As many of you are no doubt aware, I wrote an article on here yesterday which can be summarised thus: "Just chill out about Far Cry 5 a bit, yeah?". I thought it was a sort of reasonable point to make, and that the most controversial element was me being deliberately - and, I have to say, slightly tongue-in-cheekily - patronising to the current generation of games journos. The joke being that, y'know, I was/am a games journo, and I'm now a grumpy old man.
But nooooo! I walked into a whole minefield about politics in games, which wasn't my intent at all. I'm fine with there being politics in games! I just thought, y'know, does anybody dedicate 50% or more of a review of Transformers 7 to its lack of political content? That's what Far Cry games are; they're blockbusters, designed to appeal to the widest possible demographic. And just as I'd argue that Transformers films have their place - and are just as valid as, say, Speilberg's The Post - so I argue that it's okay to have these triple-A games which only require you to switch off your brain.
But no. It all kicked off; "Mr Biffo's a prick", "I hate him", blah blah. We had some cancelled Digitiser the Show Kickstarter pledges, and y'know...
The name-calling doesn't really affect me deeply - the second you resort to that you've lost the high ground - it just makes me a bit sad that people allow themselves to get so worked up about something which, ultimately doesn't matter. You're choosing the wrong battles, and picking the wrong person to have a pop at. What you're angry at and hating on isn't really me (or who you think is me, given that you'd don't know me) and I'm relatively confident that I'm neither a "prick" or really done anything that deserves to be hated.
Nevertheless it does make me sad. It's just such an ugly and depressing overreaction. I'm pretty sure I'm a decent person who treats others well, and - when I occasionally get that sort of thing thrown at me - it makes me want to wash my hands of human beings, and withdraw, because I just can't be arsed with it... Which isn't fair, because the majority of you are lovely and reasonable. But anyway. Hey - one week to go until the Kickstarter for Digitiser The Show ends!
Onto the Digitiser Friday Letters. Unfortunately, this week we had very few letters, and most of those we got were all massive. Brace yourselves.
If you'd like to appear here, or you've something you'd like me to give some attention to in our occasional Plug Zone, please send your filthy emails early to this place here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Would it be difficult to get Cyriak Harris involved in Digitiser The Show. I’m currently trying to imagine a semi-realistic Man’s Daddy, created thorough his photo-manipulation stylings.
The Brighton-based artist might also be able to create some kind of goujon-monster for the possible Goujon John sequences.
Here’s to hoping your latest passion-project will lead to formation of a super-group of surreal comedians and animators, as well as gamers.
I recently had the pleasure of being stuck in a massive traffic jam, and took this picture to amuse myself. I can only assume business is booming?
Greetings and congratulations on being fully funded (and then some!), Mr Biffo.
This is very bloody long and I'm so sorry about that.
With the recent 'release' of Annihilation, I thought it timely to bring something up which has been on my mind since I first watched Contact over 20 years ago. What's on my mind is a thought. I'm going to type it out now, and I'll be using words. That thought is this:
Sci-fi is the most mistreated genre in film.
When talking about sci-fi I would bet an entire five pounds that 'popcorn' films such Avatar, Terminator, Star Wars / Trek, The Matrix, Marvel Stuff, Independence Day would first spring to most people's mind. In fact, looking up "Most Popular Sci-Fi Feature Films" on IMDB, half the top ten are Marvel or superheros. These are all, obviously, blockbusters.
Without getting into what's good or bad, and certainly not berating blockbusters, I'm curious about the 'type' of sci-fi being made with a big budget. I enjoyed all of those films above, but if I crave a complex plot, big or serious ideas, realistic stimulating dialogue or a degree of ambiguity, I feel there's little on offer. Instead, big budget sci-fi all too often means 'action film' or aimed at 15yr olds, which is obviously fun and cool and needed ect, but that's kind of all there is when it comes to wide distribution on the biggest screens.
A few of my favourite sci-fi films are Moon, Primer, Upstream Color, Under the Skin, The Lobster, Timecrimes (god-awful title I know. Reader, if you've never heard of it, please don't watch the worst spoiler-heavy trailer in history). Most of these films are pretty small. Small budgets, small cast, shown at cinemas funded by an EU grant that also allows you to watch the film with a glass of Merlot and enjoy a tiny overpriced packet of smoked almonds. They've mostly evaded the big screens and will fall through the cracks, to be forever labeled as 'cult'. And perhaps quite rightly, they're clearly niche, after all.
I get that Hollywood is first and foremost a business and mainly aims at the multiplexes. It makes what it hopes will sell. The end.
My point is, that widely watched, big budget sci-fi really doesn't have to be high in action or low on IQ. Ex Machina, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, to some extent, are recent proof of that. But they're anomalies, what we're usually left with, is either big budget popcorn, or niche - with a void in-between that is rarely seen in other genres.
If the likes of Birdman, Carol, Spotlight, 12 Years a Slave, Room and Boyhood are widely watched and pick up awards and praise all over the place, then it's flippin obvious that there's a multiplex audience that can cope with nuance. I feel they're not attempting to engage with sci-fi audiences on the same level more than once in a blue moon.
This why I believe sci-fi is the most mistreated genre in film. And it's perhaps because it suffers the most from the lack of risk taking. Studios throw a ton of dollars and spaceships at anything related to Marvel or that has Will Smith in it, and a tiny amount at anything that doesn't.
Personally, I thought Annihilation was superb. I can believe the stories of the studio wanting the ending changed, the film as it is must have terrified the accountants. But it's really disappointing that anyone would feel that this film's natural home wasn't on the big screen.
If this letter wasn't long enough already, I'd just like to annoyingly add one last thing; a 'sci-fi film' doesn't have to be aimed solely at sci-fi film fans. A good film is a good film, regardless of genre, and will speak to anyone.
Right, now that's off my chest, I'm beaming up.
Last week, I told you how all my Macs had died, and that taking the things apart needed special screw drivers, and a whole load of other things.
This week, I’m continuing the story because (wait for it) there’s a lot more.
Last Thursday, I got a new hard drive for my Mac Mini - this is a nice little machine, small, compact, unassuming on the desk. Pretty much what I think everything a computer should be.
The hard drive in it had failed, and after reviewing instructions on how to go about replacing these, I decided that the job looked quite simple. Sure, the Mini is packed inside like a Chinese box puzzle, but things lift out, and the hard drive comes out too - all the videos I saw on the subject showed me this. In fact, the job looked far easier than some of the Mac portables I have taken apart in the past. Some have been an almost Haynes manual “strip down and rebuild” job, so I felt pretty confident that this would be a straightforward job.
First task: reboot the ailing Mac into what is known as “network boot” mode - it downloads enough software for you to get your machine recovering itself - backup from Time Machine, formatting drives, re-installing the OS - that kind of thing. I opted for the backup recovery (which creates a bootable drive), so off it went,. This took most of Thursday afternoon and evening - a lot of data to shift over USB 2 (which is what the backup drive runs on). That went well.
Friday was installation day. I had found a set of screwdrivers in Maplin’s closing down sale for about £7. That had all I needed for this job, and more. So I took the Mini apart, following instructions. I got to the hard drive. Up plugged it and lifted it out … only to find that I couldn’t. The RAM housing on the motherboard was blocking it. It was about 2 or 3 millimetres too tall, but despite a few angles I tried, it wasn’t coming out.
So… deeper disassembly needed. If I could get the mother board out, then I would be fine. But you need a tool which I don’t have - a U shaped thing (apparently, if you have an old wire coat hanger, you can make one) - to fit into two holed in the motherboard, and pull it out. Now this is where it gets hairy. Some instructions tell me that there are clips to release, and the tool helps with that too. Others say that the board is somehow glued into the case, and you have to work that free. Either way, I saw phrases like “brute force” a bit too much for my liking. This is where I could easily break the thing.
So I stopped. I put the thing back together, as I realised that this time I had been defeated, and that the cost of paying someone to do the job might be cheaper than buying a new machine. So I phoned my local Apple Service Centre in town. They wouldn’t touch it. Too old, also not using Apple supplied components. They have to pass everything through Apple’s system, and this is a job they could not put on it. They did recommend somewhere which could. I contacted them. I was told it would be £45 to do the job, and if I dropped it in early in the morning, they could probably do it the same day.
So Monday, I took it to the repair shop. And, sure enough, they phoned in the afternoon to say that they had done it. It was a tricky job (so not just me then), BUT it was done, and working.
So, today I am writing this email on my newly mended computer, and not the iPad (I hate those virtual keyboards). It’s running well, there has been some Dropbox housekeeping needed doing, but on the whole the new drive is just picking up from where the backup was.
There is still the other Mac to diagnose, but I am (at last) able to get on with some work, so I am slightly happier. It has been a stressful time, as not having anything to get work done on has been concerning. Both this and the MBP can handle work, and having one die should not mean I grind to a halt - the other can pick up the slack.
All the best,
Happy Egg-Fest, Biffo!
Do the inhabitants of Found Footage celebrate Easter? If so, do they eat a load of chocolate and then lay chocolate eggs, which they then wrap in coloured foil? Or do they just cover their regular eggs in choc and down them like that?
I’ve been thinking about that too much lately.
So anyway, it’s a week to go in the grand Digitiser The Show Kickstarter, and as I write the totaliser is showing a rudely healthy 500% funded. Clearly this is a brilliant result already.
I think we all quietly thought it would do well - the time is right, everything seems primed for Digi’s evolution to the screen - but it’s been a joy to watch it unfold the way it has. I have no doubt that the next few days are going to see things going increasingly crazy again as we approach the deadline. Personally I think we’ll be looking at something that lets you realise the Paperboy stretch goal - and I only base that on faith in the community and how much affection there is for you and Digi our there.
All the very bully best for the final few days of the campaign - we’ll all be celebrating with you come the end.
One of your replies to a letter in last week’s batch was interesting to me. I think you’re right about Digi meaning such a lot to people in a very personal, unique way, probably being down to a combination of age and the daily updates. But let’s not forget that the world you were creating is the biggest factor there - I read the music pages every day too, and never felt the same connection then, let alone with this much time having passed.
I was 14 when Digi launched, and was eager to see what you’d do after enjoying FX on Oracle before the franchise switchover. I couldn’t believe how much bigger Digi was, and read every page every day - over my Wheetos before school, as the stereotype goes (memories from those early Digi days still taste like chocolatey milk with ‘bits’ in it).
It was fortuitous that the previous year I’d discovered Monty Python via repeats on BBC2, which I watched with my dad - a very fond memory. So my nascent sense of humour was being primed for your particular MO. In fact, Holy Grail was shown on New Year’s Eve ‘92, so it kind of feels like I was learning to ride a bike with stabilisers for Digi, and then let go without them once you debuted.
In the early days some of my friends at school used to bring up things they saw on your pages, but we didn’t talk about the humour. I certainly did at home though, as my sister was also a fan and read every day too.
As Digi grew into its stride I can recall moments when we’d read together and howl with laughter, not quite taking in what we’d just witnessed. When we got into our late teens and were both at uni, we still used what we’d seen on Digi as an excuse to catch up. In fact, she was the one who wrote to you about my site in the first place, as I hadn’t really planned it and was a bit too shy to tell you if its existence.
I guess ultimately, it comes down to how Digi was so unique, so authoritative with the games stuff, and so absurd and unhinged with the humour. That it was hidden away, and old pages would disappear each day. Yes, you had millions of readers a week, but before the internet we couldn’t interact, so it was too abstract a notion to mean anything. Maybe that’s why you guys weren’t aware of the influence you were having at the time.
What I do know, though, and what makes me smile when I think of it, is that for those of us who read you regularly in the 90s as teenagers, we’re very much now part of Generation Digitiser.
How the hell marketing companies would categorise us I really do not know.
Massive amounts of luck to you for the rest of the campaign. This really is a moment in history for us.
If Mister Pee Ess Bee can do his poo stories, so can I. Although, this one is actually true.
My family was, and I presume still is, a little strange.
My cousin Kevin had severe Asperger's. He was a sweet kid with a heart of gold, he just couldn't handle day to day life very well. He'd absorb himself in train timetables, and developed a number of tics to help himself deal with things when he was overwhelmed. Unfortunately, these made him a target for bullies.
This is the story of how malt loaf stopped him being bullied.
Kevin also had encopresis. If you're not familiar with that, it's when your bowels don't send the signals telling you that you need to poop, and so impatient faeces push their way to the front of the poop queue and out of the door without any warning or assistance from the digestive system's owner-operator. Kevin knew this happened from time to time, so he'd be frequently seen putting his fingers down the back of his pants and then sniffing them to see if he'd had an accident.
This absolutely disgusted his father, who didn't handle the whole Asperger's thing very well. In fact, to try and snap Kevin out of his pant soiling "phase", his father would rub his nose in it. Literally. Whenever Kevin had an accident, his father would rub his nose in the be-crapped pants, as if he was a dog that just needed to learn it was wrong. This left Kevin with a phobia of poo.
Back to those tics we mentioned. To keep himself calm, he had a "twiddling stick", which was a pencil he'd hold between his index and middle fingers. He'd move his fingers back and forth rapidly, enjoying the feeling of the twiddling of the stick. All the while, he'd be saying the word "skit" over and over, as fast as he could. If there's one thing that's bound to attract bullies, it's a child stood in his garden, twiddling a pencil back and forth, saying "skit" over and over as fast as he can, and periodically taking a break from this to see if he's soiled himself.
If that last paragraph amused you in the slightest, you're a bad person, but I like you anyway. Also, you should feel bad, because Kevin was such a sweet kid. Now, to release that guilt and replace it with a feeling of happiness over a bully getting what he deserved, read on.
Kevin's bully was a kid a few years older than him, who would ride his BMX into Kevin's garden and usually hit him or throw something at him. Sometimes the bully bring his friends along to watch and laugh. Kevin was too small and timid to do anything in retaliation and at this point in his life, he didn't have a hostile feeling in his soul to retaliate with. But of course it did upset him. It upset me too. So one day, we made a weapon for Kevin - the fabled Malt Loaf Poo.
Get yourself down to your local supermarket and buy a malt loaf. Don't question me, just do it, it's worth it.
Now unwrap the malt loaf and tear off a bit of the end.
Form your hands into a tube, and massage the malt loaf through your hands as if it's faecal matter getting pushed through a bowel. Taper the end. You'll now have something that looks like this.
We showed this to Kevin. After about half an hour of crying and retching, he was convinced that it was safe, and a way to get rid of his bully.
You see, if you're a bully, there's one thing that's bound to have you flee on your BMX as fast as you can possibly pedal. It's a child stood in his garden, twiddling a pencil back and forth, saying "skit" over and over as fast as he can, holding what appears to be a turd of his own making on the end of a stick. Especially when that child starts chasing you with his +2 mace of shitting.
It was a big day for Kevin.
When Kevin grew up, he once accidentally called in a bomb threat to Good Morning Britain.
They also had a rubber key Spectrum about a year ago, complete with books, games and a printer. Sadly the £200+ was not something I had spare to buy at the time.
On Saturday, they had an original Game Boy, with games, mains adapter and a rechargeable battery pack. My wife pointed it out to me and said I should get it. However, as my Mac was due some work which cost the same as the Game Boy, and there are potentially other outlays to get my other machine working, I said no. Someone else can have it. Normally, that would have been an impulse buy, but I had to reign that in.
So we carried on the day, and when we were heading back to the car, my wife said she wanted to look at it again. She bought it for me, which was a surprise. She said I had a tough week, and throwing money at things isn’t the answer, but me not having that was wrong.
So I have an old Game Boy, and it is bloody good fun. I didn’t have one at the time because I was starting out being a student and was saving the pennies (the grant I had at the time wasn’t enough to fuel buying games). I did get a Game Boy Color later on, so I have experienced the fun that they can bring.
But get this: real buttons! None if those “soft” on screen buttons many phone games make you use.
Also: been playing Tetris waaay too much on it!
All the best,
Oh, and you can also listen to an epic chat with me on the Retro Asylum podcast. It's one of my favourite interviews I've done recently.