Friday, April 28, 2006
Each year some unlucky locals in one Spanish village find out. On July 15th, a three-sided bullring is erected beside the harbour in Moraira. Anyone who is brave enough (or stupid enough) to set foot inside this arena can attempt to avoid charging bulls by diving into the sea at the last moment.
Sounds like fun?
Not for the bulls.
When the crowd of spectators aren't kicking the animals through the bullring's cage bars, they use other methods to aggravate them: sticks with nails in the end, thrown plastic bottles, fistfuls of sand, laser pointers and jets of silly string.
Throughout the week-long fiesta, the bulls are returned again and again to the arena. Not aquatic by nature, they are reluctant to get wet at first. But as the days go by, more and more emerge from the tunnel, take one look at the jeering mob, then bolt straight for the harbour edge and jump. Soon, even first-timer bulls are taking the plunge without hanging around.
As my mate Dave pointed out, word among the bull community spreads quickly.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Perhaps the weight gain wouldn't have been such a shock if I weighed myself regularly. But which guy actually bothers to weigh himself? What's the point? When you grow breasts it's time to lay off the pints and pies, until then... keep scoffing, I say.
Achalasia is a condition where the nerves in your esophagus stop working. Nobody knows why this happens, although it may be genetic. Peristalsis is not possible, your gullet no longer squeezes food down into your stomach. You can eat, but your lunch ain't going anywhere south of your throat. The food sits there for a while, above your stomach, then comes back up again, violently. You soon learn to avoid eating out in restaurants.
You get thinner and thinner.
Eventually you begin to starve to death. Your stomach contracts and hurts from lack of food, but the discomfort passes after a while. Hunger is something you get used to. After months of Lucozade and thin soup, you don't miss the feeling of food inside you. You no longer have any energy, of course. Climbing stairs becomes difficult, then walking, then getting up in the morning. Your arms and legs turn to sticks. Ribs protrude. Your face tightens around your skull. Your arse looks like a deflated balloon.
One day you can't even manage the soup. So you drink Lucozade and puke half of it up and get skinnier and skinnier. Your elbows become thicker than your biceps, your knees bigger than your thighs. At some point you find yourself sleeping for most of the day. You've lost all interest in food by then. You just can't be bothered.
Twelve and a half stones is fine for a six foot tall guy, but eight is much too light. Unfortunately it's unavoidable if you have achalasia and you're part of a healthcare system where queues are the norm and doctors in the fucking accident and emergency department of St John's hospital in Livingston look at you after you've had nothing whatsoever to eat for more than half a month, then shrug and tell you that you can have an appointment in another three weeks.
"So it's ok if I don't eat anything for another three weeks? I feel pretty weak right now."
"Well, no. You must try to eat something."
"But I can't eat anything. It won't go in my stomach."
"You need to try."
I didn't have the energy to argue, but fortunately my dad did. He got me out of that morgue-waiting-room in Livingston and straight to a specialist in Edinburgh. Two days later, they had the problem diagnosed and fixed. (A procedure called a pneumatic dilation where they stuff a balloon down your gob, inflate it, and pop open a passage to your stomach.) It doesn't even hurt very much.
Then you think about those kids in Africa with the distended bellies and needle-thin arms, all those thousands of families who would eat anything if they could just get their hands on it. And then you watch someone like David Blaine starve himself in a perspex box on Channel 4 and think, you utter twat.
Monday, April 24, 2006
There's something I want to get off my chest. Time for a rant, then.
Imagine you buy a little car which looks good and rumbles along quite happily most of the time. Occasionally it breaks down, but that's ok because it's fun to drive. Then one day you look under the bonnet. Instead of the supra-injected moulded-alloy V6 engine you were expecting, there's this weird mess of cogs and wheels and levers all held together with string and tape and powered by a bunch of wheezing asthmatic hamsters. This is how you'd feel if you saw the code in the original GTA. I know this because I wrote a good chunk of that pish myself.
I used to be a coder/designer on GTA (this is what I want to talk about), before going on to program some of GTA3 and a few bits and bobs on Vice City. So if you find any bugs in these games, please detail the exact nature of the problem and email it to:
I can only claim to have contributed to the design of GTA because that good old top-down slaughter-fest was designed by everyone on the team. Thank Stewart Waterson and Ian Johnson for maintaining that the game's character had to be a criminal. Thank Ian McQue and Alasdair Wood for a lot of the humour. Thank Stephen Banks, William Mills and Billy Thomson for some fine maps and missions. If you liked the fact that the cities are reactive environments, with emergency services arriving to mop up your carnage and so on, then please feel free to buy me a drink. I'm not sure who came up with the Gouranga Bonus but it might have been Brian Baird. (He has since mysteriously disappeared.)
Actually, the Hare Krishnas sent us a letter about that Gouranga Bonus, but it was very polite and only vaguely threatening. There were no lentils in the envelope.
If there was a "shadowy figure" behind GTA, he was very shadowy indeed because no one on the team who developed the bloody game noticed him. You can't get much more shadowy than that.
The original brief ran along the lines of: "Right lads, we have this engine which we were going to use to make a dinosaur game (this is why the executable was called dino.exe) except it's rubbish at rendering anything except... erm... square blocks viewed from above."
The powers that be hummed and hawed for a while before finally admitting that this engine just wasn't going to manage a really good stegosaurus.
They went on:
"So we reckon we should make some kind of mission-based game set in a city, you know, with cars and stuff. We think it ought to be called Race and Chase. Maybe you could be a cop or something? Or deliver pizzas? We need it in 18 months."
And so the design department's job ended.
Fifteen or so guys went on to make the game we all wanted to play. On a good day, we reckoned it was pretty cool. On a bad day, pictures of underpants appeared on the huge map printouts on the office wall. Halfway through development, our first producer at BMG decided that the game sucked and left. Perhaps he thought that any association with this travesty would damage his career. I don't remember what his name was. Sam Houser took over. A nice guy, Sam. He'd appear every few months, looking a bit like a homeless person, and buy drinks for us all.
My advice to games development company bosses everywhere: If you want to make a decent game, don't be stingy when it comes to paying for drinks for your employees. Design meetings should be held in a pub. Hangovers must be viewed as a necessary evil. And if you want to make a really good game, then just let the team get on with it and don't get involved at all. Coders and artists tend not to listen to managerial types anyway. Even if you are not wearing a suit, we still know you go home and listen to Enya.
GTA must have taken us three years or so to develop, mainly because nobody had a clue what they were doing back then. Still... monkeys, typewriters, enough time. A lot of bizarre stuff happened during those years. Strange things are bound to happen when artists and coders share the same workplace or -- gasp -- even the same social circles. Programmers can outgeek any other breed of geek, a talent which seems to bemuse or at least amuse our more visually creative colleagues. Artists get more shags, because women do not think that algorithms for generating fractal terrain are in any way cool. Conflict is inevitable.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
There. Now I suppose I need to use words like urban fantasy and Scar Night, so the google spiders can find this page. Perhaps it would help if I used the words urban fantasy and Scar Night more than once on the page? Hmmm... My book,Scar Night, which is an urban fantasy, isn't out until July, but if you like good speculative fiction, you will like this next one.