Where Are My Games?

I’m watching a YouTube vid previewing upcoming games for late 2019 / early 2020.

And I’m bored.

There’s a slew of FPSes, some open-world, some not. There are some RPGs, there are some top-down tactical hoo-has.

And that’s it. It’s the blandest offering of blanditude I can remember in a good long time. There’s nothing that’s made me stop and look. Games seem to have become about as diverse as mainstream cinema. If you love the MCU, yaaay, if you don’t…. perhaps don’t go to the cinema, eh? Cos that’s all that’s on. There are no completely new, completely original SF or fantasy films that haven’t got a tie-in to some existing property because those are a risk, they don’t get financed.

Here, in no real rank order, are some of the games I love:

  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Crackdown
  • Jetset Radio
  • Defender
  • Impossible Mission II
  • Speed Devils
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • Dishonored
  • Heavenly Sword
  • Soulcalibur
  • Wipeout 2097
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Parappa The Rapper
  • SSX Tricky
  • GoldenEye
  • Killzone 2
  • Resistance: Fall Of Man
  • Wizball
  • Mario Kart 64
  • Halo 3
  • Civilization Revolution

…. I could go on and on but I think you get the point. I’ve been playing video games since they were first invented in the late ’70s. That started off as huge Space Invaders cabinets in takeaways and ended up with sleek consoles sat next to my telly.

All the games above, whether they are the simplest sprite-chuckers or the latest in polygon-chugging engines, do one thing: they create an immersive world.

That may seem a bold claim for Defender but when I was playing it decades ago, that minimal, blocky display was everything. It was as engrossing and terrifying as the tiny proximity display they use in Alien to map how close the xenomorph is. We uprezzed the graphics in our minds.

Then you have Horizon Zero Dawn, a game which creates a world so gorgeous and detailed that I play the game just to escape, to look at the lush scenery and relax.

These worlds stay with you. Liberty City. Rokkaku-dai Heights. The Halo Array. Snowy banks lit by exploding fireworks. The echo of your footfalls down endless laboratory corridors…

But I feel like Big Games are getting worse at creating these worlds because the Big Game Developers all seem to be in a race to see who can reach the absolute nadir of consumer exploitation first.

Thus, we have the Newspeak that is ‘SURPRISE MECHANICS,’ EA using weasel words to justify milking anyone with a gambling addiction in its games.

Now, okay, EA have been wankers for decades, we all know that. This shift to evil isn’t a SUPRISE MECHANIC (heh, see what I did there?).

But I feel like the Big side of the industry has never been worse, has never been as nakedly, proudly evil. Now, obviously, we have the indie side which is crammed with lovely, lovely people who are games obsessives and want to create the kind of immersive experiences that we, the users, want to fall in love with. Hopefully, that side of the industry will never change and never sell out.

But GTA IV was not an indie game. It was huge. And I love it. I love it more than any previous or subsequent GTA. For me, it was the sweet spot. I mean, come on, even now, you could film the story of Serbian immigrant Niko and his travails in NY, er, Liberty City and people would love it. It’s a great STORY. Moreover, when you’re playing GTA IV, not only does the world around you look good, real, its *sounds* real. All those radio stations you can flick through, all those news snippets and op-eds you hear, they all cement you into that reality.

I miss that world. I miss Liberty City. And I miss all the other worlds other beautiful games have created. They could be as simple as Interphase or as complex as Detroit Become Human, the immersiveness doesn’t derive from polygon count.

It comes for the hearts of the people developing the games. When you play Horizon Zero Dawn, you know the developers didn’t skimp. They didn’t have a ‘will this do?’ attitude. You can see it in the firefly animations, you can hear it in the ridiculous ‘gobble gobble’ of a disturbed turkey as it legs it. These designers weren’t phoning it in. There is love in this game for the world they are creating.

It’s obvious the industry will not stop being evil. So, they need regulation. Hard regulation. It is not okay to exploit people who may be gambling addicts. Micro-transactions and lootboxes have made me avoid every major title in the last year or so.

Maybe a side-effect of banning these obvious money-grabs would be the creation of some stunning NEW worlds in which we could lose ourselves.

The Fundamental Fysiks Group

These crazy cats, though:

“The Fundamental Fysiks Group was founded in San Francisco in May 1975 by two physicists, Elizabeth Rauscher and George Weissmann, at the time both graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley. The group held informal discussions on Friday afternoons to explore the philosophical implications of quantum theory. Leading members included Fritjof CapraJohn Clauser, Philippe Eberhard, Nick HerbertJack Sarfatti, Saul-Paul Sirag, Henry Stapp, and Fred Alan Wolf.[1]

David Kaiser argues, in How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival (2011), that the group’s meetings and papers helped to nurture the ideas in quantum physics that came to form the basis of quantum information science.[2] Two reviewers wrote that Kaiser may have exaggerated the group’s influence on the future of physics research, though one of them, Silvan Schweber, wrote that some of the group’s contributions are easy to identify, such as Clauser’s experimental evidence for non-locality attracting a share of the Wolf Prize in 2010, and the publication of Capra’s The Tao of Physics (1975) and Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters (1979) attracting the interest of a wider audience.[3]

Kaiser writes that the group were “very smart and very playful”, discussing quantum mysticism and becoming local celebrities in the Bay Area’s counterculture. When Francis Ford Coppola bought City Magazine in 1975, one of its earliest features was on the Fundamental Fysiks Group, including a photo spread of Sirag, Wolf, Herbert, and Sarfatti.[4]”

(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_Fysiks_Group)

The Dream In Which I Invented A New Synthesis UI With The Aid Of Teri Garr and Robert Vaughn

By my standards, this was a pretty ordinary dream. The only thing that makes it stand out is the synthesis part. Well, and my co-inventers but they aren’t really real in the way that an idea can be real although it was dreamt.

Teri Garr is still alive so it’s possible she could have been in my dream through some kind of telepathic link but Robert Vaughn passed away in 2016. While I’ll maybe stretch to telepathy with living people, communicating with the spirit realm is a stretch for a good old fashioned dialectical materialist like me.

In the dream, Vaughn was Napoleon Solo-aged and Garr was pretty much as she appears in the Star Trek episode ‘Assignment Earth.’ But they weren’t their characters, they were just themselves, chatting as actors do about various acting gigs, the perils of local theatre and who was a Method bore.

I was entranced just to be in the same room with them. Thinking back, the room was very TOS-like; grey walls, weird polygonal desk for no reason, the mise-en-scene was very Trek. 

On the table in front of us is a tray. It’s about one metre by seventy-five cm. The edge is lipped to contain what appears to be thousands of gems. When I pick one up, it’s about the shape and size of a Pez but with straight sides at the ends, a point instead of a curve. One face is shiny, silver, metallic. The other is a translucent gemstone. There are various colours of gem and, I now notice, various colours on the tray. Between the zones, there are no hard lines, rather gradations and sometimes subtle stripings of colour.

Garr urges me to move some of the VCO gems around. Then I realise that one of the green piles of gems was the same colour as its base which is labelled ‘VCO 1’. Being a East Coast synthesis sort, I grab a handful of gems and plonk them in an area marked ‘LFO 1.’ Then I touch a the lip of the tray which, somehow, I know is the equivalent of pressing a key on a normal synth. 

Woah! Vibrato! But not much… hmmmm… I take some more VCO gems and plonk them in the LFO area. More depth! AHA! But how the hell do I change the frequency of the LFO or the waveform? I notice that both the LFO and VCO areas have waveforms inscribed in certain areas, sawtooth, square, squiggly. I move some of the LFO gems into the sawtooth area… ahhhh… the vibrato changes to a more squarey stridulation. I’m getting well into this – what else can I heap and where?

It’s at this point of the dream that I’m basically pushing gems all over the place, swirling them with my finger and delighting in what comes out. I’ve gone full West Coast now, NO RAGRETS.

And then… seriously… the synth makes the Emergency Phone noise from The Man From UNCLE. Yes, my brain did this to me.

So, I turn to Robert Vaughn and say, “Hey, it’s that sound from the Man From… oh my god… it’s you! You’re Napoleon Solo!” He looks a little embarrassed and Teri giggles. 

It’s then that my stupid brain makes me realise I am, in fact, naked in a thin dressing gown and my knackers are on full view of these two fantastic actors. Soooo, inevitably, I wake out of my beautiful synthesis dream. 

But what do you think of the interface, eh? It’s doable, isn’t it? We could do it now, virtually, in something like Microsoft’s Hololens. And I’m pretty sure we could do it in real life. If every gem contained an RFID and the table was continuously scanning for their position. I would even add in variables like height-from-table or heat? Anything to give more ways to control the variables. If you weighted them differently, you could sort them quite simply, too, just pour the tray into a sorter. 

Please, someone, make my synth dream come true!

Destination Star Trek 2018

So, last weekend was the long-awaited DST 2018. When I say long-awaited, I booked the hotel room over eighteen months ago. And then, finally, it was time! Like DST 2016, my bff Nat went with me. This is us: 

DST 2018 - 101

This is the second time DST has been held in the NEC at Brum and it was much better organised than last time. We didn’t have to queue at all for registration and were soon in Hall 5 on Friday afternoon where we saw this: 

DST 2018 - 003

WHAT A MASSIVE HALL! Have Showmasters gone mad? Well, no, Fridays are never busy for DST, it turns out that around 14,000 people were going to attend on Saturday. So, Friday evening was actually a chill day to walk around and grab impulse buys of maybe huge amounts of fudge. 

There are different tiers available for DST but I only ever book the base one; entry and that’s it. This is because although I do love seeing famous Trek actors, I’m not a collector type. I go to DST to hang out with other Trekkies and to make new friends. Or to meet people I’ve chatted with in the online groups IRL for the first time, like this feller: 

DST 2018 - 032

For me, meeting people who UNDERSTAND and laugh when I wave my arms around and shout, “FISH! PROTEIN! FRESH FROM THE SEA!” is delightful. In a life of outsiderness, I feel I belong, just for a weekend.

I met so many lovely geeks, we couldn’t speak fast enough to get our geekness out! We discussed David Warner, James Cromwell, Servalan, Warehouse 13, SAMANTHA CARTER, whether Larry Niven should have got royalties from Microsoft for Halo or is that more of a Banks’ Orbital? 

And then, wandering around the con… LOOK AT ALL THE COSPLAYERS: 

DST 2018 - 072

DST 2018 - 021

DST 2018 - 006

DST 2018 - 127

The feeling of camaraderie, the inclusivity and sheer IDGAFness of Trekkies at DST has to be experienced first-hand to believe. I don’t think I’ve ever been with a more mixed bunch of people. I say that after every DST but it both remains true and becomes truer, paradoxically. 

I believe that because Discovery has done so well, Trek is now undergoing a resurgence not seen since the 2009 Kelvin reboot. But, unlike then, DST is up and running, a huge convention that attracts fans from as far away as Australia. A huge number of the Discovery cast were at DST 2018 and judging from the number of Disco tees and full-on cosplays I saw, they can congratulate themselves that the baton has been securely passed to them, no fumbles. Their success has created whole new cadres of Trekkies who’ve gone online, wanting to meet other fans. And now they can do that IRL too. 

So many of the posts I saw were from people who’d never been to any kind of con before at all, like me in 2012 with the first DST. And the follow-up posts I’ve seen have been overwhelmingly positive: the new fans have found the family of Trek. They’ve found that we don’t care if you’ve loved Trek for five minutes or fifty years, if you’re a fan, you’re a fan. (As long as you interact civilly.)

Look at these faces: 

DST 2018 - 104

DST 2018 - 091

DST 2018 - 089

DST 2018 - 085

DST 2018 - 081

These beautiful geeks are the reason I went to DST 2018 and will be going to DST 2019. They are my people and I love them! 

Live long and prosper! ??????

More Star Trek Politics

Not all Trek fans are lovely people. There have been a few dodgy types I’ve met online who turn out to be raging homophobes or sexists or one of those right-wing types who thinks calling someone an ‘SJW’ is an insult. Which is the equivalent of someone sneering at a campaigner for human rights.

When I encounter right-wing Trekkies, I always wonder what attracted them to Gene Roddenberry’s view of a moneyless future of free housing, education, food and healthcare? How do they process the cognitive dissonance of loving the first ever US TV show to feature an inter-racial kiss with moaning about the multi-ethnic cast of Discovery? While they’re complaining about female captains, have they forgotten about a little show called Voyager? How do they whinge about a separate LGBT group “splitting up Trek fans” at the same time as voting for Brexit and not see the irony? 

But I don’t engage with them online. In terms of Trek, their views are so non-sensical and illogical that trying to discuss with them is a zero-sum game. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations is a philosophy of accepting and exalting in difference, therefore it excludes philosophies that promote hatred of difference. (Argued more at length here.)

Here’s the thing: I don’t owe anyone my time. My time is precious and, on the cosmic scale, astoundingly fleeting. I want to use every second I have to meet positive, friendly people from whom I can learn and grow and be a better person. Arguing online with shrivelled nutsacks of pulsating hatred is not part of that plan.

So, think what you want, say what you want, I’m not censoring your proud and fundamentally anti-Trek idiocy. You go ahead, spew your hateful gibberish about ‘gays taking over’ or ‘straight white males are the minority now.’

But don’t expect even a femtosecond of interaction from rational Trekkies. 

We simply don’t have the time, we’re too busy building the future Gene wanted.

Roland MIDI Drivers Break MacOS High Sierra

I have one of the above interfaces. I plugged it in to my iMac Pro which is still on High Sierra still as I am a cautious type (usually) and not yet sure how well Mojave would behave with all my pro audio software. Anyway, I plugged in the interface, searched for it in Audio Midi and… 

Nothing there. All my other interfaces are there, no Roland. 

Hmm. Usually, MIDI thingies are class-compliant ~ they’re just plug and go. Why would Roland release one that isn’t? Oh well, no big deal. So, I head to the site and, sure enough, there’s a driver for Macs. 

I download it and install it, reboot and…

Well, that was around four hours ago. Since then, I’ve been trying to get my iMac to boot to desktop. It boots to the Apple and progress bar but that’s it. The bar fills up, at at about one-tenth its normal speed and then stays stuck at the end. I’ve even left it for an hour, thinking I was being impatient. No change. 

Sooo, okay, I can handle this. Just hold down shift and I can boot into safe mode. Then uninstall the stupid driver. 

Nope. 

I’ve been trying to boot into safe mode for a large part of the last few hours. Whatever Roland’s techs have done, they’ve fucked that ability. 

So, ten minutes ago, I realised this isn’t going anywhere and I booted into Recovery Mode (command-R). 

Now I’m doing a whole fresh install of High Sierra because Roland can’t design a MIDI driver. 

Thanks, Roland! 

Synthfest UK 2018

This Saturday just gone, I went to Synthfest UK 2018

It’s an annual gathering both of makers of electronic gear and the end users – like a big trade show but with a way more personal touch.

Here’s a little vid I made:

As you can see from the vid, there’s a huge range of stuff to look at but, more importantly, you can twiddle with it all!

When I was a kid and when huge music shops like Turnkey still existed as bricks and mortar emporia, I used to go to London specifically to try out synths that you would never see up in Derby.

Going round Synthfest always reminds me of that feeling. Where the hell do I start? I just want to play and patch EVERYTHING but there simply isn’t enough time. It’s equal parts joy and frustration. 

And then there’s the makers. How wonderful it is to go up to the person who built something you own and give them  actual feedback. Every maker I met was as super-enthusiastic as the punters. They were all proud of their shiny metal babies and loved hearing how we used them. 

There’s only one criticism of Synthfest I can make ~ it’s a very white, middle-aged, male event. It’d be lovely to see more younger people, more female geeks wandering about and the same goes for black and Asian noisemakers. This lack of diversity isn’t specifically because Synthfest excludes groups; it’s more that it just replicates the existing biases within the music scene. What we have to do is actively combat those barriers to entry, to reach out to people who may not feel they’re invited or that it’s for them. After all, how much of contemporary music isn’t electronic? 5%? Less?

I think we could start to address this by tweaking the program to be more inclusive and more attractive to different groups of people.

Anyway, polemic over, here’s my gallery of pics from the day:

Synthfest UK 2018

If you’re an electro music geek, whether you’re a builder or a player or both, please do check out the next Synthfest. I think you’ll love it.