“As computer technology becomes part of everyday life, a new program comes to BBC2 now: be you beginner, buff, or somewhere in between.”
Thanks to Martin Brewer, here’s the first episode of The Net, a documentary series that ran for four seasons from 1994 to 1998. Despite the name, this first episode has very little to do with the Internet. Instead, it’s an almost perfect video equivalent of the early Wired Magazine, covering a mish-mash of digital culture from video games to virtual reality.
This episode has five segments.
1. Neo-Nazi BBSes (0:50)
“Every year on April 20, Germany’s growing number of neo-Nazis try to celebrate the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday and every year, the German authorities try and stop them. Up until recently, the intelligence services have managed to limit the activities of the far right by monitoring their phone calls and intercepting their mail. But now the German government has a big problem: the fascists have gone high-tech.”
Journalist Rajan Datar covers how German extremist groups were organizing using electronic mail and computer networks in the mid-1990s. He interviews the head of German secret service Ernst Uhrlau, journalist Clemens Hoeges (now with Der Spiegel), and Wolfgang Henning, who was instrumental in setting up Thule-Net, one of Germany’s largest networks. An anti-fascist hacker named Rolf Wurdemann shows Datar how to sign in to Widerstand (“Resistance”) BBS, discussing how they can retrieve confidential materials or “crash the system.”
Eduard Lintner, the Parliamentary Secretary of State, discusses potential legislation to limit the use of computers by far left and far right groups. Rena Tangens from the Bionic Computer Club provides the best quotes in the segment. “I think it’s greatly exaggerated media hype, used by politicians to suppress the free communication that’s possible in free networks.” “If you want freedom, you have to accept that people use and even abuse the freedom. If you have a society that’s strong enough and has enough common sense, it’s no problem.”
Some of the imagery in the segment is completely over-the-top, like the swastika 3.5″ floppy inserted into a Mac Classic, barb-wire wrapped PC, and a stormtrooper boot stomping down in front of a monitor. The shots of the Neo-Nazi BBS login screens are interesting, though, including a glimpse of who was signed in at the time.
2. Thomas Dolby on Game Audio (8:10)
“Video games and virtual reality usually allow us to escape to somewhere a little bit more glamorous than a kitchen, and yet their music is usually so irritating that I end up turning it off altogether. But I started thinking about how the objects and spaces in my everyday life generate their own soundtrack. And I began to wonder whether could maybe take the objects and spaces, goals and treasures in a computer game, and write a computer program that would allow me to attach musical events to those actions within the game.”
Thomas Dolby takes us into his home to talk about his approach to dynamic audio design in gaming. He walks through a sample game for the Mac that uses mouse events to trigger and adjust audio samples in real-time. Gameplay footage of Aero the Acro-Bat (SNES) and Corey Haim in Double Switch (Sega CD), for which Dolby did the soundtrack.
3. Net Attack by Jules (15:25)
Pure filler, a young girl gives a very short review of Super Mario Land 3 for the original Gameboy. This segment was cut after the first few episodes. She gives it a 7/10. Jules Gibbons: If you’re out there, get in touch! What are you up to now?
4. How to Connect to the Internet (17:40)
“We call this series ‘The Net’ because the real future of computers lies in telecommunications. Computers can communicate over small local networks and giant nets the span the globe. The network-of-networks is called the Internet, one of the fastest-growing means of communication in the world. One of Britain’s most experienced ‘net surfers’ is Davey Winder, and he’s also one of the best guides around the Internet.”
Susan Rae talks to Davey Winder, a computer geek decked in cyberpunk regalia with long hair, piercings, and leather vest. Winder walks her through the process of dialing into CIX and Compuserv on the Mac with a 14.4 modem. Some great shots of Gopher and the early web with NCSA Mosaic. Screenshots of the email app show that they’re surfing the web as it looked on March 28, 1994.
5. Virtuality (22:55)
“It may seem surprising, but the current world leader in virtual reality games is a British company called Virtuality, based near Leicester. With VR entertainment set to become a multimillion dollar market, Virtuality is facing stiff competition from the Japanese and American games giants. But despite recent losses, Virtuality’s founder 34-year-old Jonathan Waldern is confident the company can survive.”
Some outstanding footage of a Wii Boxing ancestor, Virtuality Boxing, with its early 3D graphics, clipping problems, and horrendous framerates. Some great shots of other Virtuality press materials and concept art from Hunter Zone.
Industry analyst Barrie Sherman runs through the laundry list that would eventually lead to Virtuality’s bankruptcy. “I think the present virtual reality games are very rudimentary. The graphics aren’t very brilliant, the lag times are very difficult, the actual games themselves and quality of the games when compared to other computer games just aren’t very good. I think it’s getting by on novelty and hype, for the moment.”
Jonathan Waldern’s best quote is delivered with a smile, “What’s the company worth today? I looked in my newspaper this morning and it’s apparently worth $92 million.”
Net Cetera (28:12)
One cute feature of this show was “Net Cetera,” a big text dump displayed after the end credits, designed to be recorded on a VCR and rewatched in slow motion. Very quickly, they list all the referenced phone numbers, URLs, and more detailed information about each segment.
As always, the full MP4 source video can be downloaded from Blip.tv.