Monday, 31 October 2016

Ghouls 'n Ghosts for the MegaDrive/Genesis

The Moon grimaces through the mist to cast a feeble glow on the cemetery, and something is astir. Beneath a moss covered tombstone, the soil is disturbed as one bony hand breaks the surface. It cloys the air, grasping, reaching for a root. With an ungodly sigh, it grabs hold and starts hauling itself out. The grave bursts open and a hooded, skeletal figure thrusts itself into the night. It examines its robe, and the flash of a scythe catches a sparkle of starlight. Sightless eyes scan the scene. It begins to shuffle forward ... and explodes into a pile of bones and dust. Picking up a lance from amid the debris is our knight in shining armour, ready to hurl it at other graves vomiting forth cruel mockeries of the living. If Ghouls 'n Ghosts for Sega's mighty MegaDrive had a pulpy opening, it would probably go something like that. Yes, it's All Hallow's Eve so it's time to cash-in with an opportunist post on a scary video game. After all, it's not like anything's happening in the world.

Before Sonic the Hedgehog came along and sold millions of machines for Sega, the MegaDrive's main selling point was its ability to host arcade conversions that were supposedly indistinguishable from the coin operated original. There were a few failures, but some very creditable efforts. But supreme among them was GnG. An arcade monster from Capcom, for a period on import it was then the most expensive MegaDrive game yet seen (weighing in at £44.99 in 1989 money). Probably because the cartridge was a whopping six megabits, which is a mammoth 768 kilobytes to you and me. Small, but as it turned out, perfectly formed.

Cast as Arthur, the hero of Capcom's 1985 arcade hit, Ghosts 'n Goblins, you're back again after the evil Loki kidnaps Princess Prin Prin and unleashes his army of demons and undead upon the world. What a swine. Your job, unsurprisingly, is to amount a rescue. This means fighting your way across hellish landscapes to do away with Loki's minions and, in the end, offing the Grand Poobah himself. The game is a mix of platforming and shooting things with a variety of mediaeval weapons - the aforementioned lances, and shields, daggers, blue flame, axes. A powerful sword with limited range is available, but truth be told the last three weapons are absolutely dire and can slow your progress right down. For, it has to be said, GnG is one of the trickier games in the MegaDrive's library. It seems deceptively straight forward. There's no reason why, for instance, you shouldn't be able to get through the first level in one piece but more often than not it hands you your ass on a platter. The stingy stamina allowed Arthur is part of the story. One hit and you lose your armour, forcing you to battle the legions of Hell in just your grundies. Another and your transmutation into a pile of bones is immediate. Things don't get better if you secure the fabled and endlessly useful golden armour. It looks swish, you can throw magic about the screen with murderous abandon, but a single brush with a foe is still going to reduce you to your smalls. It's not like the collision detection is off, the game cheap, or the attack patterns overly complex. It has something to do with the mass of the enemies and the unevenness of the terrain. Gamers familiar with its sequel on the SNES know what I'm talking about too.

Yes, the game is hard. Indeed, in the canon of hard retro games it can often find a citation or two. But what makes it particularly fiendish is a little trick Capcom include in the franchise's games. Picture the scene. Your armour is rusty with the ichor of demons. In each of the lands behind you, corpses of dead bosses and assorted abominations are attracting flies and carrion eaters. You fling the final daggers into the huge fly thing waiting at the end of the game. It explodes like so many others, the gates open and ... you're sent right back to the beginning of the first level. Yes indeedy, you have to go through the game twice to complete it. No, that's not annoying at all. The in-game narrative justifies it in terms of having to backtrack to acquire a weapon that can slay Loki - the wonderfully named Psycho Cannon. In truth, it's a fancy ball of blue lightning, but to have to go through an already tough game again is proper trolling.

What Ghouls 'n Ghosts does is make explicit a ludic strategy all game developers rely on: that of repetition. Repeating the game to give the impression of more value for monies exchanged isn't necessary here; a single play through is hefty enough (as well as an accomplishment in itself). Yet they do it anyway. In too many other games, lack of content is made up for by doing pointless tasks. All the crafting in contemporary role playing games fall into that category, for instance. In the RPGs of the day, it was grinding, or the appearance of very similar games under different titles. What the second playthrough of GnG does is underline its pointlessness, perhaps reminding the player that, ultimately, gaming has no meaning beyond that we bestow.

Ghouls 'n Ghosts was about as scary as games got in the late 1980s. But it also pulls the trick of binding existential dread up with rock solid gameplay. Terrifying.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Suzanne Evans for UKIP Leader

Not another post about UKIP's leadership problems. Sorry, but those who've followed this blog's scribbling about the far left over the years know I have a penchant for declining political forces. And that's what we're going to be talking about here with the United Kingdom Independence Party, the coming to terms with being a never-were after being an almost-was. Yes, annoyingly, they might have achieved their primary objective, at least formally, but where now? After all, there are livelihoods at stake and, for some, a sense of self-importance. Where else is your average UKIP MEP going to get a £6,500 monthly salary for sitting around without discharging the duties of their position?

Let's be clear. Despite their rhetoric, of the three main contenders - Paul Nuttall, Suzanne Evans, and Raheem Kassam - all are offering different visions of their party's stagnation and fall. As explained on other occasions, UKIP was made, paradoxically, as a declining force because its volatile core constituency was and is in long-term decline. Therefore its options are somewhat limited. What our runners and riders are putting before the party's selectorate are plans to keep the garishly coloured show on the road.

The favourite is Paul Nuttall, deputy chair and one of the few kippers to have name recognition - at least among the Westminster cognoscenti. He comes across well in the media, even if his arguments are complete nonsense. He also has some nous about him. For instance, in a canny bit of internal positioning he's pledged a referendum on capital punishment. For the party's diminishing membership it's just the sort of thing they would lap up. As they share, along with the Westminster elites UKIP professes to despise, the assumptions behind the MacKenzie theory of the working class, they would assume it could find an echo there too. Nuttall then is the standard bearer of the Northern strategy, of talking up immigration, stirring up Islamophobia, and hoping his scouse accent turns the man-of-the-people trick for him. The problem, however, is that despite his Merseyside origins Nuttall is definitely not on the "red" side of his party. On matters economic, he's on the record for supporting NHS privatisation because it "stifles competition". And he quite likes the idea that modestly-paid workers and billionaires should pay the same rate of income tax - except the latter get a tax cut and the former can look forward to a rise. As is well known, Nuttall is opposed to abortion (he'd like a referendum on that too), and he wallows in the usual climate change denialism. This is no barrier for a party content with polling averages between four and 10 per cent, but there are too many policy hostages to fortune here to pose Labour a serious and sustained challenge beyond the odd council by-election.

While Nuttall would take UKIP back to its 1999-2012 levels of support, albeit with added decline and stagnation, Suzanne Evans at least offers something different. Politics-wise, she's arguably a sidestep to Nuttall's left, but on matters of presentation they're worlds apart. Apart from the immigration obsession, like the late and unlamented Steven Woolfe she's competent in the media, but comes across too much like a mainstream politician. And a distinctly Tory one at that. As a former BBC journo, her rendering of Auntie speak gives her tone and diction a posh-sounding aspect sure to alienate those northern constituencies UKIP is hanging its hopes on. For that matter, Nuttall is unlikely to make much headway in the leafy shires among the nation of disaffected shop keepers. By contrast, Evans-led UKIP would be a respectable protest outfit with appeal to disaffected Tories disappointed Theresa May isn't the second coming of the blessed Margaret. Her leadership would be best placed to win back those who switched from the Tories after Dave saw equal marriage through the Commons, and are drifting back now Notting Hill Toryism spectacularly folded.

Nuttall and Evans lack that crossover appeal. The former thinks he's the man that can pull behind UKIP the non-Labour voting sections of the working class and make new inroads. By knocking off some of the party's sharp edges, Evans believes she can keep the party a going concern by staking the Tory territory that netted UKIP a few hundred councillors and two MPs as it peaked in 2013-15. These are mutually exclusive strategies. For his part, Nigel Farage's charisma, while divisive and repellent to the majority of Britain's voters, spoke to different constituencies with some success. While neither have Farage's pull, from the party's point of view at least UKIP can look forward to a future, however stunted and unappealing that will turn out to be. Under the third contender, there probably won't be a party left by Christmas. Which, admittedly, would be a nice present for all socialist and left-minded people.

Yes, Raheem Kassam is the kill switch candidate. If kippers want to obliterate their party, members should follow their former leader's endorsement and cast their ballots for him. It's not just that Kassam is a political ingénue who thinks swearing a lot, scribbling nihilist boiler plate, and having the ear of Farage and members of Trump's campaign team qualifies him for the job of leading a political party, it's that he's completely clueless. Seriously, if your time in hitherto was spent undertaking grutal shaftings with real and imagined enemies of the leader, don't be surprised to be on everyone's shitlist. Remember, no one thanked Beria for services rendered to Stalin. Far from making UKIP great again (what an original slogan), "Team Raheem" would find himself in a position no different to that occupied and swiftly vacated by the hapless Diane James. His stupid libertarianism, which is a rationale for childish, amoral fuck-youism won't find many takers among the party ranks, let alone the voters. And then, in the unlikely event of winning, there would be a legitimacy vacuum at the party's centre to match his lack of sense, tact, and basic decency. Under him the self-styled people's army would not be a serious proposition, and surely splintering and extinction would lie in its immediate future. Which begs the question, why is Kassam standing? I can't help but think this is about profile raising in pursuit of a media, rather than a political career. After all, there aren't any more European Parliamentary seats for UKIP's waifs and wastrels.

Kassam for UKIP leader, then? Actually, no. As much as I'd quite like UKIP to do one, they serve two political purposes. The first is they keep a foot firmly on the neck of the far right. For as long as it scoops up its electoral support, the splintered Nazi scene with their petty fuhrers can't get their act together. The second is, despite the rhetoric, UKIP still tends to appeal more to disgruntled Tories than fed up Labour. There are fewer of those working class "right old fascists" than MacKenzie, Westminster, and kippers suppose. It stands to reason that, for purely partisan reasons, Evans is the the progressive choice because she would cause the Tories more grief than either Nuttall or Kassam. So say it loud, say it proud, Suzanne Evans for UKIP leader!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Saturday Interview: George Aylett

In the hot seat this week is George Aylett, a well-known Labour activist and Jeremy Corbyn supporter. One of the youngest-ever Parliamentary candidates, he stood in South West Wiltshire for Labour at the 2015 general election and managed to increase the party's proportion of votes. George has begun a foray into blogging, and you can find him tweeting away at @GeorgeAylett

In both Labour leadership elections, you backed Jeremy Corbyn. Was this an easy decision to make? And why do you think Jeremy still attracts a huge following in the party, despite the well-publicised criticisms and negative polling? Also, If the party is to transform that enthusiasm in the party to widespread election-winning support, what do you think we have to do?

I backed Jeremy as I believe his vision can appeal to key swing voters. Labour need to appeal to four key groups as well as maintaining its base: sole traders, middle class, pensioners and ex-Labour voting working class voters.

These are the key groups that will decide the outcome of the election in swing seat marginals, and Corbyn’s policies have the potential to appeal to them.

For sole traders, I wrote this for Open Labour:

"In 2020, there will be more sole traders than trade unionists. These people lack basic rights at work – no sick leave, no maternity pay etc. Our goal should be to reassess social security arrangements for sole traders so that they have access to essential worker’s rights. For example, if they were to fall ill they would not risk their business going under. In 2015 Labour were portrayed as ‘anti-business’ so we must win the support of those who run their own businesses, we must embrace the self-employed and ensure that they are protected."

For the middle class – a home building programme, as many aspire to own a home of their own. House building is at a 90 year low – Labour need to counter this and become the party of home ownership. Under Corbyn, this can happen. We have already pledged to build one million homes within five years. On top of this, commuting has become more expensive: public ownership of the railways could cut ticket prices by 18% (according to the RMT). We need to be the party of affordable housing and affordable transport, this will help us appeal to middle class voters.

For pensioners – we need to ensure that we appeal to them considerably better than we have done in the past. Owen Jones has led the way on this, and his ideas can help us a lot, as will Corbyn’s policies. I think Labour should pledge to triple-lock pensions, support WASPI and point out the failures of the Conservative government when it comes to elderly people e.g. the fact that two million pensioners live in poverty. Labour created the winter fuel allowance and the state pension. We must repeat this over and over again.

UKIP have been massively hit in the polls and it’s Labour responsibility to win back those who formerly voted Labour but voted UKIP in 2015. In key marginals, it was the UKIP vote which split Labour support, allowing the Tories to win in marginal like Morley and Outwood. We must appeal to these voters not by out-UKIPing UKIP, but offering a coherent vision for the country. Corbyn’s policies can do that. UKIP may embrace Thatcherism when it comes to domestic policy, but those who voted for them in 2015 certainly do not. According to consistent polling: 73% of these voters back public ownership of our railways; 78% back public ownership of energy; 52% back a living wage and; 66% back rent controls. These voters are economically sympathetic to Corbyn’s policy platform – we failed to offer these policies in 2015, so offering these policies to show that we are the party of working people can win back support in 2020. It should, however, be noted that the key issue for these voters in immigration. The left should not be scared to discuss immigration, but we need to change the language used. We should not pander to UKIP, but address the real concerns people have about immigration when it comes to employment, housing, healthcare, education etc. Our aim is to say that it is not migrants to blame for the aforementioned but the Tories failing to invest in working people. Changing public perception is always going to be a challenge, but public opinion can’t change if an alternative case isn’t made.

How did you get involved in politics?

The coalition government implementing terrible policies, and I only really found out about these injustices by starting to pay attention to what was going on. I did not care about politics for a very long time but in late 2013 I decided to join the Labour Party to help tackle the injustices brought around by the coalition, and to fight for a Labour government to implement policies to help everybody up and down the country.

And why did you decide to run for Parliament?

Young people are very rarely heard in politics. Time and time again, young people were hit by policies by the coalition government – tuition fees are the prime example of this. I wanted to stand because in reality young people could be kingmakers in a general election – their votes could be the difference between a Tory government and a Labour government, but young people aren’t voting as much compared to other age groups. One reason I believe this is because there are hardly any young people involved in politics. Young people aren’t being represented, therefore it is understandable why some young people may think that politics is not the answer. In reality we need to get young people voting – one way we can do that is by getting more youth representation – and the way we do that is that we need more young people running for parliament. I would encourage any young person reading this to get involved. I’ve said this on public record before, but I would encourage young people reading this to register to vote, look up policies, join a political party, get involved locally and, if you want to take the leap into directly representing the youth in politics, put your name forward for public office and stand for election’.

Are you reading anything at the moment?

As a university student I certainty am. My lecturers wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t!

Do you have a favourite novel?

Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, thinking back An Inspector Calls was excellent. I also used to be a big fan of Darren Shan when I was younger!

Who are your biggest intellectual influences?

I have a massive love for science, it has always fascinated me from a young age. In that area I would certainly say Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson have done some excellent research that has only sparked my love for science more. At the end of the day science will help make civilisation better and better. We need to be spending much more into research and development and encouraging more and more young people to get involved in science. Britain can become the world leader in scientific research, it just needs to funds to get it there.

Do you have any political heroes?

Two people stick out for me:

Clement Attlee – for the obvious reasons really, his government founded the NHS and founded the welfare state.

Jeremy Corbyn – I believe his vision is right for the country, and Corbyn as PM would make the country a significantly better place.

A worthy mention should also go to Ed Miliband. He’s like your first doctor in Doctor Who, you will always have admiration for them – same goes to Christopher Ecclestone!

If you could affect a major policy change, what would it be?

There are two policies I have in mind:

Electoral reform – I feel Labour need to embrace electoral reform, which is why I am on the executive of the ‘Labour Campaign For Electoral Reform’. I feel the current voting system could be more democratic. First Past the Post/Single Member Plurality is an outdated voting system. If it was a successful voting system, then why do new democracies not even consider it? I feel that seats in parliament should broadly be proportional to how the people have voted. The current voting system fails to do this – the Conservatives won 36.9% of the vote, but won 51% of seats, meaning (in theory) they have 100% control of all of the laws that we all have to live by. We need electoral reform on the agenda because, quite frankly, it seems all the other major alternatives are significantly better than the current system. I also believe a constituency link is important, which I why I personally think STV is the best alternative system – but any other would probably be better. STV is proportional, it keeps the constituency link and it gives the electorate numerous figures in which to approach with local issues – instead of one who may never listen to you (if you are a Labour voter in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s seat, you are very unlikely to receive a satisfactory response in terms of changing of opinions). My ideal preference: STV – PR – AMS – AV+ - AV – FPTP/SMP.

Basic Income – I think Labour should adopt the Basic Income, which is why I am heavily involved with ‘Labour For Basic Income’. I wrote this a while back on why I think Labour should adopt it:

‘Many would agree the welfare state in it's current form is not perfect - the bureaucracy is substantial and those costs could be used to help more people.

The alternative is a Basic Income, where all citizens receive a guaranteed income, enough to cover essential costs, from the government - restructuring our current welfare system.

The Basic Income would:

- Eliminate poverty in Britain
The Basic Income should be set at a rate which covers the fundamentals in life - for example food, water, and energy. Some aspects of the welfare state should be kept, for example housing benefit to ensure that costs are fully covered (because in expensive areas the Basic Income by itself could not cover these costs) and disability benefit to ensure that the most vulnerable in society have more than enough to live off.

- Incentivise work by helping people start businesses
Many who want to establish their own businesses can not afford to take the risk of doing so, because they are at risk of not being able to afford the essentials - but if the Basic Income were implemented then those essential costs would be covered, meaning people would not have to worry about going hungry at the end of the month - minimising risk for those who want to set up their own business. Trials of the Basic Income has shown that the number of business start ups increase when the income was implemented.

- Top up wages, rewarding hard work
'Those wanting anything more than a frugal and very basic standard of living (stuff like foreign holidays, expensive furniture, new cars, fashionable clothes...) would have a strong incentive to work in order to pay for their luxuries' - Another Angry Voice

- Significantly reduce bureaucracy
The only requirements to receive the income would be that you were a citizen of the state, whether you were an adult, whether you have children (top up income to replace child benefit) or whether you have reached retirement age - this is significantly less bureaucratic, saving BILLIONS.

The idea is backed all across the political spectrum. It is not an idea which is 'left' or 'right' - it is forward.

John McDonnell has stated that Labour will consider the policy, so let's have that debate.

Let's consider the idea of a Basic Income, a system which could help create a more productive, fairer, aspirational and wealthier society’.

What is your favourite song?

It changes a lot – so I can’t give an answer on this one. But I love Eurovision.

Do you have a favourite video game?

Easy question: FIFA!

And what was the last film you saw?

I rewatched Alan Partridge and Hot Fuzz with my flatmates a few days ago. Nothing exciting.

What do you consider the most important personal quality in others?

Honesty

What fault in others do you most dislike?

Dishonesty (Shock)

What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?

That the future is much brighter than I thought it would be. You’ll change a lot in the next few years. You may be a mess now, you may be failing in so many ways, be directionless and don’t care about your actions – but in late 2013 everything will change, you’ll find a direction and sense of purpose: helping people and getting involved in politics. Genuinely, politics will change your life for the better and you’ll be a better person.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I love spending time with friends at university – getting involved with clubs/societies where I’ve met many interesting people, not to mention helping out Labour where I can. Out of university – spending time with the family.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Eurovision. Not much more to say!

What talent would you most like to have?

To dance well. I think I’m George Sampson but in reality I’m more like Ed Balls.

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for?

All friends and family to live a safe, secure life.

If you could go for a drink with three people, past or present, who would they be?

Clement Attlee – which Labourite wouldn’t? Discussing politics and life with the greatest Prime Minister in British Political History!

John Maynard Keynes – I think it would be very interesting to ask him how he would feel about the current economic situation in 2016 and how he would create an economic plan in 2016 after Thatcherism.

Jeremy Corbyn – even the majority of those who disagree with his politics admit he is a decent human being. Having a lemonade with El Gato and Corbyn in his garden would be interesting indeed!

And lastly, why are you Labour?

I believe the Labour Party has been the greatest force for social change that has ever existed in the United Kingdom. I’ll just list a few achievements which happened under Labour governments: the NHS, the welfare state, the liberal reforms, the Open University, the abolition of the death penalty, investment into the economy, Sure Start, maternity pay, paternity leave, devolution, peace in Northern Ireland, the minimum wage, the banning of cluster bombs, the human rights act, the abolition of section 28, the winter fuel allowance, the first ever climate change act, to name a few. Not only has it been the greatest force for social change in the past, it is the greatest force for social change in the present and the future – a broad church of the left, standing up for everybody across the country. It is only with Labour governments where people’s living standards improve and radical change can happen for the better. That’s why I’m Labour, because people in Britain are better off with them.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Local Council By-Elections October 2016

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
Sept
Average/
contest
+/-  
Sept
+/-
Seats
Conservative
   32
12,657
  24.8%
  -4.9%
       396
     -50
    -2
Labour
   31
14,055
  27.5%
 +0.6%
       453
    +36
    -5
LibDem
   28
  9,306
  18.2%
  -3.6%
       332
     -74
   +3
UKIP
   20
  3,160
    6.2%
  -5.1%
       158
     -53
     0
Green
   18
  2,435
    4.8%
 +2.1%
       135
    +46
     0
SNP*
    2
  2,888
    5.7%
 +3.0%
    1,444
  +183
   +1
PC**
    3
     495
    1.0%
 +0.2%
       165
     -24
   +1
TUSC
    0
     
   
 
     
    
     0
Ind***
   17
  3,941
    7.7%
 +4.2%
       232
     -36
   +1
Other****
    8
  2,102
    4.1%
 +3.4%
       263
  +181
   +1

* There were two by-elections in Scotland
** There were five by-elections in Wales
*** There were three Independent clashes
**** Others this month consisted of Putting Hartlepool First (155), Patients Not Profit in our NHS (36), East Devon Alliance (324), Oxted and Limpsfield Residents Group (713), Women's Equality Party (173), Lewisham People Before Profit (314), Beverley Party (364), and English Democrats (23)

Overall, 51,039 votes were cast over 34 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. The Conservatives won 10 contests, Labour 10, LibDems six, UKIP one, SNP one, PC one, Ind four, and Oth one. Labour held three seats with a 500+ safe margin, and the LibDems took one with a resulting majority greater than 500. In all, some 12 seats changed hands. For comparison with September's results, see here.

For me, this set of by-elections have to be filed under frustrating. Despite winning a plurality (which, given the variegated nature of by-elections month-to-month, is virtually meaningless), Labour dropped five seats. And they were lost all over the place - to the Tories, LibDems, SNP, UKIP, and PC. It might be due to the local factors at work. Indeed, this is probably most likely. Labour had a net loss of one in September, and broke even in August, but if we were capitalising from Brexit we should be doing much better than this. The only small crumb of comfort going is the fact the Tories are down to, those they haven't hurt as much this month as Labour.

The LibDems, however, trundle on. Up three councillors, the trend is so pronounced now that we can starting talking with confidence about a return of a chunk of their former support. Some of it looks soft Tory, some soft Labour, and a big slice of UKIP's none-of-the-above vote. Unless they screw up spectacularly which, now few but the most geeky care about them, no one will care about surely this trend can look forward to carrying on. Meanwhile, despite predictions about Labour swallowing up the Greens' support, they're proving quite resilient and occasionally threaten to post better results than UKIP. It might happen soon.