Monthly Archives: August 2012

Two Full Days of the MWF

And I’ll be live-tweeting the following talks. So many more I would have loved to have gone to, but there are always clashes, much like a typical music festival.

FRIDAY:

PHYSICS ON THE FRINGE

MAKING ROBOTS THINK

THOUGHTS ON THOUGHTS

IN CONVERSATION: GERMAINE GREER (with my old tutor, Ben Law)

SATURDAY:

STORIES AND SYSTEMS (gonna ask a Hard Hitting Question)

$ MAKES THE WORLD GO ROUND

FACT, FICTION, TRUTH

CONTEMPORARY ETHICS

SUNDAY:

A HUMAN ECONOMY

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Labour—and Capital—Exploitation

With consumerism, as with democracy, it’s the people’s vote that changes the system. Naturally this may lead you to believe that game developers are at the whim and mercy of their players. Wrong. Not only do we put up with such atrocities like lazy ports, Free2Play games, and this, but we pay to help make games better. These trends are worrisome, and point directly to what is clearly becoming a custom. Game designers are letting us do the work for them.

Why bother making a good PC port if players are just going to do the hard work for you? Why charge a straight up fee when you can make the initial game free, and have those suckers pay through their teeth for “premium content”? Why come up with fresh ideas when gamers come up with their own? Game companies are exploiting the labour of the masses through ingenious implementation of capital.

For example, GunGame is a modification of Counter-Strike Source. In it, players are essentially individuals, but remain locked on a ‘friendly’ team. The aim is to progress through a number of weapons by shooting enemies, sometimes with one kill per gun, sometimes with two. There are a few variations of the base idea—some start you with pistols, and others end with pistols (which is more difficult?). The winner is always the person who gets a knife kill, arguably the hardest to achieve in Counter-Strike: Source. It’s an idea so simple that it’s been implemented into other games.

Modern Warfare 3, Black Ops, and Battlefield 3 and the latest Counter-strike iteration all have a GunGame-like mode. Specifically, Gun Master for Battlefield 3 is a hugely refined version of the mod, and was included in the recent Close Quarters update. This was a massive incentive to purchase Battlefield Premium. Early access to the maps and the slick new game mode are fantastically evil hooks to lure the ever hungry gamer.  The point is that the popularity of a somewhat niche modification has been used as a selling point for other games. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be better than the original version. This isn’t the only example either. League of Legends recently added a new map that is only a single lane, jumping on the massive popularity of the custom game All Random, All Mid. The ingenuity of gamers has given Riot a fresh reason to update and improve their game, and perhaps bring more players on board. That’s not even mentioning the popularity of Day Z, which is naturally followed with the fact that a stand-alone remake is in the pipeline (admittedly the maker of Day Z is a developer of Bohemia Interactive). Soon developers won’t even need a creative department.

But there is always a ringleader, a monopolist of greed, and in this case it’s Valve. Ignoring the Arms Race mode in CS:GO, Valve have purported the gamer-as-content-creator model.  DotA 2 and Team Fortress 2 both have systems whereby players make and then trade their own cosmetic items. The Community Workshop is a hive of free extras for a range of games. And, barring the stalled Half-life series, not a single one of their games is an in-house development. And yet we throw money at their feet, lauding the genius of people power. It’s time to rise up.

No longer should you stand by and be trampled by the wheels of production. The creation of games has gone full circle—from basement hobby, to big business, and back into the hands of the proletarian. Rise, rise now and stop the tyranny of capitalist game makers, for the power is yours.

 

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Up to Date: Cranial Overload

There’s a lot happening at the moment. I entered my first writing competition ever with a revision of my short story Fresh Air, one and a half years after completing a fething writing degree. I went for an internship position at Melbourne University Publishing, which apparently had a lot of applicants. My lecturer said to start smaller when I told her. And it’s MWF time. I’m seeing Germaine Greer on Friday, and hounding game journalists on Saturday. And none of this includes essays, girlfriends, and hospitality.

Future plans include the following:

  1. Write a novella for this by November 1st;
  2. Rework/complete about three short stories;
  3. Find work in a bookshop. That’s small enough, surely;
  4. Start on my Internet Communities series, for real this time;
  5. Work out how to crowdfund a novel series.

And all before Christmas. The joy of casual hospitality and the invigorating nature of university is really paying off. The word that comes to mind is ‘flourish’. Also, I recommend going to bed early and rising early. Anyway, I should probably go and eat.

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Our Curiosity for Mars

The Red Planet. Mars, god of war. The backdrop to many fictional tales. From Doom to Total Recall, the planet has captured our curiosity with chances of life and that beautiful red earth.

It was by pure chance that I looked through my bookshelf and picked up Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson at around the time that Curiosity, the biggest rover yet, touched down. Red Mars is the first of a trilogy of books that focus on the colonisation and habitation of Mars by humanity. It’s actually very similar in terms of a trilogy I plan to write, though the chronology for mine is 1) building generation ships on Earth, 2) the travel of a generation ship to a new planet, and 3) the colonisation of that planet. But that’s for when I understand more Science. On with the book at hand.

KSR is not only highly knowledgeable, but also a great writer. His characters are, well, not exactly warm or endearing, but they are believable. The relationships play a massive part in the story-telling, and even if you hate one (in my case I couldn’t stand Michel) you feel their loss (both their emotional loss, and loss of their lives—no one is safe!). These people are scientists first, megalomaniacs second, and philosophers third, with a touch of humanity thrown in. And it’s very understandable; it would be hard being the first colonists of Mars. The book even mentions this, saying that since they’re going to go insane anyway, you might as well send crazy people. It makes for some delicious sequences and conflict in between the exploration of the Red Planet.

This is science fiction at its best, and no rock is unturned (heh). At times the processes do get a weary, with discussions on how best to start a society and whether or not to terraform almost feeling forced. One topic after the other is discussed and argued by the characters throughout the book. This is completely unknown territory that KSM is exploring, and all his characters have an array of agendas. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so the exposition is needed. Thankfully the prose and plot are woven cleverly enough to make it seamless. Warning: heavy science facts and figures may cause headaches and/or paragraph skipping. I preferred the insights into the human psyche, such as the character model devised by Michel, the psychologist for The First Hundred. It’s a clever analysis and cross-section of extrovert/introvert and labile/stabile persons, which ultimately leads to a real-world explanation of the classic four temperaments of the Middle Ages (choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholic). The question, and answer, of what will become of the future of Mars is just as riveting as the character developments, which in effect shape the evolution of an entire planet.

So, it’s a clever book. It’s reasonably well written with great descriptions despite the fact that Mars is mostly oxidised iron. It has a fantastic grip of real human reaction and structures. But what sci-fi would be complete without some amazing set-pieces. It begins subtly enough, but I have never felt a book build to such a climax before (except perhaps The Scar). Hell—and this counts as a spoiler—a gigantic space elevator is attacked, falling two times around Mars in a pages long description of destruction. I had chills the whole time, and missed my tram stop. There is plenty of action in amongst a very realistic tale of the rise and rebellion of Mars.

I highly recommend this book. This is science fiction that is perfectly within our means. This could happen in the next century, including (and especially) the total meltdown of human civilisation just for the sake of more materials. Literally my one major criticism is the structural editing. How on Earth an editor let the first section (Festival Night) be the first section is beyond me. I was thankfully told the correct way to read Red Mars. So, take it from me—skip Festival Night, read up to Guns Under the Table, then go back. It’s a bit like going into the files of a video game and changing the code.

Read this book, before we actually do go to Mars. The Curiosity is already there.

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Lights Out

A short, 100 word story that will be sent off with the 1000 word one. Probably going to need a little re-jigging.

 

* * *

Don't move. 
Don't even think about running. 
Jesus Christ, what was that thing?
As soon as you move, you're a goner. You're safe in the street light. Makes it hard to see though...
Why did you leave the party, you stupid, stupid idiot?
The storm, it's coming. Air, so thick, hard to breathe. Why's it so cold?
Oh God, what was that. There! A pair of eyes...
Glowing. 
Gone now. How long can you wait, hmm?
How far do you reckon to the next lamp?
So many shadows.
Breaking glass.
Screeching. Clawing.
Lights out.