In today's anniversary edition of Digitiser, Violet Berlin returns - and talks about her perfect Mario game - we re-review Cybermorph for the Atari Jaguar, and look at all the failed gaming hardware that was released in 1993. Get (it) in!
Our Digitiser 25 anniversary celebrations continue with another edition of classic-style Digi. Tomorrow: Violet Berlin returns to Panel 4!
To read today's anniversary edition of Digitiser in classic teletext style, please click here (thanks to Peter Kwan for sorting it out). If you don't want to do that - just read on to begin the beguine (nostalgia)!
The first year of Digitiser was bewildering in a lot of ways. We'd been isolated in our blissful little bubble for months, and been lulled into thinking that it would continue thus forever.
Teletext launched on January 1st 1993, and from the off it was clear that what we did and wrote on Digi could have ramifications on a national scale. Upsetting Amiga owners was the first indication of that reach.
Though we'd never explicitly stated that we wouldn't be covering the Amiga, we had - from day one - made it clear that our focus would be consoles, arcade games, and the PC.
Partly, this was because it was pretty apparent to anybody with a third of a brain that consoles were the future of gaming. Emap's Computer & Video Games had spun off into Mean Machines, and the latter magazine felt more exciting, due to its exclusive focus on console gaming. While we were demoing Digi, in the months leading up to Teletext's launch, Mean Machines itself had split into two - Mean Machines Sega and the officially-endorsed Nintendo Magazine System. A month later, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and the media coverage had been unprecedented for a console game.
The Amiga had been around, one way or another, since 1985. The Amiga 500+ and Amiga 600 had been released in early 1992, and the Amiga 1200 towards the end of that year, but in terms of home computing, its rival the Atari ST was all but dead, and the PC was fast becoming the home computer of choice. Sales of the Amiga were declining, and there were fewer games being released for it.
The only people who still believed it had a future were Amiga owners - even if there was a sense that they were fooling themselves, like half-drowned passengers of the Titanic thinking that flapping their arms around and blowing a whistle would somehow prevent them from freezing to death.
To everyone else, the Amiga felt like the past, and - while teletext might not have been the most current medium - we at least wanted to try and capture the zeitgeist.
More pertinently, there was a bigger reason why we never reviewed Amiga games...
I started work at Teletext Ltd in the middle of September 1992 - over 25 years ago now. By December 1992, Digitiser already existed, although nobody outside of Teletext was getting to see it.
I remember the first moment I was introduced to Tim Moore; smart shirt, braces, long hair, loads of earrings. Our features editor once described him as "Teletext's style guru". He was trendy and I wasn't. He was a bit posh, and I wasn't. He was cool, and I wasn't. He was well educated, and I wasn't. I'd been a teenage dad, and he hadn't.
Initially, I found him a bit stand-offish, if I'm honest. I was only 21, and Tim was quite a bit older than me. I wanted him to like me, not least because we'd been forced together to write the new Teletext video games section that I'd proposed.
On paper, we shouldn't have been mates, but we shared a compatible sense of humour, a similar outlook on life, and it's probably fair to say that neither of us were terribly well-suited to the structure of office work. Neither of us were particularly ambitious either I don't think; we just wanted to enjoy what we were doing.
At some point in those first couple of months at Teletext I started to consider Tim a mate. Though he wasn't as avid a gamer as I had been, I know he shared my feeling that we were incredibly lucky to have landed a job writing about games. We both really appreciated our good fortune.
In some respects, we were the worst possible combination of people. In all other respects... without Tim and I working together, Digitiser would never have happened in the way that it did.
I've not shied away from talking about feelings on here. I've always been a sort of heart-on-my-sleeve sort of a person anyway, and that has only increased as I've become older, and care less what other people think.
I don't think emotions are anything to be embarrassed about (embarrassment being, in itself, an emotional response - ya dingus).
We all have the same emotional ingredients. We have good days and bad days. Points of strength and weakness. I think one of the greatest sins of our society is that most of us don't share what we're feeling with one another. We're expected to be strong. "Boys don't cry", and all that.
"Ooh... you know your problem? You're too sensitive", or "That's all a bit touchy-feely", said with a sneer.
If we were all a little more open - and society valued our emotions as much as our practical or academic achievements - the world would be a much nicer place.
Yet feelings aren't for nothing. They serve an evolutionary purpose. Fear and anger and love are survival tools. And if you don't believe that... there are even physiological consequences of feelings, which also have practical applications.
So, yesterday - for the first time in more than 13 years - I did some teletext editing.
I'm trying to get up to speed for Block Party - our teletext and Digitiser celebration that's happening on October 1st in Cambridge. I'm aiming to create some brand-new Digitiser pages for the event (and - hopefully - bring some of our characters to life...), as well as put together some exclusive merchandise.
So if you missed the pics on Twitter, I thought I'd share them here as well.
FYI, tickets for the daytime activities are now SOLD OUT, but we still have tickets left for the evening Digitiser celebration-me-do. As well as a very special screening, we'll have the ultimate Digi panel - with myself, Mr Hairs, Mr Udders, and Violet Berlin - and a number of other activities... in what promises to be an intimate evening of Digi-related shambolics. You honestly do not want to miss it. It's going to be brilliant.
You can buy tickets here. Just £10!
Sonic the Hedgehog will always be inextricably linked with Digitiser, in my mind. The first event Mr Hairs and I ever attended was the launch of Sonic 2, at Hamleys toy store in London.
On our first day on air, following the index page, the first thing on the first page of the first section was a large graphic of Sonic - an attempt to assure readers that we could be every bit as visual as print mags.
And then, of course, we upset an enormous number of Sega fans because we dared to give Sonic 3 a mere 72% score - at a time when all major releases were all supposed to receive a minimum of 90%, by law.
I even stole liberally from Doctor Robotnik when it came to finding an antagonist for Turner The Worm, the teletext cartoon strip what I wrote and drew.
By the time I stumbled into Digitiser, I was already a fan of the 'hog. I couldn't afford the game when it first came out - on this very day, 25 years ago - but I'd read about it. I'd seen the screenshots. I had a friend who'd seen it running on a stall at Wembley Market, and pumped him so hard for information that he suffered a collapsed bowel.
I kept asking whether it really was as good-looking as it had been in the magazines. And get a load of this information: it actually was.
So. Euro 2016 then. <KICKS OFF A COD-REGGAE BEAT>
"I don't like football. Oh no. I love it!"
Except: I don't.
I'm merely ambivalent to football. I've no interest in it, outside of the World Cup. And even then I mostly feign interest just to feel normal. I get loving something, the euphoria, the chance to let off steam by screaming abuse at people. I just don't get why it would ever be football.
Please don't misunderstand: I don't judge you for liking it. I tried to like it myself when I was younger. All the men in my family are seriously into their football (these days, even one of my nieces plays for West Ham's youth team).
I mean, it's such a brilliant tool for conversation when you don't have much else in common with someone, be they taxi drivers, waiters, or cousins. And I'm envious of those who can do the football talk. But I've tried, and failed, to actually like it.
I collected the Panini Stickers. I used to have a Watford FC kit and scarf. I went to see them play half a dozen or so times... but it bored me so much. So very, very much.
I was in my local Waterstones the other day. Like most people, I went in there to take photos of books that I could later download onto my Kindle.
There was a sort of bargain bin/table full of dog-eared and soiled stock, and on top of the pile was a tatty copy of a Doctor Who tabletop role-playing game. I wasn't surprised that they were effectively chucking it out - what modern kid would ever want that? - but I was taken aback that there had even been a role-playing game released at any point in the last 15 years.
I mean, I know that Warhammer 40k is still a thing. Games Workshop isn't what it was, but there's the odd store still open on the occasional high street, usually with a bunch of 14 year-olds sat in a dingy backroom with a grown man, who probably hasn't even had a CRB check.
But the golden age of the tabletop role-playing game is long gone, the power of the mind's eye superseded by the power of the graphics processor.
The first time I ever saw Super Mario 64 I was in the Fulham headquarters of Sega Europe.
Obviously, I knew of it. Everyone did. Those screenshots we'd all seen in the mags looked too good to be true.
We'd gone for one of our meetings with the company's then head of public relations, Mark Maslowicz. Tim and I had a weird relationship with Mark; we really liked him, yet there was something about him which inspired us to wind him up.
As I may have previously stated, on one occasion we waited until he left his office, then drew a large penis mid-way through a notepad that was on his desk. Another time, when we overheard a conversation which revealed the pack-in game for the 32X, and enjoyed playing on his paranoia, making him think we had a mole working for us in his department.
Because I was a borderline nerd - just without all the maths or science abilities - I used to attend weekly roleplaying game nights.
Every Tuesday for years I'd go over to my mate Phil's house and play Twilight 2000, Cyberpunk 2020, or the DC Super-Heroes RPG. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons had been something I'd played in my teens, thus hobbling my chances of ever getting a girlfriend, but I had since moved onto quirkier systems in the belief that it made me slightly cooler.
It's how I met Digitiser's chips & teats monkey Mr Cheese, in fact, and realised we were similarly afflicted in this area.
Phil was the only person I ever knew who owned an Atari Lynx, and my envy was off the charts; by 1990, I was an accidental teenage father, and couldn't justify spending nearly two hundred quid on a handheld console like he could.
Yet, I yearned for it. The Lynx was bright and colourful, and it looked like a skateboard with a screen in the middle. That was the handheld that I really wanted. It was the only handheld I wanted. It looked cool and futuristic, and so... of course I got a Game Boy for Christmas that year.
I couldn't exactly complain; it's a miracle my parents bought me anything, so great was their shame and disappointment.
One of the best bits of working for Digitiser was getting to do things for free that other people had to pay for. Not only would this make us feel good about ourselves, but it made other people feel bad, so it was a double win on our part.
We weren't the most adept at blagging stuff - and I'm still not, which is why I resort to the occasional passive-aggressive plea for freebies in articles like this (give PC, ploss?). Occasionally, however, something would present itself for which we felt compelled to prostrate ourselves.
Among our victories in this area were a Furby-type thing that I managed to scrounge, because my daughter really wanted one for Christmas, and a visit to London's Alien War experience before it opened to the public.
If you've never heard of Alien War, it was an early foray into immersive theatre, located in the bowels of Piccadilly's Trocadero Centre. Licensed from the Alien movie series, you were taken on a tour of an ill-lit space station research facility, while encountering men dressed up as the iconic xenomorphs.
Though it could've been an embarrassing bunch of faff, it was genuinely terrifying - particularly a sequence set in an elevator, where one alien stuck its face through a hatch, while another dragged off one of our party for purposes unknown. I went back another three or four times following our first visit, taking various friends, nephews and nieces with me. Don't go looking for it now: it shut down following a real bad burst pipe in 1996, and never reopened.
The Trocadero tended to be a bit of a mecca for Digi back in the day, and I was sad to notice recently that it had shut its doors, given the good times we'd shared. We went to the opening of the huge, multi-storey Segaworld arcade they used to have in there - which happened to be one of the few places in the UK to offer virtual reality.
Hey, sir! Hey! There's a new book about the medium of teletext.
Teletext in Europe: From The Analogue to the Digital Era is written by Hallvard Moe and Hilde van den Bulck. I don't know who those people are I'm afraid; they could be Europe's foremost serial killers, for all I know (and with names like those, who could blame them?).
I've not read it, mind, even though I do think a book about teletext is long overdue. Frankly though, if that cover is anything to go by, Teletext in Europe is dryer than a vulture's chuff, and if you've got any interest in teletext whatsoever, you should go and join the Teletext Facebook Group (and Digi's one while you're at it).
You should also follow Jason Robertson on Twitter. He's doing an heroic job of recovering old editions of Teletext - including Digitiser - from ancient VHS tapes. Also follow the Teletext R podcast, which covers all things teletext-y in amusing fashion (I'll be appearing on the next edition; probably one of the most enjoyable and ridiculous podcasts I've ever recorded). Other teletext-related folk include @illarterate (and his website Teletext Art), @that_other_carl, and @russty_russ - they're all keeping the flame alive with their teletext ponderings and artwork.
But enough about those unsavoury lushes and their pixellated necromancy: here's what I have managed to recall about teletext that isn't to do with Digitiser.
Do schools still do that thing on the last day of term, where the kids get to bring in toys? In fact, do kids even have toys anymore?
Nowadays, their big last day of term treat is probably being allowed to use their phones in class, so they can sit there Snapchatting one another.
Being an old, old man, I struggle to imagine what it would've been like to own an iPhone as a kid.
Back then, phones never left our homes, photographs were something you picked up from Boots, and if we had wanted to face-swap with someone we'd have had to use a Stanley knife.
And imagine owning a handheld thing upon which you could store hundreds of games - in full colour! With sound! And 3D graphics!
One last day of term, I remember David Dunlop bringing in a Star Trek phaser and communicator. I brought in a toy Lotus Esprit from the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, which shot rockets out of the rear windscreen. Kevin Hill had Connect 4. And Jason Quirke... well, Jason Quirke had something called a Game & Watch.
That was when everything changed.
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