Sunday, 18 August 2019

Some Hints for Don't Escape 4


I think Don't Escape 4, released on Steam earlier this year, is an absolutely terrific point-and-click survival horror game, and you should all buy it immediately. (The three preceding games, previously released online, are also available to buy for Steam, and are worth picking up given the imminent demise of Flash.)

However, when I played the game on its release, there were a few puzzles I got stuck on, and after a few hours of much pointing and clicking and failing to work them out, I was forced to consult the Internet... and the only help available to me was in the form of full, complete walkthroughs, which did end up telling me rather more than I wanted to know when all I needed was a slight nudge in the right direction. So I thought I'd come up with my own list of suitably vague hints for the game.

Right, these are ordered roughly chronologically (although there may be some variance, what with free will and all), although the game has several story branches so some of them may not apply to your playthrough.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Edit Wars #12


Oh good lord, they're still going. Ahem. Actually, this one's a bit interesting - examples of possible censorship in the show for reasons of copyright or similar.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

From Cabin A to Cabin Z


Ah, Cabin Pressure. Whilst unquestionably a very funny show in its own right - certainly the funniest heard on Radio 4 in quite a good few years - halfway through its original run it was unexpectedly catapulted to international fame quite unheard of for a Radio 4 sitcom when one of its main cast, a certain Benedict Cumberbatch, began starring in a new crime drama on BBC One, instantly creating a massive fanbase which was eager to seek out some of his other work. By happy coincidence, a repeat run of the second series of Cabin Pressure began in the same week as that first series of Sherlock, and the rest is history.

Cabin Pressure ran for a total of four six-episode series plus two specials, totalling 26 episodes. That is the same number as there are letters in the alphabet. This is not a coincidence, as each episode is named after the location the crew of MJN Air are flying to that week, and the series works its way through the alphabet from A to Z: starting with the first episode, "Abu Dhabi", and all the way up to the grand finale, "Zurich". At least, that was the intention, and how the episodes were written and recorded: the actual broadcasts hit one or two snags.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Walton Earth?


Here is a Simpsons story you may be familiar with. In a speech on 27 January 1992, then-President of the United States George H.W. Bush mentions The Simpsons unflatteringly, stating American families should try to be "a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons". These remarks - or something very similar to them - are repeated during his speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention in August of that year. (Some sources claim that Bush's second use of the Waltons/Simpsons comparison was during his State of the Union address on 28 January, but that does not seem to be the case.)

The producers of The Simpsons quickly rush out a response, using redubbed animation (taken from the start of "Simpson and Delilah") and live-action footage of the speech, aired as a pre-titles sequence before a repeat of "Stark Raving Dad" on the 30th January, which you can see here. (Apologies for linking to a DVD extra someone's stuck on YouTube, but it is absolutely necessary to illustrate this article.)

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Broken Gamebooks #15: Vault of the Vampire

Bonus fact: At the request of the publisher, the illustrator "reluctantly" toned down the cleavage on the girl in the background.
Time to finish up on Keith Martin's adventure gamebooks, then. There are two things worth mentioning here, and the first is small, but interesting. Take a look at this picture of section 123, and its accompanying illustration:


Sunday, 14 July 2019

Scorpia Fish


The fifth Alex Rider book, Scorpia, was published in April 2004 in the UK (that printing is the one pictured above - if your copy looks similar but with a bigger insignia and a smaller title, then you've got a reprint from circa 2005, and it was reissued with new covers several times between 2009 and 2015 as the series' publishers struggled to find a design they liked) and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, in March 2005 in the US.

I recall reading some years ago that there was a fairly significant change to the text in the US edition. To quote from a conversation between Alex and his friend Tom on page 88 of the UK edition, during chapter 6 "Thoughts on a Train":

Alex hadn't mentioned his father. That was the one area that still troubled him. It was too private to share with anyone. "I've got to find Scorpia," he began. He paused, then continued carefully. "I think my dad may have had some sort of involvement with them. I never knew him. He died shortly after I was born."

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Let's Do The Mind Warp Again


The 1986 series of Doctor Who, a 14-part arc split up into four individual segments known collectively as The Trial of a Time Lord, is one of the shining examples of a deeply troubled production, perhaps best summed up by the writer of the final segment dying before he had completed the script, the script editor finishing it but the producer then getting cold feet about the original ending and deciding to change it, and the script editor being so incensed by this that he withdrew permission to use his version of the final episode and walked out on the production, meaning a new writing team had to be brought in to write a new conclusion without knowing anything about what was originally meant to happen with just days to spare.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Science Friction


Fighting Fantasy books are predominantly, well, fantasy. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Beneath Nightmare Castle, Crypt of the Sorcerer, Master of Chaos, The Keep of the Lich-Lord, Legend of the Shadow Warriors - there's very little doubt as to what genre these titles belong to. The series has occasionally diverged into other settings - over the series' 35-year history there have been two horror stories with a contemporary setting (House of Hell and Blood of the Zombies), a superhero tale (Appointment with F.E.A.R.) and the post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque Freeway Fighter. But the most notable setting apart from high fantasy is science fiction, which was the setting for seven of the first 33 books in the series. These generally seem to be less well remembered than the rest of the series, and in fact the range's last stab at a science fiction entry was purportedly so negatively received that it completely killed off the idea of any more experiments, with every entry in the series' original run after that coming from the realm of high fantasy. But is this stigma totally deserved? Why not look at all seven sci-fi books from the series in the hope of finding out?

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Just Ask For South By South East Baby One More Time

Long-term readers of the blog will no doubt be familiar by now with my ongoing quest to track down the 1991 CITV Diamond Brothers series. Here's the latest discovery: a rather nice promotional poster, tracked down here (follow the link for a bigger, better-quality version).


Sunday, 9 June 2019

The Switches


The 1990 film of Roald Dahl's The Witches infamously changes the ending from the original book so at the end the protagonist is returned to human form, rather than the book's bittersweet ending of him being permanently stuck as a mouse with a much-reduced lifespan. Roald Dahl purportedly objected to this change so much that he stood outside cinemas with a loudspeaker urging people not to see the film, although this particular story has always seemed likely to be an urban legend to me given that Dahl died of cancer six months after the film's release. (This article says that he threatened to start a publicity campaign against the film, but was persuaded not to by Jim Henson, which seems more likely to me.)

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Edit Wars #11


"Good grief," I hear you exclaim (I have a very powerful sense of hearing). "Edit Wars Eleven? He hasn't seriously found something else worth going on about, has he?"

Well, no, because what I'm actually going to do is go on about the show's inconsistent attitude towards reserve robots - ones which were not initially selected to compete, but were pulled from the substitutes' bench when another entry was forced to retire.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Broken Gamebooks #14: Tower of Destruction


Brace yourself, because this may be one of the most buggy gamebooks ever - certainly of those released under the Fighting Fantasy banner, at any rate. There's a story to be told behind the writing of this one, I'm sure, although I doubt we'll ever get to hear it (it's another one written by the now sadly departed Keith Martin) - note that within what you are about to read I have not covered several notable typographical errors, including "fortunate" being used instead of "unfortunate", accidentally including the word "not" in what should have read "this is hard work", a Snow Fox turning into a Silver Fox, a case where Martin accidentally forgets one of the special rules only used in this book (to wit, hit a Demonic Servant twice in a row and it automatically dies, although the player can reasonably infer it anyway) and using the wrong attributes (such as Attack Strength instead of SKILL when there is an important distinction between the two).

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Asterix in Britain's Broadcasting Corporation


Well, the history of Asterix cartoons on the BBC is perhaps not as interesting or mysterious as Tintin, which we covered last week, but there's still some interesting stuff there.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Black and White Island


By any measure, the first Tintin story to make its way to the United Kingdom was the eighth, King Ottokar's Sceptre. It was serialised in the pages of Eagle magazine in 1951, was the first entry to be published as an album by Casterman in 1958, and in 1959 Belvision's animated adaptation was broadcast on BBC Television on Sundays at 5pm.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Simpson Mania


This is another interesting curio for any collector, released in October 1990 by Consumer Guide at the beginning of the second season of "TV's First Family". The version pictured above is the same as my copy, including the wire-bound spine - there was also a conventionally bound edition at some point, and I can also see evidence of an alternative cover, but I believe this one is the original, and its cover most notably contains the startling revelation that Bartman was appearing on merchandise several months before his first (and, for many years, only) television appearance in "Three Men and a Comic Book". Is the actual book itself as interesting?

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Fantasy Robot Wars


After a fair bit of time on the Internet Archive, I've finally found it (or most of it, at any rate): Fantasy Robot Wars, the unofficial RW equivalent of Fantasy Football Leagues way back when during the original series' run, as masterminded by Jamie McGarry, webmaster of the Panic Attack fan site. That this was the best way of inventing and battling your own robots available to us speaks volumes about the quality of the Robot Wars computer games.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Dicing with Dragons


When Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were first commissioned by Puffin Books in the early 1980s, it was with the intent that they would write an introductory guide to role-playing games. They got a short way into the writing process before deciding that they'd rather write their own solo fantasy adventure, which became The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. However, Livingstone did still end up writing the originally promised guide, albeit for a different publisher; this was Dicing with Dragons, published by Routledge & Kegan Paul in 1982, the same year as Warlock.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Alex Rider: "Secret Weapon" Review


Some eighteen and a half years since he first burst into the world of young adult novels, and eight years and three books after author Anthony Horowitz categorically declared he was done with the series and there definitely wouldn't be any more, teenage superspy Alex Rider is still going strong, with Secret Weapon the twelfth and latest instalment in the series. What we have here is a slightly different proposition to the norm - a collection of short stories, some of which have been previously published in newspapers or online, and some of which are completely new for this anthology. This release is more significant than it first appears - it was working on this collection that convinced Horowitz he might have been too hasty in ending the series with Scorpia Rising in 2011 and resulted in its revival two years ago with Never Say Die, with at least two more full-length novels to come before the series really is over for good (the first of which, Nightshade, will be out early next year). But how do the seven bite-sized instalments contained in Secret Weapon measure up?

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Demon Headphones


Q: Who was the first actor to play the Demon Headmaster for the BBC?

You may not be particularly surprised to learn that the A to that particular Q is not Terrence Hardiman. Some 6 years before the CBBC series, the first two books were adapted for Radio 5 Live by Jim Eldridge in October 1990, in a format perhaps coincidentally very similar to how the first TV series would later handle them: a 4x25 series, with the eponymous first book covered in the first two episodes and The Prime Minister's Brain in the second. The only difference is that the TV series gave each book an extra episode; perhaps as a consequence, the characters of Ingrid, Lloyd and Mandy are all merged into Ingrid in the radio version. Anyway, the cast for the radio version was Edward de Souza as the Headmaster and Lucy Speed as Dinah.

To tie in with the TV series, the radio series was released on cassette on 1998, bearing the TV series' logo and font. It doesn't appear to have ever been released on CD, which I find slightly surprising given the series' enduring popularity. If you'd like to hear it, though, you can find it on the Internet Archive. (One wonders if they were ever tempted to realise The Revenge of the Demon Headmaster as a radio play, given it was skipped for the TV series on the grounds of being absolutely unfilmable. Probably not. For yet another little-known adaptation you may not have heard of, there was also a stage musical in 1999, for which Terrence Hardiman reprised his role.)

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Edit Wars #10

Nearly every Robot Wars fight ever filmed was edited down in some way. (I have covered some of the more glaring examples in the past.) No fight that lasted the whole 5 minutes made it to air in its entirety, with some lasting less than 2 minutes once the editor had got their hands on it; I believe the record for least cut full-length battle is the Series 6 Grand Final, which only had about 20 seconds trimmed from it. Usually, however, the edit was done well enough that it wasn't too obvious. Apart from this one.


Sunday, 31 March 2019

Broken Gamebooks #13: Night Dragon


There are three mistakes worth noting here, and for some reason I find the biggest one really, really funny, which is mostly why it's getting covered.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

A Table Indicating How Many Episodes of Each Series Recurring Characters Appear in in Peep Show

For the record: I defined "recurring character" as someone appearing in at least two different series - disqualifying a large number of one-series characters who appear in multiple episodes, including Elena (who appears in all 6 episodes of Series 6), Zahra (all but one episode of Series 7) and Megan (all but one episode of Series 9).


* Credited, but does not appear, on one episode (not counted on this table)
** Paul Clayton recorded a scene for "Kid Farm" which was cut from the broadcast programme (it can be seen on the deleted scenes on the DVD)

Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Scoop Scoop Song


"Tonight on BBC One, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton return in 'Have I Ripped Off the News Quiz for You'..."
-- Graeme Garden, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

You are more likely than not aware that Have I Got News for You is a television adaptation of Radio 4's own long-running news quiz, The News Quiz. It is far from unique in this regard, although it has had notably more success than other panel games that made the leap from sound to screen.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

The Missing Mysteries


I thought I'd send you off to another part of the Internet I find amusing today. Except the particular website no longer exists, having gone offline a few years ago.

But fear not! With the help of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I can still send you there. (There might be the occasional broken image, and the original pages had sound which it seems the Archive can't reproduce, but everything should still work fine and the games should be perfectly playable.) So we can all still enjoy the Stickville Murder Mysteries, a quite amusing series of browser-based detective games set in an occasionally quite surreal world of limited art, whilst also hopefully learning an important lesson about the importance of keeping archives of the internet.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Where Do Unpublished Gamebooks Go?


26 October, 1995: Curse of the Mummy, the fifty-ninth entry in the Fighting Fantasy series, is published by Puffin. It is also to be the last FF book Puffin will ever release, although nobody knew that at the time.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

2002: A Time and Space Odyssey


As 2002 dawns, it has been over five and a half years since the Doctor Who television movie starring Paul McGann - intended as a backdoor pilot for a full series - was aired. That full series was never picked up owing to disappointing ratings in the US, and it seems like the show may have missed its chance for its big comeback.

But fans aren't catered to too badly. There are not one but two monthly ranges of novels - one chronicling the continuing adventures of the Eighth Doctor after he departed San Francisco, and another featuring the previously unchronicled adventures of his seven predecessors. Big Finish Productions were producing fully-dramatised audio stories featuring four of the five surviving Doctors and their companions, and their second series of adventures starring McGann were about to kick off. And there's still a monthly magazine, which in January 2002, kicked off the new year with an extensive article asking 50 big questions about the show's future, answered by people in the know. 17 years on, how on the nose did it turn out to be?

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Barking Up the Wrong Bush


19 April 1987: The first-ever appearance of The Simpsons on television, in a short in The Tracey Ullman Show, "Good Night".
8 November 1988: George H.W. Bush defeats Michael Dukakis in that year's Presidential election.
20 January 1989: Bush is inaugurated as the 41st President of the United States.
14 May 1989: The last-ever Tracey Ullman Simpsons short, "TV Simpsons", is aired.
17 December 1989: The first ever full-length episode of the half-hour Simpsons series, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire", is broadcast.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

You Can Be the Stainless Steel Rat


This is a curious little gamebook. A one-off title by the character's creator, Harry Harrison, You Can Be the Stainless Steel Rat is absolutely impossible to lose. All the paths eventually lead to the same victory, although it is possible to get stuck going round in circles. There's also no real inventory management, no statistics, and no dice (although tossing a coin to make a decision occasionally comes into play), making the whole thing comparable to an entry in the Choose Your Own Adventure series. One wonders whether or not Mr Harrison truly grasped the concept behind an adventure gamebook (he never wrote another interactive book again); at any rate, calling this 'interactive' or a 'role-playing game' (the latter term is used on the American cover) seems to have a bit of nerve. Also, the title is a complete misnomer, as you do not play as the Stainless Steel Rat, but rather a new recruit to the Special Corps, with the SSR serving as the book's narrator.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Small Beginnings


A question nobody ever asks me is, "Mr. Wickham, you've listened to a hell of a lot of Doctor Who plays by Big Finish Productions, where do you think I should start?" I find the company's own list of recommendations quite baffling in several places, so I thought I would make my own, providing examples for each Doctor. (Most of these items are usually put on sale at least once a year, so keep an eye out.)

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Broken Gamebooks #12: Legend of Zagor

Pointless fact: The main part of the cover illustration was done by one artist, and the four portraits of the heroes by another.
There are three major things to cover here. I'll get the easy one out of the way first - if you have a Puffin edition of this book, then section 120 directs you to 223, when it should be 233. This particular error was fixed for the Wizard reprint in 2004.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

"In Some Ways, You and I Are Very Different Edits"


It is often the case that there will not be one definitive version of a television show. The episode might change between broadcasts; maybe there was a complaint about the content, leading the powers to be to edit out the offending material, or even change it completely. This is obviously more common in animated shows where it's easier to change the content, and The Simpsons is an obvious example.

The DVD Companion at The Simpsons Archive is a good, uh, companion for this sort of thing. But here's the interesting thing, and the point of this article: in the UK, America's favourite family is broadcast on two different channels. Sky 1 has been the digital broadcaster since 1990, whilst the terrestrial channel of choice was the BBC from 1997 until 2004, and then Channel 4 from 2004 to the present day. And sometimes, when there are two different versions of an episode, the digital and terrestrial broadcaster will be given different copies!

Here's a list of all the known cases of that happening.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Techno Twins


Not really enough has been written about Techno Games, a Robot Wars spin-off - effectively the Robotic Olympics - which ran for four series on BBC Two between 2000 and 2003. It was stripped across weekdays, which helped with the comparisons to the Humanoid Olympics rather better than if it had been weekly (as did the commentary from Olympic commentator Barry Davies), and a lot of the events were broadcast live, which was quite brave given all the things that could possibly go wrong (especially in the Swimming event!) It's probably fair to say it's not as fondly remembered as RW, but if you're not sure if you remember it or not, then see if Skeletron or Scuttle jog your memory.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Doctor Who and the Lost 1986


In February 1985, BBC One controller Michael Grade made the decision to put Doctor Who on hiatus. Initially thought to be an attempt to kill the show off for good, public outcry later forced him to reduce it to a delay of 18 months - rather than debut at the beginning of the year, as the show had been doing since Peter Davison became the Doctor, it would start in September. More drastic was the cut in runtime - the delayed season would run for just 14 25-minute episodes.

The 1985 season had seen a shift to 45-minute episodes (the show had previously been running twice-weekly on weeknights, and this year had also seen a return to the traditional Saturday nights), which the originally planned 1986 run would have retained. So late in the day was the postponement that pre-production had already begun, and it was roughly known what the lineup of the season would be, and work was well underway. With the hiatus and abbreviation of the season, the decision was made to throw out all work that had been done on the 1986 serials in favour of one over-arcing story, The Trial of a Time Lord. Here, then, is what Season 23 looked like in a parallel universe where the powers that be were slightly more favourable to the show...