17 June 2023

Gaming Underground: The Biggest Hits & Their Strange Origins

The gaming industry is one of the world’s most expansive in the entertainment sector. Over the last twenty years, the approach to gaming has changed. First and foremost, the hardware has diversified, allowing gamers to play from smartphones, iPads, PCs and consoles alike. Second, the proliferation of eSports has also turned the industry into a spectator sport.

This has led to a ‘golden era’ in gaming, where virtually everyone in the world has a preferred title. Even if its digital backgammon, an educational game for students or a casual title like Candy Crush Saga, there’s a game for just about every interest and skill level. Unsurprisingly, this has led to a proliferation of new and imaginative titles.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few obvious favorites. For example, even though Super Mario has been around since the early 1980s, the character and world created by Nintendo remain super popular. In fact, the recent The Super Mario Bros. Movie proves just how popular the world and characters are.

But what about other classic hits? Not all were born from the arcade era, after all. In fact, many have downright strange origins. Let’s dive in, starting with a classic table game.

Roulette & Physics

Roulette is considered one of the most exciting casino titles. But anyone who has studied up on the roulette board layout has probably noticed there are quite a few ways to place a bet—or multiple bets. In other words, the game involves quite a bit of probability-based and mathematical thinking. 

This focus on hard numbers actually points back to the origin of the game. Back in the late 1600s, French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal was working to redefine certain laws of motion within physics. To prove his theory, he sought to create a machine that would remain in perpetual motion. Though he failed, the spinning wheel he’d created found a new life beyond the world of science.

By the 1700s, Pascal’s failed experiment had become a critical component of the game of roulette and it had found its way into gaming halls across Paris.

VR & Sword of Damocles

Let’s be clear about one thing: VR has multiple origin stories. We’re going to focus on the Sword of Damocles, the very first head-mounted display that included tracking capabilities, patented in 1968. This early VR display came from a group of computer scientists at MIT who dubbed their creation with its strange moniker.

The early technology required a large display system, which included head tracking. To accomplish this, developers created an ‘arm’ that was suspended from the ceiling, following the player around to track head movements and create visuals. This element led to the game’s name, which comes from a biblical story about the burden of kings. In it, one king had a sword mounted above his throne to remind him of the perils of wielding great power—a callback to the headset’s hefty mechanical arm.

The Hobbyist Hits: Tetris & Minecraft

Both roulette and modern VR were the results of influential thinking, tied to huge goals related to physics and digital technology. But not all gaming hits come from people who were intentionally hoping to innovate. Instead, two of the world’s most popular titles were the results of hobbyist tinkering.

During the Soviet Era, a computer engineer named Alexey Pajitnov was going a bit stir-crazy while at work. To pass the time in 1985, he created a digital variation of two of his favorite games. The result was Tetris, which has since become one of the world’s most ubiquitous games. It’s offered on over 65 platforms—which makes it the most ported game in the world. 

Fast forward three decades and another computer programmer, Sweden’s Markus Persson, decided to create his own game using Javascript. In 2009, he decided to turn his hobby into an actual video game, which he titled Minecraft. The open-world game has since become the world’s highest-selling video game of all time as of 2021. To this day, it retains a monthly user rate of around 140 million players.

10 June 2023

Table Manners

It is said that we are only ever three meals away from anarchy, so when hunger strikes in the Big Wood it is important that three friends find something to eat as soon as possible.  Created using live action puppets by Rebecca Manley, this darkly comic short goes to show two things: firstly, without food we’re pretty much done for. Secondly, that even when civilization is crashing down around us, we should never forget the importance of table manners.


When the first mission to Mars takes place one of the astronauts not chosen to go has to face up to the prospect of being left behind.  It is his young son, however, who must carry the greatest burden.  This moving character-driven piece, strikingly shot with great performances slides through its 20 minutes gracefully and engagingly.  It was directed by Mark Buchanan and stars Emun Elliott, Peter Strathern and Siobhan Redmond.


Take some very talented animators and state of the art software using a head rig compatible with all leading game engines. Then take producers Side, 3Lateral and CubicMotion.  Finally, take a wonderful British actress (Lydia Leonard, left, as she is in this short and in real life) and you get Synchronicity. It’s a wonderful vehicle to show the depth of emotion realizable by capturing and animating the finer details of a performance. Plus it makes for great, enigmatic science fiction.

There Will Be Blood - Through Numbers

You may never see the art of film direction in quite the same way after you watch this. I knew there was a lot more to it than simply pointing a camera in a certain direction and shouting action but what this video by Ali Shirazi reveals is somewhere in the category of mind blower.

Shirazi takes There Will Be Blood, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and shows how film techniques, some derived directly from art through the centuries, are used to amazing effect. Included are the golden ratio, one point perspective and tracking shots. It just goes to show how science (specifically here, mathematics) and art are intrinsically entwined.

Lofoten – Amazing Arctic Circle Anomaly

The archipelago of Lofoten in Norway is north of the Arctic Circle.  Yet throughout the year it has temperatures which belie its position.  

This is because of the largest positive temperature anomaly in the world relative to latitude.  

It makes Lofoten an unexpected delight – its early settlers must have thought they had stumbled across an arctic paradise.

Prepare to have your breath taken away.

What they found there was a sea teeming with life and the largest deep water coral reef in the word.  There are literally millions of sea birds with many species represented, such as the sea eagle, the cormorant and the puffin.  Otter are common in the area and on the larger islands of the archipelago there are moose.