Friday, July 21, 2017

Monster-Ecosystem Apocalypse -- Infodump (or: Welcome to the doppel-verse)

Meta Note: I can't remember if it's 16 or 18.  If you're someone who has had trouble because of text size combined with using a device that doesn't make it easy to customize text size, tell me if this size is good.

I didn't expect that what would get me out of my no-writing funk would be a game in a genre I don't even like, but I'm certainly glad I decided to take the risk of buying it because it's given me so many ideas.

The explanation for "Monster-Ecosystem Apocalypse" is that it's not always just zombies or vampires or werewolves (has anyone made a movie of the werewolf apocalypse?) sometimes it's the new mother nature taking over.  Thus earth life as we know it is being supplanted by . . . um, is there a word with a meaning like "kaiju" but without the regional implications and less focused on "Really, really fucking huge"?

And I imagine a metal street light that looks like it's been crossed with a tree (branches and such) as an example of one non-"I kill you" instance of the new mother nature.  Anyway, exposition dump in the form of an induction lecture into the group that fights against the new mother nature:

* * *

Given that the current regime doesn't place education as a high priority, I'm going to assume that you know nothing other than how to understand the language.  This isn't because I think it's true, it's because that way I'll be sure not to leave anything you don't know out.

Try not to fall asleep because some of the points in this little lecture will be important and I'm not planning on announcing them by waking everyone up.

So, you're all here to learn more about doppels, because when I think of monsters that might cause humanity to go extinct, I always thing they should have a cutesy name.  People do that with the strangest of dangerous things which may explain why there's currently a petition to rename really sharp broken glass shards “those sparkly-warkly thingy-wingies.”

Is that true? Probably not, but I wouldn't categorically rule out the possibility.

So we'll start with the basics.

“Doppel” is short for “Doppelganger” which in turn comes for the term “Doppelganer Cell”.

When we first encountered anything Doppel-related they were single celled life forms.  They were also unlike anything we've seen before and based on their make up would appear to have a different origin from all other life on earth.  They don't have DNA, the organelles within the cells are things we've never really figured out, and the cell walls do things that seem downright impossible.

I see a hand, pronouns and your reason for sticking your hand up.

Ne, nir, nem. About being unlike all other life on earth, you don't subscribe to the alien invasion theory, do you?

No, I think that there are much simpler ways to attack a planet than seeding it with a few Doppelganger Cells and waiting for them to kill off all native life.  That said, we truly have no idea whatsoever where they came from.  It's possible that they simply arose naturally.  Life on earth was produced once, there's no reason it couldn't have happened a second time.  Or it could be that life as we know it came about second, but they were dormant until something woke them up.

Certainly there was time for life to evolve before the earth was hit with another planet in the collision that created the moon, and if anything could have survived such an event Doppelganger Cells could.

The idea that they come from space, not as an attack, does have some merit given that they clearly don't have a common origin with other earth life and they're more than capable of riding a meteor down to earth's surface without dying in the process.

While many think they might have been the result of experimentation, perhaps to create a weapon or terraform hostile environments, I find that extremely hard to believe given that no one was prepared for them and they were not initially found near any labs.

What's important is not where they came from, but what happened when they arrived or were awakened.

Now, I was talking about the origin of the name.

The Doppelganger Cells got their name because it was discovered that they could mimic any cell type they came into contact with.  Humankind rejoiced at the discovery of what they thought was the ultimate stem cell, something that could be whatever was needed, not just for people but for anything.  A Doppelganger Cell could take on the form and function of a human nerve cell or a spider's eye cell, or any other cell with ease and speed.

It was believed that they would revolutionize medicine and bring about an end to injury and disease.

It's likely a very good thing such research never made it to human trials.

The scientists working on them found that if they put them in a Petri dish with, say, a heart cell, the Doppelganger Cells might take on the characteristics of a heart cell, or they might take on the characteristics of the plastic making up the Petri dish. They also might do a bit of both.

Thus the realization that they weren't merely able to take on the exterior form and function of other cells, but rather that they could pretty much perfectly duplicate anything that isn't smaller than they are.

To put that into perspective, the finest grain gunpower has a significantly larger particle size than the average Doppelganger Cell.  Think about that for a moment.

We'll come back around to it.

The scientific community has no idea how they're able to copy . . . everything –our lack of knowledge might, possibly, have something to do with doppels running roughshod over the world and destroying most labs in the process; not to mention a significant portion of the scientific community– but the important thing isn't how they can copy things, it's that they can do it. They reproduce by absorption and take on the characteristics of whatever they absorb.

Containment at the first labs to study doppel cells failed well before anyone noticed, entire sections of some labs –the walls, ceilings, floors, equipment– had been converted by the time containment failure was discovered.

Thank whatever gods may be that they weren't in bioweapons labs.

Anyway, that's a pretty good primer on Doppelganger Cells, doppel cells for short. Some call them “D-Cells” but I'm told that that can lead to confusion because it was supposedly the name of a type of battery before the change. I have my doubts.

Calling them “DCs” is out for some sort of intellectual property rights reason, but my rant on how copyright law surviving the collapse of civilization when much better things did not is a different lecture entirely.

Beyond their ability to take on any form or function, you should be aware of one simple fact: the doppel cells have never fundamentally changed.  From when we first encountered them to now, they are either exactly the same or close enough that we can't tell the difference.  They have not evolved in the slightest.

Yes, person with the hand up, pronouns and question.

She, hers, her; the doppels aren't single celled, so how can you say they haven't evolved?

I can say it because it's true.  Your question is a good one, though, and gets at the heart of the matter about what all this means.  The Doppelganger Cells have not appreciably changed since their original discovery.  Each one is a mono-cellular life form capable of mimicking anything it touches to the point of being functionally identical when they wish to be, and that's the same as it ever was.

While doppel cells haven't changed, doppels, without the word “cell” affixed to the back end, have changed drastically.  Originally the cells and the doppels were one in the same, but by the time scientists were panicking about containment loss in testing labs, researchers at the area where doppel cells were first discovered came across the first confirmed multi-cellular doppels in the form of what they first believed to be a new species of earth worm.

It wouldn't be discovered until much later that those worms, like all doppels, were not truly individual life forms but instead colonies of doppel cells.

I see a hand, pronouns and questions.

They, their, them.  All multi-cellular life is made up of a conglomeration of individual living cells; why should it change things to know doppels are made of doppel cells?  We all probably knew that without being told.

That's true, but the distinction is incredibly important.  If I cut off your hand –composed of living cells, as you note– and no charming surgeon shows up to reattach it while sweeping you off your feet, what would happen to the cells in your now-severed hand?

They'd die.


That's what it means to be part of a singe life form.  The individual cells depend on the whole to stay alive and without it they can't survive.  Some things can regenerate a whole new individual from a severed body part, but even the most starfishy starfish of all starfish-kind can't boast that if you removed just one of its cells that cell would be able to survive and thrive on its own.

Dopple cells can.  When they're cut off from their colony, they don't die. They wait around a bit to see if the colony will reestablish contact, and if it doesn't they simply move on and do something else. Some of you have doubtless witnessed when a severed doppel limb appears to dissolve.

Since the cells are no longer part of a colony that needs them in that form, they stop taking that form.  The formless mass of cells collapses and spreads out across the ground like some sort of spilled fluid, and usually becomes indistinguishable from the ground itself.

Even when the colony is destroyed, the vast majority of doppel cells making up that colony survive.

We're getting a bit ahead of things though, and I'm kind of surprised I haven't seen a hand on this particular matter.

I've said that the cells reproduce by absorption.  They come into contact with a material, they absorb it, a process we don't really understand happens, they spit out a new cell created from the absorbed matter and displaying its properties.

This is how they learn to mimic things.

I've also said that they can mimic any material we know of, provided it isn't smaller than they are.

Further, Doppelganger Cells are a material we know of.

So hasn't anyone wondered why doppel cells aren't in a constant war of trying to absorb each other?  The number of cells in a human-sized doppel is 14 digits long, and each of those cells is in contact with other cells. So why isn't there a multi-trillion sided war going on within each doppel of that size in which each cell tries to absorb the ones around it?

I see two hands, nail polish was first up. Pronouns, then questions comments or concerns.

He, his, him. Isn't it as simple as them knowing not to attack each other?

It is that simple, but then the question becomes, “How?” and that's very important. First, though, the person without nail polish.

She, hers, her. I've seen doppels eat other doppels so doesn't that mean doppel cells do feed on each other?

Not quite.  When a doppel feeds on a non-doppel the digestive process involves breaking up the material so that it all can come into contact with, and be absorbed by, doppel cells as quickly as possible.

When a doppel feeds on another doppel the digestive process is significantly different, even though it seems the same from the outside.

The ingested doppel cells are not absorbed to be used as raw materials for new doppel cells.  They are instead converted to serve the new colony they find themselves in.

Good question, though.

The answer to the question is obviously that there's a limiting property that keeps doppel cells from absorbing things they aren't meant to absorb, chiefly other doppel cells, but most doppel species aren't particularly interested in wasting energy converting the ground every time they take a step and so they also have the same property on their exterior.

Without boring you on the details, many of which are sketchy anyway, the limiting property essentially says, “Don't absorb this,” or “Don't absorb beyond this point,” in a language doppel cells understand and obey.

That limiting property, some people like to call it LP, is the basis for all of our anti-dopple technology.  We can't kill doppel cells, we can't--

Hand held high and waving like you need to use the bathroom: pronouns and question.

They, them. If what you say were true, why would we even be here?  We're supposed to fight the dopels.  Seems like a lost cause if they can't be killed.

Let me take that interesting and engaging question and break it into several vaguely related points that I can then address individually.

Fight?  Yes.  Kill?  Sort of.  Stop?  No.  Exterminate?  Not a chance in Hell.

What you'll be called on to do if you don't back out, and we'll get to the big reason why you'll want to back out, is to take down doppels, not dopple cells. Your job will be to disrupt and extinguish the colony, but the cells themselves will survive.

They'll eventually form into new doppels, and we'll be no closer to getting rid of the doppels than we were before, but hopefully you'll have put off human extinction by another day.  Do that every day and we never go extinct.

Doppel cells are extremeophiles.  Extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme pressure, extreme acid . . . none of these things will kill them

It is beyond our current ability to eradicate a cell that makes up a life form capable of drinking lava for the Hell of it and then possibly spitting it back out again as a weapon when that very same cell can also survive as close to absolute zero as we can reach, under intense radiation, and in pretty much every other scenario we can think of.

What we do here, and what you will do if you decide to join, is disperse cell colonies.  You fight the doppels, not the cells that make them up.

How you fight the doppels is something that most people don't really realize.  It's not a secret, it's just that almost no one thinks to ask.

Actually, before we get to that, colonies have one or more “nerve centers”.  They're . . . not actually made of nerves.  Most of the time.  Sometimes they are sort of nerve-esque, but not always, and the point is . . . um, let me start over.

While an individual doppel cell can be, for most purposes, anything, that doesn't mean it can store all of the information needed to create and run a colony that looks and acts like a single living creature made of various parts composed of various materials.

We're not entirely sure what causes doppel colonies to become self-aware.  One theory is that it happens when they've simply absorbed too much information for the colony cells to efficiently store without a central database which is dedicated to collecting, storing, and disseminating the information.

Another is that it happens when they absorb a living thing with self-awareness.

Another is that it just happens randomly.

Whatever the case, any doppel you encounter that's walking, flying, swimming, or otherwise moving around under its own power will have some system of cells specifically dedicated to running the colony.  It tells these cells to be feet, what that means, what they should be made of, how to take on that form, and so on.

Cut cells off from the so-called nerve center or centers for long enough, and the now-isolated cells revert to just being cells, not part of a larger structure.  That's when they seem to dissolve.

Nerve centers can be highly sophisticated, but also highly idiosyncratic.  It takes a lot of information to know how to make an entire body, how to run it, what materials the body is made of, what their properties are, and so forth.

On the other hand, knowing all of that doesn't mean that they're particularly smart.  They have the potential to be very smart, but thus far no confirmed doppel has made use of that potential.   Many doppel species didn't last long, instead getting quickly devoured by others.

No confirmed doppels seem to have high level reasoning, and this can be visible in the forms that they take.  I once witnessed a tarantula based doppel adapt after absorbing a tank.  It was within the power of the doppel to duplicate the tank so exactly that even the tank's mechanic would never be able to tell it was a duplicate.

And if some human operator were to get into the doppel-tank, and not be absorbed, they could use it as a tank which would function like a tank.

It didn't do that.

It was fully capable of recreating the tank down to the smallest detail; it had no concept of how a tank operated or why the details mattered.  It saw that the tank “stood” on its treads, so it classified them as feet.  It saw the treads were held in their shape by wheels.  It totally failed to grasp the concept of spinning wheels driving the treads to move the tank.

Instead the result was a giant armored spider doppel that walked around on eight legs each of which was apparently composed of wheels that didn't spin covered in treads that didn't tread.

And I said that I'd get back to the gunpowder.  While in a colony, individual doppel cells have no sense of self-preservation and the nerve centers can grasp concepts like burning, exploding, and “dynamite go boom.”

Individual dopple cells will blow themselves up for the good of the colony.  Which is why you may occasionally find yourselves being shot at.  Mass being pushed down a tube by an explosion is pretty easy to pick up.

Or maybe not.  Most don't have built-in guns.  But it can be picked up, is the point.

Now it's time to get back to the other thing that this was a tangent away from.  The non-secret secret.

The doppels are far less resilient than the cells. While the individual cells may be able to handle magma and not get burned, if the colony –the doppel itself– has been exclusively adapted to cold, attacking with heat can seriously disrupt the colony but only, and this is the key thing, if combined with the limiting property.

The same for attacking with blades.  Bullets are generally not recommended, but we do have our share of gun-like projectile weapons.

However we attack, whatever we attack with, we need the limiting property.  With it we can sever a limb, without it by the time the blade exited the limb the place where the blade entered would already be healed.

For our weapons to do any damage they need to tell the doppel cells “Don't grow here, don't absorb here, don't connect here,” because only then is a wound created.  That's the limiting property and what it does for us.  The problem with it is that the only thing we know of capable of producing it is doppel cells themselves.

Every weapon we use is composed, at least in part, of doppel cells.  We've just set it up so that the user is the weapon's nerve center and it will wait indefinitely for the user when not in use. Here's the big reason to back out I mentioned earlier:

You'll be composed partially of doppel cells too.  It's necessary to keep you alive when you come in contact with doppels.  It's necessary to survive some of the places we'll be sending you –unmodified humans would burst into flames or freeze in an instant and those are the light and fluffy examples– and it's necessary to be able to control your weapons.

In order to be a doppel nerve center, you've got to be part doppel.  Unless you want your equipment to start eating you, you need to be infused with doppel cells.  In order to keep the cells from devouring you from the inside out, you'll need continual injections to maintain the delicate balance of limiting property to doppel cells that keeps you human.

You cannot go AWOL.  It would kill you in a way that I don't even want to think about.  You can retire or transfer or whatever, but you'll need the injections for the rest of your life.  We call them suppressant.  We make you part doppel so you have a chance of surviving, then we spend the rest of your life suppressing that part so you remain human.

I . . . haven't seen any hands in a while.

Yeah, in the back, you know the drill.

She, hers, her.  So far the only example you've given of how the limiting property helps is that it allows limbs to be severed. We're supposed to kill them-- disperse the colonies.  How do we do that?

The limiting property stops the doppels from healing at super speed, though a non-lethal wound created using it will heal if given time.  In fact, most lethal wounds created using it will also heal given time, but scavengers are unlikely to give the fallen doppel that time.

The key is to treat the colony like a creature while it's moving, kill that creature however you can, and then –when it appears to be dead on the ground– remember that it's a living colony, not a dead creature, and rip out the nerve clusters.  Those are what tell the colony to act like a monster, and tell it how, so without them the colony is neutralized until it develops or is given a new never cluster.

However you can” sounds vague.

Many people have found that stabbing and slashing until it stops moving works well.

Given the nature of the doppel cells, and the way nerve clusters sometimes structure themselves around aesthetics over function, it isn't always as simple as “Stab it through the lung” because sometimes the lung is more of an accessory than a vital organ.

That said, they tend to set themselves up, loosely, based on non-doppel earth life, so give the appropriate –limiting factor equipped– weapons, you can often take down a colony in the way you'd take down a similar non-doppel creature.  Just don't be surprised if it takes ten times as long.

The most vital thing isn't how you take a doppel down, it's that you understand that you need to remove any nerve clusters once it is down.  And you need to be aware that the vast majority of that doppel will likely rise up to be a new doppel.  The fight is never-ending.

Also, there are reports on every form of doppel we've encountered thus far.

That's enough for this lecture, but I can assure you I have many more.

Final week of preliminary voting for meaningless awards that I nonetheless really want your vote for

Recap: This is about annual Kim Possible fanfic awards.

This year there are a lot of nominations, to the point that it makes sense to cut them down before holding a final vote.  As such, right now there are polls set up where you can vote for up to five things you think belong in the final five.

Then the finalists will eventually be in a more standard "one person one vote" election where the most votes wins.

Links to all of the polls can be found here.  If you're wondering what all of the not-my-stuff stuff is, I rounded up every work or author that has been nominated, which covers all but three categories, in this thread.  The "Find"/"Search this Page" function is your friend.

Here are direct links (not accidental "Do you really want to leave Deviant Art?" links) to the polls in which my work or myself is a nominee.  Please vote for my work/me if you deem it/me worthy.

2) Best Original Character: Leela Place Possible - Being More Than a Simulacrum
3) Best Minor Character: Joss Possible - Being more than a Simulacrum
6) Best Alternate Universe: Life After
14) Best Action/Adventure: Being More than A Simulacrum
18) Best Unlikely/Unique Story: Life After
19) Best Novel-Sized Story: Being More Than Simulacrum
25) Best Reviewer: I strongly recommend GerbilHunter and HopefulHuskey, they're far from the only good ones, but they're the only ones that make me want to go out of my way to recommend them.
27) Kimmunity Achievement Award: chris the cynic
28) Best Story Overall: Forgotten Seeds by chris the cynic
29) Best Writer: chris the cynic

If best series were also being winnowed I'd have a recommendation for that too.  Those three are the only ones I feel strongly enough about to be promoting someone else.

To avoid a wall of blue I decided not to link to the stories above, but here are the ones in contention:
* * *
I only thought to do this post, in spite of actually intending to do a one week notice post, because it was pointed out by the person in charge that there's one week left and thus the polls linked to above "will close on July 27th at midnight."  (I'm not entirely sure which time zone.)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Monthly Financial Update

Ok, so, things are bad.

Explanation of how they got that way in the next section, if you want numbers skip to the section after, if you want just numbers skip to the last section.

* * *

I think it's like this, six months ago I was planning on trying to turn things around in a number of ways and some of that involved buying stuff for home improvement, food storage, and other things.

Five months ago, before any of the stuff had even arrived (I ordered online), I broke my ankle in three places while taking the first real steps toward cleaning up the house as part of the whole "turn things around" initiative.

As in, after much thought over the optimal order to do things in, I figured out that "move these flattened cardboard boxes downstairs for storage" was the best thing to start with, and it was while doing that that I fell down the stairs and great injury and agony ensued.  While other people might fall halfway down the stairs, I went all the way from the landing (flat area at the top of the stairs, ground floor level) right down to the basement stairs.

So that fucked up all plans, including the ones involved in paying for the stuff I'd bought for the "turn things around" initiative.  Interest deferred for six months and all that.

From there, for three months or so, I languished and everything was terrible and I couldn't do much of anything but lay on the floor with my ankle elevated and play video games on a console.  (First time in my life owning a console, by the way.)

I . . . kind of got financially reckless in the name of preserving my sanity (by buying things with which to preserve my sanity.)  There might have also been some purchases related to being able to survive physically, I don't really remember though.  Again, interest deferred for six months.

And there are the usual non-monthlies, and also when my computer was replaced (it's been repaired at least once since then, but this is definitely the replacement) the warranty didn't give me enough money to buy the replacement (the perils of buying something on sale when the warranty is for purchase price) so I had to pay the difference, and I had to pay to back it up, and I had to pay for an external hard drive on which to put the back up, and I think there was other stuff too.  That also had deferred interest, but for way longer than six months.  It, however, happens to run out exactly when all the other stuff is.

* * *

Right now I'm agonizing over whether or not to buy new glasses because I really want to but if I do I'll fall short on the regular monthly expenses that I'm supposed to be able to cover, God damn it.

I don't even know what fucking happened there.  The SSA cutting me back to a level I can't live on only accounts for the non-monthly expenses being nice little disasters.

Speaking of, $288 is over due for one of those.

Put together that past due thing, the regular expenses I can't afford, and the stuff that I need to pay off by the end of the month to avoid retroactive interest, and it comes out to $663.55 I need this month.

Next month taxes are due and I really fucking need to pay them on time this time.  Taxes in themselves are less than $20 shy of the entire total I just listed for this month.  Put everything together and it's $986.30

The month after things go down to $465.97, and then everything goes to shit, but not quite as badly as I expected because for some reason I got months swapped when making my chart of all this and thought taxes were due then.

Anyway, that's six month stuff, computer stuff, and . . . I thought there was something else.  Probably my putting taxes in the wrong month or something.  Comes out to $1815.54

And then, just when all of the deferred time bomb shit winds down, that's when taxes and insurance are due in the same month: $954.23.

It's all Hell and I don't see any viable way through.

* * *

Just numbers.

Need but do not have:
This month -  $663.55
August         -  $986.30
September  -  $465.97
October       - $1815.54
November   - $954.23

Total: $4,885.59

Conclusion: I'm completely and utterly fucked.

Do recall that you can donate to me via Paypal, upper right hand corner.  Unless you have a Paypal account and are using money from that account (i.e. not a credit card), in that case it's actually a lot better for me if you log into Paypal then use the "Send Money" feature with my email address: cpw [at] maine [dot] rr [dot] com (that way Paypal gives me the full amount.)

Friday, July 14, 2017

I'm alive

Not much to report beyond the fact that I am, indeed, alive.

I kind of wanted some sort of lighter post before the monthly finance post tomorrow, but that was not to be.  That's going to have a fair amount on why I'm too god damned stressed out to function properly.

If it weren't for money, everything would be wonderful, ankle's mostly mended, new shoes are still being broken in but I think I've made the necessary adjustments to get them to fit my non-shoe-shaped feet without giving me blisters or rubbing anything raw.  A lot more support than the old ones, not falling apart, no holes through the soles, some of the support is ankle support, so on, so forth.

I've got the materials to fabricate a fair amount of the stuff I've wanted to make.  I've got the time to write.

I'm just so money-stressed I can barely function enough to do much of anything.

So, like I said, the lighter post didn't happen, but I am alive and most things aren't horrible.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I'm sorry.

I've been distracted and stressed the fuck out and tired and just . . . out of it.  I don't even know when the last time was I actually wrote something.  I mean, easy to check when I moved something over here, but that doesn't tell the real story.  What I posted yesterday was actually written a month ago.

I'm not making content.  Whatever brought you here, I'm not providing it.

Sometimes I just want to give up on everything.

I'm likely going to go a bit dark at least through the coming weekend, and even after the reason for that passes I have no idea when, if ever, I'll be content-making again.

I'm sorry.

I want to share stories that are fun, or funny, or heartwarming, or scathing critiques of the meeting of bad writing and bad theology, or nice, or good, or . . . existing.

I want to write things you'll want to read.  And I'm not.  And I'm sorry.

Part of me wants to turn this post on its ear and beg for money again, and I'm sorry about that too.

Lately I've had more posts about not having money than I have about anything I actually fucking want to have posts about.  And I know that most everyone here is broke too.  And I feel like a sleazy asshole.  Yet I do it anyway.

I'm sorry about that too.

I'm sorry about everything.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A bow that will not easily miss

This will only make sense if you read Ana Mardoll's Rabadash's Ride and realize that I'll be reworking that into one of the varied stories bashed into The Horse and His Boy but rewritten so that it doesn't use the canon characters.  Thus I have a pre-Jadis human queen of Narnia in the role filled by Susan in that version.  Thus I made up the name Ravenwit.


The following winter Queen Ravenwit met with Father Christmas, to give up the bow she'd used since her teenage years.

"Are you sure?" he asked her.

"Whenever I try to use it, in spite of all the positive memories it was a part of, I just think about the day when--"

"I understand," he said, and took the offered bow.

"Thank you for not making me explain," Raven said.

"To have been with you so long, in such magical places," Father Christmas said, as he examined the bow, "it has picked up much from your skill. It will not easily miss."

"And so should be given to one who can be trusted to use it responsibly and is in dire need that is too immediate to allow for proper training," she said. "I trust you will make sure it eventually finds its way into hands into such a person."

"I will, my queen," he said, then bowed, boarded his sleigh, and rode off.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

I want to be able to recommend Starlight Vega, but . . .

So a while ago I was really, really in the mood to play a game with a lesbian protagonist and apparently:
Badass [space marine]/[normal marine]/[secret agent]/[person in over their head but rising to the challenge]/[whatever] shoots/slices/whatever's monsters/bad-guys [while still making time to go out with her girlfriend]/[so she can go home to her girlfriend]/[alongside her girlfriend]/[to save her girlfriend]/[while her girlfriend talks her through things from mission control].
is something no one's ever tried because . . . bwha?

I note that by a cunning use of "/" I have suggested, not including the "[whatever]"s, 80 basic formulas which could each be used to make hundreds of distinct mainstream games that go out on precisely zero limbs.

The closest we have is the first game, and first game only, of the Tomb Raider reboot.  It's ambiguous, but it's so very close to being definite.  Too close, apparently, for the publishers, since they made a tie-in comic with the explicit purpose of sinking that ship and then are emphatic in their lack of acknowledging Lara's love interest in the sequel.  As in, the one and only mention is along the lines of
"What about Sam?"
"We're not going there!"
And so, being in this mood to play a game but finding little, I looked at stuff not in my genres.  I looked for anything.  Which pointed me to visual novels, and thus I encountered Starlight Vega.

If you have Steam, it's at 40% off because of the Fourth of July Sale.  And like I said, I want to recommend it.  It has great art, there are parts that are cute, heartwarming, so forth, it's emphatically not just having f/f relations just to show boobs, nor is it something that throws in just a token female romance option, while there are things that are superficially similar the story is different from pretty much anything else I've seen, and . . . I want to be able to recommend it:


A list won't do, let's take things in order.

The names that matter are all music based, but I don't think there's anything to read into that, I only mention because I'm about to introduce Aria and Melody.

At the start of the game you, Aria, show up at your dead grandfather's house and move in with your mom, while your best friend Melody helps with the moving and spends the night.

Apparently you're a skittish while Melody is into ghosts and the occult and magic and so forth but so far has yet to encounter any such things so she's been limited to mundane books on the matter and fiction.

We first see the lack of editing in how the story starts or doesn't start, depending on your choices.

You hear a feminine laugh three times which wouldn't be a problem with only women in the house except for the fact that it's definitely not coming from either Melody or your mom.

You decide once is imagination, twice is paranoia, three times is enemy action.  And jump into--wait, where the hell did that giant tome Melody is hugging in her sleep come from?

So the two of you investigate and there's a stone on a podium in a room that wasn't there before.  Don't touch the stone and the story ends, the mysterious stuff disappears, Melody is mind whammied into not remembering any of it, done.

Which seems ok if that's all you've done but playing the game more will reveal:
  • The only one with cause to laugh wasn't female and certainly wasn't sultry.
  • The sultry female was emphatically not laughing.
  • The one who has power to do stuff would prefer that you don't touch the stone while Melody does keep the book so this really should have no fucking chance of short circuiting the story
  • No part of this makes sense in context.
Do touch the stone and you get to meet Lyria.  She's been smacked by retrograde amnesia that, honestly, probably does does make sense in context.  In all likelihood the bad guy used some magic or other to suppress her pertinent memories, but it's never really explained.

This will set up the two primary paths.

Melody is your best friend who is secretly in love with you, romance option 1.
Lyria is a --

* * *

Ok, back to the lack of editing.  Lyria says that only ignorant humans refer to her home planet of Vega as "The Demon Realm".  You'll eventually meet the "Queen of the Demon Realm" who is neither human nor ignorant.  And as the story progresses it'll be "demon this" and "demon that" we'll find out that the inhabitants of Vega self identify as demon because by the time the writer got to that point in the story the fact that they're not demons, just demonized, had apparently been tossed out entirely and the writer couldn't be bothered to go back and make the early parts fit.

So when you meet her Lyria is not a demon, just an alien with horns and a tail who's species was mislabeled as demons in order to stir up hate against them and eventually drive them from earth and cut off communications between the two planets.

By the end she's a demon.  Demon, demon, demon.

* * *

Melody is your best friend who is secretly in love with you.  Romance option 1.
Lyria is a demon you freed from a 50 year imprisonment in a stone, but in so doing magically bonded to you.  Romance option 2.

Each of them will instantly be mistrustful and painfully jealous of the other.

The most benign manifestation is that Melody would be interested in studying a magical tome regardless, but she'll push herself to the point that she's not doing the much in the way of sleeping or eating in hopes of finding a way to break the magical bond and thus eliminating any reason for Lyria to be near you.

Melody is too shy to tell you that she's in love with you.  Lyria is making it impossible to miss that she's romantically attracted.  Melody wears modest clothes.  Lyria does not.

You have your options.  How do you decide?

Well, kindness coins.

As in, you can pursue Melody, spending time with her over Lyria when given the chance, and end up irrevocably with Lyria just on the strength of not being an asshole.  (Melody, to her credit, will take it well.)  Insert enough kindness coins, sexual relationship pops out.

This is all manner of fucked up, but still, such is life: fiction falls back on the old established ways no matter how toxic and unrealistic they may be.  Especially in relationship sims.

There's also the idea that poly relationships can't exist, that love means being horrifically jealous of anyone the object of your affection spends time with, the idea that one could possibly like two people simultaneously provokes a response of "Wow! What a sl-" and . . . wait, let's stick with that last one.

You can only even say you like two people if you've unlocked the "Harem route" which is a joke ending that pushes harder on the no-poly front before ending on a triumphant: "If there are ever more than two people in a relationship, it's because there's a competition going on to see who will finally win and advance to the 'two person relationship' stage while leaving the others behind."

* * *

And . . . fucking editing.

So many examples, but here's one:

The story attempts a "not what it looks like" and you hear these lines:
unknown: "...Do what you came here for..."
Lyria: "...What do you expect? We're never..."
unknown: "...Then you'd rather..."
Lyria: "Hmph! I couldn't care less about her... she doesn't..."
unknown: "We have to do it now!"
Lyria: "The humans... I don't care about them anymore. Aria..."
unknown: "Just glamour her into submission."
Later on, if you pick the right path, you'll get to hear the whole conversation, and it very definitely is the exact same conversation, except somehow you've slid into a parallel universe where almost none of what you heard was said at all, nor was anything close to it.

Instead of filling in the blanks to place the nine fragments you heard into their real context, it throws out everything but the last line and so you're left with no fucking clue what to do with the rest of it.

Well, that's not quite right.  The second and third lines are indecipherable.  There's just not enough there.  The rest can be worked with.  And you can figure out enough to learn that not only do the words themselves not appear in what's supposed to be the full conversation, neither do any of the concepts they're referring to.

The first line, for example, "Do what you came here for . . ." is pretty easy to work out.

Mind you it brings us to another moment of "Couldn't you fucking edit this?"

Anyway, at this point in the game Lyria's memory has been returning but she has yet to remember how she got to earth.  Her sister has contacted her via an intermediary and told her a story.  The story is wrong, but Lyria believes it.

Trouble is, even though there was only ever one story from one source with one version, the game never decided what the fuck that story was.  Maybe it would have been better if sixty different people had contacted her and each told her their own personal theory because then it would explain how what Lyria was told ended up being so all over the place and inconsistent.

Anyway, in certain scenes it is indicated or stated outright that Lyria was told she came to earth on a mission to get the magical tome and a human to read/translate/transliterate it.  (Magical beings can't read it, nor can they touch it without harm.)

In other scenes she was told nothing of the sort, and the game seems to prefer those other versions, but that's pretty much the only thing that that the first line could be referring to.

Nothing even remotely related to that comes up in the full conversation.

Ditto for the other stuff you can work out.

Honestly, they'd have been better off if they'd dropped the whole "not what it looks like" "here have context" and had the two things be completely unrelated.  Instead they kept the last overheard line and what happened after so that there could be no doubt that these two bits of text are meant to refer to the same exact conversation.

* * *

Scherza, Lyria's sister, was a stretch goal for the project that funded the whole thing and it . . . well it's probably not a coincidence that it's the thing that finally manages to collapse the flaming wreckage making up what would usually be world-building into complete incomprehensibility.

And yet . . . I want to be able to recommend this game.

I think it gave me an even bigger dose of "What the fuck?" when I looked into the code and saw:
(Paraphrasing) We need an if-statement here, because otherwise --more often than not-- this won't make sense more often

Which was completely true.  The trouble was that that comment had not been acted upon in any way, not only was there no if-statement, what followed was not revised in such a way it would make sense.  The result was that for that part of the script if it made sense it was more a result of you having randomly selected the only path (which was also the most unlikely path) than any kind of craft on the part of the game designers.

Usually, though, things didn't make sense regardless of what led up to them because everything was at odds with everything else.

And yet, I want to be able to recommend this game.

It has so much potential, but it's all fucked over.

But the modders can fix it, right?

Well, no.  There's no mod community or mod support, the engine packages all assets into a single file meaning the simplest way to fix things would involve replacing that file which would have you distributing everything that makes the game the game, which is indistinguishable from piracy.

There are more complex solutions imaginable, and alluring considering that the engine is actually very straightforward and fixing fucking everything would be a breeze.

A breeze that required some artistic licence, though.

It's easy enough to tweak here and there to remove or work around problematic elements when the underlying structure is there, and there there's definitely enough there to see the structure that should exist most of the time, but Scherza's route is truly mangled.

It's broken into 15 sections, two are missing entirely, and in the rest there are several references to content that was either cut out or never written in the first place.

Throughout there's a mechanic that keeps a tally so if, at the end, the tally is under or equal to a certain number you get one ending and if it is over you get another.  Trouble is, the stripped/[never inserted in the first place] content was where the deciding additions to the tally would be.  It's impossible to go over.

There was very clearly a last minute change from making a degree of sense to making no sense at all, but the the indication of the original sense making is the internal code equivalent of a dead link.

So on, so forth.

So choices would have to be made beyond just easy ones like, "Do I want to be virulently anti-poly or not?" but it's totally salvageable if you just rewrite a bunch of it, notably the shit parts.

And yet . . .