Extreme Robots!

Note: I originally wrote this post in April, didn’t publish it for a bit, and then we had all of that awful stuff in Manchester, so it just didn’t seem right publishing it at the time.Imagine you’re reading this in April.

I’ve been in Manchester so much recently that I’m expecting to get a bill for Council tax. Well, OK, it was only twice in two weeks, but you know what I mean.

Second time around, it was to see “Extreme Robots”. I’ve been a fan of Robot Wars since it kicked off on the telly about 20 years ago. I’ve always wondered what it was like to see it up close and personal. Despite the show being revived, I’m guessing that getting tickets for the actual recording of the program is a nigh-on impossible task, seeing as filming only takes place over 4 days.

When “The person who must not be named’ noticed that a similar “touring” version had started up, I grabbed the tickets as fast as humanly possible (or I might have waited until pay day, I can’t remember). The days ticked by, and before we knew it, 22nd April was on us, and it was time to head to Manchester.

The weather gods had smiled upon us, and the journey was uneventful. There was, of course, a stop for a Maccy D’s somewhere down the road, in the strangest looking service station I think I’ve been in. It looked more like an office block than an actual service station.

Food was consumed, and we headed off in the general direction of the Trafford Centre. We knew that the arena was going to be around there somewhere, so it made sense to actually just go there instead of venturing into the city centre, and its hilarious traffic system.

I’ve been to the Trafford Centre a good few times now, and rarely ever buy anything. I must have been there 5 times, and I’ve bought a Pendulum CD and a coat.

On an entirely different side note, I’m listening to music on my phone. I was halfway through typing “Pendulum” when my phone chose the song I actually bought the CD for… “9,000 Miles”, off the CD “In Silico”. There was a 1 in 12,463 chance of that happening. Weird. Er, anyway. The Trafford Centre. It rally is one of the more “picturesque” shopping centres I’ve been to, with foliage and fountains everywhere. Unfortunately, this is shown in the cost of everything in the shops, hence why I don’t buy much.

Time was approaching to go and find this arena where Extreme Robots was on. Turned out it was about a quarter of a mile away, but due to “The Other Person’s” inability to negotiate roundabouts, we ended up going on a two-mile loop of the place.

Eventually we got there. I think it was about 45 minutes before the show started, but already there were queues. I’d paid the extra and got the VIP tickets, which meant we got a shiny VIP pass, express entry, decent seating, and a tour of the pits at the end.

The first thing you’ll notice, is that, compared to the Robot Wars arena, this one is TINY. The guy who sat in front of us had actually been to see Robot Wars being filmed (lucky sod), and said the arena was about a third of the size.

Still, all of the Robot Wars hazards were there… the pit, the floor fipper and flames. Except the flipper and flames never actually worked, much to the audience’s amusement when the presenter guy tried to show them off.

Despite the size of the arena, there were still some of the old Robot Wars favourites turned up. TR3, and Eruption, who made it to the RW Grand Final this year amongst the famous names.

Of course, as this is a touring version that goes on for a number of shows, and possibly due to the size of the arena, there isn’t quite the amount of destruction allowed than in RW itself, still the axes seem real enough

In between the main bouts, there were contests for smaller robots too – about 10 of them in the arena at the same time – basically just a melee. Or however it’s spelt. I don’t think anyone could actually follow what was happening.

And so, the main bouts. Not going to say who won, just in case it’s the same for every show (which I doubt), but there was one “amusing” robot, named “Donald Thump”. Unfortunately, this robot, despite is hilarious name, didn’t actually work. Maybe that was the joke, but I think there were three bouts where it didn’t even begin to get going.

Of course, there was then the pit tour. And that was great. I was able to get up close and personal to some of the very robots I’d been watching on Robot Wars only a week or two earlier.

Included in the VIP ticket was a trip around the pits after the show finished, where you get to see the robots (and the operators) up close and personal.

Overall, a very enjoyable few hours. It’s left me wanting to see the real Robot Wars being recorded though. Now *that* would be epic.

I forgot to write about a Youtube video…

If you’re reading this on Facebook, you might as well stop. Scroll down. Look at that post below this one, which is bound to be some bell-end spouting political bullshit, or a photo of some ugly kid, because I actually posted this on Facey B a few weeks ago, and entirely neglected to post it on here for both of my readers who don’t have facebook. Yes, it’s the video of the Hull trip, or more correctly, the hundred or so discs that I bought for a tenner.

I explain it all in the video. Enjoy, if you’ve not already seen it.

Repressed childhood memories #186

Picture if you will. The year is 1988. I sit in school, in Mrs. Dawson’s class, staring out of the window, paying very little to no attention to what is flowing from the afore-mentioned teachers’ mouth, instead he stars across the playground, watching two birds peck away at the remains of another dead bird, when all of a sudden, the classroom doors bang. It’s the caretaker, and behind him he’s pulling the school telly! Of course, it’s a Rumbelows one, on wheels. The class erupts with excitement as she pulls out an ancient VHS tape out of her desk drawer.

This will be the only time in the entire school day that the class will have her full undivided attention.

“If you’re good, I’ll let you hear the music”, she says, bribing the class into facing the front, as she struggles to get the sun visor across the top of the telly in place, as it collapses hilariously at least once. Of course, we’ll hear the music because Mrs Dawson only knew one button, and that was the Play button.

In goes the tape, and she presses play. There they are. For me, the highlight of computer animation at the time. Yes, four spinning ITV logos.

We could have been waiting for a programme on making cardboard boxes (to be honest, we probably were), but as long as I got to see (and hear) that, I was content.

These “Schools” TV shows were always broadcast in the morning, so when you were off poorly, it’d be a special treat to actually see that animation on your own telly. And, of course, I’d be sat there with the tape recorder, grabbing as much as I could.. Sometimes you’d get more of the track than before, as the gap in between each program was different

At the time, we thought that this music and countdown clock was there to help teachers queue the programme up for the class. While this may be partially right, there was also a much more mundane reason. These were the days before the national curriculum, and different areas were allowed to show different programmes, meaning that one region could show a 14-minute programme, and the rest of the country could be watching a 12-minute programme, so for that extra two minutes, the rest of the country will see an extra two minutes of the spinning ITVs while they wait for that region to catch up. On very rare occasions, they would play the full track, if there was an especially long wait between regions.

I remember getting this on audio tape, and I played it that much, the tape snapped. The music was surely lost to obscurity. This animation ran every school morning from 1987 until 1993. By then, the national curriculum was fully in place, and eventually there was no need for long breaks between programmes.

In 2002, I made a brief post about this animation and a site I’d discovered which had far too much technical detail about this. Sadly, the site no longer exists.

However, I did manage to find out who did the music. It was by someone named James Aldenham. Except it wasn’t, because that name was a pseudonym for Brian Bennett, the bloke out of The Shadows. It turns out that both of the pieces of music were released on CD, and due to their rarity, were stupidly expensive. They were on the “Music House” label.

“The Journey”, which is the long bit of music was released on “Atmosphere 12 MHA-!2)” and “Just a Minute”, unsurprisingly, the countdown clock music was on “That’s Entertainment (MHE-15)”

And, thanks to eBay, at under a fiver each, I have them both. Another part of my musical journey (pardon the pun) over.

EDIT 5/7/17: Here’s a little bit of extra information for those playing along at home. For the entirety of its run, both tracks were only ever aired in mono. During the initial introduction when the schools broadcast started for that day, the first minute of “The Journey” would always be played, before fading out to the clock. This recording was of a fixed length, and the audio was taken from the left channel track, and every other broadcast would be played from the right.

The reason for this, is that the left channel had slightly less instrumentation around the intro, so it could be made to sound more “peaceful” to start the day.

‘Running through Russia” is a joke of a game…

Or rather, it’s a “joke game”.

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a fan of Steam, the PC gaming “platform”, for want of a better word. I’ve made no secrets about it, leading to many a good long argument with old work colleagues (“DOWN WITH STEAM!”), however, there was one game that caught my eye, thanks to an article that popped up on some facebook group, and as you should have worked out by now, it’s name is “running through Russia”

Firstly, onto the gameplay…. Jump. Avoid bears. Collect bottles.

Secondly…. er, everything else. At the start, I mentioned it’s a joke game, because that’s exactly what it is, and the author actually states this in the opening screen. It feel like it’s been knocked up in half an hour, as the first tutorial in some really badly written game editor. No effort has been spared with this one.

Maybe it’s a two-fingers up at Steam’s policy on indie games or achievements, I don’t know, but it’ll be difficult to find a game where you unlock so many achievements (4,096 of them) for doing so little.

Every time you jump, (which is the whole premise of the game), you unlock an achievement. Jump 10 times, 10 achievements. as you can see from the screenshot above, they were streaming in. All you need to do is jump over 4,000 times, and you’ve unlocked the achievements.

The game has progressed since its initial release to add some “skill” element (collect 10 bottles in 1 run, etc). Not sure why these were added, as they’re also extremely easy, and if you do decide to play to unlock all of the achievements, you’ll inevitably get them anyway.

In conclusion…

Is it worth the 63p I paid for it? No.
Would I recommend buying it? Unless you like watching steam achievements pop up every second, no.
Do I feel like I’ve wasted 102 minutes of my life unlocking all of the achievements? Absolutely. But then, I spent 117 minutes of my life watching Ant-man at the pictures.

Goodbye Maplin (Teesside Park)… I hardly knew ye.

One of my favourite haunts for “tech stuff” is closing its doors very soon. In fact, assuming I finish and publish this post on 21st May, it’ll be “today”.

I’m not sure where to start with this post I’m sorry to see it go. I’ve bought so much stuff here over the years. My desk drawer is full of those little screwdrivers they sell at the counter, because they’re so cheap, and I’m always losing the little bits out of them, and whenever any work needs doing on my PC, I’m searching all over for *that* Philips bit that’ll undo that weird screw holding something in place.

My condolences go out to the staff, and the poor bugger who had to put this up in the window, sealing his fate. Rather like what happened to me back in 2012 when I (and my colleagues at the time) saw other people doing our work.

On a side note, there are absolutely no bargains to be had. There a re a couple of “50% Off” bins near the counter, containing weird shaped fluorescent tubes and ink cartridges, but nothing of any relevance.

I did intend to type a whole long rambling post about what I’ve bought in there over the years, but, quite frankly, I can’t be bothered. Any chain of stores that thinks it’s reasonable to charge £25 for a CD wallet doesn’t deserve my custom. There, I said it.

EDIT: As promised, and seeing as I’m at Teesside Park right now, snaffling free Wi-Fi, here it is. All closed down