The Magic of Life

I’m friends with a lot of writers and I have to say, that in general, I really like to spend my time and form bonds with people who write. Don’t get me wrong, some of my very best friends are non-writers and my relationships with them are no less valuable, but there’s a distinct quality in writers that I like very much indeed.

The distinct quality I am referring to, is the ability of writer’s to see the magic of life. And I know what you’re thinking: what a load of cliched nonsense. What am I? An inspirational quote on Facebook followed by ‘share if you agree’? And as much as it is a bit cheesy and not something which is true in all cases, it is something that I’ve observed in a number of people.

I find that writers are more likely to appreciate the beauty and poetry of places and situations. They tend to appreciate sentimentality – especially when I find creative ways to express it, which is good because I love doing that. Social events with writers are ‘adventures’ and they tend to make sure that you share unique experiences with them – they tend to make nice gestures too. You also have the unique opportunity of seeing how their minds and thoughts work, when you get to read some of what they have written.

The fact that they see the magic of life, helps me to see the magic of life too and I feel like it’s two parts of a circuit; I am a writer myself, after all. I think when we come together, we bring out the creativity in one another, provide each other with the opportunity to bounce ideas around and really let our ‘writer’ personas let loose. Writers are wonderful and I’m glad to know so many of them.

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Sonic the Hedgehog reviews:

The many adventures of Sega’s iconic platforming mascot.
YearGameScore
1991Sonic the Hedgehog5.9/10
1992Sonic the Hedgehog 28.1/10
1993Sonic the Hedgehog CD8.5/10
1994Sonic 3 & Knuckles9/10
1998Sonic Adventure8.9/10
2001Sonic Adventure 28.7/10
2003Sonic Heroes6/10
2006Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic 06)6/10
2007Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games5.7/10
2008Super Smash Bros. Brawl ¹9.5/10
2008Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood7/10
2010Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing9/10
2013Sonic Dash8.2/10
20133D Sonic the Hedgehog8.9/10
2014Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS ²8.9/10
2014Puzzle Swap ³7/10
2015Sonic Runners8.7/10
2015Super Mario Maker9.4/10

Connected Series:

Footnotes:

  1. Sonic is a playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  2. Sonic is a playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  3. Sonic characters appear in a puzzle based on the series.
  4. Sonic is a playable character via Mystery Mushroom.
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Me Then vs. Me Now

This blog recently passed it’s eighth anniversary and I had a retrospective blog post planned to mark the occasion… But then I forgot. I don’t want to wait until May 2020 to write this post, so I’m just writing it a little past the milestone.

What’s quite nice for me is to reflect upon how I’ve changed since I started this blog. Here’s a few positive comparisons:

  • Back then my writing style was much weaker, but now it’s strengthened significantly due to eight years of regular writing. You just need to look at some of my earlier posts to see the improvement.
  • Back then I hated meeting in groups and would often experience social anxiety when in such situations, but now social anxiety almost never effects me at all.
  • Back then I was underweight, now I am a healthy weight.
  • Back then I had only a very small number of friends, now I have had the opportunity to form close bonds with a number of people across the country.
  • Back then I had never written professionally, now I have very many times.
  • Back then I had no university education, now I have a 2:1 Creative Writing BA.
  • Back then I had no real professional experience whatsoever, now I have a five year career in digital marketing.
  • Back then I had never met any of the cast of The Waltons, now I’ve met two!
  • Back then I had never had a friend round for a sleepover – now I have twice!
  • Back then I used to have negative attitudes about sex and the human body – now I have healthy and positive perspectives.
  • Back then I had never been to Nando’s, now I’ve been very many times.
  • Back then I didn’t have a blog, but now I have one I’ve been updating regularly for eight years.

There are so many wonderful changes which have occurred in the last eight years. I thought I’d stop the list there because I had probably covered enough points already, but there’s so much more I could have said. It makes me excited about what I’ll have to reflect on in eight years on my blog’s sixteenth anniversary….

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Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games

Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog are two of the biggest icons in gaming history and, for a long time, had been rivals too. As the gaming landscape changed, Sega and Nintendo stopped working against one another and started to build a more collaborative relationship and eventually a game featuring both of these franchises coming together was possible.

But as much as Mario and Sonic meeting one another was highly anticipated, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that they’d first meet on the fields of the 2008 Beijing Olympics – but that’s what happened. I remember when I first saw some screen shots in a magazine and I genuinely thought that it was a joke. It was so absurd that I didn’t believe it could be real – but of course it was.

Essentially, the whole game is based around using the Wii Remote to play Olympic games as characters from both the Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog series. They’re mostly pretty realistic and have very few fantastical elements. Using the Wii Remote so much actually gets a bit tiring sometimes – it also is a bit annoying where certain movements don’t work properly. Sometimes no matter how hard I waggle, my character won’t run fast enough.

The controls in generally aren’t that great. Sometimes I just shake the Wii Remote to make them move (like in running or swimming) and other times I swipe it downwards to throw (e.g. a javelin) or upwards to jump (e.g. long jump). It doesn’t feel like there’s any skill or technique to these things – sometimes it works and you win, sometimes it doesn’t and you lose. The skeet event felt ridiculously hard to get right as well.

Some events make use of the more interesting elements of the Mario & Sonic universes. My favourite of these is Dream Race, which is essentially a footrace version of Mario Kart – the problem is that there’s only one track. I also enjoyed Dream Platform, which had you diving through the sky and collecting items and rings. Both were fun, but pretty basic.

In any of the events, you can play as either Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Peach, Daisy, Wario, Waluigi, Bower, Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Blaze, Vector, Shadow and Eggman – it’s a nice selection (though I was a little sad that Donkey Kong was not present) and this is really why I play the game. I love watching these strangely proportioned characters take part in realistic Olympic events. Watching Bowser or Wario sprinting and jumping over hurdles is hilarious – as is watching Eggman propel his body through the air for the high jump. Because of his awkward body shape, I actually think I love being Eggman the most. But if it wasn’t for these beloved characters, I wouldn’t be all that interested in this otherwise mediocre game.

Basically, this is just some Olympic events playable with the Wii Remote with some popular characters pasted onto it. I really like the idea that the Olympics bring people together and that’s why Mario and Sonic are playing together after all these years – but that’s all it is, a nice idea. I played until I had unlocked and played every event, but honestly you will probably get bored after the first hour or so. You never unlock anything that good (other than Dream Platform). It could have been a lot better and I love what they were trying to do, but I can’t really recommend this too highly. I wish we got to see more interactions between the characters, I wish there had been more overall substances to it. I wish the loading screens weren’t so slow and so frequent. I wish there wasn’t so much untapped potential in this game…

Rating: 5.7/10

Buy it here.

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The Curse of the Picnics

Back in 2011, I started making plans for a picnic with some classmates, but it never came to be and before I knew it they’d all left school and arranging it was impossible.

Back in 2013, my friend Stacey and I had made some plans to have a picnic. Sadly, the two of us had a falling out shortly after – we had completely made up a couple of months later, but the picnic never came to be.

Back in 2014, my friends Chloe, Oscar and Sophie had formed rough plans to have a picnic. It was summer and we were coming to the end of our time at university. I was excited for it. Alas, it got pushed back a few times and before long it was impossible because I was out of university with no money and not seeing any of them regularly.

Back in 2016, I spoke to my friend and colleague Sarah about having a picnic with her and a couple of others. She was enthusiastic and I was excited. Shortly after, Sarah ceased to be my colleague and then, as we saw each other less regularly, we were never able to properly solidify the picnic plan.

Back in 2018, I was working in a call centre. I’d formed a rough social circle out of my colleagues there and together we made plans for some things we could do. One of which was a picnic – but it never happened, because soon I (and several of them) left. I said as soon as it came up, however, that it would never come to fruition. I knew then that I was cursed never to attend a picnic.

This year (2019, for those reading in the future) my friend and colleague Kat suggested having a picnic. I said I was enthusiastic, but that I did not believe it would happen – picnics always got cancelled when I was involved in them. Sure enough, Kat and her family were struck down with a terrible virus for ever daring to suggest that I might join them for a picnic.

However, Kat was not to be deterred. A few months later, she tried to rearrange the picnic. I accepted the invitation, of course, but after an unfailing track record of eight years, I did not expect it to come to pass. Indeed, just one week before I was taken into A & E and Kat thought that the picnic curse had struck again – was there nothing that could be done?

Well, thankfully, I was feeling up to it after all and today I went to the picnic – my first ever! It was a delightful afternoon; I ate cake and got to come along with some children on a treasure hunt. I also found out about some unusual banging things called Fun Snaps. Wonderful.

The moral of the story is that you must never roll over to fatalism. If your goals seem hopeless or unattainable, worry not, for you, too, will eventually get your picnic.

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Sopham

My friend Sophie and I recently started playing the game Ever Oasis together. By using the word “together” I don’t mean to indicate that the game is multiplayer, rather we’re just playing independently at the same time. It’s a nice experience and a new one for me; I’ve never really played a game with somebody like that before.

Anyway, that’s not the main point of today’s blog post; interesting idea though it is. Instead, I wanted to document especially heartwarming exchange which came about as a result of this joint venture through the digital world of Ever Oasis!

One of the main characters in Ever Oasis is a water elemental named Esna. The main character meets her early on and then after a short while gives them a short speech about how they believe in them and that they’re a good person. All good and uplifting stuff and, to be honest, it reminded me somewhat of Sophie, because she often tells me similarly uplifting things about myself, they also used a few similar turns of phrase.

After playing for a few minutes and getting to a point where I could happily put my 3DS down without spoiling my journey through the plot, I picked up my phone to send Sophie a message to say that Esna had reminded me of her – only to find a message saying that she felt like Esna reminded her of me. I couldn’t help but smile. A sure sign, no doubt, of a positive and supportive relationship!

I joked that Esna perfectly represents what we can achieve if we work together and support one another: a powerful elemental capable of changing the world. Sopham was the name we decided on for that concept – and a very good concept it is, because the best friendships, I feel, should be all about bringing out the best in one another. Oh, also it works on another level because Esna is water and I like Trusty Water Bottles.

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Hospital(ity)

First of all, I’d like to acknowledge that I didn’t update this blog as I usually would have done on Monday. You see, I actually had a very hectic start to the week. In recent times, I have had certain health-related issues – nothing too serious, but on Tuesday I had a doctor’s appointment about it and, while there, it was decided I should go to A & E just to be completely safe. I then travelled up to the hospital in Bath and underwent a series of very invasive (and somewhat painful tests) and ended up staying there for quite a long time.

Sounds like a pretty horrible experience, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t. You know why? Well, the old saying goes that you find out who your true friends are when you really need them and, as it turns out, all of my friends are my true friends! Everyone of them came through for me.

The local doctor indicated that I’d need to quickly pop into A & E for a check, then be able to leave before long. But when I arrived, I was told that I might well have to stay the night! I wish I had been warned, as I would have brought a book or my Kindle or my Switch. I did have my 3DS, but before I knew it I was in a gown, in a bed and my 3DS was away in my trousers and I was told I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed. All I had were my yo-yo and my phone and the cannula inserted into my arm made yo-yoing quite painful.

So I used my phone and one nice thing I have is infinite texts, so I texted. I let my friends know that I was there and the outpouring of support was overwhelming. People were keeping my company through texts, offering to come and visit as soon as they could, offering to bring me clothes and food, offering to do anything I needed, offering sympathetic words, expressing concern, leaving nice voice mails.

It’s not that I didn’t think they cared about me before this, I knew that they did, but I just didn’t expect this much support. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve such loyalty and kindness, but it makes me realise that I am an incredibly fortunate person. I have a huge support network made up of all the best of humanity – with that in my life, I can overcome any problem. Any time a problem arises in the future, I’ll always remember the support I received on that day and know that I am not alone.

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Conker reviews:

The story of the child-friendly squirrel who went down a very dark path.
YearGameRating
1997Diddy Kong Racing ¹8.9/10
1999Conker’s Pocket Tales7.7/10
2001Conker’s Bad Fur Day9.8/10
2005Conker: Live & Reloaded9.5/10
2012Minecraft ²10/10

Parent Series:

Footnotes:

  1. Conker is a playable character.
  2. Characters from the series are playable in all console versions of the game.
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Speed of Eating

Once, long ago, I used to be a master of having dinner with people. Not at choosing the ideal location or at making perfect dinner conversation, but in the sense that I would always finish eating at the exact same time as them – no matter the different sizes between dishes. It was always nice to perfectly coordinate my eating speed with whoever I was with. Our minds were completely in-sync.

But over time, I lost the knack. My love of food was so intense,that I could not resist devouring it immediately. No matter who I was with, I would always finish first. Being taller, I have a bigger head and therefore a bigger mouth, so it seemed quite natural that I would finish first. I was quite happy with this, because I’d rather finish first and wait for the other person to finish than take ages and leave the other person waiting.

Though in recent times my speed of eating has changed once again: nowadays, I rarely finish before the people I eat with and so, sadly, they do have to wait for me. It feels weird to now be a slow eater after having been known as an exceptionally fast one for so long. Perhaps the pendulum will soon swing in the other direction and I’ll be fast again.

Why did it change? What factors contribute to the speed at which somebody eats something? Do I just talk more while I eat now? Giving me less opportunity to take bites? Who knows? It will always be one of life’s mysteries. I’ll never truly know what causes the ebs and flows of my eating speeds.

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Conker: Live & Reloaded

As a child, I wasn’t really aware of Rare being bought out by Microsoft. I didn’t keep up to date with big developments in the gaming world. This meant that when I saw Conker: Live & Reloaded in the shops, I was concerned to see Conker (who I thought of as a Nintendo character due to Diddy Kong Racing) appearing on an ‘enemy’ console.

Since then, my childish console war mentalities have faded and I’ve been able to enjoy games on all consoles; including this remake of Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Here are the changes, good and bad, that I noticed:

  • Visually everything has been enhanced. Instead of the old blocky Nintendo 64 art style, the whole game has a much more realistic aesthetic. I’m on the fence about this: on the one hand, it can be quite beautiful, especially with the improved lighting, but on the other, it feels a lot less colourful and loses the aspect of “Isn’t it strange for this children’s character in an N64 game to be in such extreme situations?” because it looks very different to the N64 classics.
  • The soundtrack has been enhanced and is now clearer. No arguments here, it’s a good improvement.
  • More swearing is bleeped than was the case previously. Some people are outraged at this censorship, others find it quite funny. Personally, I was just a bit annoyed that the odd sentence was harder to follow.
  • The controls have all been sharpened and improved. Again, no arguments, this was a good change.
  • More enemies have been arbitrarily added to some of the emptier areas. Killing them feels a bit like a pointless hoop to jump through.
  • A few characters have been redesigned. I think I like all of the new designs just about equally.
  • Sadly, there are now noticeable loading times when going to new areas which weren’t there originally.

You probably noticed that I didn’t mention anything about the new “Live” mode, but that’s because I felt it deserved more than a bullet point. Essentially, it’s a whole online multiplayer third-person shooter game of its own and, I believe, was originally intended to be the biggest selling point.

What I really appreciate about this is that, though it was an online game, Rare included an option to play with CPU controlled characters so that even those without access to Xbox Live could play and as that now includes everyone (as the original service has been discontinued) I’d call that good foresight!

I also like that a lot of effort has been made to add to the lore of Conker’s world. There are some really interesting military developments and storylines which stretch out into the far future. I love stuff like that. There’s a gritty little world that’s been created and I really enjoy exploring it while taking part in the shoot outs between furry animals.

What I don’t love, is the fact that the CPU players are terrible when they’re on your team. When you actually need them to cooperate with you in order to achieve a goal, you probably won’t be able to. In fact, I just gave up in the end and because of this reason. With humans, it could have been excellent, but the CPU is not smart enough.

Overall though, this is a pretty great remake. It adds a lot of good new content, though it does come at the cost of a few minor issues. What I did find, though, was that I felt much less emotionally invested in the story this time through. Was it just because it wasn’t ‘new’ to me anymore? I don’t know. I still recommend it, especially if its your first time, but I do think part of the story’s charm is how strange and unexpected it is, and knowing everything that happens makes it a little less fun, which means I’m going to give the game a slightly low score than the original.

Rating: 9.5/10

Buy it here.

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