Tag Archives: nostalgia

The Great Cinema Binge Of Yesteryear

There was a time in the early to mid-2000s, when I regularly went to the cinema. I’m not sure that I’ve ever mentioned this on the blog, but it’s one of those anecdotes that does tend to come up if I talk about going to the cinema for any length of time.

The cinema happened to be not-very-far-away as the train flies, and I had the afternoon free from work on Tuesday, the cheap day. Saw a bunch of Orange Film Board commercials during that time, probably the most interesting promos about how mobile phones can ruin the movie-watching experience.

I would tend to watch 3 movies in a row. I’d have to plan start times and end times, and have to factor in running time. It was fun.

There were, if I recall correctly, a little more than 20 screens in the cinema. Some were straightforwardly small, with an aisle dividing the two sets of seats. Some screens were pretty huge, with a bunch of seats in front of a railing, and the seats behind the railing tiering upwards.

It was in one of these huge screens that I watched Star Wars Episode III, I was towards the front of the cluster in front of the railing, which was far too close to the screen to comfortably see the action. It was an evening screening, fairly close to release day, and was one of the only seats left. Also in one of these giant screens, I saw The Aviator. Afternoon, not evening, that showing was not very full. I sat just behind the railing, which tended to be a good distance for watching movies. It was perfect for that movie, I was grabbing the railing when the plane was crashing down into that house.

In the smaller screens, I developed a sense of about how far back in the cinema I wanted to be (action movie, there was no point in sitting in the front half). There did tend to be a spot just off-center of the screen that tended to be a bit extra reflective, that could just be the angle of the projector and my angle of viewing, meeting in an unfortunate manner.

There were times when there were a bunch of things I wanted to watch, and I didn’t quite catch them all, and some points where less looked immediately interesting, but I’d give some a chance. And there was an interesting mix, some I was less sure about I ended up enjoying (White Noise springs to mind), some that I was more interested in seeing turned out to be a lot less good (Alexander, Troy, King Arthur).

In addition to the movies themselves, for a large chunk of this time there tended to be a bunch of promotional materials given away. My wall at one point was covered in movie posters, and I had a stack of postcards. These materials had all kind of dried up by the time I stopped. I was pleasantly surprised when I went to the cinema the other day, to find a stack of posters for the film I was watching, in two designs. If it stops raining tomorrow, I can take the two Mockingjay Part 2 posters to the garage, and put them in the box with all the other film posters.

The chain did a nice promotion when Star Trek Nemesis came out: you could get preview tickets for that film, and you could also get tickets for The Wrath Of Khan, The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country, and First Contact (the even-numbered films, AKA “the good ones”), all shown back-to-back on a Sunday.

Too right I took advantage of that one. Just a shame Nemesis sucked.

So anyway, that was a fun experience for a couple of years. And don’t tell anyone, but I think I still have the ticket stubs in a box somewhere, I could find out what I actually saw then.

Some Notes On Emulation

I grew up around different games systems. Atari 2600 for a while (every so often we’ll still drag one out). Commodore 64, with my first experiments in programming, but mainly lots of games. And friends with their Spectrums, Atari CPCs. BBC Micro at school. DOS, Windowses (precious). Master Systems, NESes, MegaDrives, SNESes. PlayStations, DreamCasts. A brief encounter with an N64. Most of these not mine, and some of the ones that were mine, I picked up long after the heyday.

I have played with a bunch of emulators, some to a larger degree than others. For some systems, you can find a vast array of games to download, others I haven’t really looked.

Much as I played the Commodore 64 back in the day, I haven’t really played very much with the emulator. Perhaps all that time glued to the joystick makes it a very different experience playing those games on keyboard.

I found a while ago that some games from various consoles are available to play on archive.org – I did try Sonic The Hedgehog for both Master System and MegaDrive – you can really see the difference between the two systems, but keyboard worked for the Master System version and not for the MegaDrive version. I think you need a controller that connects to the computer, rather than rely on keyboard.

I picked up a BBC emulator, trying to hunt down a game that I played in school all those years ago (not Granny’s Garden, I remember that). Emulator worked, but I didn’t find the game. The game had levels of different types. I remember one where there was a sentinel, or a guardian, something like that, and you had to colour it with two or three colours, the catch being that you couldn’t put a colour in a segment adjacent to one with the same colour. I think it was the same game that had you trying to drive to the castle, and you had to program the instructions in advance (west 5, etc), and not accidentally go off-road. If you have any ideas as to what it was called, let me know.

DOSBox is THE go-to DOS emulator, and it can be fun to brush up on one’s old DOS skills to write .bat files to streamline mounting and running the games.

Also an emulator of sorts, the SCUMMVM program is an easier way to get a lot of old point-and-click adventures working on more modern machines: the kids mainly use it for Humungous Entertainment games like the Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish, and Pajama Sam series. I’ve also played Discworld and Discworld II with them, on it.

Probably the emulator I’ve used most, is ePSXe, which lets you run games for the original PlayStation. Actually having a bunch of PlayStation CDs lying around, I haven’t felt the need to look for any PlayStation games online. I’ve got through Final Fantasies VI, VIII and IX on there, a little of I, II, IV and V, and a chunk of VII. Games like this, where it’s good to save early and often, benefit from virtually infinite memory card storage. Plus the Griever and Memoria save-game editors for VIII and IX are rather nice, when you’ve played through the game a few times already and don’t want to grind too much.

It’s kinda funny, cos the older two kids were playing Rayman on a real PlayStation 1 earlier this evening.

ePSXe itself can take a bit of configuring to get it running just right, and sometimes I’ve just needed to try a bunch of different settings until it looks good. It was mainly the display settings, though some games needed the CD drive plugin to be adjusted, too. A down side is that it doesn’t save these settings to the ePSXe folder, it saves them in the operating system’s configuration files, so if you reinstall, you lose it all.

A week or two ago, I went looking for a PlayStation 2 emulator. I happen to have one lonely PS2 disc, that I had never got to try before. I decided it was time to see if I could give it a go.

The disc came with Final Fantasy VI (PS1), and was a demo for Final Fantasy X (PS2).

The emulator I tried was PCSX2. It seemed like it didn’t need as much configuration as ePSXe, but there weren’t default keyboard controls for Controller 1, so I needed to go and set those manually, which took a bit of time. The game ran without displaying oddly, so I was glad I didn’t have to go through all the display plugin settings like I did with ePSXe.

The PCSX2 site lists all the games they’ve tested the emulator with, and state the relative compatibility. Some games can be played all the way through, some suffer from particular bugs that mean the game can be played, not completed, some play as far as the menu, some only play an intro, and others do Nothing At All. But they warn that even games that can be completed, can suffer from slowdown at points.

FFX was listed as a game that could be played all the way through. The demo was not listed, but if the full game runs all right, the demo stands a fair chance, doesn’t it?

The FFX demo came with an intro movie, and two playable segments. I’ll talk more about these tomorrow, and stick to performance today.

The intro movie played all right. The first segment had quite a few FMVs, which really struggled at times. The gameplay didn’t seem to suffer any trouble.

So there you go, some experiences of emulation. The past… in the future.

Items Rescued From A Closing Store

Once upon a time, there was a video rental store called “Crazy Mike’s”, which my best man Mike took advantage of in his speech. That closed a while ago. There is another video store on the edge of town, apparently run by a guy called Steve, who doesn’t admit to any level of insanity in his store’s name.

Well, now this store is closing, too. I’m sorry it’s closing, but as I’m more of a buyer than a renter, I haven’t contributed to its staying around.

But they’ve been selling off their stock, so I decided to go in and see what they had.

Newer movies were on some deal, 3 or 4 for $20, I don’t remember how many. I skipped past that one, and the horror movie deal, to the “Get 4 for $10″.

A 3-2-1 Penguins had Oldest dancing around when I got home, and a Strawberry Shortcake did similar for Middlest.

Bubba Ho-Tep had been languishing on one of my hidden wishlists for a while. I’d been interested in seeing it, and so had my uncle-in-law, who gave a big cheer when I read the list out of what I’d got. In the movie, Elvis hadn’t really died. Now he lives in a retirement home. When evil, in the form of a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy, rears its ugly head, it’s up to Elvis, and a black JFK, to save the world.

Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon’s post-Avengers free-time project, we’d borrowed from the library and watched, but was also sitting on a hidden wishlist.

The rest were somewhat more opportunistic. Hot Fuzz I’d had taped off TV ages ago, but never got round to watching before we moved. I’ve seen the other two parts of the Cornetto Trilogy, so this theoretically fills the gap.

I enjoyed the first Alien vs Predator, so I picked up the sequel, though I have heard it’s not as good. Slightly bummed that though I checked the boxes of all the movies for aspect ratio, I didn’t check the discs. So I intended to get the original widescreen, but ended up with a full-screen disc. Whose dumb idea was it to produce these things in the first place? BOOOOOO!

Pirate Radio, from the makers of Love Actually. Familiar with the likes of Radio Caroline and so on, from my dad’s interest in them, and having met a former presenter of one of those stations, I’m interested to see this take on the story.

Having these in hand, I was not readily coming up with an eighth DVD, though there were many reasonable candidates. An X-Files movie, I know people in the house like X-Files. Space Cowboys, I did want to see that. More. In the end, my mother-in-law suggested a movie that she was interested in seeing, co-incidentally one I’d caught in the cinema when it was new. Don’t remember it well enough to give it a review, and my take on it would probably be different now, after the spiritual journey of the intervening years, and perhaps more than that, more exposure to the landscape of American Christianity. I picked up “Saved!”. I joked that I should find a bell to set it next to.

So there we go, my taking advantage of another casualty in the ever-changing face of physical-store-based commercial endeavours.

I expressed condolences to the guy in the store (presumably the eponymous Steve), and he said he’d had a good 12-year run. I wished him all the best for whatever his next thing would be.

Songs You’re Glad You Forgot: Gotham City, by R. Kelly

Once upon a time, there was a Batman movie called Batman And Robin. Packed with stars like George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Alicia Silverstone, Arnold Schwartz-his-name, Uma Thurman, and John Glover (hey, I like John Glover), it swiftly became the Batman movie everyone would rather forget. Which seems to be saying something, after Batman Forever.

Batman And Robin itself didn’t fare so well, but songs from the soundtrack became quite popular. The Smashing Pumpkins got a Grammy for their contribution (“The End Is the Beginning Is the End”) R.E.M. had a track on there, too. Neither of these were in the three that hit the U.S. Top Ten. The song I want to talk about today was the lowest-scoring of those three, coming in at number 9. Which, co-incidentally, is the exact same position it reached in the UK charts.

R. Kelly was never my kind of music, though I seem to recall one of my friends quite liking him. Saying his name in a Jonny Briggs accent provided momentary amusement (Jonny’s sister, for example, being referred to as “our Rita”).

The song, though. The song itself has a major problem, that has plagued me all these 18 years of the song’s existence, and slaps me in the face every time I think of it.

“A city of justice, a city of love, a city of peace
For every one of us
We all need it, can’t live without it
A Gotham City, oh yeah”

Hmmm, a city of justice, of love, of peace.

If it were those things, it wouldn’t need Batman, now, would it?

Book Review: Ready Player One

Much of the Earth’s population are plugged into a virtual-reality game called OASIS. In the real world, the distance between rich and poor is much greater, and living conditions for the non-super rich have deteriorated.

The creator of OASIS kicks the proverbial bucket, and gifts his entire fortune to the winner of a contest, which involves finding a series of easter eggs hidden within the OASIS game environment.

Corporate groups, clans of regular users, and lone wolves, all compete in trying to decipher clues, solve riddles

Our hero, Wade IRL and Parzival in OASIS, is a lone wolf who is deeply immersed in the obsessions of Halliday, the deceased creator of OASIS. These mainly revolve around ’80s videogames, moves, TV shows, commercials, music, role-playing games, and culture. In 2044, this somewhat specialised knowledge becomes rather important to a lot of people.

I really enjoyed this book, I enjoyed the geekiness, I enjoyed the sci-fi, and the narrative holding it all together was very engaging. The latter part is very important, as when the story is geeking out over parts with which one is less familiar, you don’t want the unfamiliarity to disconnect you.

I picked up the book from a thrift store, thinking it looked interesting. I started reading it recently, after (but not because) I heard that Spielberg was going to direct the movie.

Thinking about a movie, there’s going to be so much that will look really cool, but they’re going to have to cut out so much to make it fit the running time. Also, licensing so many different elements from so many different properties could get expensive, and leaving anything out is bound to make someone irate.

A few nights ago, I was reading it after I went to bed (I think [hope?] I was more than halfway through at that point), thinking I’d read a bit, then stick the bookmark in and get some sleep. What actually happened was that I finished the book (bar the acknowledgements section at the back), and went to sleep somewhat later than I intended. To give you some idea of how engaging it was, or my enjoyment level, or something of that ilk.

Ready Player One is by Ernest Cline.

Ready Player One on Amazon

My First House

I have been asked to share my memories of my first house, so I’ll give it a go. While I lived there for roughly seven-and-a-half years, a lot of it I don’t really remember.

As you come in the front door, you enter the living room, and there is a staircase immediately to the right, which takes you upstairs to the bedrooms. I remember a green curtain that went around the staircase. I remember doing what kids do, and wrapping myself up in the curtain. I remember sometimes hiding behind the curtain while my parents were downstairs, they didn’t know I was there. Or maybe they did, and didn’t let on.

As you stand with the back to the front door, the couch is more or less in front of you, facing the wall on your left. On that wall on your left is the electric fireplace, which occupies part of an alcove The TV is in the alcove, I remember a black-and-white TV being hooked up to a car battery during a power cut, but I believe our main TV was colour. I remember Christmas cards being up in the alcove. The alcove has bumpy wallpaper, I remember it being brown, I remember it being white. I think the white was later. The brown was dark, and may have been described as chocolate. It didn’t taste like chocolate.

Beyond the fireplace area, on the same wall, is the door towards the bathroom. It’s not immediately the bathroom there, there’s a corridor, with another alcove for coats. I think there may be some steps (maybe even one) before you reach the bathroom.

I vaguely remember the floor of the bathroom. The linoleum had a pattern. It wasn’t circles, hexagons or octagons, but I think it had shapes that made up an octagon sort of shape. I remember pretending these were transporter pads, but I don’t remember watching any Star Trek Original Series at that point. I had the beaming associated with the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy radio series, which didn’t really have much of that sort of thing in it.

I remember Dad taping the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide radio series off the radio. He later bought the tapes.

I remember locking myself in the bathroom and crying a lot. And then I think I took a nap. After the nap, I was over whatever the tantrum was about, and let myself out of the bathroom.

More-or-less behind the couch was the kitchen. I guess I would probably find it small now. I remember one year finding Christmas presents behind the kitchen door. They were a bit hidden, but evidently not enough. I think I only actually saw a Transformers place mat.

I only remember there being my bedroom (shared with my sister) and my parents’ room upstairs. There was a landing between the two. There was a light on the ceiling. I remember one year we had an Easter Egg hunt, and there was an egg hidden in the lampshade. I saw it, and tried to get my mother to get it for me, she wasn’t paying attention to me, and got it.

I have told her this story since, and she has apologised. And owes me a pack of Creme Eggs every year….

…it was worth a try.

The window in my room looked directly out over a field. You could see the main road to the right of the field, but our house was away from the road. I think sometimes cows were in the field, but there was usually a white horse in there. And I think sometimes a brown one. We sometimes threw the horses apples, if I recall correctly, though obviously not from the bedroom window.

I remember that I had a cot, where the side would swing down. I remember one day I opened it, climbed out, and was so pleased with myself. I went to my parents bedroom and told them I got out. I think they were less pleased about this and put me back, but I think it was soon after this that I graduated to a proper bed. I think this proper bed was half a bunk bed, which sometimes was used as two separate beds, and sometimes as a bunk, though possibly here as one single bed.

Outside the front door, we had a porch built. I think “porch” may have a slightly different meaning in American than I’m using here, I mean “a fully-enclosed entranceway”.

There was a path in front of the houses, where I rode my bike. Sometimes fell off, I remember I crashed into a bin. I think I learned to ride (Dad helped me learn) in the driveway. I also rode in that driveway. I remember one time my bike fell over, and the rear reflector fell down the drain. You could see it for quite a while after, and I remember wishing for one of those grabbing-arm toys that one of my friends had, to try and get it back. It was never retrieved.

I remember a go-cart adapted from the old pram. The pram had kind of floorboards that could be turned into seats.

Outside the house there were trash cans that were basically just a lid, and a ring to attach the bag to. When there were no bags, my sister and I would play at being Oscar the Grouch.

Between the driveway and the path, there was a little lawn. I remember having fireworks there, the one that stands out being one that popped red, orange and green in a traffic light pattern.

I remember snatches of when my mother and sister came home in an ambulance, after my sister was born.

At the end of the lawn the driveway curved in towards the houses, and that’s where we parked (our garage had stuff in it, though I only remember the bike). I remember a white Ford Orion that we had, Dad’s company car. We must have had other cars at different times, but I only remember that one, and the larger car we got after we moved.

With the back to the house, and the little lawn in front, beyond the lawn there was a larger lawn. On its right were clothes lines, the ones that spin around and look kind of like an umbrella when they’re full. there were paving stones in that area, I remember looking at ants. to the left was a wall with a gate, separating the area from the main road. Beyond the larger lawn, was a line of trees or bushes, and I remember that the grass that had been cut, got dumped there. It was nice and soft to sit in.

The line of houses to the left of the little lawn and path, were attached to each other, but there was a little walkway separating most of the end house to from the house next to it. It made wonderful echoes, but the owner of the end house didn’t appreciate this fact like we did. In the last year or two, someone else lived in the end house, and we got on better with her.

So that’s a large chunk of what I remember about where I spent most of my first almost-8 years on the planet. Thanks to my parents for the nice place to live and the good memories.

Games and Processed Meat

I had a couple of spam comments the other day, but yesterday’s post on The Ra Expeditions really tapped into a vein (well, 21 spam comments). A couple of them mentioned “video”, I wonder if the YouTube link triggered it. Well, I’m throwing in a bunch more, today!

I played a couple of old games today: the first one to keep Oldest and Youngest distracted (it only worked for Oldest), and the second because it was easier to switch back and forth between that and dealing with kids, that trying to concentrate on something more productive and dealing with kids.

So the first game was Gran Turismo 2. Youngest loves cars (and trucks, he doesn’t have many words but he distinguishes between those), and Oldest does like playing games.

We were playing a 2-player game in Arcade Mode. This has a reasonable selection of cars, and a limited number of tracks (3 tracks in Road Race, 1 in Rally). You can add more cars by extensively playing in GT Mode, I haven’t played that extensively, and I’m not sure I even have any saves of it.

I won most of the games (as you’d expect), even with having to deal with Youngest (who would occasionally point and say “car”, but most of the time was trying to escape to be with other people).

Oldest almost won a round, running with a 200-odd horsepower car while I ran with the significantly less powerful classic Mini Cooper. Not only was the Mini the car with the absolute least horsepower available (61 IIRC, with a couple of other options clocking in at 63 and maybe 65?), it was also terrible to steer. This of course made Oldest terribly excited, he kept wanting me to use that car again. I did, after trying the other 60-something HP cars first, he won that one.

Funnily enough, after resisting the Rally option the whole time (I forced it on him at the end), he won that round, too. That time, I was running a 400HP car against his 200-something HP car. Thre were just points where my car wanted to do nothing but spin…

I wanted to find the part of the single-player campaign that acted a bit as a tutorial – a big yellow line on the track to help you learn how to take corners is a feature I particularly remember – to help Oldest learn how to play well/beat me. By the time I’d figured out what it was (going for licenses on GT mode), Oldest was done with Gran Turismo for the day.

The Rally track, and Oldest’s favourite Road track, both had “Tahiti Road” in the name. It’s a magical place.

I remember with car racing games on older systems (Commodore 64, Sega MegaDrive) scenery appearing when it was pretty close, you couldn’t see it very far ahead. I noticed that on some corners on GT2 this time round (“oh, this bit of track is visible now…. here it is!”), but thankfully it’s still far enough in the distance that you’re not basing your next few steering moves on it.

The second game is one I’m currently having a “reminiscence run” of, is Star Trek: Birth Of The Federation (download link). I have the CD, it’s nice to not need it.

BOTF is along the lines of the Civilization games. Expand your territory, make the other major races your friends, then squash them like the bugs they are. There are some minor races that you can befriend or conquer.

The opening videos aren’t very inspiring (and weren’t at the time), the “You Won” messages were something of an anti-climax as well, and sometimes the micromanaging (and doing the Exact Same Thing in each new system you colonise) can get tedious, but there’s still a lot going for the game as well.

I like how each race gets a different design for the game screens. That’s a genius move that I haven’t seen elsewhere (and if I’m forgetting a game that does that, then I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen anything that does it to the same extent).

The game has its own screensaver (that I haven’t seen this time round) – each ship in the game rotates around a few times before it gets switched out for the next one. And there are two models for the Borg Cube in that screensaver – on one, one side has a smiley face. Gotta love programmers having fun.

I like the Wormhole mechanic, the Outpost and Starbase mechanic, and the terraforming mechanic.

The space battles with the different tactics are pretty cool, don’t think I’ve seen that sort of thing executed in turn-based strategy anywhere else, and it’s not exactly easy to pull off in real-time strategy, either.

The Open Hailing Frequencies option never seems to be a good choice, sad to say.

And there’s something incredibly satisfying about having your 9 Romulan Warbird IIs decloaking and blasting the Borg Cube to pieces.

Fun times, and memory lane. Don’t have a lot of time for this now.

And I think I’m about out of time this evening for dealing with a Poison Headcrab