Hong Kong is perhaps better known for its pirate games; known as HKs or silvers, these retail for about £3 each if you buy a large number at a time. Allegedly. Ill just dwell on the morals of software piracy for a moment, although I guess its up to each individual if they think its worth buying pirate games or not. As someone who quite fancies a career in the software industry, I have to say I now think its just plain wrong to steal someone elses hard work. Plus - and I have to admit I speak from experience - you cannot fully appreciate games when you pick them up for next to nothing. Sure, you can buy 15 HKs for the cost of a legit game, but when do you think youre going to find the time to play them all properly? Also, imagine getting to disk 3 of Final Fantasy VII and then finding out that you bought a dud copy. Annoying, no? Pirate disks are often well dodgy, and they do your PSs laser lens no good, believe me. What is truly fascinating about piracy in Hong Kong is the open environment in which the pirates operate - theyre usually located right next to the legitimate shops (which still manage a brisk trade, it has to be said). Since 1997, it has certainly become less blatant - several notorious pirate CD hangouts have even been closed down - but youd never think there was anything illegal about the rest of the places if it wasnt for the ridiculously low prices and obviously photocopied CD covers... Its not just Playstation software, either. Brand new movies are for sale on copied Video CDs (Titanic and Jackie Brown when I was out), and pirate PC software is even more common. I guess ELSPA wouldnt know where to begin!
I picked up the following games while I was out in Hong Kong - all, I hasten to add, legitimate Japanese versions:
Biohazard\Resident Evil II - £25 (I couldnt believe it!)
1080 Degree Snowboarding (N64) - £40 (and damn hard to find)
Tekken 3 (with Dual Shock Pad) - £50
Bust A Move: Dance and Rhythm Action (PS) - £35
Wow! Gaming sure can be an expensive habit, though I suppose I get more for my money than most! Im extremely happy with all my purchases - Biohazard II certainly makes the top of my list (please, indulge my zombie obsession by reading the George A. Romero article I wrote for Edinburghs student paper and my old Resident Evil review...) and BTW, I couldnt give a damn if the text is in Japanese! As for the brilliance of the rest, well, I dont know about Tekken 3 - its a stupendous beat-em up, but I think the whole "I-slap-you, you-slap-me" genre is looking very tired. Bust A Move is obviously "inspired" by Parappa, but takes the premise a great deal further with gorgeous 3D visuals, an awesome soundtrack, great characterisation and a gameplay-saving two player mode. Ignore the (slightly harsh) 7/10 review in Aprils EDGE - pick it up on import if you fancy a genuinely amusing and entertaining change from the usual PS fare (Graeme Evans "Its Love" kitty-petting weirdfest is perhaps the closest experience on the Yaroze). For those who care - and you should - 1080 Snowboarding is a beautiful snowboarding game with oh-so-nearly flawless playability, and knocks the socks off of any of the Playstation snowboarding games. Yes, a pity about the brain-dead opposition AI, but the control, graphics and sound are fantastic.
Enough of the games! This is meant to be my Yaroze Diary, not the game reviews section of my homepage or N64 Gazetta (plug, plug). When I wasnt playing my spunky new games, I did crack on with C for Dummies II and spent a lot of time cruising the Yaroze websites, particularly the SCEE ones (with a mind to picking up all the EDGE competition entries). The results of the EDGE competition were up the first few days I was back, and Ill confess, I had mixed feelings about them. This isnt small-minded Snowball Fight bias, I assure you! I just didnt feel the winning games were the ones that I had found really exciting - Chris Chadwicks "Blitter Boy" was beautiful and technically superb, but really at too early a stage of development to merit first place IMHO (as ever). No offence, Chris! I was also surprised Robert Swans "Revolution" wasnt in there somewhere, along with James Shaughnessys "Gravitation" (PAL/NTSC switching! 2 player Thrust-style battles! Dodgy gate bug - now fixed!). But then, who am I to argue with ex-EDGE ed. Jason Brookes?
Aside from picking up the odd demo or ten (Im not reviewing them all - you can go to Mr Frosty on SCEE for that!), I also got hold of Ira Raineys sprite tutorial, Pete Passmores 3D tutorials, and Robert Swans explanation of exactly what an "ordering table" is. Excellent! All I can say to these people is "Thank you" (theyre probably now wondering why I never mailed them to say so at the time - erp!), these references are about 1000 times more useful than the official Sony stuff (again!?) and are making it much easier for me to get the hang of writing stuff for Yaroze.
My C programming also progressed in leaps and bounds this holiday. I managed to make it to the end of the massive chapter on pointers; I now understand pretty much how they work, and why people get into trouble with them! Other topics I covered included advanced stuff on arrays and strings, as well as some of the more advanced maths functions like cos, sine, log and all that GCSE maths stuff. The only things I have left do now in C for Dummies are the chapters on structures, memory allocation and writing big programs. There are also some "missing" chapters on the web that I might look at, as well as a section on PC disk accessing which isnt really Yaroze-related but might come in handy. Hey, you never know!
Looking at Yaroze source code (namely, the "bouncing balls" demo you get on the PC CD and Mr Frostys well-commented Funky Spirals code) these days is both encouraging and profoundly depressing. Its encouraging because I now understand so much more of it than I possibly could a month ago. OK, so that isnt hard because I knew absolutely ZERO a month ago, but it gives me a real sense of progress. What is depressing is looking at all the Playstation-specific commands - all the sound and graphics functions, controller handling and sprite instructions look horribly complex. Even the simplest programs, such as Ira Raineys sprite tutorials, are vaguely intimidating. But then, I knew what I was getting into, didnt I? And dont think Im giving up, all you veteran hardcore Yaroze coders! Ill be entering a polished (if likely simplistic and sonically-challenged!) game for the GDUK 98 competition, or Im a big hairy gooseberry with no mates! Its a case of "so near, and yet so far" if there ever was one.
Ah, yes. The Games Design UK 98 competition. I suppose its testament to the reputation I have amongst friends and family that I received no less than three e-mails and one fax alerting me to the subject while I was out in Hong Kong. My aunt faxed me a newspaper article with a big cheesy picture of David Jones from DMA Design, and the encouraging claim that the British software industry would be worth £15 billion by 2000. Hmmm. Really? Anyway, I checked out the GDUK 98 website and was most chuffed that my nation was pioneering such a brilliant competition - GDUK is primarily sponsored by Scottish Enterprise, Dundee-based (just like my flatmates) DMA Design and Glasgow bods Red Lemon, among others. Scoland, eh? FREEEEDOM!!! *ahem*
Wetting my trousers with excitement at the so-remote-its-not-even-worth-thinking-about prospect of scooping 5 grand for writing a game, or getting £1000 for trying hard (or something), I made a deal with my parents that my termly allowance from them will be extended into the summer so I wont have to work and can instead get to grips - seriously, now - with writing for the Yaroze. The situation is also helped by the fact that my workload this term is ridiculously light - no summer exams, and only 1 lecture a week. I do have a lengthy dissertation to write, but as I plan on doing something along the lines of "Difference in levels of aggression between children and adults when playing video games" I think that will turn out to be quite fun, and give me better leverage when we have family arguments over the damaging potential of "those TV games" (as most adults in my family tend to call them). Another plus side of this "not working" lark is that I dont have to pickle my brain working at UCI Cinemas or for the British Survey of Fertiliser Practice (great people, lousy jobs) this year. The minus side is that it doesnt look like Ill be going away on holiday in September, and I wont have the usual stacks of cash (hah!) to spend on the girlfriend/games "habit"/Edinburgh Festival this year. The sacrifices I make, eh? One funny thing is that people are saying "Shouldnt you be getting work experience this summer?" so I tell them, "Well, actually, this is what I want to do - design and (maybe) write video games..."? Most people are surprised, used to me saying that I want to be a film director (should have done a film course, then), or write novels and screenplays (ditto), or work for the BBC (hmmm), or write for EDGE, Empire, or some similar tome (hey, still might!). Maybe I could produce the first decent games-related program not aimed at kiddies - the "Top Gear" of video games? Arf! Sounds good to me.
The only other notable thing I did was to write my first C program for the PC (run it in a DOS box under Win95). No great shakes - basically its just a modified version of a program in C for Dummies but "Ive done a lot of special modifications myself". Download lottery.zip from my FTP directory if you want a random number generator for the British National Lottery. Oh, and Im just kidding about 50% of any wins (erm, is that statement legally binding?). I still say its a mugs game...
So, two weeks in Hong Kong passed by in a flash, really.
The Oscars ceremony on cable. Still an avid movie buff, I love it. I love it all, damn you!
Mum watching a particularly gory session on RE2, then declaring "Thats disgusting!" I tell you, it would have made a great ad for the game!
Playing 1080 Snowboarding - Nintendo begin making up for Yoshis Story.
Wankily discussing game design philosophy with Graeme Evans via e-mail.
Hong Kong Rugby 7s: it might be the beginning of the end for the 7s, but it was still fun!
Joan Rivers Oscar Pre-Show. Plastic and insincere, anybody?
My parents claiming that even a sound-muted Tekken 3 was giving them a headache and always making me turn it off "so they could read". Liars!
Being reduced to using a 486 SX/66 with a 420MB HD to browse the web.
Teaching my Mum to use the aforementioned PC. "So, the CD isnt the hard disk? But CDs are hard..." Aaargh!
Failing to find a decently priced Namco GunCon anywhere. Again.
I arrived back in the UK and promptly spent 5 days with my girlfriend in Darlington. Hey, it was more fun than it sounds - I saw "Sphere" (disappointing) and, er, did a very large jigsaw. Oh, and I got taken out to eat a lot, too! Then I had this university management course when I got back to Edinburgh which was absolutely brilliant. Then it was back to work after being told I had to get my overdue Psychology project (from last term) in within a week, or else! Erp! The epic Yaroze Diary saga WILL continue...after I deal with the whole evil project thing!
Or return home?