Category Archives: Nostalgia

Towing the on-line

Much has been made in recent months of the shift to on demand servicing, particular with the likes of online streaming companies like NetFlix and their high rolling TV programs ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Breaking Bad’. Many of the big networks probably shrugged this off at the time, assuming that streaming companies cannot challenge the established TV industry big names. Indeed, Sky and Virgin Media seem to have been more interested in staving off BT’s foray into Television rather than keeping an eye on this new snake in the grass. So the big names will have been shaken buy the world’s reaction to the hit series ‘Breaking Bad’, which some on social networks are even saying is the greatest TV series ever made. This might be a bit of a stretch but one thing is for certain, everyone wants to watch a show that is only available by NetFlix. Whether or not this is a flash in the pan is yet to be seen, but a line was drawn in the sand in September when NetFlix became the first internet based provider to win an Emmy. Following this BAFTA have announced that they will recognize internet based shows now as well.

Personally, I think this is a sign of things to come. It is no surprise that the first two major series produced by NetFlix were of such high standard. They wanted to make a mark and show that they are serious contenders in the entertainment market, and they have certainly done that. How long it will be before a major blockbuster movie is made for release in the same way remains to be seen…this may be biting off a little more than they could chew currently, but in time who knows.

This interesting development got me reflecting on how the internet has drastically changed our lives in the last couple of decades. At the weekend I helped my parents setup a new computer and dad produced some old CDs, asking if any of them were of any use. One of these was an Encarta Encyclopedia CD and memories came flooding back of a Windows 3.1 PC that ran programs off floppy disks and a CD ROM was the sign of the future. In those days Google hadn’t really been heard of and Wikipedia wasn’t even a glint in Jimmy Wales’ eye. Encarta was a world of discovery that seemed amazing to me. In those days we would all crowd around the hulking computer in the corner and when we wanted to connect to the internet the modem would screech like a dying cat.

How it has changed since those cold dark days when the internet was a rare commodity. Now we are fast relying on it for our daily existence. I no longer wear a watch or carry a diary, instead using my iPhone for both. My media largely exists in the cloud and I can’t remember the last time I wrote a letter, instead using email which some said would never take off. In fact email is possibly going to be the downfall of of postal services, which have unfortunately gotten too expensive to be viable. Last Christmas we finally made the decision not to send cards as the cost to us would have been well over £50 just in stamps!

The digital world has accelerated massively in the last few years. Apple now produce a mainstream laptop in the MacBook Air that doesn’t have a DVD drive, largely because we no longer need install disks. Instead we use an activation code and download the programs over the internet. Similarly, MAXIS have develop the new  SimCity game to be played online, a move that is not unique but was highly publicized due to the popularity of the game. The world is sprinting towards an online existence which is both convenient and full of security risks. I have previously written about an online world that reacts to our ‘profiles’, detected from the mobile devices that we carry around with us (or that are a part of us!). This reality is not far away now, it is just that at the moment most of us interact with the internet still via out computers. But that too is changing. Now we stand in shops and fire up our mobile phone to check prices online before buying. This is behaviour evolving to the environment we now have around us…and also becoming reliant on it.

So what is my point, you may well ask? The world is moving towards a more online existence and with it our behaviour is changing as well. In a very short space of time we have come to rely on the internet to help us with everyday tasks and soon it will become more and more part of our lives. Whether or not this is a good thing is for you to decide, I personally think that by and large it is good. It will be important for each of us to engage with this evolving world, rather than shun it, lest we be left behind. We should be prepared for a change in the way media is delivered to us. Instead of taking it for granted that it will all be through television providers we should factor in entertainment from online sources. And as the online world gains importance we should also be ready for companies that move completely online and forego offline interactions…it will happen.

For my part though I think it is important to also maintain some time for the simpler things in life as well – there will always be a place for a paper back book, a glass of whisky and the sound of the rain on a dark winters night in my life.

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It’s all in the game

I recently read an article on BBC News that bought back a lot of good memories. Years ago, in the dim and distant past when floppy disks were the mechanism of loading games on a computer and Windows 3.1 was the norm, I was a fan of the Monkey Island computer games. Created by LucasArts, these games were the evolution from the old strategy text games and presented a crafted story of humour, brain teasers and action in a point and click cartoon world. From the log in process, which involved using a card cypher that you twisted to match strange symbols and discover the password, to the witty action sequences that involved choosing the best insults rather than actually controlling the sword action, Monkey Island was a captivating world that enchanted my pre-teen mind.

Looking back now, the graphics of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge would seem practically stone aged to my children, who are used to HD television and retina displays, but the content stands the test of time. For me, the appeal was the same as the appeal of a good Jonathan Creek episode – the challenge of the puzzle. It was quite easy to lose not just an evening, but a whole week, in the game and find your mind wondering back to the latest puzzle you had encountered.

But these games are unfortunately becoming more of a thing of the past, largely due to changing attitudes about gaming. One of the reasons that games like Monkey Island were probably so appealing in their day is because the alternatives were not particularly good. It wasn’t possible to create realistic fast action games in those days so it was a choice between blocky shoot em’ ups like Wolfenstein and Doom, strategy games such as Lemmings, which whilst entertaining is limited in its appeal, or platform games (in my case Keen).

So filling that void, for those who wanted a little more, was the likes of Monkey Island. But the world now is a different place. People’s tastes have moved on and reflect the change in our entertainment expectations. Now that it is possible to create immersive, realistic action games and the TV and film industry is increasingly filling our world with crazy action films, it seems that the in depth strategy games have faded away. There are new games now that try and fill the void, for example the game Plague Inc. This game pits you as a Pathogen that has to destroy the world through a strategy of evolving symptoms, resilience and abilities to try and evade the race for a cure. This game is not quite on the same epic scale as the novel like  games of the past, indeed you can complete it in a couple of hours, but it does require a level of calculation and cunning to do well.

The world is now focussed on either games consoles or app based games. Lemmings has been replaced by Angry Birds, a global phenomenon with all ages, whilst the long play style of games most comparable to any sort of story seem to be The Sims and Sim City (a new incarnation of which has just launched with incredible levels of detail). But I can’t help but feel that these all lose some of the movie like storytelling ability that these wonderfully crafted games of the past had. Perhaps we just don’t have the time to sit down and engage in deep thought any more? Most people who are avid gamers these days are the World of War Craft type crowd, and the rest of us only play in passing on our tablet apps. In my view it is a real shame that the world has moved on and left this genre of game behind, consigned to the shelves of the digital museum for youngsters to scoff at and laugh and the blocky graphics. For me though, it will forever be one of the reasons I feel in love with storytelling and particularly with the pirate era of history. I will always favour the well crafted story, that challenges my brain, to the simplistic (albeit very entertaining) action shoot em’ ups. Maybe I am becoming a relic as well, or maybe in the future we will see a reprise of these games at some point. After all, fashions do come around again. I hope this one will.