The Science of Computing…

So, Split Decision: The Nonsense Knowledge Game isn’t the only new project I’ve had on the go this year – I’ve also been collating and editing a book. It’s called The Science of Computing and it’s a collection of some of the best hardcore technology journalism from authors such as Ben Hardwidge, Mike Bedford and Phil Hartup.

You can buy The Science of Computing now on Amazon’s Kindle service for the low, low price of £2.05. You can also check out a free sample and, because it’s on the Kindle platform, you can access it on your phone with the official Kindle app if you don’t have an eReader.

The idea for the book – and others that I hope to create in the future – came from when I first saw Dennis Publishing’s back-issue archive one day. In the labs under Cleveland Street there are cupboards filled to the brim with old copies of Custom PC, Men’s Fitness, Bizarre and all the other magazines. There’s some really good writing in those pages and a lot of it’s still relevant, but most of it goes to waste. There’s a great article on AI development by Ben, for example, that’s not ever been seen outside of the pages of the one issue it was published in years ago.

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Why I’m A Bad Journalist #1

One thing I learned very early on about games journalism is that it’s an incredibly incestuous business; oddly closed and reliant on the swapping of favours. It’s cliquey, with writers who ‘come up together’ often remaining so and PRs, who constantly shuffle from one allegiance to another, carrying their bonds with them when they go. Worse, some journalists then jump to PR and complicate things a whole lot more.

I’m not having a cry about this; I realise it’s an essential part of an industry where people move around a lot and I’ve only once heard of these cliques being juvenilely enforced in the ‘You’re a Future writer, you can’t talk to us!’ kind of way. Still, the Future writers do tend to band together, as do Imagine’s and so on. Sometimes they’re easy to spot, like the Official Console writers, who seem to radiate their own kind of party-hard vibe, or those I think of as The Next Generation, who form a welcoming, laughing huddle at all the launch events. Loosely and with acknowledgement to the foggy boundaries, these cliques exist and that’s not an unexpected or bad thing.
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Project Incredibleness Looms…

Within two weeks Project Incredibleness will be unveiled. What is Project Incredibleness? It’s a secret, kind of. Stop asking.

In other news, I’m going to be making more of an effort to update this site in the future and will be attempting to write something for it every Wednesday, even if it’s just a round-up of other stuff. I’d love to write original content here, but right now I’ve got to focus all my efforts on Project Incredibleness. Stop asking.

With that in mind, there’s not a lot more to say right now, so I’ll jump straight to the links and leave it at that. Are hints as to the nature of Project Incredibleness embedded in these links? Yes, actually.

The Minecraft feature above was an interesting article to work on, actually. Firstly, it’s the most openly creative thing I’ve written for the site in a long while (it takes the form of a holiday letter, with screenshots as photos), which helped wipe away the feel of the grind away from my work. Secondly, I came up with the idea as a way to work more closely with Custom PC’s art editor. One of the weaknesses I’ve noticed affecting all major print publishers that move online is that they often don’t harness the strengths of a print production schedule. Sub-editors and art editors tend not to move across to work on sites, as their time is spent working on magazines. Thus, sites grow without people in these roles. It’s something Dennis has been less guilty of than some other publishers I’ve worked with, but it’s still a very dangerous precedent.

That’s not a criticism at all though; I’m not even saying that it’s a problem, let alone one that needs to be solved. It is merely something I wanted to explore, given that it’s as much a limitation of the online model as it is anything else. Magazines require teams of people working together, each with specific areas of expertise. Sites require individuals with a broader range of skills. It’s far more useful for a site to have a writer who can use Photoshop competently than it is to have two dedicated employees, generally speaking. It’s also much more common to find that combination than it is to find a writer who is skilled with InDesign and knows the various associated software packages.  The reverse is true of magazines though, where you need people with dedicated specialities to prevent bottlenecks occurring in the endless cycle of edits and proofs.

Anyway, the Minecraft feature was my attempt to explore that issue. The above is as much what I learned as it is what I wanted to solve. One of the many things I like about our art editor is how open he is to working on something new.

More links…

Expert Reviews’ editor (and one-time Bit-tech editor, as well as my mentor) Tim Smalley left Dennis Publishing recently to work on new projects. I’m not going to post anything soppy here, but Tim was a great boss for the many years he worked with me. He taught me a lot about how to be a half-way decent journalist and was an exemplar of the idea that it’s better to do something right than first – a philosophy that runs in the face of most ‘journalism’. Good luck to him in the future.

Joe, out.

Backseat Gaming…

Backseat gaming; the act of sitting behind someone playing a game and just watching them and giving advice, is one of the things I love most about playing computer games. I love doing it and I love it when people do it to me and there’s a long, long list of games I’ve had my enjoyment of increased by the addition of a second or third party.

The oldest example that springs to mind is probably Cryo Interactive’s Dune/Bloodwych on the Amiga A500+, which my Dad used to play late at night when my Mum had gone to bed, letting me and my brother stay up late to watch him. I remember I kept a long list of all the different sietches in Dune in a notepad – such was my fascination with the sandy world on the other side of the screen. At breakfast I would get my Dad to tell me of how the adventure continued after I had finally gone to sleep and he’d fill me in as he got us ready for school like some sort of absent-minded, domesticated bard.

Duke Nukem 3D was another one I enjoyed with my brother and some friend; four of us swapping places depending on what skills were required. One for shooting, one for solving puzzles, one for something else and me, the secret finding guy. It was all very similar to how I enjoyed Serious Sam at University, my girlfriend and best friend sat on my bed behind me and laughing along as I gunned down the masses.

Unsurprisingly, Monkey Island was a big part of my backseat gaming history too. My brother would sit on the floor and watch me solve the games. Years later, in the same albeit redecorated room I’d watch him play Half-Life 2 through to Half-Life: Episode 2 even though I had finished them years before. It was part of some vague effort to recapture that earlier joy and slightly-rotted friendship.

Now, I’m doing the same thing with Mass Effect 2 and loving it. My girlfriend sits behind me as I play, loving the stories and asking questions about the fiction. I consult her on difficult quest choices and she obligingly does all the mini-games for me. It really is the best way to enjoy playing a game, in my opinion.

Also, I joined twitter – @Joethreepwood -, recorded two new gaming podcasts – one and two -, and have a nice little plan for something cool to do on bit-tech.net in the future. I also wrote a Mass Effect 2 review and did an interview with TIGA founder Jason Kingsley.

Joe, Out.

Christmas Content…

Christmas is coming and that means all sorts of wonderful little features and round-ups have to be written and assembled, mainly by me. Games of the Year, Fails of the Year, Gaming Moments of the Year, Cheesecake of the Year, Year of the Year – the list goes on. So far, I think my Gaming Moment of the Year is playing World of Goo at home with my family. My Game of the Year would be Batman: Arkham Asylum. My Fail of the Year is League of Legends.

I got a lot of stick for my opinions on League of Legends when I did my review, but I think I was as fair as possible. It’s a DOTA-clone – or an avatar based RPG/RTS, if you rather. Most of the battle is automated except for the actions of the one character you control, who has a wealth of options and levels up over time, etc. It works pretty well even if it is entirely copied from a mod that you can get for free, right down to the map design.

The problems really start when you look at it as a retail product though. I wasn’t surprised when I heard from people within the publisher who said the game had been plagued with problems and was pretty much being hung out to dry. It’s a game which you can download for free, but is available to buy in the shops for £30. £30 nets you a bunch of stuff you’d have to otherwise unlock in the game – but you can’t choose what to unlock and they are all very, very lame. £30 for a free game with some alternate character skins? Please.

Functionality is lacking too. There’s only one map to play on, one game mode, one automatically set-up team-limit and matchmaking that’s at the shittiest end of the shitty-o-meter. The game takes forever to load and the online store where you supposedly buy new content isn’t working – so the developers just made all the content available to everyone and destroyed the reason to pay for the game in the process. What you’re left with is free game which you have to pay for only to find out that it’s broken and incomplete and has no value for money, supported only by the most belligerent community I’ve ever seen.

In other news we have a rebuttal to my Is PC Gaming Dying feature coming up, which I commissioned someone else to do in the sake of fairness, I’m still at work on my mega-feature which got rejected and I also got nominated for Employee of the Year at Dennis Publishing. It was nice and is another ‘…of the Year’ to add to this post. Winner isn’t announced yet, but in the meantime I’m still getting enough congratulations to make my skin crawl. I guess I’m just not a very gracious person, though I do appreciate the nomination.

Joe, Out.