Thanks. Your idea about Ryu’toth and Yrro is intriguing; I may use that if I keep my original plot outline. I should really revisit PiD’s story (the game has been way too damn difficult for me to get into every time I’ve tried it, though; I usually die by the second level or so).
(Long post incoming, full of a lot of contradictions and philosophy, and mostly completely unrelated to gameplay, so feel free to skip if this sort of thing bores you. I’ll have another gameplay video at the end to reward people’s patience, along with some much briefer discussion of gameplay – probably only about eight paragraphs, compared to what I’m guessing are around thirty about the story. I’m also going to apologise in advance; I attempted to save a draft of my reply and it looks like it got eated by phpBB, so I’ve rewritten the earliest parts of this from memory and it may not be as well phrased as I’d have liked.)
Anyway, I still like a lot of the ideas in my original plot outline. Some of them were probably a bit confused due to aspects of my thinking not being as fully informed as they are now. I had a poor understanding of most aspects of what is often colloquially referred to as “identity politics”, particularly LGBTQ+ issues and women’s issues. (I hate the term “identity politics”, because it’s generally used to denigrate these issues and imply that there aren’t economic components to the various forms of oppression that accompany them – LGBTQ+ unemployment rates are awful, for example, so of course
LGBTQ+ issues are also economic issues.) And of course, as I mentioned, the romance plot line was awful because of my lack of romantic experience at the time.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write romance in a way that satisfies me, though. I’ve had quite a bit more romantic experience and I still hate my romance writing. But I’m very picky about romance writing. I’ll use the 89th Academy Awards as an example here. I viscerally hated
the ending to La La Land
and have contended since the ceremony that its ending was a major reason it lost Best Picture. Moonlight
, despite its bleak subject matter, wound up being the less cynical and more optimistic film. The ending to LLL
is appallingly cynical, and it’s not remotely satisfying. Moreover, it breaks at least two of the cardinal rules of romance writing that I’m aware of:
I may be biased, because as I’ve mentioned, I went to middle and high school with one of the producers of Moonlight
, but I thought it was a better picture in every way. (In fact, it had already supplanted Pan’s Labyrinth
as my favourite film the moment I’d finished watching it; I’ve never seen a better film.) But it’s a niche film, and its victory was an upset. Some more cynical commentators have suggested the politics surrounding the Oscars may have contributed to its award, but I think the endings of the two films are a frequently underrated factor.
is one of the few great American romantic dramas that actually has a happy ending. (I’m not sure it makes sense to call it a Hollywood film, since it was mostly filmed in Miami, with a few scenes in Atlanta; as a person who’s lived in Florida for most of their life, I can authoritatively assert that it’s a very Floridian film. The writers and director are, for that matter, Miami natives.) But seriously, think of other great Hollywood romantic dramas like Gone with the Wind
; it’s rare for the main couple to end up together. (I’d give a spoiler warning, but these films are nearly 80 years old, and since merely mentioning their names in this context is the spoiler, it’d be difficult to give a useful one.) That seems to be the provenance of British films for the most part – e.g., any film of a Jane Austen novel – or romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally
Moreover, it didn’t feel like Moonlight
’s ending was shoehorned in to sugar-coat hard truths:
In short, the ending felt earned, largely through some very well-drawn character development. (The language in this film is absolutely beautiful
, I should note, though it’s also used sparsely; a lot of the storytelling falls under “show, don’t tell”.)
So, if I’m trying to get into the head of an Oscar voter, I’m probably going to think hard about the endings. The ending of La La Land
infuriated me, and the ending of Moonlight
gave me the WAFF that Oscar voters seem to love. I think that’s ultimately what pushed it over the edge.
But that said, while a lot of people justifiably didn’t like La La Land
’s ending, most of them didn’t get viscerally angry
about it like I did. I left the cinema furious about two fictional characters to an extent I couldn’t rationally justify. So, as I’ve said, I’m clearly picky about romance writing. And because I’m picky about others
’ writing, I find it unlikely I’ll ever be able to be satisfied with mine; I tend to be even more exacting with my own writing than I am with others’. Hence why so much of this project has blank terminals, and why I spent 20-odd years working on it off and off before I released any of it. So I think the romance plot line is a dead end.
I think there are a lot of other good ideas in there, though. Unfortunately, because I hoarded the project to myself and didn’t think to try to get other people to work on it, I got beaten to the punch on many of them and now it looks like I’m copying others’ ideas. I had the idea of extensive branching timelines before Rubicon
was a thing. I think Gemini Station
may have inspired me to pursue it seriously, but I’d thought about the idea even before then – it was tempting purely from the fact that Marathon
allows you to teleport players to any level. But, of course, Rubicon
Tycho’s heel-face turn, too, was an idea I had before Rubicon X
, even though I made extensive reference to Rubicon
in my summary (I wrote the summary in 2008; I’d begun working on this idea in 1999 or thereabouts. I dunno exactly; I don’t have my first alpha CD anymore, so I don’t know for certain what was in the scenario before 2004). But of course, Rubicon
(I find it fairly surreal how much of Rubicon
mirrors my own thinking. I wish I had written the Dangi plot line, or the dream terminals. The dream story continues Infinity
’s so seamlessly it’s surreal, and I love
where they took it.)
I think a few of these are almost inevitable ideas, though. If you want to develop the characters in interesting ways, it’s not really satisfying to leave Tycho as an unambiguous villain, and it doesn’t really even make sense, given that he was reanimated in Durandal’s image. Durandal didn’t remain unambiguously villainous, so why would Tycho? But at the same time, it’s also somewhat surprising for him to start displaying signs of concern for others’ welfare. Or it would be if it hadn’t been done before.
In any case, there are some contradictions in my original plot ideas, and they’re reflective of issues I’m still working through. There’s something of a Luddite streak to my original plot idea, which is a particularly bizarre direction for a computer game. And it’s a reflection of my own views, which I’ve never satisfactorily resolved. I have something of a Luddite streak, but I also spend an absurd amount of my time on computers and am an IT major. It’s not that I think technology should be destroyed, as the original Luddites did. But I think they had a point about how technology can frequently usurp humanity’s welfare. I think technology should be managed
. And this is a fine line that it’s often difficult for people to walk, I think.
I may have mentioned recently that my job is in the process of being automated. It’s an intellectual labour-intensive job; I suspect only about 2% of the population could actually do it. It’s a research job for TV ratings. (I’m not going to mention my current employer’s name, because I don’t want this to be construed as speaking for them in any way, and in any case, you already thought of their name as soon as you heard “TV ratings”.) There are an absurd amount of technical rules to keep track of (seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were over 100) to ensure the process is done correctly; it requires knowledge of how broadcast TV stations and cable/satellite lineups work, a fair amount of computer expertise and ability to find things online, and a strong attention to detail. And there are probably numerous other skills I’ve omitted; I’m probably understating the difficulty of the position quite a bit. I’ve routinely said that my first position at the company was algebra and my current one is calculus.
But the whole TV diary program is being replaced by an automated reader of people’s viewing habits, so it’s becoming completely superfluous. I’m not trying to condemn my employer for doing this, really; the advertisers and TV stations that give them their revenue are asking for more precise information than TV diaries can provide. (If nothing else, the diaries are only marked for every fifteen minutes, so channel surfing is completely impossible to record accurately. Additionally, as might be expected, quite a few diary keepers make errors, and there’s nothing we can do about those; with only one exception I can think of [moving programs ±12 hours], we have to record the input as the diary keeper wrote
it, rather than how we think they meant it.) I feel this is a sort of “don’t hate the player; hate the game” situation. If they didn’t automate the process, it’s entirely possible someone else would hone in on their territory. Moreover, they’re doing quite a lot to help us find other work, which is nice, and they’ve given us nice bonuses. I’ve had much more unpleasant employment experiences, to say the least (I won’t even get into my time in retail).
But automation is a much broader problem, and it’s going to leave large swathes of the population without work. So this is where I get back to managing technology. The goal of technology should be to make people’s lives better, but “make people’s lives better” itself has a nebulous definition. First of all, which people? Technology that enriches one person’s life may make others’ lives harder. (Surveillance comes to mind; the toxic corporate culture at companies like Uber may also be a relevant consideration here.) Secondly, there are of course potential side effects that may escape consideration – the automotive and climate change seem like a relevant case study here.
But of course, I condemn the pollution that causes climate change, but I drive an automobile. So we’re into the inherent contradictions of humanity here. In effect, by participating in human society, I am contributing to the problems humanity is creating. I deplore factory farms, but I still eat meat. (I was vegetarian for four years, but found I wasn’t getting enough protein. I suspect I have very strong bitter taste buds, so I have limited – and, frankly, I suspect poor – taste in food.) And so on. I’ve come to the conclusion that there isn’t a human alive who isn’t guilty of some aspect of hypocrisy.
And I think that might actually be where I want to go with this plot: to explore the inherent mess of contradictions that is humanity. That, and the idea that failure is necessary for growth.
Another contradiction I want to explore is my own fascination with this violent computer game when, in reality, I think violence rarely solves problems permanently. WWII is the main exception I can think of here, and it’s a big one. My paternal grandfather’s race could’ve been subjected to a complete genocide if the Allies had lost WWII. But – this is one example that I even mentioned in the current game’s terminals – we funded the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviets, then when we withdrew funding, we wound up with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We went into Iraq to depose Saddam, and Daesh (or ISIS, as some people refer to them) came out of it. (I did not support this invasion in the first place, to be clear.) Sometimes killing one monster creates a bigger monster, and it’s difficult to know in advance when that will be.
The other problem is that Western media trains us to think in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys”, and in reality it’s rarely that clear-cut. I see good and bad ideas
everywhere, but frequently one person holds or is responsible for both at the same time. To quote Gaiman and Pratchett, two of my favourite authors:
And just when you'd think they were more malignant than ever Hell could be, they could occasionally show more grace than Heaven ever dreamed of. Often the same individual was involved. It was this free-will thing, of course. It was a bugger.
It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.
(Both quotes from Good Omens
.) These are two of the wisest observations on humanity I’ve ever read, and I try to keep them in mind throughout my own writing.
Usually it’s not just as simple as just taking out the bad person and having everything fall into place afterwards. And I mentioned WWII: if not for the Marshall Plan, it’s entirely possible there would’ve been a WWIII and a WWIV. There were some frequently unnoticed, unpleasant undersides to the Marshall Plan (some of the U.S.’ anticommunist actions under the Plan bordered on interference with democratic elections), but on the whole, the amount of aid distributed after the war is a large part of the reason Europe was stable and peaceful for as long as it was. (With Brexit and the instability of countries like Italy, Greece, and Hungary, I’m not sure it qualifies as stable any longer, though I hope conditions will improve.)
So… I’m ambivalent about the ability of violence to solve problems. I think it should be a last resort. It’s necessary to be able to protect oneself and sometimes others less fortunate than oneself, and sometimes that requires the ability to commit acts of violence. But if you’re thinking of violence before you’ve exhausted diplomacy – before you’ve exhausted conversation, really – then, unless you’re talking about Nazis or something, then things have gone terribly wrong. (Even with today’s Nazis, I’m still a bit ambivalent, even though their ideology literally wants me dead on multiple counts [Jewish, disabled, queer] – a lot of these groups are cult-like, and a lot of their members can probably be deprogrammed through nonviolent means. Violent confrontation may still be necessary in many cases, though.)
There aren’t too many people in human history whom I’d think of as without flaws. Mr. Rogers, probably. Mr. Rogers was practically a saint. Rep. John Lewis is probably my closest living candidate for sainthood, at least among Americans (I’d mention other nationalities, but I’m less certain about them because I don’t feel I understand their politics well enough to make definitive judgements). But even many of my heroes had serious flaws – Martin Luther King, Jr. was apparently serially unfaithful, for example. Similarly, there aren’t too many people whom I’d think of as without redeeming features. Hitler, of course. Maybe Stalin, though I’m thankful the Soviet Union was on the Allied side in the latter part of WWII. I’m not going to get into my thoughts on living people in whom I can’t find redeeming features; it’s a whole can of worms I don’t care to open, since I can and have written tens of thousands of words on it. Even, say, Vladimir Putin, whom I find absolutely abhorrent, still has a few of what TV Tropes might describe as the Evil Virtues
(though nowhere near all of them). But there are a few living people in whom I don’t even see any of those
So… I have mixed feelings on the whole idea
of heroes and villains these days; I don’t think it’s that reflective of real life. To be clear, I think there are
people in real life who are basically what we’d describe as villains; probably around 1% of the population is probably irredeemable, at least with current technology, medical understanding, psychology, etc. I’m not aware of reliable treatments for psychopathy, antisocial personality disorder, and similar disorders whose sufferers tend to be dangers to others. And so there are some people who, for lack of better options, have to be put away from the general populace, and whom it’ll probably never be safe to release. Mostly sex criminals, unrepentant murderers, and the like.
But on the whole, an awful lot of plots essentially boil down to “kill the right long-haired pretty boy and everything else will fall into place.” (Well, the “long-haired pretty boy” part mostly comes from JRPGs and anime, but “kill the right villain” does seem to be an awful lot of plots.) But, of course, it’s rarely that simple.
And yet I’m obsessively playing this 22-year-old first person shooter, and still interested in creating maps for it. So what does that say about me?
One option is to go down the Spec Ops: The Line
path and deconstruct the first-person shooter genre itself, to make the player question the entire purpose of the genre. I haven’t actually played Spec Ops
(though I want to at some point), but reviews seem to suggest that the only ethically sound option the game leaves the player is the War Games
chestnut. “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.” Otherwise it’s necessary to commit atrocities.
To be honest, Infinity
kind of did this already, too, though it didn’t explore the ramifications as directly as Spec Ops
apparently does. But the levels where the player is allied with Tycho and has to kill Bobs who yell at the player for the betrayal… they’re uncomfortable, and clearly intended to be so. In some ways, this is a precursor to Spec Ops
(and yet another example of how Mac games often get written out of gaming history).
I’m not entirely sure I want to go down this route, though. I don’t fully grok the point of creating a scenario when the best option I intend the player to have from an ethical standpoint is to… not play it.
Another option is the metafiction route. I’ve seen games try this before, and it was… odd. The example that comes most readily to mind is Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
. I loved
the first two thirds of the game, though I’ve only played it once (and with my ex-girlfriend, who honestly was doing a lot more of the playing than I was; she was much better at it. She was probably much better at games overall, honestly). But the last third goes into metafiction territory, and… it’s weird. I don’t know if it really works. It’s definitely controversial.
If I went into the metafiction route, I could explore the divide between playing violent video games and… not really being a violent person. But this is a really difficult line to walk effectively, particularly if you’re retconning a long-established franchise into… basically being a franchise in its own universe as well, I guess you’d say. I don’t know if I’m yet a skilled enough fiction writer to pull this off. I have fairly high confidence in my nonfiction writing ability, but I think this twist would require a large amount of world-building skill to execute effectively, and I’m not confident I possess it. To be honest, I’ve never written anything like this. The only way to build skill at such plots is, of course, to write them, but it would be a time-consuming and possibly emotionally draining effort to do so.
I’m still thinking on other options. One option is to simply have the AIs themselves address it – lampshade hanging, in TV Tropes terminology. And, of course, we could get into Necessary War territory, and many of the player’s actions qualify here – in fact, we can find direct parallels to the Civil War given the slavery aspect of the plot. (I’ve also read some parallels between the S’pht and the Jews, but that may be a bias produced by my own ethnic identity… though, honestly, I didn’t think too much about my Jewish background before the resurgence of antisemitism in the past few years, and I’ve seen these parallels for decades. I think I’ll have to reread M2’s terminals and some of M∞’s before I can clearly elucidate why I see them.) WWII was a Necessary War, but I don’t think there are many others in at least the last 104 years of human history (before WWI I get a bit murky) – the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War are the only others I can think of from American history, all of which are arguably wars of self-defence (or at least self-determination).
I’ll return now to my point above about failure. Personal growth, I would contend, is frequently born out of failure. It’s sometimes said that experience is the harshest teacher there is, and sometimes that experience is the best
teacher there is. I’d contend that a lot of the lessons that stick the hardest are lessons taught by failure.
I was painfully naïve when I came out of high school, because honestly, I’d rarely failed at anything I’d attempted. I was hopelessly unprepared for college – for a lot of reasons, including autism-spectrum disorder, which I wasn’t even aware I had
at first. I don’t know when I was actually diagnosed, but I only learned I had the disorder in 2001, at age 18 – basically after I’d failed every class of my first semester, because I didn’t have the life skills to attend class and keep up with assignments.
I experienced a lot of failure after that – probably too much at points; I felt completely broken for the greater half of the years from 2001 to about 2015, with only a happy relationship from mid-2003 to late 2005 (well, happy until it dissolved) truly breaking up the monotony. And I honestly feel like I’m coming full circle by writing about this here
. Because I had nothing else to cling to – my entire support system had crumbled into nothingness; I only even had one close friend at the time – I began working obsessively on this scenario. I probably constructed more in the time period from 2001-2002 than I did at any other point, except maybe right after I first got the game in 1997. I certainly developed my plot ideas a lot more at that point than I had before then.
But a large number of major life lessons I’ve had have come from learning, essentially, “That doesn’t work; stop doing it.” It’s one of the most important lessons I’ve had, and crucially, I think my sense of empathy for others would be astonishingly underdeveloped if I hadn’t learned it.
I’m not sure I’m adequately putting this into words, but I think if you don’t know what a low point feels like, you won’t be able to appreciate it when others go through their low points. If your failures don’t have meaningful consequences, you won’t know how others feel when they experience failure. Similarly, if you are insulated from the consequences of your own actions, you will be less able to appreciate how they affect others.
But failure is practically a dirty word in popular culture. The only film I can think of that really explicitly addresses this theme is, oddly, The Last Jedi
. (Well, Avengers: Infinity War
) A lot of people hated The Last Jedi
because of how it deconstructed and subverted traditional Star Wars
tropes and showed the meaningful consequences of failure in the Star Wars
universe. But I loved it for the exact same reason. I’m not sure where it actually fits in my ranking of Star Wars
films in terms of quality
(that’s a difficult thing to measure, since it’s trying to rate something intrinsically subjective on a scale purpose-built for objectivity, and I’ve mostly given up trying to rank “best”; I usually only try to rank “favourites”); actually, I might consider it something of a noble artistic failure. Which is kind of fitting, given its themes. But in terms of how much it spoke to me, I’d probably rank it only below The Empire Strikes Back
and maybe Rogue One
There are a few other films and TV shows about failure, about showing how it feeds personal growth. But not many. I think there need to be more. Of course, it’s not just failure that’s important; it’s how you react to it. The old saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” seems relevant. I’ve been guilty of this on several occasions. I still procrastinate far too much, though psychological disorders have been to blame on a few recent occasions (long story; I may tell it some other time). If you react to your own failure by becoming bitter and casting blame on others, you won’t experience any growth from it. There are certainly times when it’s appropriate to blame others, but an important aspect of maturity is the ability to accept responsibility for your own actions, even when they’re things you’re not proud of. When they’re mistakes, you might say.
This… is actually an important aspect of Infinity
’s story as well, I think. The game involves several failures before the player actually finds a successful timeline. (The demo states this explicitly: “As you already knew. We were too late. Nothing can be done now. We have failed.” Possibly this was changed for the final release because it was considered to spell out the game’s themes too bluntly.) Eternal
incorporates this as well, with its branching failure points – you can skip these, but you miss out on a lot of the story and character development if you do.
I might still want to go with my original “branching timelines” idea, but I’m thinking of presenting it more in the fashion of Infinity
, where it’s mostly presented linearly, as though the player were learning from mistakes (the player can skip from “Electric Sheep One” to “Electric Sheep Two”, though, conveniently eliminating the hardest chunk of the game from “Acme Station” to “Post Naval Trauma”. I don’t know why there weren’t more oxygen rechargers; if I were rehashing these levels, that’d be the first thing I’d fix, and as shown above, I already did so for my gimmicky “Acme” remake). I’d need a lot more content, though. I might go rescue some content from unfinished Big House scenarios that were released to the public and see if it can fit in with my narrative/gameplay/textures (assuming it’s fun to play, of course).
I dunno. Most of this is idle speculation. Here’s some gameplay.
“Here Comes the Flood” through most of “Burn Down the Mission” (fka “Idioteque”)
(I changed the name of “Idioteque” because it didn’t really seem to fit the level thematically; there was nothing about women and children in bunkers or, for that matter, idiocy in the level. The Elton John song is a bit more relevant if you read its lyrics, though still not perfect. If I find something even more thematically appropriate I’ll probably change it again.)
I died because I fucked up after the secret in “Burn Down the Mission”; I should’ve reloaded before activating the Fighters. To be honest, I’m probably going to change the secret to have a 3x recharge can rather than 2x; it’s brutally difficult to leave you with .5x shields on TC when you get out of the slime. And the maser kind of sucks because I made it persistent and virulent, but that’s never worked as intended; it gives blowback to the player, which is dumb. (I’ve also read somewhere that the “persistent and virulent” flag occasionally crashes M2/Infinity/Aleph One, but I’ve never actually experienced this.) There’s apparently a Lua fix somewhere that I need to implement.
As always, comments/suggestions for improvements/praise/offers of assistance and/or employment are welcome. I’d particularly like comments on level design, gameplay, etc. And especially on difficulty. I intrinsically know some levels are much better than others, and I’ve actually received specific praise for “The Black Angel’s Death Song”, but I don’t know how most of these levels play to people who haven’t already practically memorised their design/monster placement/etc.
And as for difficulty – most of these early levels are pretty easy for me, even on TC, but other people have said they’re hard. I don’t want this to be some sort of thing like Phoenix
where people have to turn down the difficulty by one or two levels from what they’re used to just to enjoy playing it. There are a few things I’m not sure about. The Enforcers’ shots may be too powerful; three of them will usually kill a player with 1x shields on Normal and above. This is probably also a large part of the reason the alien weapon is so overpowered (along with the fact that it has 255 shots per clip). Should I change this? The Hunters’ shots are also really powerful; I think four of them will kill players with 1x shields on Normal and above. This doesn’t really leave a lot of room for failure.
But if I change these things, I’ll have to rebalance the gameplay significantly. I can nerf the alien weapon, but I might need to add more ammo on a few levels (probably not many; there’s way more ammo in this scenario than any player of reasonable skill should need to finish it, even on TC). I’ll alter the player’s fighter staff so it doesn’t push enemies back so far, but I’ll probably have to alter other aspects of the gameplay because it might make some segments (e.g., ones with lots of enemies in confined spaces) more difficult to clear out. And so on.
I kind of want to leave the Fighters as they are, but people even complained about the difficulty of “Everyone I Went to High School With Is Dead”, which only contains Fighters and A-Bobs as enemies.
IDK. Most of the game is pretty easy to me (“Please Excuse Our Dust”/“To Make an Idol of Our Fear and Call It God”, “Tighter & Tighter”, and “Kill Your Sons” are probably the hardest levels), but I’ve played it for so long that I know all the tricks; I know where to duck and cover, which weapons work in which rooms, how to draw out enemies where possible, how to get the troopers to kill themselves with grenades where possible, etc. I built the damn things, for the most part (remixes like “Kill Your Sons”, which puts “Begging for Mercy Makes Me Angry!” and “Hang Brain” together, aside, though I’ve still played these a lot too), so I’m not a reliable judge of their difficulty, particularly to people going in blind. (If you didn’t watch any gameplay videos yet, I particularly want your comments on this.)
So yeah. Thanks in advance for any constructive feedback.
ETA: …I guess my ideas can’t
have been all bad if Rubicon
used two of the same ones I did. I don’t know why I never thought of it that way before. It was mostly my execution that left a lot to be desired.
Also a third Nightmare Heaven video
. This one doesn’t have the merged physics model (I forget why) but does show the parts of the level that were blocked off in both previous ones I posted, IIRC. For some reason one of the tag switches doesn’t work. VML is weird; if someone has an explanation for why it’s acting this way, I’d be much obliged.