Tuesday, January 31, 2012

.hack//Sign: Welcome to the World

[Welcome to my trip through .hack//SIGN]
[The first post in this series is here.]

Having devoted an entire post to the first minute or so of the episode, it's hopefully clear that things aren't as the should be. Tsukasa starts the episode unconscious on the ground then gets up shaking and in pain. He should not be in pain, and it should have been impossible for anything in the game to knock him unconscious.

After he gets up he tries to remember what's going on but this is quickly interrupted by another player showing up. Tsukasa will be approached five times in this episode before he has any idea what's going on. In every instance, with one possible exception where it's difficult to be sure, his immediate reaction is fear. In two cases (including the one where he might not be afraid) he acts as if he's expecting to be attacked.

Somehow I never noticed it before, but here, at the beginning, Tsukasa is afraid every time someone shows up. I find myself reminded of Parker's assessment of Luka from the Leverage episode The Stork Job. Specifically where she notes Luka's flinch. Tsukasa is not an orphan, but I think it's fair to say he's expecting the same thing. He's afraid of people, he expects them to hurt him.

This particular meeting is not one where he prepares for an attack because Mimiru, the player who has arrived behind him, is immediately disarming in the cheerful way she greets him. But it's not enough to get a response from him. So she asks if he's alright and, when she notices that he's a wavemaster (magic user) working alone speculates he must be powerful. (He isn't, he's just very, very solitary. So he works alone even though, given the class he's chosen, it would be wiser to be part of a group.)

Tsukasa uses is sprite ocarina (his “Beam Me up Scotty” device) to leave without saying a word. It's not the best introduction. But it is an important introduction and I want to take a moment to talk about destiny because of it.

I'm not completely sure how to think about free will in .hack because on the one hand there is a very powerful external force that tries to force the characters into a specific narrative, and you'd think that opposing that would be exercising free will, but on the other hand I do see the hand of destiny helping the characters in their opposition. If you refuse to do what you're told, and destiny helps you succeed in that refusal, is that exercising free will or allowing yourself to be determined? I honestly have no idea.

What I do know is that I see destiny doing very little, leaving the rest to the individuals, but the little bit that it does do is critical. I was originally going to say that it gets you where you need to go and the rest is up to you, but even that overstates things. Where I do see it operating is in introductions. This scene, right here, where Tsukasa and Mimiru meet, is one of the places that I see destiny in action.

Tsukasa doesn't interact with people, presumably in part because he's afraid of them at first, yet the handful of interactions he does have are, almost universally, the right people. Worthy of particular note are the people he meets by chance in this episode, Mimiru and Bear, because they are ideal people for him to meet. Quite possibly the absolute best people he could have met. Of the more than 20 million people playing the game, the small handful he meets are the right ones. 

Sometimes in stories who the characters are doesn't matter that much, someone else in their place would have risen to the occasion as well. I don't think that's the case in .hack. I think that if Tsukasa had met random other people instead of the people he did meet the most likely outcome would be abject failure.

Later in the series someone will say that meeting is the result of the divine, while parting is the result human action. Another will claim that a random meeting must have meaning because the participants wouldn't have been brought together otherwise. I think they're right. In this story the only explicit higher power (higher than humans I mean) acts through heavy handed means and is evil. But if one looks at the meetings, the way people are brought together by what on the surface seems to be random chance, there seems to be a subtler power at work. One that doesn't do much, but what it does is very helpful.


We next see Tsukasa sitting against a well under a vibrant blue and purple sky near a colorful windmill. I haven't mentioned it before, but it has to be said that this series is beautiful. Anyway, Tsukasa is trying to figure out what's going on. He doesn't remember what he was doing or where he is. That second question is one that I'd like to know more about because as is I'm not sure whether I should interpret it as him not knowing he's in a game, or something else.

A beetle crawls over his foot while he's thinking.

Then he hears people approaching, again his first response is fear, this time he gets ready for an attack. It turns out to be three knights in armor. Out front is Silver Knight (apparently that's his name) who has armor that's different from the others.  It has more red, horns on his helmet, and the eyes of his helmet are red. Further back and to either side are knights in what will turn out to be more standard armor, no red above the waist, gray above the waist, blue eyes in the helmet.

I note that the knight on the right (when you're looking at them) is wider than the one on the left. This is an online game, there's no need for the avatar to match the person. This character is wider than standard because the player wanted him to be wider. The same goes for every character in the game. They look the way they look because their player wanted them to look that way. I bring this up because the fact that the game doesn't force everyone to be skinny isn't something we could have taken for granted.

On the other hand, all of the main characters have chosen avatars that fit into the usual standard of beauty, so it's not exactly an overwhelming victory for acceptance of a broad range of body types.

Anyway, the knights speak:

Silver Knight: We're not here to fight. We're the 13th squadron of the Crimson Knights. I'm sure you've heard of us.

Right Knight: We Crimson Knights value courage, civility, and tolerance. We were formed to look after The World and ensure it's smooth operation.

Left Knight: We are constantly keeping watch on any illegal activities within The World.

The Crimson Knights are a player group, not a sanctioned police force. They work with the system administration where possible, but it's not as if the system administration and they have exactly the same goals

For example, the Crimson Knights are very much against what's called player killing, which is when one player kills another's character.  (I don't think they'd object if the combat happened by mutual consent, we're talking about killing people who didn't agree to fight to the death.)  The CC Corporation that runs the game can't be against it all that much otherwise they wouldn't have created a set of rules that allowed for that kind of player vs. player violence.

The CC stance on it isn't quite anything goes, it seems to be more of, “You can do it if you want, but don't get caught,” because there is an implication that reporting a player killer to them, doubtless accompanied by an appeal like, “This person keeps on killing our characters and it's really making it so a lot of players can't enjoy the game,” would have the potential to make a difference.  They're simply not interested doing anything to make it impossible to kill off another player's character.  The Crimson Knights probably would if they could.

Anyway, the distinction between the knights and the administration is important because it means that the Crimson Knights have neither the authority nor the access to information that the administration has, and it's also indicative of the hands off approach the CC Corporation takes. The reason that the Crimson Knights are authority figures in the game in spite of being just players themselves is that the CC Corporation doesn't have a presence in the game and thus there is no official authority inside the game.

Back to the conversation, I can't say definitively how Tsukasa responds because the subtitles and the English dialog don't agree (and I don't understand Japanese.) He either says that he's of no interest to them, in which case they respond that they're interested in everyone, or he says that "that" (their mission) has nothing to do with him, in which case they say it has to do with everyone.

There's a pretty big difference between, “You're of interest to me,” and, “What I'm doing concerns you,” but it pales in comparison to some of the other divergences between the spoken English and the English subtitles. At one point a character will say, “But I'll betray you,” in one which will be, “But you'll have to trust me,” in the other. “What music are you listening to?” in one will be, “What are you thinking?” in the other.

This does not inspire confidence in the translation.

I love the show, but there are some definite translation issues here. I think that I generally prefer the subtitles, which is unfortunate because I'd rather not have them superimposed on the screen. I want my picture clear of obstructions.

Back to the conversation again, it turns out that this isn't a random meeting. The knights have sought out Tsukasa because he was seen with someone who shouldn't exist. An anthropomorphic cat. They assume, incorrectly, that the cat is a player who illegally modified his or her avatar. They want more information and assure Tsukasa that if he tells them what he knows that'll be the end of it and they'll not inconvenience him further.

That does actually jog a memory in Tsukasa, but not enough to answer any of their questions even if he wanted to. He beams away. They decide that it might be worth monitoring Tsukasa.


Tsukasa lands at a big spinning hoop with a sort of blue light filling it. This is called the chaos gate.  I'll confess that I don't fully understand how this is supposed to work. I know that you use to to change servers, and that you use it log out, but where I'm less clear is whether it's the case that all beaming has to be via the chaos gate on the local server. I'm pretty sure that's the case, but I'm not completely sure.*

Anyway, Mimiru beams in. Tsukasa is afraid when he hears someone beaming (technically it's called warping), and when she isn't happy to see him (she sort of grunts and turns up her nose) he backs away.

The scene cuts to them a short distance away having a conversation. They're operating from completely different premises and thinking in completely different ways. The conversation never stood a chance of ending well.

First, Tsukasa ignores Mimiru in favor of a beetle that's taken to crawling on his staff. By blocking it's path he makes it go back and forth. While he's doing this Mimiru is asking if he always warps away from people (she saw him do it to the knights) and telling him she doesn't think it's a good idea.

Then Tsukasa dismisses her concerns because he thinks it doesn't matter once he logs out. That idea goes against everything Mimiru believes about human interaction and I think she actually handles having it thrown at her pretty well.

Mimiru believes that the internet is just like the real world. Being a jerk on the internet is the same as being a jerk in real life. The fact that you can log off doesn't change the fact that you shouldn't be rude and should consider others. This is something she's willing to argue for quite forcefully. But she doesn't do it here, she just says that's not what she means.

Then Tsukasa visibly realizes that something is wrong, Mimiru asks what it is, Tsukasa stands up quickly, says he can't explain, and starts to walk away.

Mimiru tries a different tack, she points out that if he keeps acting this way he won't be welcome and asks what he plans on doing when the knights catch up with him. First he says that that might be fun, then he says that if he doesn't want to deal with it he'll just stay offline for a while.

Once again, this goes against everything Mimiru believes about how one ought to behave online. For her, “I started something and don't want to deal with the consequences so I'll act like it doesn't matter and ignore it,” is not an acceptable stance.

She makes a prescriptive statement, “That is not the way the game is played!” Tsukasa responds by pointing out that The World has no objective and its up to the players how to play, a descriptive statement.

Mimiru is talking about consequences within the game; Tsukasa is talking about consequences once you're no longer playing. Mimiru is talking about how the game should be played; Tsukasa is talking about how the game can be played. Mimiru is talking about needing to deal with consequences; Tsukasa is talking about the ability to avoid them.

They might as well be in different worlds at the moment.

Tsukasa tries to log out, we see the process start from his perspective, wind blows his hair around, colors change, he starts to lift of the ground. Then something goes wrong. Red light, a tone of wrongness, the colors change, he drops back to earth (only a few inches), and finds himself exactly where he started. He's confused, he looks around and sees that Mimiru is watching**, she's confused by his confusion. He turns to her, says he doesn't like her, and warps away.

Which is a horrible way to end a conversation, and leaves her thinking he's a jerk.

I'm going to stop here for now. The fact that Tsukasa couldn't log out is a good note to end on.


*If it is, then I'm also not sure why the knights didn't follow him, and the only explanation I can offer in that case is that they might have assumed he'd just beam away from there and they'd have no idea where to.

**Pretty sure that the most it would look like from her perspective is him rising and falling a few inches, maybe not even that much.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

.hack//Sign, Before the first words are spoken

After watching the series to refresh my memory there's so much I want to say about so many things. I worry that if I don't write it all down I'll forget it all, there are things I want to say about the very last scene in the the final episode. Even if I go at a rate of an episode a week it'll be half a year before I get there.

Anyway, mixed in with all of this thinking was the realization that I probably have enough to say about what takes place before the first word is spoken to make a post in itself. As Kit Whitfield has demonstrated, there's a lot to be said about the very beginning of something.

So, though I should be working on Latin, I think I'm going to talk about how .hack starts. Before I do that though, if you'd like to actually see and hear what I'm talking about I have links for you. The series came out on DVD in six installments, the first installment was called “Login”. I got the Special collector's edition of Login that cost lots of money and came with a stuffed animal. For most people it would probably make more sense to get the not so special not so collector's edition of Login that costs a lot less money and does not come with a stuffed animal.

I highly recommend you get it and watch it, but, then again, I would. Hopefully this series of posts will give you some insight into why I think it's worth the time and money, though I probably won't demonstrate that in the first post.

I will spoil things pretty consistently, so if you want to watch unspoiled you're probably not going to want to read these posts yet.


Episode 1: Roleplay

After the opening credits we find ourselves in a place of sand dunes, which turns out to be a beach, or possibly a desert that reaches to the beach, a giant monolithic black thing that I occasionally feel looks like a giant bizarrely misshapen cell phone has a screen on it light up, a low note is played, and we switch to the next scene.

I cannot justify any of what I just said. Having watched the series multiple times I still have no idea what we're to make of it and it seems to have no connection to anything else. It's over very quickly, doesn't seem to be important in any way, I generally ignore it.

The next scene we meet Tsukasa, who will be our main character. He's unconscious on the ground at first in a chamber that appears to be defined by a rib cage. It's a dungeon (place to go on adventures and fight monsters, not a place to keep prisoners) in the game The World.

When he wakes up he starts to make noise, and that's what I'm going to be talking about today.

.hack is a very talky series, and Deus Ex is (or at least can be) a very talky video game, so perhaps it is the case that I'm a very talky person. Though that would be somewhat odd since given a choice between a movie with a bunch of explosions and one with a bunch of taking, I'll almost certainly pick the explosion one.

For all of it's talking though there's also a lot of non-verbal vocalization. Sounds of surprise, confusion, joy, or disappointment. The sound of beginning to speak but never actually forming a word that Eddie Izzard demonstrates so well when talking about British movies*. The grunt of acknowledgment, oddly not the groan of understanding**, screams of frustration, indications of tiredness. The half breaths that one has when they've cried so much they can't take a full breath anymore and are left doing something that's neither gasping nor ordinary breathing but somewhere in between.

A lot of times I notice myself focusing on pauses when I write dialog, it's just how I think about things, .hack seems to look a lot at about those things that are spoken but are not words.

That includes sounds of pain.

And sounds of pain are where we start. Tsukasa starts to pick himself up, shaking, and making pained noises. But the noises aren't right for the setting. Videogames frequently have sounds to indicate pain, but I've never encountered ones that have this kind of sound. It's simply not the right sound for a game.

In a game when I hear my character in pain it's because something just happened. I was hit or shot or what have you. I found out that the hazmat suit didn't fully protect me from the contaminated water. The sound is there to let me the player know that something is wrong, my character is being damaged. And thus the sound goes away when the damage stops. The pain doesn't linger, my character doesn't keep feeling the pain.

Tsukasa's pain is one that didn't go away when the stimulus stopped. He was hurt, and even though he is no longer being hurt he is still hurting. Everything about him indicates that he is still affected by what has come before. He shakes as he pushes himself off the ground. The sounds he makes are of one aching. He puts his hand to his head because that appears to hurt as well. And that shouldn't be happening.

When I described The World as an audio visual experience in the last post that's because it's all it is. It is not tactile or olfactory. Ir is not anything but visuals and sounds. It's what you see and hear, not what you touch, or smell and certainly not pain.

Yet that's what Tsukasa is feeling right now. If you've ever crashed face first into the ground then how he's acting is probably somewhat familiar. Yes, the impact hurts, but it's not like you're all better once the immediate pain of impact goes away.  Other pain lingers.

Tsukasa should not be feeling this. Tsukasa should not be making these noises or moving this way. The game shouldn't cause pain. It can't. It's just a headset hooked up to a computer. Your body is safe in the real world operating the controls either on a controller or a keyboard. There's no way for pain to be caused except perhaps finger strain. This cannot happen, and yet it is.

The only suffering that should be able to be inflicted is psychological. For the game to cause physical pain is impossible. And yet here it is happening. It's the first of many impossibilities.

When Tsukasa puts his hand to his head he feels that there's slime on it. Again, impossible. His hand should be on a controller. Reaching his hand to his head might cause him to bonk himself in the head with the controller, it would not actually have his character's hand touch his character's head (to make his character touch his head he'd need to actually use the controller) and if he did punch the keys necessary for a hand on his head emote from his character, he still shouldn't feel the slime.

He picks up his other hand, also slimy, and looks that the way the slime acts when he presses his fingers together and pulls them apart, doubtless feeling the sensation as well.

He gets all the way to his feet, with some more pained sounds on the way up, and stands unsteadily while he tries to figure out what's going on. He looks a at treasure chest in front of him as he tries to remember how he got here.

The impossibilities surround Tsukasa will drive the entire series, his memories will play a pretty big role as well. They're fragmented and unclear and in some cases wholly false. He doesn't know it yet, but he doesn't remember who he is.


It's impossible to know how much a viewer will know about what they're seeing coming into something. My first exposure to .hack was seeing the 9th episode with absolutely no information on what the series was about. Others presumably heard about it ahead of time and given that it's currently part of a major series across various forms of media a lot of people probably know quite a bit coming into their first viewing. On the other hand some people probably know as little as I did.

Without knowledge of the setting this is just an unconscious person standing up, being somewhat shaky and achy, and really good music in the background (you can basically add that to the description of just about any scene in the series.) It's over fairly quickly, a minute maybe less, and you probably wouldn't take a lot from it. On second and later viewings it becomes unmissable that everything about this is impossible. There is no way for Tsukasa to feel that pain. There's no way for him to feel that slime.

It can't happen; it is happening. And that's what the series is built around.


There is no question that for me the primary draw to the series is Tsukasa. As some who has had to deal with depression and feelings of isolation and some of the other stuff Tsukasa has to face (though thankfully not all of it) I identify very strongly with the character.

It's recently occurred to me that there's another reason as well.

I lost interest in CSI a long time ago because nothing ever gets better. Nothing can get better. They're dealing with dead people. Everything has already gone wrong. Episodes will either be depressing or more depressing. They catch the killer or the killer gets away but for the victim nothing. Sometimes it turns out that the victim died for no reason whatsoever. Someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time, someone put the wrong name on flowers, chaos theory conspired to kill a girl in a senseless way. Every time it's like a punch to the gut, and ever episode delivers the same message: it never, ever, gets better. On the rare occasion that they have a living victim (I think I've only seen it once) you know that person is going to die.

Oddly I don't have the same reaction to NCIS, I think because NCIS is set in an alternate reality where you can steal the president's plane with no ill effects and smack people in the back of the head without being abusive. That kind of takes the edge of the death.

Anyway, in .hack Tsukasa is the victim, and he's put through hell --I feel tears coming on just thinking about it (but I didn't cry when I watched the whole series yesterday, what's up with that?)-- but he's not dead. He's not a tragedy that exists only so that the CSI team's personal drama can play out or Horatio can deliver a one liner. He's the victim but he's front and center, it's his story and whatever heartache there may be along the way it can get better.

It doesn't have to be a tragedy. There is hope.

It is, perhaps, an unreasonably hopeful story. Things can work out. Just this once, Rose, everybody lives. It presents an idea that we can have a story without piles of human wreckage along the way. We do not need to sacrifice victim of the week on the altar of plot. In the real world there is suffering everywhere, and in .hack as well, but in fiction there can exist the hope that you might move beyond that.

When was the last time there was an epic quest in which no villagers were harmed along the way? Though I do have to admit that it's not all happy in .hack. Sacrifices are made, one in particular, but there's such a big difference between sacrificing oneself and being a victim. The message, if one can be found, of .hack//SIGN is that you can choose to do the former, but you don't need to be the latter.  Even if the world itself is conspiring against you, it's possible to stop being a victim.

Even in very happy stories, you don't usually get that message. You get the message that that's the case if you're the hero.  But if you're an incidental character then you may well be screwed. .hack//SIGN, probably largely due to it's setting, is able avoid that.  For the most part.

The worst incidental characters have to suffer is having their characters reset to their previous save.


* I don't feel comfortable including this in the main text without the warning that if you keep on viewing passed when he switched to talking about Hollywood movies it is not safe for work at all.  Before that it's very tame and entirely safe.  After that you can expect frequent loud uses of the word "fuck" references to previous parts of the show which will make no sense to you if you haven't seen it, and one of those uses the idea of baby killing for humor.  That probably sounds worse than it is, but better to sound worse than to sound better and have it take you off guard.  The clip can be found here.

The show the clip is from is called Dress To Kill and I, personally, find it hilarious.  I have since I first saw it years ago on HBO, and I'm happy I got it on DVD instead of just sticking with the tape I made of it back then because some of the things omitted in the HBO versions were also hilarious.

** The groan of understanding is the sound when something's explained and the person realizes, "Oh, it's that."  Being myself, I tend to see it with ancient languages, mostly Latin.  You've got a bunch of people sitting around a table completely stumped about something and then someone says, "[suchandsuch] takes the dative / it's an accusative of respect / actually that's ablative / an esse was omitted / it's being used in it's storytelling form / whatever" and from everyone at the table you hear the groan of understanding.  It's a "Damn it, I should know this and/or I hate those things" sound.

Deus Ex Training, Part 6: What Is

[This is part of a series of posts about the game Deus Ex.]
[The series began with this post.  The first post in this section is here.]

Last time I talked about what isn't in this section of training, this time I'll talk about what is.

Welcome to the combat training area. I am Gunther Hermann and I will be monitoring your progress here. We will start with weapon familiarization.

Everyone say, “Hi, Gunther.”

Hermann Gunther Grassman was a German mathematician and linguist. No idea if that's related to Deus Ex's Gunther Hermann, but it seems close enough to be worth pointing out.

Gunther is the first mech you'll encounter. You won't encounter many. There are four characters with mechanical augmentations in Deus Ex. One has what appear to be medicinal augmentations, and the remaining three are current or former UNATCO agents. (Two current, one former.) Of the current agents, Gunther is the one who's not evil. That doesn't necessarily mean that he's good. He believes in something and is willing to kill for it, to the point that the evil one is actively trying to catch up to Gunther's kill count.

Gunther is a killer, and it can at times be difficult to reconcile that with the fact that I feel sorry for him.

He's a solider who has been manipulated by people who don't care about him in the least to kill in the name of justice while he's actually helping to bring about the opposite. He's made incredible sacrifices for his work (he gave up his eyes) only to realize that soon he'll be obsolete. He sees that he's on the way out and the world he'll be tossed into is one that doesn't exactly like his kind. Success is possible, as we'll see when we meet the retired agent, but it's not probable and the stigma will always be there.

He's built his life around a job that he realizes will soon no longer need him, and he worries the irreversible sacrifices he made for it will come to nothing in the end.

I've heard it said that to be a tragic figure one can neither be saint not scoundrel. Or something to that effect. If one is completely evil then their fall is justice rather than tragedy. If one is completely good then their fall is abuse rather than tragedy. Tragedy happens to those in between. Those with enough good for us to want better for them, and enough bad to destroy them.

Gunther is a tragic figure.

Now then, weapon familiarization. Depending on how we divide this up you'll become familiarized with two or three weapons. First, pistols:

Your first exercise will be to learn a little about aiming and targeting. Step up to the shooting range to the west.

The targets are released by using the buttons on the counter. Release the first target and take a few shots with one of the pistols until it is destroyed. Notice the targeting reticle appears when you aim at a target.

The shooting range is the sort where it's a long room with hanging targets that can be moved back and forward in so that one might shoot at various ranges. It makes me think of the shooting range in Lethal Weapon as I write about it, but I don't ever remember thinking that while playing.  Anyway, it's a shooting range.  It looks like a shooting range.

You press a button, a target comes forward to a predetermined range (unlike a real life one you don't get to pick that range) you shoot at it, after a couple of shots it's destroyed and it seems, oddly, to have been made of glass. Then you wonder what the point of all that was. Well fear not for Gunther will tell you:

Good. If you hold your aim for a few seconds before firing you will notice the reticle starts out wide and tightens as you hold. The longer you aim at the target without moving the greater your accuracy will become. Release the second target and aim before shooting this time.

And now I'm thinking of Silverado. Specifically this scene. The guy on the horse gets off several shots before Kevin Kline's character fires one, but it's still Kevin Kline who ends up alive. Part of the difference in timing is because Kline hasn't loaded his gun when the shooting starts, but if one pays attention they'll see that there's a vast difference in their shooting styles. Guy on a horse points and immediately shoots, plus he's on a moving horse. Kline's character takes the time to aim with a steady hand, and he's standing still, and so his shot finds its target.

I think that's the idea with this mechanic in Deus Ex. Except for the horse part. If you shoot immediately you don't have time to aim. If you fire while running your aim will suck. And so the mechanic was created that if you take some time, find your place of stillness, take a few deep breaths, and line up the shot you'll do better than if you'd just pulled out your gun and shot immediately.

Of course you don't always have time to do that and so, with two targets destroyed, we move on to the next room.

First, though, you have your pistol confiscated because we can't very well have someone using a pistol in a rifle range, now can we? The trooper doing it has the standard dialog for such a character.

This is the rifle range. Here you will learn one of the ways skill level makes a difference in your accuracy. Step up to the shooting range.

The targets are released by using the buttons on the counter. Release the first target and destroy it with the rifle. Use the rifle's scope by pressing the left bracket key "[" to turn the scope on.

Using the scope actually does a very good job of showing what's going on here. The accuracy of any given shot is going to be based on two things. The first is how accurate the weapon is. Does the gun shoot straight? The second is how accurate the shooter is. Does the person shoot straight?

When looking through the scope you can really see how not straight you're shooting. If you move it's all over the place, if you stay still and take your time it's still not completely steady.

As someone who has used rifles at summer camp and nowhere else, I'm definitely familiar with the wobble. And that's when I'm shooting prone, JC is standing up.

Anyway there will be things that can improve on the accuracy of the gun, skills improve on the accuracy of JC. Gunther demonstrates using magic:

Excellent. Now we are going to raise your skill with rifles to Master level. Release the second target and destroy it.

You can do that? How can you do that? Can you do that with other thin- I know Kung-Fu!

This time when you take aim you'll notice a lack of wobble. Also, you can run and gun at higher skill levels without it being absurdly reckless. (Mind you I wouldn't recommend doing it with a sniper rifle while looking through a scope.) It'll always be better to shoot from a still position than to shoot on the move, but if you invest skill points in the appropriate place you'll make it so you can run and shoot at the same time.

Here's what Gunther has to say:

Good work. As you can see, higher skills give you better range, accuracy, and effectiveness. Proceed to the next area when you are ready.

Yes they do. And this is one area where the skills really make sense. There are other things where that's not really the case. Actually, even here you can see the skills not making sense if you really dig down on what effectiveness means. How would higher skill with a gun cause your bullets to do more damage, for example?

Gameplay mechanics and realism, they don't always go hand in hand.

Now you've defeated four targets and are familiarized with two weapons. Wasn't that fun?

Another trooper is in another storage room looking thing behind another pane of bullet proof glass to make sure you don't step into the next area armed. The next area is demolitions, where robots will be blown up to teach you about proximity mines and you'll get to both throw and disarm some explosives. We'll get to that next post.


.hack//SIGN, Before we get started

This is to be the first in a series of posts on .hack//Sign, henceforth referred to as .hack (pronounced “dot hack”) even though “Sign” might be a more logical choice of name.  If it might be confused with other .hack things I'll use the full name.

So I spent the day re-watching the series, which means that I've spent the day thinking about friendship, and depression, and existential questions, and identity, and memory, and free will, and how that last one relates to being programmed, and pain, and sensation, and despair, and hope, and disappointment, and support, and good, and evil, and the various shades of being in between, and love, and I already mentioned friendship, and family, and failure, and success, and metaphysics, and destiny, and the possibility of a chosen one being chosen on the basis of being the person most likely to fail, and whatnot, and whether or not AIs have souls.

Ok, that last one not so much. It doesn't require thought. They do. Full stop. Discussion over. Moving on.

Anyway, I made three pre-start things for my Deus Ex thing, it seemed like .hack might merit at least one.

.hack is an anime set in the future. Apparently, and I did not know this, it is set eight years in the future. Which in this context means 2010.  I could have sworn I read somewhere that it was in the early teens at least, but the very quick search I just ran says 2010.

That's not actually important. It's especially unimportant because I'm going to take the anime in itself, and a date isn't mentioned in it. I'm not going to consider prequels or sequels or stuff occurring in parallel. Partially because I agree with Ana's stance on using these things when looking at a work, and partially because the one one that I have actually have first hand experience of is one something that I didn't like*. Also some of the things I've heard about how the series has changed over time make me think that I wouldn't like what I'd find if I branched out.

What is worth knowing is that the show takes place almost entirely within an MMO, an online game with more than 20 million users. I've never used an MMO, and I certainly haven't used one from the future (or should that be “The Future”?), so I can't say whether the game in the show resembles real games. It's called “The World” it's spread across multiple servers, and it's got an overall fantasy theme.

There aren't any objectives to the game, just stuff to do. And stuff not to do. The players are left to themselves to figure out what they're going to get out of it. For a lot of them it's about going into dungeons and fighting monsters. For others it's killing other player's characters and while I'm sure some of that is by mutual consent (“Let's have a fight, to the death”) I'm particularly thinking about ones who do it in a much more murdery way. For others it's telling the previous group, “Not Cool,” and backing that up with force if necessary. For some it seems to be about trading and economics, but those characters aren't really focused on. For some it's just a way to meet people, for some it's a place to go and be left the fuck alone. Doubtless I've left some out.

There's also a range of thought in how interaction should go, with some players thinking that it's just a game so anything goes, while others firmly believe that people are people regardless of whether or not you happen to be online and thus you should treat others with respect and empathy and such.

The World is an audio visual experience, with most people using VR headsets but some simply using their computer monitor. Controllers also vary somewhat. We see some people using what look like your standard game controllers while others use their keyboards and, presumably, mouse.

Being a virtual world you can't actually tell who you're talking to. Age, gender, race, all of these things are up to the player, not biology. Very little of the show takes place outside of the game, and pretty much none of that deals with the mechanics of how the game works, but one wonders if the software includes something to alter one's voice to make it match the character. If it does it apparently doesn't alter accents because at one point a character thought it reasonable to use another character's lack of accent as evidence that they came from similar locations.

One also wonders how much input there is from the players on things like facial expressions.

In theory you could supply a player's facial expression directly to the character, in which case the expression that we see on a character would be indicative of the expression of the player. On the other hand it is suggested at one point that a player might be laughing while the character is not. Of course that could still be possible if facial expression was a form of input. Laughing without being noticed would require muting your microphone, why not also have the ability to stop your expression from being used as input?

And, of course, there are ways to control that that don't involve mapping things from player to character, perhaps there's just a very detailed set of emote keys and key combinations.

Anyway, back to in-world mechanics. There are various character classes, there's never a definitive list given and I think the only one that really requires explanation is that “Wavemaster” means, “Magic user.” A heavy blade, the only other class name that specifically comes to mind, is someone who uses a really big sword, so the name is pretty self explanatory.

Travel between servers is done via things called root towns. People can also warp from place to place using a “sprite ocarina” which as far as I know is totally useless for making music. We certainly never see anyone using one.

I think there was more I wanted to say on this topic, but I'm very tired and don't remember. So, unless I suddenly remember, that's my description of how The World works.

I believe that you could probably have an interesting story set in an online world like that in and of itself, but that's not what .hack is about. The story is about when impossible things start happening.

The music is superb, which means that I should probably use the CDs I have at some point (I have four CDs worth of soundtrack), to the point that one of the sound options on the DVDs is to have no talking whatsoever so that you might enjoy the music on its own. The other options are English and Japanese dialog. When I watched through this time I did it in Japanese with English subtitles. When I go through for the individual posts I'll probably be doing it in English with no subtitles.

One thing that stands out when watching in Japanese is how much English is in it. A character gets a guardian which is called his “Guardian”, in English, in the middle of otherwise Japanese speech. A character responds to a question with the English, “No Comment,” and various other moments sprinkled throughout the show have unexpected English. The one that repeatedly comes up is that there's a legendary item called the “The Key of the Twilight” which is always said in English in spite of being spoken by Japanese people who are speaking Japanese at the time quoting an email that was mostly written in German. And sometimes, I swear, they say it with a French accent.

Watching in English you never get a sense for the language switching. It's English all the way. It sort of reminds me of Fred Clark's comments about how translations of Daniel tend to fail to indicate that the language switches.

Anyway, at some point I should be going through the show episode by episode, but I'm not completely sure as to when because right now I've got to translate Catullus. Well, gloss Catullus and familiarize myself with it so I can translated later. (If you want to follow along, I'm using Garrison's The Student's Catullus, looking at poem 64 and hoping to be up through line 225 by midweek next week, preferably earlier.)


*It seemed to mostly revolve around a boy getting angry at people for being attracted to his sister, via her online avatar, and being weirded out by the fact that he was also attracted to his sister's online avatar. Also unnecessary sight gags and one episode sized retcon that completely changed the meaning of something from .hack//SIGN apparently just for the hell of it.

And more silly than you can shake a stick at, and that's without even taking into account the fact that shaking a stick at silly is itself silly.  I don't oppose silly in general (I can prove it, just look here, here, and here) but given that my reaction to the .hack episode "Despair" was basically, "Yes.  I know that feeling.  I've been there.  Almost exactly.  This I understand on a visceral level," I don't know that the setting is really the right place of a series based on silly, sight gags, and sexual innuendo.  Mind you, I wouldn't have liked the series in question even if it had been a stand alone thing.



Thursday, January 26, 2012

Deus Ex Training, Part 5: What isn't

[This is part of a series of posts about the game Deus Ex.]
[The series began with this post.  The first post in this section is here.]

At some point I'm going to need to talk about what wound up on the cutting room floor if for no other reason than the fact that that's basically my area of expertise. Someone could almost certainly learn more about it than I know with one in depth interview with a member of the design team who was on the project before the major changes took place, but when it comes to what's out there now I probably spent years going around the internet looking for everything that had been said, I contacted some of the developers and two of them even gave me relatively lengthy responses.

When it comes to Deus Ex my general area is story, my specialty is removed story. And I may very well have proven myself worthy of a degree from internet geek/nerd university by saying that.

In the first post in this series I addressed a common but unfounded belief that the main character had two different origin stories at different times in development. In a later post I brought up the fact that there actually does appear to have been a shift in the plan about what happened after the main character's biological parents were killed (original plan was to be a ward of the state, final version was that he was adopted.) To talk about changes in the Deus Ex story, though, we don't need to resort to “appear to have been”.

The original plan involved going to a moon base. It was decided, more than half way through development, that that didn't fit thematically with the story which was very terrestrial. The moon-base as a level was scrapped. (Along with two space stations.) The original plan involved visiting the war zone that was Austin, turned out that the technology at the time wasn't up to creating a war zone. The Texas missions were scrapped. (Which is why you'll never meet the Russo-Mexican Alliance in Deus Ex.) The original plan was for there to be missions at The White House and Mt. Weather. After building The White House level they realized that it wasn't very fun, and The White House and Mt. Weather missions were scrapped. The original plan called for liberating a concentration camp. The original plan called for a lot of stuff.

One of the reasons that this interests me is that a lot of the original plan seemed quite awesome. I've spent more time than I probably should thinking about what little is known about what might have been, and I've spent pages trying to figure out ways to potentially work some of it back into an expanded version of the game. (I write three pages every morning, at least in theory, and most of the time I don't know what to write. Writing about screwing with the plot of a video game can fill the pages pretty handily on some days.) The conclusion really has to be that it's nigh impossible, the game as it exists pushes one from one objective to the next with a fair amount of urgency. There really isn't much in the way of time to stop off in Austin, or liberate a concentration camp, or go to the moon.

Anyway, that's all out there, and I'll probably make reference to it at various points in this commentary.

As for why I'm bringing it up now, well, it's interesting that one of the few areas where no one ever thought to speculate or ask is one of the things that we can know the most about. People speculated about the possibility that JC had a completely different backstory based on the questionable application of a single rarely used word derived from the Latin. People wondered about where the main character was to go and what he was to do when he go there, people wondered about all kinds of things. But no one wondered about training.

It's training. What could possibly be worth talking about here? What changes could have been made to training?

It turns out, quite a lot. Well, quite a lot in the context of how little goes on in training. Not nearly so much in the context of any other mission.

This part of the mission, as it exists in the game, is pretty straightforward and pretty boring. It's more “don't forget to left click” stuff, basically. We'll get to that later. This part of the mission, as it exists in the dialog files, is another matter entirely.

20% of the dialog written and recorded for training was not used in the game. That's by lines, and my completely unscientific feeling is that if one did it by word count (which would take more time and effort than I think it's worth) it would turn out to be an even larger portion. Especially if one compares the dialog used in this specific map you can see a massive change. The the amount of lines omitted is 60 percent the size of the amount of lines included. (Again, by number of lines, not by word count.)

So what was omitted? Well, basically, interesting stuff.

There were, apparently, multiple target ranges that would be more interesting than the the ones that remained, one of them simulating urban combat. Which is the sort of thing one might expect to have in the training of an agent and could also be, potentially, fun to do.

There was also to be a combat arena where you fought robots to practice with your weapons, which makes little sense in universe (robots are presumably not cheap, blowing them up to train people seems unwise) but it's no more nonsensical than things that stayed in training.

Also there was a chance to use an EMP grenade, which I think makes a bit more sense as a training exercise than the explosives you did end up working with. Not only would it not kill you, it wouldn't blow up the stuff you tried it out on either. (Though I get the impression that the work with explosives would have been in the training mission regardless)

Anyway, in alphabetical order (which is how one finds them in game files), these are all of the lines from the cut content in training:

Take the weapons on the table. Each of the buttons on the table releases one robot in the room which you will face in combat. Only after the robots are defeated will the doors to the exit open. If you are as good as they say then you should have no problem in taking on all four at once.

Notice the two objects at the far end. One is a camera and the other is an autoturret. They are tough to destroy and will require an explosive or an EMP grenade. Try this with one of these on the table. Use the ledge for cover. When the devices are neutralized, the switch near the turret will open the door, and you can go up to the Combat Arena.

You have released a robot from the central bunker. Throw an EMP greande at the robot. If the grenade explodes in close enough proximity to the robot it will shut it down. EMP grenades are also useful in shutting down camera systems, autoturrets and proximity explosives, such as the LAM.

You have released a target robot. Use the GEP gun and its tracking rockets to destroy the robot.

This set of targets is what we like to call the "Prairie Dog" town. Each of the six targets will pop up in a random pattern. Try to take them out quickly and efficiently .

You have released another robot into the arena. Use the LAM, Light Munitions, to destroy it. LAMs are also useful for breeching weak walls, some fencing, and light doors. They also can destroy heavy re-inforced cameras and autoturrets.

This is the Light Anti-Tank weapon or LAW. A static target has appeared on the far side of the compund. Destroy it.

You are eager. I like that but first you will need to train in demolition before I open the doors to the Combat Arena.

You are not yet ready for this area. You need to first go to the static target range, next door.

This is the outdoor target range. Below you is a simulated section of an urban environment. Each of the buttons on the window sill will test your abilities with the weapons. When you press each button, the appropriate weapon storage case will open. Use that weapon on the targets provided. If you wish to reset the range, press the button on the wall.

Choose your pistol JC. Try to take out the static targets below as quickly as you can. If your accuracy is good you will take them all out with one clip.

In the windows of the building on the far side of the arena, you will see moving targets. Try to use your sniper rifle to take out all of these targets.

Welcome to the Combat Arena. The guard will take all of the weapons you have acquired so far. Step up to the table and I will descibe the arena.

(Typographical errors from the originals.)

There's not a lot there, there's not a lot in training in general, but it's more than we have of any other cut content. We have omitted conversations here and there, but nothing like the above. You can actually sort of work out the layout of the cut content there. You can get a feel for a level that doesn't actually exist. That's pretty much unique in Deus Ex.

Anyway, this is the part where I say something like, “Damn, I wish that they'd left in remnants of The White House mission/moonbase instead.”

Actually, there are remains of them, after a fashion. Parts of the moonbase level were repurposed for the terrestrial finale level, and some of the textures of it can be accessed. The White House items that were made can be summoned by those willing to cheat and the first family appears in one scene. In those cases what we have are artifacts, but no written or oral record to tell us what to make of them. That's annoying. It would be much nicer if we had text.

It's more than a little bit irritating that the one area where we do have text is one where there's nothing plot related happening. We know exactly what the dialog was intended to be for the cut part of training (you can even listen to it), and have almost no details about the Moon or the White House missions.


Random Discussion of Monsters

[Sometimes you just have to have this conversation, because if one supernatural thing turns out to be real, why not others?]

Asker: “Zombies?”

Experienced Person: “As far as I know they don't exist.”

A: “Well that's a let down. Any other dreams you'd like to shatter?”

EP: “Vampires have no problems with the sun. It doesn't incinerate them, it doesn't show their true sparkly form, it doesn't reduce their power. It doesn't even give them a headache. Which is just wrong because bright sunlight gives me a headache and why should they have it easier?

“Werewolves transform into fairly average sized wolves, perhaps a little on the big side and certainly dangerous since wolves are nothing to be trifled with but nothing like the monsters of movies.

“Uh, what else is there?”

A: “Mummies.”

EP: “Just an embalming technique.”

A: “Tentacled gods from the depths.”

EP: “Suck at chess, have bad breath, and are generally unpleasant to be around.”

A: “You've played chess with one?”

EP: “Technically he was only a quarter god, and definitely was on the mortal side of the divide, but he was still quite slimy.


“He brought his queen out early and under utilized his knights. Rookie mistakes all around really, which is odd because I think he was a hundred-a hundred and fifty years old. You'd think he'd have gotten better at it by then.”

A: “So you met a slimy betentacled demigod and played chess with him.”

EP: “There wasn't much else to do. The entrance to the cave had collapsed and we had to wait for someone to come by and dig us out.”

A: “There was a chess set in a cave?”

EP: “Yes. Why wouldn't there be?”

A: “Ok, we're getting side tracked. Frankenstein's monster?”

EP: “To my knowledge no one has ever successfully reanimated a corpse. It's not that hard to make one look like it's alive, but to actually bring one back to life? No.”

A: “Fungus that takes over your body and turns you into a slave?”

EP: “Yes.” *Pause* “Well, after a fashion.” *pause* "Sort of. And it's not that hard to cure if you know that's what you're dealing with.”

A: “Succubi?”

EP: “Human reproductive fluids are honestly not that important of a commodity in the demon economy. So, no.”

A: “Chupacabra.”

EP: “Well, there are things that suck goats. I suppose. If you want to look at it that way.”

A: “Bigfoot?”

EP: “Never met him.”

A: “Elves?”

EP: “I did meet a bunch of pale people with pointy ears and pan flutes in the woods that one time, but I'm still not convinced they weren't human.”

A: “Those things with the thing and the thing.”

EP: “Those are exactly like the stories say.”


Saturday, January 21, 2012

A message to Windows

Dear Windows,

When I gave you permission to automatically download and install updates I do not remember giving you to restart my computer without my knowledge or consent, I definitely don't remember saying you could do that without saving anything first.

I understand that you theoretically give some kind of ten or fifteen minute warning but that is in no way sufficient. It is, in fact, completely unacceptable.

Sometimes one steps away from a computer, notices that there is snow outside that needs to be dealt with, identifies it as the sort of light snow that can be dealt with with a broom, and steps outside to deal with things only to discover a giant block of compressed snow and ice about the size of an adult human being curled up into a ball if that human were a giant has found it's way into the middle of the sidewalk. Then, after failing to budge it, gets a long sturdy piece of wood to use as a lever. When the wood brakes it is obviously natural to realize that one should check for knots before choosing which side to apply pressure to. Stick switched the lever works and the giant block of ice become separated from the ground.

Due to the postion of the ice the lever is now useless as an aid and the only thing to do with the giant block of ice is to roll it up a snow pile. Initial tries fail as the ice is too heavy and the ground slipery enough for one's feet to slip out from under them.

The snow pile is modified so that a step now exists for the giant block of ice to be rolled onto, feet again slip on the slippery ground. Much effort is expended. The ice catches on the step. Much more effort. The ice is rolled upright. It is stable. It is left there.

Sweeping resumes. The sidewalk is cleared.

Once back inside it is discovered that you restarted without so much as a pop up message asking if you could.


It was not always thus. There was a time when an automatically run update that required a restart would be accompanied by a message saying something along the lines of:

This update requires you to restart your computer, please select one of the following:

[Restart now]
[Remind me later]
[I'll restart when I'm good and ready, don't do a damn thing until then.]

That worked, and it worked well. I have no idea why you changed it but it wasn't worth it.

This new, “I'll close every program the moment you look away,” policy is not good or right or just. It is not bringing sunshine and light into the world. Nor is it bringing welcome shade or restful dark. It is instead restricting itself only to the unlikable parts of the visual spectrum. If it were a light it would be a harsh light that sears one's eyes, if it were dark it would be the kind of dark that left one straining and frustrated.

It's not good is the point.

Not everything that one does in a session ought to be saved, many things, once done, need never be returned to and so saving them is nothing more than a waste of space. But that doesn't mean that ending the session in the middle is ok. Just because something was never meant to be saved doesn't mean consigning it to oblivion without the user's permission is ok.

Also, not everything can be saved. Late last year my computer was engaged in deep religious meditation that took days. Three days, if I remember correctly. The program was running the entire time, and it was using so much by way of resources that the computer could do little else.  There was no way to stop it and save it's progress in the middle, it ran once beginning to end. In the end it worked like a dream, though the input could have been better and thus the output suffered as a result.

When I consider that even if your attempt to restart without permission is caught and halted it can't be delayed for more than four hours I shudder to think what could happen any time a lengthy program is run.

To stop you from ruining that run I would have either had to restrict the running of the program to the hours I could watch over it and make sure to delay your destructive impulses every four hours, which would have multiplied the length of time the computer was occupied with that project unnecessarily, or I would have had to wake up every four hours for the duration just to tell you not to restart. Neither of those is a desirable situation and I count myself as lucky that you didn't go on one of your destructive sprees for the duration.

That you cannot conceive that a computer might need to be used for more than four hours is absurd. You are software. Running computers is what you do. Can you not imagine yourself doing anything productive for more than four hours straight?

I also note that you've been trying to install the same four updates for months now. You kind of suck at it. I hope they're not as critical as you claim because no matter how many times my computer is restarted, with my permission or without, you have yet to succeed in installing them.


I wonder if part of the problem with our relationship is that you think I have nowhere else to go. Someone I know and respect has recently switched to Mac. I do fear for her because the last bug I heard about from the Mac side of the computing world was more catastrophic than anything I've ever so much as heard rumors of in windows, but the time that has passed since then is evidence that, while the bugs may be apocalyptic in nature, they appear to be rare. It might be like moving to somewhere with occasional earthquakes to get away from the cold winters. It could be conceivable.

I probably won't switch to Mac because they don't seem to be nice people, they appear to be auditioning for Big Brother, and I don't mean the TV show, they break their contracts, their record on human rights makes me want to cry, and as near as I can tell they're in favor of polio (only some of the previous sentence is, strictly speaking, true) but I have other options.

Ten percent of the people who visit my blog use Linux, perhaps I could look into that if you continue to be unkind.

You seem to think that because I've been using you for so long I can't make do on anything else. You're wrong. You aren't my first. You aren't even my second.

When I was young I used a Commodore 64. It's still around. It's in the basement with the reel to reel player. If you don't shape up I'll hook it up, plug it in, and find a way to hitch it to you and it can tell you about how things were when it was your age. Do you really want to hear that lecture?

The TI is down there too. You probably think they just make calculators and components because you don't pay attention.

You're young Windows, younger than me. And that's saying something when it comes to computers. I will get the older generation to come out of retirement and give you a talking to if I have to. And don't think I lack the resources. I have floppy discs that are actually floppy.

Back somewhere in your distant memories, from older versions back before you were Windows 7, you should have some vague recollection of what that means. Discs that go flop. Now think about what it would be like spending all day, day after day, talking to computers who thought that that's the height of external storage. Think about all your shiny modern game technology, and then imagine a long rambling speech about Donkey Kong from old Commodore and you with no choice but to listen to every word.  (And remember how slow Commodore talks.) Because I'll do it.

I will make you listen to them.

And then, if you still don't shape up, I'll dump you and get another operating system.

Deus Ex Training, Part 4: What The Hell Is Wrong With You People?

[This is part of a series of posts about the game Deus Ex.]
[The series began with this post.  The first post in this section is here.]

So far we've learned to open unlocked doors, unlock doors with keys, break crates, unlock doors with lockpicks, use keypads, and bypass keypads.  We just had all of our equipment confiscated so I wonder what could be next.  The sign on the wall says medical, we open the door and … oh my God! Someone's unconcious on the floor, what horrible thing happened here?

Lying in front of you is a brave cadet who volunteered to be rendered unconscious for this next training exercise. Highlight and search him to find the key to the medical room. Afterward, pick up his body and place it on the medical table so that one of my aides can revive him once the exercise is over.

Oh. Right. You knocked someone out for a training exercise. It makes perfect sense.

The point is to teach you that you can search bodies to get stuff, and to teach you that you can move bodies, which will be useful if you don't want guards to go into panic mode when they come across a comrade of theirs that you've knocked out or killed. Things will generally go better if they're not aware they should be in panic mode than if they're actively trying to find and kill you.

I think that a major missed opportunity in Deus Ex is that apart from right now, the game never considers the possibility that you might want to move a body for altruistic means. It is totally unprepared to deal with the fact that you might, for example, knock out someone who you were ordered to kill (which onlookers will mistake for you actually killing the person) and then take his body to safety so that when he wakes up he'll be free instead of dead (which the game totally ignores.)

For that matter, if you thought someone was worthy of interrogation you might consider capturing them and bringing them back to base.  Again, you can do that but the game won't pay attention.

It ignores the fact that you might want to move someone for any reason other than stopping people from noticing that there's a body there.

The biggest problem for me is that it really seems like this mechanic would be well suited for a resuce mission. When you're moving a body you can't do much of anything else and you cant move all that fast, so the temptation would always be there to ditch the person and fight/run/whatever, but if you did that you'd be ditching the person, and potentially leaving them in danger.

I like that one of the first things TNM did was to give you the option of accepting a mission to rescue and unconscious person. It seemed like a logical use for this game mechanic.

Looking in while you ponder all this is a male scientist, possibly the one who was with the female scientist, possibly a different one. It's impossible to tell because background characters are forced to share appearances. There is more than one male scientist appearance, we've seen two already, but I'm not sure how many there are and it is definitely true that when dealing with background characters just because they look the same doesn't mean they are the same.

Anyway, let's put the volunteer on the table.

Good work. I'll get someone down there immediately to revive Private Winslow. Move on to the next area.

While you're at it, perhaps you could explain why he needed to be knocked out in the first place instead of using a dummy or something.

The next room is dark, but fortunately you have a light augmentation.  Light shines right out of your retina through the lens of your eye onto the stuff in front of you creating flashlight. The plan was for enemies to be able to react to this (because shining a flashlight around is a good way to get noticed and a bad way to remain unnoitced) but that was never implemented.

The room also introduces you to the concept of a light switch. Amazing, I know. Once you're out of there you meet your first repair bot:

You're not a mech, but you're enough of a machine to need repair bots now and then. If you used up some bioelectric energy getting through the dark area, for example, this contraption can charge you back up.

Repair bots are like little power sources. If you actually were a mech perhaps they could repair a broken augmentation, like say if your arm had been damaged, but for the purposes of Deus Ex they can give you a charge, after which they shut down to recharge themselves, and after that they can give you another charge.

This one is sitting in place, but they can actually move around. Unless I'm forgetting something you will never see one repairing anything.

After that you've completed phase one of training, you're introduced to cameras and warned that terrorists use security cameras too so watch out, hidden in the room with the first camera is some ammunition which appears to serve no purpose because there isn't a gun in this entire level.  (At least I don't think there is.)  You get to do some jumping and crouching then come into a room where... well let's let Jamie explain:

You need to go through the door up ahead, but it's blocked. Those wooden crates are too big to jump and too heavy to lift, so use the metal crates near the wall to build steps. [snip game mechanics]

Uh, Jamie, those aren't wooden. They're metal. All of the crates in the room are metal. Some of them are actual metal crate objects and other are crate shaped game geometry with metal crate textures slapped on the outside, but they're all metal. You know what's not metal? Wood. Wooden crates are not metal. Metal crates are not wooden. Moving on.

Next we meet a ladder, also there's a candy bar hidden in a pipe.


An obvious reference to Soylent Green if ever there was one. Soylent Green is loosely based on the 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room! If you want to know how loosely, the whole “It's people,” thing from Soylent Green referenced in Deus Ex does not appear in the novel. Both are about a world struggling under the weight of overpopulation, though, and are thus wholly unlike the depopulated world of Deus Ex. As I said before, just because something is a reference doesn't mean that we should assume things are the same.

Then we come to the thing I was talking about when I said training is here so you don't forget to left click:

We get some complaints about this swimming obstacle because the water's contaminated. Recruits forget to grab the HazMat suit and end up in my office. Not pretty. Or they forget that they have to put the suit on by selecting it and pressing the left mouse button. Remember that the HazMat is disposable; you can wear it only once, and it operates only for a fixed duration. Use the ramp on the other side of the pool to climb out.

No. You get complaints about the swimming obstacle because even with the hazmat suit you get injured and what the fucking fuck? What possible purpose does this serve, Jamie? You're a doctor you bastard. Do No Harm. Why do you need to see if I can swim in a straight line in a hazmat suit anyway? And even if that is vitally important the water doesn't actually need to be contaminated. You could just say, “Pretend the water is contaminated," and I'd play along. Seriously, what's next? Having me defuse real bombs and get real bullets fired at me?

Wait! Forget I said that. Never mind. Do not take notes. Please, just pretend I never said anything.

Anyway, what is the real purpose of this? Is it just so you can watch me get hurt? It is, isn't it? That's why there are two windows in this room. The head of UNATCO, Joseph Manderley, is watching me through one of them while his secretary Janice Reed paces, you watch me through another window, and a female scientist looks at a monitor. You probably all have popcorn.

In fact, the the reason for it is probably to force the player to use the medical bot at the far end of the obstacle.  These can do for health what the repair bots do for energy. They can also install nano augmentations.

Before I used the medical bot I ate the candy bar. I healed two points of health. Does that make any sense? Does it matter?

It might be worth pointing out that Deus Ex has location specific damage, the locations are your right leg, your left leg, your right arm, your torso, your left arm, and your head. Each location has 100 points of health when healthy. If the torso or the head reach zero then you die.  If your arms and legs are damaged it's much harder to do things with them.  You can reach the point where you are no longer able to stand, for example.  (You will never lose the ability to crawl, otherwise there wouldn't be much point in the game going on.)

Moving on we meet another trooper, but I already told you everything he could possibly say. Past him we move into the next map. So I'll stop there for now.