Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Meatspace's Cheesy One Liners

Back when we were still making Meatspace, I drank too much coffee one day and wrote down cheesy one liners that our characters could deliver when killing people pretty hard. The list isn't meant to be complete. These would be reserved for the most brutal of takedowns, dismemberments and vaporisations. No one's making Meatspace any more so at least you'll get to see the cheesy one liners.

The Communist (a midrange gunsy type, speaks with passion, any accent but Russian)

"No justice, no peace!"
"Space capitalism must fall!"
"The final days of late stage space capitalism are here!"
"This is for the people!"
"We own our tools of production."
"You've been nationalised."
"Hammer and sickle and gun."
"The masses have spoken!"

The Professional (a longrange gunsy type, speaks with disgust, haughty)

"Am I the only professional here?"
"This is a hostile takeover."
"We're merging with you."
"We have to let you go."
"You've been laid off."
"The floating charge has crystallised."
"What is this amateur hour?"

The Nerd (hackery type, speaks like a fucking nerd)

"There was a bug in your code, I fixed it."
"Initiating garbage collection."
"Get rekt, noob!"
"Get on my level!"
"Your system has experienced a critical failure."
"I'm a nice guy!"
"Have you tried turning it off and on again?"

The Crane (unusually tall melee type, speaks like a mix between Saint of Killers and Anton Chigurh)

"Death is weakness leaving your body."
"My fists, your death, my love."
"Flesh is made to be pounded."
"You were anxious, now you are at peace."
"Shuffle off this mortal coil, but gently."
"Your journey is over, so mine can continue."
"Life is suffering, yours is over."
"Through pain, I have made you free."

The Pacifist (bad at shooting but hard to hit, constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown)

"I think I'm going to puke."
"You made me do this!"
"Sometimes violence is... necessary... I hope this was one of those times."
"I am so sorry about this."
"What have I become?"
"I wish there was another way."
"Next time give peace a chance, ok?"

Monday, November 28, 2016

Making Up The Contango Universe - Aristotle's Poetics & Our Core Technologies

Back when I was getting my BA in English I was determined to be a writer. A foolish thought, I know. One book that stuck with me from that period of my life, though I guess it's more accurate to call it a scroll, was Aristotle's Poetics.

The topic is basically "how to make good literature". Out of the different subjects he covers, I found mythos (plot) and ethos (charactres) to be most relevant to me. I won't be rephrasing the entire sections here for obvious reasons, if you're into writing, you should definitely go and check out the entire thing. Do keep in mind that Aristotle was extremely sexist and the dude literally does not check his privilege even a single time.

Aquamanile in the Form of Aristotle and Phyllis

There's two things that Aristotle repeats a few times regarding both characters and plot - that they have to come out of probability or necessity. That the characters need to be true to life and consistent (ie "in character"). He says that the difference between history and poetry (ie literature) isn't that one is in verse and the other isn't, but rather that one talks about what was and the other - would could be or could have been.

This ties in nicely with my (and Ed's) love for realism in fictional things - be those things games or sci-fi universes. So when we started flashing out the Contango universe, we obviously wanted to make it a more or less plausible future of the world we live in today. The farther you go into the said imaginary future, the harder it becomes to convince yourself that it is still plausible. To overcome this we went with technological determinism. We decided to choose our core technologies and then imagine what the world around them would look like.

Every industrial revolution (we've currently had 3 and are reportedly in the middle of the 4th one), had a core technology (or a technological breakthrough). You can also talk about the core technologies of each sine wave cycles of capitalism but I'll concentrate on the economics of the future in the next entry. First industrial revolution saw steam power and mechanisation of labour, second - assembly lines and electrification, third - computers and automation of factories and the fourth one involves the so-called cyber physical systems, ie internet of things and big data gone wild.

"Cyber physical systems in the UK!" Sex Pistols 40th Anniversary Tour

So we carried on from there. The fifth one would be fusion power and the beginning of space exploitation and the sixth one - worm hole travel and mass colonisation of our part of Milky Way. Also cloning. Quite a lot of cloning.

If you think about it, every sci-fi universe has core technologies - Star Wars has massive ships and crapsabres, Star Trek has teleportation and warp drives (both of them have FTL communications, if I'm not mistaken), Alien has 80s CRT screens and no internet, Blade Runner has cyborgs and constant rain and Terminator and Matrix have a pile of stinking shit that makes no sense. We chose fusion and worm holes. And super over extended neoliberal capitalism in space.

Having fusion power potentially necessitates accelerated space exploration and exploitation to procure Helium 3 (and maybe also Deuterium) and makes energy abundant as long as raw material shipments aren't disrupted. Mining operations in our solar system would need space travel to become much cheaper than it is today - hence the development of space fountains, orbital rings and launch loops. With the amount of energy an efficient fusion core would give you, you could have artificial gravity in space ships using only current day technology (Diamagnetism).

The wormhole technology allows near instant travel and exchange of information between two wormhole stations. This makes possible somewhat rapid colonisation of our galactic neighbourhood. The stations would still need to be towed to the new site through conventional means and would only open to those who were authorised to go through, thus further reinforcing the divide between the rich and the poor, the core worlds and the fringe, those with power and those who have nothing. You would have worlds were people farm using oxen and those where they are fed grapes by cyborg lions who speak only Finnish. In a world like this a person could be cloned into slavery and be required by law to vote for Proxima Centauri B next top supermodel and like it.

He doesn't need his hands to vote.

In the next entry I'll talk about the more economic side of things and how capitalism could carry on 300 years into the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

How Contango's Universe Came To Be

As some of you may already know, I promised to start writing about creating the Contango universe and challenges and decisions that generally, or not so generally, come with creating fully functioning fictional universes. But before I do that, I thought it would make sense to start with the story of how Contango universe came about.

Back in the dusty and forgotten 2015 we (Ed, Pete, Claudia, Simon and I) decided that we were now done with Galacto's Intolerant (our first and only game) and that we would work on a new game - one that we would all enjoy playing. (Unlike Galacto which no one ever could possibly enjoy playing (no, I mean it, it literally made children cry)). So, to our own surprise we came up with an idea of Meatspace - a top-down 4 player co-op sci-fi space ship heist game. I genuinely don't remember who came up with what part or aspect of this imaginary game. I remember it as a 5-way flow of consciousness with Ed writing stuff on the whiteboard and me drinking a lot. I don't even remember who suggested the name, could have been Simon. There is potentially a video record of this conversation somewhere on Ed's hard drive. He likes to record things he can use against us in court later.

Vertical slice concept art in da house!

The name came from Gibson's Neuromancer and is the opposite of cyberspace. Meatspace is where we all still live today. It made sense for the game because it had "space" in it and the game would have a lot of meat, ie dead clones (and probably not just clones). Our game was going to feature a gratuitous cloning tech and all your characters were meant to be clones of themselves. You could kill yourself at any time during the mission and be replaced with a copy of yourself from the beginning of the mission. You could then for example go up to your own still very warm corpse and get some still very warm gear from it. And so on.

A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant also dies a thousand time in the sci-fi future.

The universe was meant to have some kind of capitalist system with a wide gap between the rich and the poor and your characters were meant to be these sort of Robin Hood types that were trying to get to the ship carrying the Contingency Vault, rob it and bail out their home planet which was about to go bankrupt. That's pretty much as far as we had gone in developing the lore.

We than pitched this game to the UK Games Fund in hopes of getting some funding but instead got a pathetic little rejection letter that contradicted itself on why we were rejected. They gave at least some of that round's funding to a bunch of ye olde games companies that were already doing pretty well. Oh the (non-fiction) irony of the capitalist universe.

Now we're back in 2016, the best kind of year in human history. Ed and I decided to change up what we were doing with our company, YouTube channel and Patreon and as a part of that change we decided to do a webcomic. We had briefly toyed with and rejected the idea of doing a webcomic maybe about 5 years ago. It was pretty clear that Meatspace wasn't going to happen so Ed suggested that we do something with the universe that it was set in. It became Contango - the glorious place of disaster space capitalism.

We took what little lore we had already developed ie capitalism in space + cloning and added a whole bunch of lore on top. This is what the future entries in these series will concern themselves with - the world building on a rather large scale - the what and the why.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Thoughts on Rainbow Six Siege

When I was younger, the only quality that a videogame needed to have for me to be interested in it was to be a videogame. Except for Karateka. I hated that game. It's the first game I deleted from my PC. Anyway. Today I have 455 games on Steam alone and until recently used to play regularly only Arma 3. So if a new game manages to engage me for more than 10 hours I pause and think why this anomaly may be occurring. So here are some private subjective words about Rainbow Six Siege (30 hours in).

The Good

There's no jumping. There's probably nothing that turns me off about an FPS more than jumping. I would play counter strike a lot more if there was no jumping in it. I know it's the classicestest thing you can do in an FPS, second to only shooting and followed by crouching but I don't care. Don't talk to me about jumping.
It's very structured. Each round lasts no more than 4 minutes and there can be from 3 to 5 rounds in a casual match. There's a clear prep phase when defenders establish defences and attackers do recon and then the round proper starts. There can be only one of each kind of operative per round.
No respawn during match. Self-explanatory.
If you're dead, you're not necessarily out. The dead control the cameras (my new band). They can mark enemies in-game or feedback to the live teammates their positions through voip and/or text. The options for dead attackers are rather more limited if all the drones were taken out.
Most stuff can be destroyed or shot through. This, together with the wide range of choice you have when picking operatives and their loadouts, makes every round very different. This is on the level of A3BR replayability.
Friendly fire is always on. Even in casual multiplayer (in your face, CSGO!). This is how god intended every FPS to be.
There is no singleplayer campaign. This may sound like a weird reason but every game should 'understand' what it is and what it isn't and R6 Siege is not a singleplayer game. More isn't always better, obviously.

The Bad

You have to use Uplay to play R6. You need to have your Steam friends on there to play with them.
The ingame UI takes a lot of getting used to. It's what people would generally refer to as 'terrible'. But at least right click doesn't equal 'back', like in that one fucking game that ruined my life.
You get two overlays ingame - one for Steam and one for Uplay. You can have them up at the same time. The joy is infinite. The Uplay overlay is pure trash, by the way.
You have to grind to unlock operatives and/or pay for them. R6 is not a F2P game.
There are horrible cosmetic items you can buy with grind or real money. Thankfully you can't trade them.
What you see isn't always what the opponent sees. Some particle effects are client based - while you are in smoke on your screen, the opponent may be seeing you very clearly outside of it.
It's very strange that the world of R6 Siege has no doors. It makes sense from the gameplay mechanics but just... so eerie. There isn't a single door in the entire game. Might as well called it Rainbow Six But No Doors At All Mate.

Conclusion: 7/10. No, I'm kidding. It's really good. If you like competitive tactical CQC FPS games, this is the best in recent memory.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Predicting The Singularity: The Ultimate Formula

So you want to give the world an accurate prediction of when the technological singularity is going to happen? It doesn't matter if you're picking the humans transcending biology or runaway AI advances or any other kind of singularity. This formula I'm about to give you works for anything that is possible in theory but we have no way of doing it right now. Even world peace! You don't even need to have a degree in anything. The very basic understanding of math will suffice!

So first lets establish the variables.

s = the year the singularity of your choice is going to happen
b = the year you were born
a = the average human life span (worldwide average is 71 at the time of writing this)
t = the contingency constant which always equals 10 (this is in case you live in a western country and/or are very healthy)

And the super accurate formula is: s=b+a+t

That's it! You have the formula! All the futurologists will hate you now but they've been using this for years so who cares about them.

So lets say you were born in 1963, then the singularity will happen in 2044. Isn't that neat? Of course, if you were born in 1971, the singularity is going to happen in 2052 but that's pretty neat too!

Anyway, I need to go. Happy singularity predictions!

From zero to hero!!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Really Baking Your Noodle or How To Break Out Of Simulated Reality With Money

If you've ever (re)watched The Matrix as an adult, you may have realised how poorly it is written. Of course, when I first saw it through my 13 year old eyes, I thought it was pure genius. But lets be honest, I was wrong about a lot of things back then. The artistic merits of The Matrix were only a small and insignificant misconception of my 13 year old self. I'm trying to pick a quote from the film that would embody its infantile dialogue but it's harder than I anticipated because, honestly, any exchange would do the job. Let's go with this one:
Trinity: Neo... no one's ever done anything like this.
Neo: That's why it's going to work.
Yes, Neo. That's exactly why it's going to work. "No one's ever taken 20 cyanide pills and lived, Neo!" "That's why it's going to work, Trinity!" 

Forks are definitely real though.
Let's not even get into the whole premise of "machines needed energy and since the sun wasn't available anymore, they're using humans". God forbid they used geothermal power, nuclear power or, you know, burned the food they gave to their "batteries". 

But all of that asinine lazy sci-fi aside, the concept of simulated/unreal/illusory reality isn't new and wasn't created by the Wachowskis. It goes all the way back to sceptical hypotheses like the Descartes' Evil Demon or Zhuangzi's Dream Argument. Then there's mythological manifestations of the same idea like Vishnu sleeping and dreaming the world we live in. They all boil down to roughly the same concept of 'what if the world we perceive as real isn't real'. What if there is a more real world beyond it and we can't perceive it because of either our own inability to do so or because we are being actively deceived by powers beyond our grasp. 

If this kid wakes Vishnu up, I'm going to be so pissed.
And yeah, fine, whatever, what if the real isn't real, what is real anyway and all that. Great. If you have time to be bothered about that, you're probably not worried about food and shelter. Good for you. 

The reason I'm writing this, however, isn't me getting nostalgic about The Matrix. It's because the simulation theory (or simulated reality hypothesis, however you want to call it) has been gaining some non-ironic traction in what may or may not be the real world and the angle that those with power and money are taking on it is somewhat disturbing.

The modern discussions around simulated reality are less about demons and dreams and more about computer simulated ancestors (that's us!). Hence why I was reminded of The Matrix.

This is Hans.
Even though Hans Moravec is probably the first person to have written about the modern version of the simulated reality, it's Nick Bostrom's trilemma that most people rely on for their posthuman computer simulated reality needs.

This is a photo of Nick.
In his 2003 essay Are You Living In A Computer Simulation? Bostrom argues that at least one of the following statements has to be true:
(1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage;
(2) any posthuman civilisation is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof);
(3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
For an unknown reason, a lot of people seem to have concluded that Bostrom's trilemma somewhow means that we're living in an ancestral simulation. Among them is our beloved future King of Mars - Elon Musk. In June he said that he's been having so many conversations about AI and simulated reality that "my brother and I finally agreed that we'd ban any such conversations if we're ever in a hot tub. Because that really kills the magic".

Here's the full thing Elon said at Recode regarding ancestral simulations:
The strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation is the following: 40 years ago we had Pong — two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it's getting better every year. And soon we'll have virtual reality, augmented reality... If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then games will become indistinguishable from reality. Even if that rate of advancement drops by 1,000 from what it is right now. Then you just imagine 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing in the evolutionary scale. So it's a given that we're clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or a PC and there would probably be billions of such computers and set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we're in base reality is one in billions. Tell me what's wrong with that argument?  
I will do so in a moment. Then he also added:
Arguably we should hope that that's true, because otherwise if civilisation stops advancing, that may be due to some calamitous event that erases civilisation. So maybe we should be hopeful that this is a simulation, because otherwise... We are either going to create simulations indistinguishable from reality or civilisation ceases to exist.
And to hell with the second statement in Bostrom's trilemma, I guess. God forbid the posthumans decide not to simulate their ancestors out of ethical concerns. What kind of venture capitalist future would that be? To be able to do something exciting but refrain from it because you may cause immeasurable pain to billions of people is probably the definition of silly at this point in Elon's hot tub of magic. I'd much rather be in a base reality that never makes it to the posthuman stage than one of the ancestors of the civilisation that would actually go ahead and create our world so full of misery. If you don't agree, next time you feel any significant pain, physical or emotional, think how you have to go through that because someone had too much time and processing power on their hands.

If you're thinking, fine, Andro, sure but who cares which image of the future Elon Musk and his brother (or any other billionaires) are masturbating to in their hot tub, I guess you haven't been following the 2016 election campaign in US at all. But it potentially gets worse.

Artists depiction, not to scale.
A very recent profile of Sam Altman (the president of Y Combinator, among other silicon things) in The New Yorker has the following line: "two tech billionaires have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation". (Read the entire piece if you want to get more depressed about life, by the way). There aren't that many tech billionaires out there to not be worried that one of them is the infamous Trump endorser and lover of secret funds - Peter Thiel - who just before I wrote this sentence donated 1.25 million dollars to the campaign of the most famous pussy grabber in history.

If the line about the not-so-secret funding for simulation research is true, not only are our entrepreneurial elite burning money on an altar of a pointless endeavour but potentially devising a way to terminate it. Let's examine both of these ugly potentialities in turn.

Maybe I'm growing old and losing my penchant for "the truth" but imagine that we are indeed in a simulation. Imagine that it has been proved beyond doubt that it is a simulation, we are all virtual entities in some great future computer and there's a more real reality beyond. Now let me ask you, how exactly would this improve anyone's life? If you think there was an increase of violence and hatred after Brexit vote, you better get ready for unprecedented levels of nihilism and wanton disregard for human life. Finding out that we live in a simulation is like finding out that you were adopted and the reason your biological parents abandoned you wasn't because it was an unwanted pregnancy or they didn't have enough money to raise you but because they though you were a very ugly and dumb looking baby and they were ashamed to have you. They kept all the other ones, by the way, because they looked fine. Now you still have to go about your life just the same but I bet you feel like shit.
You were adopted!
So how does one break out of a simulation which is the only place where they exist? Neo had it easy, he took a pill that a stranger gave him. Hm. Maybe we should ask someone who has actually tried it. How about Joshua Cooke?
Josh Cooke, a 19-year-old in Oakton, Virginia, owned a trenchcoat like the one worn by Neo, the character played by Keanu Reeves in the movie, and kept a poster of his hero on his bedroom wall. Then he bought a gun similar to the one used by Neo to fight evil [sic]. In February, he shot his father and mother in the basement of their home and then called the police. His lawyers say he believed that he was living inside the Matrix.
Ah cool. Murder. That's how. Nowadays Josh is campaigning from his prison cell for the ban on assault weapons. Says he would have killed a lot more people if he had a shotgun or an AR-15. Or a lot of money? I guess you can dismiss Josh as "crazy" but does Peter Thiel look "sane" to you?

Hell yeah!
Fine, fine. Maybe I'm being too sensationalist and vulgar here, letting my imagination run loose. My simulated imagination. If that's the case, I apologise. All I'm saying is 783 million people living in the world right now do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. So fuck your simulation and its research.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Castle America

A few years ago, Ed and I started "working" on a game with a German PhD student named Boris. The game was meant to be called Castle America. At the time, I wrote a very short history of the game's universe from the proverbial "current day" to the opening of the game. You can read it below.

By mid-21st century designer life forms became commonplace and served many purposes, both utilitarian and vain. They were mostly proprietary single-cell organisms ranging from carbon monoxide neutralizing bacteria to wrinkle smoothing fungus1. Due to a rather successful bacterial climate and pollution level control coupled with ever more efficient and economical internal combustion engines, the usage of fossil fuels was declining much slower than anticipated at the turn of the century. The solar power research was all but abandoned as the fresh air returned to urban centres and it seemed that being able to drive for two months on a full tank meant that oil would never run out.

In 2057, Viltran, an American corporation specializing in materials research and production, successfully introduced a plastic eating bacteria that was meant to solve the plastic recycling problem. The new life form was based on a nylon eating Flavobacterium K172 that was discovered about 80 years before and had once been the poster child of evolution. PEB quickly become a media darling – it's ATI2 peaking at 10K RPS3. Pebbies, as they soon were called, depolymerized plastic at record rates and turned it into a glucose like monomer that resembled white ash.

PEB, like almost any other designer bacteria, was hardcoded to die after one week no matter how favourable the conditions and would multiply only once – their offspring were barren. All of this changed after what came to be known as the Maastricht Outbreak of 2058 when in a newly inaugurated bacterial recycling plant one of the Pebbies' offspring inscrutably mutated the barren code out of itself. When the custodian droids whose job it was to collect the waste monomer didn't return from the consumption chamber, the human staff went in to investigate. They found lifeless droid hulls stripped of all plastic and covered in white ash. All precautions were said to have been applied but the new strain somehow got out. What followed was a mass extinction event on molecular level.

The nations scrambled in panic to stop the epidemic that was rapidly and irreversibly eroding the very cogs that kept the society going but things only got worse. The Plastic Rot, also called The Great White Plague, became the Oil Rot. Through additional series of mutations the Pebbies developed a taste for the very source of plastic. As is the wont of humankind, in times of great trouble and grave danger we turn to our brother's throat. Armies moved in to take control of uncontaminated oil reserves disregarding national borders and international agreements. The bloodshed that followed was only tempered by the rapidly disintegrating military technology. USA who had been secretly developing SBSP4 technology for two decades activated the program which gave it an enormous edge in energy production. Two days later China retaliated by crashing all of its zombie satellites into the American ones, thus bringing about true a Kessler Syndrome and perhaps forever denying humanity space travel.

It is estimated that around 30 million people died in the Oil Wars that followed the outbreak. In the next two years, 90% of human population perished due to starvation, poor sanitation and exposure. Before driving itself to extinction, Pebbies are thought to have destroyed 95% of oil and its byproducts.

The date is 2098. The remains of human civilization are sheltered in walled-in city states known as the Murrs. Most of the Murrs practice very strict immigration policy while reluctantly trading with the dwellers of the wilderness. Chunks of plastic have superseded all competing currencies – the affluent elite of the apocalypse wears it as jewellery and good luck charms. The non-citizenry that lives outside the walls consists of nomadic hunter-gatherers and bandits.

1 Most multi-cellular artificial organisms remained unstable, though a Korean company briefly tried to market affordable glow-in-the -dark kittens. The whole affair folded quite quickly after it became clear that the kittens only lived three to four weeks before succumbing to a rather grotesque form of cancer.
2Aggregate Trending Index
3Reposts per second
4Space-based solar power