Monday, 23 April 2018

WatchSeeLookView With Words - Vol 01

I don’t just watch film-y and TV-y stuff; sometimes I use my eyes to take in words put together in order in the form of a book. Here are some word-based entertainment units that I have taken in via my brain.

Welcome To Night Vale / It Devours
By Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

Definitely a product of modern times, these two novels are spin offs from a podcast which details the fictional goings on in the bizarre and twisted town of Night Vale, a place which has its own bizarre rules and regulations which make perfect sense to its strange collection of inhabitants. I like the concept of the podcast but find it a bit of a struggle to listen to as it’s a single narrator (presented as a weekly news report about the town) and I find his voice quite difficult to focus in on. Translated to the page, it’s a more satisfying experience for me - their working is very suited to being either aural or prose as, life a twisted sci fi version of The Goon Show, it’s about the wordplay fo surreal concepts sometimes that couldn’t be realised on the screen. I imagine they’re probably in talks for a screen version of this in some way, shape or form but I think that actually pinning it down visually would rob it of some of its appeal. If you like your fiction strange and surreal with a bit of humour to it, give these a try.

James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes
By James Acaster

Being a bit of a comedy junkie, I like a good comedy book and they generally fall into two camps - the spin-off book of new material (a la The Goodies, Monty Python, League Of Gentlemen, Mighty Boosh) or the largely autobiographical. James Acaster's falls into the latter camp. I haven’t really seen mushy of his stand-up; just the odd appearance on panel shows so was going into this one a little bit cold. I really enjoyed it - he has a very engaging way of spinning the occasionally mundane into something more eventful. On some occasions the material feels a little bit thin but it was carried through by his engaging way of writing. A good, quick comedy read.

A Closed And Common Orbit
By Becky Chambers

Sci fi is, of course, the other main source of entertainment for me, This is the second book (so far) in the Wayfarers series and to say too much about this one would spoil a fairly major moment in the first book. I hesitate to use the term “plot point” as there’s a fairly loose structure to these books - it’s more a series of incidents that happen to these characters as they go about their lives. That’s by no means a criticism - both this and the first book are immensely readable slice of life overviews of a set of characters. Chambers has also crafted a compelling universe to situate them within and I’m looking forward to the third one which is out later this year.

So there you go. Some word-based entertainment for you where you have to make up the pictures to go along with using your mind. Give ‘em a go if that’s your sort of thing.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Actual Physical Non-iPad Based Games

So I’ve talked a bit about the game books and board games of the past (well, past-ish, most of them are still around in some way, shape or form today). That’s not the end of it, though, oh no. There’s quite the board and card game boom going on these days with far more choice available than there was when I were a nipper. You can even go to specific board game cafes now for your gaming fix (The Library Pot in Richmond is a favourite). But where to start with so much choice available? Well, here are some that have become firm favourites with Stepson The Youngest over the last couple of years.

Exploding Kittens
Type - Card game
In a nutshell:- Russian roulette with cards
This is a good introductory game, especially for younger kids. The aim of the game is very simple - don;t get the Exploding Kitten card. All of the other cards help you avoid, defuse or pass on that card to other players. Good fun and can be relatively quick although you probably want to mix it up after a while.

Type - Card game / board game
In a nutshell:- Constantly shifting rules and goals
Developed by former NASA scientists(!), this is a game that starts off simply and becomes more complex as you play. The initial rules are simply pick a card and play a card. As you play, you put down more rules, goals to help you win, keepers to help you meet goals or just play actions to mix things up. The beauty of this one is you may be about to win when suddenly the goal of the game is changed and you;re back to square one. Can be surprisingly quick or go on for ages. Also comes in themed variations (Monty Python, Doctor Who, Batman) and a board game variety with moving board pieces.

Ticket To Ride
Type - Board games
In a nutshell:- Compete to claim train routes across a map
A good fun and simple to grasp on again - you have a set of cards detailing train routes that have to build with other players possibly competing to claim parts of the same route first. At the end of the game, any routes you have claimed give you points with any unclaimed costing you points. Good train-y fun.

Type - Card game
In a nutshell:- Make your family as miserable as possible before killing them off
A nicely macabre and twisted one. You each have a family of characters which you play cards on to in order to make them miserable before killing them while simultaneously trying to cheer up your opponents family. This one encourages an element of storytelling as you describe the unfortunate events befalling your woeful family. It's a really nice design as well as the gloomy action cards you play on top of the family members are see-through. Good, miserable fun for the family.

Those are just a few of the many and varied games out there these days. See, kids don’t just sit on their iPads all day every (just most days). Sometimes they do get up and interact with other human beings. Well, until they get bored and go back on the iPad that is.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Dice And Boards And Cards

I had somewhat of a misspent youth. No, no, it wasn’t sex and drugs and rock’n’roll and that is precisely why you could label it as misspent. I didn’t spend it doing any of those things (although there was a fair amount of drinking - I am English, after all). No, my teenage years were spent in the grip of a far more insidious vice.

My name is Nick and I was into fantasy board games.

For those of you who either know me or have taken the time to trawl through previous witterings on here, this should come as no surprise (and if it does come as a surprise then you clearly haven’t been paying attention). I know what you’re thinking*, you’re thinking, “Ah, one of those nerdy Dungeons & Dragons types, eh?” and you’d be partly right. We certainly tried Dungeons & Dragons (which I’m betting has had something of  resurgence recently thanks to Stranger Things) but it was too loose and freeform a structure for us and none of us had the requisite improvisational skills necessary to really get into a game.

No, the preference amongst my group of fellow nerdy types was for something with a board, pieces, cards and dice, with a definitive beginning and ending and a winner (depending on how the long the game was and whether we got bored by the end). Favourites included:-

In which:- You play a fantasy character attempting to navigate the levels of the board to the centre.
Why it was good:- This one could go on for days when you added in the various expansion boards that could be played across as well. It was very easy to get lost in it.

Blood Bowl
In which:- You play American football with teams comprised of orcs, dwarves, elves, skeletons, trolls, etc. Vicious play encouraged.
Why it was good:- To be honest, we actually played the game very infrequently. The majority of our time was spent rolling and creating teams and swapping players. That was the fun bit.

Space Hulk
In which:- One of you plays the plucky space marines and one the dastardly aliens.
Why it was good:- It’s basically Aliens The Board Game and who wouldn't want to play that? Exactly.

In which:- You explore a dungeon killing monsters and getting treasure.
Why it was good:- Well, this guy sums it up pretty well...

There were quite a few around back in the early days of the 90s but nothing like the sheer number of board and card games available today - more on that another time...

* I don’t, obviously, but I still haven’t grown out of this particular conversation-style literary tick so just stick with it.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

To Explore Further, Go To 73 - You Are Now Dead; Return To 1

The times they are a-changing. I can remember a time when phones were things only attached to a wall by wires (and you had to wait if someone else was using it) and, if you wanted to see a programme and weren’t in, you had to find a blank tape and programme the video recorder to tape it (there’s still part of me that wants to use the word “taping” in reference to capturing a programme to view later). We did have computers, though. Admittedly our first computer had a cassette drive and you had to leave it loading for a while before turning the tape over to finish the process but it was a computer with games and everything.

However, given the slow nature of the computers back in those days, we had to find another way to get some game-style action. In the 80s, books came to the rescue. There were two main types of books that were also a game. The first was for the younger reader and was your entry level into the world of booky gaming…

Choose Your Own Adventure
It was a brilliantly simple concept and an early example of interactive storytelling. You read a bit of the book, it gives you a choice where to go next and then you go and read the chosen numbered paragraph. Simplicity itself. Of course, the frustration lay in picking the wrong outcome and ending up dead meaning you had to go back and start all over again (or just skim through until you found the winning solution and cheat. Which I never did).

They had cracking titles like Prisoner Of The Ant People, The Third Planet From Altair and War With The Evil Power Master. Naturally, they inspired imitations - we also had a couple of the Time Machine books; unsurprisingly, my favourite was Search For Dinosaurs which had a picture of T Rex in the front.


Of course, after a while, that started to become a bit stale, especially as I got a bit older. So a couple of smart chaps realised that there was a gap in the market. That there were nerdy types who liked the idea of a Dungeons & Dragons-style but didn’t necessarily want to play in a group and they created…

Fighting Fantasy
Created by Steve Livingstone and Ian Jackson and much like the Choose Your Own Adventure books, you pick your way through the book but, this time around, you need pen, paper and dice to combat the various monsters you’ll encounter along the way. Basically, a roleplaying adventure that you can play on your own. They also were fond of a good title like Deathtrap Dungeon, Seas of Blood or Appointment With F.E.A.R.


They’ve been reprinted on and off over the years with the occasional new title - they’re making a bit more of a substantial comeback at the moment thanks to a new book written by Charlie Higson (of Fast Show and Young James Bond novel fame).

Of course, these books were a gateway drug. An initial taste to hook you in and draw you into a deeper and darker realm. More on that later...

Friday, 23 March 2018

Diary Of A Supervillain - Part The Third

Glaxnor has to go. Yesterday, he went out marauding, took my favourite axe and then he broke it on Mr Indestructible's skull. I mean, come on! His name's Mr Indestructible, there's a clue right there! And then ,when he came back, he left gore and entrails all over the Bathroom of Ineffable Futility. I'd just bloody well cleaned it. Plus he deleted that box set I'd been saving for the last six months and filled the Sky box with wrestling. I don't care how much of a tough time he's had, he has to go!

My post arrived dead on time today. True, it was delivered by a man wearing three-inch thick amour plating and it took him twenty minutes to walk up the drive but at least he was on time. And is that really so much to ask?

Had a very snotty phone call from The Mighty Man. Asking me if I was fighting other heroes behind his back. I told him that I'd never been his exclusive nemesis anyway and I could thwart other heroic types if I wanted to. He said fine, he was thinking of stopping Countess Nefaria's vicious scheme for total world domination anyway and hung up. Felt a bit bad about it but, really, a villain can't be tied down to just one hero. There's a whole world out there.

Weekend tomorrow. Might go out shopping for some new evil animals (the evil axolotl was a no-go), see if there are any bulk malevolent discounts going. Plus some of the minions want to go to the cinema. There's a James Bond marathon playing. Might give everyone a few pointers as well as being a bit of fun. Sometimes a villain and his henchmen just need to unwind....

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Diary Of A Supervillain - Part The Second

Just had Glaxnor round - he's absolutely devastated. Someone called his mother to tell her that he's really a supervillain. That's really uncalled for. Now his dad's thrown him out of the house and said that if he ever comes round again, they'll call the police. I've told him he can crash in the Spare Room Of Terror for a few days until he gets himself sorted out and back on his feet. It'll be fun to have someone else round the lair for a bit (aside from the minions, of course).

No post at all this morning. Think the depot may have got in a bit of a huff after me killing all their postmen then calling them rude names yesterday. I had to break out the orbiting death platform and reduce their puny depot to tiny little smithereens. Now how am I going to get my post?

Had a call from Admiral Amazing this afternoon. He's on the lookout for a new villain of extreme evil and despicableness to match wits against. I said it might be fun. Feel a bit bad fighting another hero behind Mighty Man's back but sometimes you just have to move on. We're going to meet up for a few initial clashes and see how it goes from there.

Got a quote from Apparently, evil chinchillas are quite hard to find and quite tricky to mutate. May have to have a bit of a rethink. I'm thinking evil axolotl but suspect they may be even trickier than the chinchillas.

Some sad news today – one of the oldest minions, Minion Number 3, has decided it's time to call it a day on the old minioning front and strike out on his own. I shall be sad to see him go as we've had some good times together as evil master and henchman – the Evil Flying Robot Monkey-Children Caper, the Floating Doom, Fear In The Alps - happy times, one and all. I gave him the traditional send-off that all my minions get. I disintegrated him into a small pile of powdery ashes with my extra-big ray gun (the one I save for special occasions).

May have to have a word with Glaxnor. He left the butter out with the lid off and the dirty knife just lying next to it on the counter this morning after he'd had his toast. He also keeps taunting the piranhas with bits of cheese. I know he's going through a bit of a rough patch but, if he's going to live under my evil roof, he has to abide by my evil rules.

Had my first clash with Admiral Amazing today. We traded a few threats and insults and I promised to return and wreak terrible vengeance on him and a world which just didn't understand me. I think this could be the beginning of a very destructive relationship.


Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Diary Of A Supervillain - Part The First

Postman was late again this morning. Had to have the minions feed him his own entrails while fire ants devoured his terrified eyeballs. You'd think the depot would learn – that's the third one this month.

Fed the mutant piranhas. I don't think they appreciate the dog food, it's been making them look a bit peaky (the unexpected treat of fresh postman did perk them up a bit, though). Plus it's getting a bit expensive to keep feeding them so much - one of the drawbacks of their hideously mutated voracious appetite, I guess. May have to go for a different class of mutant. Maybe chinchillas. As long as they're really, really evil chinchillas.

My Impenetrable Lair of Ultimate Deptravity is a right state this morning. Glaxnor the Impervious came round last night. He'd been thwarted by Captain Pizazz and in record time too - he'd barely started his diabolical monologue before it was all over. He was feeling pretty down so we cracked open a few beers and, before we knew it, me, him and the minions were air-guitaring and air-drumming to Foo Fighters. Now there's double-handed axes, experimental ray guns and empty beer cans everywhere and someone seems to have melted my autographed Kings Of Leon poster. I may have to have one of the minions flayed alive as an example. That's sort of thing just isn't on – you should have more respect for other people's property.

Supposed to be meeting The Mighty Man for an apocalyptic showdown atop the bubbling lava of my secondary volcano lair but, to be honest, I'm not really in the mood. I'm still a bit hungover from last night. Might get one of the minions to rearrange – tomorrow would be better. Or Wednesday.

One of the minions keeps taking off his shoes and socks in the Sitting Room Of Despair and just leaving them lying around. Eurgh! May have to cut off all his toes and fashion them into a necklace to wear around my neck at all times. Maybe then he'll pick after himself a bit more.

Another phone call from the Royal Mail depot about their missing postman. I told them that they would rue the day they crossed me, laughed maniacally and hung up. Then I realised that they called me so presumably know who I am and where I live (well, they should know where I live otherwise I'm never going to get any packages). Hope this doesn't mean tomorrow's post will be late…

Met up with The Mighty Man for our climactic volcano-top battle. It was OK as climactic battles go – we traded a few insults, struggled precariously on the precipice and then he hurled me towards the bubbling lava whilst I performed one of my miracle death-defying escapes (which, as per usual, he failed to see thus believing me dead until the next time our paths cross). But it just felt to me like out hearts weren't really in it. My dread-filled speeches felt a little pat and his trademark roundhouse kick was half-hearted at best. Maybe it's time for us both to spend some time thwarting some other nemeses…


Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Maximum Three Videos Per Rental

When The Brother and I were but younglings, there was a place of great allure and almost mystical power to which we would repeatedly entreat The Father for a visit. I am, of course, talking of that place that was known only to those two children of the 80s as The Video Shop. It didn’t sell videos, though - oh no. You didn't get to keep them*. It was basically a library where you rented VHS tapes of the latest films and TV series (sometimes as many as two episodes per tape) for a fixed period of time - failure to adhere to said agreed period of time incurring a financial penalty against the renter.

To be found within were all of the major Hollywood releases from anything up to twelve to eighteen months after their theatrical debut and we devoured those, naturally. Also contained within were many other weird and wonderful films which were not major Hollywood release - some of which may not have even graced a large screen in the UK. To our tiny and less than discerning minds, these fantastical items, often with lurid and grossly misleading covers, were just as appealing as any of the big blockbusters, if not more so. Our local video shop (in the days before the chains such as Blockbusters became predominant) had a set of shelves in the middle with just the VHS covers in plastic laminates for you to flick through once a video had passed from its position of prominence as a new item on the walls and it was often here that the real goodies were to be unearthed.

Invariably, we found ourselves drawn to the cheesy and over the top horror films of the Eighties contained within this celluloid wonderland. Here are some of the “classics” that we were fond of back in the day:-

Basically, like a cheap rip off of Gremlins except gorier and much more toilet-based. I expect we also watched the subsequent and inevitable sequels (including Ghoulies 3: Ghoulies Go To College) but my memory seems to have ditched them in favour of far more important things.

Bizarre horror comedy about a blob-style alien criminal who is accidentally beamed to Earth into a family’s TV. Watched this recently and, in one of the many strange elements of this film, the parents of the family are preparing for an evening of swinging, something that completely passed me by as a youngster

Killer Klowns From Outer Space
Clown-shaped aliens arrive in their big top-shaped spaceship and start bumping off the inhabitants of a local town in various clown-themed ways. I have to admit, the grotesque clown designs for the aliens are suitably horrible and still look creepy even today (not IT-creepy but close).

Another Gremlins-style film in which furry little aliens from outer space go on a toothy feeding frenzy. Like a lot of these films, it makes up for its lack of real quality with a sort of goofy and silly charm. Interesting Fact:- The director of Critters went on to direct Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

These are just a few of the delights currently available in your local video shop sometime in the eighties. And remember, if you do rent any of these, be kind and rewind before you take it back.

* Unless they were getting rid of knackered old copies of something that nobody wanted anymore.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Middle (Age) Of The Road

Something has happened. There was a shift at some point in the last few years. A gradual change in my own personal aural landscape. I’ve always had a pretty varied taste in music - definitely not a taste in music you could describe as “cool” as the 90s Gloria Estefan phase will attest - but, aside from my love of 60s soul, 70s funk and a healthy dose of disco, I’ve generally veered more towards the rock / indie side as the default music of choice. Sure, I’ve kind of drifted away from the music side of things over the last few years, given that I don’t spend any way near as much time hanging around with musician-style mates as I used to but I thought I was probably still mainly in the rock / indie side.

So, I was somewhat surprised when not only did Spotify start playing Jesus He Knows Me by Genesis on my daily mix but I also found myself enjoying it. I like to think of this as the Partridgisation of my musical in honour of North Norfolk Digital’s finest DJ. Oh, I used to enjoy certain types of middle-of-the-road songs with a sense of ironic detachment which is pretty much the default setting from the 20s into the 30s but, as I gallop down Forty Something Highway, I’m finding that the irony is dropping away and the enjoyment is becoming fairly genuine.

It was highlighted recently when, during my viewing of the second season of Stranger Things, it came to a scene in which Chief Hopper rifles through his record collection. After flicking past Supertramp (which prompted a bit of, “ooh, I should listen to them”), he settles on You Don’t Mess Around With Jim by Jim Croce and, after the brief segment of it, I definitely found myself thinking, “Ah, I could’ve listened to the rest of that.”

The real clincher, though, was the point where Spotify suggested me a playlist composed of 10cc, ELO, Chicago, Doobie Brothers, America, Deep Purple, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Clapton. I was, as we’ve established above, pretty much enjoying the whole selection with no trace of any irony. It then hit me - this was an almost exact recreation of The Father’s record collection*. I had at some point, musically speaking, become my father.

Is there some sort of genetic switch? Does a certain amount of time pass until the body reaches a certain point where it releases some sort of enzyme that engages a more comfortable musical taste? Whatever it is, I have two choices:- fight it tooth and claw or lean into with pipe and slippers.

Somebody pass me a copy of No Jacket Required...

* I was going to explain what records were but hipsters love their vinyl these days.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Stats, Facts & Figures

Love a good stat. Or a fact. Anything like that really. The ability to boil something down to a “did you know?” Here are some statistical figures and stuff about this blog.

Number of posts (including this one):- 427
Number of posts if you include the previous MySpace blog*:- 644

Total number of words:- 170,249
Total number of words including previous blog:- 264,970
Number of words written per active year**:- 37,853
Overall total is the approximate same length as:- Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke

On This Day
Date of first MySpace blog:- December 7, 2005
Things that happened on this day in history:- Nothing else of import really

Date of this blog starting:- August 25, 2008
Things that happened on this day in history:- Not a lot then either (turns out most of history is just a bit boring)

Frequently used words
Time - 920
Film - 702
Good - 507

Least used words
Scarce (very apt)

Number of blog posts composed of thin ideas stretched out probably beyond their natural breaking point:- 100%

*Hey, anyone remember MySpace? No? No? It was all the rage a decade and a half ago, I tell you. Apparently it’s still there like some sort of creepy internet graveyard. Where social media goes to die.

** Well, there was a six year gap with nothing, I'm not including that, drags the average right down.