Do you remember Commander Keen?



Do you remember Commander Keen ?

Gears of Halo has been talking about Mass Effect lately but before there was the Normandy, before Eden Prime and the Geth, before Miranda Lawson and before the Reapers, and before there was Commander Sheppard there was the ultimate Commander, Commander Keen.

Billy Blaze would jump around on a pogo stick avoiding green aliens and shooting robots with his laser gun and it was the coolest thing around at the time for my thirteen / 15 year old year old self. Except maybe Lemmings....

Commander Keen taught me about looking for hints and tricks in games. A secret message there, a subtle joke there. It was very original in many facets of its workings.

tom hall commander keen
Classic Tom Hall pose
A bit of of history of the game's birth tells that three men made it possible. Tom Hall, John Romero and John Carmack banded together in their 'off time' at a company called Softdisk but they eventually left to form the company ID.

I recall the first episode was shareware which was a pretty cool idea back in the day. Indeed the 3DRealms site says "The entire first episode of Keen was released to the world as shareware. The idea was that you got a good sense of what it looks like and feels like, and if you liked it, you paid for it - and obtained the remaining parts of the game"

The game was released in December 1990 "Gamers who wanted the next two levels had to pay for them - and pay they did. In January, the ID guys got their first royalty check, for approximately $10,000." They didn't look back after that.

commander keen billy blaze cosplay
Billy Blaze cosplay
John and Tom went on to become involved in Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake.

Those three games became genuine gaming phenomenons in their own right.  I think a lot of modern games such as Halo and the like have a wee duty of debt to such games.

I see that Commander Keen is available for download on the Steam service - I'd buy the game if there was an ipad version! Can someone make that happen?

Top 10 U2 Love Songs


bono with bikini girls
Bono looking for some fast love?

Top 10 U2 Love Songs

The Beatles sang that All You Need Is Love and just about every band since has as well so it's no surprise that U2 have song a few songs that ponder the wondrousness of love and all it's ins and outs.

Here's a the top songs that either feature the subject love in their lyrics or are clearly love songs by U2.

Love is Blindness

A haunting tracking that closed the mighty body of work that was Achtung Baby - the lyrics suggest an quite desperate love where nothing else matters but that love - a deep play on the phrase love is blind but the neighbours aint joke perhaps?

When Love Comes to Town 

Some men are afraid of love. They'd prefer to hit it and quit before they have to contend with their feelings. At least that's what this duet between Bono and the legendary bluesman B.B. King might leave you thinking....

Love Rescue Me

A desperate man calls out for love. It's a man that's hurting that sings this aching ballad from the Rattle and Hum album.

Love And Peace Or Else

A rocker from U2 from the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb album, this is U2's Give Peace A Chance effort - it's basically Bono asking why can't we all just get along in peace and harmony with some peace loving mung beans thrown in for good measure. Or something.

The deluxe edition of the album has a liner note which says 'don't become a monster in order to defeat a monster' which I think sums up the lyrical intent behind the song and it ties in with Bono's Coexist mantra

So really it's not a love song per say but one that promotes love?

So Cruel

Not all songs don't need to be of a happy kind of love. So Cruel's lyrics tell of a person in love with another whom is bending and breaking their heart with their thoughtless ways. As I listen to the singer's lament, I can't help but feel some sorrow for them.

Hawkmoon 269

Allegedly 269 takes were required to record this song - the character seems to be a love drug addict and needs some love badly and Bono lists the ways he needs it.

Sweetest Thing

This U2 love song is definitely one inspired by real life events for Bono  - it was written for his wife Alison as an apology for missing (or forgetting) her birthday during the recording of The Joshua Tree record. I wonder if Bono owed Alison another song after the featured picture of Bono above with the two bikini girls came out?

Originally featured as a U2 b-side on the Where the Streets Have No Name single, The Sweetest Thing was revamped and released as a single to support U2's first Greatest Hits album. 

One Love

A strident, upbeat love song that celebrates the characters's love for his woman - or indeed possibly love for his god. That's a classic song writer's trick - making the lyrics open to interpretation helps increase the song's broad appeal amongst listeners.

The lyric "I was born I was born to be with you " is a nice romantic line to tell a woman - however the verse below is suggestive of praise to the character's creator..... 

"I was born
I was born to sing for you 

I didn't have a choice
But to lift you up
And sing whatever song you wanted me to"


The first verse of this song suggests sentiments of falling in love for the first time or perhaps truly, madly, deeply falling for someone - the lyric "I have a lover, a lover like no other" suggests the later perhaps is true - indeed that line would be a great compliment to any woman (or man!).

The second verse refers to the love of a brother who would do anything for his sibling - the word brother could easily stand in for friend here as well.

The final verse talks of the love between a father and son that perhaps has gone sour. Collectively these three different settings make for a great story and makes you wonder what kind of person is telling this story and how do those elements relate to one another?


A love song made famous by the Righteous Brothers, this was covered by U2 as a b-side on the With or Without You single. My wife and I played it at our wedding so enough said!

There plenty of other U2 songs out there that refer to love or sing about it without saying the words - what are your favorites?

Sick of love and lust? Want to bite your teeth into something more serious? How about some U2 songs's with lyrics about nuclear politics?

JJ Reviews: Primordium by Greg Bear


You might have read how much I loved Greg Bear's Halo: Cryptum and that within a short while of reading the last page I had ordered the second in the saga, Primordium. I'm gonna assume you've read Cryptum too as I review it. So do I need to say spoilars?

halo primordium cover
JJ Reviews: Primordium by Greg Bear

Opening with a very quick recap of the events of Crytum, it's immeadiately clear that this story is a retelling of an adventure that happened to one of the characters from that novel,  Chakas. The twist is that he appears to not be himself any more. Is he a collection of thoughts on a disk drive? Has he turned into another being? All, I'm sure is to be revealed.

Chakas finds himself crash landed on a Halo and perhaps almost too quickly falls in love (of a kind) with a local 'inhabitant'. From memory, the Halo games have never shown us as having intelligent life (other than plants and the odd bird) so this sets up an interesting premise.

But it's a premise that takes a little time to really get into gear. As a hero and his two new best friends seek out the abandoned city where Riser might be found, we basically learn nothing except that there are rabbits on the Halo.

But once we are passed that minor hurdle Greg Bear settles into the narrative, drop nice little hints and references along the way about the Librarian, geas and the unspoken plan to keep the reader interested. Which is the point of a book right? (You can tell Jimmy Jangles doesn't have a career in book reviewing ahead of him - Ed.)

Finally (and I really do mean finally as it's a bit of a slog) there's a real sinister turn taken where we realise that the Precursor that was revealed to be alive on the last page of Cryptum is alive and well on Halo and seemingly in charge of the bloody thing. Talk about a bad turn... At least  Chakas has found Riser and they start a great journey, the end of which signals the climax of the plot arc.

Things come to a head. Our hero is confronted with saving the Halo so that it can be used against the Foreunners but does he want that?

The ending largely wraps up well, an adventure here, a near death (?) experince there, souls long dead revived through geas to give us context there, an old warrior servant wreaking havoc there and we're done.

The twist, if you could call it that, was obvious and I'd wondered if that was it a few chapters into the main story but fitted in nicely to traditional Halo lore, so I'll give big ups to Greg Bear for that.

Was I satisfied with Primordium? Not really. I found the journey to get the climax long and ponderous. Some of the detail in describing things was so vague as to not be helpful and the climax itself was a convoluted array of ghosts, monitors and walking corpses. That said, it was ultimately a good ending, perhaps just not as exciting as that of Cryptum.

I did feel however that Cryptum and Primordium were both written at same time as the same book, just split in two. I would bet Greg Bear and his 'Halo team' had the trilogy's essential elements well plotted before the writing began (thus meaning a a huge epic novel could have been written - but where's the money in that?!).

Thus the scene is set for the third novel in the The Forerunners Saga. Or is it? The third, as yet not named book, is going to only be released after Halo 4.... which you might recall Frankie having said the novels feed directly into that game. It will thus be interesting to see how Halo 4's plot will influence or echo that third novel.

How a Halo blogger reaches out via Twitter


master chief halo 4

Here's a post I thought I'd write for Twitip but it appears to be a dormant site these days so here you go...

A fair while I ago was delighted that Twitip chose to publish a couple of articles I wrote, 'You know you're addicted to twitter when' and 'The Angels and Demons Guide to Good Twitter Etiquette'. Since that time I've just got on with the job of blogging and using twitter to reach out to my readers. I thought I'd share what I've learned.

How a Halo blogger reaches out via Twitter


Halo is a massively popular series of games for the Xbox 360 and I’m a bit of a Halo nut and soon enough I created Gears of Halo, a blog dedicated to promoting and sharing the ‘fan boy love’ for Halo and other video games I enjoy.

The blog has been steadily building a faithful audience and I believe a stong part of this reader growth is due to using a dedicated Halo Twitter account.

Here’s the lessons I learnt on the way.
  • Bite the bullet, forget your general twitter account and create a new account directly for your blog. It allows like to match to like – people who are only interested in your subject but not what you did on Saturday night will appreciate it. 
  • Follow movers and shakers in your subject niche. I go for two sets of people. The producers of the video games and their industry associates. Another other group to target were the other fans who are clearly ‘talkers’ about Halo games. I know they sometimes check my site out and occasionally give out a RT. 
  • Link your blog posts to your twitter account so when you publish a post, a tweet announcing the fact is made to your followers. Set the tweet so it’s clear it is a ‘New Post’ tweet. I use Twitterfeed
  • Retweet news that other twitter folk come up with or create. This could help you noticed by the watchers and lurkers as being being someone with your finger on the pulse. When it’s time for you to show off your “L33T skillz”, they may just give you a RT. 
  • Come to the party. In the Halo universe and other genres there are plenty of colourful characters – some have taken these over to the Twitterverse and tweet in character – playful engagement with these types of twitterers can help get you noticed in your subject area. Check out the famous Darth Vader twitter account as an example. The twitter force is strong with that one!
  • Write a blog post about the Top Ten People to follow on Twitter in your niche. Let those people know about it and being flattered, they might just retweet the post giving you more exposure. Trust me, it works! 
  • Aim to have more people following you than you follow yourself. It’s a ‘people like them so I'll like them’ psychology. I suspect there’s some kind of mental accounting people do when deciding whether to follow someone – having more followers than you follow might suggest your audience is more than just your friends and thus are worth following. 
  • That said, anytime a follower engages with you, consider following them back. It may help cement their loyalty to you, your twitter account and perhaps more importantly, your blog. 
  • How do you get more followers? Make it clear on your blog you have a twitter account. Invite people to follow you. I have a note at the bottom of every post, suggesting people follow. 
It's my conclusion that as a result of having a dedicated twitter account with followers that are specifically interested in your website’s subject matter, you're more likely to get more readers of your posts than without it.

Those readers are perhaps also more likely to engage with you on the site, for instance, they might leave comments.

Lastly, as your ‘authority’ as an being an expert within your subject niche grows, so does the chance that that authority will create more authority by way of new followers and increased through-put readership of your blog.

Now, how l33t are your retweet skillz?

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