Saturday, January 28, 2012

.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.




  1. I am excited to read these now that I know what they heck they are about. I just need lots of time with no other responsibilities...

    Maybe you could put up a post saying that you are rewatching so maybe anyone who started watching or wants to could kind of follow along. At the Robin Hood fan forum I go to they have threads for all the shows, that are spoiler-free for later stuff, where everyone discusses their reactions. Maybe you could do something similar if people doing that wasn't so on-topic for your analysis posts. (But I don't know yet...)

  2. I'm a bit tickled to see mention of Catullus here. I took Latin in high school and some of his poems definitely stuck with me.