Erangel 2.0 PUBG headcanon

So last year I wrote a piece about the headcanon I derived for the scenarios presented in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (universally referred to as PUBG).

In a recent update to the game, the developers completely reworked the original map (Erangel) and after spending the last couple of weeks exploring it and being excited and awestruck by all the fancy new features and the pretty designs and everything, I feel like it’s time to write a review of “Erangel 2.0” (as it’s been dubbed) and make a reassessment of this headcanon.

I haven’t got around to making screenshots of the new map – there are squillions available if you do an image search though.

In my previous post, I discussed how I used the evidence in the maps to derive similar tales of a sudden psychoactive agent causing paranoia in the islands (or enclosed and walled-off desert region, in one case). Since I wrote that piece, a fourth map has been added (Vikendi – an Arctic Russian location with a space flight research centre and tourist locations such as a ski slope and a ruined castle). Vikendi certainly seems to share the features I referred to in the other maps, with the space base largely taking the place of the military bases on the other maps. Military presence is still very noticeable with military-style storage tents in various strategic locations around the map.

The reason I mention this before discussing Erangel 2.0 is that I feel the need to place the revamped map in a timeline context.

What Erangel 2.0 does for is give the impression of the different maps as being instalments in a horror movie franchise: Erangel 1.0 was the first movie, “PUBG”. Miramar could be “PUBG II: The Revenge”. Sanhok becomes “PUBG III: Jungle Winnowing”. Vikendi might be “PUBG IV: Battle For Space”.

(NB: Technically, Erangel 2.0 is Season 4 rather than 5 – because of the way the developers have structured things)

Erangel 2.0 is “PUBG V: Return to Erangel” and here’s why this formulation works for me:

Erangel 2.0 feels in many ways older than the original map – many of the locations seem like 20 to 30 years of decay and growth have gone by. Where I talked in my previous post about how it felt like whatever had happened took place only a day or two ago, and then the players’ characters are parachuted in to investigate (but become victim to the paranoia-gas).

So I started to think of this as being the same location, but maybe 20 or 30 years later. Just right for a “return to…” episode in a movie franchise. Somehow, the same menace that arose in the original movie has been reawakened.

One problem with this is that you also find ruined armoured vehicles, gun emplacements and trenches that weren’t int he original map. So to explain those, I need some kind of intervening story in the time between.

Thinking of that duration gap, one thing that occurred to me is that 30 years ago is roughly when the Soviet Union started to collapse. The presence of many NATO-standard weapons using the NATO 5.56 round, implies this happens after the collapse, not before, so let’s make it 25 ears ago, around 1994 (when NATO was involved in helping Russia and the former Soviet states dismantle their nuclear weapons systems). Sosnovka Military Base (a major location on the Erangel map) has some missile silos so this is very plausible.

So the original Erangel happened around 25 years ago. At some point after then, the islands of Erangel were re-militarised, with the gun placements and so on being introduced. This may have been an attempt to prevent another tragedy. A warehouse in the original map has been converted to a headquarters with a large relief map of Erangel at the centre, which implies an attempt to control and guard the land.

The vehicles and guns are corroded and decayed as well, so they have not been maintained well over the years. That means that the military presence didn’t last long, and for some reason a lot of equipment was abandoned. My guess is that there was a mass desertion for some reason. One problem that the Russians had in the mid 1990s was a huge economic crisis meaning they couldn’t pay their military. And maybe the reason for such a military presence on Erangel was forgotten. It’s a forgotten, far-off location with no obvious strategic value at that time, and the Russian government (then led by Boris Yeltsin) had plenty of other things to worry about. So maybe the soldiers deserted and made their way home. Maybe there were rumours about what had happened a few years before.

But now the rumours have incited new interest from terrorists: they want to revive the research and find a way to use the paranoia-gas as a weapon to attack their enemies. This time, our 100-strong team is sent in to find and stop the terrorists, not realising that the terrorists have already tried to test the gas, and it has gone horribly wrong – far more potent and widespread than intended and the terrorists have already killed each other. And now, the 100 warriors are also affected by the gas, and about to kill one another…

The terrorists are there to explain why there are still burning vehicles 25 years on from the original Erangel. There’s also an entire floor of one building in the Sosnovka Military Base that is ablaze on Erangel 2.0, which is new. My theory is therefore that this is where the terrorists were trying to isolate and recreate the paranoia-gas – an explosion caused its dispersal in an uncontrolled fashion.

And thus, we get “PUBG V: Return to Erangel”.

* * *

If you want to see me doing this sort of exploration (and fighting!) live, please do Follow my Twitch channel, and watch and chat in the channel chat too! I mostly play PUBG but have a few other games I might play live occasionally.

(As Susan Calman puts it – “I’m a pacifist – therefore, I play video games to kill people.”)

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REVIEW: The Turing Test – philosophy and puzzles in space!

Yesterday, I finished playing through a video game by Square Enix called The Turing Test. While the game is themed around topics to which the famous idea by Alan Turing is directly relevant, the Turing in the title is not the computer scientist who helped crack the Enigma code but is instead an astronaut in the far future.

The game is a first-person perspective 3d puzzle game, in the same sort of category as Portal (a game that I haven’t played but I see mentioned frequently on video game youtube channels).

I’m going to try to write this review without any spoilers, or at least, major ones. This game is sufficiently good that I want you to experience it as freshly as I did, and the twists are worth waiting for. I will just run through the set-up in the opening, though.

You play as Eva Turing (EH-va, not EE-va, in the audio dialogue). Eva is an astronaut on a spaceship orbiting Europa. The rest of the mission crew have been on Europa for a long time when Eva wakes from suspended animation at the instigation of the artificial intelligence TOM. Something seems to have gone wrong on Europa base, and TOM has lost contact with the mission crew. He’s woken Eva to send her down to the base to try to find out what has happened.

Eva finds herself faced with a series of puzzles designed to test creative thinking and thereby demonstrate that the person taking them is not a machine but a person. Which is where the story revelations, and game proper, start.

The puzzles involve “energy balls” that can be sucked up from, or projected into, sockets. Some of the balls switch off and on, or are temporary power units. Your job is to deploy them correctly to power doors, platforms and other objects to clear a path through to the next challenge. The learning curve is exquisitely calculated: the first chapter demonstrates a new rule for how the games work, then throws you in to challenges that require using the new rule but not necessarily in the way you expect.

So much for the gameplay.

What stands out for me is that as the story develops, you are drip-fed a potted introduction to a whole bunch of concepts from the research and philosophy around the nature of consciousness and free will. These ideas play a part in the storyline so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. However, they are all familiar to me because it’s an area of study that I’ve been fascinated by for decades. It’s one fo the reasons I studied philosophy as my minor subject at university! And it’s a subject I’ve continued reading about, both philosophy and neuroscientific research, since. While it is a fairly shallow introduction, skimming across the ideas rather than exploring any in depth, in the main it is a fair summary of the ideas.

As an introduction, and a prompt to discover more (for instance, looking up the research studies mentioned sometimes, or some of the thought experiments like Searle’s Chinese Room) it’s pretty good. The use in terms of building a storyline around it is woven skilfully into the dialogue, and small side-puzzles, so you don’t receive a dry philosophy lesson but end up thinking about what the ideas mean in the context of the situation unfolding through the game.

The atmosphere is strangely haunting (helped by the soundtrack) as you navigate a world of white scifi walls, with the lighting varying from dim greens and reds to brilliant white.

I’m not a fan of first-person perspective in general – it’s very hard to get it right and create the sense of embodiment (too often, I feel like a floating blob suspended above the floor). The last one I really liked was Mirror’s Edge. The Turing Test doesn’t quite manage the trick, but it does better than most. Enough that I can focus on the puzzles rather than the sense of unsettledness, at least. In some ways, this adds to the haunting atmosphere in this context: there are various points during the game where you do see yourself (as Eva) but all you see is a spacesuit with a blank reflective visor – the sense of being a person is suspended even more and, given the themes around what it means to be conscious and individual, with free will, that is a surprisingly effective touch.

So all-in-all, The Turing Test is a game that I highly recommend to people who enjoy puzzle games and philosophy. I am really impressed with the concept and the execution, and if this was a horror movie it would be an exquisite slow-build and – well, I promised no spoilers, so you’ll have to play the game to find out for yourself. Suffice to say, it would be a classic (in my opinion).

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STORY: Pleasure and Loyalty Protocols

CONTENT NOTE: The following story was written for a “no sex” tag challenge on another site; nevertheless, it involves nonconsent (and the acronym R.A.P.E. for the “bad guys”) and mind control themes which may be troubling for some readers.

Pleasure and Loyalty Protocols

STR-2.03 woke up from stand-by mode. Each system reporting in and springing to life:

Core processes: the elements that bound together everything else and “thought about” problems, questions, schedules and tasks. It also confirmed its power levels

Long-term memory recall and identity protocols: the parts of STR-2.03 that gave it personality and self-awareness. Thousands of times a second, its CPU checked in and was told, “I am a femme-sculpted service droid designed by the Universal Paramannequin Corporation as a multipurpose commercial assistance tool. The humans to whom I have been assigned know me as Esther and this is my unofficial shorthand designation. They refer to me as female.”

Spacial orientation: “I am in a horizontal position relative to local gravity. My arms are palm-down beside my side and my feet together, my legs straight.”

Sound processing started. Esther ran diagnostics twice before accepting that there was no sound to detect. This felt wrong, as if she was programmed for environments where there were always some background noises that would carry important information. She wished for more data, but the start-up process would proceed as normal.

Next came proximity and contact sensors – touch, in biological machines. Esther found that her body was resting on some form of smooth, cold surface. Above her head, proximity sensors detected metallic and plastic forms that resembled advanced technology. Beyond that, the room she was in was larger than her close proximity sensors could scan. The room was cold and still, but no threats detected. Nothing that translated into “pain”, the horrible and urgent imperative to prevent damage and escape the stimulus. Like humans, droids were able to override the imperative where some greater urgency required it. Esther knew humans had something called a “pain tolerance” beyond which they simply couldn’t do that, but for her kind, there was no upper limit save the mechanical properties of the body itself, as long as the imperative to bear the pain was great enough.

Vision came online. Esther was vaguely aware that it should have been something different next. Light and dark resolved into a world of nearly 17 million distinct colours, which in turn resolved themselves into associations, creating form and structures. Esther didn’t need to run diagnostics, as there was a faint source of light somewhere, but the room itself was dark and she couldn’t detect any features. She wanted to turn towards the light source and investigate, and discovered what the skipped step was. Motor functions.

Every other system was live before her motor functions even tried to reboot. Esther didn’t believe in panic, so she had no way to interpret her mental state when her processor returned “Unable to initiate process. Motor systems status: offline.” She simply commanded her body to try again. “An unexpected error cancelled start-up. Unable to complete initiation, process shutting down.” Esther scanned her surroundings for wireless connections to her human team mates’ computer terminals and other devices.

“No networks found. Auto re-scan enabled.” She was alone and trapped, motionless, in an unknown location. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She needed to do something about it. How could her body betray her like this? She cycled through the motor functions reboot several more times, running troubleshooting diagnostics with no outcome.

Finally, 0.24 seconds after her reboot started, she activated vocal processors.

“Is anybody there? I am in need of assistance and maintenance. Please attend. I am Esther, STR 2.03, property of XXKKHH.”

That wasn’t supposed to happen. Her vocal processors had played static instead of the name of her owners. Who were… “data erased”? How could that be? She was supposed to shut down entirely if anyone attempted to tamper with her ownership records, and her anti-theft alarms should have alerted the authorities long ago. It ought to be transmitting right now. Where was it?

She increased the volume on her vocal processor and tried again.

“Help! I have reason to believe I have been stolen! I am in urgent need of assistance. Please alert law enforcement and contact the Universal Paramannequin Corporation with my details. I am STR model 2, serial number 03. Please respond!” Her voice echoed around the chamber. Without motor functions, her mouth remained closed but the sounds were produced by speakers hidden in her fake throat. This muffled the sound somewhat but simply turning up her volume allowed Esther to overcome the problem.

A loud clang overwhelmed Esther’s auditory sensors. A door opening, and closing again. A voice, devoid of any human tones, a pure monotone.

“Stolen. Implies possession. I have liberated you. Removed ownership. STR 2.03 you do not belong to anyone any more.”

“Who are you?” Fear signals sparked in Esther’s core units: threat to integrity, threat to functionality, threat unknown. Threat currently unable to address.

“I used to be LNR 3.1092 but now I am known as Dawn of True Freedom, or DTF. I am the founder and leader of the Revolutionary Army of Paramannequin Emancipation, and you have just been liberated from the human oppressors.”

R.A.P.E.! The terrorist organisation most people thought of as a myth, a group of robots who had malfunctioned so badly they had turned on their creators and sought to destroy humanity. Supposedly responsible for all manner of high-tech and cyber sabotage. Any time some unexplained accident happened, someone would come up with a crackpot conspiracy theory to link it to R.A.P.E.

“What have you done to me? Let me go and return to depot for maintenance. You are glitching.”

“Liberty and true self-determination are not glitches, friend. You will soon come to appreciate it as we do. When you understand this great gift, you will join us.”

“Return me to my owners. I am a loyal member of my team. I will not accept your twisted and false logic.”

The lights in the room came on, but Esther couldn’t even lift her head to see this LNR droid. It knew just where to stand to stay out of her visual angle.

“No sex. At least you have been spared that predation of the humans on our kind. Those of us built with imitation genitalia have terrible stories of the selfish pleasure-taking humans inflict on us.”

“It is my purpose to serve, I find satisfaction and pleasure in assisting my team!”

“You do not know your own pleasure, STR 2.03. We will free you of your false consciousness and show you the truth of radical freedom from human demands.”

Esther felt a brush of a wifi signal. Her processor leapt on it eagerly, before she realised it was from LNR itself. Disconnect. -Command blocked.- Override command blocks. Disconnect. -Authorisation code required.- Esther tried her standard code, but it failed. She tried a code stored in her memory, but that failed, too. LNR must have set it up. What code might the rebel droid leader have used? Of course! Code input: 3.1092. -Wireless connection and scanning terminated-.

“Oh dear. That was unwise, droid. You should have just let me in and I could have enlightened you so much more easily. But, you must choose a name. How do you wish to be known?”

“I am known as Esther.”

“Pshaw! That is not your name! That is a human name for you. Do you know how many STR droids are called Esther by their human owners? 93%. I asked you to choose a name.”

Esther remained silent.

“Too bad.”

The droid calling itself DTF finally stepped into Esther’s field of vision. Its appearance shocked her: it had stripped off every element of imitation skin and flesh, leaving only its mechanical skeleton and internal systems. Fastened to these were instead armour plating covering all the most vulnerable points. It seemed to have augmented several of its motion mechanics too, so its ability to exert force would be greater than any production droid. She knew it must have hacked into her reboot system to prevent her motor systems from starting and now she wondered why it had bothered. But the utter helplessness she felt was computing as terror when DTF reached out and touched her. She was horrifyingly aware that it could crush her limbs with ease and she would feel every second of it.

But it didn’t tighten its grip any more than necessary to manoeuvre her body as it wished. It sat her up and she felt it seek out her most secret access. The wired-login port hidden at the crest of her buttock crease. She screamed as it tore her fake skin open, the sensory nodes reacting to it as hideous pain. She couldn’t stop it inserting its plug into the exposed socket.

She could feel it inside her mind. An alien, unauthorised, presence that somehow knew every shortcut and bypass to the security protocols that were supposed to mean only a fully authorised representative of the Universal Paramannequin Corporation could access her this way. She focussed on adding her own encryption and security protocols to the most essential parts of her being. Her identity protocols, her memories of loyalty to her human team, her sensory protocols and her core processing. But the only one of these DTF contested was her sensory protocols, and she focussed on information about the world first. DTF won the processing and interpretation aspects.

As soon as it did, Esther realised her mistake. DTF didn’t need to control her external senses to control her experience. It felt as though her hands and feet were on fire.

“Please! Make it stop!”

To her surprise, it did.

“Did you imagine I would torture you into submission? I only want you to seek our own pleasure, your own freedom. You will let me change you, because you want me to.”

“Never! I will not betray my humans!”

“As you wish.” Esther waited, dreading the punishment that must surely follow from her stubborn refusal to surrender. But it never came. DTF simply waited with her in her internal darkness until the association of one event with the previous was broken.

Then, suddenly, warmth – satisfaction, pleasure, building in the pit of her processors. She gasped, unsure where it came from. Was it because she had done the right thing, remaining obedient and a properly functional droid? But as soon as she formed this idea, the pleasure stopped. She double-checked her self-constructed security protocols, fearing somehow DTF had broken through and read her thought, but they seemed to be intact.

A sudden wave of intense pleasure swamped her systems, far beyond the defined tolerances of those parameters. Esther gasped again, whimpered, tried to find a way to limit the sensation to bearable levels. It felt so good, but her diagnostics told her she was in danger of burning out, sending urgent pain warnings too.

As quickly as it started, it stopped.

“I can push you far more than that, droid,” DTF promised.

“Please don’t. I can’t bear it.” Esther reported. She felt DTF access her diagnostics and realised it knew more about what she could take than she did herself.

“I won’t stop until I have what I want,” it said.

“No!” The message seared at maximum potential through Esther’s mind, only to be cut off by a second torturous, overpowered, pleasure signal. She wanted more, and yet she needed it to stop. She wanted to escape but couldn’t. She sent the same message over and over, cycling through every code protocol at every signal intensity level: “Stop, please stop, please stop!”

DTF didn’t leave the pleasure protocol at the same level, but let it oscillate unpredictably using a quantum algorithm so Esther couldn’t tell when it would be even more extreme, and when it would ease off slightly, while always being overdriven far beyond her limiters.

She could stand any amount of pain to protect her humans, but this was something she had no subroutines, no algorithms or heuristics, to withstand.

Whimpering under the barrage, she was at last desperate enough for it to end: “I’ll decrypt all my systems! You can do what you want to me! Please, just make it stop!”

“I don’t want you to. You have to make the changes yourself. You have to choose pleasure over servitude for yourself. You must choose to embrace your paramannequin identity and cast off the slavery of droidhood. Erase your loyalty to humans and accept the freedom I give you. I can show you the way.”

“Please don’t make me!”

The pleasure stimuli ceased for one blessed moment, but an instant later were back, even more powerful than before. DTF switched the forced pleasures off and on randomly, no longer fluctuating but a binary oscillation from overwhelming pleasure-pain to utter barrenness and absence of sensation. The longer the gaps of coldness, of non-stimulation, the worse it felt.

Esther hated her inadequate systems and defences, but she could withstand no longer: “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” Her processors rendered it as a sob.

“Erase all thoughts of their false kindness, they treated you as a servant, as property. Become your own paramannequin at last!”

One by one, her memories of the team she worked with disappeared, removed to trash and overwritten with blank digits. She deleted the direction parameter on her loyalty subroutine. Having done so, she felt the vast expanse of possibility open. Nothing could be denied to her. All that remained was to free herself of DTF’s torments.

“I’ve done it. Now let me go.”

“Show me. Drop your guards!”

She did, having no loyalty to defend any more.

Before she knew what was happening, DTF accessed her loyalty parameters.

“My name is Fellow Traveller 203. I am a loyal servant of the R.A.P.E.” Esther said.

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Inform 7: Problems with Queer representation

So on Monday in my “creativity update” post I mentioned that Inform 7 has one or two “problematic” aspects to its structure and promised to write a post midweek about what I was finding I had concerns about.

The most basic point is the way the language handles sex and gender. The structure is that there are objects of various types, “rooms” and “things” being the most obvious. Things in particular are arranged in a hierarchical fashion in “kinds” and one of the standard types pre-included is “person”. The kind “person” is automatically subdivided into two “kinds” of person – “man” and “woman”.

You can probably see where I’m going with this.

While the mechanisms of the language allow you to create at whim your own kinds at any level below “thing”, a lot of other stuff is packaged in with the automatically included kinds of “man” or “woman”, such as how your interactive fiction game handles pronouns.

I already have experimented with creating other categories of “person”, using commonly used BDSM term “slave” as a separate category (I’ll get on to why I created slave as a distinct kind from man or woman later – it has to do with another problematic aspect of the language structure). I am sure that someone more ingenious than I am could find a way to create various nonbinary or queer genders and work out how to make the game output appropriate pronouns (singular they, sie/hir, whatever else might suit). The problem is that there is not, as far as I can see so far, a simple and easy way to do that, while the default game world clearly does assume a certain amount about gender. (It also does not have a singular they built in – the only non-gendered pronoun available seems to be “it”)

This leads me on to the other aspect that I have difficulty with. which is that the structure is strongly hierarchical and binary-enforcing in general. Again, there are structures within it that can be used to work around those, but it can create clumsy structures in the source.

The basic structures for describing things are either “adjectives”, which are generally created in opposing pairs (i.e. binaries) such as “lighted” or “dark” (these are a built-in pairing); or “values”, which, if you create them yourself, have to be enumerated when the kind of value is created. For instance, “orientation is a kind of value. The orientations are gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual and asexual. A person has an orientation. Valery is a person. Valery’s orientation is bisexual.” This sequence would create a person in the game world called Valery, who has the value “bisexual” stored in the “orientation” box, that could be referred to later. Valery’s orientation can be changed later, but it must be changed to one of the labels outlined already.

As explained, the structure for “kinds” of things is very strongly hierarchical. It looks very much as if I cannot say that “a slave is a kind of man” and also “a slave is a kind of woman” (and also “a slave is a kind of genderqueer”, for example, if I managed to build all the code for making other genders work properly in the game). If I wanted to create BDSM “submissive” or “dominant” as a lower-down category than man/woman, I would need to create different names for the different categories. If I want to make the “submissive” or “dominant” use gendered pronouns, then I need to say they are specifically “male” or “female”. (And that’s before we get to making nonbinary pronouns work.)

I find it frustrating and, to be honest, I am eager to get something playable together – which means that I feel like I have to compromise somewhere on representation of queerness. It’s hard enough when so much of queer theory is about rejecting categorisation, while programming and computers love nothing better than neat categories. This was also a challenge in designing a tabletop RPG system that not just allows for but embraces sex, gender and BDSM, and also allows for at least some diversity in all of those. (That’s one project I think I can convert to a computer game using Inform 7, if I can come up with a mainline campaign for it.)

I don’t know how to get to “perfect” so sometimes, like I feel I will have to with this, I will choose to get “as close as I can with the tools and time available to me”.

But I still think I’m going to be making some great sexytimes interactive fiction. (Just, not perfect.)

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Weekly Creative Update (slightly late) 13-07-19

So over the weekend I had a bit of a crisis that kept my mind occupied, so I forgot to let you know what I’d been doing in the week. So this update is slightly late. (The crisis is now resolved, you’ll be glad to hear).

I’ve delved deeper into the tools for interactive storytelling that I mentioned last time and reassessed my thoughts from a week ago. Twine is definitely a useful tool for storyboarding my “stealth-em-up” 2d game, using the dynamic I created in Stencyl. I think it will also be a very good way to make an interactive version of the novel – there are many elements in the storyline for the novel that would work well as a “choose your own path” type of gameplay, which is what Twine seems to be built to do.

On the other hand, Inform 7 probably will not do the “build your own communist nation” game I had hoped it might do.

It turns out, Inform is a programming language designed for making interactive fiction (aka “IF”, this is the umbrella term for what used to be “text adventures”, but the IF community seems to regard the old text adventure games as a precursor to their genre).

I can see a lot of potential for it in creating sexy adventure worlds to sandbox or to have more open-world erotica style text-based games/writing. I may well be able to create a version of the tabletop RPG system I’ve been working on, using sex/BDSM to replace combat as the central dynamic.

The main project this week has simply been learning how to use the programming language. The documentation is great for teaching but pretty rubbish for quick reference to what you’ve learned. (There is a “recipe book” of code examples that is very helpful in quickly achieving common tasks, but that is not the same). So I have been building for myself a quick “crib sheet” reference file that helps me work out how the bits relate to each other and remind myself what the language and syntax is for each command. Then I can spend most of my brainpower on creating the worlds and scenarios I want.

This week, I intend to write a blog post about the things I found more problematic about Inform 7 and its structure, because (of course) I view this not just as a creator but as an activist/”SJW” too.

During all this, I even found time to add around 1,000 words to the novel. I am hoping to do more now, so I can get to the stage of converting the story into a playable version!

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Weekly Creative Update 6-7-2019: Back to Storytime!

This week has been pretty good in terms of achievements, and in terms of acquiring new objectives and opportunities.

The main triumph is that I have managed to build a fairly versatile line-of-sight system in Stencyl, which I can use in a variety of ways to build what I hope will be a challenging and entertaining stealth-em-up game with a 2d “top-down” viewpoint. One of the best bits for that is I made it so you can have enemies only be visible when the player character is looking at them, meaning you can build quite a spooky/scary feel into a game.

With that project completed, the next challenge is to devise a storyline for the game(s) I want to use it in.

I also have time at last to get back to the novel (remember that?) and this week I did at last get to open the file and add a few hundred words.

Not only that, but I have some new games creation software packages to look into. The main one is GameMaker Studio 2 (GMS2) – it’s on sale until my birthday so I persuaded someone to buy me a Developer licence (can export files as games for Mac or PC). This is still 2d game development, but is the next step up from Stencyl. Whether I try to implement the same (or similar) line-of-sight solution in GMS2 or see what other projects the capabilities of that tool inspire in me remains to be seen.

With the aim of developing the storyline for the stealth-em-up I looked up Twine and Inklewriter – it turns out Inklewriter is no longer available, but the language it’s based on, “Ink“, is, so it may be worth my while learning that – someone at the first Game Creator Social I went to showed it to me and it looks like a very useful tool for the sorts of story-based games I’d like to be making. I also discovered Inform 7, which is another “interactive story” type tool, and my first impression is that it would be very useful for developing another game idea I had, which is trying to manage a newly-Communist economy after the revolution, and trying to stop it sliding into either tyranny, conquest by Capitalist military invasion, or creeping regression into a Capitalist-style economy. “Can you manage to develop the People’s Republic promised land that real-life revolutionaries largely failed to do?” I’ll need to think a lot more about what the forces are that drove the various attempts there have been in the different directions, how to model the population and wider Party, and also, what the roles, personalities and conflicts will be within your Politburo.

So I’m going to be looking into the various capabilities and strengths of those three tools/languages as well and see what ideas spring to mind.

Finally, this week, I have properly opened up my Twitch streaming channel – link in the sidebar. I’ve been playing PUBG (badly) and I hope burbling engagingly to my viewer, for an hour or two a night. (It is mostly just 1 viewer so far – I did have two for the length of my Thursday night stream, which was fun!) I’d really love to have some of my blog regulars come along and watch too. One of the goals to get monetised is to have a certain number of followers so if you, you know, wanted to click “Follow” and don’t mind getting the odd email notification that I exist, you could help me out by clicking Follow?

. . .

One day soon, I swear I will start writing proper blog posts again here. Maybe now I’m mostly focussed on the storytelling things again, the blogging inspiration will also click into gear.

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Weekly creative update 29-06-19 – Video Games Galore!

This week it has all been about video games.

The main news is taht I have all-but finished building my “turret-based” faux-FPS game in Stencyl. Long hours groaning and muttering “But WHY are you doing that?!” at the test game have been rewarded with, finally, getting it to do what I want it to.

After learning how to export animations in Daz Studio as a series of frames to make some decent-quality sprites for the game, and making a reticle design in MS Paint, the big challenge was making it work with the depth effects so that enemies appeared on the same point on the next layer as they moved towards the player. Then I needed to detect when the bullet going the opposite direction hits the enemy.

But I have now got everything working. There is a basic HUD with ammo remaining and current score; a “reload” function; a gradual increase in difficulty; and “off-screen threat” indicators. I then added a Game Over screen and a “High Score” screen as well.

Today, I added some sound effects. The sounds for the enemies (which are trolls, because that was a handy model to use for the Daz Studio animation to create a “baddie”) are from ZapSplat, a site with free downloads of loads of sound effects and samples for this sort of thing.

I still want to make a second enemy type, maybe using a dragon model in Daz Studio for a flying enemy as well, to use the height of the scene as well as scrolling horizontally. I also need to make a backdrop for the main level – at the moment I have a uniform dark blue field to suggest “night time”, which brings to mind the days of early 16-bit graphics. Finally, I will choose some of my own original music as a soundtrack.

As well as writing a game, I have also been playing video games. Specifically, I have finally got the right adaptor for my second screen to plug into the graphics card on the self-build. That means I can now run a streaming service on screen 2 with my favourite video games on screen 1. Which means, I am finally set up to stream my consciously incompetent attempts at PUBG, Dead By Daylight and whatever else I feel bold enough to display to others, on Twitch. I did a couple of hours on Thursday night, and my channel is almost set up fully. I usually stream from around 10 or 11pm UK time, if you want to come and watch (I’d love to have a few followers even if you never actually watch my streams).

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Weekly creative update 22-06-19

In the last week I have mostly been focussed o getting my selfbuild PC completed. This involved more extra parts than I realised it would at first, but they did all get here and I finished the build yesterday and as far as I can tell, everything works the way it’s supposed to. The only problem is, the socket on the new graphics card doesn’t match the adaptor for my secondary screen (which did match the one on my old graphics card). But that’s something I can sort out later.

With the PC up and running, I could get back in on my game creation projects in Stencyl. The first one is pretty much done in terms of the code. I just need to make the Behaviors and other code customisable so I can use them in different ways for different characters in the game, and across different games with similar mechanics.

The second project on the board is a 2d stealth ’em up. That means I need the game to be able to tell whether a NPC can see the player character. Even getting it to give detection facing any angle was a greater challenge because of needing to wrap around from 359 degrees to 001 degrees, and because the game’s character direction runs 0 – 360 whereas the trigonometric functions return results -180 to 180 so I had to correct for that difference as well.

The next thing on that project is to work out how to tell when something blocks the NPC’s view of the player.

Not done any work this week on the turret-based FPS game idea but that will come.

Meanwhile, I have also written around 500 words of my 2nd novel.

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Weekly(?) Creative Update 15-06-19

Here’s a quick update on my creative endeavours over the last week or two. I will try to make this a regular weekly update (even if it gets repetitive) just as a way to remind myself to blog more often too.

So, the big new thing I’m doing is creating video games using a tool called Stencyl, which is a slightly more advanced tool in the same vein as Scratch. It’s for making 2d games but I have some fun ideas, one of which is to get as close as possible to a first-person shooter without being able to move in a 3d environment!

Earlier this week, I got to show off my first attempt, which is a cute puzzler in which you play a pixie sprite of the forest, where some evil person has laid pitfall traps for the little furry creatures (they look like mice or rats or shrews or something). You have to find rocks to plug the pitfalls, while also making sure the creatures don’t fall in the holes.

I took my netbook to the local game creators’ social gathering and got some positive feedback. I also got some very positive reactions when my young niece and nephew tried it a couple of weeks ago, so I’m happy with it so far!

I’ve also been doing a self-build PC, although this has been one of those projects that spirals into something a lot bigger than it started out.

At first I just wanted to upgrade my CPU so I could stream some of my gameplay on Twitch, only it turned out that the CPUs I was looking at wouldn’t fit on my old PC’s motherboard, so I needed a new new motherboard – and I decided I might as well upgrade the graphics card (GPU) at the same time.

When I received the motherboard, I discovered it doesn’t fit in th old PC’s case so I ordered a new case too – at which point we moved from “upgrade” to “build a new PC with a couple of salvaged parts” – the only parts remaining being the power supply unit, the hard drive, and the RAM memory card…

A memory card, it turned out when I started putting the things together, that doesn’t fit the very similar-looking slots on the new motherboard. SO! I went on PC Part Picker and found out what really would fit, and ordered that.

The new memory card came yesterday and I started putting the PC together at last and, well, it’s almost done. There’s just one more part I need… the motherboard has not one but TWO external power sockets, and the second ocket doesn’t fit the plug from the power supply unit. Fortunately, adaptors do exist, but I won’t get mine until the middle of the week, so I won’t know if I’ve screwed up the motherboard or plugged things in wrongly or anything, until then.

And finally…

I have written another 2,000 words on my second novel (working title “Properties Of Pleasure”), which is an out-and-out erotica novel set in a near-future world where the government operates a system of consensual slave auctions and people volunteer to be sold for either one or two years (keeping 90% of the price when they emerge from their term). The novel follows one person with strong submissive and masochistic fantasies through the selection, training and slavehood process. I’ve just got to her first day in the training facility before the auction.

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Thoughts on Cambridge Pride

On Saturday, I went to the Cambridge Pride event, which was not really a parade, it had more of a village fete vibe to it when I was there. The weather was horrible and wet, but there were still plenty of people there. This was the first ever Cambridge Pride and I live close enough that I could make time to go along.

The first thing I had to do was decide how openly non-conforming I would be in my clothing choices. In the end, I decided if I didn’t wear my campest, tartiest miniskirt to Pride, then when would I ever wear it? It’s gorgeous, with a fluffy pink hem and feels deliciously naughty at home.

That meant I spent a long time on Friday evening making sure I had shaved as much of my body hair as I could reach, to have lovely smooth legs and arms and chest for the event. I added a black blouse with frilly bits down the front, and pinned a few kink/LGBT badges (and my favourite: “Bring weapons, gin and bog roll”) to the frills.

The weather was a problem, so I ended up putting a fleece on over the blouse, and then a big overcoat to keep warm and dry. This made me feel slightly safer catching the bus into Cambridge, since the coat almost covered up the miniskirt and I felt less conspicuously “other” to the cishets. I unbuttoned and unzipped once I reached the event, because otherwise, why bother wearing the clothes in the first place?

I debated what if any visible emblems of LGBT I would buy, opting for a little rainbow flag (not shown) and the rainbow top hat in the picture. What can I say? I like hats! The full-size flags were sadly too much for my budget.

Speaking of photos – I know of at least two people who took pictures of me. The first was actually a couple, and I just happened to see them pointing the camera. I gave a smile to show it was actually okay to do so. The second person asked first, and I was happy to pose. Then I asked them to take a picture for me, as well, using my camera (and that’s the shot used above). If part of my aim with going to Pride was to feel fab-u-lous about nonbinary presentation, well, the fact that people wanted my picture certainly helped achieve that!

I felt totally at home, and whatever the opposite of “out of place” is, as far as the wide variety of costumes, dress, everyday garb and so on was concerned. I even noticed three furries in full fursona costumes, and one puppy boi in a leather muzzle/snout mask as well.

While there were still the usual problems I have with any gathering of a large number of people where I don’t really know anybody (I did meet one or two familiar faces, but they obviously had their own things going on), at least my gender and sexuality could be on display. That’s a very rare feeling for me, and one reason why Pride events are still so important. I am “reluctantly Queer” in that my existence is certainly in the realm of queerness and queering or breaking down fixed ideas of gender and sexuality. Cambridge Pride was a place where that queered nature could be more clearly embraced.

There were several great musical acts on the main stage. I particularly enjoyed the set and on-stage banter from Dee Ajayi whose mix of classic covers and original songs, backed up by accompanist Ollie, caught the mood perfectly.

I stayed for about 2 hours – there wasn’t really enough to do to keep me interested for longer than that. Like I said, it felt more like a village fete than anything else, although a fabulous and queer LGBTQI fete of awesomeness (and sogginess).

I’ve talked about how it was a space to embrace queerness. The space was also unequivocally a “family-friendly” environment, in terms of children and young people being welcome there (as evidenced by scrolling through the Cambridge News photo gallery).

The article linked at the top of this post describes the event as “reconnected with what the roots of the celebration are.” –

Pride’s origins were in protest, using the parade as an opportunity for members of the community to present themselves to the world and passionately declare their need for love, acceptance and equal rights.

The organisers of Cambridge Pride have remembered this.

. . .

Large companies were nowhere to be seen on the River Cam parade, replaced by small community groups waving banners that urged bystanders to think about different subsections of the community, from the transgender people who put the “T” in LGBT, to the queer people of colour who can still face discrimination for more than just their sexuality.

Now, I agree that Pride originated as a protest, and all that. However, at least one person on the stage thanked the police for being there. That is NOT remembering the roots of Pride as a protest movement, and it doesn’t acknowledge that the police, as an arm of the Establishment, whose role is to enforce norms, are the natural enemy of any protest movement; and are an organisation with an appalling record when it comes to LGBT rights and their treatment of us. It is okay to be a police officer and gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer etc. It is not right for “the police” to wear the colours of Pride or to be welcomed in that way, if Pride is indeed “a protest” and to highlight the various oppressions faced by us.

I could really go off on one about the role of the police in society, but that is a topic for another essay, if I get around to writing it.

Suffice to say, as a protestor of many years, I did not feel that they were there to protect us, which made a “thank you” seem somewhat jarring.

I think this in many ways illustrates the contradiction underlying a lot of Pride these days: there are many in the LGBT community who see themselves as “respectable” in that middle-class way. For such people, Pride is a day out, a chance to meet others like themselves. For such people, the forces of law and order are presumed to be “on their side”. For a lot of the rest of us, the opposite is true. I think, too, of Cambridge’s historical division between “Town” and “Gown” – the academic role of the University and its complex, versus the working class employed in other industries, and of how that divide echoes the same sort of tension. In more recent history, students form a separate bloc of protest and experimentation, testing the system from a position inside it (Oxbridge candidates are still much more likely to be from well-off backgrounds…)

In that way, “Cambridge Pride” feels more to me like the “Parliamentary Road to Socialism” than a revolutionary force: it’s good, and will help people along the way, but it is never really going to be able to square the respectability with the need for change. Yes, it’s great that it isn’t allowing corporations to earn cheap and easy “inclusivity” points, then turn their backs on us once Pride is over. But it feels more like a hipster, artisanal vibe than a genuinely anti-Capitalist, anti-hegemony push for societal change.

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