Friday, April 29, 2016


Suicide is above all a personal choice. It's the most basic right of any thinking being. Nothing can supersede the self in this. If you want out, get out. End of discussion.

Our society should be providing quick, painless euthanasia on demand instead of vilifying the act. Whether existence is simply too miserable, whether you decide that sixty years is as good as nothing compared to eternity and not worth the bother or a conscious, objective evaluation shows your quality as a person to have fallen short of all reasonable expectations and you're (at best) taking up space, kill yourself. Most of us are too fucking stupid to be allowed to live anyway.

There are obstacles, of course. Basic cowardice, the fear of that undiscovered country, the knowledge that there's no undiscovered country, nothing else besides this miserable existence as a perpetual failure. Then of course there's our disgusting self-preservation instinct preventing us from suicide as a rational choice, imposing it on us only as slaves of our social power structures, only as a means of sacrificing for the survival of shared genetic material.

From that bestial baseness arise the various emotional anchors weighing the self, the intellect down toward self-preserving instinct: emotions and emotional manipulation.

If this were a species at all worthy of being termed sentient, emotional manipulation would be one of our greatest social taboos. Attempting to subvert another's most basic right as an autonomous individual through such sub-sentient control, through the fiction of "love" even more so. It would be the cloying control freaks assuming right over others' existence who would be tossed into insane asylums, not those making the mistake of confessing suicidal thoughts within earshot of a member of the social control apparatus. We would be helping each other overcome our cowardice in the face of instinct.

This is not a sentient species, so your continued role as producer or parasite, wage-slave or consumer, is glorified over individual choice. So we're sentenced to live the constant cognitive dissonance of our utter worthlessness and lingering existence.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Across the Anduin

Seems like I never get tired of praising LotRO's scenic map design... mostly because there's little else to praise about it but also because landscaping, like music, is one of those elements too often forgotten, ignored or budgetarily strangled in the cradle. Some games got it and some games don't. Whichever Jedi Knight game I played back in the days of yore certainly had it, as did Half-Life. The Doom games did not. The Infinity Engine games didn't. Neither did the Neverwinter Nights games, or, to be honest, Dragon Age, but the Elder Scrolls games have been brilliant about it.

I'm talking here about the aesthetic portion of level design, twisting the terrain so as to provide the player not only nooks and crannies to explore but also foreshadow upcoming adventures or nostalgically retrace one's footsteps visually. Here's how LotRO handled a couple of its more recent zones.

As you draw closer to the evil red glow emanating from Mordor to the east, it becomes clear you'll soon be sent over the Anduin, to the land of Ithilien. That's where Frodo and Sam meet Faramir, for you heathens who didn't memorize Tolkien's maps.

As you adventure your way northwards along the lightly forested eastern banks of the Anduin, you're treated to views of the burning Pelennor fields across the water, with Minas Tirith in the background. Northwards, conquered Osgiliath looms ever closer with every new vantage point. Oooooh, the suspense is killing me. Or maybe it's that mumak that stepped on me. In any case, once you kill a few tens of tens of rats in Osgiliath, re-cross the Anduin westwards and make your way into Minas Tirith, you're given ample opportunity to survey Osgiliath once again, not only from the white city's tallest circles but also from the edge of the fields of battle, taking in both cities at once.
Perspective. As I keep saying, a good virtual world makes you feel small, not big. Most of the game's content undermines that all-important feeling of scale, but the people designing LotRO's maps have regained their grasp of it. In most games (TSW for instance) this idea is unfortunately scrapped in favor of ever-shadier pixel shading or other graphics-card manufacturer overcompensation. In most it's severely undermined by teleportation which trivializes a game world's size and landmarks, and also by quest markers which render spatial awareness extraneous. LotRO's at least as guilty as most of those sins and yet... someone on that design team can at least appreciate a nice view.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Buy Bloodlines

GoG has finally acquired Vampire:the Masquerade - Bloodlines.
Hell yeah !

Looks like I'll be doing a full run-through soon-ish. For now, long story short:

Bloodlines was full of graphics glitches. Its combat system was fairly lackluster. It loaded each new zone like a constipated turtle. It had few or no visual character customization options. Its quest design made it very linear. It made poor use of the newly-invented Source engine. It stuttered and stalled and slowed to a crawl and was buggy in a myriad ways which only a fan-supplied patch partly fixed.

- and yet it's one of the greatest video games ever made.
Even if you're not "into" RPGs in general or the gothy subculture of the '90s or you just hate fangs, buy it. Like Planescape: Torment, Homeworld, The Cat Lady, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Alpha Centauri or a few other rare gems, Bloodlines manages to embody the untapped possibilities of its genre.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Haha, lewww-zerrrr, hahaha !

"Why all these conflicting specifications?
Maybe to prevent overpopulation"

The Dresden Dolls - Shores of California

Hear ye, hear ye!
Having painstakingly analyzed all available data, I have arrived at a groundbreaking discovery:
Sex isn't real.

It doesn't exist. Nobody has had, is having or will ever have sex. It's all porn-industry special effects, a mysterious unprovable phenomenon only rumored to happen to rock stars, like Bigfoot, holy visions or alien abductions. It has no place in reality. Any experiences you think you remember from back in the mists of time happened only in your dreams, like soap-opera deaths. Babies? They're planted by Monsanto and marketed by Walmart.

Such sophistry may seem like a novel approach but for many men and a few women it's safer than our alternative hypothesis: that several dozen or hundred possible sexual partners swarming around us all our daily lives and by extension the entire species have by some conspiratorial consensus declared us each unfit specimens, unworthy genetic filth, untouchable in a very literal sense.

It's the only sane approach... or at least the only one which may preserve sanity. In fact, I'm pretty sure nobody else on the planet besides me even has genitals. I'm just a solitary freak. So there.


How serious am I being here? Not very, though there's of course an element of truth to it. In order to quiet the howling daimon of our instinct to free our minds up for more elevated concerns, most of us should be having a lot more sex than we are currently. Retaining individual sanity in the face of the social impossibility of this demand requires some discipline or another of mental gymnastics.

On the other hand, I must protest the lesser popular incarnation of my above-stated "cabbage patch" philosophy which goes by the name of involuntary celibacy. I am not involuntarily celibate. At some point in my life, after various interactions with women, I came to the conclusion that sexual relationships are simply not worth their exceedingly steep price tag.

Were I willing to enslave myself to the women around me, to spend every waking moment vying for their attention, to bankrupt myself showering gifts upon them, to get thrown in jail for sexual harassment on their whim and still come back begging for more, to absorb their insults and feed them constant compliments, to play the fool currying favor while women laugh at me, to accept my role as a beta male funding a woman to raise some alpha male's children, to risk getting raped to death in prison because anything and everything men do these days is interpreted as rape, to live my life as an accessory to women's nest-building, to accept every demeaning snark and snarl at my masculinity, the worth of my potential service to women, as my defining feature - then yes, I would eventually get back in the game, as the popular saying goes.

I hesitate, reconsider and repeatedly choose not to do so. I have found the grapes indeed much too sour for my taste. The use of sex in human society as a tool of interpersonal and societal control makes desire undesirable. I am not involuntarily celibate. I am involuntarily human. Celibacy's merely the best choice under such unfortunate circumstance.

Now as far as artistic expression goes, while sex certainly cannot be ignored, the abuse of sexuality for cheap appeal in every book, movie, song, game and... ida know, woven rug? We kinda tend to sexualize everything. In any case, fictionalized sexuality in most of its forms is completely out of place. That, however, is a topic for another time.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

There were EVE-ers from the city having lunch in the park-

"When you look with your eyes everything seems nice
But if you look twice you can see it's all lies"

Lily Allen - LDN

So here I am minding my own business in EVE-Online, mining some asteroids in a system claimed by someone else -
Sun is in the sky, oh why oh why would I wanna be anywhere else?
- minutes before getting blown up for my trouble. Apparently nobody likes a claim-jumper. Why doesn't anyone tell me these things?
Flyin' through the cluster in my pod all day 'cause the filth took away my Venture.

However, the moral of the story's that I was mining inside a wormhole system. Back when I ran through the crafting process in EVE I enumerated some of the various means of resource acquisition EVE's built up over its considerable lifespan. EVE started small, though. Back at launch, resource acquisition consisted of asteroid mining. Period. If you've played an MMO you've likely encountered the concept of resource nodes. Iron springs out of the ground somewhere in the game world. You, intrepid adventurer, can grab a pick and axe it some questions. The chief distinction to be drawn between WoW-clone MMOs and the idealized persistent world which EVE approached more closely than such competition consists of... competition.

Asteroids appeared out in space where anyone could get them and they didn't respawn in thirty seconds. Belts, if memory serves, used to regenerate every week. Getting the good stuff meant beating other players to it and staying alive while you did so.

Wormhole systems are hidden. The wormhole leading to them has to be detected first, and its entrance randomly relocates around the game map about every day. While an interesting concept, this also means that once you've claimed a wormhole system, you face no competition for its resources because nobody will bother mounting a sufficiently coordinated offensive to challenge you on your home turf. Players might shove a ganking ship up your wormhole to grief you while you gather your resources (hits her over the head, doesn't care if she's dead) but if I had to guess, ninja-mining like what I was doing just doesn't happen. There's no incentive.

There's no incentive because the asteroid respawn rates have also been increased seven-fold since EVE's launch. Asteroid belts also seem so plentiful that there's always another one to mine. Rare ores also appear in high security systems. This trivialization started quite early, when players were allowed to acquire crafting resources by deconstructing trash loot from instanced single-player missions separate from the actual game world. Moon-mining is its own can of worms, with both good and bad features to be discussed some other time, but the latest gimmick, planetary production is utterly devoid of competition. Any number of players can colonize the same planet, and these colonies not only cannot be attacked but can be managed from anywhere in the galaxy - which doesn't make them less of a chore, since they were artificially imbued with Tamagotchi-level neediness. Crafting facilities in turn are no longer a limited resource.

Just as EVE's claim as a PvP MMO falls flat by centering on griefing instead of goal-driven PvP, its crafting system, while superficially very pleasingly complex, has been trivialized into a perfunctory, unchallenging prelude to griefing by removing its internal means of competition. Instead of an occupation into which to sink thought and effort, resource harvesting and crafting have been downgraded to something your alt does while you spend quality time measuring dick size over who landed the biggest artillery hit.

"You might laugh you might frown
Walkin' round London town."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Big Man with a Gun

"Black and blue and broken bones
You left me here, I'm all alone
My little piggy needed something new.
Nothing can stop me now 'cause I don't care anymore."

NIN - Piggy

So, some months after the whole delightful soiree a couple of years ago in St. Louis the ridiculous catchphrase "hands up, don't shoot" got debunked. Still, that and a chain of other murders and harassment by cops, especially of lower-class people of a noticeably dusky hue of skin, fed a great deal of popularity to the Black Lives Matter social activists. This prompted an odd, awkward quasi-parody of the movement throughout various pig-pens across the U.S. entitled Blue Lives Matter, complete with their own hashtag and billboards like any good modern display of chest-thumping.

Wait, blue lives matter? No they don't.
I mean, yes, in the absolute, as a quality as intrinsic as to any other life, they matter, sure. Pigs are people too. However, compared to every other life around you, my fine flatfooted fiends, your safety does not matter. That is the whole fucking point of... well, you! That's the idea of hired muscle. We all pay through the nose for you to assume society's danger in our stead. Black lives didn't choose to be black, to be designated lower-class by birth. You chose to be blue.

Of course that ignores the usurpation of so many societies by their hired muscle, by their peacekeepers, praetorian guard and secret (or not) police of every breed and appetite for power. Hand people weapons and task them with imposing rules over others and they'll very quickly assume a position of high relative social rank, and such ersatz aristocracy will defend its power every bit as ruthlessly as the real deal, choosing convenient victims and striking down to push up.

Stop trying to convince us that you're poor, beleaguered, well-meaning peacekeepers. Cops, soldiers, prison guards, whatever, you're not our protectors. You're the degenerate sadists holding a bayonet to our chest and threatening to skin us alive if we don't bow to our aristocratic masters. You slap innocents around to make a show of strength. You perpetrate highway robbery as much as you stop it. Hell, what else do you call speeding tickets?

To whatever extent such a "monopoly on violence" may be necessary to keep our world from splintering into a thousand warring factions, it's a grim necessity and not an ideal. Laws and law enforcement even at their idealized best are not the pinnacle of society but the channeling away of its filthy detritus, and blue or khaki lives deserve no higher esteem than the sewer system.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

ST: TNG - Loudest Silence

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate: 2.05
Loud as a Whisper

Alternate title: Too Lazy to Write So We Learned Telepathy.

Another planet saved by the power of positive thinking!

Good Science Fiction is often preachy, filled with dire forewarnings of humanity's fall or with snooty alien societies who think they're better than us just because they don't sink all their pharmaceutical production into boner pills and placebos or have ascended to a higher plane of existence or somesuch. Fingers will wag. Still, one must keep the social issues being discussed commensurate with the story's setting, to justify the use of futuristic hyperbole - and to keep that hyperbole from reaching comic-book proportions, but that's covered by the next episode.

For now, meet Riva... and his orchestra - chorus, I meant chorus, sorry, thought I was talking about MASH for a second there. Riva's congenitally deaf but that's okay because on his planet deafness counts as an aristocratic illness, which means he gets not one but three telepathically-linked lackeys whose entire purpose in life is to hear and talk for him. Y'know, in lieu of inventing the Speak'n'Spell. So, with the empathic power of four minds as one, the Riva quartet has become a political mediator so famous as to use the Federation's prize starship as a taxi.

There's a couple of scenes of Riva hitting on Deanna (Riker was only her boyfriend when the plot absolutely necessitated it) and a few minutes of bemoaning the intractability of inter-tribal conflicts. However, the gist of the episode is Riva's arrival on the Enterprise's bridge, whereupon we're treated to the usual politically correct "differently abled" rhetoric in a discussion with Geordi about how unique their missing senses make them. Sounds very uplifting until you remember this schmuck's using three other people as his personal hand puppets.

Not for long, though. Before he/they can even start working their diplomatic magic, the "chorus" gets phasered out of existence and we get to listen to a lot of Riva's whining about what a tremendous loss he's suffered. Mmmyeah buddy, pretty sure the other three, who'd have never been in harm's way if not for you, might also count as victims. Self-absorbed much? Eventually, aided by Data's newly acquired sign language skills, Deanna talks him back into the game with the cornarific catchphrase "turn disadvantage into advantage" and thus happy ending.

Say "cheese!"

What I really hate about this episode, though, is that it's actually pretty decent. Yeah, the basic premise is cheap and somewhat reprehensible political correctness, but in terms of filming, sets, line-by-line writing and acting it all flies much better than most of the show's first season. Or this next thing.

Seriesdate: 2.02
Where Silence Has Lease

What is with all the omnipotent beings on Star Trek? How many times did Roddenberry &co. hand directors a total cop-out of a script that just read "shit happens (in space.)" Well, maybe the writers' strike that doomed the season 2 opener was still going on. In any case, since you apparently can't warp half a light year without tripping over some godlike alien bored enough to toy with the Enterprise, get ready for a plot yanked straight out of the original series. And you know what that means:
Minority extra = "he's dead, Jim." The godlike alien being proves its might by zapping the nearest redshirt. Honestly, the rest of the episode isn't much better. There's a hole in space (pretty sure that's the exact line they use) and the Enterprise gets sucked into it to be tormented by ghosts, doppelgangers and apparitions. 'Cuz SciFi.

Turns out they've stumbled into the abode of a giant floating head named Nagilum who "tests" humans by killing them. What information he's getting out of this, we don't need to know, but it prompts Picard to pout like a toddler and set the Enterprise to self-destruct, murdering his entire crew rather than submit to "testing" of a proportion of it, at which point Nagilum lets them go. Why? Fuck if I know. Doubt whoever wrote this crap did either, and this one's not rescued by its stilted acting and awkward, non-sequitur dialogue.

I'll get into the topic of overabundant godlike entities some other time, but this episode serves as a good counterpoint to the previously discussed one. Whereas Loud as a Whisper stretched its premise much too thin by elevating one schmoe's handicap to an interstellar crisis, Where Silence Has Lease was seemingly reverse-engineered from the tacky notion of Picard threatening to blow up the Enterprise, because y'see humans are so strong-willed and will not be toyed with. So there. Even the last-second bomb diffusal trope which had been professionally dodged last time the topic of self-destruction came up is now instead played up by Riker more or less losing his shit while giving the override command.

One episode falls short of its dramatic intent through its mundane after-school special lesson about diversity. The other overshoots any dramatic proportion through its cheesy all-or-nothing contest of wills. One gets rescued by good scene-by-scene workmanship. The other doesn't.
Both illustrate Star Trek's amusing and frustrating tendency to put the cart before the horse.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Star Ruler 2

Well, I asked for a ringworld, and now I've got one. Not in Gal Civ 3, but in Star Ruler 2.

Be careful what you wish for.

The original Star Ruler, while somewhat short of Kerbal verisimilitude, was one of the more stubbornly "hard" themed SciFi games out there.
Everything moved. Planets orbited their stars. Ships mimicked real-world inertia. Goods were shuttled between planets by haulers propelled by Bussard ramjets. Objects had mass and distances were shown in astronomical units. The sheer wealth of information made it slightly difficult to get into, and I now find I'm sorry I gave up on it too quickly, but to the extent I did I found it a nerd's delight. Partly, I didn't put too much effort into it because the sequel had already been announced. I mistakenly assumed it would build on the original's strengths, a niche item for all us Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein (and maybe Niven) fans who wanted an expansive 4x strategy game with a sense of proportion, with that hard-edged 50s or 70s chrome-plated feel.

Unfortunately, as you can see from the interface, Star Ruler 2 is attempting to go pop. Bubble-gum pop to be exact. It attempts to remove all that troublesome information from the player's view. Planets still orbit and ships still make a show of gradually slowing, but distance and mass are nowhere to be seen. Small ships are automatically produced by your planets and automatically join up with your capital ships as they pass through a system. Planet management, instead of a balanced economy, revolves around building up each planet's one exportable resource. Bright and cheerful, streamlined and fast-paced, it's clear that the sequel is addressing a whole different audience with different priorities than its predecessor.

Both games are real-time. It shows. 4x games thrive on their expansiveness, and the usual turn-based system serves not only to define the player's interaction with the AI but to keep your RAM from melting under the weight of an entire imaginary galaxy. Those bright colored dots in the background of my ringworld in the first screenshot each represent planets and stars, over five hundred of them. This next one shows my processor screaming in agony.
Yes, Firefox is taking up half a gig of memory because I have thirty tabs open because I'm just one of those people. Shut up. Not the point.
Regardless of how old my computer is (not all that old) I can't help thinking a great deal of this processing power is being wasted, as Star Ruler 2 is actually less capable of running a large, expansive galaxy than its previous incarnation. While the first Star Ruler boasted galaxies of over ten thousand stars, its progeny warns you off with a pop-up message if you try to create one with more than 150.

And really there's no point to doing so, because the unlike the first game, the sequel's interstellar environment simply fails to feel in any way immersive. As does everything else about it. For instance, diplomacy's a card game.
No, really. Your empire produces influence points which you can use to buy "cards" which are randomly generated every thirty seconds, which you then play and back up with more influence points to impose your will over the other players.

That's the real crux of the matter: other players. Star Ruler was a single-player, dreamy, immersive science fiction adventure among the stars. #2 is intended to capture a competitive online game market, and as such everything about it feels very... gamey. Abstracted. Everything is a move on a board.

That ringworld above took hours' worth of asteroid mining to fund, after which I had to have a ship go around to all the planets where I'd stockpiled the ore and gather it up, after which followed a lengthy period of construction. Sure, sure, very epic and stuff... except... you see that star the ringworld's orbiting? That was instantly generated, using yet another card which randomly popped into existence. Just like that. I made a star. In fact, I made about half a dozen stars before building the ringworld.

Kinda takes the zing out of the whole thing. You maniacs! You fizzled it!

Everything else like the lack of control over smaller ships and the much smaller map size follows suit. It's all intended to make for quick, half-hour or hour-long multiplayer matches for hypercompetitive little snots with no attention span. If you start a game with the maximum number of AI players, you'll notice most of their randomized names are actually duplicates of each other. For all the processing power this game's eating up, why does it feel like I'm getting so much less?

It's not altogether a terrible game, but I can't help noticing yet another developer selling out its niche audience in hopes of stealing away a slice of Blizzard's mass-market tween hordes, and I doubt it'll work. Usually doesn't. Instead of simply creating separate product lines for such disparate games they've managed to poison the Star Ruler brand name, and from the utter lack of media buzz (or even a wikipedia article) around Star Ruler 2, I very much doubt it managed to capture its intended fast-fingers, slow-brain online l33t-d00d customer base.

And so, another developer will likely join the hordes of other would-be sellouts and copycats in well-deserved bankruptcy. Though I do apologize for the bubble-gum pop slam. If anything ties both products together and separates them from the competition, it's being among the few modern computer games to feature interesting music with some sort of personality.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Stop Hitting Yourself

"They brought Billy's father back home in an ambulance
Brass watch, a cheque, maybe three weeks to live"

Sting - Island of Souls

Ever considered the inherent prejudice of the feminist proposition of "patriarchy" as not only one facet of human societies but as the defining characteristic of the human condition? Here we have an entire world-sweeping political movement which cheerfully not only declares men evil oppressors but piles on with the declaration that any problems men have also stem from patriarchy itself. "Patriarchy hurts men too" is the phrase they inevitably parrot in response to any contention that, hey, look, a system in which we're being constantly thrown into the meat-grinder on battlefields and being ground into pulp in industrial accidents is probably not one we're masterminding for our own benefit.
Doesn't matter to feminists. Men are so stupid and evil, you see, they even oppress themselves!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Rover

"There is a hate that burns within
The most desperate place I have ever been
Trying to get back to where I were
The closer I get the worse it becomes
The closer I get the worse it becomes"

NIN - The Big Come Down

It's not Mad Max. Let's get that out of the way. Yes, Australians, yes cars, yes, post-apocalyptic wasteland but! Note the distinct lack of Braveheart.

I don't mean that just literally. Post-apocalyptic movies in general are more apt than other genres to resist the lure of lowest-common-denominator heroics, but even at the height of their popularity during the 80s and early 90s they tended to slip into standard heroic motivation (protection of females and / or offspring) and more often than not tacked on moralizing, happy or hopeful endings incongruous with the concept's general bleakness. Few, like H.G. Wells and Kurt Vonnegut, have ever dared to take the premise to its logical conclusion.

The Rover instead manages a painfully credible post-civilized adventure in which not only the grand ideals and aspirations of the human spirit but also its base obsessions of sex and power have atrophied to perfunctory carnival side-shows. Personal, visceral, just as irrational as befits a tale of human action, the story grinds its way from fight scene to provocation, action and reaction, revenge and escalation, with only a passing glance at the cowboy movie conventions by which we've come to expect such exchanges should be ruled. Its protagonist is not merely an antihero, a bad boy to be tamed by the love of a good woman as per the action movie cliche of "grit" but an internally driven, semi-responsive echo of the growing hollowness around himself. His true motivation isn't even revealed until the very end.

Here I must say... there's a lot of Mad Max in this movie. In the discovery of that mysterious motivation (by the way, do you know what love is?) in the betrayal and guilt that haunts the protagonist, in the breakdown of the moralistic framework to put those in some all-too-familiar perspective, The Rover is, whether consciously or not, no matter how much its creators may protest such accusations, the antithesis of Mad Max. I doubt it's any coincidence that this movie was filmed just as the announcement of Fury Road thundered its way through the industry half a decade ago. The work in itself stands for itself, yet in the context of post-apocalyptic movies its timing and semi-conscious references carry a great deal of "not another one!"

Still The Rover is good enough to achieve a reversal, to make Mad Max (for all its charms) by comparison look like the cheap, malformed, cliched copy of a more original and better fulfilled idea. If you're the type who thinks The Time Machine isn't really complete without culminating in that chilling trip to Earth's final shore, watch The Rover.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

V vor Verbosity

Victorious, verdantly vestimented volatility virtuoso vanya's verminous vegetal vassal valiantly vanquishes various vexed vile vociferous variag varlots via ventillating villainous ventral viscera.


Not sure those Easterlings are specifically Variags and my character happens to be Noldorin and not a Vanya. This still amuses me.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Panama Is a Branch Office

Presenting modern moonlight, just as advertised
Coke and Pepsi finally found a compromise

The Dresden Dolls - Modern Moonlight

This whole Panama Papers thing reminds me of a term I've really gotten tired of hearing: American corporation. That or French or Japanese or Botswanan corporation or whatever might imply some sort of regional affiliation. The whole appeal of the legal fiction of the "juridical person" is to shelter those who can afford to rule such oligarchies from responsibility for the damage they inflict on the resources (human or otherwise) which they stripmine. Serfs are tied to the land. The aristocracy isn't.

The Thirty Years' War, as far as I can tell the worst European disaster since the Black Death, couldn't end quickly enough from most survivors' point of view and sure, the whole Westphalian circle-jerk sounds ecumenical as all hell. First off, it established that in addition to declaring war, you could also declare peace... which had apparently not occurred to most Europeans by the mid-seventeenth century. Second, the major powers agreed not to step on each others' toes, not to interfere in each others' internal affairs, which just sounds lovely until you find out quite a few of the pretexts for war had come from tiny principalities or just peasant groups screaming at being oppressed by their own nobility or immediate neighbours. Sure, religion played its usual starring role in the atrocities and the only one who didn't like the peace seemed to have been the Pope (go figure) but the real takeaway message for the fatcats was that no matter how tempting it might be to step in on behalf of your neighbour's oppressed lower classes and take over, you're always better off supporting your own kind, fellow fatcats.

No matter how much the rich hate each other, they will always hate the peasantry more.

National governments must've seemed like a nice gimmick for a while, fabricating the state as a smokescreen for the same old aristocratic abuse. Doubt it's by coincidence that the aforementioned peace immediately predates the heyday of absolute monarchies and it took only a few decades from "sovereign state" to "I am the state." Still, the problem with governments defined by geographic borders is that you kind of have to manage them passably well or end up going down with your ship, as "the other" Louis learned a century later by way of guillotine. What do you do if you want to, say, run France into the ground but still keep all your wealth and power? A new form of government was needed. A faster, more mobile, sleighter-of-hand shell game to disguise injustice.

CORPORATION. n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
 - Ambrose Bierce

Please stop complaining about corporate corruption. Corporations are corruption itself. They operate solely to create a power disparity in favor of their investors while sheltering those same investors from responsibility for their profiteering. Investment is a means of ensuring that murder, slavery, pillage, looting and plunder are carried out in your name without ever being named. Aristocrats have not concerned themselves with ruling sovereign states for well over a century. The popular view of globalization, of "Coca-Colonization" as rich nations overpowering poorer ones, is itself only another smokescreen, only another shell game. Our modern aristocrats have no national identity and sovereign states exist only to manage the resources which the nobility plunders. Run the Rust Belt into the ground then reinvest in Singaporean sweatshops. Build China up and tear Greece down. Cocaine today, e-cigs tomorrow. Keep the shell game twirling and twisting, spinning and flowing, an ever-turning funnel always grounded in your own pockets.

Forget money-laundering. Forget taxes. Small potatoes.

The real issue is capitalism. The real issue is that some fatcats on a private island in the Caribbean are dictating what percentage of your work you should actually get paid for - and when your town has been bled dry they won't even have to abandon it. They were never there in the first place. Louis XIV carried quite the burden of being the state. Today's aristocracy have figured out how to take everything while being nothing.

"How can they complain that we're all fucked-up kids
When they keep on changing who our mother is?"

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Golden Oldies

I can't believe it took me four years to find out about people reconstituting fossilized squid ink. I gotta say, though: if you're gonna do it, do it right. Write Hammurabi's code in fossil squid ink using an Archaeopterix quill on mammoth vellum.
Your eraser? A trilobite.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Bubbles and Rogues

"We were aiming for the moon, we were shooting at the stars
But the kids were just shooting at the buses and the cars"

Modest Mouse - Bury Me With It

Aren't they pretty? They're also quite the example of overkill, since just one would usually be enough. Anyway those pretty shiny bubbles are just one facet of EVE-Online's peculiar addition to MMO crowd control, warp scrambling. See, as I mentioned before, EVE is an old game containing many mechanics meant to compensate for the limitations of technology... increasingly outdated technology. It does a pretty decent job of faking continuity, but the cracks remain visible. Solar systems are separate zones "connected" by stargates (loading screens) but other measures had to be taken to limit the number of players within sight of each other at any one time.

On such would be the warping mechanic, the not quite instant teleportation allowing faster than light movement within each solar system. If you're at asteroid belt 14, you move from 'roid to 'roid with your ship's sub-light engine which might top out (yeah, empty space imposes top speeds in EVE) at a couple hundred meters per second. To reach something like a planet or another asteroid belt several million kilometers away, you engage your vessel's miraculous warp drive and are treated to some whooshing noises as you teleport across the interstellar void. Each ship has a warp core, with a numeric strength. This can be lowered by offensive abilities. If your core's at least at one point of strength, you can warp, escaping any danger in your local area. If not, you're a sitting duck.

As an aside, if anyone's heard of EVE these days it's as "the" PvP MMO. By dint of the increasing lack of any MMORPG worthy of that categorization since EVE's launch, this can even sound true. The industry's regression into endlessly copycatting World of Warcraft has left EVE at the peak of what little's left of the old niche market. However, while it may offer more meaningful PvP by comparison with WoW-clones' stilted, predictable small-team arena fights, its working definition of the term differs quite a bit from the glorious clash of competing forces of players it tries to portray in its advertising.

A year after EVE came out, I left it to switch over to World of Warcraft. I joined a PvP server. WoW was originally advertised and designed as a Warcraft game, which meant offering a unit's perspective of that hectic RTS battle royale we'd learned to associate with Blizzard's games. WoW at its launch was meant to offer a world-sweeping conflict and towns with shifting battle lines. Towns had NPC guards but could be assaulted or infiltrated to assassinate NPC vendors and questgivers and set the other faction back and the greatest goal in the game was storming an enemy capital to kill a faction leader NPC.

However, as the months dragged on, it became obvious that Blizzard was ratcheting back all this PvP instead of building on it. NPC vendors respawned too quickly for killing them to mean anything, towns could not be taken over for your faction's own use and killing faction leaders had no effect whatsoever. All that remained was griefing. Though killing other players served no purpose whatsoever, not even some material reward for your character, anywhere you went in the game world you could be sure that the first little cretin from the opposite faction who came upon you would try to kill you for no other reason than to ruin your day. And since PvP had been reduced to griefing, the designated griefer classes like rogues acquired more and more goodies to let them beat down unsuspecting victims with impunity.

EVE is not a PvP game. It's a griefing game. Though it too initially headed toward depletable resource and territory control, it lacked this functionality at its start, so PvP combat rapidly devolved to destroying other players' ships with no further purpose to the action. In other words, griefing. Thus, instead of the dreamy SciFi fans it had attracted during its pre-launch hype campaign, it began to accumulate more and more brainless, hyperaggressive backstabbing little wastes of air to whom such activity appealed. Griefers. As it transitioned from a flexible skill-based game to a class-based one, it only reinforced the definition of PvP as not a goal-driven contest between dedicated forces sacrificing themselves for a greater cause, but as an interaction between attacker and victim. It acquired designated victim classes (flimsy mining and support ships) in addition to designated griefer classes.

This was largely inherent in the warp mechanic from the start. A warp scrambler is an ability you'd only choose for your ship if you intend to kill someone. It prevents escape. Griefers target only designated victims who will not have such items equipped. To attract the rabid little shits to whom such gameplay appeals you not only have to offer them sure wins over players trying to do something constructive within the game's economy. You have to ensure their ability to grief others with no risk to themselves.

World of Warcraft's greatest escape skill wasn't featured on the classes most likely to get targeted, on healers and mages. The "vanish" skill was handed to rogues instead. In Planetside 2, the only thing which can kill an invisible sniper is another invisible sniper. In TF2, spies not only one-shot other players but were handed options to instantly disappear upon doing so.

So, while EVE acquired invisibility, the most efficient cloaking devices were handed not to mining or transport ships (blockade runners aside) but to bombers and cruisers. The warping mechanic itself has become amusingly convoluted, with short-range warp modules for slow-moving battleships. Transport ships were handed some defensive warp core bonus. Those deployable bubbles in the image above, however, block all warping within them, regardless of core strength.

All, of course, except for that of a griefer special, interceptors, which have complete immunity to warp scrambling. Vanish is a rogue skill.

In one of my earliest posts I said I'm not going to stop calling WoW-clone hunters huntards. The choice of playstyle says a lot about a player and those whose minds stretch no further than hitting things (really, really hard) are probably dumber than those drawn by more complex role definitions. The most disgusting mindset, however, is that which predominates any PvP game, that of the griefer. Not only are they incapable of working towards the grander goals which define true PvP beyond deathmatch, but those whose only focus is hurting others also by definition lack the fair-mindedness to accept any consequences for those actions, to take a death for the kill they inflict. Any game which begins to bank on catering to them will only implement more and more methods of legitimized griefing and cheating in order to keep them satisfied.

Invisible, invincible, unstoppable, using teammates as disposable bait to leech killing blows on weakened enemies yet never aiding in team gameplay, the rogue / assassin archetype has been at best extraneous to multiplayer games and more frequently vastly detrimental, not only for its direct negative effects on gameplay but in encouraging developers to cater to those who would play the "griefer special" class. While it's more frequently included from the start, it can also more gradually arise as a result of game mechanics like EVE's warp scrambling which separate players into designated griefer and victim class choices.

Friday, April 1, 2016

A Jesus-Fish d'Avril

Next year, let's all agree to hold Easter on April 1st. Then at least after a day-long set-up to the joke about some guy who's been dead for two thousand years waiting for us up in the clouds after we die (Buddha and Lao Tzu are time-sharing the Aurora Borealis) we could finally get to the punchline. His popeness would finish off the day's services by suddenly stripping off everything but his ludicrous little white chapeau and streaking through the streets of Rome yelling "April Fools'!" Behind him, the Vatican would conflagrate in a final glorious display of impeccably choreographed religious pyromania to spell out: "GOTCHA!"

Damn... two thousand years of lies, misery, torture and repression would almost be worth it as an honest prank on that scale.