Birmingham Nostalgia. Do you remember things? From a while back?

Man, do you remember the past? Like, I mean the really old past, the olden days, the stuff that has wavy VHS lines when you try and remember it. The shit you need to fiddle with the tracking setting to really get clear in your brain.

I’m talking Brum nostalgia, or as I hope to have go viral with a hashtag – Brumtalgia. Here’s part one of what I hope will be a 300 part series, inspired by the Mail’s Nostalgia website. I’ll be remembering Wimpy.

WIMPY.

Wimpy was in Dale End. I think. I don’t really remember. I know it was definitely in Birmingham, or at least the West Midlands, or “Warwickshire” as we used to call it back then. O, do you remember Wimpy? Remember the burgers? They’d melt your face off with their taste. Remember how they had napkins, or “face dirt removers” as we used to call them back then.

My dad wouldn’t take me to McDonald’s, owing to a long dispute over the “bitter capitulation to the colonies” and also, he didn’t like that you had to eat your food with your hands, and not a knife and fork, or a “knife & fork”, as we used to call them back then.

The Wimpy brand was created in 1934 by Edward Gold when he opened his first location in Bloomington, Indiana, which is a fact I discovered on my own, while trying to remember things about Wimpy and the nostalgic feelings Wimpy makes me feel. When I was a kid, my nan would sit me down in Wimpy’s, in Dale End, or somewhere nearby, and tell me about how Chicago had a maximum of 25 locations in the United States at its height but only seven locations remained at the time of his death in 1977. She knew this without the aid of Wikipedia.

Do you remember that joke? The joke where you’d insert an obviously copied piece of information from Wikipedia, under the guise of a genuine memory or piece of journalism, in a rushed, frankly overdone attempt at satire? Remember it from my Twitter feed about 30 minutes ago? Nostalgia that, mate.

What fun we’d have in Wimpy, which as of April 2014, only has 93 locations left in the UK. That figure could be different, but I can’t be bothered to check a source other than Wikipedia, so I’m going to hope it’s that.

I asked people for their thoughts and memories of Wimpy.

“I think it was on Dale End,” said a guy.

“No, maybe not. Definitely in town, though.” replied a character I’ve invented because no one replied to this on Twitter.

“That’s meta.”

I know.

Anyway, much like Wimpy, this article is about done now. It’s outstayed its welcome, but head on to the Nostalgia section of the Birmingham Mail, or EEEEVVVVINMAY as that guy on New Street used to call it back in the day. You will enjoy the content and share it on various social networks. Yes, you will.

Enjoy the content.

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Money money money.

I gave up on consoles after the 360/PS3. I bought into Valve’s idea of a PC gaming utopia and I’ve largely done well out of the deal. Despite the constant chants of “CHEAP!” and “EASY” from members of the PC gaming master race, PC parts aren’t that cheap, and putting it all together isn’t that easy. A lot of hardcore PC gamers seem to underestimate the fear and laziness of the average console owner. On the other side, console gamers will tell you that console gaming “just works”. Of course, we’ve seen since day one of the new generation of consoles that it doesn’t “just work”. From hardware issues, to atrocities like Assassin’s Creed Unity and Halo: The Master Chief Collection, consoles have the same problems as PCs, but they’re harder to fix.

One thing which continues to hold me back from getting back into console gaming is mods. Games like Skyrim and Fallout 3/New Vegas (both Bethesda games, not coincidentally) are constantly being modded, with everything from bug fixes Bethesda couldn’t be bothered to deal with, to new quests, armour, and most important of all, Macho Man Randy Dragon.

Then Valve decided they didn’t have enough money. Yesterday they launched a new scheme on Steam whereby modders can charge for their ‘products’. This is pretty unique in the gaming community as I can’t think of a fuck up this big that has united everyone in condemning Valve. Valve were the pre-coalition Nick Clegg of video game companies, but over the years they’ve slowing morphed into the actual evil Nick Clegg we all burn effigies of in dark country fields.

There is nothing good about charging for mods on Steam. No one benefits from this except Valve and the developers foolish enough to join the scheme. Here are some of the biggest problems I have with it.

Entitlement

Modders often have short attention spans. A lot of great mods go unfinished or unsupported because modders or players have lost interest, which is fine, and you can’t really complain about it, because the mods are free. Now, though? Mods are officially sanctioned by publishers and developers and cost actual money. Mods are now paid DLC with no quality control. What’s stopping someone making a mod, taking your money, and fucking off when they’ve made a quick buck? Valve, who are famous for having awful customer service and shitty refund policies, have your back covered –


Q. What happens if a mod I bought breaks?
A. Sometimes one mod may modify the same files as another mod, or a particular combination of mods may cause unexpected outcomes. If you find that mod has broken or is behaving unexpectedly, it is best to post politely on the Workshop item’s page and let the mod author know the details of what you are seeing.

So. When your mod breaks — and depending on the mod, modder or game, there’s a good chance it will break at some point — you have no recourse. You will have to “politely ask” the modder to fix it. There’s no time frame, there are no refunds, you are not dealing with professionals. You’re dealing with someone in their bedroom who may or may not have the inclination to fix the mod you’ve paid money for. We’ve already seen Steam’s Early Access scheme abused and not 24 hours in we’ve seen mods ripped from the Nexus, a popular free mod hosting service, and put up for sale by people who didn’t even make them.

Gamers are often criticised for being too entitled, but if they’re paying money for something, there’s going to have to be a level of professionalism that isn’t usually shown (or needed) in the mod scene. Modders are going to have to start doing some actual customer service and quality control. I don’t know if this is going to be worth the pittance Valve are paying them. Speaking of –

Q. Is there a minimum revenue I must earn before I can receive a payment?
A. Yes. There are costs associated with issuing each individual payment as well as potential bank fees charged to you upon receiving money that make it prohibitive to pay out for small amounts of money. Therefore, we may hold your payment until a minimum of $100 payout is earned.

Good luck with that. Valve, who have done so much work tackling piracy in video games, have now inadvertently kicked off a new world of piracy – pirated mods. A lot of people are going to be illegally downloading mods (let’s assume the mods are legal in the first place, it’s often a bit wild west when it comes to legality) that probably aren’t worth buying anyway.

Community

One of the great things about modding is the community. Modders work together to make sure mods are compatible and when they’re not, they give out advice or warnings. The glorious mess that is the Creation Engine and the thousands of Fallout/Skyrim mods just wouldn’t exist without the hard work and cooperation of the modders. This will disappear with paid mods. Midway through writing this article, news of the first big mod takedown has come up.

Chesko’s Fishing Mod, which went on sale yesterday, has been taken down because it used character-idle animations created by a modder called Fore. The animation mod was used without permission, which would be fine when the mod was free, but it was taken without permission and put in a paid mod. Chesko claims Valve said it was okay –

I would like to make it clear that I have been under a non-disclosure agreement for over a month, and was unable (not unwilling) to contact others. I asked Valve specifically about content that requires other content, and was told that if the download was separate and free, it was fair game.

Speaking on the mod’s page on Steam, Fore wrote

Making money with mods is totally against my attitude. It’s the end of a working and inventive modding community.

Modders have taken to Reddit, Change.org and Steam’s own forums to complain about the situation and suggest a boycott of the paid mods. Mods that require things like the Skyrim Script Extender are going on sale and the developers of SSE aren’t seeing a penny of the proceeds. Insanely overpriced microtransactions like swords and armour have already started flooding the store and Valve are woefully understaffed and can’t control it. Mods are being taken down from the free (and superior) Nexus service, left unsupported, and put behind Valve’s paywall.  Mods are now being released as ‘time exclusives’. Mods are broken.

It’s a mess. It’s a clusterfuck and Valve are losing credibility and respect by the hour. I don’t think modders should have to do everything for free, but I also think this system has had no thought put behind it, short of Valve trying to claw as much money as possible through as little effort as possible, consumers be damned. The best thing Valve could’ve done was set up a donation system akin to Patreon. You could set up a monthly or one-off payment for a modder, and they’d get paid every month (maybe even in Steam credit, to get around the fact that a modder gets paid zilch until they reach $400 in sales).

Valve have been constantly trying to gamify and monetise every aspect of Steam. From trading cards to the seasonal sale games, Valve have a talent for wringing every penny they can. In the past it’s all been cosmetic and easily ignored, but this has rubbed tens of thousands of Steam users the wrong way and I don’t think Valve are going to care.

Affordable Space Adventures

With the exception of NintendoLand, no one has really made a Wii U game that absolutely couldn’t be replicated on another device. I’m really excited to see a trailer for Affordable Space Adventures, the type of game Nintendo hasn’t bothered to make for its own console in almost three years.

The game uses just about every feature of the Wii U pad, features multiplayer, and just generally looks delightful. Have a wee look. Review coming soon.

Webmaesters.

I’ve been doing some research for a thing I wanna write. It’s about GeoCities, how it was canned, and the people involved who have been archiving what they can since Yahoo killed it. I decided it would be fun to find some old ASOIAF fansites, if any still existed, and boy, do they. Here be spoilers for the books, so avoid if you’ve not read them.

We’ll start with some fan art from The Gallery at Greywater Watch. This is a relatively new website, at a sprightly 12 years old. It’s interesting to see some portraits with zero influence from the show. Here’s Robb, looking broody, here’s Jamie looking… chirpy, along with a tired lion; Hear Me Yawn. There’s Dany and a bad ass dragon, there’s even Mag Mar Tun Doh Weg.

Next we’ve got Riverrun, a site which was last updated in 2001. There’s a nice sketch of Jon, Robb and Bran. A lot of the website is, of course, under construction (“MAJOR CONSTRUCTION” in this site’s case), although there is some badly formatted 2002 fan fiction. Make sure you follow the rules, though…

The bio of GRRM is coming soon, presumably around the same time as TWoW.

The forum is partially archived, and there’s some 2001 tinfoil about the identity of Azor Azhai. Stannis is suggested, but the details of the discussion are lost in the e-aether. There’s a theory about Jon eventually marrying Sansa, R+L=J is old news, and a few people suggest Loras/Renly might MAYBE have had feelings for each other. 42 carat tinfoil. I like the theory that Tyrion and LSH will team up, because why not?

There’s lots to read, it’s just pot luck if they’re archived or not.

The Isle of Faces, which was last updated in 2001, features  a sadly under construction section on theories. R+J=L is backed up, but other suggestions are put forth. Benjen as daddy, anyone?

A Song of Ice and Fire is next. Come for the animated fire gifs, stay for the fan casting of a SOIAF film. This summer, Kevin Spacey or Gary Oldman is Petry Baelish. John Rhys-Davis is Robert Baratheon. Mandy Patinkin is Syrio Forel. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Hodor. Madonna is Cersei. Macaulay Culkin is Joffrey. It goes on and go, but the best casting, one which HBO are, quite frankly, fucking stupid not to have listened to – Cuba Gooding Jr IS…. Khal Drogo.

There’s news on the forthcoming publication of A Storm of Swords, even some fan mail with GRRM. When asked about the wacky fan theories posted on the site, he replies “Well, some of the theorists are hot and some are very cold indeed, but I prefer not to give anything away until the proper time.” CLEGANEBOWL CONFIRMED. Here’s an archived version of an interview transcript mentioned on the site.

My favourite bit is probably the request not to harass GRRM with pointless questions. “If you feel you cant help it, remember, the TWO year gap between A GAME OF THRONES and A CLASH OF KINGS!” Sweet summer child.

There’s an old message board that has some interesting chat. In 1999, SK (Stephen King, obviously) suggests Robb’s time on this Planetos is coming to an end. There’s a worry that disk space could lead to a change of format in the message board. O, the 90s. Most of the topics are sadly lost, but titles like ‘Just making sure the bulletin board is Y2k compliant’ and ‘Who are Jon’s parents’ suggest greatness.

There’s probably more kicking around, but I thought it’d be fun to check out. Hope you enjoyed some of the art and ancient, partially archived discussions.

From t’archives – Woktastic review.

Woktastic is coming back soon, in a new location that isn’t connected to Paradise Forum. Many years ago, I wrote a restaurant review and haven’t written one since. After reading this, you’ll probably find out why. Mind the cobwebs, it’s a remastered piece of filler, right out of 2010 –

Food. Food is good. I don’t know much about food, nor do I know much about eating out in Birmingham (no, keep reading, I have a point that I will stumble into shortly). What I do know is that there’s a really great Japanese restaurant called Woktastic in our fair city. It’s just outside the Paradise Forum (which is not great), opposite The Yardbird (which I’m ambivalent toward). It’s undoubtedly the campiest restaurant in Birmingham, if not the country. Its bright orange walls, even more intensely orange-uniformed staff, and multicoloured sushi dishes assault your senses and taste of decency all at once. I swear, I almost had an epileptic fit just walking into the place once; the Japanese pop playing over the sound system threatened to give me aural diabetes. Oh, and the food? It’s actually rather delicious, with a great all you can eat deal on sushi, and I highly recommend the chicken katsu with a glass of plum wine.

I just have one problem: the manager. Oh, he’s not rude or anything; the service in Woktastic is actually second-to-none. Look, this is a bit of an odd situation, but I need to let this out to someone, so it might as well be you. The manager, he… thinks my name is Stan (my name is Hazz). Here’s what happened: I once impersonated my friend Stan, as he didn’t want to cancel a booking in person, so I did it for him, claiming to be Stan, and now every time I go in there, the guy thinks I’m called Stan. What do I do? Do I just… tell him? No, I can’t do it. I can’t tell him that I’m not Stan.

“That’s not a real problem, Hazz, you goddamn nutcase, chill out.”

Oh, but it is a problem, dearest reader, for you see, I have to book a birthday party (yes, you’re invited, bring a gift) there soon, which means I’ll have to give him my name. My real name. Did I mention my name isn’t Stan? What do I do? I can’t just tell the guy I’m not Stan, that’d be hideously embarrassing, I’m too much of a social maladroit to have that conversation; the awkward, ghastly shamespeech where I have to explain I attempted to bamboozle him, I tried to play a ruse upon him. I have committed… uragiri against him and his people.. Actually, I think he’s Italian, but it doesn’t bloody matter, he’s lovely and I’ve stabbed him in his very friendly back. Let me explain how lovely he is. He’s charming, he’s welcoming, the guy always comes over to have a chat, he brings me a fork so I can eat my currysauce-sodden rice without looking like a special needs kid, he has a lovely, shiny bald head; he engages in friendly banter, he wears nice shirts, he’s generally just bloody ace.

No, I can’t break his heart.

I can’t correct him next time he calls me Stan. What’d that do to our relationship? He’d lose face, surely? I’d be bringing shame upon his name, his restaurant, his family. No, I can’t do that, I can’t reveal that I’m an identity thief.

No, I won’t let that happen. I know what I must do: I must continue this charade. I must live a double life. I must become Stan. I must live as Stan. Stan’s a thin Chinese dude, I’m a not-thin white guy, but that doesn’t matter. I will be Stan.

I am Stan.

Try the chicken yakitori, it’s delicious.

Some things what I wrote recently.

Last month I pretended to be a farmer, a trucker, a woodcutter and a surgeon. You can read all about it in the first of two Contributoria articles I’ve got published this month.

The second article is about my experience trying to make a video game. It didn’t go well, but it’s the journey, not the destination, he said, weeping into his tea.

I wrote a thing about House of Cards and its groundbreaking portrayal of video games. You can read it at Medium, because why not?

Finally, there’s a new episode of Shit Bullseye Prizes. This month Jim Bowen gives away a computer and some games, but all is not what it seems.

Is that a PS Vita?

The Guardian redesigned their website this year. I’m not a huge fan, but they did make one change that I’ve not noticed any one talking about – video games have been moved from the technology section to the culture section.

There’s a sizable part of the gaming community that tries to champion video games as important pieces of art, that they should be classified as cultural products, the same way TV shows, films and books are. As time goes by, it’s really cool and interesting to see just that happening.

One way it’s changing is the depiction of gaming and those who play games in TV shows. Dr House, of course, was constantly playing on his SP and DS, but this was little more than product placement. NBC’s Life featured an execrable segment involving hacking, and someone hiding some sort of file in a video game, in this case a Prince of Persia title. It took all the stereotypes of gamers and tropes of video games, mushed them together, and produced this poorly-veiled advertisement for a shitty game, long forgotten in the sands of time.

There are rare occasions when video games are used as a metaphor, like the Breaking Bad scene where Jessie plays a laughable, mock-light gun version of RAGE. It looked stupid, but it got the point across and it made sense thematically. Product placement, but used to develop a character.

Enter House of Cards. Francis J Underwood, through all three seasons of House of Cards, has shown himself to be a bit of a hardcore gamer. People will cry product placement (David Fincher has insisted none of the Sony references were paid for. The infamous PS Vita scene being a parody of TV product placement is the only explanation), but throughout the series, video games are used metaphorically and symbolically. There will be mild spoilers for the show from here.

In seasons one and two, Francis spends a lot of time killing children online in various Call of Duty games. He also indulges in games of God of War. In season three, when he is made Commander-in-Chief, he stops playing the games. The man who played at war no longer needs them, he is pretty much a god of war now, literally killing children in warfare. It’s basic symbolism, but it’s exciting because it’s video games used in a grown up way.

Francis later plays two indie games, Monument Valley, a beautiful isometric puzzle game set in a world of impossible structures, and The Stanley Parable, a hilarious deconstruction of narrative, player decisions and consequences in video games. He’s inspired by a video game reviewer’s prose and asks the reviewer to help him with a book to promote his job-creating scheme. When the fuck have you ever seen a games journalist as a character in anything? The reviewer is treated on the same level as other journalists on the show, with his writing described as ‘gorgeous’ at one point.

Frank lies down and plays Monument Valley, nonchalantly, like any fictional character would read a book or play a piece of music. Like it’s a normal thing to do. Because it fucking is.

Frank and a few other characters talk about ‘indie games’ and ‘consoles’ without stopping to explain to the audience what an indie game or a console is. The writers expect you to be a part of the 21st century and know about games. It’s depressingly refreshing just how much the writers respect the audience and don’t talk down to them.

Later, Frank plays The Stanley Parable and is baffled by the narrative.

“I don’t get it,” Frank says, while The Stanley Parable’s narrator delightfully natters on.

“The game’s unwinnable, that is the point” the reviewer replies.

“It just started over again!” Frank complains, as the game loops. Again, the audience isn’t pandered to and told what the game is. The game is barely in shot, but it doesn’t need to be. Their discussion about the game mirrors Frank’s experience as president, his experience in politics in general.

“Chaos takes over, it’s impossible to follow the rules.”

Frank turns off the game and takes a swig of whiskey.

“This is too much like real life.”

A basic metaphor, but goddamn it’s exciting to see.