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The first episode of id Software’s Doom was released onto the internet twenty-five years ago today. A quarter-century of our nameless marine’s steely eyes surveying the surroundings. This disembodied head is about all you ever see of the player character in the original game – a countenance reflecting back at you in the game’s heads up display, giving you an idea of what shape you’re in. Having taken a look at the cast of loathsome monsters a few years ago, I thought he would be worth attempting this time. I resisted the temptation to plonk a party hat on his head, though. I don’t think that’s his style.

Doom is one of the most important gaming releases to date, and it happens to be one of the first games beyond Sonic that I can remember really playing at length. It was quite a departure from those whimsical adventures with everyone’s favourite blue hedgehog. As I said before, it wasn’t really the gore that appealed to me – I was useless at the combat, and indeed, if you saw me play you’d probably think I’d never done so before. It was the environment – which I thought definitively 3D at the time – and ominous atmosphere that pulled me in. Mournful music playing as we trawl the infested moon base, the endless desolation of Phobos outside, the groans of monsters growing louder – it paints an obvious picture: you’re on your own, and the only way out is through. Such excellent design means the first episode is still a blast to play through, even knowing all the secrets; the sense of progression and staging, building up to the climax against the Barons of Hell, is legendary.

Everything was a step up from its predecessors. Hype for Doom was such that, at midnight on 10th December, id couldn’t even access the server for its initial release. Once a few students were kicked, they were finally able to upload the game – and it wasn’t very long before the servers crashed completely. The daddy of multiplayer was born, with players taking on the game’s campaign in teams or going hell for leather against each other. It’s said that, within weeks of its release, universities and even workplaces had to issue strict Doom-specific rules, so badly was it affecting their networks.

Once you were done with the main game or multiplayer, all was not over. Creativity was always intended to be a big part of Doom. Storyline was mostly jettisoned for action during development, and what remains is sparse, allowing you to fill in the gaps. Customisation was one of the big draws, and sure enough, user-created levels were appearing online by early 1994 and are still being made. Over the years, source ports have added fixes and greater capabilities to supplement the engine – it’s still a hugely popular resource, with a tremendous community around it. I can’t see that dying down any time soon. Total conversions such as 2010’s extra-gory Brutal Doom transform the experience whilst underscoring the power of the original. Others go for something completely different, demonstrating impressive versatility – in an unexpected meeting of two defining games, even Sonic has been given a series of games using the Doom engine.

If ever proof were needed as to just how far this community stretches, here’s what happened when an esteemed creator known as ‘The Ultimate Doomer’ turned Doom into The Crystal Maze. Of course, it’s absolute genius:

Gruesome, gory, controversial? No doubt. But Doom was a rare example of a game delivering on all that it promised and making no apologies. Though it might have been technically surpassed several times over by now, there’s still no doubting the mark it made back in December 1993, and on myself five years later. So, here’s to id Software and our nameless marine.

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Honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken as long as it has to come back to this. Here we are now, three years younger and hopefully three years more experienced than my last play with the Channel 4 blocks.

There really is something special about those original Lambie-Nairn idents; there’s the inspirational and nostalgic element, of course, but I think that does them a disservice in some ways. Despite being renders from almost forty years ago now, they still look fantastic and most definitely hold up as a symbol of what Channel 4 was meant to be. When it comes to my favourite TV presentation, they’re a front-runner, just ahead of the BBC balloon from 1997 which, incidentally, was another Lambie-Nairn creation.

I started playing with the Interlock sequence above, which was actually relatively simple, only taking an hour or so once I figured out how to group the various sectors.

Above and below were inspired by the Explosion and Around and Back idents, though I didn’t go for a straight recreation this time, instead trying to give them an original routine. This was much harder to crack without clipping or just looking entirely inelegant, but thankfully anchoring each block to a circular spline made things easier, and I probably could make a total recreation with that knowledge.

This was when I started throwing unnecessary extras at the blocks, such as volumetric lighting, but they make for some interesting stills. There’s also a frosty 4 there, because it’s nearly Christmas, in case you didn’t know.

Throwing a transparency channel onto the blocks made for some pleasing jewel effects, especially with a faint glow. Not quite so nice fully-formed, however, which I suppose is quite important:

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Taking the easy way out, I removed the front face of the blocks and put some fairy lights inside, with a floor to take illumination. Perhaps more disco than Christmas, but never mind – the music is festive, so of course it now works perfectly. As it turns out, C4 did similar to far greater effect last year for their Christmas presentation, but oh well.

I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to do 3D lately, so these have proven the perfect exercise – all relatively quick and never throttling my PC like other projects. Let’s see how we get on with the blocks in 2021, eh.

keyush-1YouTube can throw some curious recommendations at you. Current suggestions for me on the site include an ancient episode of Blind Date, coverage of the 2018 Tetris World Championships and a nuclear siren test. I’ll let you decide what that says about me and my viewing habits.

One recent recommendation that I am grateful for, however, is K’eyush the Stunt Dog, our subject. I’ve always liked huskies for their lupine appearance, intelligence and pronounced character, but Key seems to take it to the next level, having full-blown conversations with his mum and making sure his many demands are met. Throw in the soft silliness that many large dogs seem to possess and you have a real comedian.

So, let this quick portrait be a nod not only to our cool canine friend but also YouTube recommendations. Sometimes, you do get it right.

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It’s not often the windmills are upstaged in the Norfolk skies, but a murmuration of starlings should do it (yes, it’s a murmuration, not a menstruation; Chrome, please take note). A bewitching, spectacle that can involve anywhere from a few dozen to a few million birds, primarily a defence mechanism against predators. It seems it has a similar effect on them as it does us – the hypnotic sight of countless starlings twisting and turning in unison makes a catch virtually impossible.

This was really just a bid to shake up the nine hundredth or so Norfolk and/or windmill landscape (not that I apologise for that). I tried to capture this phenomenon a year or two ago, but never posted it as I wrote it off as, well, dreadful. Looking at it now, though, I kinda like the landscape, so I’m showing it for that at least – and, if the starlings have taught me anything, there’s strength in numbers.

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electric-recharged-2-02I’ve been in a typographic mood of late – even more than usual. It’s most welcome. Even so, this was a bit of an impromptu jolly; I was playing with a face I cut several years ago now, long before the days of this blog. It was called Electric, and this is shown in orange above. Inspiration came from the frontage of a rusty, run-down electrical shop in Norwich; it bore lettering of a slender form with enormous, authoritative slabs – delightfully retro-futuristic and, as such, most appropriate for a store likely still selling VCRs and 8-track. Them’s the future.

The blue counterparts were made this evening – essentially, I was curious to see what would happen if I were to reverse the thickness of each character, across the entire alphabet. It does look rather more burly, doesn’t it? Some letters were scuppered slightly – particularly Q – but overall it seems a worthy companion.

It’s quite fun using the two in combination.

The simplicity of both faces means you can do virtually anything with them. They can be warped, scaled, squashed, or pulled however you want, and still look pretty stable. Such versatility can come in handy when you have a specific message in mind.

I did also experiment with Illustrator’s ’rounded corners’ feature, which somehow managed to make the lettering even more delightfully retro:

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Ah well, nothing spectacular but just a bit of fun. I’ve been so woefully unproductive this year, I’m going to jump on any burst of inspiration that I can!

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Who needs rationale when it comes to making letters? I certainly don’t! The most fun lettering exercises, as I doubtless say every time (sorry) are the ones where you just run with something and see where it goes – it’s all about that iterative process, as one wonderful man always used to say.

And so, eyeing a coat hanger and seeing that its lines and curves could easily be bent into several letterforms spiralled into a afternoon of work. That’s an achievement in itself at the moment, regardless of the result. Thank you, coat hanger – potential there was! I ended up with a veritable wardrobe full of alternatives:

The process, there. Having sliced those up in Photoshop and Illustrator, they were a bit rough and ready, so I had a go at refining some of the stronger ones. Among my favourites are probably the M, W and E, who came out of the closet looking quite bold and trendy. I did enjoy using the hook for slimmer, twisty forms too, though, as you can probably tell.

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Well, it gave me something to do with my Sunday! I wonder if there are other objects lying around that I can subject to similar experimentation…