Journal

In the wake of Sonic Mania, I had a go at the 8-bit version of the original Sonic again, just to take a casual look at it out of curiosity. That was the plan, anyway - as it turns out, I have not had my bum kicked this hard by a game in living memory.

It's an odd little thing - it's recognizably a miniature simplified version of the Megadrive classic, mixed around a bit and with some things altered which can throw you off. Three zone styles are recognizable from the 16-bit version - Green Hill, Scrap Brain and (regrettably) Labyrinth and three are new, but all of them use completely different level layouts. As far as game mechanics go, you can't pick up any dropped rings when you're hurt (making you much, much more vulnerable at all times), and as a sadistic further addition to that, the ring counter rolls back to zero when you collect 100 of them. Enemies are pretty sparse, with just a few per level, and seem to be pulled from mostly random zones from the 16-bit version.

It's tempting to say that it has strange breaks from Sonic norms, but it's important to remember that this was 1991 and the norms didn't exist yet. Therefore it would have been totally unsurprising at the time to be faced with a forced scrolling level in Bridge 2, or the strange puzzle/maze-like layout of Scrap Brain 2 and 3 where you have to open up entrances remotely across multiple rooms and then make your way around to get through them. They're not even called "zones" by the game, though fans append the word anyway.

I think my first ever experience with anything Sega was when a school friend called Alex Paton came round with his Game Gear, and somehow I remember getting at least up to Labyrinth - how I did it I'll never know. The Jungle boss is an absolute bastard which took me about twelve lives before I eventually beat it, making you dance about on a slidey curved platform while Robotnik drops rolling bombs on to it and without any available rings to even protect you from one hit. While I'm on the subject, the waterfall level immediately before it will kill you if you fall off the bottom of the screen - even if there's a platform you just left two inches below the screen border!

Faced with all that I obviously haven't completed it, but I got to Sky Base, took screenshot evidence, and I think that's enough for me.

2017-09-05 21:05:00
Bloody hell, Sonic Mania is so good. As it's been ages since I wrote about a game, I wanted to try to put why into words, but I'm not doing a great job at it. Perhaps the best illustration would be to echo my fumbling write-up of Sonic 4 which teetered on "all right" but ended up being rubbish - the beginnings of both games evoke exactly the same feelings.


Therefore:

Games have now reached the age where nostalgia service is possible in them - from the start, when the chorus of "SE-GAAAA" booms out followed by the Megadrive-styled music accompanying the scrolling sea and wings logo on the title screen, this is taking great care to play in to memories of how amazing it was to see four-way scrolling levels speeding by on the Megadrive. Start it up and you're given a classic flying-text transition into Green Hill, populated with all the oddly rotating flowers, inexplicably chequered mountains and metallic enemies that you remember.

Then you start moving, and
it's absolutely fucking perfect. It's wonderfully responsive, momentum and physics work as you'd expect, it's just... so satisfying. Put alongside Sonic 4 and even the middling-to-okay Generations, it's just worlds apart, and seeing it in front of you, it's mystifying that Sega themselves couldn't get something as basic as this right over the last seven years. Indeed, the whole game feels like a bit of a middle finger to Sonic 4, not explicitly ever referencing it but in just existing as what a sequel to Sonic 3 should obviously have been (although people did notice that on the lift buttons that represent the games in the Mania trailer, the sequence goes 1, 2, 3, K, M and conspicuously misses out 4 entirely).

From that promising start, it's just what a Sonic game should be - you guide one of a trio of cutietums through a long run of rollercoaster/pinball worlds, you speed along tunnels and loops and tubes and smash robots. The real or imagined problem of Sonic games punishing the player for using their speed is something that I didn't see happening - if you bounce around with wild abandon all the time you're going to be wrecked, but the game does a great job of switching from the spectacle of the fast sections to places where more care is required. The levels keep being imaginative and varied despite the impressive length of the game - there are twelve zones and acts are typically huge (almost to a fault, as I found myself being Time Overed on a couple of them despite not feeling like I'd been dawdling). Nine of them by my count are enhanced remakes of zones from earlier games, but three are completely new.

I think that part of the game's ability to impress is in its caution to stay below what it can really do from the beginning. By starting you off in Green Hill with a stage that begins in a very familiar fashion, it gets you used to the idea that this is a lost game from the Megadrive era - though having said that, everything animates at a higher frame rate than it used to and it's an uncanny feeling the first time you see the whole thing moving. But as the game continues, it begins to pull out more and more tricks that break the Megadrive mould, one of the most notable being where you're punted into the background layer on one of the penultimate stages and continue the game from there until you find a way to launch yourself back.

Among Sonic 4's impressive array of mistakes was the way that it stuck so closely to the original games' levels and ideas, making it very obvious where they were being done much less well than they had been. Mania takes much the same approach - the remakes of the classic stages tend to stick close to the originals in the first act, but then introduce new elements and ideas for the second one - but avoids negative comparisons with the original games by just doing them right. Sonic 4 was immensely predictable - we'd seen all the bosses before, even before the game made us fight them all yet again in sequence at the end and then lazily faced you against that big egg robot from Sonic 2 with its number of hit points increased to about a million. In just one example of its collection of clever surprises, the same egg robot appears instead as Mania's very first end-of-zone boss instead, with familiar weaknesses but a completely different way of fighting it.

I don't know what else to say, other than to note the music's great as well (once again being close to the original game soundtracks for the first act and then venturing further for the second), and that there are a ton of secrets to find through the several types of bonus stage and minigames.

I'm going back to playing it now.

2017-09-03 16:14:00
While recording another song for Buried Souls today, I thought I'd give a glimpse into my workspace! This is my own space on the bottom floor of our house, where my desktop computer lives and where I do the majority of my composing and recording. It is also a complete tip, and the guide that I put together just for people to be able to follow the order of the circles looks like an arcane star chart. Nevertheless, here's an insight into how I work.

Computer things

1. First monitor! It's a 4:3 that I must have had since about 2006. When in music writing mode, this usually has Kontakt's overwhelming array of levers and pulleys on it - or otherwise it's got the Internet open because I've got distracted.

2. Second monitor! Mismatched with the other one, this is a 16:9 that I picked up a bit later on which is almost but not quite the right size to fit alongside the other one. I've been meaning to upgrade the first one but I've never really felt a pressing need to. Still, this is the one that houses Reaper's spaceship controls.

3. Logitech speakers. Again, these have probably been around since I came into the country in 2006 and have survived two house moves. I don't actually use these much in music composition because the sound is handled by an external sound card (see 11).

4. Ultra-professional monitor stand (a cardboard box that used to contain a pump that prevented the basement from flooding). I stand up when recording vocals and I used to hunch over the computer to click around and set things up, but having it at eye level is a lot more comfortable. I should really get one of those desks that you can raise to a standing position.

5. DELL QuietKey PS/2 keyboard, a relic and a misnomer because it's the most clackety keyboard this side of using a typewriter. I rescued it from the out-pile when we moved offices a couple of jobs ago - it's very comfortable to type on, has a satisfying feel to it, is built like a Sherman tank and weighs a ton.

6. Similarly 10-year-old mouse, with a Clickteam mousepad - the company that made the Fusion development environment, now most famous for enabling Five Nights at Freddy's 1 through 476. I used to do contract work for them, writing demo applications and tutorials, and they sent a mousepad with one of my cheques. (They're very nice people.)

7. Headphones - my primary way of hearing what I'm writing! These are a pair of Sennheiser PC-350 - I've been meaning to look at others because the headset microphone on this (which I use for recording game videos) has a slight screechy tinge to it, but they're very comfortable and I don't want to give them up.

8. The computer itself. Both the oldest thing at the desk and not the oldest thing at all - I haven't bought a new desktop since 2003, but parts have been swapped in and out over the years and it's now the Computer of Theseus. I can't remember whether any parts in it now (the case included) have been there from the very beginning or if it's a completely different machine.

Music things

9. A guitar! This is one of three that I own - I have a Johnson strat copy that I learned on (and have since modified into an electronically enhanced Frankenstein by drilling holes in it and grafting on mounts for a compact amp and so on), an Ibanez which is my main guitar, and this one. It was salvaged from my wife's grandmother's house after she died, has no markings on it indicating who made it, and could be an expensive antique (but is more likely worth $5 or so). I still can't play the guitar to any acceptable level - they're just used for idling around when trying to think up melodies.

10. A keyboard! This is a very basic one, a Yamaha PSR E243 which has no mod wheels or key velocity. It's connected up to the computer and does what I need it to, though - and since I learned on the piano, it's very useful for experimenting and visualizing where a song is going.

11. This is a Line-6 Pod X3 mounted to the wall (there's no official way to do that - I just had some large bolts left over that happened to be the right size for poking into the screw wells on the back). It's an external sound card that acts as a digital amp for guitars, but I haven't used it that way in ages and I use it mostly for recording vocals instead. You can't buy this model any more, it's been superseded multiple times by now - I think I got it in 2008 or so when my original Amplitube guitar connector broke down.

12. My microphone is a Samson R31S, which is a $30 thing that you can get at Best Buy - I got it so that I could experiment rather than for any serious work. With the XLR cable to the Pod, though, it has no noticeable noise at all, and people seem to agree online that it's a surprisingly good microphone for its cheapness. There is no pop filter, a fact that I get around just by singing perpendicular to it.

13. Microphone "stand" made out of duct tape and suspended from a pipe on the ceiling, so I can't do laundry and record music simultaneously. It's up here because before I recorded The Poison Skies I read about the best place for a microphone being slightly above your mouth, so that you tilt your head back and open up your vocal cords more. I meant to get a slightly more permanent mount for it but I haven't found one I liked.

The back wall

14. The whiteboard! This is where I chart progress when I have a serious project going on - three boxes for each song representing how far along the instrumental parts are, then a box each for whether I've completed the lyrics, the vocals, and got the song to a place where I can declare it releaseable. That's six boxes each, for twelve songs on Buried Souls - a total of 72, and I've filled in 42 of them.

15. A picture of some highland cows. Can't remember why this is there. I think my wife got it and it somehow ended up down here after we moved house.

16. Signed Iron Savior card! This came with a special edition of one of their albums, and is definitely not pre-printed because one of the signatures has a smudge on it where someone put their hand on the wet ink.

17. Picture of a lovely mouse by DAQ <3 http://www.furaffinity.net/view/3590067/

18. A box for a ream of photo paper. I had to put this up in the window during the summer because in the morning the sun reaches the exact angle to come blindingly down through the window.

19. Brown parcel tape mounts for said box.

Miscellaneous junk

20. Black and Decker drill/screwdriver. I should put this away, really - it's been here since we moved in last year and I was putting things on the wall.

21. Pile of DVDs containing British children's programmes recorded from old tapes by my parents and sent over here for me to look at and extract any treasures from. I have a Youtube account for these at https://www.youtube.com/user/TributeToThePast but it's been a very long time since I updated it. I should correct that.

22. Unused invitation to the sponsor/Professor Dinner at Anthro New England 2017, which I couldn't go to due to the birth of my daughter!

23. Water! Very important for keeping my vocal cords cooperating. I don't drink nearly enough of it as it is.

24. A pile of physical copies of furry pictures that I'm yet to find a home for, to be honest.

25. A drinks fridge! Was picked up for free from a yard sale shortly after we moved here. It is currently not plugged in and contains no drinks - it's been acting as a bits-of-paper stand for virtually all its lifetime here.

26. Spare body parts.

2017-08-12 23:28:00
A quick oddity that I found! Not even at the super-exotic place - these were in the fruit section of Whole Foods.



At first glance, these look like the kind of peppers that would literally blow your head off if you put more than one in your mouth at a time - and for that reason I was kind of hesitant to try them. But they're a species of grape - Teardrop Grapes, which have also been called Witch Finger Grapes before someone from marketing decided to make them sound more appetizing.

They taste very much like sweet red grapes, and so I thought this post would end on an anticlimactic note. But when looking for more information, I found that this is the first example I've found of a proprietary fruit! They didn't exist at all before 2002, when a farm in California called the Grapery began growing them through selective breeding, and they're still only available through that one farm. They have multiple varieties of grapes that they've invented with their mad grape Frankenstein science, each with a very limited window of availability each year - Teardrop grapes are only around for a month out of the year, from mid-July to mid-August, so the window is closing on them already.

There's an article about them in Bon Appetit here - what a fascinating find.

2017-08-11 20:20:00



It's been a long, long time since I just showed a game off - but I want to give some attention to a ZDoom game that's been criminally overlooked!

This is an amazing conversion of The Crystal Maze into first-person form by Stephen Clark, "The Ultimate DooMer". It's incredible to see the set transformed into Doom geometry, and there are 32 games of varying scope and complexity - some of which seem to also have taken inspiration from Knightmare. This is my chance to prove that I can do better than the protozoa we watched being led around by Richard O'Brien weekly.

If you want to try it yourself, get:
- A copy of Doom II from GoG or Steam or something
- GZDoom from here: http://zdoom.org
- The mod from here: https://www.doomworld.com/idgames/levels/doom2/Ports/a-c/cr-maze

Then look up a guide on how to set it up, I'm not explaining everything!

2017-07-30 21:48:00


I haven't even posted all the songs from The Poison Skies yet, and another album is well on its way! Here's the demo version of the upcoming Albion release Buried Souls, with the first two tracks as well as some clips from the rest of the album.

I was seriously floored when the artwork landed in my inbox this morning - it's by the amazing MylaFox. I found her by chance through her artwork on Tumblr, and knew she had to be the artist for the album as soon as I saw her wonderful Undertale artwork. She's an amazing artist, has had great enthusiasm for the project and she really captured exactly what was in my head.

Enjoy the intro and title track - the rest should be coming by the start of 2018.

https://albion.bandcamp.com/album/buried-souls-demo-version
2017-07-22 18:15:00
I got back into playing Elasto Mania again after seeing it mentioned on a "shareware games we grew up with" thread on Twitter! Seventeen years after it was first released, I finally registered it (which you can still do on the slightly spartan original site) and gave author Balázs Rózsa some money at last.


The usual


Did anyone else here have this? It was called Action Supercross earlier in its life, and is labelled a "motorbike simulation", which doesn't really describe it at all (though I will concede it does have a bike in it). It's sort of an... action-puzzle platformer?, starring a man with nerves made of steel on a bike with suspension made of elastic. The aim is to propel yourself around the levels, collect all the apples and then get to the flower for some reason. You have to watch your rider's head, because if that contacts the scenery at any point, you're dead - and the same goes for letting your wheels touch any of the nasty spinny obstacles that start appearing in later levels.

What will probably happen the first time you try it is you'll line yourself up with an apple, hold down Accelerate, immediately flip over and die. Because this is a physics game - and one written from the ground up before we had Box2D and Havok to mess it all up for us, making it an impressive piece of programming indeed. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the author went on to establish a lab for 3D function network and dendritic imaging, whatever the hell those are.) Acceleration tips you backwards, so you have to go easy on the throttle and control your brake to keep yourself upright. You can also influence your rotation a bit by using the left and right arrow keys to throw yourself in that direction - and the last control is Space to "turn around", which somewhat bizarrely flips the chassis of the bike around so that the front wheel becomes the back and vice versa, without affecting the bike's acceleration or angle or anything.

It starts off simple enough, with flat surfaces and gentle slopes, with just your own overenthusiasm as the main obstacle. But things start becoming more involved very quickly, and you have to navigate the nightmare-skateboard-park levels by using all kinds of impossible tricks - only your head and wheels collide with the ground, so sometimes you'll have to cling on to a platform with your back wheel with the rest of your bike and rider dangling below it, desperately getting up the momentum to reach for an apple with your front tyre.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ywexteMZJ0


I was drawn back to the game by finding that there is, of course, a competitive community that has sprung up around it. Some of the recorded runs they've achieved are unbelievable, flinging themselves around levels at the speed of sound while I have to carefully teeter over mild hillocks to avoid crashing and burning. In fact, if I have a criticism of the game, it's that the later default levels tend towards ridiculously long and large, taking upwards of three minutes to complete with just one unrecoverable slip between you and the ground (and a subsequent restart). So now I'm working through the vast library of community-created ones!

2017-07-01 23:29:00
As mentioned it on Twitter yesterday, I had another go at Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure. I had been noticeably disparaging towards it in my overview of the entire 3D Realms Anthology among the other games, and wanted to give it another try to see if my impressions of it were justified.

Long story short, they were. I feel bad for it because it has so much variety and colour to it, but the game doesn't really work for reasons including but not necessarily limited to the following:

  • The Duke Nukem engine, specifically the way that everything moves on an 8x8 grid. This worked noticeably better for Duke, and I'm not totally sure why - part of it is that Duke had enemies that ignored the grid and moved smoothly, whereas Cosmo doesn't. Combined with this, Cosmo has to get a lot closer to enemies rather than shooting them at a distance - he has to jump on them (often multiple times) with his only distance attack being bombs that are fairly rare (and that have to be set close to the enemy anyway if it's stationary!) Perhaps it's also at odds with the console-style platformer presentation that Cosmo is going for - it's noticeably janktastic compared to its counterparts.

  • No vertical visibility. 200 pixels isn't much in the first place, but the status bar takes up a quarter of that - on the ground you can look up and down, but during even quite short jumps there's no way to see what you're landing on. The game tries to remedy this by placing pickups in arcs to guide your jump, but trusting them is a mistake - look at the cluster of red fruit near the right hand side of the map. You can't see the bottom of the level from the ledge, and so it's easy to assume there's ground under there and walk off to instant death. I did it twice.

  • Combined with that, there are too many bottomless pits - the levels might not look long in the maps, but they encourage exploration so progress can be slow through them, and it's very easy to lose all of it with one slip.

  • And the lack of health in general! You get four hit points by default, and that number can be extended, but health upgrades are few and far between. When you switch levels, fall off the bottom of the screen or otherwise die, it doesn't even restore your motherwanking hit points - if you entered a level by the skin of your teeth, you'll start in that state again if you die at any point during it.


And while not a flaw, I want to repeat that it's strange that the game is called "Forbidden Planet" on all three of the episode title screens, and that the name "Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure" is only mentioned on a startup card before it along with the Apogee logo. Perhaps there were intended to be more cosmic adventures at some point?

I only played through the first episode and the second two are reputedly much harder... I'll see how long it is before I give up.

offers a second opinion here, which is quite similar to this opinion because it's correct.

2017-06-04 09:57:00
I'm testing out embedding music on here, because God knows engagement has gone down absolutely everywhere else. Here's the title track from The Poison Skies, an album by me and . And I think it's pretty good!


2017-06-02 13:42:00




#mylivejournal #lj18 #happybirthday



Thanks, Livejournal. You've helped me record a truly incredible stretch of my life, from unsurely feeling my way into adulthood in university, through graduation, marriage, moving to America, becoming a huge furry, and a voice actor for pigeons on the Internet, and other madness like that. It's an incredible record of fourteen years (started on April the 30th in 2003) - but I fell out of using it for the last couple of those, largely due to nobody really caring about reading anything I had to say any more.

And in this insane time, we have to take stands wherever we can, small actions to make ourselves feel we can at least have a tiny effect on the course of what's happening when we might come to harm. Therefore, everything from here on will be posted on my equivalent at Dreamwidth instead. I'll work on switching my site over to using Dreamwidth's API - and hopefully will find a reason to write again some time.

2017-05-06 23:18:00
I discovered a new fruit at Russo's! This one doesn't really look a whole lot like anything, and if you live in a remote place with houses built into mountains to hide from the Vikings like I did, even the thing that you think it might be is a trick.


This is a Hawaiian plantain. We don't get any kinds of plantains in Scotland, and they're disingenuous at the best of times - they look like mutant Incredible Hulk bananas, bigger and greener, but taste closer to a potato because they have so much starch in them. This one is a particularly fat variant of the family, with a shape almost like an American cucumber, and is ripe when it's banana-yellow.

Plantains are usually cooked to soften them because of the high starch content, but this variety is polymorphic - you can use it like that as a vegetable when it's yellow, or wait a bit longer and eat it as a fruit when it gets to this decrepit rotting state.


In my searches for how to effectively prepare and eat this, I was immeasurably delighted to discover Bananas.org, a thriving community that I had no reason to think ever existed. It is a hub for banana enthusiasts to post about their banana collections and share banana photos and stories - a whole subforum is dedicated to banana identification (both ornamental and edible) for people who have some plants that they don't quite know the sub-genus of. There is also a marketplace for people to auction or trade their bananas, with the eventual goal of catching them all and assembling a giant banana monster to destroy those pretentious Apple fans.


Still - when you cut it open you have a very traditionally banana-like appearance inside, with maybe a bit of a larger core area. It also has skin thinner than the American president, and is awkward to peel off without leaving residue behind - I used a knife to carve it off. At this very ripe stage, the interior tastes very much like the bananas that we're more familiar with, but still with a lingering starchy texture towards the middle.

So on the advice of the Internet, I made up a sugary batter, sliced the whole thing into thin discs, dipped them in, fried them a bit, and...


...hmm. Sorry, these actually appear to be pancakes. Perhaps I made the batter a little too thick (I wasn't really measuring because I was making so little), but what resulted was little pancakes with hot plantain inside. In pictures I've seen, the batter shell is supposed to be thinner and less enveloping, but the result was still good - they're commonly eaten with honey, but being Scottish, I used golden syrup.

2017-04-01 11:48:00


I’ve finished Vulkan! Enough to call it a beta, anyway. Venture down into the Vulkan power station, a promising side project by UAC that as usual accidentally drilled into Hell and summoned an army of bloodthirsty demons.

This is a partial conversion for Doom 2, a bit more than a set of levels but not quite a different game. It features a ton of effects from Brutal Doom, a new weapon the Flak Cannon, several new enemies and a boss level that isn’t terrible.

It runs under GZDoom, which you can get here, and you’ll need a Doom 2 WAD. As you can see it’s particularly dark and bloody compared to most of my games, but not in a particularly realistic way.

Download: http://teamouse.net/games/vulkan/vulkan.pk3











2017-03-03 22:24:00

A post inspired by this, where I ended up writing rather a lot.

I used to play Bamboozle all the time before school (though I only ever really had a hope at the Saturday editions which were aimed at children of about ten)... it was interesting how it was set up, and so archaic now! I’m going to seriously go on about this, so get ready.

This is based on just my experience with it, but as far as I could tell, Teletext worked by broadcasting pages of text over the airwaves in sequence in blocks of one hundred, then looping back to the start. So at any time, the 1XX range of pages would be beaming into your aerial in the sequence 100, 101, 102... 198, 199, 100, 101 (and the same for 2XX, 3XX, etc).

This meant that when you requested a page (in this picture, number 390, but I can’t remember Bamboozle ever being at that page) a separate number display would come up showing which page was being broadcast at the time, and you had to wait for it to roll around to the one you wanted so it could ‘catch and display it. If you were lucky you’d catch it at the right time, but if you requested 390 and the TV was currently receiving 392, you’d have to wait until it came all the way around again... I think the whole cycle never took more than about 30 seconds but when you’re browsing around, that multiplies up quickly.

And those coloured buttons were used as “shortcuts” between pages! On each page, the coloured buttons would be wired to relevant other pages, and a bit of text would be displayed in each colour at the bottom of the screen describing where the four colours went - on the BBC News front page which let’s say was at 110, red might be wired to politics on page 112, yellow for sports on 113, blue for a delightful BBC Micro-rendered weather map on 116, and so on.

Bamboozle was a quiz game, and on each page, a question was asked with four possible answers presented in the four different colours. The link text at the bottom of the page just said “Answer” or something generic for each one - but underneath, three of those buttons led to a page telling you you gave the wrong answer, and one of them led to the next question. Once you’d played a few times, you got used to what the wrong and right page numbers were, and if you saw the page number in the “requested page” slot before the broadcast cycled around to displaying it, you could change your choice and find the right answer without it noticing. Eventually, the last question’s correct answer would direct you to the winning page.

But if each page had a number, you could just type in the winning page and get right to the end, couldn’t you? Well... no, and this was another quirk of the system - all the pages of the quiz were stored in slots with “numbers” like 12A, 12B, 12C that you couldn’t enter directly (you only had your remote control numbers to work with). I think the extra slots were A-F, implying that the whole Teletext system actually used hexadecimal numbering but that all pages were usually assigned slots that looked decimal for human use? Or maybe it was just a coincidence that there were six extra slots - I don’t know.

You could cheat a little, though - during normal operations, the Up and Down buttons raised and lowered your requested page number by 1. I’m not sure if this was universal to all televisions, but on the one in my family’s living room, you could also walk back through the hidden lettered pages by hitting the Down button - 12C, 12B, 12A... and if you went below that it would revert to 129, therefore linking you away from the quiz. The reverse wasn’t true - if you hit Up on 12C you’d be put straight to 130, so you couldn’t skip forward. This was useful, though, because the questions were arranged in blocks of 4 with “wrong answer” pages with the highest slot at the end of the block:

12A = Question 1
12B = Question 2
12C = Question 3
12D = Question 4
12E = Wrong answer for questions 1-4
12F = Question 5
13A = Question 6
13B = Question 7
13C = Question 8
13D = Wrong answer for questions 5-8
13E = Question 9
13F = Question 10

(The ‘wrong answer’ pages always linked you back to the start of their block and made you tediously pick through questions you’d already answered again - otherwise they would have to have had a unique wrong answer page for each question). So with a layout like this, it was possible to answer any question from 1-4 wrongly, press Down when on or requesting the 12E wrong answer page, and skip straight to question 4 - however, it wasn’t possible to skip upwards.

2016-12-14 02:58:00
I'm 32 now - it felt like a bit of a non-event after the last week. I got a card from my wife's family that started "It's been an incredible year..." which led me to wonder whether they'd been living through the same year I had. The earliest shock I remember in 2016 was Alan Rickman's death and before I could even get close to grasping that there would be no more films with him as the British villain in them, tons of other people died and Britain and America started themselves on the path to collapse.

But some good things did happen this year, and I want to remember those.

kjorteo and I finished The Poison Skies - it's the first album I've ever fully recorded and physically released, an incredible milestone. We can now both say that we have music on iTunes, an entry on Metal Archives... and that we were picked up by someone who does reviews of independent metal for an Australian magazine who thought it was all right. It had been in progress for such a long time and was interrupted by other things multiple times, but I'm so proud of both our efforts.

I put on a show at Furpocalypse with a month's time to cobble it together - it was obviously "Would I Lie To You" under a different name, but organizing six people into a panel game and have it actually work was a wonderful feeling. I had no experience promoting anything like this, was just relying on luck and the crowd-drawing power of some of my panellists, and I was amazed at the turnout, with people queueing out the door to get in and a panel room filled. The reaction was amazing and now Anthro New England are very excited for Furry Little Liars to be put on there as well.

Whitney got pregnant, after a long time trying, and we're going to have our beautiful mutant mouse-rabbit very soon - just over a month to go. I went through a lot of time thinking I wasn't ready, but now it somehow feels... right, to move on to the next stage of life. I hope for our child to be one small addition to the number of decent people in the world.

And as a result, we moved into a new house, out of the tyranny of the condo association! We have so much space now it's incredible, and we've been putting the freedom to good use, converting a dingy room in the basement and a weird room on the top floor into my space and a space for our new arrival. I could have asked for it to have been in a better country, but... we have a haven.

And the team I manage at work brought out a cheesecake to celebrate my birthday yesterday! That helped me a lot, to remember that no matter what awfulness is happening in the world, I'm among good people.

2016-11-15 23:33:00
After a month-long ordeal, we've finished the nursery in our house and it's ready for the baby to move in!

One of the strange things about this house when we moved into it was that it had a third bedroom on the upper floor that wasn't shown in any of the photos that the estate agent provided. And when we looked at it, it was easy to see why - the room was entirely clad in wood and had two beds built into the floor, taking away all the space and making it look not so much a friendly bedroom as a room that a mortician might use to prepare bodies. But it had potential, and so with no experience in redecorating, we set about transforming it.


This was what the room looked like at the start, with some tape around the ceiling and windows in anticipation of the painting that was to come. Some of these photos might accidentally give the impression that the wood had charm to it, but in reality it just made the room perpetually dreary. But that wasn't the worst problem with it...


With the help of my father- and brother-in-law, we demolished the fixed box-bed-slabs and threw their bits in the back garden. You wouldn't believe just how much wood there was in these things - far more than you would think necessary to support someone's weight, and we've still to arrange taking it away or cutting it up to use as firewood. That was the first struggle, and it revealed another difficulty - whoever had installed these had removed entire sections of the wall and floor to accommodate them. They're not even just taken off cleanly - they've been sawn through, exposing the bare floor and insulation behind them. I can't imagine how the person responsible never thought, during the lengthy procedure of putting these in, that it would be easier to just buy a couple of beds.


At the end of the first day of their visit, after a trip to Home Depot that lasted several hours and a lot of work on top of that, we got to here - drywall has been mounted on the giant gaps left by the beds and it's been spackled in. My father-in-law also bought a load of tools to assist with the suddenly-elongated job of redecorating the room, and said to consider them a birthday present!


The process of filling in the gaps in the floor was a much more tedious slog, cutting planks of flooring to fit, nailing them down and progressing slowly row by row. It took all day, but the end results were two filled-in floor sections and this apocalyptic mess.


After clearing that up, it was finally time to prepare the room for painting - a couple of days later than we had thought, and with the family back in California by now, we were on our own without extra help for this. I taped off the borders and put down a plastic sheet to cover the newly patched floor, but didn't realize that the air vent on the ground in the corner would cause it to inflate like a bouncy castle.


After cutting a hole for the vent to breathe and spending a day rolling primer on to the walls, I was successful in making the room look significantly worse. It looks patchy and awful but all it needs to do is get paint to stick to it - and if you try to ignore how shabby it looks, ou can already see that the room looks a lot brighter as a result.


This is more like it! It took three coats of the yellow paint and a large effort from both of us to get it to be really convincing, but the room was beginning to come together now.


With the painting over, we could take up the plastic at last, and installed some new lights to replace the weird boat-wheel themed ones that used to be in the room. (Yes, only one works. I'm still looking into that.) Whitney had the idea of putting some fabric on to the lower wall to act as a skirting-board - I don't know where that came from, but the result looks great and provides a softer surface for a toddler's head to crash into. She put together the pieces and we tacked them up with a staple-gun.


Then it was my turn again, adding a painted wooden trim around the top of the fabric. With a length of general-purpose rail from Home Depot and the tools left with me by the floor-cutting stage, I was able to feel my way into fashioning some pretty convincing ninety-degree joins.


With that task finished, the scraps from it cleared up and a rug-pad put down, the room was finally ready to receive its furniture...


...which arrived today! This is a collection of new furniture, things that Whitney's family handed down to us and some great finds from people in the surrounding area who were trying to get rid of their old stuff. It's beginning to feel very real now - this room will be occupied in something like seven weeks' time!

2016-11-12 18:28:00


Team Hatoful finished our playthrough of Undertale (quite some time ago, actually - it just took me this long to finally edit together the final part) and it's now up as a playlist on Youtube. At 45 videos totalling fifteen and a half hours of the game, it's our longest playthrough ever (narrowly beating Holidaystar which was about 15h 10min but did it across 48 videos).

Thanks, Toby Fox, for your characters and amazing world!

2016-09-24 23:05:00
I had two dreams last night and they were both very stressful! I'm hoping that after a week with little sleep, it was just all the tension dissipating out of my system at once.

The first was about being at a hotel at a convention, except Whitney and her parents were there as well and I had to divide my time between the two groups. I kept losing where my room was - after going out of the main hotel part and into the convention centre rooms, I came back and I could never find where I was going among the identical corridors, as if the rooms were shifting around every time I left. Eventually I would find the reception desk and they would point me back in the right direction, but I kept forgetting things and having to go back... I was meant to deliver an album to someone in the Pictionary room and make it back in time for dinner at 7 with the family, but I think I ended up on a mountainside somewhere and then everything turned into Final Fantasy 6 after the end of the world and I don't even know any more.

The second - which might have led in from the first due to finding this in the game room or something - was a game that was something to do with Sonic and Zero Escape together, if you can believe it. In the context of the dream, this was the infamous ending puzzle to Sonic 06, even though nothing like this (or anything competently programmed at all) exists in the real game. After rushing through a space station with a countdown going, the last task was to decipher and input something called the Struggle Combo to prevent the space station exploding. The clue for it was this massive ring of symbols and colours that went through all the machinery in a big circular control room, and you could slide it around like a big horizontal wheel. Depending on the mode you had the game in, it had squares of colour that corresponded to the buttons on the Xbox controller, symbols that were meant to resemble the button letters but really didn't at all, and other things that I never worked out. After failing and restarting, you were given a time of five minutes to fly down from the vent you entered from and go back to the control room to start the process again.

The Struggle Combo was randomly generated for each player, and so there wasn't a solution available online, but people had written massive FAQs dedicated to how to work it out, including the types of symbols that could appear and how they related to each other. I never even came close.

2016-09-05 00:25:00
We're in Bermuda! We're spending a week here as our last holiday as a couple before the baby arrives, and it's something that we don't do for ourselves nearly often enough.

The environment is like a hybrid between Britain and America after a severe global shift in weather - our taxi in from the airport took us the length of the entire country (about 15 miles) through what in America would be a tiny back road but in Scotland would be one of the main arteries. Everything happens much more slowly here - the drivers let each other out of side roads aggressively and hoot at each other if they don't accept their generosity in time. Our taxi driver tutted about crazy speeding moped riders when one passed us at about 25mph.

The "hotel" is really a group of little semi-detached houses, and they're all violently pink - I've grown very thankful for my colourblindness sunglasses because I can see them so vibrantly with them on, but when I take them off everything just looks beige. It's incredible how much they make a difference. And the weather is humid and frankly uncomfortable even as I'm writing this at 9:30 in the morning, but our suite has an absolutely massive air conditioning unit on the ceiling that keeps us alive.

2016-09-04 08:30:00
I keep on saying that I'm going to keep this thing updated again and then usually instantly forget - but there's still no better place for a long-lasting archive. Therefore, I really should announce that The Poison Skies is finished and released after so long in production!


It's a 20-track album based on kjorteo's novel The Afflicted - it's the first album I've produced with vocals and digital instruments instead of through Modplug Tracker, and it features songs written variously by both of us. You can listen for free on Bandcamp or download a digital version - for the first time, physical copies are also available, and I'm immensely pleased with them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPZcpGdVShk

2016-07-30 16:08:00
I have a huge announcement today - but it's not the one I've been building up to over the last few weeks...

My wife Whitney is pregnant for the first time! Yes, soon we're expecting a little mutant mouse-rabbit of our own :) Our due date - seriously - is Christmas Day, condemning this child to a lifetime of rubbish combined Christmas-and-birthday gifts.

It still feels new to me every time I think about it, and I have no idea how things are going to be after December... but maybe I'll manage to mess this child up a little less than my parents did with me.

2016-06-13 08:56:00