Friday, September 28, 2001
Speaking of made up words – MMORPG
Having recently reminded me that Lexifab’s supposed to be about totally made up words instead of the day to day details of my menial existence*, Lindor sent me this link to an upcoming Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (hence the unpronounceable acronym) feature a city full of superheroes – many of them foxy in the extreme, to judge from the screenshots – whaling on the forces of villainy and neo-Nazism.
As many of you (Fiona excluded) may know, I had planned to drop out of life completely and live a fantasy existence online when Neverwinter Nights comes out next year. This in spite of the fact that the bastards are no longer releasing the toolkit – which would allow me to create and host my own NWN games – for the Macintosh. Well goddammit, what’d I buy the thing for? Lexifab updates? I don’t think so! Umm, where was I? Oh yes, this new City! Of! Heroes! thing...I’m conflicted – what if, instead of NWN, my true destiny lies in a game where you can punch a bazooka wielding spandex fetishist the length of a meticulously rendered city block?
For those that have no idea what I'm talking about, a quick lesson as I understand it: MMORPGs are best described as virtual worlds, always “alive” in a computer server somewhere. Players pay a regular fee for the privilege of loading up a front-end software package and accessing the game world via the internet whenever they please, 24/7 (bandwidth constraints and all the usual complaints of online gaming notwithstanding). These games go one step further than playing a first-person shooter like Quake or Unreal online, in that the player’s activities are not so much mission-based (“Capture the Flag”, “Destroy all Enemies” or “Collect the Most Flowers”, as the case may be), rather that they are self-defined, in a virtual environment that in many ways will happily continue to “exist” whether there are any players around and doing things or not. These are called “persistent worlds”. Often, as seems to be the case with C!o!H! and NWN, aspects of the plot or plots are devised and controlled in real time by online game moderators, just like traditional tabletop roleplaying. It ain't yet at the level of Niven and Barnes' famous Dream Park scenario, but it's getting there step by step.
In many ways, MMORPGs seem to be the more-successful grandchild of the early play by mail (PBM) roleplaying games. They’re about the same things – elements of armchair diplomacy, power fantasy and faceless socialisation with the like-minded but geographically distant – but MMORPGs have the overwhelming advantages of being more immediately gratifying and overwhelmingly prettier to look at. And if I didn’t already have a lifetime-to-date’s worth of compulsive addictions, I’d add these to the list in a second. Thankfully the only computer with any grunt at home is a Macintosh, which means I am forever excluded from such activities…
* At the time, I was just about to demand with deep sarcasm “Where’s that written down exactly?” when I remembered that it’s sort of heavily implied up there at the top of the page next to the cartoon.
Wednesday, September 26, 2001
It’s not over. It’s never over.
For those of you who are over daily bathroom updates and have moved on with your lives I say “Sorry, but it ain’t over until I say it’s over”. In a dramatic twist ending yesterday, we came home to a newly installed shower screen that was a) too small and b) hinged the wrong way. It has in fact managed to fail to meet our specifications in almost every respect. And it’s kind of ugly too. However, far more weary of the whole sordid process than you are, we decided to lump it and at least give it a try before we complained. The only test that matters is whether the whole thing works as a functional shower, right?
Well, it doesn’t. The water pressure is crap (possibly due to the plumbing, possibly due to the expensive-and-attractive-but-conceivably-dysfunctional shower head), the screen doesn’t actually keep much water off the floor and, neatly bookending the whole process that began when we discovered the downstairs kitchen flooding, the bath is leaking. It was a real “You gotta be fucking kidding” moment, let me tell you.
We now face the strong possibility that the bath and perhaps even the newly-tiled wall covering the pipes will have to be torn out in order to find and fix the leaks and (hopefully) the water pressure problem. This will set the whole process back at least two weeks and probably some hundreds of dollars and render much of last weekend’s painting work a waste of time. Needless to say, Fiona is working herself up into an almost elemental fury in preparation for discussing this with the contractors, in whose shoes I am very happy not to be right now.
Tuesday, September 25, 2001
Relaxation is for the weak!
…which begs the question, given that I am lazy and unfit, of just why I spent most of a long weekend working (much) harder at painting, house and yard work than I would ever exert myself for paid employment. The answer is “Fiona”, whose motivational techniques – which can be summarised neatly as “Get it done and we can sit on our arses after that” – were inspirational, and cunningly targeted at my particular species of energetic indolence. Of course, since she pulled a four day weekend to get the painting and cleaning work done in the wake of the bathroom renovations, some would say that I have limited cause for bitching about all that hard work. And they would be right, dammit.
Still, now that the work is almost finished (we still have to put some second coats on the window frame and door, there’s some touching up to be done here and there and the shower screen still hasn’t been installed) we’re almost at the point where we can look back on the backbreaking labout, turpentine-related migraines and crippling expense and say “Hey, this almost painfully cheerful bathroom with its shining white fixtures, mesmerising tile patterns and scalding lighting is pretty neat”. But not yet, because I still can’t have a shower until the paint dries.
From Dusk til Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money – a Mini Review
Oboy oboy, direct-to-video franchise sequel. Executive Producers Tarantino and Rodriguez, Actual Writer/Director The Guy Who Played Gold Teeth Man in The Quick and the Dead (TGWPGTMiTQatD), Actual Star Agent Doggett John Doggett. What can you expect from this sequel to a dodgy genre-splicing sendup? Well, you get your answer in the first scene, which features Bruce “B-Grade is My Grade, Baby” Campbell and Tiffany-Amber “It’s just Tiffany Now That I’m a Serious Actress” Thiessen being eaten by vampire bats in a sequence that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie, except for the bats. Everything else alternates between director TGWPGTMiTQatD’s exploration of the entire spectrum between stylish execution and grotesque asassination of the “scene observed from inside/beneath/through something else” camera technique (InteriorofVampireMouthCam gets a real workout) and Agent Doggett John Doggett watching everyone else get eaten by vampire bats. The fact that the video cover’s rating mentions the (tame) medium level sex scene but forgets the (tame) medium level violence speaks volumes – the censor clearly only bothered to sit through the (better) first half of the movie and completely missed the brutal cop massacre at the end. So should I have.
Next up in Lexifab's Adventures in 10 Weekly Video Rentals for $10 Land - Stir of Echoes, the Sixth Sense wannabe starring ubiquitous coulda-been Kevin Bacon.
Thursday, September 20, 2001
I just wanted to admit that, like Andrew, I have rented The Insider three times in the past year or so and have still never managed to watch it.
And yet, I actually sat through The Sixth Day, which proves that I am at least, in the grand scheme of things, an unutterable twit. Maybe worse.
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
Life during wartime
Life on the brink of global conflict continues as usual, surreal as it seems every time I think about it. AusAID’s internal noticeboard this morning contains a Foreign Affairs advisory that Australian citizens should cancel plans to travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan until further notice (no shit, huh?) but I still start my day with coffee and emails. The headline of the Australian reads “Taliban Vows Jihad” but I can still log into the internet and bore you rigid with mundane events of my weekend. Truly the End Times are near. And they’re more banal than I would have expected.
AusAID’s monthly Friday afternoon Happy Hour, this month hosted by my new Branch. As the official “Newbie with No Real Work Yet” of the Philippines Section, I volunteered my services before they were volunteered for me. In practise, my contribution consisted of hitting the rest of my colleagues up for a contribution of home-cooked food or cash (most opted for cash, funnily enough) and hanging up wall decorations in keeping with the vague Asian theme. The best bit (apart from having Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon projected up on the big screen) was the masses of food ordered in from Sammy’s Asian Restaurant. The worst part was that I couldn’t eat it because Fi and I were going to Kath and Hector’s place for dinner. Fortunately they are champion cooks, so I ended up gorged anyway. Taught them how to play Settlers of Catan after a huge day, a huge dinner and a bottle of wine, which was probably a mistake all round, but I think they enjoyed it. We’ll have to remember to play it at a table next time, though – three hours sitting hunched on a hardwood floor is surprisingly painful. Or perhaps I’m just getting old.
As if to make up for an entire winter’s worth of near-absolute sloth, we attacked the ubergrowth in the back garden on Saturday, mowing and forking and raking and hey! We’re thinking that with the judicious application of concrete and shrubbery, we might not have to do that again. It’s a shame the bathroom ate so much of our reserves, or we would probably have spent this spring/summer making more of an effort to convert the backyard into an entertaining area. As it is, we probably won’t have the money to do much before the wedding and honeymoon next year, after which we will be throwing every spare cent towards paying off the mortgage so that we can buy a place that suits us better. Which is a shame, because if I have to do work on the weekends, I find I prefer to do gardeny things rather than house maintenance or cleaning (ie those things precisely that will be consuming every spare minute for the next couple of weeks, now that the bathroom is all but complete). Of course, what I really prefer is to sit around reading and sipping tea…
We also took the opportunity of a rare beautiful day to head out into the hills for a picnic lunch (at three in the afternoon) to test drive the esky we bought with an engagement party gift voucher in April. It works, you’ll be happy to know. We had a moderately pleasant meal out at Uriarra Crossing (I think) marred only by the presence of dozens of the like-minded and the fact that it starts to get a bit cold for beer and sandwiches in the mid-afternoon shade. Oh well, hopefully it’s only going to get warmer. More picnics, says I!
Wrapped up the long-running storyline in John’s D&D game this week, in an epic struggle with – hell, I don’t know, I think about three gods. More than you would think necessary, at any rate. Saved the world from several insane plots (including one to create havoc by draining the oceans of the hollow interior out with a magical mole machine and flooding the surface world), watched as Simon’s noble character turned down an offer of divinity (“Count Sabot, next time someone ask if you want to be a god – you say YES!”) and then sacrificed himself to save his wretched homeland one last time, and then wrapped it all up and moved the game forward seventy-odd years - all very Old Trek/Next Gen. This week we’re going to be starting out as a simple trading company trying to make their way in the world - something I have always wanted to do in a game but could never quite convince anyone to try – so I’m looking forward to it. Sad that my involvement in regular Sunday games will have to scale back as the cricket season starts up again…
Sick. Woke up with horrible cramps and… well, you needn’t be revolted by the details but suffice to say I stayed at home and whinged a lot. Fortunately turned out not to be food poisoning – at least I assume it wasn’t, since everyone else at the Sunday game was fine.
After I managed to haul my worthless arse out of bed (well, I couldn’t very well stay there while the plumber was across the hall in the bathroom drilling something with grunt-maximised noise generating equipment) I spent the day scouring the web for more Glorantha material. I stopped when I found a page with over one hundred links and realised that my brain had melted. What makes this harder to wrap my head around than similarly vast world-building projects - like say Middle Earth or John’s Mystara campaign – is that there doesn’t seem to be one central repository of all things Gloranthan. Rather, there are actually hundreds of devotees out there who have spent the last thirty years fleshing out their own corner of the world and offering them up to Greg Stafford for his royal seal of approval. I’m starting to come to grips with the infeasibility of actually comprehending Glorantha as a whole. Which is not to say I’m not going to keep at it, just that if I end up in an asylum gibbering things like “What the hell’s the difference between the Lunar Empire and the Solars?” or “Who the zark is Yelmalio?”, try not to be surprised. And bring me chocolate – my reptile brain likes chocolate.
Still sick, still indolent. Jimbo came over and in an exercise of poor judgment to rank right up there with the question “Why don’t I drill a hole in my forehead to lead the evil spirits out?” we went and got out Big Arnie’s latest “thriller”, the interminable The Sixth Day. Just don’t. It’s criminally dull. Also, the “kinder, gentler Ah-nuld” I remember him promising to play from now on when interviewed at the time this came out still loves to murder, it’s just that now he loves his wife and kids as well – at least, I assume that’s what all those boring scenes between the thrill-lacking car chases and leaden gunfights were about. Bad Ah-nuld, no stars for you.
Friday, September 14, 2001
More Notes about Godrocks
ChrisT writes: My understanding, based on nothing more reliable than my own meandering experience (possiby a Quantum segment and a couple of New Scientist articles in this case) is that nobody is doing anything about it. Some people are thinking, or at least have thought, about it. But when it comes to actually doing something the thinkers, trained in scientific thinking as they are, fail to negotiate the bureaucratic thinking that wants a costed solution and a warranty. The thinkers then argue about whether it's worse to be hit by one thousand tonne rock or a thousand one tonne rocks, and nothing gets done.
This sounds about right. What was it the Doctor said? “You know, your species has the most amazing capacity for self-deception, matched only by its ingenuity in trying to destroy itself.” And when the hell is he when we need him?
Quote of the Crisis
“Well, all kinds of shit blew up today.” – John Tynes, 11 September 2001.
Thursday, September 13, 2001
Yesterday we went home, mixed some drinks and sat down to – as Fiona described it – “take our shots” of American news media, a massive dose of inoculation to get a grip on the airliner crashes and get some sort of perspective. I just wanted to mention that word because it came up a lot, along with “unimaginable”, “unbelievable” and so on with the synonymous hyperbole.
Quite apart from the fact that the whole scenario is straight out of a Tom Clancy novel (literally, from what I understand, although since I haven’t read one since Clear and Present Danger I’ll settle for observing that if that story ain’t true, then it outta be), it’s not as though this has never been contemplated before. The premiere on Australian TV a few weeks ago of the X-Files spinoff series The Lone Gunmen involved a plot to remote-control a plane into the World Trade Centre. A scenario published last year for Unknown Armies featured a group of hijackers who don’t know that one of them is planning to crash them into the Sears Tower. And Hollywood hijackers have been threatening exactly this for at least ten years.
I find it disconcerting that Western culture allows us to contemplate such acts if they are presented as entertainment but not then take that extra intuitive leap to fearing them as Reality. It makes me think of the public’s attitude to dinosaur killers – asteroids sufficiently large that their collision with Earth would exterminate all life on Earth, something else that’s “unimaginable” outside of a tawdry flavour-of-the-moment Hollywood disaster flick. The odds are remote that our planet’s path will intersect with one, but not infinitessimal. Have you ever even wondered whether someone somewhere is doing anything about it? I have, but I’ve not been moved to find out details. I’d say that’s probably true of the vast majority, if they’ve thought about it at all.
The problem is that for all I know there is no plan to do anything about this recognisable threat, and that my implicit faith in my civilisation’s capacity to manage that threat or to avert disaster is misplaced. I think that’s as true for everyone on the planet as it is for everyone on those four airliners who believed they were aboard a secure domestic flight. A terrorist act that could potentially escalate into a war between Christian and Islamic ideology is horrible enough. A godrock impact will be infinitely worse.
There shouldn’t be such a word as “unthinkable”.
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
This is for my own reference more than anything else – I’ve always had a terrible memory for relating Big World Events to my personal frame of reference. I have, for example, only the vaguest idea of what I was doing when I heard that John Lennon had died (the only memory that I can raise is of standing in the sports oval by the fence at Aitkenvale Primary) or when the news of the explosion of the Challenger came through (I have a distinct recollection of being in a maths class – but now that I’ve brought that thought to mind, I make the disturbing realisation that that may have been where, instead, I first heard the “Need Another Seven Astronauts” joke).
So, for the record – which given the virtually omnipresent media coverage going on at the moment is breathtakingly redundant – this is the day that as-yet-unidentified terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon and failed to add Camp David to the list. Somewhere of the order of 10,000 people have been killed. The word ‘war’ is being mentioned a lot by an apoplectic, near-rabid US Senators, even though nobody is yet sure who the war will be with. The world economy, piggybacking on an already feeble US dollar, shows all the signs of taking a dive. It’s not a good day.
As much as I am given to half-baked speculations and water-cooler analyses as anyone else, actually to commit them to even this backwater of posterity smacks of trivialisation, so I will leave it there.
Taking Back Core Earth One Shocktrooper at a Time
Though the events of the day throw my preferred leisure time activity of enacting violent action packed adventure fantasies into a stark and somewhat uncomfortable light, I’m still gonna punch the virtual air with a cry of “Glory!”. We played our first session of Torg last night, inculcating Mister Mackenzie Smith to the bounteous swashbuckling pleasures to be had in the Tenth Empire of the New Nile. Heroes Back from the Dead! A Mummy Attacks! A Sinister Villain with an Electrified Claw! Tanks! Jets! Daring Rescues! By Argon, this game had it all! Can’t wait for the next thrilling instalment!
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
This Message was Not Brought to You
Lexifab updates continue to flow with all the reliability of a Gobi wadi in winter*. This is partly due to my working hours being unusually preoccupied with unheard-of quantities of reading**, but mostly due to the fact that apart from sitting on our arses and catching up on Stargate SG-1 (not to be confused with this ISP or this one - woah, obviously the marketing think-tanks were working overtime to come up with those names – or this delightfully nutty cult), we’ve been doing nothing much the last couple weeks.
And our bathroom still ain’t done, neither. But at least there’s tiles on the floor and the walls are back, so conceivably the end is in sight, now. However given the tiny increments at which the work seems to be proceeding, we’re not expecting it to be finished by the weekend. Which means at least another week of showering at work every morning, and chancing the fluctuating existence of hot water in the AusAID showers. Fortunately today I was able to circumvent that game of thermal Russian Roulette by dint of forgetting to bring a towel. D'oh!
The Hero Wars are between…Enthusiasm and Apathy
Since Jimbo has taken the GM’ing reigns for our Tuesday night games, leaving me free to pursue activities other than planning gaming sessions, I’ve been looking through Hero Wars again (and planning some gaming sessions).
This is a newish roleplaying game based on the mythological world of Glorantha, conceived of by a fellow named Greg Stafford**** some thirty years ago as a distraction from his studies (mine was card games in the reading room and Torg, but I digress). It was originally presented in the late-70’s/early ‘80’s in a game called Runequest, which was pretty progressive in its day but actually didn’t do a lot to convey the feeling of epic myth that it was supposed to (Stafford liberated many of his concepts from early mythological fiction like Njarl’s Saga and Beowulf). My brothers and I used to play Runequest a bit, and the standing joke was always that you could tell an experienced RQ character because they were missing one or more limbs – it had a hit location chart that meant crippling blows were usually dealt to the extremities, often by magically sharpened swords. But I digress again.
This new game was conceived in the heady climate of millenial deconstructionism currently pervading roleplaying game design, one that dictates that a game’s system should actually help rather than hinder the desired playing atmosphere. To that end, it has a very tidy little set of moderately “light” mechanics (for which read uncomplicated, unintrusive, low on numbers and complex procedures) that are designed to facilitate a very free-flowing game high on narrative mythic storytelling and relatively low on abstract number-crunching. I also like the character generation system where you write a drabble (a story of exactly 100 words) about your character, which defines his abilities, relationships and equipment. It’s rather elegant, and I want very much to give it a try.
The obstacle to playing with it (apart from the fact that we can’t seem to get a regular game going on a weeknight, what with one thing and another) is Glorantha itself. As I mentioned, Stafford and an army of loyal enthusiasts have been developing this world for roughly three decades. So much flesh has been added to this world’s cultures, mythology and history that it’s incredibly daunting to dip a toe into the water at this late stage. This is a frequent complaint about Glorantha, one that has kept it at the margins of an already marginal hobby for many years (its heyday was certainly the early 1980’s, when it was the best-bar-none alternative to the comparitively simplistic pleasures of D&D).
With all that in mind, I’m still going to give it a go. I’m taking the advice of other enthusiasts who have only come on board the Glorantha Express with this latest version and starting small. Maybe a Heortling village (think of Highlander Vikings who worship a Storm God) on the outskirts of the Lunar Empire (an expansionist Rome imitator whose bacchanalian Emperor is descended from a Goddess and is one himself) where Bad Things are About to Happen. Anyone interested – send me an email if you want to know more (don’t all raise your hands at once).
* Spot the worthless degree in Physical Geography.
** My third favourite thing, after gaming and – er, well, my third favourite thing, anyway.***
*** This was a joke, Fi. Don’t hurt me.
**** ChrisT, Linda and I met him one year at CanCon ('97, I think - the year Terry Pratchett was there). He was out here, amongst other things for the launch of Mythos, the collectible card game based on H.P. Lovecraft's novels. He put me in touch with my inner dinosaur. No, really, he's the founder of the religious movement known as Saurintology. It's sad irony that, according to the Google search I just did, Saurintology is now completely extinct.
Friday, September 07, 2001
Maul me baby one more time
I don’t why the animal rights activists are so upset by this. I personally would sponsor a couple of hundred hectares of African savannah in return for live footage of her being brutally mauled on stage. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Wednesday, September 05, 2001
Bathroom update – because you know you want it
After completing just enough work on Friday to ensure that we were unable to use the bathroom over the weekend (d’oh!) the hardy, semi-toilet-trained contractors got stuck into the job this week. Monday they spent stripping out the walls and corroded pipes, yesterday they replaced the rotten floorboards, ripped out the dodgy wiring and installed the new bath, plumbing and electrimajiggery. Oh, and left a sodding great hole in the ceiling where they tore out the old light fitting and installed the much bigger Tastic (extractor fan/heater/floodlight thingy). It remains to be seen whether this gaping rent will be patched over in some way, or if our five-figure renovation will include a ruined ceiling.
Still, early days yet, eh?
No Torg today, my game has gone away
Expectations of a huge cross-dimensional roleplaying romp were dashed yesterday evening when professional games moderator and indolent layabout James “Jimbo” Versace developed Chronic Pissweakness Syndrome. Lawyers representing Mister Jimbo were quick to deny suggestions that he had “done nuthin’” to prepare for the scheduled game and that he was “just bludging off”. Critics labelled the excuses as “pitiful” and went on to suck at Unreal Tournament for two hours.
First Dawn of the Season
Congratulations to Anne and Dave for their sterling work on their Infant Planning and Implementation Project (aka Dawn Elizabeth Henderson). Now moving into the Development Phase, this project is expected to have ongoing resource implications for the managing committee.
Sorry, don’t know what came over me (you try talking coherently after two days of reading nothing but project reports and development policy statements). Best of luck to the happy trio, hope I get the chance to babble nonsensically at young Dawn one of these days (why should she be excluded?).
Tuesday, September 04, 2001
Who wants some?
Spent a rainy Saturday afternoon over at John and Trudi’s being introduced to the sublime fun that is FRAG!. This is a boardgame emulation of the Doom/Quake/Duke Nukem – “first person shooter” style of computer game that tends to overstimulate teenagers and terrify hand-wringing wusses (he said, abitrarily buying into the “violence in media” debate). It’s simple, cheesy fun, kind of like Car Wars but without the glacial pace and interminable rules “debates” at four in the morning (I’m looking at you, Ken and Waa…). There’s nothing quite like the thrill of respawning right behind someone and then arcing them up with both barrels of an over-under machinegun/flamethrower combo. Belatedly I realise that all we were missing was a pounding industrial-techno soundtrack.
And the award for Most Frags by a Complete Novice Who’s Never Played Doom and Doesn’t Know What D6 Means but Still Wiped the Board with the Rest of Us Anyway (a narrow category, to be sure) goes to my darlin’ Fiona, who unleased her inner spree-killer on our asses. Old school.
It’s my first day!
As of yesterday, I finally moved into one of the parts of the Australian Agency for International Development that actually has something to do with development and all of that “helping the poor” stuff that you read about. I have moved to the Philippines Desk, which is AusAID jargon for the section that deals with government aid to the Philippines. Although it took all day to find out what I would be doing - most of the time I just sat around reading reports, briefing papers, transcripts of speeches and policy papers by our government and both the current and previous Filipino administrations – it turns out that I will have responsibility for a water sanitation project and a Vulnerable Groups Facility. I like that word “responsibility” – it’ll sound great against a backdrop of crashing noises and despairing wails. I’d hate to be in a Filipino Vulnerable Group right now…