Thursday, 21 December 2017

HYPNOGORIA - Goodbye and Hello


And now, the end is near... Yes, that's all folks! 

At least from GeekPlanet Online! But fear not, we are moving house as it were and will soon be on Libsyn!

OUR NEW HOME IS AT http://hypnogoria.libsyn.com/

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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

HYPNOGORIA 80 - Christmases of Ghosts Past


We all know A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and have enjoyed the eerie tales of MR James, but why is Christmas associated with the telling of ghostly tales? In this epic show, Mr Jim Moon rovers far and wide, through snowy cemeteries and Christmases Past, to trace the true history of the tradition of telling ghost stories upon a winter's night! 




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Sunday, 17 December 2017

GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 40 - The Old Portrait


In the last of our ghost stories for Christmas, Mr Jim Moon presents an eerie tale from Victorian writer, painter and poet Hume Nisbet, a rather creepy story set on a cold dark Christmas Eve... 


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Friday, 15 December 2017

HYPNOGORIA 79 - Oh Whistle And I'll Commentate On You My Lad



In this episode, Mr Jim Moon provides a hopefully illuminating commentary on the classic BBC TV adaptation of MR James's famous ghost story Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You My Lad. Directed by Dr Jonathan Miller, this short film version first screened in 1968 as part of the BBC art show Omnibus and would go one to inspire the creation of the BBC's classic annual series A Ghost Story for Christmas.


DIRECT DOWNLOAD - HYPNOGORIA 79 - Oh Whistle And I'll Commentate On You My Lad

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Wednesday, 13 December 2017

GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 39 - Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You My Lad



In the next of our ghost stories for Christmas, Mr Jim Moon reads one of MR James's most famous tales - the classic Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You My Lad



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Sunday, 10 December 2017

HYPNOGORIA 78 - Jack Frost Commentary



This week Mr Jim Moon wonders why in the name of Santa's beard did he think it was a good idea to do a commentary track for notorious Christmas schlock horror Jack Frost... However he has a cunning plan to get through it... 



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Wednesday, 6 December 2017

GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 38 - The Eastern Window


Well December is here once again, and as is traditional here at the Great Library of Dreams we are hosting a series of readings of ghost stories for Christmas. We begin this year's selection of festive chillers with a tale written by EG Swain, a good friend of the great MR James who was inspired to try his own hand at crafting ghostly tales. The result was a remarkable collection called the Stoneground Ghost Tales, which blended Jamesian frights with a touch of Wodehousian humour. In this story, the long suffering vicar of Stoneground, Mr Batchell, discovers something strange about one of the parish church's windows...


DIRECT DOWNLOAD - GREAT LIBRARY OF DREAMS 38 -  The Eastern Window

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Friday, 1 December 2017

HYPNOGORIA 77- In Search of Jack Frost




In the first of our festive offerings, Mr Jim Moon goes in search of that merry wintry rogue, Jack Frost! Who is he and where did he come from? Is he just a winter's fairy tale? Do his origins lie in Norse mythology? And does he have any relation to Father Christmas? Wrap up warm, and come with me to find out! 



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Wednesday, 29 November 2017

THE 'ORRIBLE 'OUSE OF TERRIBLE OLD TAT - Simon Says


Hello dear fiends, and welcome once again to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Well then, we are in the toy cupboard once again and continuing our explorations into the strange twilight world of what were known as "electronic games". Now last time we saw how the ancestors of modern handheld video game platforms were a couple of gizmos produced at the end of the '70s.  Mattel Auto Race and Mattel Electronic Football were the first of what would become a huge wave of toys in the '80s, little plastic consoles that delivered a single video game. Yes, they were primitive but they had brought the games arcade into the home, and indeed, into the pockets of kids.

Now we will look at a few more examples of this early form of video gaming in future trips to the 'Orrible Old 'Ouse, but this week I want to look at another particular branch of this toy family. Now the Mattel duo and their descendants sought to recreate an arcade video game experience with chips and some LEDS instead of a real screen. However, around the same time, the first of a new breed of electronic game appeared that wasn't aiming to create a video game in a home or handheld format. Instead these were toys that boasted about microchip brains, games that could play themselves with you!

Our story begins at the Music Operators of America trade show in 1976, where two chaps, Ralph H Baer and Howard J Morrison saw an Atari arcade machine called Touch Me. Now this machine had already been around for a few years, first appearing in 1974, but unlike the games we normally associate with Atari, there were no spaceships, fast cars, things to gobble up or shoot. Instead Touch Me had four big black buttons and a small screen. Basically the machine flashed a sequence of lights at you while making primitive electronic rasping noises, and the player had to press the buttons to replicate the sequence. Baer and Morrison were rather unimpressed - the machine was ugly, the interface dull (all black buttons?!), and the electro-fart sound effects were less than appealing.


And these two chaps weren't just any old passing punters either. Morrison was  - even by the mid '70s - a leading light in the toy industry, working for the legendary Marvin Glass and Associates (click the link to find out why they were so legendary), while Baer had invented a primitive electronic tennis game on a computer which was the forefather of Pong. What's more, Baer had also created the world's first video game console in the shape of the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972, and hence not for nothing he is now known as the father of video games. Now while these learned gents agreed that Touch Me was rather bad, both also thought that the actual game concept - essentially an electronic variant of old playground and kids party perennial Simon Says - definitely had potential.

Hence our two heroes returned to their secret volcano base... (That's not right - Ed) Ok, returned to their workshop at the North Pole (Neither is that, try again - Ed) ... Oh right, returned to wherever it is that toy-makers do their magic, and emerged blinking in the sunlight, to the cheers of elves (Stop that! - Ed) with a round black disc, with brightly coloured panels. And thus Simon was born! Well, at least as soon as they found some batteries to go in it. They thought they had some in drawer but in accordance with one of the fundamental laws of the universe, any toy you buy will require exactly one extra battery of a type that currently you don't have... Even though you'd swear blind you bought a packet of those just the other week. And you put them in that drawer! Who's been in that drawer. eh? C'mon, own up!

Anyhow, once the necessary batteries had been fitted, they were ready to demonstrate this new electronic game. Now much like Touch Me, new boy Simon would light up his coloured panels in a sequence , while making merry beeps, and the player had to replicate them. Now you may say that perhaps this was just stealing Atari's idea, but in fairness as Atari had taken Baer's tennis game and created Pong,  and then later copied his Magnovox to create their own best-selling console, I think it's fair to say that they owed him one. However Baer and Morrison had made some significant advances of their own...



To begin with, the looks and feel of Simon was light years ahead of Touch Me. The round disc design, and brightly coloured lights looked both futuristic and pleasing echoed disco lights and illuminated jukeboxes. Hence it was both space-age and classically retro at the same time. Come to think of it, the curves, beeps and lights also chimed rather well with a certain droid who hit the big screen in 1977 too. However real innovation was perhaps more subtle - for Touch Me was an arcade machine, whereas Simon was designed for the home, and to be played in a group rather than a lone player with an excess of loose change to get rid of. That round disc design was not only visually appealing but perfect for a table or bedroom floor.

Now the marketing of Simon really played up the electronic nature of the game - this was a game you really could play with - a game that played back as it were. And while during its development this new game had been called Follow Me, the name change to Simon was another stroke of genius. Firstly the new name tipped its hat to the game's inspiration, the daddy of all follow and copy game, Simon Says, and in making that connection, people instinctively grasped what this new toy did. Secondly though, giving the toy a "proper" name gave it a personality - something the marketing played up no end. And while the actual electronic gubbins inside Simon were fairly basic, the ads really sold on the idea that this brightly coloured disc was an electronic brain. And that was another winning concept too - where most board games fall down is the fact they you need to get some other humans to play with you. But now you had a game that would happily play with you itself! Naturally a generation who had just fallen in love with R2D2 embraced Simon with open arms.

Simon released in 1978 by Milton Bradley and became the top selling toy that Christmas. Very soon there were several rivals and outright clones on the market. Even Touch Me was resurrected as what were now referred to as a handheld too, although keeping the black and yellow design and the electro farting did little to challenge the dominance of Simon. In the kingdom of the electronic games, the four colour disc was king. And while it's easy to see Simon as relic of those heady days, an iconic of late '70s/early '80s pop culture, our little round pal has continued to sell over the years, in a variety of different formats. There's even a new VR headset version of the old classic! For that design has proved to be iconic and timeless, but more importantly, the gameplay is still there. It's still a whole lot of fun for all the family, or just to play yourself against Simon himself.


Saturday, 25 November 2017

HYPNOGORIA 76 - The True and Twisted History of the League of Gentlemen


This Christmas, a certain quartet of scallywags are reforming to mark the 20th anniversary of their first broadcasts, and hence in this episode, Mr Jim Moon is heading into deepest and darkest corners of the benighted little town of  Royston Vasey to uncover the true and twisted history of that now legendary comedy troupe, the League of Gentlemen!


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Friday, 24 November 2017

HYPNOGORIA - An Important Announcement


Just a very quick update on the news that Geekplanet Online is closing down and what this means for the podcast!


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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The 'Orribe 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat - Are Friends Electric?


Welcome once again dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Well boys and ghouls, December is nearly here once again and so we are going to be sticking with the toy theme for a few weeks, revisiting some old favourites that, around now in years gone by, kids would have been pestering their parents for. However we are going to begin out investigation of former regular guests in Santa's sack, by shining a light upon a somewhat forgotten genre of toys. 

Now then, these days toys and games tend to be packed with microchips and batteries - they move, flash lights and make noises seemingly designed to irritate parents pretty much as standard. Many even link to computers or phones and have their own tie-in apps. And then of course there is the whole arena of video games, the endless killing zone that is the console wars, game apps and handhelds, a cupboard full of novelty controllers and joysticks, and the cut-throat jungle that is additional downloadable content. However I'm old enough to remember the strange, dark days of a pre-digital world when "internet access" meant how a fisherman got at his catch. 

Of course, toys that had required batteries had been around long before me, and no, I'm not talking about the type you buy in specialist shops found in the best grubby backstreets everywhere. Dolls that walked, cars that drove, or things that just flashed lights and made a noise had been gobbling up batteries for decades. However at the end of the '70s, two new sorts of games and toys began to emerge. One sort was a kind of bulky box that incredibly plugged into your television, dubbed at the time "TV games", and they were the ancestor of what we know call consoles. However a second breed was smaller, more affordable, and therefore much more common. These were the so-called "electronic games", which in some regards could be considered the forefathers of the modern handheld platforms, but in others were something entirely different.


The very first "electronic game" was Mattel Auto Race and this now very primitive beast emerged in 1976. Boasting of a then massive 512 bytes of RAM - that's half a kb in real money - this then futuristic game didn't even have a proper screen. Instead it had what many of the early electronic game had - the illusion of one created by LEDs. In the case of Mattel Auto Race there were three columns of red LEDs  - exactly the same type that create the displays in electronic calculators and clocks. The player's car was a single vertical dash which could be "moved" across or up the screen with the buttons by basically lighting up the adjacent LED. There was no joystick or controller, just a button to go left or right and a slider switch offering four gear changes (which basically just made everything faster). The object of the game was to swerve past cars coming in the other direction and complete four "laps" - that is, get your dash to the top of the screen four times in a row. 

Now admittedly that doesn't sound terrible exciting, and in fairness there was a great deal of scepticism about this new type of game. Yes, everyone wanted to develop some kind of home equivalent of the games machines that were becoming increasing popular in arcades but no one was entirely sure how to do that. Mattel at first were confident, and very quickly developed a second electronic game, Mattel's Electronic Football which hit the shelves in 1977. This was was pretty much the same machine cunningly tweaked and reskinned, with the screen was set horizontally so there were three rows instead of three columns. But the objective of the game is much the same - instead of four laps, you're looking to dodge tackles and get four downs. 


However despite releasing two titles in quick succession, after less than 100,000 of both were made, production was more or less halted, with bosses getting nervous that these new-fangled electronic games wouldn't sell much after the novelty value had worn off. However sales not only continued but began to climb, with Mattel's Electronic Football shifting a whopping 500,000 units a week by February 1978.  A new age had begun... 


Saturday, 18 November 2017

MICROGORIA 49 - The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts


In this episode, Mr Jim Moon returns to the haunted shelf of childhood favourites and dusts off the very creepy tome, the Hamlyn Book of Ghosts by Mr Daniel Farson, first published way back in 1978! 



DIRECT DOWNLOAD - MICROGORIA 49 - The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The 'Orribe 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat - The Mysteries of Mastermind


Welcome once again dear fiends to the 'Orrible 'Ouse of Terrible Old Tat! Now then, last time you popped over we were rummaging in the Old Board Games cupboard, and had uncovered the history of the international bestseller Mastermind - namely that this well-known game was actually an adaptation of an old pen and paper pastime called Bulls and Cows. However we didn't quite reveal all the secrets of this code-breaking game...

Bulls and Cows was a game which involve guessing a sequence of numbers, or in a popular variant, words. Now obviously any game involving numbers raises the spectre of mathematics, which for many folks is the polar opposite of fun. And therefore a key factor in Mastermind becoming a global hit was the simple but genius decision to replace the numbers with colours. To begin with this gives the game a visual appeal, but also the placing of multi-coloured pegs gives the game a pleasing tactile quality too. And it should be noted too that having a choice of six colours to create a sequence to be guessed by the other player actually cuts down the odds of guessing it correctly, hence making the game a little bit easier and more accessible for younger players. Now at this point I would to the maths to show the reduction in possibilites but you'd all stop reading. Such is the dread power of maths! 

Anyhow, instead of scoring "Bulls or "Cows", the board game used a system of black and white pegs. A correct colour in the right place gets a black peg, whereas a correct colour in the wrong spot gets a white peg. Now the board in Mastermind has a number of rows for the player to make his guesses, and each row of peg-holes has an additional quartet of slots for marking the guesses. Dr John Billingsley, who played a key role in developing the game, cunningly decided that the marking holes should be placed in a square to disrupt the tendency for players to mark each peg in sequence, thus making the game a little too easy. 


Now it was also Dr Billingsley that gave the game its name. And here lies one of the great mysteries of Mastermind. For around the same time as the board game hit the shelves, there was a hit TV show on the BBC in England which was also called MastermindDevised by a chap called Bill Wright, the inspiration for this quiz show was actually Wright's experiences in World War II being interrogated by the Gestapo! The show's format is both iconic and brilliantly simply - basically each episode sees four contestants face two rounds of questions. Each in  turn takes their place in a black leather chair lit only by a spotlight and faces two minutes of questions. The first round is on their chosen specialised subject, with the second round comprising of general knowledge questions. Winners of each show then go on to compete with each other until at each series's finale an overall winner is decided and awarded an ornamental glass bowl. And no, I'm not making that up! You really did only win a bowl. 

For those you who are unfamiliar with the show, here's the final of the series from December 1981 complete with some festive BBC idents! 


Now the TV show Mastermind has something on an interesting history in itself. It first aired in 1972 on a Sunday evening in a late night slot. Given its cerebral nature, it was thought that the show would only ever have a niche audience - for there were no flashy prizes or big cash giveaways, and the questions were of a high level of difficulty. Not your usual quiz show in other words. However in 1973, the BBC found itself in a bit of a bind. A raunchy sitcom Casanova '73 which starred Leslie "Ding Dong!" Phillips had proved to be a bit too lecherous and had drawn a flood of complaints. After three episodes, a full scale public outcry was taking place and the Beeb decided to swiftly move the sexy show to a later time slot. However this snap decision to appease shrill self-appointed voices of the probably mythical Silent Majority such as Mary Whitehouse left a gap in the schedules. And so, as a stop-gap Mastermind was given the troubled sitcom's old slot. This was of course only meant to be a temporary move, but to everyone's surprise became a huge hit. 

Now while competing to win a glass bowl by answering questions on subjects nobody at home knew a thing about might sound like the dullest thing ever, Mastermind was actually riveting television. To begin with we had that brilliantly atmospheric theme tune - a piece called "Approaching Menace" by British composer Neil Richardson - usual playing over a very simple title sequence that just showed the famous black leather chair lurking in its single spotlight. Whereas most quiz and game shows are wheeling out bright colours and the kind upbeat music produced by a surfeit of sugar and e-numbers, Mastermind could be mistaken for the opening of a dark thriller or even a horror movie! And while the original run of the show was hosted by the charismatic Magnus Magnusson, who managed to be both a genial and a somewhat sinister quiz master, the real star was always that infamous chair lurking in the dark. 


And what really made Mastermind such tense viewing was a very simple device employed by the show from the very beginning. And that was that as each contestant took their place in the ominous black chair and began their round of questions, the camera very slowly and oh-so-steadily zoomed in, so that by the time the buzzer sounded to mark the end of the round, the camera was squarely on the contestant's face. Filming the rounds in this way proved to be a stroke of genius, for it allowed to viewer to taste the rising tension of answering a barrage of relentless questions against the clock. 

The show ran every year until 1997, when it was decided that perhaps old Mastermind was a bit long in the tooth. But you can't keep a classic off the air long, and while TV execs might have thought the show old and boring, audiences still loved it. After all, there was a very good reason the show had ran for a quarter of century with the only changes to the format being tweaks to the title sequence. Hence it was revived almost immediately on radio, then on the Discovery Channel with Clive Anderson hosting. And then in 2003, it returned to its rightful place on BBC 1 with John Humphreys as the host, where it is still running to this very day. 

Now then, to get back to our original specialised subject of old tat, what has all of the above got to do with the board game? Well, that is in fact the very question that bedevilled generations of TV viewers and game players. Was there some connection between the game and the TV show? They had the same name, and given that the box showed a distinguished man in a darkened room, looking ominous, the game seemed like it was somehow related to the TV show. But that wasn't Magnus Magnusson sat in a stylish modern armchair chair! And he never had a beautiful assistant like the suave chap on the game box. Plus if the game was a tie-in to the TV show, why wasn't it effectively Trivial Pursuit a decade or so early? 

Well now, at last we can reveal the truth! And what is more, once again it is down the Dr John Billingsley. As Mastermind the TV show was just becoming a huge hit, the good doctor provisionally entitled the new board game with the same name, never thinking that it would hit the shelves with that monicker. Our genial boffin assumed that there would be all manner of legal difficulties and another name would be chosen for the game's release. However the makers of the new game Invicta loved the name and went with it, and somehow the BBC never challenged them over the use of the same title. Possibly if they had been doing a quiz questioned based game things might have been different, but I suspect the prevailing thinking at the time was that "mastermind" was simply a term in common usage and no one, not Invicta or the Beeb could lay claim to it.


However, who was that chap in the chair? Well, there's an interesting tale too. Given the name 'mastermind' and the brief that this was a code-breaking game, the marketing folks thought they'd invoke a James Bond/spy vibe, and so started looking for a suave-looking gent, a beautiful girl, and also hired a cat. The original model they had booked didn't turn up, so a local man who ran a string of hairdressing salons, Bill Woodward was suggested at short notice to fill the chair. And with his neatly trimmed beard and sharp suits, Bill certainly fit the bill. Likewise his glamorous companion was also a bit of chance casting. The mysterious lovely lady was Cecilia Fung, who at the time was studying computer science at Leicester University - a rather nice coincidence that chimed with the game's origins in a computer version called Moo! Cecilia was literally stopped in the street by folks from the modelling agency and offered the job on the spot, and being a struggling student she jumped at the chance.

And thus history was made! The iconic cover photo looked intriguing, glamorous, and stylish - with the aura of sophistication and mystery it generated, it undoubted it helped the game become the global smash it was. Bill Woodward did many promotional tours for the game, so much so that at one stage he had "Mr Mastermind" on his passport! However more than a few players over the years were perplexed to discover the game rules made no mention of this suave fellow and were left wondering who he was and what was his deal? Was he an M type of guy, giving the orders for secret missions? Or a Blofeld, plotting some nefarious scheme? In fact, they were going for a Bondian supervillain look, hence the hiring of the cat. Bill later recalled that several shots were taken of him holding the kitty in full Blofeld mode, but in the end it was decided to ditch the moggy. However unfortunately that wasn't before the cat itself had registered its own unique protest against the concept by pissing all over Bill's trousers. 

Sadly now, although you can still buy Mastermind, made by Hasbro these days, the iconic packing featuring Bill and Cecilia has now gone. And I can't help feeling that the game has lost some of its mystique and magic with this departure. However I am willing bet that if they were reinstated on the box, there would be a sharp spike in sales, for I am sure that that mysterious air of style and sophistication would once again have prospective buyers picking up the game just to find out who they were. Rumours that the cat is now lurking in a secret volcano base of its own and plotting world domination are entirely made up by me just now. 




Saturday, 11 November 2017

HYPNOGORIA 75 - Day of the Triffids Part IV


In this addition to our history of the Triffids, Mr Jim Moon rounds up some triffid apocrypha. We discuss some comic book adaptations of John Wyndham's classic SF novel, and take an in-depth look at the official sequel Night of the Triffids by Simon Clark which was published to mark the 50th anniversary in 2001, and  its audio adaptation produced by Big Finish


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