Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Social Network

So, as I get to grips with all the things that are necessary for promoting this thing, I've decided to create a Facebook page for this book.  It's called, unsurprisingly, They Were Our Gods.  I intend to post links to all my updates there, too, so if you're into that thing, you can "Like" me at:

That's all!

What characters!

I'll keep throwing out little updates as and when I think of anything that might be of interest in terms of how this book will turn out.  So here's another one... there might be a few in these early stages.

I don't want the book to be too predictable, or to just follow the same path all the way from start to finish.  So I'm going to put the odd section in there that doesn't just deal with a programmer and their games.  What I've decided to do is to include a section devoted to game characters.

You look at games today and the landscape is filled with generic heroes, muscular types that are equally handy with fists or guns, and that have all the personality of a house brick.  Back in the fledgling days of home computer games, though, you could have anything as your game's hero and get away with it.

I reckon a section on some of the more oddball characters, along with a few words about their inception, would be a good read.  So I've added that idea to my plan and set up a whole new section of sub-folders on my computer to house the buggers.  It's really exciting to be making genuine progress in areas outside the writing... it's all helping this thing to take shape.

Day 5 - Game on!

It's only early days, but it's interesting to note that the poll seems to have split opinion down the middle.  I'll be curious to see how it turns out once it's run its course.

One of the best things about writing a book like this is the research.  And for today, research involves playing games.  Whether it's to take screenshots or purely as a refresher for the writing, it's always great to revisit the "old" days.

I'm about to play Monty on the Run.  It's a game that is renowned for two things: its awesome Rob Hubbard music, and its high difficulty level.  I actually completed it without cheating back in the day.  I know my skills have waned somewhat since then, but it'll be interesting to see how far I can get today.

This is happening.

After that... well. we'll see where the day takes me.  If I can stay off Wonder Boy in Monster Land, which I recently bought for the XBox 360, I'll write up something else.

I mentioned Kickstarter and crowdfunding in my first blog post.  It's not a road I need to go down yet, but I do keep an eye on Kickstarter as there are a lot of retro-themed games (or games-related) asking for funding there, which are often of interest to me.  The biggest successes are well-know at this point: Tim Schafer's Double Fine Adventure; Brian Fargo's Wasteland 2; and Jordan Weisman's Shadowrun Returns.  All surpassed their wildest dreams in terms of funding. But there are other, lesser-known projects out there that are worth a look, and I'm going to leave this post with a few links of interesting projects that are ending soon.

Turrican Soundtrack Anthology by Chris Huelsbeck - interesting for anyone into Amiga music, ends in three days.
Drifter: A Space Trading Game - an Elite clone that actually looks like it will be worthwhile, ends in four days.
Pinball Arcade: The Twilight Zone - the Pinball Arcade developers aim to recreate one of pinball's most revered tables.  They've now been able to add XBox 360 support - quite exciting!

I'm backing those three... have a look!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

I love it when a plan comes together

I thought I'd write another update, because I've had a bit of a brainwave about how I'm going to set things out.

When I first planned this book, my intention was to write a bit about each programmer, and then a full page about each of their games and a page of screenshots for each game.  But then I determined that I'd need a book consisting of over 1,000 pages.  That's a bit unrealistic.

So I've had a bit of a think, and come up with something that I think could be pretty good.

Instead, I'm going to reserve full-page write-ups as "specials"... probably for the programmer's best game.  Or maybe for my favourite of their games, and a special write-up for their own favourite, maybe with their thoughts on the game and why it's particularly pleasing to them.

That should chop the book down to a manageable size, while still having enough meat and also enough variety to keep things interesting.  I like this direction, but given that I've already written a full page about a possibly "minor" game, it's not set in stone.  It does make sense, though...

Day 4 - best laid plans

Today was the first day of my week off, and so far I haven't had the chance to do anything to do with They Were Our Gods.  It just goes to show how you can have all these great plans, and yet it can all go out the window.

Still, there's plenty of the evening left yet.  Once I've eaten, I'll hopefully have the chance to do some work on it, even if it's just to play something for research purposes.  All work and no play makes Moz a dull boy...

I've noticed that after the initial burst of page views, the numbers have dropped off significantly each day.  That's not great.  I think I need to spread the word further, wider and more aggressively.  I have an account with Games Press, but I'm not sure if that's the right place for this just yet.  Has anyone got any thoughts on where would be good places to start talking about this at this early stage?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Day 3 - Diary of a madman

I've had a number of comments since I announced this thing on Sunday... all positive, although some question my sanity at taking on such a massive project.  I can see where people are coming from with that... the chances of failure must be reasonably high, after all.

Still, it's great to know that I appear to have the support of the retro community thus far.  It would be nice to have more Twitter followers and have the word spread farther afield, but I'm sure that will come in time.

One thing I'd like to talk about briefly is my intention with this blog.  When I was a teenager, one of my favourite things to read was the Diary of a Game in ZZAP! 64.  Even though it was only published monthly, the continuing trials and tribulations of the mega-programmers that were featured was fascinating reading.  So I decided that I'd like to do a diary of this project.

That means I'll post some kind of update pretty much every day.  Everyone will know that I'm still around and still working on this thing.  The problem is that it could get a bit boring.  So, my question is this: what would you like me to write about in my blog updates?  What do you not want to read about?  These updates won't often be massive, just a little progress report of sorts, but I think it's important to keep the momentum going and let everyone know this is a going concern.

I've got seven days off work, as of now.  Family commitments aside, I'm hoping I can put a decent amount of time into this.  I should get a few pages down, get some screenshots taken, and work a bit more on my plan.  Looking forward to it!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Day 2 - is size everything?

I've just been having a plough through all the folders I've set up for the numerous individuals I'd like to talk about in the book.  And there are more than I thought.  In fact, I made a rough calculation based on how I'd planned to do this, and if I continued down the same path, my book would have over 1,000 A4 pages.

Now, I'm sure you'd all love that, but it isn't exactly practical.  Of course, that could all change when I start formatting it... I'm sure that turning raw text into a more structured layout will make a difference.  But it's something to consider at this early point.

There will be a lot of pictures, too.  I'll play every game I write about and take screen grabs for the book.  Again, there will be a lot of planning going into that aspect of the book... the artwork will be very important, as people will be expecting pictures galore.

I've got a lot of research to do at some point, having never put a book together before.  But this will be one big learning process, so I don't mind that.  It's not something that I need to do at this early stage, anyway.  What I do need to do is get word out.  The more people know about this, the more word will spread, and hopefully the people I'm going to write about will become interested in taking part.

So if you're part of any kind of relevant community where this might be of interest, or where it can be promoted, please either let me know or, if you're feeling generous, let them know about it.  Word of mouth is an awesome thing.  But for now, I'm right in the middle of another page.  Do excuse me...

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Day 1 - questions, questions...

It's all very well just coming out and saying "I'm going to write a book".  Anyone can do that; and indeed, it's been stated that everyone has at least one book in them.  But it's pointless getting everyone's hopes up, and then doing nothing about it.

That's partly what this blog is for.  Every time I do anything related to the book, I'll post about it here.  I won't post what it is, but it'll be evidence that progress is being made.  So if this goes quiet for a month, then either I'm very ill or this was all pie in the sky.

But it's not something that I've just decided to do out of the blue.  It's an idea I've had in my head for many years, and something I've given a lot of thought to recently.  I've planned it out: I've had the title for years, I've got the cover art concept in my mind; I've got tons of folders on my PC, all named after the people I want to feature, all with sub-folders for their games or other things.  In fact, if I was raided by the police, I might come across a bit like a creepy stalker.

I've done lots of writing by now, and I've even had a few people tell me that they enjoy it.  So I think I'm heading down the right path.  But I'm very open to suggestions.  That's where the 'Comments' sections will come in handy.

Let me know if there's anything you'd like to see in this book.  Any programmer in particular, any games you loved.  Bear in mind that at this point in time, I'm expecting to focus almost exclusively on Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum programmers.  But I'm not ruling anything or anyone out just yet.  Would you buy a book featuring both those computers?  Would you prefer a Volume 1 and Volume 2, splitting those apart?  They're all things to be taken into consideration.

I've written a few pages so far.  Nothing major, just an introduction, an "About Me", and a full page each about a couple of games.  So if we're not exactly on the road, then we're certainly pulling out of the garage.  I look forward to keeping everyone informed and hearing your thoughts.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

They Were Our Gods

I've always enjoyed writing, especially about videogames.  In fact, at the age of sixteen, I applied for a staff writer's job at venerable Commodore 64 magazine, ZZAP! 64.  I was rightly turned down.

For a long time, I thought that was the end of my writing career, mainly because I had no real outlet for my outpourings.  The advent of the internet, though, opened up creative writing to the whole world.  And so it was, in the year 2002, that my first new writing seeds were sown.

I'd been a fan of The Def Guide to ZZAP! 64 website since I'd discovered it.   Not only could you read scans of the original magazines, it also had a forum that was frequented by a couple of the original staff members!  When somebody came up with the ridiculous idea of creating a new issue, I was lucky enough to be asked onboard.  And so it was that my dream of writing for ZZAP! 64 was realised.  Now I wanted more.

Look ma, I made it!
I'd been a regular visitor to Eighties code legend Jeff Minter's YakYak message boards for a while, and from there, something exciting had been born.  Its name was Way of the Rodent, and it was an online gaming magazine.  OK, so there were loads of games websites, but this was different.  It was fresh.  It was funny.  It was special.  And it was fiercely independent, written by people with varied gaming backgrounds, but with one thing in common: their passion for gaming.

I was onboard with Rodent for a number of glorious years, until everyone grew up and real life took over, at which point it fizzled out (it's on the verge of a glorious comeback though, so keep your eyes peeled...).  But by now, I needed to keep writing about games.  So I set up one of those new-fangled blog things that everyone had been talking about.

Initially, it was called A Game A Day, and the title outlined my plans perfectly.  After a while, though, that goal became unrealistic.  A number of name changes later, the blog became A Gamer Forever Voyaging, which it has remained to this day.  I've written around 500 posts for the blog up to now... by my reckoning, that'll be at least 250,000 words.

But still I'm not finished.

I've heard talk that people find this image disturbing...
I've had this idea in my head for years now... an idea for a book.  I've never really had the confidence to start it before, but the title and concept have been rock-solid since day one.  Recently, though, word has spread that a documentary is in the works... a documentary which is basically my book idea, but on film.  It's called From Bedrooms To Billions, and it could be awesome.  But it might ruin my plans.

And so, it is now time for me, as my dad would say, to either shit or get off the pot.  If I don't start this thing now, either I never will, or it will be pointless.

I suppose it would make sense to outline my proposal at this point.

My intention is to write a book about computer games.  I know, it's already been done, many times.  There are some great books about games out there.  But one thing that they pretty much all have in common is that they lean heavily towards America and Japan.  In fact, from reading the books that are out there, you could be forgiven for thinking that nobody in Britain or Europe ever programmed a game in the Eighties.

My aim is to put that right.  We had an amazing games scene back then, with some incredible imagination and creativity at work.  Many of the best games of that era were born on these shores.  I don't think our programmers have had the credit they deserve.  Nor do I think their stories have been told anywhere near enough.  I'm planning to feature their stories, their games... and hopefully, their words.

Remember this? Plenty more where that came from when this is finished.
I'm at a disadvantage when compared to the documentary crew... they already seem to have the contacts.  I'm starting from scratch.  I don't have any contacts in the Eighties gaming world.  I'll be trying very hard to make those contacts, but I'll also be relying on word of mouth and helpful people that might be interested in this project.

I do have one advantage though.  I don't need any money up front for this.  No Kickstarter, no crowdfunding... I can just write, and write, and write.  Once it nears completion, then I'll have to think about money, unless someone is interested in publishing it... but that's a distance away.  I can just concentrate on the task at hand.  That said, I do have a full-time job and a family, so it's going to take a fair bit of time...

Still, I'm really excited about this.  I'll be writing about the games I played to death when I was a teenager, and the people that made them (and some of the people that reviewed them).  What could be more fun than that?  Well, hopefully for a lot of people, reading the finished product.

The book will be called They Were Our Gods.  I'll be posting updates here whenever anything happens.  If you're interested in how this is going, follow me.  Add comments and suggestions.  Spread the word, especially to any Eighties programmers you might know!  The more people I can talk to about this, the better the book will be.  Let's make sure the ride is more Stunt Car Racer than S.T.U.N. Runner.  Any questions?  That's what the comments box is for.  Other than that... this project starts now!