Fear and Loathing

John Minson


Minson prepares for marriage... but the fundamental things apply as loading screens go by, so Miss Kihlberg’s tame gonzo takes this nostalgic look back at three years in computer journalism

I’ve only got the bells — Quasimodo

AND, well, yes, Quasi, I know the feeling, because as the rain pours outside and late-night traffic splashes its wet way home and yet another game loads into the computer, the only promise of a free lunch this month is my own wedding!

This, then, is it — wedding day minus 12 and counting — and though there are rumours that the SAS (Software’s Assembled Sex kittens) are planning a raid on the church to kidnap me and hold me in some dank and murky dungeon where they’ll take it in turn to ply me with Bloody Marys while I plug their latest games (what else?), it’s 99% certain that by the time you read this your very own warped and twisted columnist will be well and truly... hitched.

What a sentence that was! Did I really reach the end of the paragraph before I felt the need for a full stop? Never mind. Read it a few times and I’m sure it’ll make some sort of sense!

But where were we? No free lunches, no paid launches to report, and a million things still to do, such as planning a honeymoon. Which means the only way I’m going to get this one out on time is by hitching together some ancient Aztec wisdom, throwing in a dash of gratuitous nostalgia and hoping that somehow the whole thing floats long enough to get us to the bottom of the page.

Still with me? Good. Because what we are trying to get at, the theme of today’s sermon, oh my children, is what on earth I’ve been doing these last three years in this barren wilderness I sometimes laughingly refer to as my ‘profession’ — freelance computer journalism.

These three years, if three years it be — my memory plays tricks after so long and at times it seems like an eternity — have seen so many changes that any other hack, in any other field, would have been left gasping like some beached fish long ago.

But we in the world of computing are made of sterner stuff. We have to be, because if you blink you’ve not only missed the next wave — you don’t even know where the beach is any more!

Like I said, there’s a game loading at the moment and it’s loading for pleasure, which is a rare and wonderful thing, I can tell you. It’s not that I don’t like computer games — it’s just that with the number that come thudding through my letter box in their Jiffy-bag birth sacs, I don’t find time to road-test them till my name’s unassailable in the HALL OF SLIME. So never believe this job’s a bundle of laughs.

Still, it does have its high spots, and Hewson’s Uridium, which has just this moment sprung into life, is one of them. The finer sensibilities of my fiancée concerning lack of space in this hovel I laughingly refer to as ‘home’ have meant I’ve had to dump innumerable cassettes, but there are those I can’t bear to part with, just in case one day I have the time and money to play the things on my terms and not my job’s.

It’s the same with hardware. Though my standard piece of kit is a 128 — Amstrad are rather (ahem) restrained when it comes to dishing out freebies, so goodness knows what I do if the +3 takes off — I’ve still got my rubber-keyed original tucked away in a drawer.

It’s got good company, too. In this Old Micros’ Home. There’s a ZX81, my first computer, plus an Oric Atmos, which I saved from a scrapheap and may be a damn fine machine if only I could find some software for it...

But there’s weirder to come! What about the Enterprise, which slowly gathers dust? Now that was a wonderful micro, and if it had only arrived on time and not two years too late it would have taken the scene by storm. You haven’t lived till you’ve played Realtime’s Starstrike 3-D with stereo sound!

And, if it makes you happy to call me a traitor, do so — but there’s also a Commodore 64 and an Atari 130XE sharing the shelf space, and yes, I do use them both and they give me a lot of pleasure. Let’s face it, both of them have sound and graphics that make the Spectrum look like the descendant of the ZX80 and ZX81 that it is, and not the forerunner of Amigas and STs.

Somehow that’s never really mattered, though, because there’s something about Sir Clive’s little miracle that keeps on bringing me back. Though I thrill to Rob Hubbard’s music on the Commodore’s Delta (Thalamus) and wonder why anyone ever settles for anything less than Activision’s Ballblazer on the XE, eventually all those sprites can become tiresome.

It’s then that I realise just how versatile the Spectrum is. Because despite the 48’s feeble beep and the awful attribute clash which seems to be here till the bitter end, programmers have done things with that machine to beggar all expectations of what micro entertainment can be.

Which is why, on the eve of walking up that aisle in a dozen days’ time, I won’t be having a stag night. I don’t intend to have a final fling because I don’t intend to give up any of this weird craziness, and that includes warped old friends such as the Spectrums and the C64 and the Oric.

But the odd hint on how to get a newly-addicted wife away from the joystick would be most welcome!

Yours in fear and loathing...