Friday, 17 August 2018

Printer Jam [Review: Hotel Artemis]

Hotel Artemis is a noir-ish crime thriller movie based around a concept - the secret hospital for criminals of the near future, a location - the art-nouveau-d├ęcor hotel that hides the hospital, and a character - the enigmatic Nurse (Jodie Foster). The Nurse runs the hospital, sees to the patients, supervises the surgical robots and enforces the hospital rules with only her one faithful orderly Everest (Dave Bautista) for backup.

The rules of this rather unusual establishment appear on a poster in the hallway. The first rule is "While on the premises, no fighting with or killing other patients" which seems pretty reasonable. Despite the rules there is a healthy amount of bloody violence throughout the film. 

Of course, whenever a movie spells out a set of rules, you can expect that someone is going to try to break them. Imagine how much shorter Gremlins would have been if no-one had fed them after midnight... in any case, this is a hospital that caters exclusively to rule-breakers so it's a little overoptimistic to expect them to play nice.

In terms of zeitgeist Hotel Artemis is right on the money with subplots revolving around 3D-printed organs and other items. This is only the near future so 3D printing is still a flawed technology. There is one scene where a printer jams - you will remember this scene.

I have little to criticise and there are a lot of good things about this movie. The atmospheric setting and Jodie Foster's performance stand out particularly. The plot is slightly confused - instead of a single plot driving the whole film, there are three intertwined subplots involving different cast groups, each with different themes although all revolve around Jeff Goldblum's crime boss in some way. Also the dialogue varies - sometimes genius, sometimes a bit melodramatic. However I enjoyed this film from start to finish and would highly recommend it.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

BASICally speaking

A long time ago, before blogging was a thing, the Sci-Fi Gene has fond memories of learning to program on an early home computer, the BBC Model B. My efforts were written mainly in BASIC IV, with only a few very minor excursions into machine code. They were stored on C90 cassettes and later on 5" floppy disks - buying the double-sided disk drive was a major life event.

Most of my games and other programming experiments would be of interest only to myself. However one or two made it to the pages of user magazines and their monthly giveaway disks, and a few appeared on public domain lists. I was recently surprised to find that some of these games have been preserved at the Complete BBC Games Archive here - where they are playable online!

I present the games here not because they're particularly good - they're not, they're basic, derivative and barely playable - but because they're part of my journey and experience of the digital world, and because as a geeky teenager I learned a lot by writing them. The challenge of cramming a game into such limited memory (32K, minus anything from 1K to 20K for screen memory) and the limited graphics meant you had to try to be creative.

"Break Down"

"Supersonic Snail Racing"


"Telephone Mania"

"Space Detective" (apparently, in the future the word "apartment" is spelled differently)

"Wallaby Wrestling Federation"
Please note that no simulated wallabies were harmed in the making of this game.

Over the years I've experimented with other programming languages including Inform, C and Python as well as other BASIC-based languages including Scratch. I've come to realise two facts: firstly, I'm never going to be the next David Braben, and secondly, my brain's native language appears to be BASIC.

With thanks to the BBC Games Archive, and all who are responsible for maintaining it.

My games are playable here. Thank you for joining me on this pleasantly indulgent trip to nostalgiopia.

You can reach the main archive here. It's an extraordinary collection of full commercial releases - including classics such as Elite and Exile - as well as magazine giveaways, indie and amateur efforts such as my own, and, amazingly, games that are still being written for the Beeb right now.