By John Walker on July 31st, 2009 at 6:54 pm.
This is slightly outside the boundaries of our remit, but it’s a special occasion. At 21:15 this evening on BBC Radio 2 the first episode of The Adventures of Sexton Blake is broadcast. Edit: You can listen to it here – for the love of all that’s holy, skip to 3:40 lest your ears burn at the horrendous programme that preceded it. Sexton Blake is a fascinating fictional figure, whose detective stories have been told by over 200 authors since 1893, each without a care for canon. However, in all his 116 years, he’s never been in a videogame. We bring this programme to your attention for another reason: it is co-written by Mr J Nash.
I wish no disservice to his co-author, novelist and columnist Mil Millington, a remarkably funny man who has collaborated with Nash on multiple projects (not least The Weekly), and perhaps most famous for his website-cum-Guardian column-cum novel, Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About. But I believe he will understand that we shift the focus over to Mr Nash.
It is safe to say that without the writing of J Nash, Rock, Paper, Shotgun wouldn’t know what to be. Ask Jim, Kieron or me to name our influences and you’ll hear his name come up straight away (among others who deserve huge credit, but fail to have a programme on the radio this evening). (Alec’s unmagazined childhood meant he escaped the direct influences, but is as victim to the effects as any other writing passionately in the industry.) He was a part of the team that made Amiga Power such an extraordinary magazine, editor of the glorious Your Sinclair in its last few months, co-writer of Digiworld (along with Stuart Campbell and some fresh new writer called Kieron Gillen) and frequent contributor to PC Gamer in its early years (and indeed its recent years). His outstanding, almost other-worldly writing created a generation of writers desperately trying to mimic him. Us.
I could witter on for many decades, but instead shall simply share with you some chunks of a preview for a game rather boldly called “Frogger”, from issue 48 of PC Gamer in 1997, which I reproduce without anyone’s permission.
Unquestionably the most ingenious Frogger rip-off in the days before lawyers were invented was Jogger. At a stroke, the game suddenly made sense, especially the bit where you fell into the water and drowned. This is not strictly relevant, but adds local colour.
Frogger, readers who steeple their fingers to promote thought and healthful blood flow may recall, was a 1981 arcade game about this thing: a frog, who had to jump across a motorway and then a river without perishing squashingly, in order to reach a hole in which he looked uncommonly pleased.
And slightly later,
The leaping around has been retained, but now you can scamper anywhere on a giant mazy level in your attempt to rescue five baby frogs before the traditional 60 seconds expire. Except in the water, obviously. Because you drown. (“Not a lot made sense in the early ’80s,” points out Chris [Down, producer], powerfully refusing to be drawn. But what about Frogger 2, eh? You were in the water all the time then. “But that was bizarre.” An enviable unflappability.)
There’s also a two- to four-player find-the-flags network race, where you may stun your opponents with an eerie bellow and jump on their shoulders to impede their egress before thundering lorries. “What’s addictive then is addictive now,” said Chris. Of it.
And yet I thought new Frogger a vile thing. Although palpably unfinished, I found its perspective unworkable (zooming out to maximum distance was the only playable angle, at which point it’s an overhead game), the brutally unforgiving slippery edges hateful rather than witty, the additions bafflingly unnecessary and the sense of advancement of the simple original lost in the clutter. Readers, I truly, dearly, sincerely and knuckle-gnawingly hope and trust that the closing months of development make me look such a fool.
Someone wrote to me today, as sometimes people do, to ask for advice toward getting involved with games criticism. I think my answer is: read the work of J Nash and Stuart Campbell, and once you understand, apply.
On this basis, tune into The Adventures of Sexton Blake on Radio 2 this evening, at 21.15. Forrins can listen to it live via the magics of their website. I shall edit in the Listen Again link so soon as its again-ness comes to be. Below are the four videos created to explain the series (which I have spectacularly failed to do). Edit: Listen here. It appears to work outside our isle, which is splendid.