Did someone mentioning tightening the guns laws? If they did, they forgot to tell quite a few of the exhibitors at last week's European Computer Trade Show. Although the name makes it sound like a dull event featuring grey men and grey boxes, the show was in fact "Europe's premier interactive entertainment expo" and was a chance for the world's computer games manufacturers to display their latest wares to fellow members of the trade. It's a hugely profitable industry, worth $10 billion worldwide and growing fast.
In two large halls at London's Olympia there was a cacophony of zapping and crashing and splatting emanating from countless video screens. There were flight-simulator games, role-playing games, motor-racing games and educational games, but those making the most noise were what are known in the trade as "shoot-em-ups", in which death and destruction are the major selling point. Take, for instance, Hexen H in which "swords, daggers, wands, staves and spells help you wreak fantastical fatalities on your enemies". Or there's Sin, in which you "blast your way through complex levels of unholy terror".
Both could be found on the Activision stand, where I met Marty, who gave me a demonstration of the company's most eagerly awaited new release, Quake 11.
"That's a heck of a shot!" said Marty excitedly, as he blasted his way through the game's remarkable 3D world, leaving a trail of havoc in his wake. "They've just made it so realistic. Watch the different death animations! Look, you can take their heads off," he noted as he decapitated one of his enemies. "I need a bigger weapon. Take a taste of the rockets..."
I left him to it and went for a coffee with John Anderson, a designer at a games company in Dallas called ION Storm. John worked on Doom II, the forerunner of Quake, and is currently working on a game called Daikatana, which will be launched next year. He's a level designer, which means he designs the environment in which the games are played. For Daikatana, he's been recreating ancient Athens, right down to the original buildings which stood on the Acropolis. He describes the game as "a 3D shooter with a little bit of wit to it".
John was an English major at college and he likes to play the piano and read. He's a quietly spoken, intelligent young man. He's also, by his own admission, "a 3D games Doom-Quake kind of nut" who spends all day working on a game then gets home and plays Quake on the Internet under the nickname of Doctor Sleep.
"I'm a practising buddhist and my girlfriend thinks it's hilarious that I'm sitting there with these awful games blowing people up," he said. "It's sort of cathartic in a way. I don't think games need to be violent to be successful, but obviously that's what sells right now."
But who's buying?
At the show, I came upon the glamour models Joanne Guest and Kirsten Imrie signing autographs on cards promoting a 3D pool game produced by a British company called Mirage. The cards featured a few pool balls and a picture of a topless woman. When I spoke to the man from Mirage, he admitted that topless women played no role in the game. "lt's just something for the lads," he said.
I think that answered my question.
Making an event into a SAGA
Marsha Hunt sent a letter to the Bookseller magazine last week. I know this because she read it out to me over the phone. The letter concerned this year's Edinburgh Book Festival. "Why were so many of our events ill- conceived, incorrectly billed or poorly executed?" Marsha wrote. "My scheduled event, called Glittering Prizes, was no event and far from glittering." And so on. Marsha had originally been under the impression that the festival would host a party to celebrate the publication of the novel which won last year's SAGA Prize, an award for black, British-born writers which she conceived and organises. Sadly this turned out not to be the case and a saga of another kind took place, which ended with Marsha staging a one-woman protest wearing a nightgown and with her hair in curlers (her theme was "Writers wake up!"). The Bookseller reported that she was peeved that she'd been replaced as the chairperson for her event, but she wants it to be known that she was actually protesting about the festival's administration. "Basically the festival was a shambles this year," she told me. Marsha is currently living in Ireland and has just completed her third novel. She doesn't expect to be invited back next year.
Frank and fearless
London's fashion posse rubbed bronzed elbows at the Atlantic Bar & Grill in Soho on Thursday evening at the launch party for Frank, the new women's magazine. Frank has had something of a mixed reaction, but as someone who knows a bit about magazines, I can tell you that you should never judge them by the first issue. Tina Gaudoin, Frank's fearless 35-year- old editor, also knows a bit about magazines, and she's sticking by her baby. "Some people are quite shocked by the punchy tone and some people have been amazed by the amount of words in it," she said. "Most women's magazines have barely any words. They seem to think that women can't handle more than half a page of copy."
Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is another tyro magazine editor. Next week sees the launch of Conde Nast Traveller, which will be sent on its way with a champagne reception at the Foreign Office, and it will be 38- year-old Sarah Miller's turn to face the brickbats and/or bouquets. CNT, as I think I'll call it, is aimed at the sophisticated traveller and Sarah can talk at great length about its virtues. "It's about more than just destinations," she told me, "It's about food, it's about wine, it's about people, it's about adventures, it's about experience, the drive of a lifetime, making new friends..." Et cetera. A full transcript is available on request, or you can shell out pounds 2.70 and have a look for yourself.
Punch goes below the belt
While we're on the subject of new magazine editors, this month's editor of Punch is James Steen, who steps up from deputy following the mysterious and rapid departure of former editor Paul Spike. Steen, 31, has a background in tabloid journalism. He says that hard-hitting investigative stories bringing people down to size are what his magazine is all about, together with a humour which is "spiteful and knocking". It was recently revealed that Steen's employer, Mohamed Al Fayed, has poured over pounds 7m into the publication. To some that sounds like pouring it down the drain, but Steen is adamant that it will succeed under his editorship.
"Lots of people in Fleet Street or on other magazines will say to you that Punch is going down the pan," he said. "But Mohamed Al Fayed is a very, very shrewd businessman. I trust his judgement in business and I trust it a hell of a lot more than some drunken hack I might meet in El Vino's who's going to tell me that the magazine is going down the pan before they ask to borrow pounds 20 off me. I promise you the circulation will go up. You've been hearing that for a year it's been ... disastrous is probably the best way to describe it. But it will change now."
In the spirit of bringing people down to size with spiteful humour, I felt obliged to mention Steen's job immediately prior to working on Punch, which was as deputy editor on Here magazine, a publication which relied on intrusive paparazzi pictures of the rich and famous. I wondered if Mr Al Fayed was aware of this. After a long pause: "Er ... yes, he would be, actually, because before I started here, he saw copies of Here. So yes, he would be aware of it. I wouldn't particularly like you to remind him, but that's up to you."
Moore but not very merry
It seems to be more than coincidence that following the bust-up between Sir David English, of Associated Newspapers, and Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore on the Today programme last Monday, the Daily Mail seems to have declared all-out war on Moore. "A dilettante who seems more concerned with venting his spleen on the airwaves than actually editing his paper" was the way Moore was described by an unnamed "media analyst" in Friday's Mail. The previous day, the paper's Ephraim Hardcastle column had quoted a "friend" of "Prince" Charles Moore (as he has come to be known in the paper) referring to his "saintly complex". And the day before that, the same column had drawn an unfavourable comparison between the Telegraph's treatment of Diana's death and that of Dominic Lawson's Sunday Telegraph, which "performed well and obtained a brilliantly detailed article by Diana's friend Rosa Monckton". I've never met Charles Moore, but I always have a certain sympathy for the underdog, so I think it's only fair to point out that in this last instance, "Prince" was working at something of a disadvantage. Unlike Dominic Lawson, he is not in fact married to Rosa Monckton.