Stu vs The World
The flow of interesting questions on Formspring seems to have dried up, so the conclusion must be that everyone has learned everything about me and my views on stuff that they ever wanted to know. And since goodness knows how long Formspring will last, it seemed a good idea to collect all the worthwhile ones together into one big "interview". So here it is.
PART 1 – PERSONAL
If a book publisher asked you to show them your best written work, what would you show them?
That would depend entirely on what kind of book publisher they were and what sort of book they were thinking about commissioning.
If it was something to do with gaming history, then perhaps The Definitive Deluxe Editions on Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble, or the WoS extended versions of Families Reunited and the Racing Games Bible. If it was travel writing, then maybe the WoS Triple Trip to Poundbury, Lulworth Cove and Tyneham. For music, the Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle or Psychocandy features, and for more general-purpose polemic, possibly Stu's Glastonbury Diary, The PFB Factor, The New Arcade, Gender Benders, The Invisible Touch or any of my numerous piracy diatribes. And so on.
Forgive me if you already have done, but why haven't you written a book yet?
Well, I did write this one.
But the reasons I haven't done a "proper" book are many, though there are several I'd like to write. I don't have any contacts at publishers (or even know which publishers or people I could feasibly pitch an idea to), I don't have the Quark skills to lay out one to publish it myself, and I don't know anyone who could do it. Also, it'd take a lot of time and be unlikely to sell very many, because books about gaming rarely do, particularly ones that don't have publishers promoting them.
So unless someone comes up with a nice advance, it's unlikely to be a profitable use of my time.
Is there a chance some of the invective in your reviews were due to waking up with a case of "the grumps" rather than any real deficiencies in the game you were playing?
No. I always wake up in a good mood. Any "grumps" in a review I've written have ALWAYS been caused by the game, though they may be caused by an issue in the game which some people would consider very trivial, such as terrible and pointlessly unconfigurable controls in FPS games or long unskippable plot intros.
Such things make me genuinely angry because they're SO amazingly stupid and arrogant, and it's usually a safe bet that anyone retarded enough to not bother offering a proper range of control options, or to force me to sit through their godawful hackneyed storyline and tenth-rate scripting for 20 minutes before I can play the game I paid for, is also going to be so stupid that their game will probably be rubbish.
I can't abide arrogance and rudeness anywhere in life, and it's the height of both to insist that I can't skip past your crappy plot exposition if I want to, because as far as I'm concerned videogames are about moving blobs of light and that's all. I DON'T GIVE A FUCKING SHIT ABOUT YOUR IMAGINARY FUCKING PRINCESS, YOU FUCKING CUNT. LET ME PLAY THE FUCKING GAME.
What do you miss most, if anything, from the era of the 16-bit home computers?
You backed the iPhone's revolutionary potential as a gaming platform way before any one else I know – respect due. Have you ever boldly backed a piece of technology, game or anything that instead turned out to be poo in the eyes of the world?
I did once, back in 2006, say that the Nokia N-Gage was the future of gaming. But in my defence, the context was this immediately preceding paragraph:
"The future does not lie in spending an entire Aberdeen-to-Penzance rail journey slogging through miserable licence tests in Gran Turismo Mobile*. It lies in absurdly entertaining five-minute blink-and-you-missed-them bursts of dozens and dozens of breathtakingly different games, all picked up for three or four quid like the glory days of Speccy budget ranges."
…which is exactly what DID turn out to be the future of gaming, except it was on the iPod and iPhone instead of the N-Gage. So I'm going to say that I was using the word "N-Gage" in a broader allegorical sense, and that I was therefore essentially completely right. ; )
[*Yes, in 2006 people actually thought Gran Turismo Mobile was about to come out at any moment.]
Would you mind if your Wikipedia entry were to be recreated?
I can't say that I'd mind, but the army of twats waiting to vandalise and otherwise attack it would probably make it more trouble than it was worth.
It was absolutely startling the last time to discover the vehemence with which some people were determined to fight to prevent someone they'd never met from being described in a certain way on a website.
I think Wikipedia editors are like politicians – the only qualification for being one should be that you DON'T want to be. It should be like jury service, and anyone who edits a page to reflect their interpretation/opinion rather than an empirical fact should be banned from connecting to the internet for five years.
When was the last time you enjoyed talking to someone for more than ten minutes?
In person, face to face? Yesterday, and before that Thursday night. It happens all the time. There's little I enjoy more than a good long conversation with someone interesting, be it in person or on the phone or online – few things are more tragic than the modern way that people will actually apologise for an email or forum post that's more than two paragraphs long, out of the paranoid fear that people will lose interest or they'll get a "tl;dr".
I once spoke to the same person on the phone for 15 hours in one weekend, over just two calls, and it wasn't a minute too long. I'd go so far as to say it's the sort of thing I live for.
Who's the worst person you've ever met?
That's a bit of an ambiguous question. But for the sake of argument, if we take "worst" not to mean "most evil" but "least successful at functioning as a normal, decent human being", and assuming that by "met" you mean "have physically spoken to in the same room at least once" (which lets Dino Dini off), I'd probably say Jeff Minter.
In many respects he fits the criteria I listed for the "heroes" question (see below), but he seems in my experience to be someone unable to relate to other people by means of any relationship other than total unquestioning subservience on their part.
In common with many people who put out a peace-loving "hippy" sort of image, his reaction to any form of conflict or dissent from his own worldview is petulant, whiny sulking. He willingly surrounds himself with dim-witted sycophants who treat him like a retarded disabled child by furiously attacking anyone who dares question Jeff or his work in even the tiniest way, and he lets them do his dirty work so he can evade responsibility for their tirades and present himself as "fluffy".
It's a shame, because he's made some of my favourite games of all time. But then, since when did we expect those capable of genius to also be moderate, well-balanced people? The two things aren't *quite* mutually exclusive, but it's not far off.
What do you think of the 'Evony vs Bruce' thing?
I think it's a real shame they couldn't both lose. Bruce Everiss is one of Britain's most spectacular idiots, and has committed countless libels against all manner of people, including Evony. His epic stupidity actually threatened to undermine the much-needed reform of UK libel law – by trying to hook legitimate demands for the law to be changed to stop purely intimidatory accusations onto a case in which he plainly HAD committed libel and fully deserved to be taken to court.
On the other hand, Evony does seem to be pretty awful, and almost as dim as Bruce in the way it chose to pursue the case. So it was hard to pick a side with any enthusiasm.
I'm not sure it's a coincidence, though, that immediately after Evony and Bruce settled out of court, Bruce "chose" to stop blogging (and doesn't appear to have mentioned Evony anywhere since). So for that at least, Evony may deserve our thanks.
Did you ever do nothing but play games all day and feel empty afterwards?
Nope. The closest was one time when I missed going to a party with human beings because I kept playing Grand Theft Auto 3 for "just one more mission" until it became plain that in my heart I wanted to play GTA3 more than I wanted to go to the party, so I stayed in Liberty City instead of the real world all night.
It's pretty much the only time something like that has happened, but I can't in all honesty say I regretted it. I don't consider playing games all day to be fundamentally an "empty" activity any more than reading books all day or listening to music all day or watching movies all day.
Is Scotland better than England?
Depends on what your criteria are. England is warmer, certainly. But I'd have to say Scotland is prettier, roomier, lighter in summertime and much, much less infested with Daily Mail-reading Tory scum.
In your recounting of the legal battle between you and Future you seem put out that they won on a technicality. Isn't that what the law is, a series of technicalities? It's almost like complaining someone won a football match by "scoring a load of goals"
It's not like that at all. It's like a football match where X Rovers beat Y United 9-0, but the match is then awarded to Y United because it turned out that the X Rovers substitute who came on for the last 60 seconds and didn't touch the ball was wearing non-regulation studs.
Have you ever grown any form of facial hair?
I've grown many forms of splendid facial hair. My favourite was the awesome Mexican pimp 'tache that was seen on TV during the first FairPlay campaign when I did an interview on SFG with Emily Newton Dunn.
Do 30-something blokes ever recognise you in the street from your AP days?
It still happens, though not as often as it used to. AP was 17 years ago, after all.
What's your idea of Hell?
Anywhere there are children.
What is it about children that makes you uncomfortable?
They don't make me uncomfortable, they make me unhappy. They're noisy, smelly and stupid. Which is the same as most adults, but with children you're expected to tolerate it for some reason.
Also the fact that they signify yet another increase in the world's population, which is something we need like we need a major asteroid strike.
If you could ban any word or phrase in common use today, which would it be (and why)?
"Perfect storm", because it's embarrassing to see serious people like politicians and newsreaders so clearly using a phrase they'd never used before in their lives, just because it was in a Hollywood movie.
If you were given a pet snake, what would you name it?
I would name it "Thing about to be taken to the animal rescue centre". Or "Thingy" for short.
If gaming had never taken off as a hobby and was replaced by – oh, I don't know – being a loveable country tinker, or something, how different would your life be and what do you think you'd be doing now?
Given the size of my audience, I'm not sure anything would be different.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life when I left school, and had never really considered going to university either, but sort of stumbled into it for want of anything better to do and found it a revelation. Even then, though, I came out with no career plans, and the main reason I started writing was to ensure a supply of freebie games for the Atari ST I won in the National Computer Games Championships.
Just before I went to uni – and this is a true story – I was offered an entry-level job in the Diplomatic Corps of the Civil Service, but turned it down because the offer came weeks after the interview and in the intervening time I'd decided on the further-education path. Imagine the different world we could be living in now.
Wooooo. Do you believe in ghosts?
Yikes! A ghost!
Ever thought of reviving the WoS International Sweetshop?
Not since the loathsome cuntfaces of New Labour shut the only car-accessible Post Office within five miles of my house. Shlepping all the way into the middle of town on foot with dozens of bulky packages of sweets is this much fun: zero fun.
Do you find that with internet culture and forums and so on you find yourself talking more about games than you do playing them?
Not at all. I frequent games forums very little these days – Retro Gamer's is about the only one I visit apart from WoS, and that only occasionally. I probably average about an hour a day writing stuff about games (mostly for WoSblog), and three or four times that playing all the day's new App Store freebies and existing favourites, or browsing through new XBL Indie games.
You're a proud Scot far from home, but how do you feel about cartoonish cultural Scottish stereotypes – harmless fun, or borderline racism? Or do you actually really hate/enjoy whisky, or haggis, bagpipes, golf etc etc, but feel at all odd for doing so?
I'm not the least bit offended by cartoon Scottish stereotypes. Most of them have some basis of truth, except the one about meanness.
Whisky has a foul taste but a splendid effect, and haggis is delicious. Golf seems a rather pleasant game to invent in a country with huge amounts of empty space, though other people perhaps ought to have thought before importing it into nations less suitable for the large-scale enclosure of green space it requires. And bagpipes are good for keeping non-Scottish people away from your house.
Which females (of a famous/well known nature) do you think are hott (sic)?
I don't really keep up-to-date with who's currently making the readers of Zoo and Nuts drool more than they usually do. But if Megan Fox, Claudia Winkelman, Scarlett Johansen and Katie Puckrick all knocked on my door one night and said that they were suffering from a rare medical condition that meant they'd all die unless I sexed them right up there and then, I'd do my very best to save them.
Who are your heroes?
That's a really hard question, which is why I'm answering it days after it was asked.
The people I admire are in many cases the people everyone admires – your Nelson Mandelas and whatever, whose bravery is obvious and unarguable. But the ones who resonate especially with me are the people who stick to their guns when it's the hardest path, and offers the least reward.
Jerry Sadowitz has never compromised, and will never be rich or popular as a result, but he keeps doing what he believes in, and brilliantly.
The Jesus And Mary Chain carved a path from sheer determination, against all advice and conventional wisdom, through which thousands followed. They laid the foundations on which the indie music booms of the 1990s were built, and got little of the credit or the prizes.
Stewart Lee achieved great fame, then fell into obscurity, which is a particularly stern test. But he stuck to his convictions and waited for the world to catch up rather than lazily milking Fist Of Fun's student market with nostalgia shows for the rest of time.
And of course there's Wile E. Coyote, who never stops believing.
But if I had to boil it down to one, Winston Churchill was prepared to do what needed to be done when almost everyone else cowered from both the fear and the responsibility. He wasn't a saintly paragon of honour – he was in many respects a total shit. But sometimes you need a total shit.
The thing that sends shivers up my spine is his famous "Fight them on the beaches" speech, but not for the usual reasons. When he says "We will never surrender", he doesn't say it defiantly, or angrily, or triumphantly. He says it with sad, matter-of-fact resignation, because he knows that for him it isn't a choice. Where others might eventually capitulate, Churchill knew he never could – because it would be to betray not the nation, but himself. It was said his bullet-riddled body would have been dragged out of the Houses Of Parliament with the Bren gun still clutched in his hands, and I believe that.
He took the unimaginable burden of what seemed an impossible, hopeless war on his shoulders not because he wanted to, but because he knew he was the only person who could do it. And that's just about the most heroic thing I can think of.
Who's your favourite gay man?
Bruce Everiss. Nobody who says that all women are "snakes with tits" can possibly be straight.
New Games Journalism. Elaborate joke, or too much coke?
Not the former, and certainly a bit of the latter. But mostly just a well-intentioned observation of – and more crucially, coining of a name for – a phenomenon that already existed, which gave people a stick to beat that phenomenon with.
The style of writing the term described is neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but it's a style which, when done badly, is very very unpleasant indeed. And it's a style which takes professional skill and a functional superego to do well – traits which few of the well-known practitioners appear to possess.
Do you consider yourself bitter?
About one or two individual things, yes. On the whole, no. My life is mostly very pleasant and happy and I always look forward to getting up in the morning. Although that's partly because I'm Scottish and over 40, and therefore just happy to be getting up at all
In your career so far, what's been your highest high and what's been your lowest low?
Well, I've had more than one career. Journalistically I got a particularly big kick out of the second FairPlay campaign (fruit machines), which achieved a tangible and worthwhile result against huge opposition from all directions. I'm also proud of being the only person who appreciated Gunstar Heroes at the time, and pretty much the only one who realised the genius of the original Wario Ware.
In terms of game development, having a No.1 game (Cannon Fodder 2) was obviously pretty damn exciting, and creatively I still think it's a great piece of work – it's the videogame of Britpop.
The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle Pinball is the best thing I've made that was all my own work (in terms of design, gameplay and coding – obviously I nicked the theme). I think it'd make a brilliant real-life pinball machine.
The thing I was most excited to be involved with, though, was probably Manic Miner: The Lost Levels. In my opinion it's a homebrew game that's easily good enough to be a commercial release, and it felt absolutely fantastic to rescue all those old levels from obscurity and then tie them together into a coherent plot. (Two coherent plots, in fact.)
It's an amazingly polished and complete package, thanks to the incredible work done by Flash and the other Headsoft guys, and I played it for dozens and dozens of hours purely for enjoyment after all the development and testing was done. Seeing something that was just an idea I'd had become reality, and be executed so superbly, was enormously rewarding. And it came out on my birthday.
Lows are harder to identify, apart from losing the court case that meant Future got away with ripping my work off on a massive scale because they could afford to spend far more money on expensive lawyers than it would have cost to settle the case like decent, honourable human beings.
Aside from that, I struggle to think of anything in the 20 years I've spent being around videogames professionally that I either regret or wish had turned out differently.
Are you in favour of decriminalising or legalising drugs?
Yes. Nothing ever got LESS dangerous by putting it in the hands of criminals.
I recently discovered a friend of mine does not believe in evolution and instead believes in a literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden, Satan etc. How would you react to this?
Well, I don't know who your friend is. But presuming you mean how I'd react if one of MY friends revealed the same thing, the honest truth is that I'd probably cut them out of my life. I can only just cope with having friends who are Christians (because the ones who are are fairly intelligent, questioning types). That level of fundamentalist nuttery, though, would ultimately be more trouble than it was worth.
Did you ever get offers to be a full time staff member of any magazine apart from Amiga Power?
Yes. At Future I was offered the editor's job on Sega Zone, and Impact offered me (if memory serves) a Managing Editor job up in Ludlow covering the likes of Amiga Force and Commodore Force. I declined both offers for different reasons.
Are you scared of spiders?
Only the ones that can kill you.
Do you regret anything you've said in a review/article? I reckon probably not.
Nothing springs immediately to mind. I mean, a lot of stuff I wrote years ago makes me cringe now, but only because of how it's written, not what it's saying.
What song do you want played at your funeral?
I wish to be cremated to the plaintive, mournful sounds of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire".
Why do your articles or references on older games rarely focus on the Amiga, when most of your readers got acquainted with your work through Amiga Power?
Largely because Amiga emulation is a fiddly pain in the arse, so I rarely go back and revisit old Amiga games.
Have you ever lost an argument?
"Lost" is a bit of a subjective term. I've been on the wrong end of a court judgement, which certainly counts as losing in practical terms.
I'm wrong about stuff quite often. It's just that few people are intelligent or skilled enough to bring the fact to light when it happens.
What's your favourite place in the whole wide world?
Probably the summit of The Knock, just outside Bathgate, in summer. If we're allowed time travel, Southport the way it was in 1982.
Do you want to fight?
Next up: Gaming.