Beneath a Steel Sky

(First published at Teleread.)

[screenshot]Not really news, except to me: the classic graphical adventure game Beneath a Steel Sky has been republished as freeware by its original authors. When the game first came out, somewhere in the 1990s, I thought of buying it based on playing a cover disk demo, but never got around to it. Later I noticed that there had been a PC release, and I started looking for a copy in the bargain bins, but failed to find it there. So imagine my surprise when I found the freeware version. You can find it at the website of the Scumm Virtual Machine, which you’ll also need to download to play it.

BaSS is a point-and-click adventure that takes place in your average dystopian future, where the poor live in the polluted skies atop towers while the rich live safely underground. Your mission: get down. The game starts with a hunt-the-pixel puzzle, and has a few spots where you have to sit still and watch the game unfold the story, but apart from that I’ve been enjoying myself so far. Art by Dave Gibbons and professional narration make this a tight production.

Strong adventure story

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

review by Branko Collin

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” This must be one of the clunkiest opening sentences I have ever read, and yet it is the opening sentence of one of the most popular books of recent times, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. You feel sorry for all the publishers who said no to the manuscript based on reading the first page and thus to the barely imaginable wealth they passed up on.

Apart from the opening sentences, though, the book is well worth reading. Rowling does what other mega-storytellers such as Spielberg and Hergé do (respectively did) so well: she tells big stories about big subjects, adventures that capture your attention from beginning to end, where true heroes battle it out against enormous odds. Harry Potter the character nicely matches the hero pattern, thank you very much. He comes perilously close to dying several times in the book already. No wishy-washy treatment of the subject here.

A minor niggle I have is that Rowling sometimes dangerously flirts with my suspended disbelief, and it is a testament to the author’s storytelling qualities that I shrugged off my qualms and dived right back into the book.

An example of this: Hermiony Granger is depicted as a rather horrible little girl for most of the book, but then when Harry and his friend Ron save her from a troll, the experience forges a bond between them that makes them instant friends. Rowling is not interested in the process; she shrugs it off in one sentence, and if your eyes happened to skip it you’ll be wondering the rest of the book what the hell just went on: “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve foot mountain troll is one of them.”

Don’t say this eye-skipping doesn’t happen; I only noticed the one-sentence sex scene in Thea Beckman’s children’s book Hasse Simonsdochter during my third reading. In that case however, that did not make much of a difference; here it’s more instrumental.

The movie of the book doesn’t have this problem; it is well clear there from the start that Hermione wants to be friends with Ron and Harry. I must further compliment the makers of the film because it follows the book so closely, yet manages to be a good film in its own right.

My rating: 3.5 stars

Green in Broek in Waterland

After a hiatus of a couple of weeks I went hiking again with my brother and his girlfriend. We took a short 10 mile walk south of a small picture postcard town just North of A’dam called Broek in Waterland, which is Dutch for “more water than even we consider healthy” (“broek” is pronounced “brook,” you figure out the rest).

Lots of birds and plants you can also find in the city, and some that you won’t such as buzzards and swallows.

Apparently Peter the Great stayed here once in a wooden house just like this (or perhaps exactly like this; we didn’t look very far).


In the next photo I enhanced the contrast a little. OK, a lot.


The bright colours on the next one are pretty much as they came off the camera. Most of the rest of the photos I took had a pretty strong blue colour cast, which I had to correct by hand, but this one was just fine and only required some local sharpening after the scaling down had blurred it.


I am not sure I managed to fix the blue colour cast on the next one, but I like the oily look.


Some more flowers.


World maps


“Territory size shows the proportion of all contributions to international food aid programmes that come from governments there.”, where I found the link to the Worldmapper service, displays almost exactly the same map, but there the legend says: “Territory size shows the proportion of all McDonalds restaurants that were open in 2004, that were found there.” (Go spot the differences.)