SPIEL is the world's biggest boardgame fair. Specifically, it's 86,000 square metres in size, spread out over six halls of the Messe exhibition centre in Essen, Germany. This year, when I visited for the first time with friends from Witney Board Gamers, there were 209,000 recorded entries; 19,000 more than in 2018. It's clear to anyone paying attention that boardgames are growing rapidly as a hobby, with gaming groups and cafés popping up all over. The sheer size and popularity of SPIEL is even stronger evidence of this trend; the global boardgames market was already estimated to be worth $4.6 billion by 2018.
While SPIEL - or "Essen" as it's often called - is the most important boardgames event in the world, it also fills a relatively specific niche. It is first and foremost a trade fair, and so it isn't so much playing games that is emphasises, but buying and selling them. The strong retail focus is clear as soon as you arrive; seasoned visitors are already dragging trolleys piled high with the latest releases and older games at bargain prices. Publishers are not only selling games to the public, but also holding meetings with designers and distributors behind the scenes. For that reason, booths often have their own hidden meeting rooms and business suits are as common attire at SPIEL as cosplay.
A number of years passed between my first playthroughs of Doom and Doom II and my exposure to the vast wealth of maps made over the years by the games' community. A time spent lurking on the venerable Doomworld forums opened my eyes to the huge variety of WADs made by mappers amateur and exerperienced, for purist vanilla compability all the way up to advanced source ports like ZDoom. Deciding that mapping for the Doom engine seemed simple enough, I eventually sank a great deal of time into learning Doombuilder 2 in around 2014 to 2016.
A couple of years on from leaving Doom mapping behind, I suddenly remembered the maps I had completed and released: a tiny number compared to the hundreds of designs I'd begun and abandoned. To my surprise, I'm still fond of these modest projects and have even found that there are some gameplay videos online. It seemed as good a time as any to reflect on my comparatively brief time as a Doom mapper.
Mario Puzo (1920 - 1999) is legendary for his novel The Godfather and the film trilogy it spawned. The American author won two Oscars for his screenplays for the first two films, and deservedly so - he not only wrote an epic saga of the American mafia but also played a vital part in helping Francis Ford Coppola adapt and expand it for the screen. Sadly, far fewer people know of the only literary expansion of the Godfather mythos written by Puzo himself - his later novel The Sicilian.
The nominations for the 2017 Oscars were unveiled today. While the 24 categories cover most creative and technical aspects of film-making, there's a conspicuous lack of recognition for stunt co-ordination, choreography, and performance.
Of course, like the domination of La La Land in this year's list, this is no surprise. The Academy's resistance to recognising the men and women who bring action to the screen is stubborn and longstanding. Stunts and action sequences have thrilled audiences almost since the dawn of cinema, but the Academy has never seen fit to reward those who make this possible, even at the risk of life and limb.
Without a doubt, my highlight of 2015 was being able to fulfil a long-held wish to visit Hong Kong. While I can't recall exactly when I first became interested in the territory, it was definitely Hong Kong cinema which first caught my attention. By the time I had seen John Woo's action classics like The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992) as well as the widely-acclaimed thriller Infernal Affairs (2002), I was fast developing a fascination not only with Hong Kong film but also the culture, geography and history of the territory itself.
By 2011, I finished my dissertation on the negotiations which led to the 1997 handover and my interest in Hong Kong had grown still further – but the territory still seemed like an incredibly remote and inaccessible place. With the arrival of 2015, two things gave me the resolve to actually plan a trip: one, the knowledge that the exhibition on Bruce Lee at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum would not be open forever; and two, the influence of my friend Stevie, who had become interested in Hong Kong himself.
As I've launched a new website with a limited blogging capability, I thought I'd post some of my highlights and photos of our ten-day trip in September 2015. To finally see a place I'd been fascinated by for so long was a huge thrill, and we were delighted by the amount we were able to see and do in the relatively short time we had. For me, just to walk the streets I'd previously seen only in films was almost a greater pleasure than seeing the famous sights, like Victoria Peak or the Star Ferry.
Although Hong Kong was a British colony for over 130 years and until recently had the third-largest film industry in the world, I find that British people don't tend to know a huge amount about the territory. I hope this overview of our trip will help to show how dynamic and varied Hong Kong is, and just how much there is to see and do there besides the popular image of endless skyscrapers. While in some ways the trip left us with something of a bittersweet feeling (of which more later), it was an incredible experience and I'd enthusiastically recommend a visit to anyone interested in East Asia.
I write about classic science fiction and occasionally fantasy; I sometimes make maps for Doom II; and I'm a contributor to the videogames site Entertainium, where I regularly review new games.