Archive for April, 2012

My Gaming History ‘Part 6’

Posted in My Gaming History with tags , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2012 by Mortal Mikey

Picture the scene…

you’re an imperial born man, gone rouge, after escaping death because a fire breathing dragon interrupted your public execution for crimes you did not commit. After fleeing with a bloke who shows you the way out, you’re free to explore a huge landscape full of myth and magic, barbarians and thieves, trying to understand the motives of the people and fight for your survival.

You’ve just spent the last 53 minutes dispatching ancient Nord un-dead in a huge burial tomb, armed with a battle axe in one hand and a banded iron shield in the other…your companion, Jenessa…a dark Elf woman with a sexy British accent, who lives out her life as a mercenary for anyone with enough coin. You find her drinking in a pub on her own in a pleasant town, she doesn’t speak much but her huge great sword does the talking, carving the un-dead into pieces as they break free from their restless death to attack you. You emerge from the caves exhausted and over cumbered with riches you stole from the dead, who you just killed, again. As you make your way to the nearest village with thoughts of a belly full of mead and a good night sleep, you spot a lonely chicken on the outskirts of the settlement. With the newly learned spell you found inside the caves, you are too eager to wait for a more opportune moment and test it out on the poultry target.

The chicken bursts into flames as Jenessa watches on with the same blank expression she carries whilst driving forged steel into the foreheads of unlucky foe’s. At this moment you realise your mistake, you’ve just spent an hour in that dark tomb without auto save on and there’s no option to turn back time. The guards of the village of which you’ve destroyed a chicken, come for you but they aren’t here for a bribe this time…instead they attack you with no mercy for the crimes you’ve committed, in the confusion you have no choice but to reply with your axe and new found magic.

Jenessa, ever the quick thinker, attacks with you, with no regard for the lives of many in the village…she uses her god given magic to resurrect the chicken. In the flurry of blades and fire you catch a glimpse of what has become of your actions, as the chicken jumps furiously at the innocent people of this once quiet place, pecking at them like a crazed woodpecker. The orchestral battle music finally fades out and you’re left to look on at the smouldering remains of villagers and guards with only blood on your hands as your mercenary and new feathered recruit look at you for the next orders.

If you’re unsure what this is about, I’m talking about the latest RPG from Bethesda studios, Elder scrolls, Skyrim.

"Get back...your breath stinks!"

I learnt a valuable lesson that day, auto save is priceless with the kind of memory I have and that in modern games, you have to be mindful of your actions.

So far I’ve spent a solid 90+ hours in Skyrim and if you think the above sounds like a crazy tale, you should watch me attacking a bandit camp, dressed in a blacksmith apron, with only a wood cutters axe, magically enchanted to electrocute people as it strikes.

Often games in the old school category are usually based around the most simple of story lines, to save tricky programming with limited technology.

Take one of my all time favourite games on any platform, Streets of Rage.

Streets of Rage, or ‘Bare knuckle’ as it was known outside of the UK, was a scrolling beat’em up that I probably spent too much time playing. The story involved a gang of hero’s who sought to stop the evil Mr.x controlling the city and letting it spiral into chaos. Conveniently this meant civilians didn’t venture out onto the streets at night, leaving only thugs and lunatics to roam freely, a programmers dream.

The second instalment of this series was my favourite, combining a great original old school dance soundtrack with smooth graphics and slick game play. You choose anyone of the four playable characters and then begin your journey through 8 stages of smacking punks, surviving on apples and whole chickens.

How nice of someone to leave it on a plate

Axel Stone

The main dude and ‘leader’ of the gang was Axel, not to be confused with the automotive component or the loud fella from Guns and Roses. He wore a pair of light blue denim jeans, some cool trainers and a vest, topped off with a typically 80’s headband. He was quick, nimble and his wide variety of moves made him a favourite. Axel could be found in all 3 versions of Streets of Rage, he led the gang through the story, offering a backhand to anyone who crossed him.

Skate

Skate was a very different character to your usual band of muscle men and women, as he was a child. Obviously brought up tough enough, he fights alongside the other three characters in search for his dad Adam from the first game, who was kidnapped by Mr.x. His name, I’m guessing, comes from the fact he wears roller skates all of the time which in a fighting situation seems like a pretty daft idea but it does allow him to pull off some moves involving a flying kick utilising the underside of the skates and a special move which was a break dancing move flailing his legs at the enemy. Not one of my favourite characters to play with as when faced with a boss who was usually several times the size of the kid, it was near on impossible to avoid being murdered.

Blaze Fielding

Blaze was the female of the bunch, armed with stiletto heels and martial arts, enemies were met with speed and technique reminiscent of Street Fighters, Chun Li. Teamed up with one of the stronger males in the gang you and a friend could plough through enemies like a tractor through a crowd at a Justin Beiber concert.

Max System

Perhaps not as well remembered as Haggard from Final Fight, Max acted less like a street fighter and more like a bull in hall of mirrors. If you ever got into a spot of bother as one of the other three characters Max could wade in, pick up the nearest punk and throw his sorry looking Mohawk through the pavement. Whilst it was always satisfying to complete the game with Axel or another less powerful character, it was a great stress reliever to enter the streets as Max and throw criminals around for an hour finally meeting Mr.x and putting that gun up his fucking arse.

Z is about to have a bad day

A lot of time and effort went into this series, if you compared it to other side scrolling beat’em ups of the time, they usually fell short in terms of level design, music and character content. One example of this was that some characters, due to their size, could not swing or throw certain objects as they were too big, or the clever fight system in which you could use each other to ‘double team’ opponents.

The control system was superb, combining techniques from the popular 2D fighters from the likes of Street Fighter and Fatal Fury, extra grappling moves were included to make the street fighting more realistic and varied.

I think I hold the game in high regard still as it contains many of the aspects of game play and visuals that made this era of gaming what it was.

It was all about simple straight forward action at this time, it didn’t matter that it was wildly inaccurate and always with a slightly biased view of the states. So it was always nice when something completely new and completely original was found in the shops.

At around the same time as the SOR games were released, EA, or Electronic Arts, published a game that would shift gaming into a higher gear and set new levels of innovation once again with the Strike series.

Desert Strike: Return to The Gulf, was essentially chop lifter in 3D. A quote from Wikipedia…

The lead designer, Mike Posehn, had no video game experience prior to developing Desert Strike. Inspired by Choplifter, he aimed to create a nonlinear game with smoothly animated vehicles. Posehn, a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, developed a camera system with momentum to mimic realistic helicopter movements. Three-dimensional (3D) modeling was used to generate the vehicle sprites, which were later touched up on the pixel level with color.

This was a near perfect game in my opinion and still, with its innovative game play and physics, it can still be enjoyable today.

Set in the Gulf not so long after America had what it needed, you’re sent into one of the world’s most dangerous environments, in a single helicopter, to irradiate some lunatic with a huge moustache and a beret, much like the late Saddam Hussein. You were fed information and locations through a tactical menu and you went about your day saving prisoners of war, blowing up all of the bad guys whilst picking up fuel and ammunition as you did so.

Critics obviously had a field day with this title, claiming it was a little insensitive so soon after our governments had sent our young men and women out there with shoddy weapons and a slim chance of survival.

Looking back I don’t see how it was so offensive, you got to fly a single helicopter with a control pad around in a virtual desert land for thirty quid, completing tasks and usually surviving the ordeal. I thought they’d have more of an issue with several billions of dollars wasted, lots of dead brown people and a cushy re-armament plan for one mad Arab but then again we wouldn’t have the idea for the game without that.

"Yeah yeah yeah, with extra cheese.."

In fact, every single game ever created on a computer is a just a poor graphical representation of something that has ACTUALLY already happened, whether it was yesterday, last month or several centuries ago. With the only exceptions being the very weird and surreal games like TOKI on the Mega Drive, where you roam around a fantasy land as an ape with a huge head, spitting at enemies and attacking a submarine with a chimps face on it.

Games magazines (Because this was before the internet, kids) gave Desert strike 90% and above in reviews. It was just so playable, innovative and fun. The visuals in the game were inspired by Mike Posehn’s love for matchbox vehicles as a kid, so he wanted to make the game seem like it was just a bunch of war toys going at it, instead of the serious simulator type game you’d find on the PC’s or home computers.

Due to its success the Strike franchise lived and produced not one but four more games, each with its own unique theme. The exceptionally well crafted physics model and camera movements were evolved each time and the non-linear mission elements that made the game so great, were kept.

When Soviet Strike came out on the Playstation in the first generation of CD consoles, we were not only witness to a new and improved polygon engine but slick video cut scenes with real actors and sets, in high quality sound.

The final installment was released for eager Strike fans in 1997 as ‘Nuclear Strike’ and although it wasn’t as popular as the older titles it was still very much a well presented game. Once you had dealt with the last mission, the credits rolled before a short cut scene involving a computer animated Mech robot was seen, as a taste of what was to come. Sadly for whatever reason, this was never the Strike game it could have been and instead was released as Future cop: LAPD, which was about as much fun as throwing stones down a drain.

I leave you with this, for anyone who never experienced Strike games.

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My Gaming History ‘Part 5’

Posted in My Gaming History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2012 by Mortal Mikey

It was bank holiday Monday last week and so that meant wind and rain here, in the UK. A good friend of mine insisted we go to the local Racecourse (a place where small people smack horses and race them around a track) to see a stunt show.

The poster was defiantly eye catching, anyone from my generation knows how cool a Monster truck is from when we first caught a glimpse of American motor sport on SKY television back in the 80’s.

Well, they weren’t going to call it ‘Tree planter’

Obviously I was keen to see a real monster truck again, in a nation full of people obsessed with football and running…a fire breathing, 1000+ horse power, car crushing truck is hard to come by and even then you’re promptly disappointed due to our health and safety regulations requiring a noise reduction, no jumps that are too high and the crowd must be half a mile away wearing fire proof suits and ear plugs.

Quoted as ‘The greatest show on wheels’ I stuck on my all weather gear and met my friend at the show. The gravelly, uneven tarmac car park was the ‘arena’, surrounded by metal temporary fencing and the stunt crews caravans and trucks. The wind was blustery and unpredictable, the cold, biting, and the rain was the familiar British drizzle which is much like being stroked by a wet piece of ham. The commentator did his best throughout the show to rally some enthusiasm but trying to bring British spectators to clap and cheer in these conditions is like trying to teach a dog Spanish, whilst wearing a bacon jacket.

Before the big finale involving the monster truck trundling around the car park, crushing three already mangled vehicles, you were witness to the ‘greatest show on wheels’…a Ford Mondeo estate was one of the first highlights to perform a stunt. It was more of a crash really, with a set of ramps positioned in front of a smashed car that stood vertically. The exhausted Ford reached the ramps at about 30mph and pretty much fell into the target car, all topped off with some pyro effect which I suspect was a shotgun shell rigged onto a make-shift fuse. Watch a clip of the specticale here…

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, simply because without standing outside in the cold and rain, watching people hurl themselves at burning wood strapped the front of a clapped out Ford…you can experience all sorts of dangerous looking activities from the comfort of your own warm, dry home. 

After the plethora of 2D fighting games and the new breed of racing dynamics, came the next generation of shooters.

Now for anyone unfamiliar with what is now the biggest selling gaming genre right now, it’s quite simple to explain. FPS games or ‘First person shooters’ involve you looking through the eyes of the character, pointing a weapon at things. Boys and girls the world over had enjoyed playing bubble popping, coin collecting, secret finding, spinning jumping, colourfully musical delights but the games we enjoy more than anything else involves running around virtual worlds, brandishing anything that can wound, maim or kill.

Don't mock Mario's plumbing abilties

My first experience of this new age of shooter was sat with an older friend of mine, who had acquired a copy of Wolfenstien on the PC. Looking through the first person perspective literally gave me Goosebumps, I didn’t even know what a Nazi was at the time. When I finally witnessed the showdown between my friend and an 8ft Hitler in a robotic suit with mini guns as arms, I was terrified and also quite surprised when later I came to know him in school as the evil German guy who wanted anyone who wore a star badge to die in an oven. 

I had to get myself some of this terrifying action, thankfully at the time my old man required a PC for his personal use. With a little bit of my input we had a gaming rig for doing his word processing…handy for when you need to play Doom.

In the Playstation version you could shoot with one hand and cheer yourself on with the other

Doom was similar to Wolfenstien in many ways. The controls were simple, you could not look up or down, there was no jump, you simply looked at what you wanted to kill, select the appropriate weapon and shoot it until it stops moving. Doom was an instant classic, it is another game where references have been used in film, music and books since its creation.

Both Wolfenstien and Doom were created by ID software who had no problem in letting people share the games freely and this has resulted in the franchise having a long and prosperous life. There have been changes made to both games over the years, such as gore content, obvious references to shooting Germans in the face and having maps shaped like Swastikas.

In late 1995, Doom was estimated to be installed on more computers worldwide than Microsoft’s new operating system Windows 95, the ‘Doom style’ clones since the release have been relentless and a truck load of these games were complete pap.

It set the standard for the genre by including great game play, crazy satanic art work, totally immersive sound and hard hitting weapons. There is little more satisfying than the boom, click, click, of the pump action shotgun as a monster gargled it’s last breath.

The fantasy element in recent years has been seen less and less and replaced with total realism of combat, it can often feel like you’re training yourself mentally for some weird military recruitment frenzy in the near future where you have to fight the entire middle east with your five best friends. Typically all of the Doom style games from the past were based around the complete iraddication of everything in the level but as time progressed, so did the programming and the (Artificial Intelligence) AI. This opened up new opportunities for games designers to improve combat but it wasn’t without it’s turkeys.

You can pick up a copy of one of the many attempts at creating a ‘next gen’ shooter with basic AI in any PC retailer in a bargain basket, the consoles have also seen their fair share. It’s the simplest things, from how an enemy is alerted to your presence or how accurate they can be with a weapon. Games are so advanced now that a programmed AI can’t detect you through some foliage or in darkend corners…young gamers today never had to endure sniping levels were an enemy could spot you half a mile away hiding behind a bush and shoot you between the eyes with a pistol. Neither have they been pinned down by a dozen enemies who can shoot a single pologon of your character as you cautiously peek around a corner in a vain attempt to ambush them. 

Not all games were as bloody and gore ridden as Doom, some games rolling out of the shops at this time were as dark as the Care Bears…the simplicity of gaming can always be sought out if need be, which is why I find the arguments against gaming / violence ridiculous.

There is something strangely satisfying and relaxing about dispatching hundreds monsters with a sawn off shotgun, if I could think of one game responsible for some anger issues as a kid, it would have been Code Masters, Micro machines.

Based on the tiny over priced toy vehicles, you raced from a top down perspective against the computer, or your friends around a race track. Friendships were pushed to their limits as your opponents were able to bump you off the track to meet certain doom, sometimes accidently, often intentionally.

Being constrained to a top down view and a single screen, did limit how much you could win or lose by, as the camera could only zoom out so much. Tracks were set in garages, gardens, kitchen tables, pool tables and bathrooms, each presenting their own dangers like moving platforms, sweets, holes in the ground and puddles. Circuits could be mastered by remembering every single object, turn and jump of the track, as it raced towards you from any direction but more often than not you are simple flying blind, knocking into things, occasionally shouting something vulgar at the TV.

Codemasters later introduced two extra controller ports on the cartridge, so three of you could pick on the kid you liked least.

The experts indeed have it all wrong. I would literally have to take myself outside and go play with some matches for awhile in the garden, all because of certain levels I was trying to complete, with curtains drawn and strict instructions to my mum that she better have a good excuse to enter my room.

In a similar vein, Disney’s Aladdin was a beautifully crafted film, with a star studded voice over cast and slick animation, it should have a place in anyone’s collection if you like that sort of thing. So in 1993 when a game was released on the Megadrive, my parents bought me the game as a birthday present as I enjoyed the film so much. The game played rather well, so well in fact it was pretty addictive and so I spent a few hours jumping around, throwing apples at beggars and slashing enemies with a scimitar. As platformers go Aladdin was good fun, with a dose of Disney’s very own humour and animation thrown in for good measure.

I was keen to complete the game as it was so good, to do this however you had to endure a level so infuriating, at one point I think I almost considered putting the cartridge in the gap between the edge of a door and the hinge to crush it into pieces. With no capacity to save the game you had to get this right and you quickly learnt that either these game developers are fucking with you, or they are just horrible people.

The flying carpet level begins with Aladdin flying through a cave slowly, you have a few seconds or less to figure out all of the controls because the carpet is speeding up and you need to avoid rocks. Behind you is a wave of lava in case you weren’t panicked enough. As a platformer your perspective was limited on a twenty something inch television, in reality, to avoid the obstacles and the tidal wave of molten lava, you had to rely on your psychic abilities or pure luck. With a finite amount of lives and a fair number of levels left to get through in the game, getting this right took patience and good memory skill. One technique used to complete this level was the use of the start, or pause button. Used continuously you could gauge how much you need to move up or down on the carpet, this required the concentration of a bomb disposal expert with Parkinson’s and a pillow to bite in case you fucked this up too.

I do apologise that every time I mention in a previous ‘Gaming history’ post, that I’m going to talk about a certain game, more often than not, I don’t. There is a lot of games to get through and hopefully I’ll get to mention the best ones.

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Massive retro invaders mug

Posted in The Pit with tags , , , , on April 16, 2012 by Mortal Mikey

Someone kindly gave this to me as a gift

Should hold a fair amount of wine…

Custom framed 1985 Nintendo Zapper

Posted in Mortal Musings with tags , , , on April 10, 2012 by Mortal Mikey

Having a look through my cupboards a few weeks ago, I discovered an old friend, the 1985 Nintendo Zapper.

This particular item was bundled in with Super Mario world and Duck Hunt when i received the NES console one Christmas. Mario is something I’ve already covered in my gaming history but I haven’t mentioned Duck Hunt.

The game was as basic as they come, you, the player, must use the Nintendo zapper to shoot and kill ducks. It’s not so much of a hunt as there is no real tracking or baiting involved. Your only companion is a giggling dog, who jumps into the bushes and ducks fly out from the undergrowth, to meet their lead filled demise.

For those who found the game rather too graphic there was a ‘Type B’ game where by you shot at imaginary clay pigeons but I much preferred the flapping panic of the ducks, right before I gave them all three rounds. This always annoyed me, having three rounds for two ducks but then again the game was about accuracy and not a Doom style murder spree. 

Instead of throwing out the piece of history, I decided to mount it in my bedroom. You could do this with most peripherals, so hopefully this might inspire you to waste an afternoon doing something.

First you’ll need to choose a theme. My idea was to paint the frame with the similar grey colour that Nintendo used for the console…luckily for me, primer grey was cheap and I didn’t even have to lacquer it. You’ll need a ‘3D’ frame deep enough for your item, looking back now I should have taken some more measurements (I’ll get to that later).

 

Once you have the original frame sanded down and cleaned, it’s ready for spraying.

I recommend hanging the item up or putting on a surface you don’t mind ruining.

Doom view

Next you’ll want some sort of backing for your item. I wanted a very deep black effect so decided to buy some material to stick to inside board of the frame.

  

With the mounting position figured out, I decided it would be best to minimise the weight, so it would actually stay on the back board. Interesting to see where the magic happens…

I did stick the material down onto the board using doubled sided tape, if you don’t do this it’ll hang off the material and you’re gonna have a bad day.

The finishing touch was the Nintendo fabric patch, nowadays you can get a patch of almost anything so it can be a nice addition to the final thing you’re making.

A retro looking snap…

 And the finished result mounted on my wall.

Hop, Panic, Jump 2012

Posted in Mortal Musings with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2012 by Mortal Mikey

For people like me, the idea of running as fast as you can and then jumping into a sand pit sounds like a waste of time but some people have chosen a life dedicated to this kind of thing in the attempt to beat someone else at it. Gone are the days when ‘sports’ involved men and women being pitted against wild animals and or barbarians, we now have dexterous games and rolling about on a mat. A collection of these kind of saps are called ‘Olympians’ and in case you have avoided media better than even myself, the Olympic games are coming to this country.

"Number two, fetch my propeller attachment"

The screams of the people involved with the Olympics comity were quite unnerving, when the votes came through it was deemed that London was to hold the 2012 hop, skip and jump. Though something tells me it is a lot more than just pride in hosting the games. I remember sports day back in primary school and dull it all was too. I was instructed to line up against my fellow class mates and run like my life depended on it to the end of the track, in an attempt to win, what did you win?…nothing, nothing but exhaustion.

On the first couple of runs it was quite exciting but it quickly becomes clear some children have the right genetics and you’re never going to compete. I decided that was that and made it clear that I wasn’t competing again…I was made to feel terrible for not wanting to join in with P.E (Physical education) but I found it tedious having to run fast or throw something against someone who really believed they were achieving something.

The Olympics is big news though and literally an entire mini world has been built in the centre of London to accommodate the games, all this means for me is that i will probably never want to visit London again but apparently some people dislike the games so much, they are willing to blow it up…or so that’s the kind of impression I get from a peek at some news coverage.

From an article in the Guardian ‘Around 13,500 troops will be deployed at the London 2012 Olympics, more than are ­currently at war in Afghanistan’. You could translate that to… ‘Government to arm 13,500 low achieving teenagers with automatic weapons and set them loose on the streets’

It's for Britain innit

It’s quite a statement, the troops aren’t joining in though, they are going to be there to protect. Protect what, you say…well I’m not entirely sure, I mean yes, I won’t be cheering on Great Britain in the hope they win a partially gold medal but I don’t have the level of resentment for the games that I’d want to kill people. The government claim security measures have been put in place for the good of the people during the games…yeah just like Beijing 2008 right?

The £11 billion sports day is symbolised with a logo that looks as if it were made from potato prints and couple of mascots who were obviously chosen to signify just how ‘out of this world’ the cost of the games will be, which you can now buy in a metropolitan police outfit for about a tenner. (Baton and tear gas not included)

Gay one eyed aliens eat mars bars and drink lucosade

All of this comes during the news our government decided the national health service had to go, fuel is about a pound for a splash, more people find themselves homeless and generally everything else you can think of is suffering cut backs.

Thinking about how much £11 billion would help out with in this country is quite mind-boggling, the games initially were predicted to take a measly £2.37 billion, which that figure alone could have re-opened every day care centre and pay for meals on wheels for all of our old folk, which have been struggling to stay afloat during the insane tax hikes. £11 billion is just fucking disgusting and if you disagree you’re either a ticket holder or a berk.

I’d pay good money to see Gladiators back on the telly.

The combined IQ of a grape

Nothing could be more exciting than watching 150lb Eric Reynolds from Swansea, as his mum, wife and child watch him being beaten with a gauntlet stick by a 250lb steroid monster called ‘Rhino’. That’s entertainment. Whether it’s to invest in more advanced stems cell research where we create huge gladiators in lab’s, or we give young offenders a chance to win back their freedom…it would be a damn sight more moral than the 2012 games.

Olympians this year are backed by all the great sporting influences, Coca Cola, MacDonald’s, Cadbury’s…the list goes on of body enhancing foods that support the games…it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. Maccy D’s is hopeful that it can break a world record too, with what they see as the largest buger diner ever, slap bang in the middle of east London. The negative implications of the games far outweighs the good that it will do for London and it’s not just London that will be effected, I heard on the grapevine that London require a large portion of my local police force too, so I guess we’ll be expecting more break-in’s in my area and dirty faced kids burning bins looking miserable.

The rich want to live in fortresses and I guess, who can fucking blame them. In the near future expect to be observed and then detained for speaking against ludicrous events like this and become a marked man in society. The Olympic games shouldn’t bring fear to the people of London, for those who are switched on, they can cope and adjust, for those who don’t see it coming, it’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel. In regard’s the security changes in London, there’s too many to mention here, surprisingly it also lands around the same time as our beloved Elizabeth celebrates 60 years of Nazi rule over us proles…after dropping her signature on the bill that killed our free health service this year, we’re all expected now to sit back and watch the fireworks, the army and the ‘musicians’ mince about proclaiming life is just peachy under Liz’s sword.

I’ll be out of the country whilst all of this is going on, if you have any sense you won’t be on the streets of London, or watching some retrospective guff on TV about the Queen, backed by Adele’s melancholy piano tracks for the working class. This window of opportunity for security firms is huge and unstoppable, so don’t bother marching or camping, a tsunami of surveillance is coming and they’re not even being subtle about it.

From the millions spent on a ‘mock’ terrorist attack, together with hundreds of service men and women ‘just in case’ something catastrophic happens. To the obvious Zionist visual hints all over the capital. It brings to mind events of the past like The military siege of Heathrow airport in January 1974 was said to have been a dress-rehearsal for a military coup, we got Thatcher instead so it’s debatable what would have been the preferred result.