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Branch Of Science

USA

I have written a piece about U.S. Gold’s World Cup USA 94, which will be published on the Branch Of Science website.

The website, which launches on Monday 3 March, is edited by Seb Patrick, the co-creator of ‘A Brief History Of Time Travel‘.

It is devoted to football culture, and there will be launch articles about a football sticker book and ITV’s coverage of the 1970 World Cup.

My Kind Of Town: Issue 11

My Kind Of Town

I’m pleased to announce that Heron Publications have republished my feature about Sheffield Wednesday’s away record in the mid-1970s.

The latest edition of their magazine, My Kind Of Town, is a football special, which also includes articles about Wednesday’s David Ford and Sheffield United’s Mick Jones.

The magazine, priced at £4.99, is available from Heron Publications’ website and selected branches of Waterstones.

Tony Wilson and hyperlinks

Tony Wilson co-founded Factory Records in the 1970s.

Tony Wilson co-founded Factory Records in the 1970s. Image courtesy of Eadaoinflynn via Flickr.

Personally, providing external hyperlinks on a web page is an important part of the journalistic toolbox.

It is ethically sound to reference other websites – particularly if they have been used for research purposes – and transparency is usually a key virtue.

Also, providing relevant and working hyperlinks should enhance a user’s involvement in a particular story or feature.

If a particular user is interested in reading more about farming or Pokémon, then journalists can showcase their ability to act as a guide and not a gatekeeper.

It’s a function that we should not ignore. After all, if attempts are not made to add value and provide the best possible online experience for users, they will be less inclined to return.

During an interview with MP3 Magazine about his pay-for-download website, music33, Tony Wilson shared my views about hyperlinks.

Music downloads may have changed since 2001 but, as shown by the following passage, Wilson’s sage words haven’t.

“This is how it works: there’s a Manchester label that we like, called Skam. We go and see the two guys. They give us a Skam sampler, which includes a band called Boards of Canada. We get it up on the site, you can listen to them. Then you can go check out their own website. If you like what they’re about, you go back to our site and buy a song from the label. The added content comes in the form of the clickthroughs and links to the artist’s own pages. There’s a depth of experience there – and that’s very important: You mustn’t fear linking to label websites and taking them away from your own – if your site is good enough people will come back.”

Non web sources

Anon (2001) Hallelujah! MP3 Magazine, January 2001, p.30-33.

Ward, M. (2002) Journalism Online. Oxford: Elsevier Science.

Number One: an occasional journalistic gem

Number One was a pop music magazine for teenagers.

Number One was a pop music magazine for teenagers.

The music chart fanzine, Chartwatch, once described Number One as being “embarrassing to buy”.

And those words were faintly true.

The defunct magazine was certainly less useful as a research tool than Music Week and Record Mirror, and it also lacked the wit of Smash Hits.

Essentially, it lacked substance AND flair.

It doesn’t look good, and you could understand why the editors of Chartwatch said “you can only buy that [Number One] if you have a kid sister”.

But an edition from 15 August 1987 showed that, on the odd occasion, it was a magazine worth buying.

Unlike the national newspapers, the magazine was not afraid to praise Tyne Tees Television’s ‘The Roxy’ after it started to defeat ‘Top Of The Pops’ in the ratings.

And a feature that looked at Aled Jones’ bedroom included an amusing anecdote about The Observer and a ‘My Little Pony’ duvet cover.

Best of all, though, it featured Phil Cornwell’s Gilbert The Alien – from CITV’s ‘Get Fresh’ and ‘Gilbert’s Fridge’ – reviewing the singles, which included a superb range of political and cultural references.

A review of John Farnham’s ‘Pressure Down’, for instance, mentioned Benjamin Disraeli and Richard Gough, while Morrissey was described as having “blatantly misguided optimism”.

The conclusion is that more demented retro puppets should be employed as music magazine contributors.

I mean, how can you go wrong with referencing Icelandic flu and a pneumatic drill, with regards to Dr. Robert, Jeffrey Archer and Paul Daniels?

Non-web sources

Cornwell, P. (1987) Singles. Number One, Saturday August 15 1987, p.42.

Hancock, John and Rawlings, Neil. (1991) Editorial. Chartwatch, June 1991, p.3.

Martin, A. (1987) Inside Aled Jones’ Bedroom!! Number One, Saturday August 15 1987, p.28-29.

Thomas, P. (1987) The Roxy Rocks On. Number One, Saturday August 15, 1987, p.14-15.

Porting ‘Premier Manager 64′

‘Premier Manager 64′ was the first, and only, football management game on the Nintendo 64.

Porting football management games to consoles can be tricky.

After all, it is a mammoth task to squeeze as many statistics and leagues as possible in one Sony PlayStation disc.

And, over the years, the genre has technologically progressed.

For example, Codemasters, the makers of ‘LMA Manager 2006’, launched a downloadable patch in early 2006 that updated squads and statistics in line with the latest transfer window. The aforementioned PlayStation 2 game was the first of its kind to offer this feature.

But imagine trying to fit the latest leagues, players and options in just one cartridge.

Gremlin Interactive attempted this in 1999, when they released ‘Premier Manager 64’ for the Nintendo 64, and they came mighty close to making it work.

Enter the PlayStation

‘Premier Manager 64′ is a fine game but, due to its wayward difficulty level, it can be a little too easy on occasions.

For starters, and perhaps most importantly, the gameplay is more than adequate.

While its Career mode, where you can manage one of ten Division Three teams, is not as addictive as Sports Interactive’s ‘Football Manager’ series, it is a game that merits repeated plays.

And taking an underdog to the Super League – essentially, the UEFA Champions League – is very rewarding.

The game’s difficulty level, however, is arbitrary, meaning that winning the Premier League with Charlton Athletic is just as likely as being involved in a relegation scrap with Tottenham Hotspur.

But the flaws of ‘Premier Manager 64’ are all too evident when it is compared to its PlayStation counterpart, ‘Premier Manager Ninety Nine’.

A number of the latter’s features – including profile pictures of footballers, two Italian leagues (Serie A and Serie B), and the ability to change the screen position – were excluded from the Nintendo 64 version.

The TV-style match highlights were kept, though, but many of its selling points were sacrificed. Replays, goal details (such as speed and distance) and name bars were all ditched and, unlike the PlayStation version, Barry Davies’ commentary lacked variation.

The highlights on both versions were graphically undeveloped by 1999’s standards, but the Nintendo 64 version looked a bit like a low-budget conversion.

To a certain extent, this is understandable. The capacity of the ‘Premier Manager 64’ cartridge is 128 Megabits – twice the size of the typical Nintendo 64 cartridge and equal to 16 Megabytes.

In contrast, a bog-standard PlayStation CD comfortably contains over 600 Megabytes. This meant that the Nintendo 64 was not suited to stand-alone features and options, such as pre-rendered music and film, hence why so many various presentational enhancements had to be scrapped from ‘Premier Manager 64’.

Konami’s ‘Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon’ was another example of this problem, as it needed a 16 Megabyte cartridge just to fit two short, but delightfully eccentric, songs. This led to a £60 price tag and disappointing sales.

64-bit graphical enhancements

The Nintendo 64, however, was still a powerful machine, and capable of other pre-rendered elements that were not imaginable on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn.

And, thanks to its Reality Immersion system, it had the main components of a £10,000 Silicon Graphics machine.

According to N64 Magazine, this meant that – in games such as ‘Super Mario 64’ and ‘Pilotwings 64’ – it was possible to create massive 3D worlds “just by specifying a few polygon co-ordinates”.

Games could also be anti-aliased – which meant that jagged lines were minimised – while frame rates were maintained without resorting to fog.

The console’s other advantages, such as texture mapping and detailing, led to the critical acclaim of Major A’s ‘International Superstar Soccer 64’.

It was the Konami subsidiary’s first attempt at using motion capture and programming with polygons, and the game ran around 100 times faster than its Super NES counterparts.

Yasuo Okuda, who directed and co-programmed the game, told N64 Magazine that although the game could be converted to the PlayStation or Saturn, “we’d [Major A] have to delete quite a bit from it because of memory size restrictions”.

Katsuya Nagae, who was in charge of Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka’s research and development department, also added:

“The N64 is definitely the best machine to write a soccer game for, because it uses cartridges rather than CDs. Other machines have a limited memory to store information read from the CD, but the N64 can get information from the cart at any time. The PlayStation, on the other hand, has to load everything in and store it in its memory.”

This meant that ‘International Superstar Soccer 64’ was able to master the Nintendo 64 in the same way as Nintendo’s two launch games – by using its 3D powers to produce real-time graphics.

But ‘Premier Manager 64’ was graphically basic, meaning that the concept of creating 3D worlds was irrelevant for such a statistically and text-heavy game.

Even though its processing time – which was regarded, for example, as the main fault of ‘LMA Manager 2003’ on the PlayStation 2 – was much faster than many 128-bit console football management games, Gremlin’s mastery of the Nintendo 64 was always going to be lower than Major A’s capabilities.

16-bit depth

‘Premier Manager’ for the Sega Mega Drive was released in 1995 and, even in 2013, it still looks impressive.

But what remains puzzling is the fact that the Sega Mega Drive version of ‘Premier Manager’ – released in 1995, with only 32 Megabits – has more detailed options than the Nintendo 64 AND PlayStation versions.

In ‘Premier Manager 64’ and ‘Premier Manager Ninety Nine’, for example, players could only choose between three sponsors.

In the Mega Drive version, however, players could decorate their ground with a variety of, mainly Sega-themed, advertising hoardings.

Floodlights, scoreboards, covered areas, under soil heating, car parks and a supporters’ club could also be developed, as could the stadium’s capacity and safety rating.

The 32 and 64-bit versions, though, only had two options: improving stadium facilities and increasing its capacity.

The Mega Drive version also allowed players to buy players via a transfer auction – which made for a refreshing change – with options to develop a youth team, and appoint coaches and physios.

Overdrafts could be extended, details about referees were provided, and a fictional fax machine displayed the latest results and transfers.

But none of these features were available on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation versions, while the original console version of ‘Premier Manager’ offered a wider range of tactical options.

It’s still enjoyable

Unlike other versions of the game, ‘Premier Manager 64′ suffers from a limited range of features.

Although the limited number of features and options are frustrating, ‘Premier Manager 64’ remains one of the best football management games on a home console.

‘Premier Manager Ninety Nine’ on the PlayStation, for example, has a couple of minor bugs, and ‘Premier Manager’ on the Mega Drive has a learning curve that is too steep for novice gamers and thus lacks immediacy.

And, even in the 128-bit era, simplistic options were still a niggling issue. For example, Ben Richardson’s review of ‘LMA Manager 2006’ in PlayStation 2 Official Magazine-UK included the following passage:

“Selecting tactics is pretty painless as well, although a main ‘summary’ page would have been a nice addition, as the constant switching between windows can cause confusion as you try to figure out what you’ve actually changed. Mid-match options are a little restrictive, too. You can assign only four tactics to trigger during a game, and you’re unable to use them together – for instance, like setting up Counter Attack and Wing Play at the same time, which makes complete sense to us.”

‘Premier Manager 64’ has all the makings of a brilliant game: it is easy to play and navigate, while having enough challenge to ensure that it has an excellent lifespan.

Despite its noticeable problems, it’s still an enjoyable game. But it will leave the more cynical player feeling short changed.

If only Gremlin could have produced a console-based game that had the accessibility of ‘Premier Manager 64’ and the depth of earlier versions. It certainly would have made for a different conclusion.

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This feature was self-published in October 2013.

Non-web sources

Anon (1997) So Tell Me This… N64 Magazine, April 1997, p.97.

Anon (1997) Lifting The Lid: Inside The Nintendo 64. N64 Magazine, April 1997, p.104-111.

Anon (2002) LMA Manager 2003. PSM2, December 2002, p.91.

Davies, J. (1997) Meeting The Major A Team. N64 Magazine, April 1997, p.82-83.

Green, M. (1999) Wish You Were Here: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon. N64 Magazine, August 1999, p.138.

Hartup, A. (2006) Download Manager. PlayStation 2 Official Magazine-UK, March 2006, p.26.

Merrett, S. (1999) Premier Passions. Arcade, March 1999, p.112.

Richardson, B. (2005) LMA Manager 2006. PlayStation 2 Official Magazine-UK, December 2005, p.108.

Weaver, T. (1999) Premier Manager 64. N64 Magazine, August 1999, p.70-74.

Peter Simon – ‘Simon Says’ (1990)

Peter Simon presented ‘Double Dare’ and ‘Run The Risk’ on ‘Going Live!’.

‘Going Live!’, most likely, is one of the few television programmes where the majority of its regular human cast members released a single.

Phillip Schofield’s ‘Close Every Door’ – a blatant cash-in from ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ – was the most successful of these releases, reaching Number 27 in November 1992.

Jennifer Juniper’ – a charity single for Shelter – by the Singing Corner meets Donovan (AKA comedy duo, Trevor and Simon, and *THE* Donovan) also charted, peaking at Number 68 in November 1990.

Meanwhile, Sarah Greene’s only single, ‘Eeny Meenie’, flopped in 1983. Both of those releases had some interesting ideas, but were nothing more than short-lived curiosities.

And there was also Peter Simon, the presenter of game show segments ‘Double Dare’ and ‘Run The Risk’. Incidentally, Shane Richie, who was Simon’s first co-presenter on ‘Run The Risk’, had a Number 2 hit with ‘I’m Your Man’ in November 2003.

The concept of Peter Simon covering 1910 Fruitgum Company’s ‘Simon Says’ sounds ludicrous enough to work, but it also seems well suited to his affable personality. After all, he manages to make the shopping channel, Bid, look entertaining.

Unfortunately, though, the reality of this cover version leaves an unpleasant taste.

Although it is faithful to the original – with the exception of Simon’s troubled Poochie-esque rap – it still ends up being the musical equivalent of Bombalurina covering a Black Lace song.

The backing track is like a dentist’s drill being inserted into your brain, but it’s Simon’s complete disregard for dignity that is most concerning.

The song’s strong whiff of cheese is excusable, but it also sounds nonsensical and hideously puerile to the extent that it makes Roland Rat Superstar’s ‘Rat Rapping’ sound as deep and meaningful as Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’.

‘Simon Says’ is simply inadequate in every single department.

This is, without a doubt, Peter Simon’s lowest moment. It’s even worse than ‘Star Pets’, which says it all.

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This review was self-published in September 2013.

Non-web sources

Roberts, D. (ed) (2005) The Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles & Albums. 18th edition. London: Guinness World Records.

Staunton, T. (1990) Boys Keep Swinging. New Musical Express, Saturday November 24 1990, p.32.

The Official Charts Company et al (eds) (2009) The Virgin Book of Top 40 Charts. London: Virgin Books.

Video interview: SYCIL (September 2013)

In this video interview, Kim Nightingale, SYCIL’s [South Yorkshire Centre for Inclusive Living] Support Worker, discusses how Rotherham Community Transport‘s services have helped to improve the well-being of her clients.

A version of this interview was shown at Rotherham Community Transport’s management group meeting on Wednesday 18 September 2013.

Many thanks to Stephen Hewitson for co-conducting the interview.

Video interview: SYCIL (September 2013) from Chris Ledger on Vimeo.