gamesmaster after school (or uni, for that matter) couldn't help but get my spine a-tingling! Let's get a decent games-related program on the telly again, shall we?

    A few glasses of mulled wine later, I was sat on the Sony table between James Rutherford and some journalist from PC Zone. This journo proceeded to get visibly pissed over the course of the evening, prove incapable of operating his minidisc recorder and generally coming over as a bit of a tit: I hope if I ever end up being a reporter, I'll have a bit more self-discipline than that. I had a chat with Pete Passmore, who told me that his first degree was in Psychology! He's an interesting guy, I wish I'd spoken to him a bit more. Also at the table were Sarah Bennett (down, DEnnis!) and Pascal Jarry from SCEE but they were a bit too far away for me to talk to them much. Nick Slaven was on our table, but the kilt-wearing Rob Swan and Chris Chadwick had been dispersed - along with the other nominees - to the numerous "company" tables (DMA, Eidos, Red Lemon, Vis, etc).

    The food was yummy and the ambience suitably "Scottish" - in a fire-lit, macabre kind of way, but that was fun. There was a presentation stage set up at the end of the hall, and after a few introductory speeches (one by EIDOS bod and those 80's Fighting Fantasy books guru Ian Livingstone) the awards commenced. Well, it's old news now but congratulations to Chris Chadwick for becoming 6 grand richer in the space of ten minutes, and commiseration's to Rob and Nick. Still, I guess the publicity (and resultant job offers) mean nobody really lost (especially Mr Chadwick - buy us a pint, Chris)!

    After the awards I chatted to a couple of the non-Yaroze entrants: Kenny McAlpine (who won Best Audio) and the Winner of Best Game Design (whose name I forget) - I remember we shared a common bond: he also LOVED Rare and the old Ultimate Speccy games! I see they have since signed up to work for Inner Workings - I have to remember to win a category if there's a GDUK next year! I also chatted, briefly, with Dave Jones of DMA (James R. was hogging him) and Jim Woods, DMA's development manager. I found out a wee bit about the new Edinburgh Studio, and I wasn't so far gone as to make an arse of myself, which was nice (James, on the other hand, actually asked if he could "steal" Dave Jones' name-place from the table - har har)! Finally, for those who maintain Scots are stingy, I'd like to add that two Scots were the only winners to buy me a drink (me-ow!).

    We were bussed back to the Holiday Inn and I sat up in the lobby for a looong time with guys from assorted Scottish games companies (inc. a be-kilted Chris Van der Kuyl from Vis). Can't remember too much about this, but I did talk to Chris Wright from Inner Workings about how just how fantastic Gameboy Zelda was, and received a few interview tips on "how to be a good game designer". I eventually fell into bed at about 5 or so in the morning, and woke up to the sound of everyone jumping on the bus back to the airport. Later, guys! One bog-standard travel-lodge breakfast later, and my GDUK odyssey was pretty much over. Just before we left, James and I had the chance to bitch up the arse from PC Zone to Scottish Enterprise's GDUK organiser Liz Ibbotson - that was most satisfying.

    My advice for any future GDUK attendees? Well, most likely you'll be there for a real reason (unlike me), so just enjoy the ride and remember to TALK to people, especially important people who are in charge of big companies. I really only talked to the DMA guys, and had a Dave Perry-esque exchange with Kirk Ewing from Vis. When will I learn? Overall, it was just fantastic to be in a room with so many "names", to meet some like-minded bods and to feel (however unwarranted) that I had somehow "earned" my position in all this. I love the games industry more than ever now - every few months I seem to get a bit closer to it - and if GDUK did one thing for me, it reassured me that this is what I want to do.

    NEXT: Christmas in Hong Kong. PC upgrades. More musings on life, death and Yaroze. Slowly catching up with myself, see?

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