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Monthly Archives: December 2018

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Ho Ho Ho.

Having come to a few dead-ends, I was starting to panic about the annual Christmas card. Friends began sending their own, heightening the pressure. It was then when I stumbled upon a photograph of a windmill in America, all glammed up with fairy lights to celebrate the holiday. The deal was done, and one lucky model of mine got its own set. What a sight this would be for real – well, for me, anyway! I’m not convinced the wildlife would be too happy – our chickens refused to sleep when my parents strung some blinking blue lights along the garden fence – but it would look quite magical on the skyline. Two or three would be even more so, of course.

Thankfully, with that, the greeting cards have all been sent, and the Christmas rush is through. Or so I think. I’m going to collapse into a comfy chair, listen to the radio (hey, the Carpenters are on!!!) and do as little as possible – at least until I remember the other dozen or so things that currently escape me. That’s the Christmas spirit.

Wherever you are, and whatever you’re celebrating, I wish you a very cosy and happy holiday.

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It was one of those ‘how did I get here?‘ moments. When I should probably have been asleep, I found myself looking at photos of particularly small or rarely used train stations. Naturally.

Berney Arms Station was a swift return to familiarity. It’s one of the least used in the country, which perhaps isn’t surprising given its location, out in the open somewhere between Yarmouth and Norwich, very much in the realm of wildlife. Its erection is all down to Thomas Berney, who owned the land when the track was being planned; he was quite happy for them to proceed, but insisted that a station be included.

I remember the days when my sisters would take me to Norwich for the day, we’d usually go by train until, at some point, we converted to the bus. I would always ask if it was going to go the Berney Arms way; it took a little longer than the usual route through Acle and Brundall, but was most definitely the more open and scenic journey. Coasting across the Broads with close-up views of Berney Arms High MillCantley Sugar Factory and Reedham was fun, and still has a certain romance about it. I highly recommend getting off at Cantley and visiting The Cock Tavern.

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I can’t remember a single passenger ever boarding or alighting at Berney Arms. My understanding is that it’s most popular on Sundays, as it’s veritably spoilt that day with the service of no less than four trains. Currently, with the pub a victim of arson and the High Mill seemingly closed more often than not, it’s perhaps not as attractive a trip as it once was, but the station will remain a curiosity, I’ve no doubt.

And, rather further from home, I got to sketching this little station shelter below: Campbell’s Platform in the Welsh country of Gwynedd, erected in 1965. Its main purpose back then was to serve Plas Dduallt, a fifteenth century manor house, connecting to the main Tan-y-Bwlch station. I took a few liberties with the reference in a bid to make it seasonably cosy, with varying degrees of success. Lots of fun, though – what a great little station!

These quiet, often secluded little stops are far more appealing to me than the crowded chaos of a large one, no matter how immaculate or warm they are. They’re like having your own little stop – as, indeed, these two were to begin with! Maybe I will look at some more of these; there was a nice feeling of being on the right track whilst making them.

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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.