Inside Pitch

Alex trades up to the Telegraph - Siggins trades up to the Independent!

OK, OK, so I said I wasn't going to speak to the media again. The mind was willing but the gob was weak, or something like that. I talked at length earlier this year to a very nice chap called John Windsor from The Independent who went on to produced a considered piece for the collecting section of the Saturday edition. The main topic was games as collectables and current gaming trends, so he touched on the Bloomfield Auction, a Mrs Lassalle who runs a little shop in Camden and Just Games latest hits. I was lucky enough to get a mention (Sumo was flatteringly described as the successor to Games and Puzzles!) and was quoted only slightly out of context (though all the figures were, umm, rather inflated). Thankfully, the overall effect was positive. Best of all, he kindly put the Sumo address at the end of the article.

So, if you are lucky enough to get your magazine plugged in a national newspaper, what is the response like? Drifts of letters, fan mail, autographer's wrist, extra admin staff taken on? No, not really. So far, nineteen new subscribers (welcome aboard), an offer to work on a TV series and to provide a book to go with it. This sounds fairly impressive, but it needs to be kept in perspective - everything is in the very early stages, I have grave doubts over selling the concept to a station (it's red-rimmed specs next for me) and I really don't know if I have the time to do it justice. But we shall see.

At long last, my department has let me loose on a proper laser printer. Having saved our pennies by cutting back on salaries, perks, staff and other niceties (me, bitter?), we have been able to grab a spare HP Laserjet II with a few miles on the clock for a book value of £140. Sickening isn't it? Either way, I get to use it for gamekits, Sumo, titling and even the occasional schedule or report for work. The output is impressive and speed is acceptable - I'll be spending a few lunchtimes and evenings seeing what else I can get out of it but I'll continue to print Sumo at home for the time being. This is based partly on the horrific experience I had setting it up without a manual (and I think I know a bit about printer protocols). Whatever, we've cracked it now and I am building up the courage to tackle proportional spaced fonts.

I spent a fascinating evening recently at the inaugural auction of Paul Oakes' Maxwell (or Fantasy, or Gonzo) Soccer league. Most people, including the designer, seem at a loss for what to call it; I would have termed it Rotisserie Soccer until several late rules amendments moved it from a system where you buy players consistent in their goalscoring or defensive prowess to one in which they have to perform well on a Saturday late in the season. But this doesn't matter as it was still fun to be given a nominal £20m to spend on a squad of players from the First Division and to compete for the 'best' players with a bunch of drunken cynics.

On the night, I gained a deserved reputation for high spending which was a result of my 'quality, not quantity' policy. I'm not sure how effective this was as I ended up with Schmiechl, Pearce, Walker, Blackmore, Curle, Nicol, McManaman, LeSaux, Beardsley, Shearer, Giggs and Walsh, taking advantage of some valuable assistance, but not as much as I'd thought, from the experts present. The slight hitch here is that I have no money left and no bench to speak of, but it is a short trial run and I won't be quite so profligate in the real thing.

Whether by design or luck, the combination of half a dozen managers and £20m spending money produced pretty accurate transfer fee levels in the main. Predictably, with goals gaining victory points, Lineker went for the high of £3.05m. I think I paid second highest at £2.9m for Stuart Pearce (valuable as a goalscoring defender, but possibly not that valuable!) and Schmiechl was the most expensive keeper at £2.5m. Suffice to say, Sporting Sumo ended up with a salary bill to rival the Oakland A's or Manchester United.

Like all these things, especially Gonzo Baseball before it, I play to enhance my interest in the subject matter and hope to come somewhere above bottom while taking a laissez-faire stance on trading and managing - a man of simple tastes really. Having discussed the event and idea at length, I already have three or four friends very interested in full season play, but I guess this depends on whether Paul can cope with running the thing. My feeling is that it might be a lot of work, and that it will be simplified in the future, but we shall see. The rules (hidden among the pithy soccer observations) are well thought out, the trading rules allow virtually anything and it all seems to have just clicked into place. I would have thought this could easily be commercial, but I guess it may already be out there somewhere - I seem to recall Alan Parr being involved in something similar.

Still on soccer, a long shot: I don't suppose anyone out there is collecting, or has children who are collecting, the ProSet soccer cards? I desperately need a few swaps! Back when I was a lad and collected Mexico '70 stickers, if you just couldn't get hold of the Roger Hunt or Rivelino cards you could send off to the publishers who would gladly sell you the necessary to complete your much- thumbed sticker book. Nowadays, ProSet don't seem to offer this common courtesy and in consequence I am left with a rather unbalanced set, severely short of some players, heavily long of others. If I am to form anything like a set for the game I'm working on, I need some help please. One day, I'll grow up, I promise.

Following on from the computer strategy game piece last time, I have a new candidate for stardom. Lemmings has been raved about by just about every magazine (which often gives the game away) and when I saw it for a mere tenner at the Commodore show, I snapped it up. I have mixed feelings about it now - it is a truly great game, but it has taken hours to play and now we are stuck and just can't get any further!

The idea is simple enough; a number of lemmings drop through a trapdoor in the sky and fall straight into a platform game puzzle from which you have to extricate a specified number. Having done this, you move onto the next level which, broadly speaking, is tougher. The difficulty arises in that lemmings are pretty dumb and just keep walking, bouncing off walls, careering into rotating scythes, falling off edges into lava and so on. They die in various horrible ways, but falling off a cliff does them the least good. To prevent this, you can bestow a power on each Lemming to make him a climber, parachutist, blocker, digger or ladder builder among others. Most spectacular of these is the ability to convert a lemming into a human bomb, which explodes making a large hole in the scenery. Using these useful but strictly limited talents, one attempts to route the rest of the lemmings through the various obstructions to safety at the exit. The result is compulsive.

Almost everything about the game is impressive; great graphics, very humorous, just the right level of difficulty and, best of all, one watches in wonder at the programming and creative skill on offer. I have just one minor carp which is that a few levels, and they become more common as the game progresses, require hand-eye skill as well as problem solving - unavoidable I guess, but a pain for someone without manual dexterity. The Lemmings themselves are cute, despite being a few pixels high, and they take on quite a character all of their own after a few of the 120 odd levels. We've (I usually play with a friend so we can swap theories) completed about 60 of these and are now stuck in a seemingly impossible level. The solution may come to use, but at the moment we have given up which is a shame. Lemmings is available for most computers; I'd suggest you give it a try.

What can you say about the Christmas TV? Very pooer, Vic, very pooer. Just two French films (two! I pay my licence fee, etc), a pile of repeats and only Stakeout, Henry V, Tom Waits, the Fassbinder and two hours of top class computer animation to list as highlights. Oh, and the fascinating Richard Dawkins on the Christmas Lectures managing to neatly dodge most of the creationist debate while discussing evolution. Very impressive. These scientific types are always more understandable and interesting when they speak or write for intelligent teenagers rather than the incredibly varied adult audience. Anyway, at least we now have the classy Whose Line back and some re-runs of the Lycra advert to keep the standards up.

Whatever, it was a good job I got Akira on video for Christmas (from me, of course) as I am left with nothing much else but pleasant memories of the excellent Have I got News for You? (Hatrick Productions are on route to world domination, I gather) and Signs of the Times, the latter being the most compulsive piece of television for a long while. Totally neutral, it let the 'stars' get on with condemning themselves on the subject of style around the house. I was reminded most of numerous Victoria Wood sketches and the Creature Comforts ads but unlike the parodies, these people were for real. Interestingly, I liked just two interiors in the whole series, one of which was the minimalist trendy with the big hifi speakers and the Nakamichi deck. Wheel on the psychoanalysts! Brilliant.

I made a firm point of sitting down over Christmas to read some books I've been meaning to tackle for ages. Thanks to the lousy television, this proved to be no problem and I worked my way through about a dozen, which act pleased me greatly even if all the books didn't.

A major disappoinment was David Lodge's Paradise News, famous as one of the loss-leader books in the NBA busting campaign, which surely gets the vote for the Damp Squib of 1991. Paradise News is a book about characters, first love and Hawaii but whereas Lodge used to be able to merge such things into a fresh and often humorous plot, that ability seems to have left him. Nice Work was more a scenario than a storyline worthy of a novel, Paradise News is worse. Nothing much really happens, and as with Nice Work, the first half of the book is full of oh so smug descriptions and precious little meat. It seems quite apparent to me that Lodge has been to Hawaii (the observations are accurate) and decided, yes, that would make a good few pages worth. As usual, the odd brilliant line is in there, but these are now much rarer and are easily lost among pages of predictable and uninspiring prose. The crunching shifts from humour to tragedy of the early books have completely gone. Whatever happened to the Lodge of Small World and British Museum? Who knows. We are left with the literary equivalent of A la Carte - light and unsatisfying.

Easily one of the better books, though possibly rather localised in interest, was the Times Atlas of London which is well up to the standard of the other Times books and which taught me more than I should admit about the city in which I live and work. A great reference book. Next up was Alan Parr's new book on math related games which was a good read, even if someone has done something very odd with the punctuation and layout. I also enjoyed the Sackville Dictionary of Athletics (currently remaindered) which gives a handy profile of all those Metric Milers and Long Distance Doublers you've never heard of (except Dave Wottle - Heresy!), and Maltin's Film and Video guide is probably the best seven or eight quid I've spent for a while. Keep it next to your Time Out volume and start your log fire with the Halliwell. Maltin gets the Sumo nod despite being noticeably weak on European films and giving only 7 out of 8 to Hannah and her Sisters!

Book of the Month is The Money Culture, Michael Lewis's follow up to the excellent Liar's Poker reviewed in Sumo a while back. Not a single theme book like Poker, this one is little more than a collection of shorts on the subject of the financial markets, the money made in them and, to a lesser extent, how it got spent. But what a collection - witty, observant and analysis and theories that you only dream of. Recommended for the stripey shirt brigade, of which I count myself a member.

I met a friend in town over Christmas and, having spent a small fortune venting our aggression on Terminator II in the arcades, we went to see, for want of something he hadn't seen, The Addams Family. Not great, but funny in parts and severely slick - everyone is well suited to their roles, especially Fester, but really not worth the seven quid now asked of us by Mr Odious Odeon. The next week, I got to see Bill & Ted II while in a slightly inebriated state which can only have enhanced my enjoyment of this nutty film. Most Esteemed! Totally Bodacious! As seems to be traditional, one is obliged to use each and every one of the hairy duo's phrases in any review, article or even mention of the film. Or perhaps not. I gather I missed some jokes having not seen the first film for reference, but if I missed some it must be an even better movie than I thought it was. It was most non-heinous, to coin a phrase, and grabs film of the month honours in a month where thanks to work and Christmas celebrations, I got to see just two films. Pathetic, Siggins.

Musical intake is a bit weird at present. Heavy abuse has been dished out to the Pet Shop Boy's Discography, Michael Jackson's Black & White remixes (the album is crap), Mariah Carey's Emotions (yes, I know), the Rhythm Divine compilations (70s & 80s disco!), Kenny Thomas' Voices and my old Festive 50, Billy Bragg, Smiths and Nine Below Zero tapes have been out in force. In addition, I had a little phase of Marriner's Water Music over Christmas. I don't pretend to understand all this, I just listen to it!

I have purposely kept Inside Pitch 'short' this time because I can feel the rest of Sumo growing towards that 'orrible sixty page mark again, despite having aimed for forty - you lot writing reams doesn't help! Back to normal next time, I hope. Don't forget the Manchester Boardgame Auction on March 7th (address as last year) and if anyone has a copy of Stockmarket Specialist for sale or knows where to get one, please drop me a line.

On to Letters or back to the Bloomfield Auction.

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