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.