CRYSTALDOME-2019-45-2Somewhere in that between-Christmas-and-New-Year smudge, I found myself watching not Going for Gold with Henry Kelly, but The Crystal Maze with Ed Tudor-Pole. This won’t surprise anybody who’s been here for any length of time; indeed, the surprise will probably come from the fact that it’s been a while – at least a year! Coming straight after Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, it was difficult to tell where one ended and the other began. But the hit of nostalgia was perfect for the time of year.

It was the final Christmas special I happened across, where the Maze was opened up to not the celebrities who seem to plague the revival, but children. Loud, obnoxious, ridiculously fortunate children. Though they might have me dropping the volume at times, or otherwise just downright jealous, it was a very sweet thing for the show to do. Indeed, it became all the sweeter when these kids made short work of puzzles which stumped the so-called ‘grown-ups’.

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Anyway, after taking another look at the set I thought I’d have another go at recreating the Crystal Dome stage, the heart of the Crystal Maze. I would hope to be better equipped than three years ago, when I last attempted this. Certainly, it’s much more realistic in terms of scale; the sixteen-foot dome now rather more snug but still commanding the space. The endearingly naff scaffold decoration is also more carefully done. The tokens are, as previously, a balancing act, trying to get a neat texture whilst going easy on CPU. Fun revisit overall, though, and certainly simpler than last time.

Still waiting for The Crystal Maze VR, by the way.

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Happy New Year to all who visit, especially to those who continue to do so. Let’s hope 2019 is a year of grabbing those golden tokens with minimal deduction of silver. Let’s win that murder mystery weekend!

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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.

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, it is 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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