I’m Simon Smith and I run Higher Plain Games, part of the Higher Plain Network. I’m really passionate about making and supporting independent media creation and so I’ve spent increasingly most of my spare time building up a collection of projects about just that. My aim is to one day be able to call this my day job and make a variety of entertaining and informative media for you all.
Where are you based and what do you do?
I’m based in the UK (currently in Essex – and no we don’t all talk like TOWIE…) and I work in communications and engagement as my day job. It is in a very regimented and old school way of thinking (i.e. still thinks the internet is the devil) and so that is why I love doing all these projects to keep me sane and alive outside of work.
Where did your gaming begin?
Gaming for me started with my dad and his ZX Spectrum +3. We used to wander around car boot sales trying to buy cassettes and floppy disc games for 10p and then I’d dive home to play them. I was only allowed to play 2 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday. No wonder I’ve rebelled and basically just sleep 2 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday instead! I also used to have those handheld Tomy games too which never seemed to work properly even then and my dad also had some old binocular games too.
I couldn’t get enough of the ZX Spectrum. Horace Goes Skiing, Cosmic Wartoad, Super Ivan Offroad, Nigel Mansell’s Grand Prix Challenge were to name but a few games I’ve lost countless hours to. I still have all the cassettes and discs now and even though it is a little temperamental in cold weather, the old Speccy usually works a treat.
From there I’d sneak off to play my brothers Atari 2600 before eventually my parents bought me a Sega Master System. We always stayed a console behind. I’ve always joked its because my dad is Scottish and he loved a bargain but it worked to my advantage. I’d still be marched out to those second hand bootsales and would pick up plenty of games for it. Sonic, Alex Kidd, Olympic Gold, Ayrton Senna’s GP, California Games, Castle of Illusion… there was plenty to keep me going. A Sega Mega Drive would follow with Zombies Ate My Neighbours, Micro Machines, Desert Strike and Road Rash were to name but a few mainstays on my machine.
When did gaming become such a huge part of your life?
It was the original PlayStation where gaming really exploded for me and I think one of the most powerful moments was standing outside Electronic Boutique (Game as it’s called now) and watching a looping demo of the first Formula 1 game. My parents would do a weekly shop and I would still be standing there watching it hours later. The following year I was lucky enough to get one and as soon as I was earning – all my money would be for gaming (and sweets). I would buy the Official PlayStation magazine for the demo discs across the PS1 and PS2 era and would be ‘that guy that buys all the weird stuff’ in Game Zone. I would stay a console-only gamer mainly until around 2004/5 when I bought my first PC – one that would introduce me to online gaming.
The advent of PC and therefore online gaming blew me away. As a Motorsports fan, I was drawn to online racing games first and Sim Racing felt like a natural fit – no matter how slow I am! From Trackmania to rFactor to F1 2019 to GeneRally and back to iRacing – if I could race it online in a friendly and considerate league, I’d be there. If I was too slow, I’d be commentating on it instead, culminating in some very memorable moments commentating on real top tier racing drivers guesting in sim events. It merged what for me was a solo experience into something more social and has gained me many friends that I still race with and meet with today.
PC gaming also introduced me to indie games as the market continues to split into two very specific camps. The big-budget non risk takers, and the tiny indie teams. The reason why I hold the PS2 as my favourite console era is that there was a middle ground at the time where you could be inventive but also have a relatively stable budget to try new things out. Now that middle ground is gone, I’m finding myself siding with the indie gamers. I am experiencing new feelings, emotions, senses and opportunities in heavily stylised environments and that interests me far more than a cookie-cutter shooter ever could. I understand why they exist – they just aren’t for me.
Gaming is also a fascinating topic to discuss in wider society and I have plenty of thoughts on that. I’m sure they’ll become future articles. In the meantime though, I’m very excited to see where technology takes us in the next chapter of gaming and story telling. It is a great time to be alive.