We were all big fans of the original game and had found each other via the online community, sharing the little ‘photographs’ of ‘birds’ we had taken. Sometimes the pictures were worth sharing because the bird was one it was rare to see in the game, or we had timed the click of the mouse perfectly and caught the pixels just right. Sometimes we shared pictures with each other as a way of saying, “I’m here, I’m doing this too.”
The game started off quite easy. In the introductory level you were stood at a kitchen window, watching birds in the garden. There was a bird feeder just outside and you never had to wait long for something to flit across the screen, a couple of seconds maybe. There was a little book icon you could select and then click through its faux-battered pages to find out what kind of bird you had seen. Once you had mastered the basics, you could select from a variety of locations – Marshland Hide, Mountain Cabin, Forest Den. You had to watch the screen very carefully and sometimes the game made you wait a whole minute before a bird appeared on the screen.
So when we heard there was going to be a sequel, BirdWatcher2, we were pretty excited.
“Oh, you’re dead right to be excited,” they told us. This only made us more eager.
“We’ve really upped the ante with this one,” they said. We were intrigued! What could they possibly have done?
“Well,” they revealed, “lets just say you won’t just be sitting looking out of a window… this time round there are car chases and explosions. You have to both stay alive and spot the birds. Or undertake one of the extreme missions and go undercover, avoid detection and bring home the Sacred Flamingo.”
Obviously, with everything that happened soon after, it was no surprise that BirdWatcher2 was never released. It would have been the worst time possible to bring out a new computer game.
We all received the same email, months later when the networks were back in operation and emails could get through again.
“As members of the BirdWatcher community, I would be extremely grateful if you were able to do some beta-testing for a new bird watching game. Your opinions would be very valuable to me.”
The email was not from the gaming company, but from an individual, a fan of the original game who had put some of those bunker-bound hours to good use and developed a new sequel. We would be delighted to help, it was the thing we had been happiest about for some time.
We were told that Bird Watcher Two had more in common with the original than the mooted action hero sequences of BirdWactcher2, and that was fine by us. We made fresh cups of tea, settled down in front of our monitors, started up the game and watched.
No little electronic birds flitted across our screens.
Several minutes passed. We started to wonder… had all the in-game birds been wiped out? Was that how bad things were now?
We neither pressed keys on our keyboards nor clicked our mouses. We could not risk scaring off those tentative byte-size birds.
And then, just when we had-
Yes it was. It stuck its little head out of the hedgerow. We could see its beak pointing one way then the other as it looked around, wondering if it was safe to come out. It was only on the screen for a moment, then gone.
We emailed the developer straight away to report that we had played the new game.
“How did you find it? Was it ok?” The email had a nervous tone to it. “Were there enough birds in it? I was trying to-”
We didn’t read the rest of the email before we replied. “It was perfect. Absolutely perfect.”