Steamworld Dig

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The game’s ‘overworld’, a Western-style town with shops and chatty inhabitants

Hey, I finished a computer game! That only happens like once a year or so.

I’ve had Steamworld Dig on my 2Ds for a few years now, I think*, and for a while I just chipped away at it. It’s the kind of game that you can just pick up and bash through a bit of here and there.

* Just checked and I purchased the game in June 2017

The problem is, there’s also a nice, steady levelling up and learning curve of sorts, and the game really rewards playing it in longer periods – or many short periods in quick succession. Mainly I was leaving the sessions too few and far between that I’d pick it up, move the characted round for a bit and ask myself “right, what am I meant to be doing again?”

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The mine is where you’ll spend most of your time

This time I started a new savegame, and managed to bash through the whole thing in something like 8.5 hours. A decent length. A similar length, in fact, to two other games I’ve actually gotten round to completing – Attack of the Friday Monsters (also on 2/3DS) and Firewatch (on PC, and a game that spawned in me an obsession with fire lookout towers). Anything longer than that and I might not bother. Apart from Zelda: Breath of the Wild, of course, which I am currently 60 or so hours into and never want to end.

Steamworld Dig is made with so much charm that in many ways I also didn’t want it to stop. I had to do a bit of Googling to check if the levels were static or procedurally/randomly generated – if so, the game would be effectively infinite, but I suppose might have introduced game-breaking conditions unless very carefully designed. And so, very carefully designed it was, and all the better for it.

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As you go deeper, the environment, music and critters change

The artwork is lovely, the soundtrack, though slightly repetitive, is wonderful, and the effects are perfect. It rewards playing with headphones. The graphics, incidentally, work well on various systems. The screenshots here are from either PC or games consoles I think. The 2/3DS version, despite much lower resolution, retains the charm, but benefits from the second screen which displays a minimap and the contents of your satchel.

The game’s design in terms of the various teleporting, levelling up and general progression are handled in such a way that it feels slick and enjoyable. It makes it a great game to chuck in your bag and pull out on the bus for a few minutes. The player is never left frustrated at something taking too long – any actual tension or frustration is purely from the game’s tricky puzzles, none of which are particularly difficult.

Even the final boss is enjoyable in its systematic nature and although it’s tricky and took me a few goes, I managed it in one sitting – in the bath, no less – and felt a great sense of elation upon completing it. Pride and relief, partly, but also the satisfaction at having beaten a boss that felt challenging but in an understandable and fair way.

And so, the game ended, the narrative hinted at a sequel which I am very happy to have already downloaded and am keen to begin, and the credits rolled. And I was able to enjoy the satisfaction at completing what was already a very satisfying game.

Onwards, to Steamworld Dig 2!

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September

It’s September. There’s a chill in the air, but the sun is still shining. Autumn is coming. Which is fine! I’ve had a good summer, with plenty of days out walking, cycling or (sometimes) running, and a good number of nights in rented cottages, AirBnBs or in a tent. But the transition periods between seasons can be great if only because they’re tangible and visceral.

When September hits – and with a partner who teaches, this is a more pronounced sensation – it feels like there should be time to wrap up summer thoughts, as though there’s a sudden overnight flip, new-year-style. And there can be, I suppose, but really it feels like there should suddenly be extra time in the evenings to edit photographs and reflect and maybe write about adventures. But perhaps I’m being premature – maybe I need to wait till the clocks go back (railway tracks!) and do all that stuff then? Memories will have faded some more, but if it means a nice photobook (or magazine?) turns up some time in late autumn or actualy winter, that might be no bad thing. Just as long as it turns up at all.

I’m reading a bit more at the moment – as in books (I generally read articles and tabs I’ve sent to my Kindle, but books less frequently) – and I feel like later this year I might finally tackle the Flying Nun book Roger Shepherd wrote a few years back. I’ve had it for nearly two years now, a much-asked-for Christmas present that I’ve still not started!

I keep thinking autumn/winter is the right time to read the book (and bathe in that music) because often when I listen to NZ music from that era I think of grey, dreary Dunedin/Christchurch streets and drafty flats and cosy student radio station studios and curly hair and wooly jumpers and four track tape recorders and touring in a shit van and all this stuff. And so I end up with this temporal inversion where I associate NZ music with that wintry vibe, and yet I need to experience it when I myself am experiencing winter – which is, of course, when NZ is experiencing its summer.

The change in the seasons is often – or was more often, a few years ago – the time I’d choose to tune into 95bFM (Auckland) or Radio One (Dunedin) to get a sense of life there, such as it’s possible to do so. I’d love, on a grey winter’s evening in the UK, to hear the next morning’s breakfast show where they chat about the decent weather, the surf report, or what bands were touring NZ – the excitement of a big ticket band who only comes to NZ once a decade, or some local heroes doing yet another thirteen-date tour playing basically every town big enough to sustain a venue.

Conversely, I also liked now and then to tune in to a mid-winter broadcast while the sun shines here, as I often associate those wintry times (as above)  with where all the great NZ indie music comes from – the somewhat romantic image of a band or musician holed up against the cold, writing and recording, with some new stuff to debut when the sun finally comes out again.

In the meantime, I’m rattling through Sylvain Tesson’s Consolations of the Forest, which has landed on my Kindle through a happy accident of reading American nature writing with a focus on national parks, fire towers and so on, as well as John Lewis-Stempel’s lovely The Wood.

Tesson’s book is sometimes an amalgamation of those books, and it’s always nice when a book just sort of slots in neatly like that. I guess that’s why I always have about a hundred books I want to read, so that when the mood takes me I can dip into ‘the right one’ and follow the wave a bit further. It’s also written as a sort of diary crossed with a commonplace book (much like Lewis-Stempel’s), which obviously appeals to me.

On a related note, I had the joy of visiting Barter Books in Alnwick this summer. It’s a huge second hand bookshop – possibly the largest in the country? – housed in an old railway station. It also has a very decent cafe and food, and plenty of places to sit amongst the stacks. And model railway trains rolling round some ceiling-mounted tracks.

It’s a treat.

It also has lots and lots of books, and they all tend to be quite nice copies, rather than just stuff shovelled onto the shelves. I looked forward to the prospect of searching through the shelves, which are pretty well sorted by subject, but was pleased – initially – to find they have an online catalogue.

On the one hand this was great as when one has only a short time to visit a shop like this, it’s good to search for a few of those hard-to-find items.

But on the other hand, it removes some of the joy of searching through the stacks. But it’s still worth doing that because you’re bound to discover something you didn’t know you were looking for. So actually I suppose it’s the best of both worlds.

I ended up buying one book which was sort of on the periphery of my American nature writing / national parks reading list.

The second edition of my book ‘Charles Paget Wade Before Snowshill’ is now available

The short version is: my book Charles Paget Wade Before Snowshill is now available on Kindle and paperback as an expanded second edition.

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The slightly longer version is as follows.

Three years ago I wrote and published a small book about Charles Paget Wade, a man I came across in my studies of the history of Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Wade worked with Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker to design some of the Suburb’s most significant buildings, including the Great Wall which seperates ‘town’ and ‘country’ where the Suburb meets Hampstead Heath, and the Club House with its great tower, sadly lost to bombing in the Second World War.

Charles Wade’s career as an architect was, however, short lived.

He is now best known for his collection of interesting objects that fill Snowshill Manor, a National Trust property. But as well as collecting items of beauty and great craftsmanship, Wade was himself a highly skilled craftsfman, artist, illustrator and draughtsman.

I was captivated by Wade, and wanted to know more about him. I wrote about him in this blog, and I visited Snowshill Manor, (it’s been far too long since my last visit!), and more recently I wrote about some of Wade’s paintings of my home town of Amersham.

Three years ago, along with the publication of my book, I led a walking tour around Hampstead Garden Suburb in an attempt to cover Charles Paget Wade’s early life as an architect and his work on Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Fast forward to this summer and I was bitten by the bug to refresh my book with a new, expanded edition containing some more details I had come across in the meantime. I was also invited by the Proms at St Jude’s team to do another walk on Wade, and this inevitably led to me finding myself immersed in his life work once more.

There are a few other books about Charles Wade which cover the subject of his restoration of, and the collection held at, Snowshill Manor, but my intention has always been to shed a little bit more light on Wade’s life before Snowshill: touching on his childhood, his education and qualification as an architect, and his life in Hampstead Garden Suburb both professional and social.

In particular, I have always found it so interesting that despite only working on Suburb architecture for four years, he actually lived on the Suburb for more than ten years. And a number of the hobbies he picked up and nurtured while living on the Suburb would serve as an introduction to the magical world he would go on to create at Snowshill.

I had always wanted to expand on the text of my book on Wade, and to slightly alter the format of the paperback, and I am thrilled to have the use of a photograph from the collection of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Archives Trust which I think makes for a great cover image for this new, expanded edition.

In the process of researching this second edition, I visited Gloucestershire Archives again, as well as paying a couple more visits to the London Metropolitan Archives, which meant I was able to breathe some more life into the descriptions of the documents held there and to better decipher the clues they gave me about the man himself.

The staff at both these institutions were very obliging, and I must thank those at Gloucestershire Archives particularly for their assistance in identifying which packs and bundles of documents contained what items. It can be quite nerve-wracking only giving yourself a few hours at an archive to pore over hundreds of documents, but their help and assistance meant I got through everything I hoped to see with no added time pressures.

I’m also grateful to the curators of the RIBA’s Drawing and Archives Collection, and in particular to Lauren Alderton who kindly helped me get access to Wade’s RIBA nomination papers, as well as those of his mentors, which filled in some interesting and crucial biographical gaps about his transition from student to qualified architect.

I should also thank my partner Megan for putting up with me, particularly over the last few months, wittering on about Wade, my walking tour, and this book. It’s nice to have finally finished it.

It was always going to be tricky going in and expanding a ‘finished’ text, in much the same way as a first draft being much easier to bash out than to go back and edit. I had to pick apart my original text and insert new sections and details in a way which, I hope, is seemless to the reader. But I had been itching to add new details which had come to light in my studies of Wade and his career and life, so I knew I would have to scratch that itch and finally produce a new second edition. So that’s what I have done.

Charles Paget Wade Before Snowshill, the expanded second edition, is available now through Amazon in various territories as a Kindle book or in a neat A5 paperback format.

Eventide Island or, Dumb Ways to Die

I do wish it was even easier to take screenshots on the Wii U, but here we are.

My love for THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD continues in leaps and bounds, and I recently found myself on a quest chain reaction which began when I noticed a far-off island which I had tried and failed to paraglide over to from a high cliff. (Paragliding takes stamina, which regenerates over time and has a limit which can be incrementally increased.) Because the distance was too far to do it in one go*, I decided I must cook some meals with ingredients that give stamina boosts.

* This, in a nutshell, is BOTW’s very subtle and very clever system of ‘blocking off’ certain areas – it doesn’t actually block you from doing anything, really – you can just tackle any terrain or monsters with whatever you have on hand before figuring out for yourself that to do it properly you’ll need more of X or Y.

So I went off to do some cooking, and I specifically looked for ingredients on my way that would give me stamina boosts. This probably in turn led me to spotting something else and going off to investigate that, and maybe chatting to a NPC who gave me a side quest that I may or may not choose to follow and HOLY SHIT THIS IS THE GAME ISN’T IT? THIS IS WHAT I’VE SPENT ABOUT FIFTY HOURS OR SO DOING ALREADY.

And golly, I love it.

So, I found some stamina-boosting ingredients, I cooked some meals, and I headed back up to the clifftop. It was a bright sunny morning (I had initially arrived early evening, pissing down with rain – I couldn’t even light a fire – so I went to a nearby hostelry to get a bed for the night) and things were looking good.

So I leapt off the cliff and glided down to the distant island. As expected, I needed a stamina boost as I got closer, so I had a mid-flight snack (Link is so good at multi-tasking) and carried on. As I got closer to the coast I saw an orb receptacle thing – a round, metal platform – much like one that I’d recently interacted with on another task. In that task, my duty had been to land on it with my paraglider, so I re-routed for the platform instead of the beach and oh shit I ran out of stamina because I got distracted on my approach.

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This is someone else’s screenshot of gliding down to Eventide Island. They, too, are about to run out of stamina (the little circle near Link’s head)

When you run out of stamina while gliding, your glider basically stops working. This means you plummet through the air from whatever height you were gliding at. If you’re lucky, this is onto dry land at a height from which Link can merely dust himself off and carry on his merry, elfy way.

If you’re not so lucky, it’s either too big a drop to the ground below (insta-death), or you might fall onto water – but swimming also requires stamina, so if you land in water with no stamina? Oh you’d better believe that’s a drowning.

So, of course, I died and was placed back on my clifftop launchpad and I tried again, scoffing my handily-replenished stamina-boosting snack en route. This time I managed to land on the orb platform but was disappointed to find it did nothing special. This was annoying, as I’d seen others around and about and presumed, having successfully completed the aforementioned task of gliding onto a different one, that this was all you had to do on them. As it transpires, it seems they all have different requirements.

So I landed in an incredibly beautiful paradise called EVENTIDE ISLAND. Quickly, however, some text appeared onscreen akin to the text you see when entering shrines. This island isn’t just a pretty place to explore, it’s a shrine/dungeon/level that requires beating.

And what’s this? As part of the challenge, Link is stripped of all his items. Everything. The screen fades to black and Link reappears in his pants on the beach with nothing in his inventory. Rather than disappointed, I was excited. What a cool concept! You’re promised all your belongings back once this task is completed, but for now you’re back to square one. The game has spent X hours teaching the player how to interact with the environment and objects, and you are temporarily stripped back, at least conceptually, to the start of the game except now I know what the fuck I’m doing.

So I gleefully began to start collecting crabs and tree branches and plants and other bits and bobs that might come in handy, and even as I came across my first moblin camp, I had an air of confidence about my actions that this island was just gearing up to knock out of me.

I successfully completed the first of three challenges on the island and thought I had the measure of the task ahead of me. But when I began the second challenge, I very quickly died. Normally when you die in BOTW, you restart nearby and you crack on, perhaps with a different strategy. But reader, I did not re-start on the island with my little knapsack of crabs and tree branches (not to mention the weapons and body parts I’d recently looted off the moblins’ still-warm corpses)…

No, I restarted on that blustery, sunny clifftop once again, my work thus far for nought, the clock wound back to when I’d last been there, the meal I’d scoffed for extra stamina on the way over magically restored in my inventory, and the morning light still highlighting that temptress of an island in the distance, although it had less of a paradisaical look about it now that I knew what was in store.

I let this setback sink in for a second… And then I leapt off the cliff with my paraglider and of course gave it another bash.

June 2019

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I thought it was time for a round-up. Now that we’re inexplicably in July, let’s talk about some June highlights.

I didn’t watch any films this month. That troubles me slightly, especially as I got into quite a good habit of watching a few earlier in the year. I think with the longer evenings, I have less ‘time’ where I think ‘ooh I’ll just stick a film on’ and so maybe it’s just not a summer thing. I’m also less inclined to voluntarily choose to sit in a dark room for two hours when the sun is out.

I did go to the sort-of cinema though, to the Science Museum’s IMAX screen to see an exclusive cut of the Smithsonian Channel’s APOLLO’S MOON SHOT with a live soundtrack from Teeth of the Sea. It was phenomenal. The footage looked great on the huge screen, and the sound was majestic – the band’s mix of post-rock with some psychedelia and bleeps and bloops worked perfectly and sounded gigantic over the IMAX sound system.

I finished watching FLEABAG after a few month between blocks of episodes. I enjoyed it, and have really enjoyed the occasionally very on-the-nose insights into the inner monologue of a protagonist I think a lot of us can relate to. After not seeing the ending around the time it aired, and being aware of the hot takes about the hot priest, but not the details, I think I expected something more…unsavoury? Instead it was just a believable storyline that fit with my expectations within the universe.


Having said I tend to watch less films in summer, I now realise I’ve spent probably most of the time I could have been watching films playing THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD. I’ve clocked up more than forty hours in the game now, and recently conquered my first Divine Beast.  The game is so full of small and huge milestones that you always feel like you’ve achieved something, but that milestone was the biggest yet. I am still enjoying almost every aspect of this game, particularly knowing I have a lot left to enjoy.

I wish I knew how long I’d put into JUST CAUSE 2 a few years ago. That’s the nearest comparison I have to BotW in terms of a big openworld game that I played and tried to ‘finish’. There’ve been others like FAR CRY 3 and BIOSHOCK INFINITE that were more linear, but I feel like I spent a long time finishing JUST CAUSE 2 in a different way, and one which I really enjoyed. I’ve also played a bit of JUST CAUSE 3, but it hasn’t grabbed me in the same way. Similarly, I stopped trying to care about SKYRIM and haven’t thought about once since.

M has been playing LEGO CITY UNDERCOVER, which has been enjoyable for me not just because it’s a fun game to watch while doing something else, but also because she seems to be having a great time playing it. It occasionally has a stage she can’t seem to crack, and I’ve realised it’s partly because some stages rely on pre-learned l33t gaming skillz which not all plays of the game will have. Mostly driving skills and sometimes weird 3D game world movement. But I’m very impressed at the overall polish the game has, particularly in the open world setting.

I’ve also played a bit of STEAMWORLD DIG on my 2DS, which is a game I love the vibe of. I just forget about it from time to time and need to re-learn its flow each time I pick it up. But when I do, I really like it.


We’ve been watching more and more of the ladies’ World Cup football. I’ve really enjoyed the lack of arrogance but no less passion of these women’s teams. It’s the same game but played a bit differently, and most games we’ve watched recently have had heart and drama and skills which have kept us both hooked. The new rules and use of VAR is at times very clunky.

We’ve been cycling a bit more lately*, after we attended a bike maintenance class recently which was laid on for free by the local council.

* I say we; M rides her bike to and from work almost every day rain or shine – it’s definitely me who’s the sometimes/fair-weather cyclist.

The course was really well done – pitched just right for a group of ten with a range of levels of expertise, and the right size for everyone to get periods of one to one help, and the opportunity to get way more hands on than I’d expected. The instructors were so friendly and knowledgeable and had a lot of patience for us all. We were even given a free multi-tool. Our local one has a bit of a waiting list but I’d thoroughly recommend it if your local council offers something similar. I learned a lot about my own bike and some of the bits I’ll need to change soon.

And perhaps sooner than I’d realised, too, as M and I will be going to France for a week soon, taking the ferry to one port, then spending five days cycling up the coast to another. I can’t wait. But I do need to make sure my bike and I are in the best shape we can be before we go.

Earlier this month I ran my first proper half marathon in St Albans, which was a really enjoyable experience. I had great company, good weather, and the course was interesting and at times very pretty. I hadn’t done masses of training, but spent the week or two leading up to it at least giving it some though. I was really pleased with my first official time – by far a PB, especially given it was the first uninterrupted course I’d run over that distance.

I don’t think I want to run a full marathon. I am aware of the areas where my body starts to creak between 10-20km. And although I get into quite a zen state over those distances, I just can’t yet see any personal benefits in doubling that challenge. I would like to run another half because it’s enough of a distance to be a challenge to me, but one I might be able to refine in terms of pace and strategy. And it definitely hasn’t put me off running – even a 5k is enjoyable for me, and can often be a huge mental health booster at a time when I need it.

I also went bouldering/climbing a couple of times this month. M and I have been really enjoying watching the World Cup. And it’s been great climbing with David as he is a) pretty bloody good but b) is patient and offers helpful advice whether I’m eager to go tearing up something I’m not quite warmed up for, or pushes me to try a technique I hadn’t spotted or considered possible. I want to do more climbing more often, I just need to work it into my schedule. Maybe once the French cycling trip is out of the way.


I recently replaced my Galaxy S7 with a Motorola G7 Power and haven’t looked back. The S7 had a great camera and screen (and the size was nice), but it was always being let down by poor battery life. Most days were fine, but some days the standby time would be surprisingly poor, where other days the features that I enjoyed like the camera or location-related stuff would work fast and well, but absolutely cane the battery. It became so that I’d barely make it to the end of a day doing normal stuff, and I’d gotten used the battery being dead on my way home from a more active day where I’d inevitably used the phone more while out and about.

Conversely, the G7 Power has a weak camera and screen, though both are perfectly fine, but the battery is a beast, giving more than two full days of real use on a single charge. I’ve managed to get to the early evening of a third day, too. I anticipate that taking the phone on trips away will either a) give a long standby time when, say, camping and not using it much and b) work all day with no signs of low battery with intense use tracking bike rides and using the camera and whatever.

One other feature I liked about the S7 was the stereo mics and I recently got a more into making field recordings using it. But I picked up a second hand digital recorder over the last month and have started getting to grips with that. More on that another day, but suffice to say that it’s like going from a half decent cameraphone to a dSLR in terms of quality (not to mention the headroom to clean up audio afterwards, ala RAW files).

I just need to figure out what I’m trying to achieve with these field recordings. But in the meantime it’s a lot of fun just capturing stuff and seeing what grabs me.


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Finally I led a walking tour last week on the subject of Charles Paget Wade. Three years ago I wrote and self-published a small book on Wade and his early life and work, which received some nice feedback and sold about as well as I’d hoped.

In the intervening years I have done more research on him, and decided to run a new version of the walk again. The first walk was the first I’d ever led, but since then I have led two or three more on other subjects.

This time round was quite enjoyable – I had a small but interested and friendly group, and the weather was perfect. It lasted two hours, and I got through all my notes in the right order, and delivered it – I hope – quite naturally and mostly from memory.

In the run up to the walk I have also been finishing a new second edition of the book. I’ve been able to add a few bits and bobs here and fleshed out the details of other segments where I’ve found more primary evidence. I’ve also just been able to give the whole thing a slight wringing-out in terms of flow and readability, and altering the format/size/cover a little. I hope this new edition will be available fairly soon.