Rogue Failure. Or ‘How I Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love the Paragon’

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I am not and never have been a rebel.  In life, as in gaming, I tend to follow a path of general decency and behaving unto others as I would wish for them to treat me – it isn’t cool, it rarely yields great rewards and marks you out to others in the world as being even more of a nerd than they expect you to be.  Thankless existence, unto eternity?  You said it.

I am, dear reader, a Paragon, a Paladin, a White Hat – and I’m ok with it.

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My current favourite gaming experience, the omnipresent “Kingdoms of Amalur”, gives me the chance to play as a rogue class ranged fighter and what I’ve discovered from my now 52 hours of game play is that I’m absolutely useless when given the choice to exercise bad behaviour in games.  ‘Amalur’, for example, gives your levelled-up Rogue class the chance to use your stealth ability to sneak up on adversary and ally alike and either shank them assassin style or simply pickpocket them for nifty loot.

Curiously, I find it more morally acceptable and preferable to sneak up on humanoid aggressors and slice them six ways to Sunday than to go creeping around the game world and cut purses or rifle through wallets – how’s that for a bizarre reaction to choices that a game designer provides you with?   I’d like to think that it doesn’t prove that I’m a sociopath-in-waiting but it does give you pause.

It’s this odd disconnect between real world personal conviction and the options inherent in a video game environment  which has kept me from playing sandbox gangster titles like “Saints Row”, “Mafia” and the grand-daddy of them all, “Grand Theft Auto”.  If I can’t envisage ever wanting to be the characters or inhabiting their world, there’s no way that I’m going to play the title – it’s probably a Boy Scout reaction to the criminal anti-hero archetype but there you go.

That’s not to say that I require characters in-game to be Peter Pureheart and impossibly, impractically noble as that option offers as much of a game-breaking flaw as glitch code or poor design decisions but I don’t want to play games where the protagonist’s raison etre is slaying innocent bystanders and arbitrarily causing car crashes.  It’s just not how I’m wired, folks.

I suppose the point that I’m grasping towards is that I like being offered choice about what I do in games – perhaps I should make 2013 the year that I start to take advantage of those choices and see where they take me in games?

Hagrid’s Feeling For Snow…

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We took Hagrid for a walk in the overnight snow which blanketed the UK on Monday morning – he wasn’t that keen, you’ll be surprised to learn.

Sure, he pads about in the curious white carpet which has unceremoniously deposed his normal pavements and parkland, and he has a sniff about, but he’s just not that into it.

Where are the smells?  And why do his paws not have as much traction as normal?  What’s this cold stuff on the end of his nose?  And why is it drastically reducing my daily walks from two to one longish one?  So many canine questions, so very few answers…

Snowpocalypse? Nopocalypse.

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At the end of what is best described as a changeable week for plucky Brits, it’s good to know that some things are always the same.

The threat of a couple of inches of snowfall is sufficient to plunge the UK into a frenzy of addled speculation about the dire consequences of of a wholly predictable spate of wintry weather, with even the likes of your self-flagellating blogger having to confess to frequent F5’ing of his weather site of choice despite common sense indicating that nothing much is going to happen.

At present, Sheffield is witness to a couple of inches – tops – of snow, with more light flurries predicted during the weekend – not exactly the new ice age which most UK tabloids would have us believe is inbound with extreme frosty prejudice.  I imagine Canadian readers of this post must be chuckling into their Tim Hortons cup at the very idea of our January snow panic and wondering just how we would react to an actual outbreak of real weather.

As always, when it comes to scenarios like this, I have to think that Charlie Brooker said it best…

 

HMV in administration – UK geeks say ‘Meh’…


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If you’ve ever spent any time on a UK high street, you’ll probably be familiar with music retailer HMV and their eye-scorchingly bright black and pink store fronts.  You may also be familiar with their frequently hilarious overpricing, perversely good value offers – “5 Blu-Rays for £30?  Don’t mind if I do!” – and their cheery Terrier mascot, Nipper the Dog.

Like many UK retailers HMV has suffered the slings and arrows of the recession and finally succumbed to the inevitable today, going into administration with the prospect of 239 stores closing and 4000 staff losing their jobs – a statistic which fair chills the blood as I type it.  Of larger effect is the impact that HMV’s closure will have on the retail sector as a whole.

In the last few years, we’ve lost UK retailers like Virgin, their successor Zavvi, Woolworths, Game and we’ve seen the resilient likes of WH Smith drastically cut back on their stock of cds, dvds and games – if you want to buy digital media in those formats, you’ve got a choice between online or taking your chances with the dwindling number of independent stores in the UK offering such products.  And as Play.com just announced plans to segue into an eBay-esque ‘marketplace’ offering, the online stockists selling Blu-Rays isn’t getting any bigger.

I’m ambivalent towards HMV, if truth be told.  Theirs was a store that I headed to if I had a gift card to redeem, but a combination of stiff prices, unwelcoming stores, online competition and stock homogenisation sent me elsewhere for my media kicks.  Younger kids prefer downloads and streaming, older consumers are cannier with their cash and will hunt high and low for a better price for physical discs- the question of whom HMV is for anymore may be the key to their unmaking.

 

Things I Watched This Week: “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet”

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As an aspiring guitarist and metal head in the mid 1980’s, it was difficult to escape the influence and artists of Mike Varney‘s Shrapnel record label.

From Paul Gilbert and Racer X to Tony MacAlpine and the first stirrings of neoclassical fret fury from Yngwie Malmsteen, Shrapnel had what you needed if you loved noisy, 300 mph speed metal and had no fear of men in skin-tight, animal print spandex.

One of the major leading lights of that movement was Jason Becker, who first came to prominence in the duo Cacophony with fellow corkscrew-curled fretboard mangler Marty Friedman (who would later go on to a gig in Megadeth and improbable late career J-Rock fame in Japan).

Becker is the subject of a superb documentary “Not Dead Yet”, which I saw at the weekend on the UK’s PBS America channel and can heartily recommend to any fan of inspiring stories, nostalgic metal fans and people who like good stuff.

So, most of you, then?

See, Becker’s rapid ascent through the metal guitar ranks was cruelly interrupted by illness just as he had scored a prestige gig as lead shredder in David Lee Roth‘s band – as he recorded the album, Becker was diagnosed with ALS, the affliction more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease and his once promising musical career was abruptly curtailed.

How Becker now communicates with those closest to him - a communication grid developed by his Dad
How Becker now communicates with those closest to him – a communication grid developed by his Dad

The film tells Becker’s story carefully, being certain to emphasise the importance of his family background and how their support for his musical gift helped him achieve success before the tragic onset of illness seemed to rob him of the successful musical future which seemed his for the taking.  It’s that family and his network of friends which are the revelation of the film – nobody walked away from him once his ALS diagnosis was confirmed and it’s perhaps only due to the family’s determination to support Becker through his ongoing illness that we have this story to watch.

Though now in a wheelchair, tube-fed and on permanent life support, through a vital network of friends and technology Becker still composes music and is a regular guest at gigs in his honour, where the likes of Friedman, Joe Satriani, Richie Kotzen and other luminaries of the whammy bar assisted arts rock out in a celebration of music and its ability to communicate even through the most seemingly insurmountable barriers that the human body can present.

Jesse Vile’s documentary is a film that can’t help but inspire you – the problems which many of us face don’t really stack up to much when you see what kind of obstacles Becker and his family have faced in their efforts to beat the odds and circumvent the three-to-four year life expectancy which Jason was calculated to have when first diagnosed.  By the time that the film ends, it’s not really a spoiler to tell you that the musician is 42 years old and…well, the title tells you everything.

See it – it’s a fantastic piece of work.