The Tomb Raider I’d like

(Image source: Core Design Tribute Fan Site.)

This year, the Tomb Raider franchise turned 25, and it’s only by chance that I even found out about that. I’ve been a fan ever since I was a teen, but before this year, I hadn’t touched anything Tomb Raider in quite a while. About two months ago, I reluctantly decided to try out Legend for the third time, and I fully expected to put it down without completing it for the third time.

Little did I know that I would get so hooked up that, in addition to finishing the whole LAU trilogy, trying out (and hating the guts of) Optional Tomb Raider, and beginning a playthrough of all the classic games, I’d start following several related twitter accounts, YouTube channels, the /r/tombraider subreddit, and even join a forum. (That’s how I found out about the 25th anniversary.)

Attitude, young lady!

The first time I tried Legend was in 2012, when I bought LAU. I think I quit after a couple of levels at most. The second time was about five years later, when I pushed all the way to the first Kazakhstan level and then quit, not particularly pleased with the experience. There were very minor things irking me, but the real reason I quit both times was just one: Lara was too nonchalant about murdering people.

In Anniversary (a prequel), Lara did show remorse and shame for taking a life, but then I guess it kind of grew on her? (Credit: David Angle.)

If you take a look at things like this or this, you’ll see that I’m not a great fan of death in general, let alone of murder. Yes, I know—it’s just a game, and telling that to myself enough times was how I managed to overcome my aversion and enjoy LAU. Besides, Lara never made a big deal out of killing people in the classic games either, and I played almost all of them, so why was this a problem now?

Well, in Legend, it was different.

I distinctly remember my first encounter with enemies in the very first level of Legend. They were both armed and didn’t exactly come across as very friendly people, but they were talking about their own business and hadn’t even seen me yet. At that point, Lara didn’t even know for a fact who they were. I knew that, had I tried to just sneak past them, they’d probably open fire, so I did what Lara does and killed them. While I did that, she and her friends back in London were amiably talking over the phone about Lara’s new quest and even cracking jokes. I found that off-putting enough that I quit playing.

She literally said she didn’t have the foggiest clue who he was before killing him. Also, that he was unremarkable. Well, that’s kinda rude… (Screenshot from SourceSpy91’s video.)

As said, when I gave the game a second chance, I quit early in Kazakhstan, but I think what really hit me as bad taste was something Lara said in the Japan levels. The local Japanese mafia boss she was facing was understandably complaining about her killing his henchmen, to which Lara replied: “I’ve simplified your payroll.”

The video starts just before the payroll quote. It’s a very witty punchline, but it sort of makes her come across as so self-important that she gets to decide who lives and who dies.

She’s a badass, I get it. I like her that way. However, there’s a difference between being a badass and trivialising murder, even that of criminals. I still love LAU and all the preceding titles (most definitely not the reboots, and not just because they take the concept of mass-murder to a whole new level), but I think I would like them and Lara more if she wasn’t so casual about killing people.

If I could do it…

Before anyone plays the sexism card: this doesn’t have anything to do with her being a woman. I don’t play FPSs or war games for the same reason (also I find them boring as hell), regardless of the genitals that their main characters were born with. I like Lara Croft as a character, and I think she could be a more positive character if she dropped the cavalier attitude in regards to gunning other living creatures down. Yes—when she kills animals, that too bugs me.

Toby Gard. I think he’s a very interesting chap. Sooner or later, I need to reach out to him… (Credit: Jon Jordan, CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.)

I’m not alone in this: Lara’s father himself, Toby Gard, said in a Gamasutra interview that he’s “not keen on just mindlessly killing humans in games.” That was one of the reasons why the first Tomb Raider had so few human enemies. (Their number went significantly up in subsequent installments, but Gard had already left the team shortly after Tomb Raider was released.)

Not that I count the survivor timeline as Tomb Raider, but even if I did, it certainly didn’t solve that problem. If anything, the survivor games exacerbated it, and the jarring dissonance between reboot Lara’s careless brutality in the gameplay and her relentless whimpering during the cutscenes made it even worse. Classic Lara may be too casual about murder, but at least she is consistent.

Currently, Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics seem to be a little too busy stuffing square pegs into round holes, so I don’t really hold my hopes up. However, on the off chance that any people from SE or CD looking for ideas might ever read this, here’s a couple about a nearly murder-free Tomb Raider game.

…I’d do it like this.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Tomb Raider was created with the exploration of ancient, lost tombs in mind, and typically, the people you might chance upon in such places are already dead. I also wouldn’t expect to find too many dangerous live animals in an ancient tomb where no one has set foot in ages—especially not in tiny, locked crypts with no food, water, or air. (Finding usable medikits or ammos for just the kind of guns you happen to have with you is also not very likely, but at least it’s not logically impossible. Maybe Lara is just lucky like that.)

The Obelisk of Khamoon level in Tomb Raider (1996). Those pumas (panthers? I don’t really know) just came out of a locked chamber with a floor area of maybe three or four square metres. I have so many questions my head is going to explode. (Screenshot from Kawaii Games’ video.)

Naturally, Lara Croft without her trademark dual pistols would be just as much of a heresy as Super Mario without his mustache would be (corollary: reboot Lara is not Lara), but no humans or animals to kill doesn’t mean nothing to kill.

This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’d be absolutely thrilled about a Tomb Raider game where I can lose myself in a mysterious, ancient temple or tomb to explore, knowing that supernatural creatures (like the thralls in Underworld, or the mummies in The Last Revelation) might be lurking behind every corner. Importantly, enemies like that are unrealistic enough that I would have no qualms about gunning them down, nor would I mind Lara’s witticisms about it (“This is a tomb: I’ll make them feel at home” just doesn’t sound that funny to me when it refers to people.)

Shoot them to your heart’s content, Lara. They’re unrealistic enough to be disposable. (Screenshot from Games 4k’s video.)

In contrast, human enemies that fire guns at you are trite and banal. If I wanted that, I’d play Call of Duty or some other FPS. They also don’t fit very well in the kind of game I’m describing, and detract from the very same feeling of isolation that contributed to making the first game so enjoyable.

However, ruthless human enemies who wouldn’t hesitate to fire on Lara may still make sense in a number of plots—for example, one where they’re trying to find a relic before she does. Even in those cases, there is a way for Lara to take the high ground while pursuing her objectives and keeping the game entertaining: Batman’s way.

She doesn’t need to go around wearing a cape or do the Christian Bale voice (entertaining as that would be), but instead of shooting human enemies dead, she could use the same stealth combat techniques of the Caped Crusader, for the very same reason: she doesn’t have it in her to take a life. Besides, personally I find that sneaking behind enemies to knock them out, performing silent takedowns, and engaging in some good ol’ melee fights, would make the games more stimulating. (Yes, I know the reboots did that. No, I still don’t like them, and they still don’t count as Tomb Raider in my books.)

Okay, maybe the costume, detective vision, and that kind of stuff aren’t very tomb-raidery, but I would love something along the lines of the Batman Arkham series’ predator encounters in a Tomb Raider game. (Screenshot from dalleval’s video.)

At the time of writing, I haven’t managed to play Angel of Darkness yet, but I understand that it featured stealth combat and that it sort of sucked. However, as far as I know the game was essentially a bunch of bugs strung together with a few lines of working code, and it’s hardly to be taken as proof that stealth combat can’t work in a Tomb Raider game.

Original concept art of Lara Croft. When she wasn’t yet an aristocrat, I take it. (Source: Core Design Tribute Fan Site.)

To be fair, a change like what I’m proposing might be a departure from how Toby Gard had envisioned Lara—she was supposed to be a dangerous, austere character of aristocratic descent, very attractive and yet unattainable and hard to approach. One of Gard’s sources of inspiration for Lara was Tank Girl (probably not for the aristocratic-austere thing), and I guess my idea would push Lara further away from her. At the same time, it could be a way to evolve her character into a more mature one who did away with murder for the sake of achieving her goals.

(Un)realism

As a side note, knocking people out for hours on end without causing them permanent injuries the way Batman does isn’t really a thing. If you beat someone unconscious, or do a blood choke on them, and they don’t wake up within seconds, they are brain-damaged at best and dead at worst. Nothing that a little suspension of disbelief can’t fix, though, and actually, making Lara drop her murdering habit might also add a little bit of realism in other ways.

I’m willing to believe that, if she had killed just one person in her entire life, she could be lucky enough not to get caught; but someone must well have stumbled upon at least some of the many bodies she’s left in her wake over the years, right? And none of those cases were ever traced back to her?

In Underworld, after her manor burned down, Lara said she would go search for Thor’s belt after dealing with the authorities about the arson. Yeah, right. I mean—hello, there are more notches on your gun than there are hairs on your head, and speaking of guns, you have an assault rifle on your back. I think the coppers might want to talk to you about more than just the fire.

After you deal with the authorities, Lara dear, I’m afraid you’ll spend the next twenty-five hundred years in prison. (Screenshot from Herbie Games’ video.)

And do we want to talk about Tomb Raider II? Just how did she get rid of the bodies of all the mobsters she killed in her own house without anyone ever noticing, for chrissake? And what about Angel of Darkness? In that game, she’s on the run, attempting to clear herself of being suspected of killing her former mentor. Given her impressive total body count and how she’s somehow always got away with it, I’m not sure why she should care if anyone mistakenly thinks she’s killed one more guy.

Why yes, I did see enough. Just pray the police won’t.

Dear Santa…

So, if I could ask Santa Croft for any present at all, what would I ask?

First and foremost, I would ask that Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics forget about unifying the timelines. Many fans like the survivor timeline, so by all means, continue it if you must, but keep it separate from the classic and LAU timelines. Make it a parallel universe or something, whatever you like, but please, consider picking up from Underworld and developing that timeline from there, without dragging all the survivor drama into it. You could make more fans happy that way, and you’d have more games to sell to fans who wouldn’t touch anything survivor with a ten-foot pole.

Huh? Oh, no. Back in the day, Core Design went a lot crazier than this when it came to promotional renders. (Source: Core Design Tribute Fan Site.)

Any new game in the style of LAU would be great, but if I could choose, I’d ask for a game heavily focused on tomb exploration with supernatural enemies, with only stealth combat available whenever Lara is dealing with human enemies. I’d ask for a game with today’s realistic graphics, but without any full-body plastic surgery done on Lara. She looked just fine in LAU. (In the classic games—eh, I’m not sure. I might or might not have something about that going on behind the scenes.) Oh, and yes, Santa—do check if Keeley Hawes is available to voice Lara once again. If I hear Camilla Luddington go “Aaa you thaaa?” once more, I swear I myself might become too casual about murder…

Playing dominoes with numbers

(Image credit: Ogutier, from Pixabay)

I am a mathematician. Okay, let me rephrase that—I am a guy with a master’s degree in mathematics, which is not at all the same thing. Still, even though these days I don’t do nearly enough maths to be considered a mathematician (let alone that I suck at it anyway), I still like maths, and I try to take advantage of any chance I have to brush up some.

When I started studying maths, I sucked at it even more than now, and to this date, I still remember my first, traumatic encounter with mathematical induction. The abridged version is that induction is used to prove things about whole numbers, and it works sort of like dominoes, in only two steps.

The first step is finding a number for which what you want to prove—your hypothesis—is actually true. You do this the old-fashioned way: you take a stab at what number might do the trick (usually 1), and then you literally do the maths to see if your hypothesis applies to that number or not.

In the second step—called the induction step—you need to show that if what you want to prove is true for some number, then it is also true for the next one. Once you do that, you get a domino-like chain reaction that starts from the first number you found and goes on all the way to infinity, because just like dominoes, each number that “falls” will “push over” the next one.

I made a short video that explains how induction works and shows it at work in a fairly simple example, which you might find useful to watch before you read further.

Today, induction is very intuitive for me, but the first time my teacher mentioned it, I thought he was trying to pull my leg. To be fair, I wasn’t very well-versed in abstract reasoning; the teacher began his explanation with: “Let P(n) be a given property…”, and I was like: “Huh… What does that mean?” (If you’re a mathematician, you understand just how bad I was at that point.)

Still, induction can be quite confusing. If you don’t pay attention to the nuances, you might well end up thinking that induction boils down to assuming the very thing you’re trying to prove, which is a form of circular reasoning and makes no sense at all. That’s what I thought at first.

In general, when you prove something by induction, you want to show that it is true for every number n after a certain point; for example, in the video above I showed that a formula was true for all whole numbers from 1 onwards. It’s easy to mix this up with the induction step, where you do assume that your hypothesis is true, but not for every number. Only for some, unspecified number, and only for the sake of showing that if your hypothesis were true for that number, then it would be true for the number right after it too. 

That’s why, to prove anything by induction, you first need to find at least a number that makes your hypothesis work: once you have it, you apply the induction step to it, and you get another number for which the hypothesis works. Then you apply the induction step again to that number, and you get another one, and so on.

Of course you don’t actually apply the induction step infinitely many times; that would defeat the purpose—and it’s not like you could do it anyway. The domino effect guarantees that, if you found a starting number and you nailed the induction step, then your hypothesis is true for all numbers from the starting one on.

But relying on your intuitive understanding of the domino effect isn’t enough to show that induction works. That’s just an analogy (and not everyone likes it). You can prove that induction works; it’s not a difficult proof, but if you’re not a maths person, the same proof done with dominos might help you understand the real proof better, so let’s start with that.

Proving that induction works: dominoes

What we want to prove is that, if

a) The first domino falls, and

b) Whenever a domino falls, the next domino in line will fall too

then the whole row of dominoes will fall. We’re going to prove it by contradiction—that is, we’re going to assume that a) and b) are true, but that the whole row of dominoes won’t fall: some will stay up. This will lead to a contradiction, and so we will know that the idea that some dominoes won’t fall can’t be correct.

Okay, so a) and b) are true, but some dominoes stayed up nonetheless. Let’s consider all these dominoes that didn’t fall, in the same order that they were in the full row.

Since we kept track of the order of the dominoes that didn’t fall, we can tell which of them was closest to the beginning of the row; let’s say it was in position x. Since domino x was the closest to the beginning of the row that didn’t fall, the domino right before it, domino x – 1, did fall. (Note that we’re assuming the first domino in the row fell over, so domino x is at least in the second position, and consequently there is a domino in position x – 1.)

Now, we are assuming that b) is true, i.e. that whenever a domino falls, the next one falls too. Since domino x – 1 did fall, b) implies that domino x fell too, which flies right in the face of what we just said about domino x, that is that it was one of those that didn’t fall. So, domino x both fell and didn’t fall. Some domino.

This all means that if a) and b) were true, and yet some dominoes didn’t fall—that is, if induction didn’t work—we would wind up with wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey dominoes that somehow fall and don’t fall at the same time, which are—well, not a thing. Hence, induction must work, and the wibbly-wobbly dominoes can stuff it.

Proving that induction works: the real deal

Say we got a certain statement about positive whole numbers. It can be any statement at all, but if it helps, you can imagine it’s the same formula we proved in the video above.

What we want to prove is that, if

a) The statement works for 1, and

b) Whenever the statement is true for a number n, it is also true for n + 1

then the statement will be true for any value of n, starting from 1. Like before, we’re going to assume that a) and b) are true, and yet there are numbers that come after 1 for which the statement doesn’t work. If we do things right, this will again lead to a contradiction.

So, a) and b) are true, but there’s a bunch of numbers such that our statement isn’t true for them. These are absolutely ordinary, positive whole numbers, so we can find the smallest of them. Let’s call it s. Since s is the smallest number for which our statement doesn’t work, we know it must work for s – 1, because s – 1 is smaller than s. (Just like with dominoes, since we’re assuming our statement is true for 1, we know s—the smallest number for which the statement isn’t true—must be at least 2. This means s – 1 is at least 1, and hence still a positive whole number, which is what we want.)

However, we’re assuming that b) is true, which means that if the statement is true for a number, like s – 1, it’s true for the next one too—in this case, s – 1 + 1, that is s. Here’s our contradiction: our statement both is and isn’t true for number s. That can’t be, so we know that, if a) and b) are true, then the statement is true for all numbers starting from 1.

The proof can be generalised so that the smallest value for which our statement works can be any positive whole number other than 1, and actually, induction works for positive and negative numbers alike (and zero, too) but we don’t need to go there.

The missing steps

In the video above, I said I skipped some steps in the proof, and I promised I would show them in a blog post, so here we are. For your convenience, I’ll redo the whole proof here more concisely, and I’ll make sure to point out the steps I skipped in the video.

In the video, we wanted to prove that, no matter how you choose a positive integer n, it’s always true that

\displaystyle 1 + 2+ 3 + \dots + n = \frac{n(n+1)}{2}.

That is, the sum from 1 to a number of your choosing is equal to that number times the next number, divided by 2.


The formula holds for n = 1:

\displaystyle \frac{1(1+1)}{2}= \frac{1\times 2}{2}=\frac{2}{2}=1.

The next step in the video is to show that, if the formula is true for some number n, it is also true for the next number, n + 1. So we assume that the formula is true for n, and we use this assumption to rewrite the sum of the first n + 1 positive integers like this:

\displaystyle  1 + 2 + 3 + \dots + n + (n + 1) = \frac{n(n+1)}{2} + (n + 1).

The steps I skipped in the video lead from the right-hand side of that equality to the end result. Here they are:

\displaystyle \frac{n(n+1)}{2} + (n + 1) = \frac{n(n+1)+ 2(n +1)}{2} = \frac{(n+1)(n+2)}{2}

where in the middle we factored (n + 1) out. Yeah, it was pretty much a single step, but it’s the kind of step that makes a video (more) boring.

As said in the video description, the formula doesn’t just work for positive integers. It works for zero and negative integers too. When n = 0, we have

\displaystyle \frac{0(0+1)}{2}=\frac{0\times 1}{2}=\frac{0}{2}=0.

In the case of negative integers, the formula looks slightly different:

\displaystyle  -1 - 2 - 3- \dots -n = -\frac{n(n+1)}{2}.

That is, if you’re summing together the first n negative integers, the result is the same as in the positive case, except with the sign flipped. I guess it’s fairly intuitive, given that you’re summing the exact same numbers, except they all got their sign flipped. (The proof looks similar, but I doubt anyone actually wants to see it. Did you even read this far? Nerd.)

Induction gone wrong

In 1989, Joel E. Cohen wrote a bunch of hilariously wrong proofs for the fun of it. One of them was a proof by induction that all horses are the same colour. I thought it was fun enough to make a video about it. Enjoy.

Optional Tomb Raider

After a fairly long break, I was recently bitten by the tomb-raiding bug again. Having completed and thoroughly loved the Legend trilogy over the past few weeks, I decided to give the 2013-rebooted trilogy a chance against my best judgement. The little I’d seen and heard about it told me I wouldn’t like it, but hey—all those overwhelmingly positive reviews on Steam must mean something, right?

Yes. They mean you should never decide what games to buy based on Steam reviews alone, and if you have the chance to get a free demo, do it. Don’t just buy the entire damn trilogy plus a ton of now-useless DLCs just because the whole bundle was on offer for the modest sum of 23.48 euros which you won’t be getting back because it’s too late for a refund. (*takes deep breath*)

Preamble: Rising from the grave tomb

Tomb Raider has a long history of reboots. Lara Croft died a first time at the end of The Last Revelation, killed off by Core Design developers who didn’t know what to do with her anymore. Their boss wasn’t too happy about a million-dollar franchise disappearing just like that, so he offered them the option to either find a way to bring Lara back from the grave (despite a metric fuckton’s worth of Egyptian temple ruins caving in on her) or follow her right into it. That’s how Angel of Darkness came to be, and it was a total trainwreck, rushed out the door incomplete and full of bugs. It was so bad that it killed the very trilogy it was supposed to inaugurate—and Lara with it, for a second time, although just figuratively.

Lara’s second resurrection was brought about by Crystal Dynamics, with the help of Lara’s creator Toby Gard. The new trilogy they created—comprising Tomb Raider: Legend, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, and Tomb Raider: Underworld—was a soft reboot of the series. It disregarded entirely what happened in previous Tomb Raider games, but it featured only minor changes to Lara’s backstory and appearance.

Lara didn’t die at the end of the Legend trilogy, but she kind of did when someone at Square Enix (the current owner of the Tomb Raider franchise) came up with the brilliant idea of rebooting Tomb Raider for the third time. That’s how the survivor timeline came to be—the name probably being a reference to the fact that what’s survived of Tomb Raider into this new timeline is practically nothing.

Because of bugs, I never managed to get past the first five minutes of gameplay, but I’ve heard the plot is really good. (Credit: Internet Archive)

Tomb—pfft—Raider—mhaha!—2013 in a nutshell

Sorry, I just can’t call it that with a straight face.

The survivor timeline too is a trilogy, comprising Tomb Raider (often referred to as Tomb Raider 2013 to tell it apart from the original 1996 game by the same name), Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. While the development side of things was still handled by Crystal Dynamics, reinventing Lara and her backstory was Rhianna Pratchett’s job—yes, the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s daughter.

You’re saying that this is Lara?! (Credit: Lara Croft Online)

The first instalment tells the story of a young and inexperienced Lara Croft on her first expedition together with a bunch of other people. Shit happens and they are stranded on a lost, cursed island, where tons of other trapped castaways from previous expeditions basically made a hobby of killing any newcomers. (Unless the newcomer is called Lara Croft, in which case they generally prefer to capture her for no good reason, so that she can break free, kill hordes of them, and repeat the whole exercise ad nauseam.) In the circumstances, Lara needs to adapt quickly and learn to kill to survive, until eventually somehow she saves the day\breaks the curse\something like that. I don’t know all the details, because about halfway through the game I decided I’d rather watch paint dry and uninstalled it, but I’ve still seen enough to have a rather strong opinion about the good and the bad of this series.

The good

The bad

I hated this game. But for fairness’ sake, I will say that one of the main reasons I hated it is that Tomb Raider 2013 isn’t the type of game I would normally play. It’s an extremely gruesome cover-shooter heavily focussed on long and tedious combat sequences; when it’s not that, it borders on walking simulator territory, holding players by the hand and telling them exactly which buttons they need to push to get from A to B. As such, it’s a combination of two game genres among those I dislike the most, so it starts off at a serious disadvantage. I certainly can’t blame the game for not matching my personal preferences, but that’s pretty much the only thing I can’t blame it for.

God, did I hate this battle. Then again, what did I not hate about this game? (Credit: Tsanko Hhh)

I didn’t find the story particularly intriguing. The game is very slow at telling it, and it does so either through mind-numbingly boring cutscenes about supposedly world-famous archaeologists who for some reason need B-roll about cooking fish, or stupidly long notes that everyone on the damn island has a habit of leaving scattered everywhere. I’m getting Penumbra vibes here, and not just for this: Tomb Raider 2013 features so much gratuitous gore and extreme violence to almost qualify as a survival horror game, except that everything is so over the top that it’s ridiculous rather than scary.

And don’t get me started on the torture porn. To be fair, being shot, hit with arrows, gassed, stabbed, impaled, mauled by wild animals, crushed by rocks, etc, have always been business as usual for Lara Croft, but this game gets a little carried away: impaled through the fucking throat, and we’re shown each and every moment of her agony? It’s almost as though the developers had a thing for hurting her in the most gruesome ways. For Christ’s sake, people, I get that you hate this Lara—I do too—but there’s a limit, right?

This kind of over the top. (Credit: The Bottom Feeder)

I’m no professional reviewer and I’m not really interested in commenting on the graphics (which are generally rather drab and dull, by the way), the sound, or the controls, but I do have something to say about the level of realism (or lack thereof) in the game. The devs put a lot of care into crafting very realistic-looking environments and characters, but this clashes horribly with the utterly unrealistic situations Lara finds herself in.

Okay, I get it. Lara is in the kind of life-and-death, high-adrenaline situation that makes people able to do things they didn’t know they were capable of doing. Still, I have an extremely hard time believing that a twenty-something girl who had never found herself in a situation like that before would so quickly and easily turn into a relentless killing machine.

This isn’t even about whether she is able to cope with murder or not; it’s about whether any of it is even humanly possible. She kills dozens and dozens of grown-arse men, all attacking her at the same time with guns, arrows, knives, etc; and while she did pretty much the same thing in previous games too, in those games she was a seasoned adventurer who’d seen and done the same shit many, many times before. In Tomb Raider 2013, we’re supposed to believe she’s a scared newbie out of her depth, so how the hell is she able to use all sorts of weapons and guns so well right off the bat? She even upgrades them using scrap parts she finds lying around, for fuck’s sake—which, if she actually was a newbie, would be a sure-fire way of having her rifle blow in her face.

Me? Nope. Never held a gun before. (Credit: The Average Gamer)

Tons of adrenaline pumping through your veins don’t miraculously make you able to fire guns, use parachutes, or do all manner of crazy acrobatics without prior, extensive training. I could buy into her surviving one of all the ordeals she went through out of sheer luck, but her odds of making it out alive of an island where nearly everyone wants to kill her are, for all intents and purposes, zero.

This means that, as an origin story supposed to tell how Lara Croft grew to be the badass we all know and love, Tomb Raider 2013 failed abysmally. To be that kind of story, they should have toned down the combat and all the assorted catastrophes Lara goes through by a lot. As it is, it’s an end story about a girl who got impaled by a rebar straight through her abdomen literally in the first ten minutes of gameplay and bled to death. That’s what should actually have happened when she removed the rebar; instead, off she went merrily running and jumping around, just holding her side while walking to remind players she got a little boo-boo there. I am sceptical you’d be physically able to take a single step with a hole in both your abs and lumbar muscles (not to mention your intestine), but even if you were, the excruciating pain would probably make you keep your arse firmly on the ground.

Sure, go right ahead and remove it. What could possibly go wrong? (Credit: Esmeralda Portillo)

There are other relatively minor things that annoyed me, most of which you can find in this video and in this one. What really made me hate this game is that it’s passed for a Tomb Raider game when it’s not—not by a really long shot.

Tombs? What tombs?

Game creators can give their games any title they damn please, there’s no doubt about that. However, if they’re going to name a game after a well-established brand, they’d better make sure their choice makes sense. You wouldn’t call Super Mario a tower defence game that has nothing to do with Italian plumbers or mushrooms that make you taller, would you?

Now, traditionally, a game in the Tomb Raider series has two main distinguishing features: a gameplay based primarily on exploration, puzzle-solving, and to a minor extent, third-person shooting; and its main character is, you know, Lara fucking Croft. Not some girl who just so happens to be called Lara Croft; the one and only Lara Croft. The real deal.

Tomb Raider 2013 has neither of these features. (And by what I’ve read\heard, its two sequels don’t either.)

For starters, exploring tombs in Tomb Raider 2013 is entirely optional. They’re actually called “optional tombs”, they’re short levels with one or two rooms tops, they have ridiculously easy puzzles, and they reward you with stuff that you could easily do without. I repeat: tomb raiding in Tomb Raider 2013 is entirely optional. That should explain the picture at the top of this post, and why I’ll be referring to the main character of the game as “Optional Lara” from here on—I literally, honestly don’t have it in me to call her Lara Croft. It’d be like referring to Smurfette as Rambo. (Which, given what I’ve just said about her, sounds weird, but one step at a time.)

This proves beyond all reasonable doubts that even the devs didn’t think this was a legit Tomb Raider game.  Sorry guys, that doesn’t solve anything—it’s just pathetic.

If you’re a fan of this game (and haven’t rage-quit reading yet), right now you’re probably complaining that it’s supposed to be an origin story, a tale from a time when Lara didn’t raid tombs just yet. Overlooking the fact that, as said, this game just doesn’t work as an origin story (maybe that of a very lucky mass-murderer; of the tomb raider, not so much), if that was the intent then at least they should have called it Tomb Raider Origins or something like that. They gave the exact same name as the 1996 tomb-raiding-centric game to a game that has virtually nothing to do with tombs or raiding.

Granted, from Tomb Raider II on, tomb exploration was often no longer the focus, either. However, the focus was still the exploration of the game environment, and you’d always wind up looking for some ancient artefact somewhere on the globe, be it in an old, ruined temple or not. Besides, Tomb Raider II and the rest were all sequels to Tomb Raider, the game where Lara actually raided tombs and earned the name. So it made sense that they were named like they were.

The dramatic gameplay difference between anything worth the name Tomb Raider and Optional Tomb Raider should be clear enough already, so let’s move on to my pet peeve: Optional Lara.

It’s not all in a name

The basic idea behind the rewrite of Lara’s character was that she’s not yet the Lara Croft we know. She’s a lot less self-confident, less snarky, and to an extent, less athletic. (The devs managed to hit that sweet spot where she’s not sufficiently athletic to make the game as enjoyable to play as its predecessors, but too athletic for players to believe she’s the noob she’s supposed to be. Bravo.)

In principle, that would be okay. Unfortunately, what Rhianna Pratchett did was take Lara Croft’s character as we knew it, trash it pretty much altogether, and rewrite it from scratch. (The most specific features of the original Lara that survived into Optional Lara are “woman” and “brunette with a ponytail”.) Not at one point did I feel like my gaming companion was Lara Croft. Optional Lara doesn’t look like Lara, doesn’t sound like Lara, and doesn’t behave like Lara. At all. She’s anything but someone who will eventually evolve into the Lara Croft we know.

Spot the intruder. Who looks nothing like Lara Croft? (Hint: it’s not one of the first seven.)

In an interview with Gamasutra, Pratchett said: “There have been grumbles in certain quarters that we’ve broken her down and taken a strong character and made her weak. That’s really not the case.”  Oh, no. It’s actually way worse than that.

Optional Lara is just as bipolar as the gameplay. The game can’t decide if it wants to be a walking sim or a shooter; Optional Lara can’t decide whether she wants to be an irksome crybaby who repeats to herself “You can do this, Lara” well beyond the point of annoyance, or a world-class murderer who cracks open any skulls around with a climbing axe. (I’m hardly the first to complain about the blatant ludonarrative dissonance of this game; even people who liked the game complain about it—see for example here, here, and here.)

In the same Gamasutra interview, Pratchett further stated that “The rich, untouchable, Teflon-coated, British ice-queen isn’t exactly relatable for players, especially in this climate.” Sorry to break it to you, but personally, I could relate so little to Optional Lara as a character that I pretty much sided with the bad guys instead. Not to mention that the entire experience she goes through is so unrealistic that hardly anyone on Earth could possibly relate.

The very traits Pratchett deems to be so unrelatable are so quintessentially Croft that, by throwing them out the window, she didn’t give Lara Croft a reboot—just the boot. What was actually rebooted was her name and the Tomb Raider brand. Square Enix took the fancy sticker and slapped it on an entirely different product hoping to get away with it—which, sadly, they largely did.

This leads to what I think is the most important point. Again in the Gamasutra interview, global brand director Karl Stewart said: “For us as a studio, we’ve looked at where we’ve been, and we felt, well, now is a chance as a studio to put out a definition of our character [Lara, ed] and help evolve it, make it culturally relevant for today.”

Turns out Lara and I have the same favourite games.

Why would they want to do that? If Tomb Raider and Lara Croft really belong to a time long gone (which is highly debatable), let them be and move on. Make the game you feel is relevant for today, featuring the character you think is more relatable for today’s players, and put it out there as its own thing. Putting a character named Lara Croft in a borderline survival horror game with the occasional optional tomb and calling the end result “Tomb Raider” doesn’t make it a Tomb Raider game. Not any more than a character named Samuel Vimes shoehorned into a psychological thriller with the occasional optional carrot makes it a Discworld novel—even if you title it Guards! Guards! (Something that Rhianna Pratchett surely understands.)

The impression I get is that Square Enix wanted to capitalise on their older brand’s fame and milk a bit more money out of the existing Tomb Raider fanbase and the younger players who would be nonetheless attracted by the longstanding popularity of the brand. Maybe they thought this might not happen had they made the new Tomb Raider into its own, separate series that had nothing to do with Lara Croft. (All that would have taken was to literally just come up with a new title and a new name for the main character. No one in their right mind would ever have thought this was a rip-off, because it obviously doesn’t even try to be one.)

I can’t speak to that: in my opinion, the game sucked through and through, and it would have whether they’d passed it for a Tomb Raider game or not. But that’s because I don’t like this kind of game: had it not had that “Tomb Raider” sticker on it, I never would have considered buying it. It doesn’t even qualify as a Tomb Raider game, but it may well be that, as a game of its own genre, it is outstanding and fans of that genre would have bought it regardless of the name it was marketed with. That—and here I’m just taking a wild guess—might have been a gamble that Square Enix wasn’t willing to take, which led to this game usurping a name it simply does not deserve.

Six pages?!

Looks like I got a little carried away. Time to wrap this all up.

There are rumours that Square Enix plans to unify the three Tomb Raider timelines. That’s a bloody awful idea if I’ve ever heard one (not least for the many inconsistencies across the three), and you can rest assured I won’t be touching any future Optional Tomb Raider game with a ten-foot pole.

I’d love to see the real Lara Croft make a comeback in a modern, realistic-looking Tomb Raider game that’s actually worth the name, but I have a hunch that’s not going to happen. (Rather, I fear they might be planning pseudo knock-offs of the classic games featuring Optional Lara in gore bath after gore bath. God forbid.) Thankfully, when I want to spend time with my good old friend Lara, I still can. I can join her as she looks for the Scion, battles the Black Flame in Venice, sneaks into secret bases in Nevada, or tries to save the world from the wrath of Seth. Recently, she and I just made our way into Tihocan’s tomb—with a little help from DOSBox.

If you’re a fan of the survivor timeline and are mighty pissed at me for crucifying your favourite game, sorry—it’s nothing personal. There’s plenty of people in the Tomb Raider community who like telling the whole world why they loved the reboot—and by all means, they should. In the same vein, I wanted to share with the world why I hate this game.

If that can cheer you up, I kinda liked the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot that pretty much the entire fanbase rose against…

20 interesting facts about Peanuts

Image credit: Geordie, from Pixabay

I have been a fan of Peanuts for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall an exact moment when I became a fan or when I first encountered Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang, but I do know I was in love with them all already in elementary school. I would get a Peanuts-themed school diary each year, and I even had a couple of Peanuts dolls that came as free gifts with the laundry detergent my mother used to buy. (Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, and a few different Snoopy’s alter egos, if memory serves.)

I went on buying Peanuts-themed school diaries for as long as I was in school, and during my late teens, I began collecting all comic books of the series I could get my hands on. Peanuts was extremely popular even where I lived—Italy—but I never quite managed to find all the books. I’m not even entirely sure they were all translated and published, but I’d say I got most of them. Recently, I got the last three books of The Complete Peanuts in the original language, and now I can safely say I’ve read each and every of the nearly 18,000 Peanuts strips Charles Schulz drew during his life. That’s how I learned some interesting trivia about the series, which I thought to share here, for the benefit of whoever might be interested.

You’ll forgive the lack of pictures in this post, but you need permission to legally publish syndicated comics on your own website. I’m neither going to pay tons of money for it nor risk a cease-and-desist, so I’ll just link to them.

1. Charlie Brown is not bald.

With the exception of a lock of hair on the front and one on the back, Charlie Brown’s hair never really appeared in the strips, but it is there. Schulz himself confirmed this in a 1990 interview with NPR. According to Schulz, Charlie Brown’s hair is very fair and cut very short so that it’s practically invisible. To support this claim, Linus describes Charlie Brown as “sort of blond” in the Sunday table of July 9, 1989. That seems to contradict an earlier Sunday table where Charlie Brown said to Schroeder that “at least I don’t have yellow hair.” (July 17, 1955.)

2. “Charlie Brown” was one of Schulz’s fellow teachers.

The last volume of The Complete Peanuts (1999-2000) published by Canongate also features the Li’l Folks strips. Mostly single-panel, these strips were a precursor to Peanuts, and some of the themes and characters that would become recurring in Peanuts can be seen already in Li’l Folks. In a short introduction to Li’l Folks in the same volume, Gary Groth states that Charlie Brown was “the name of one of Schulz’s fellow teachers at Art Instruction”, where Schulz used to work in 1946. A character named Charlie Brown appears multiple times in Li’l Folks, though it looks nothing like the modern Charlie Brown.

3. Linus was named after Linus Maurer.

Linus Maurer was an American cartoonist friend of Schulz’s. According to Schulz himself, Maurer was the first person to see the first sketch of Linus Van Pelt, who was then named after Maurer. Unfortunately, Maurer passed away in 2016 at age 90.

4. Peanuts is (possibly) set in Pinecrest, California.

To my knowledge, the January 8, 1990 strip is the only one mentioning the probable place where the Peanuts gang lives. In that strip, Linus mentions that the school where he and Sally go is the Pinecrest Elementary School. According to my research, there are only two Pinecrests in the US: Pinecrest, Florida, and Pinecrest, California. I don’t know for sure which of the two it is (if any), but my guess would be Pinecrest, California because Schulz used to live in California. Also, Snoopy’s brother Spike lives in Needles, California.

5. Schulz was a friend of tennis star Billie Jean King.

Billie Jean King was among the many athletes referenced in Schulz’s work. They knew each other personally, and as King herself stated in her preface to the 1973-1974 Complete Peanuts, mentioning her in a strip was “his way of letting me know that we needed to talk or just catch up with one another.”

Speaking of mentions, athletes weren’t the only people, fictional or real, that Schulz named in his work. Something that caught me by surprise was that Harry Potter was mentioned in the November 8, 1999 strip. Sometimes I forget that Harry Potter is a rather old series by now, and that Peanuts ran until fairly recent times.

6. “Happy birthday, Amy!”

Several August 5 strips have the text “Happy birthday, Amy!” written somewhere on them. These birthday wishes were meant for Amy, indeed, one of Schulz’s daughters.

7. Coconut hatred.

Several characters in Peanuts, including Charlie Brown and Snoopy, hate coconut with a passion. The reason is that Schulz himself did. In a Facebook post, the Schulz Museum said that “Charles Schulz first ate coconut when he was a child, and he disliked the taste so much he was determined never to eat it again. When Charlie Brown came along he shared the cartoonist’s loathing for coconut, and he was very clear how he felt about it. Schulz himself once proudly stated ‘…I’ve taught all my children to hate it too’.” According to the New York Times,  Schulz “hated cats, coconut and sleeping away from home.” (I guess his hatred for cats was milder, in that only Snoopy out of the entire gang went on to inherit it.)

8. Poochie started it all.

The vast majority of the characters call Charlie Brown using his full name. The only exceptions are Peppermint Patty (“Chuck”), Marcie (“Charles”), Snoopy (“the round-headed kid”), and Peggie Jean (“Brownie Charles”, see below). This was the case from the very first time Charlie Brown appeared in Peanuts, but technically it wasn’t always the case. In a January 1973 strip, it is revealed that this trend was started by Poochie, a minor character who was mentioned in just a handful of strips and appeared only in one. Poochie was Charlie Brown’s neighbour, who moved away from the neighbourhood during Snoopy’s puppyhood, and it was she who started calling him using his full name.

9. Snoopy wasn’t always Charlie Brown’s dog.

At the beginning of the strip, it wasn’t exactly clear whose dog Snoopy was. Regardless, in a series of 1968 strips it is revealed that Snoopy used to be the dog of Lila, a minor character who appeared only in a few strips. Lila’s family could not keep Snoopy, who was returned to the puppy farm he was born in and later on bought by Charlie Brown’s parents.

10. Charlotte Braun and the axe.

Charlotte Braun is a very early minor character who appeared in ten strips between November 1954 and February 1955. She is a dominating personality who constantly shouts. It’s unclear why Schulz named her so obviously after Charlie Brown. What’s really interesting about her is that in 1955, a fan named Elizabeth Swaim wrote to Schulz and asked him to remove the character, for some reason. Schulz took her suggestion, possibly because he himself hadn’t seen a lot of potential in the character; he replied to Swaim as follows:

“Dear Miss Swaim, 

I am taking your suggestion regarding Charlotte Braun and will eventually discard her. If she appears anymore it will be in strips that were already completed before I got your letter or because someone writes in saying that they like her. Remember, however, that you and your friends will have the death of an innocent child on your conscience. Are you prepared to accept such responsibility? Thanks for writing, and I hope that future releases will please you. 

Sincerely, 

Charles M. Schulz.”

The reply included a drawing of Charlotte Braun with an axe in her head. That’s way grimmer than I would ever have expected.

11. Peggie Jean and Brownie Charles

Charlie Brown’s long-standing love interest was the fabled little red-haired girl, but she wasn’t the only one. Peggie Jean, a minor character from the 90s, was on Charlie Brown’s mind pretty much till the end of the strip, and she actually kissed him. (She will break up with him, eventually.) The first time they introduced themselves to each other, Charlie Brown was so nervous that he said his name was “Brownie Charles”—which Peggie Jean liked so much that she started using it as a nickname for him.

12. The mystery girl

On March 2, 1994, an unknown girl walks up to Snoopy’s doghouse to tell him to get up and chase rabbits. That’s something Frieda would usually do, but the girl looks nothing like her. According to Wikipedia, Schulz claimed that the girl was Patty, but she looks nothing like Patty either. Indeed, the claim on Wikipedia has no source, so whoever that girl was is still a mystery.

13. Adults in Peanuts

Adults almost never appear in Peanuts. They are mentioned, or their presence may be implied, but they are usually not seen. A few exceptions do exist: the first one was on May 16, 1954, when adult legs were shown during a golf tournament to which Lucy participated; indistinct adult figures are shown from a distance in the May 30, 1954 strip too. Another notable exception was the November 11, 1998 strip, where Willie and Joe, two characters by Schulz’s fellow cartoonist Bill Mauldin, appear alongside Snoopy to celebrate Veterans Day.

14. Snoopy didn’t invent the “It was a dark and stormy night” incipit.

It’s quite possible that you know this already and I’m just very ignorant, but even though Snoopy did contribute a lot to the popularisation of the incipit “It was a dark and stormy night”—a quintessentially banal opener—he didn’t invent it. It was the opening sentence of the 1830 novel Paul Clifford by English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

15. Snoopy had siblings.

Snoopy wasn’t an “only dog”. (Which flies right in the face of what he himself said in the June 6, 1959 strip.) As stated in the strip from June 18, 1989, Snoopy was one of a litter of eight: Spike, Belle, Andy, Olaf, Marbles, Rover, Molly, and Snoopy himself. While Spike is arguably the most famous of Snoopy’s siblings, they all appear at some point in the strip, with the exception of Molly and Rover, who only appear in the TV special Snoopy’s reunion. A recurring theme of several strips of the last few years of the series was Andy and Olaf trying to reach Spike in Needles, but systematically getting lost somewhere.

16. Snoopy’s alter egos.

Probably, everybody knows about Snoopy’s most famous alter ego—the World War I pilot whose archnemesis was the Red Baron—but that was far from being the only one. The list is long, and includes everything from simple impressions (mostly other animals, which Snoopy envies for a reason or another) to actual personas that would recur throughout the series: surgeon, lawyer, grocery clerk, various coaches, and many, many more.

17. The Great Watermelon.

Yes. Yes, I know. It’s “pumpkin”, not watermelon. Except in Italy it was watermelon, because flimsy reasons. The translation stuck, and I grew up reading about the Great Watermelon instead of the Great Pumpkin. And no, Schulz’s pumpkins look nothing like watermelons.

18. The little red-haired girl was actually shown in the strip.

That’s right. Charlie Brown’s elusive love interest appeared in the strip. It happened only once, and it was just a silhouette, but it was her. It was on May 25, 1998.

19. The reason Spike lives in the desert is rather grim.

Snoopy’s brother Spike lives all alone in the desert, despite the fact it obviously makes him miserable, and no reason was given until September 18, 1994. The reason is, one day Spike was walking out with people, and they ordered him to chase a rabbit that darted in front of them. Spike didn’t really want to, but did it anyway. To escape Spike, the rabbit ran into the road and was hit by a car, for which Spike hated himself and the people who made him do it. He escaped to the desert so that he could not hurt anything else again. That’s right—guilt and perhaps a desire to punish himself are what led Spike to a life of isolation. Why Schulz gave him such a sad backstory is anyone’s guess—I am not aware of a specific reason anyway. (If you are, please let me know.)

20. A selection of last-times.

On October 16, 1999, Charlie Brown put away his baseball gear for the last time. The “next year” he refers to in the strip never came, as Schulz died around four months later. The last time baseball was mentioned in the strip was on December 27, 1999.

On October 24, 1999 the last football gag took place. Rerun took Lucy’s place, and neither we, nor she will ever know if Rerun pulled the football away. (That’s what makes Lucy go “Aaugh!”, and that, too, is the last time the cry appears in the strip.) According to Wikipedia (and the Peanuts Wikia as well), about the football gag, Schulz said that having Charlie Brown finally kick the football after so many years would be a disservice to the character; however, upon signing his final strip, Schulz realised that it was a “dirty trick” that the “poor kid” never got (and never would get) to kick the football. (I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of these quotes, but I could not find actual interviews or documents proving he actually said them.)

Schulz always did everything by himself, lettering included, but because of his declining health in late 1999, on December 30 and 31, 1999, and January 1, 2000, the lettering was either done by someone else or by computer.

The last daily strip was published on January 3, 2000. From that point until the day after Schulz’s death, on February 13, 2000, only Sunday tables were published. The final daily strip re-announces Schulz’s retirement (which had already been announced on December 14, 1999), and thanks the fans and editors of the strip.


It’s too bad that Schulz died. I would have loved to see how the Peanuts gang would have evolved in the age of the Internet, social media, and ubiquitous cell phones. Had he been still alive, he would have been 98 years old at the time this post was published.

Back in my day…

(Image credit: Christiaan Colen, licenced under CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you’ve browsed the Internet recently, you probably noticed how every-f#$@ing-one is dying to know whether you are going to accept their non-essential cookies or not. (I know, right? Weirdest sexual innuendo ever.) You’ll also have noticed how you’re asked to subscribe to something for every damn thing you need to do, and how receiving an email or a notification is no longer an exciting sign that somebody cares.

Okay, I admit it. I sound like a grumpy old man who’s making a big deal out of nothing. Still, while I thankfully am nowhere near being old yet, and while I prefer looking ahead over looking back, there are a few things that I like looking back to. One of them is the Internet of 20+ years ago.

If you weren’t born in the early 90s at the very latest, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. You hardly remember a time when Facebook and social media weren’t a thing, or when “google” wasn’t a verb. You almost certainly never used Yahoo! Directory, and I would be surprised if you knew about Yahoo! at all. (I doubt I’d know about it if I hadn’t lived through the times when it was the go-to search engine, but maybe it’s more popular than I think and I’ve been living under a rock all these years.)

I got my first computer in early 1998, when connections were all dial-ups and the next level was ISDN. I wouldn’t hear about ADSL for another five years, I think. That was the time when Windows 95 was all the rage (for most home users anyway, I guess), the first edition of Windows 98 was just about to be inflicted on the world, and accelerated graphics cards like 3DFX were add-ins that worked alongside your regular 2D card.

This, younglings, was the Google of those days. (Found on the Wayback Machine, February 1998)

It was a shiny new world for me, and I was in my teens, so I guess it’s understandable if I look back on it so fondly. However, there was something about the Internet of those days that I miss.

Cosiness. The Internet of the late 90s was cosy. It felt small and quiet. Despite really annoying things like animated backgrounds, background music, and pop-ups, most websites felt calm and homely, like nice little living rooms where only you and the website owner were sitting, chatting amiably. No one trying to get you to like or subscribe, little-to-no ads (though, on the flipside, there was no AdBlock to block them, as far as I know), no trillion of cookie options to tick or GDPR notices to read. (Not that anybody ever does.)

An old 14.4 kbps dial-up modem. (Credit: Lawrence Sinclair, licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

To be fair, finding what you were looking for, if it was there to be found in the first place, wasn’t so easy as it is now. Today, if what you need isn’t among the first few Google search results, it probably doesn’t exist; in the 90s, you’d comb through each and every last page of Yahoo! Search (or Directory), because the website you wanted might easily have been at the very bottom of the list. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate not having to waste hours looking for things, but back then I had a lot more time to kill, and searching for something on the Internet was like a treasure hunt. I was into emulated games a lot, and finding a reliable ROM website after patiently looking for it the entire afternoon was an assured dopamine hit, just like finding a large MIDI collection, or simply the hobby website of someone who shared my same interests.

And, oh, those websites. Visiting your favourite ones over and over again, reading them from top to bottom, looking for updates, was kinda like going over to a friend’s place for tea and cookies. (Only the essential ones, though.) It was a way to get to know the people behind them without ever having met them. Instant messaging wasn’t really a thing (unless you count IRC) and your best shot at talking to them (especially if they lived abroad, which was often the case for people running the websites I visited) was sending them an email. You’d wait for a reply like you would for a Christmas present. (Yes, I’m exaggerating it again, but it was very pleasant nonetheless.) Anyone else remembers the excitement of the chime sound in Internet Mail when you got new messages?

Speaking of sounds, depending on how old you are, you might not know that back then your devices (which were just desktop or laptop computers at best) weren’t connected to the Internet all the time. Dial-up meant that you were making a phone call to connect, and the longer you were connected, the more you’d pay. That sucked big time, but if visiting your favourite website was like being at a friend’s place, switching on your modem and hearing the dial tone was like wearing your coat and going out to get there. I know a lot of people are very nostalgic about that sound.

Needless to say, at the time there was no YouTube, no Netflix, and no streaming. As far as I recall, AVI was one of the most popular video formats, it wasn’t very common to find videos to download, and when you did, your 33.6 kbps modem (or 56 kbps, if you had the latest gear) would take hours to download a 10MB video. So, yeah, watching movies online wasn’t really a thing. The anticipation of finally completing a large download was actually quite pleasant, though—less so when it failed at 99% after hours of waiting. (Yes. Yes, it did happen to me.)

I take it it must be still at it. (Source: Reddit)

In the early 2000s, say until 2005, things began to change. From my perspective, that was the rise of Flash and Java games, of ADSL, of VoIP, and the time when discussion forums were cool (they probably were earlier on too for many people, and for many still are). I am no Internet historian and I might be wrong, but I think that’s about when blogging was born. Before then, only true nerds had a hobby website: you either needed to know how to code, or be happy with whatever result you could produce with the horrible WYSIWYG editors of the time. (Also, no backend; you’d be lucky to have a visit counter and a guestbook.) I have good memories of that epoch too, the new hidden treasures of which were games like Submachine, Daymare Town, and too many others too remember (by the way, RIP Flash). That’s also when peer-to-peer grew in popularity, which combined with faster connections made it possible to download full movies—which could still take days, carried the risk of downloading a bunch of malware and viruses, and by the way was rather illegal.

Does anyone still remember computer viruses, by the way? It’s not like they’re gone, but they turned from trolls that messed with your screen and files to sneaky little bastards that try to keep as low a profile as possible—until they need to let you know that your files are encrypted and that you need to pay a ransom to get them back, anyway. Maybe I’m just out of the loop, but I don’t hear anymore about things like ILOVEYOU or Melissa.

The feeling of cosiness I was talking about and which used to apply to the whole Internet began to fade away when social media began; it didn’t just decrease in intensity, but also in scope. The number of websites that felt cosy plummeted as the Internet grew more “social”: comments, likes, shares, and so on. There were no nice little living rooms anymore, only big market squares where everybody was talking (and sometimes shouting) all the time. Catching other people’s attention became important, and that’s how having a personal website went from a hobby thing to a business where you need to know who your audience is, what the trendiest topics are, how to do SEO, and all sorts of marketing strategies. (Just so I don’t come across as a huge hypocrite, it’s not like I don’t care about growing an audience; I do, but words like “marketing” make me sick to my stomach. I’m one of those delusional romantics who believe that, as long as they focus on doing stuff they like, the right audience will come to them without having to resort to all tricks in the marketing bag.)

I was never big on social media. I joined Facebook only in 2011, Twitter only in 2020 (except for a brief fling in 2016 that ended up with me deleting my account), and there’s tons of others whose purpose I still don’t quite understand. Social media websites aren’t cosy pretty much by definition, but believe it or not, there was a time when Facebook felt small and welcoming. For a few years after I joined, it felt like a bit of a larger but still cosy living room with several friends instead of just one, except they were friends I knew in real life. Seeing the red notification icon was nice: some of my friends cared about something I said! Friend requests, whether I sent them or received them, were also very pleasant: they generally were from\to people whom I’d recently met in real life, and a friend request felt as though we were getting closer.

But then groups and pages became more and more popular, which eventually led to your feed being invaded by tons of people you didn’t even know existed. Ever received a notification about someone whose name you’ve never heard commenting on something you don’t care about in a group you forgot you’d joined? That’s what I’m talking about. Thankfully, I’m through with comment fights with strangers whose opinion I disagree with; I tend not to go much past “Happy birthday!” or “Nice cat!” But there still are people who think that, just because they happen to have a shared interest with you, it’s okay to send you a friend request even though you don’t have the foggiest clue who the heck they may be. Not cosy by a long shot.

These days, when I want to enjoy that cosiness again, I visit pages like this one. (Yes, for some reason that I myself don’t understand I’m a big Mega Man fan, and someday I should write about it.) It’s one of the few websites I know that somehow managed to survive this long without becoming a relic and without losing its original cosiness. In general, that cosiness may be lost forever, but like I said, I like to look ahead more than I like to look back: it’s possible that something new will come along, either on the Internet or some entirely new medium that we can’t even imagine yet, and with it, a new cosiness just waiting to be discovered and savoured. I look forward to that.