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No gods, no kings, only NOPE - or divining the future with options flows. [Part 2: A Random Walk and Price Decoherence]
tl;dr - 1) Stock prices move continuously because different market participants end up having different ideas of the future value of a stock. 2) This difference in valuations is part of the reason we have volatility. 3) IV crush happens as a consequence of future possibilities being extinguished at a binary catalyst like earnings very rapidly, as opposed to the normal slow way. I promise I'm getting to the good parts, but I'm also writing these as a guidebook which I can use later so people never have to talk to me again. In this part I'm going to start veering a bit into the speculation territory (e.g. ideas I believe or have investigated, but aren't necessary well known) but I'm going to make sure those sections are properly marked as speculative (and you can feel free to ignore/dismiss them). Marked as [Lily's Speculation]. As some commenters have pointed out in prior posts, I do not have formal training in mathematical finance/finance (my background is computer science, discrete math, and biology), so often times I may use terms that I've invented which have analogous/existing terms (e.g. the law of surprise is actually the first law of asset pricing applied to derivatives under risk neutral measure, but I didn't know that until I read the papers later). If I mention something wrong, please do feel free to either PM me (not chat) or post a comment, and we can discuss/I can correct it! As always, buyer beware. This is the first section also where you do need to be familiar with the topics I've previously discussed, which I'll add links to shortly (my previous posts: 1) https://www.reddit.com/thecorporation/comments/jck2q6/no_gods_no_kings_only_nope_or_divining_the_future/ 2) https://www.reddit.com/thecorporation/comments/jbzzq4/why_options_trading_sucks_or_the_law_of_surprise/ --- A Random Walk Down Bankruptcy A lot of us have probably seen the term random walk, maybe in the context of A Random Walk Down Wall Street, which seems like a great book I'll add to my list of things to read once I figure out how to control my ADD. It seems obvious, then, what a random walk means - when something is moving, it basically means that the next move is random. So if my stock price is $1 and I can move in $0.01 increments, if the stock price is truly randomly walking, there should be roughly a 50% chance it moves up in the next second (to $1.01) or down (to $0.99). If you've traded for more than a hot minute, this concept should seem obvious, because especially on the intraday, it usually isn't clear why price moves the way it does (despite what chartists want to believe, and I'm sure a ton of people in the comments will tell me why fettucini lines and Batman doji tell them things). For a simple example, we can look at SPY's chart from Friday, Oct 16, 2020: https://preview.redd.it/jgg3kup9dpt51.png?width=1368&format=png&auto=webp&s=bf8e08402ccef20832c96203126b60c23277ccc2 I'm sure again 7 different people can tell me 7 different things about why the chart shape looks the way it does, or how if I delve deeply enough into it I can find out which man I'm going to marry in 2024, but to a rationalist it isn't exactly apparent at why SPY's price declined from 349 to ~348.5 at around 12:30 PM, or why it picked up until about 3 PM and then went into precipitous decline (although I do have theories why it declined EOD, but that's for another post). An extremely clever or bored reader from my previous posts could say, "Is this the price formation you mentioned in the law of surprise post?" and the answer is yes. If we relate it back to the individual buyer or seller, we can explain the concept of a stock price's random walk as such:
Most market participants have an idea of an asset's truevalue (an idealized concept of what an asset is actually worth), which they can derive using models or possibly enough brain damage. However, an asset's value at any given time is not worth one value (usually*), but a spectrum of possible values, usually representing what the asset should be worth in the future. A naive way we can represent this without delving into to much math (because let's face it, most of us fucking hate math) is: Current value of an asset = sum over all (future possible value multiplied by the likelihood of that value)
In actuality, most models aren't that simple, but it does generalize to a ton of more complicated models which you need more than 7th grade math to understand (Black-Scholes, DCF, blah blah blah). While in many cases the first term - future possible value - is well defined (Tesla is worth exactly $420.69 billion in 2021, and maybe we all can agree on that by looking at car sales and Musk tweets), where it gets more interesting is the second term - the likelihood of that value occurring. [In actuality, the price of a stock for instance is way more complicated, because a stock can be sold at any point in the future (versus in my example, just the value in 2021), and needs to account for all values of Tesla at any given point in the future.] How do we estimate the second term - the likelihood of that value occurring? For this class, it actually doesn't matter, because the key concept is this idea: even with all market participants having the same information, we do anticipate that every participant will have a slightly different view of future likelihoods. Why is that? There's many reasons. Some participants may undervalue risk (aka WSB FD/yolos) and therefore weight probabilities of gaining lots of money much more heavily than going bankrupt. Some participants may have alternative data which improves their understanding of what the future values should be, therefore letting them see opportunity. Some participants might overvalue liquidity, and just want to GTFO and thereby accept a haircut on their asset's value to quickly unload it (especially in markets with low liquidity). Some participants may just be yoloing and not even know what Fastly does before putting their account all in weekly puts (god bless you). In the end, it doesn't matter either the why, but the what: because of these diverging interpretations, over time, we can expect the price of an asset to drift from the current value even with no new information added. In most cases, the calculations that market participants use (which I will, as a Lily-ism, call the future expected payoff function, or FEPF) ends up being quite similar in aggregate, and this is why asset prices likely tend to move slightly up and down for no reason (or rather, this is one interpretation of why). At this point, I expect the 20% of you who know what I'm talking about or have a finance background to say, "Oh but blah blah efficient market hypothesis contradicts random walk blah blah blah" and you're correct, but it also legitimately doesn't matter here. In the long run, stock prices are clearly not a random walk, because a stock's value is obviously tied to the company's fundamentals (knock on wood I don't regret saying this in the 2020s). However, intraday, in the absence of new, public information, it becomes a close enough approximation. Also, some of you might wonder what happens when the future expected payoff function (FEPF) I mentioned before ends up wildly diverging for a stock between participants. This could happen because all of us try to short Nikola because it's quite obviously a joke (so our FEPF for Nikola could, let's say, be 0), while the 20 or so remaining bagholders at NikolaCorporation decide that their FEPF of Nikola is $10,000,000 a share). One of the interesting things which intuitively makes sense, is for nearly all stocks, the amount of divergence among market participants in their FEPF increases substantially as you get farther into the future. This intuitively makes sense, even if you've already quit trying to understand what I'm saying. It's quite easy to say, if at 12:51 PM SPY is worth 350.21 that likely at 12:52 PM SPY will be worth 350.10 or 350.30 in all likelihood. Obviously there are cases this doesn't hold, but more likely than not, prices tend to follow each other, and don't gap up/down hard intraday. However, what if I asked you - given SPY is worth 350.21 at 12:51 PM today, what will it be worth in 2022? Many people will then try to half ass some DD about interest rates and Trump fleeing to Ecuador to value SPY at 150, while others will assume bull markets will continue indefinitely and SPY will obviously be 7000 by then. The truth is -- no one actually knows, because if you did, you wouldn't be reading a reddit post on this at 2 AM in your jammies. In fact, if you could somehow figure out the FEPF of all market participants at any given time, assuming no new information occurs, you should be able to roughly predict the true value of an asset infinitely far into the future (hint: this doesn't exactly hold, but again don't @ me). Now if you do have a finance background, I expect gears will have clicked for some of you, and you may see strong analogies between the FEPF divergence I mentioned, and a concept we're all at least partially familiar with - volatility. Volatility and Price Decoherence ("IV Crush") Volatility, just like the Greeks, isn't exactly a real thing. Most of us have some familiarity with implied volatility on options, mostly when we get IV crushed the first time and realize we just lost $3000 on Tesla calls. If we assume that the current price should represent the weighted likelihoods of all future prices (the random walk), volatility implies the following two things:
Volatility reflects the uncertainty of the current price
Volatility reflects the uncertainty of the future price for every point in the future where the asset has value (up to expiry for options)
[Ignore this section if you aren't pedantic] There's obviously more complex mathematics, because I'm sure some of you will argue in the comments that IV doesn't go up monotonically as option expiry date goes longer and longer into the future, and you're correct (this is because asset pricing reflects drift rate and other factors, as well as certain assets like the VIX end up having cost of carry). Volatility in options is interesting as well, because in actuality, it isn't something that can be exactly computed -- it arises as a plug between the idealized value of an option (the modeled price) and the real, market value of an option (the spot price). Additionally, because the makeup of market participants in an asset's market changes over time, and new information also comes in (thereby increasing likelihood of some possibilities and reducing it for others), volatility does not remain constant over time, either. Conceptually, volatility also is pretty easy to understand. But what about our friend, IV crush? I'm sure some of you have bought options to play events, the most common one being earnings reports, which happen quarterly for every company due to regulations. For the more savvy, you might know of expected move, which is a calculation that uses the volatility (and therefore price) increase of at-the-money options about a month out to calculate how much the options market forecasts the underlying stock price to move as a response to ER. Binary Catalyst Events and Price Decoherence Remember what I said about price formation being a gradual, continuous process? In the face of special circumstances, in particularly binary catalyst events - events where the outcome is one of two choices, good (1) or bad (0) - the gradual part gets thrown out the window. Earnings in particular is a common and notable case of a binary event, because the price will go down (assuming the company did not meet the market's expectations) or up (assuming the company exceeded the market's expectations) (it will rarely stay flat, so I'm not going to address that case). Earnings especially is interesting, because unlike other catalytic events, they're pre-scheduled (so the whole market expects them at a certain date/time) and usually have publicly released pre-estimations (guidance, analyst predictions). This separates them from other binary catalysts (e.g. FSLY dipping 30% on guidance update) because the market has ample time to anticipate the event, and participants therefore have time to speculate and hedge on the event. In most binary catalyst events, we see rapid fluctuations in price, usually called a gap up or gap down, which is caused by participants rapidly intaking new information and changing their FEPF accordingly. This is for the most part an anticipated adjustment to the FEPF based on the expectation that earnings is a Very Big Deal (TM), and is the reason why volatility and therefore option premiums increase so dramatically before earnings. What makes earnings so interesting in particular is the dramatic effect it can have on all market participants FEPF, as opposed to let's say a Trump tweet, or more people dying of coronavirus. In lots of cases, especially the FEPF of the short term (3-6 months) rapidly changes in response to updated guidance about a company, causing large portions of the future possibility spectrum to rapidly and spectacularly go to zero. In an instant, your Tesla 10/30 800Cs go from "some value" to "not worth the electrons they're printed on". [Lily's Speculation] This phenomena, I like to call price decoherence, mostly as an analogy to quantum mechanical processes which produce similar results (the collapse of a wavefunction on observation). Price decoherence occurs at a widespread but minor scale continuously, which we normally call price formation (and explains portions of the random walk derivation explained above), but hits a special limit in the face of binary catalyst events, as in an instant rapid portions of the future expected payoff function are extinguished, versus a more gradual process which occurs over time (as an option nears expiration). Price decoherence, mathematically, ends up being a more generalizable case of the phenomenon we all love to hate - IV crush. Price decoherence during earnings collapses the future expected payoff function of a ticker, leading large portions of the option chain to be effectively worthless (IV crush). It has interesting implications, especially in the case of hedged option sellers, our dear Market Makers. This is because given the expectation that they maintain delta-gamma neutral, and now many of the options they have written are now worthless and have 0 delta, what do they now have to do? They have to unwind. [/Lily's Speculation] - Lily
The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill, Part 3
Okay, Wendy’s or Walgreens or whoever, I don’t care who you are, you’re listening to the rest.
Introduction to Part 3
Welcome back one last time to “The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill,” a series where we discuss all aspects of skill design and development. In Part 1, we talked about OSRS’s history with skills, and started the lengthy conversation on Skill Design Philosophy, including the concepts of Core, Expansion, and Integration. This latter topic consumed the entirety of Part 2 as well, which covered Rewards and Motivations, Progression, Buyables, as well as Unconstructive Arguments. Which brings us to today, the final part of our discussion. In this Part 3, we’ll finish up Section 3 – Skill Design Philosophy, then move on to chat about the design and blog process. One last time, this discussion was intended to be a single post, but its length outgrew the post character limit twice. Therefore, it may be important to look at the previous two parts for clarity and context with certain terms. The final product, in its purest, aesthetic, and unbroken form, can be found here.
3-C – Skill Design Philosophy, Continued
3-12 - Balancing
What follows from the discussion about XP and costs, of course, is balancing: the bane of every developer. A company like Riot knows better than anyone that having too many factors to account for makes good balance impossible. Balancing new ideas appropriately is extremely challenging and requires a great respect for current content as discussed in Section 3-5 – Integration. Thankfully, in OSRS we only have three major balancing factors: Profit, XP Rate, and Intensity, and two minor factors: Risk and Leniency. These metrics must amount to some sense of balance (besides Leniency, which as we’ll see is the definition of anti-balance) in order for a piece of content to feel like it’s not breaking the system or rendering all your previous efforts meaningless. It’s also worthy to note that there is usually a skill-specific limit to the numerical values of these metrics. For example, Runecrafting will never receive a training method that grants 200k xp/hr, while for Construction that’s easily on the lower end of the scale. A basic model works better than words to describe these factors, and therefore, being the phenomenal artist that I am, I have constructed one, which I’ve dubbed “The Guthix Scale.” But I’ll be cruel and use words anyway.
Profit: how much you gain from a task, or how much you lose. Gain or loss can include resources, cosmetics, specialized currencies, good old gold pieces, or anything on that line.
XP Rate: how fast you gain XP.
Intensity: how much effort (click intensity), attention (reaction intensity), and thought (planning intensity) you need to put into the activity to perform it well.
Risk: how likely is the loss of your revenue and/or resource investment into the activity. Note that one must be careful with risk, as players are very good at abusing systems intended to encourage higher risk levels to minimize how much they’re actually risking.
Leniency: a measure for how imbalanced a piece of content can be before the public and/or Jagex nerfs it. Leniency serves as a simple modulator to help comprehend when the model breaks or bends in unnatural ways, and is usually determined by how enjoyable and abusable an activity is, such that players don’t want to cause an outrage over it. For example, Slayer has a high level of Leniency; people don’t mind that some Slayer tasks grant amazing XP Rates, great Profits, have middling Intensity, and low Risk. On the other hand, Runecrafting has low levels of Leniency; despite low Risk, many Runecrafting activities demand high Intensity for poor XP Rates and middling Profits.
In the end, don’t worry about applying specific numbers during the conceptual phase of your skill design. However, when describing an activity to your reader, it’s always useful if you give approximations, such as “high intensity” or “low risk,” so that they get an idea of the activity’s design goals as well as to guide the actual development of that activity. Don’t comment on the activity’s Leniency though, as that would be pretty pretentious and isn’t for you to determine anyway.
3-13 - Skill Bloat
What do the arts of weaving, tanning, sowing, spinning, pottery, glassmaking, jewellery, engraving, carving, chiselling, carpentry, and even painting have in common? In real life, there’s only so much crossover between these arts, but in Runescape they’re all simply Crafting. The distinction between what deserves to be its own skill or instead tagged along to a current skill is often arbitrary; this is the great challenge of skill bloat. The fundamental question for many skill concepts is: does this skill have enough depth to stand on its own? The developers of 2006 felt that there was sufficient depth in Construction to make it something separate from Crafting, even if the latter could have covered the former. While there’s often no clean cut between these skills (why does making birdhouses use Crafting instead of Construction?), it is easy to see that Construction has found its own solid niche that would’ve been much too big to act as yet another Expansion of Crafting. On the other hand, a skill with extremely limited scope and value perhaps should be thrown under the umbrella of a larger skill. Take Firemaking: it’s often asked why it deserves to be its own skill given how limited its uses are. This is one of those ideas that probably should have just been thrown under Crafting or even Woodcutting. But again, the developers who made early Runescape did not battle with the same ideas as the modern player; they simply felt like Firemaking was a good idea for a skill. Similarly, the number of topics that the Magic skill covers is so often broken down in other games, like Morrowind’s separation between Illusion, Conjuration, Alteration, Destruction, Mysticism, Restoration, Enchant, Alchemy (closer to Herblore), and Unarmored (closer to Strength and Defense). Why does Runescape not break Magic into more skills? The answer is simple: Magic was created with a much more limited scope in Runescape, and there has not been enough content in any specific magical category to justify another skill being born. But perhaps your skill concept seeks to address this; maybe your Enchantment skill takes the enchanting aspects of Magic away, expands the idea to include current imbues and newer content, and fully fleshes the idea out such that the Magic skill alone cannot contain it. Somewhat ironically, Magic used to be separated into Good and Evil Magic skills in Runescape Classic, but that is another topic. So instead of arguments about what could be thrown under another skill’s umbrella, perhaps we should be asking: is there enough substance to this skill concept for it to stand on its own, outside of its current skill categorization? Of course, this leads to a whole other debate about how much content is enough for a skill idea to deserve individuality, but that would get too deep into specifics and is outside the scope of this discussion.
3-14 - Skill Endgame
Runescape has always been a sandbox MMO, but the original Runescape experience was built more or less with a specific endgame in mind: killing players and monsters. Take the Runescape Classic of 2001: you had all your regular combat skills, but even every other skill had an endgame whose goal was helping combat out. Fishing, Firemaking, and Cooking would provide necessary healing. Smithing and Crafting, along with their associated Gathering skill partners, served to gear you up. Combat was the simple endgame and most mechanics existed to serve that end. However, since those first days, the changing endgame goals of players have promoted a vast expansion of the endgame goals of new content. For example, hitting a 99 in any non-combat skill is an endgame goal in itself for many players, completely separate from that skill’s combat relationship (if any). These goals have increased to aspects like cosmetic collections, pets, maxed stats, all quests completed, all diaries completed, all music tracks unlocked, a wealthy bank, the collection log, boss killcounts, and more. Whereas skills used to have a distinct part of a system that ultimately served combat, we now have a vast variety of endgame goals that a skill can be directed towards. You can even see a growth in this perspective as new skills were released up to 2007: Thieving mainly nets you valuable (or once valuable) items which have extremely flexible uses, and Construction has a strong emphasis on cosmetics for your POH. So when designing your new skill, contemplate what the endgame of your skill looks like. For example, if you are proposing a Gathering skill, what is the Production skill tie-in, and what is the endgame goal of that Production skill? Maybe your new skill Spelunking has an endgame in gathering rare collectibles that can be shown off in your POH. Maybe your new skill Necromancy functions like a Support skill, giving you followers that help speed along resource gathering, and letting you move faster to the endgame goal of the respective Production skill. Whatever it is, a proper, clear, and unified view of an endgame goal helps a skill feel like it serves a distinct and valuable purpose. Note that this could mean that you require multiple skills to be released simultaneously for each to feed into each other and form an appropriate endgame. In that case, go for it – don’t make it a repeat of RS3’s Divination, a Gathering skill left hanging without the appropriate Production skill partner of Invention for over 2 years. A good example of a skill with a direct endgame is… most of them. Combat is a well-accepted endgame, and traditionally, most skills are intended to lend a hand in combat whether by supplies or gear. A skill with a poor endgame would be Hunter: Hunter is so scattered in its ultimate endgame goals, trying to touch on small aspects of everything like combat gear, weight reduction, production, niche skilling tools, and food. There’s a very poor sense of identity to Hunter’s endgame, and it doesn’t help that very few of these rewards are actually viable or interesting in the current day. Similarly, while Slayer has a strong endgame goal it is terrible in its methodology, overshadowing other Production skills in their explicit purpose. A better design for Slayer’s endgame would have been to treat it as a secondary Gathering skill, to work almost like a catalyst for other Gathering-Production skill relationships. In this mindset, Slayer is where you gather valuable monster drops, combine it with traditional Gathering resources like ores from Mining, then use a Production skill like Smithing to meld them into the powerful gear that is present today. This would have kept other Gathering and Production skills at the forefront of their specialities, in contrast to today’s situation where Slayer will give fully assembled gear that’s better than anything you could receive from the appropriate skills (barring a few items that need a Production skill to piece together).
3-15 - Alternate Goals
From a game design perspective, skills are so far reaching that it can be tempting to use them to shift major game mechanics to a more favourable position. Construction is an example of this idea in action: Construction was very intentionally designed to be a massive gold sink to help a hyperinflating economy. Everything about it takes gold out of the game, whether through using a sawmill, buying expensive supplies from stores, adding rooms, or a shameless piece of furniture costing 100m that is skinned as, well, 100m on a shameless piece of furniture. If you’re clever about it, skills are a legitimately good opportunity for such change. Sure, the gold sink is definitely a controversial feature of Construction, but for the most part it’s organic and makes sense; fancy houses and fancy cosmetics are justifiably expensive. It is notable that the controversy over Construction’s gold sink mechanism is probably levied more against the cost of training, rather than the cost of all its wonderful aesthetics. Perhaps that should have been better accounted for in its design phase, but now it is quite set in stone. To emphasize that previous point: making large scale changes to the game through a new skill can work, but it must feel organic and secondary to the skill’s main purpose. Some people really disliked Warding because they felt it tried too hard to fix real, underlying game issues with mechanics that didn’t thematically fit or were overshadowing the skill’s Core. While this may or may not be true, if your new skill can improve the game’s integrity without sacrificing its own identity, you could avoid this argument entirely. If your skill Regency has a Core of managing global politics, but also happens to serve as a resource sink to help your failing citizens, then you’ve created a strong Core design while simultaneously improving the profitability of Gathering skills.
3-16 - The Combat No-Touch Rule
So, let’s take a moment to examine the great benefits and rationale of RS2’s Evolution of Combat: This space has been reserved for unintelligible squabbling. With that over, it’s obvious that the OSRS playerbase is not a big fan of making major changes to the combat system. If there’s anything that defines the OSRS experience, it has to be the janky and abusable combat system that we love. So, in the past 7 years of OSRS, how many times have you heard someone pitch a new combat skill? Practically no one ever has; a new combat skill, no matter how miniscule, would feel obtrusive to most players, and likely would not even receive 25% of votes in a poll. This goes right back to Section 3-5 – Integration, and the importance of preserving the fundamentals of OSRS’s design. I know that my intention with this discussion was to be as definitive about skill design as possible, and in that spirit I should be delving into the design philosophy specifically behind combat skills, but I simply don’t see the benefit of me trying, and the conversation really doesn’t interest me that much. It goes without saying that as expansive as this discussion is, it does not cover every facet of skill design, which is a limitation both of my capabilities and desire to do so.
3-17 - Aesthetics
I don’t do aesthetics well. I like them, I want them, but I do not understand them; there are others much better equipped to discuss this topic than I. Nonetheless, here we go. Since the dawn of OSRS, debates over art style and aesthetics have raged across Gielinor. After all, the OSRS Team is filled with modern day artists while OSRS is an ancient game. What were they supposed to do? Keep making dated graphics? Make content with a modernized and easily digestible style? Something in-between? While many players shouted for more dated graphics, they were approached by an interesting predicament: which dated graphics did they want? We had a great selection present right from the start of OSRS: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. People hungry for nostalgia chose the era that they grew up in, leading to frequent requests for older models like the dragon or imp, most of which were denied by Jagex (except the old Mining rock models). But which era was OSRS supposed to follow? Jagex elected to carve their own path, but not without heavy criticism especially closer to OSRS’s conception. However, they adapted to player requests and have since gone back and fixed many of the blatant early offenders (like the Kingdom of Kourend) and adopted a more consistent flavour, one that generally respects the art style of 2007. Even though it doesn’t always hit the mark, one has to appreciate the OSRS artists for making their best attempt and listening to feedback, and here’s to hoping that their art style examination mentioned in June 2020’s Gazette bears fruit. But what exactly is the old school art style? There are simple systems by which most players judge it in OSRS, usually by asking questions like, “Would you believe if this existed in 2007?” More informed artists will start pointing out distinct features that permeated most content from back in the day, such as low quality textures, low poly models, low FPS animations, a “low fantasy” or grounded profile that appeals somewhat to realism, reducing cartoonish exaggerations, and keeping within the lore. Compiled with this, music and sound design help that art style come to life; it can be very hard on immersion when these don’t fit. An AGS would sound jarring if its special attack sounded like a weak dagger stab, and having to endure Country Jig while roaming Hosidius suddenly sweeps you off into a different universe. But coming back to skill design, the art, models, and sound design tend to be some of the last features, mostly because the design phase doesn’t demand such a complete picture of a skill. However, simple concept art and models can vastly improve how a skill concept is communicated and comfort players who are concerned about maintaining that “old school feel.” This will be touched on again later in this discussion under Section 5-2 – Presentation and Beta Testing.
3-18 - Afterword
Now we’ve set down the modern standards for a new skill, but the statements that started this section bear repeating: the formula we’ve established does not automatically make a good or interesting skill, as hard as we might have tried. Once again, harken back to the First Great Irony: that we are trying to inject the modern interpretation of what defines a skill upon a game that was not necessarily built to contain it. Therefore, one could just as easily deny each of the components described above, as popular or unpopular as the act might be, and their opinion could be equally valid and all this effort meaningless. Don’t take these guidelines with such stringency as to disregard all other views.
5-0 - The OSRS Team and the Design Process
If you’ve followed me all the way here, you’re likely A) exhausted and fed up of any conversation concerning new skills, or B) excited, because you’ve just struck an incredible skill idea (or perhaps one that’s always hung around your head) that happens to tick off all the above checkboxes. But unfortunately for you B types, it’s about to get pretty grim, because we’re going to go through every aspect of skill design that’s exterior to the game itself. We’ll be touching on larger topics like democracy, presentation, player mindsets, effort, and resource consumption. It’ll induce a fantastic bout of depression, so don’t get left behind.
5-1 - Designing a Skill
Thus far, Jagex has offered three potential skills to OSRS, each of which has been denied. This gives us the advantage of understanding how the skill design process works behind the scenes and lets us examine some of the issues Jagex has faced with presenting a skill to the players. The first problem is the “one strike and you’re out” phenomenon. Simply put, players don’t like applying much effort into reading and learning. They’ll look at a developer blog highlighting a new skill idea, and if you’re lucky they’ll even read the whole thing, but how about the second developer blog? The third? Fourth? Even I find it hard to get that far. In general, people don’t like long detail-heavy essays or blogs, which is why I can invoke the ancient proverb “Ban Emily” into this post and it’ll go (almost) completely unnoticed. No matter how many improvements you make between developer blogs, you will quickly lose players with each new iteration. Similarly, developer blogs don’t have the time to talk about skill design philosophy or meta-analyse their ideas – players would get lost far too fast. This is the Second Great Irony of skill design: the more iterations you have of a lengthy idea, the less players will keep up with you. This was particularly prominent with Warding: Battle Wards were offered in an early developer blog but were quickly cut when Jagex realized how bad the idea was. Yet people would still cite Battle Wards as the reason they voted against Warding, despite the idea having been dropped several blogs before. Similarly, people would often comment that they hated that Warding was being polled multiple times; it felt to them like Jagex was trying to brute-force it into the game. But Warding was only ever polled once, and only after the fourth developer blog - the confusion was drawn from how many times the skill was reiterated and from the length of the public design process. Sure, there are people for whom this runs the opposite way; they keep a close eye on updates and judge a piece of content on the merits of the latest iteration, but this is much less common. You could argue that one should simply disregard the ignorant people as blind comments don't contribute to the overall discussion, but you should remember that these players are also the ones voting for the respective piece of content. You could also suggest re-educating them, which is exactly what Jagex attempts with each developer blog, and still people won’t get the memo. And when it comes to the players themselves, can the playerbase really be relied on to re-educate itself? Overall, the Second Great irony really hurts the development process and is practically an unavoidable issue. What’s the alternative? To remove the developer-player interface that leads to valuable reiterations, or does you simply have to get the skill perfect in the first developer blog? It’s not an optimal idea, but it could help: have a small team of “delegates” – larger names that players can trust, or player influencers – come in to review a new, unannounced skill idea under NDA. If they like it, chances are that other players will too. If they don’t, reiterate or toss out the skill before it’s public. That way, you’ve had a board of experienced players who are willing to share their opinions to the public helping to determine the meat and potatoes of the skill before it is introduced to the casual eye. Now, a more polished and well-accepted product can be presented on the first run of selling a skill to the public, resulting in less reiterations being required, and demanding less effort from the average player to be fully informed over the skill’s final design.
5-2 - Presentation and Beta Testing
So you’ve got a great idea, but how are you going to sell it to the public? Looking at how the OSRS Team has handled it throughout the years, there’s a very obvious learning curve occurring. Artisan had almost nothing but text blogs being thrown to the players, Sailing started introducing some concept art and even a trailer with terrible audio recording, and Warding had concept art, in game models, gifs, and a much fancier trailer with in-game animations. A picture or video is worth a thousand words, and often the only words that players will take out of a developer blog. You might say that presentation is everything, and that would be more true in OSRS than most games. Most activities in OSRS are extremely basic, involve minimal thought, and are incredibly grindy. Take Fishing: you click every 20 seconds on a fishing spot that is randomly placed along a section of water, get rid of your fish, then keep clicking those fishing spots. Boiling it down further, you click several arbitrary parts of your computer screen every 20 seconds. It’s hardly considered engaging, so why do some people enjoy it? Simply put: presentation. You’re given a peaceful riverside environment to chill in, you’re collecting a bunch of pixels shaped like fish, and a number tracking your xp keeps ticking up and telling you that it matters. Now imagine coming to the players with a radical new skill idea: Mining. You describe that Mining is where you gather ores that will feed into Smithing and help create gear for players to use. The audience ponders momentarily, but they’re not quite sure it feels right and ask for a demonstration. You show them some gameplay, but your development resources were thin and instead of rocks, you put trees as placeholders. Instead of ores in your inventory, you put logs as placeholders. Instead of a pickaxe, your character is swinging a woodcutting axe as a placeholder. Sure, the mechanics might act like mining instead of woodcutting, but how well is the skill going to sell if you haven’t presented it correctly or respected it contextually? Again, presentation is everything. Players need to be able to see the task they are to perform, see the tools they’ll use, and see the expected outcomes; otherwise, whatever you’re trying to sell will feel bland and unoriginal. And this leads to the next level of skill presentation that has yet to be employed: Beta Worlds. Part of getting the feel of an activity is not just watching, it but acting it out as well - you’ll never understand the thrill of skydiving unless you’ve actually been skydiving. Beta Worlds are that chance for players to act out a concept without risking the real game’s health. A successful Beta can inspire confidence in players that the skill has a solid Core and interesting Expansions, while a failed Beta will make them glad that they got to try it and be fully informed before putting the skill to a poll (although that might be a little too optimistic for rage culture). Unfortunately, Betas are not without major disadvantages, the most prominent of which we shall investigate next.
5-3 - Development Effort
If you thought that the previous section on Skill Design Philosophy was lengthy and exhausting, imagine having to know all that information and then put it into practice.Mentally designing a skill in your head can be fun, but putting all that down on paper and making it actually work together, feel fully fleshed out, and following all the modern standards that players expect is extremely heavy work, especially when it’s not guaranteed to pay off in the polls like Quest or Slayer content. That’s not even taking into account the potentially immense cost of developing a new skill should it pass a poll. Whenever people complain that Jagex is wasting their resources trying to make that specific skill work, Jagex has been very explicit about the costs to pull together a design blog being pretty minimal. Looking at the previous blogs, Jagex is probably telling the truth. It’s all just a bunch of words, a couple art sketches, and maybe a basic in-game model or gif. Not to downplay the time it takes to write well, design good models, or generate concept art, but it’s nothing like the scale of resources that some players make it out to be. Of course, if a Beta was attempted as suggested last section, this conversation would take a completely new turn, and the level of risk to invested resources would exponentially increase. But this conversation calls to mind an important question: how much effort and resources do skills require to feel complete? Once upon a time, you could release a skill which was more or less unfinished. Take Slayer: it was released in 2005 with a pretty barebones structure. The fundamentals were all there, but the endgame was essentially a couple cool best-in-slot weapons and that was it. Since then, OSRS has updated the skill to include a huge Reward Shop system, feature 50% more monsters to slay, and to become an extremely competitive money-maker. Skills naturally undergo development over time, but it so often comes up during the designing of an OSRS skill that it "doesn't have enough to justify its existence." This was touched on deeply in Section 3-13 – Skill Bloat, but deserves reiterating here. While people recognize that skills continually evolve, the modern standard expects a new skill, upon release, to be fully preassembled before purchase. Whereas once you could get away with releasing just a skill's Core and working on Expansions down the line, that is no longer the case. But perhaps a skill might stand a better chance now than it did last year, given that the OSRS Team has doubled in number since that time. However, judging from the skill design phases that have previously been attempted (as we’ve yet to see a skill development phase), the heaviest cost has been paid in developer mentality and motivational loss. When a developer is passionate about an idea, they spend their every waking hour pouring their mind into how that idea is going to function,especially while they’re not at work. And then they’re obligated to take player feedback and adapt their ideas, sometimes starting from scratch, particularly over something as controversial as a skill. Even if they have tough enough skin to take the heavy criticism that comes with skill design, having to write and rewrite repeatedly over the same idea to make it “perfect” is mentally exhausting. Eventually, their motivation drains as their labour bears little fruit with the audience, and they simply want to push it to the poll and be done with it. Even once all their cards are down, there’s still no guarantee that their efforts will be rewarded, even less so when it comes to skills. With such a high mental cost with a low rate of success, you have to ask, “Was it worth it?” And that’s why new skill proposals are far and few between. A new skill used to be exciting for the development team in the actual days of 2007, as they had the developmental freedom to do whatever they wanted, but in the modern day that is not so much the case.
5-4 - The Problems of Democracy
Ever since the conceptualization of democracy in the real world, people have been very aware of its disadvantages. And while I don’t have the talent, knowledge, or time to discuss every one of these factors, there are a few that are very relevant when it comes to the OSRS Team and the polling process. But first we should recognize the OSRS Team’s relationship with the players. More and more, the Team acts like a government to its citizens, the players, and although this situation was intentionally instated with OSRS’s release, it’s even more prominent now. The Team decides the type of content that gets to go into a poll, and the players get their input over whether that particular piece makes it in. Similarly, players make suggestions to the Team that, in many cases, the Team hadn’t thought of themselves. This synergy is phenomenal and almost unheard of among video games, but the polling system changes the mechanics of this relationship. Polls were introduced to the burned and scarred population of players at OSRS’s release in 2013. Many of these players had just freshly come off RS2 after a series of disastrous updates or had quit long before from other controversies. The Squeal of Fortune, the Evolution of Combat, even the original Wilderness Removal had forced numerous players out and murdered their trust in Jagex. To try and get players to recommit to Runescape, Jagex offered OSRS a polling system by which the players would determine what went into the game, where the players got to hold all the cards. They also asked the players what threshold should be required for polled items to pass, and among the odd 50% or 55% being shouted out, the vast majority of players wanted 70%, 75%, 80%, or even 85%. There was a massive population in favour of a conservative game that would mostly remain untouched, and therefore kept pure from the corruption RS2 had previously endured. Right from the start, players started noticing holes in this system. After all, the OSRS Team was still the sole decider of what would actually be polled in the first place. Long-requested changes took forever to be polled (if ever polled at all) if the OSRS Team didn’t want to deal with that particular problem or didn’t like that idea. Similarly, the Team essentially had desk jobs with a noose kept around their neck – they could perform almost nothing without the players, their slave masters, seeing, criticizing, and tearing out every inch of developmental or visionary freedom they had. Ever hear about the controversy of Erin the duck? Take a look at the wiki or do a search through the subreddit history. It’s pretty fantastic, and a good window into the minds of the early OSRS playerbase. But as the years have gone on, the perspective of the players has shifted. There is now a much healthier and more trusting relationship between them and the Team, much more flexibility in what the players allow the Team to handle, and a much greater tolerance and even love of change. But the challenges of democracy haven’t just fallen away. Everyone having the right to vote is a fundamental tenet of the democratic system, but unfortunately that also means that everyone has the right to vote. For OSRS, that means that every member, whether it’s their first day in game, their ten thousandth hour played, those who have no idea about what the poll’s about, those who haven’t read a single quest (the worst group), those who RWT and bot, those who scam and lure, and every professional armchair developer like myself get to vote. In short, no one will ever be perfectly informed on every aspect of the game, or at least know when to skip when they should. Similarly, people will almost never vote in favour of making their game harder, even at the cost of game integrity, or at least not enough people would vote in such a fashion to reach a 75% majority. These issues are well recognized. The adoption of the controversial “integrity updates” was Jagex’s solution to these problems. In this way, Jagex has become even more like a government to the players. The average citizen of a democratic country cannot and will not make major decisions that favour everyone around themselves if it comes at a personal cost. Rather, that’s one of the major roles of a government: to make decisions for changes for the common good that an individual can’t or won’t make on their own. No one’s going to willingly hand over cash to help repave a road on the opposite side of the city – that’s why taxes are a necessary evil. It’s easy to see that the players don’t always know what’s best for their game and sometimes need to rely on that parent to decide for them, even if it results in some personal loss. But players still generally like the polls, and Jagex still appears to respect them for the most part. Being the government of the game, Jagex could very well choose to ignore them, but would risk the loss of their citizens to other lands. And there are some very strong reasons to keep them: the players still like having at least one hand on the wheel when it comes to new content or ideas. Also, it acts as a nice veto card should Jagex try to push RS3’s abusive tactics on OSRS and therefore prevent such potential damage. But now we come to the topic of today: the introduction of a new skill. Essentially, a new skill must pass a poll in order to enter the game. While it’s easy to say, “If a skill idea is good enough, it’ll pass the threshold,” that’s not entirely true. The only skill that could really pass the 75% mark is not necessarily a well-designed skill, but rather a crowd-pleasing skill. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, the latter is far easier to make than the former. Take Dungeoneering: if you were to poll it today as an exact replica of RS2’s version, it would likely be the highest scoring skill yet, perhaps even passing, despite every criticism that’s been previously emphasized describing why it has no respect for the current definition of “skill.” Furthermore, a crowd-pleasing skill can easily fall prey to deindividualization of vision and result in a bland “studio skill” (in the same vein as a “studio film”), one that feels manufactured by a board of soulless machines rather than a director’s unique creation. This draws straight back to the afore-mentioned issues with democracy: that people A) don’t always understand what they’re voting for or against, and B) people will never vote for something that makes their game tougher or results in no benefit to oneself. Again, these were not issues in the old days of RS2, but are the problems we face with our modern standards and decision making systems. The reality that must be faced is that the polling system is not an engine of creation nor is it a means of constructive feedback – it’s a system of judgement, binary and oversimplified in its methodology. It’s easy to interact with and requires no more than 10 seconds of a player’s time, a mere mindless moment, to decide the fate of an idea made by an individual or team, regardless of their deep or shallow knowledge of game mechanics, strong or weak vision of design philosophy, great or terrible understanding of the game’s history, and their awareness of blindness towards the modern community. It’s a system which disproportionately boils down the quality of discussion that is necessitated by a skill, which gives it the same significance as the question “Should we allow players to recolour the Rocky pet by feeding it berries?” with the only available answers being a dualistic “This idea is perfect and should be implemented exactly as outlined” or “This idea is terrible and should never be spoken of again.” So what do you do? Let Jagex throw in whatever they want? Reduce the threshold, or reduce it just for skills? Make a poll that lists a bunch of skills and forces the players to choose one of them to enter the game? Simply poll the question, “Should we have a new skill?” then let Jagex decide what it is? Put more options on the scale of “yes” to “no” and weigh each appropriately? All these options sound distasteful because there are obvious weaknesses to each. But that is the Third Great Irony we face: an immense desire for a new skill, but no realistic means to ever get one.
6-0 - Conclusion
I can only imagine that if you’ve truly read everything up to this point, it’s taken you through quite the rollercoaster. We’ve walked through the history of OSRS skill attempts, unconstructive arguments, various aspects of modern skill design philosophy, and the OSRS Team and skill design process. When you take it all together, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the thought that needs to go into a modern skill and all the issues that might prevent its success. Complexity, naming conventions, categorizations, integration, rewards and motivations, bankstanding and buyables, the difficulties of skill bloat, balancing, and skill endgames, aesthetics, the design process, public presentation, development effort, democracy and polling - these are the challenges of designing and introducing modern skills. To have to cope with it all is draining and maybe even impossible, and therefore it begs the question: is trying to get a new skill even worth it? Maybe. Thanks for reading. Tl;dr: Designing a modern skill requires acknowledging the vast history of Runescape, understanding why players make certain criticisms and what exactly they’re saying in terms of game mechanics, before finally developing solutions. Only then can you subject your ideas to a polling system that is built to oversimplify them.
Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a Solo modern day occult RPG, written by Alex T. for Blackoath Entertainment. I first stumbled upon it on Kickstarter in October of 2019, and immediately backed it. There are few deliberately designed Solo RPG's, and its promise of solo rules, robust system, and setting was irresistible. I received my print copy this summer, but haven't had a chance until recently to play it. Now that I have, I wanted to do a quick review of the game, based on both my reading of it as well as the couple of sessions I've been able to play. While most of the review will be discussing the book itself, I'll include some notes on my play experience in spoilers. Layout and Design The book itself is solid. The cover image is cool and evocative--and the art in general is very well done. I only backed at the softcover level, but it's a solid and well designed layout. Actually, better than some of the recent games I've bought from more established companies. Setting It's modern day London. Your character has gone through some traumatic and horrifying experience that awakened them to the greater supernatural world. After much searching, you have come to the Omphalos, a secret town populated by mystics, monsters, and other...things. There, you begin your journey of both personal enlightenment and personal power. Character Creation Seekers uses the 6 classic attributes--Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, and Charisma, with Will replacing Wisdom. The scale is from 1-20, with all starting at 10. You then get an additional 20 points to further customize your character. I ended up putting my points into Dexterity, Will, Intelligence, and Charisma. I figured Will and Intelligence are key to any aspiring wizard, and--desiring to do something different than a rogue bad ass--I was hoping that Dexterity and Charisma would give me options to solve issues with something other than direct violence. This would become an issue later on. Next, you have "Secondary Attributes"--Hit Points (Con x10) or Sanity (Int x10) and the like. Then, you have Skills. They're pretty much what you would expect, a mix of combat and non-combat. You have 250 points to spend on the skills, but are limited to no more than 50 in any skill at creation. Some skills have a base value derived from your attributes (for example, One-Handed Melee starts with a value equal to your Str+Dex, while Persuade starts with a value equal to your Charisma X2), while other skills--the mystical ones--begin at 0 and can only be increased through gameplay. If you use a skill 5 times, you can make a Skill-Up roll. If you roll above the current value (i.e.: fail), you add 1 point to the skill. Given that I had a decent Dex, my combat skills were decent to begin with. I wanted to play an "ordinary joe" kind of character, so I spend my points on skills like Technology, Linguistics, and Persuade. I finally caved to my min/maxing tendencies though, and ended up boosting Parry and Sneak as high as I could, with a smattering of points in other combat skills. I had quite a few in the mid-40's, so my "mild mannered accountant" was surprisingly dangerous. Or so I thought. Backgrounds After the basics are done, you roll a d10 for your Background. Each provides and in-depth backstory for your character, and details the traumatic and often horrific moment that set you on the path of magic. Each also provides various penalties and bonuses that further modify your character. I rolled the "Near Death Experience"--my PC was a workaholic who almost dies of a heart attack. While "dead," he encounter a horrific spirit that he just barely managed to evade. Upon waking, he through aside his career and sought out some explanation for what he had seen. He has a bonus to Psychic Combat--which is used in the Astral Plane--but a penalty to his Constitution and Charisma. I had left my Con at 10, so it dropped to 9, and my Hit Points also dropped from 100 to 90. I wasn't worried though, as I had intended to be more sneaky and charming than tough. He said foreshadowingly. Combat Combat is relatively simple. As you approach a foe, you make an Initiative roll on a d20. Each foe has a static Initiative value; if you beat it, you go first and if not, then they do. If you beat them on the first turn, you have a chance to surprise or avoid them entirely. All combat rolls are done by the player. If an enemy attacks, you need to make a defensive roll (Parry, Dodge, or Find Cover) to avoid their attack, and you make your offensive roll (like One Handed Melee) to hit them. Certain foes are Veterans, and apply penalties to these rolls. Different types of weapons do different amounts of damage--like 2d10+10 for a pistol. In the intro adventure, the PC gains a "talent" that grants them a flat +25 to their damage from then on. Most foes have roughly 100-130 Hit Points, so even with the player bonus, it can take quite a few rounds to get through even minor enemies. The Mystical World The next few sections are some of the most interesting, describing the Astral World, Magic, Summoning and Binding Spirits, and the like. I haven't had a chance to really dig into this aspect of the game, however. The Omphalos and Scenarios The core of the game is the Omphalos, a hub of trade, commerce, knowledge and intrigue. Here the PC can buy and sell gear, learn new knowledge, encounter the strange denizens of this world, and get missions for various factions. There are four listed in the book, each with their own agendas and philosophy. Each has constant need for "foot soldiers" to do various unsavory tasks for them, and as you gain Favor with each, they provide various bonuses and spells and other benefits. >! So, I finished the intro scenario, had some knowledge of the greater world, and had been introduced to the Omphalos. Time for the first "real" adventure! First, I roll on the Emphalos Daily Event table and got "quiet day"--things are calm today, and prices are low. I have only a few obols (the currency of the magical realm), so any discount is nice. Then I roll for Encounters, and get "pickpocket." There's no roll to avoid this, so my PC loses 100 obols. This is more than I have, so I am no broke. Desperate for work, I see who is hiring. There are 4 factions, and each might have a represented in town that day, based on a roll of 7+ on a D10. I roll for each, and only one is present, the Causa Scientiae a particularly rational and Order focused faction. I then roll for the Scenario--I get "recover." One of their artifacts has fallen into mortal hands and is in a museum. They want me to recover it for them. Given the setup, there will only be mortal guards--which is nice--and they don't want me to kill anyone. In fact, each guard I kill will cost me the possible Favor reward with the faction. Works for me--I don't want to kill anyone either.!< I could refuse job, but risk losing Favor with them. Given that they are the only ones hiring today, I'm loathe to refuse. Plus the job seems up my alley--no magics needed (and I have none), and I should avoid all combat. Since other types of mission are "kill everything on site" or "kill everything and cast a really tough ritual" I figure I'm unlikely to get a better mission. Next I go to the scenario design. There are a number of possible locations, and each has a unique setup, Events, and Discoveries. This is probably my favorite part of the game. I roll some dice, get a list of rooms and locations, and then create a simple map for my explorations. I know given the setup that the artifact in question will be discovered in the 16th room. But, a roleplayer is gonna roleplay, so I decide my PC will make a beeline for the Archives, assuming that the object surely must be there. And, if not, it will have the necessary paperwork showing where the object is. Each room has unique odds for three different types of encounters--Enemies, Events, and Discoveries. I begin at the Entrance, and have no enemies but an Event reveals Drug Fueled Goons--apparently the guards here are all high as hell, and have a bonus of 20 to their Hit Points, but a -10 to combat. So, tougher to kill, but easier to hit and avoid. The next room I enter is the Lobby, and there's a guard present. The guard rules state that they will attack on site. I could use an alternate rule that lets you talk past human-type foes but, well, I am breaking in and they are all drugged the hell up, so I stick with the basic rules. Still, I try to avoid them but fail in my starting initiative roll. The battle begins, and the dice are on my side. It's a running gun battle, but I'm able to kill the guard. When he's wounded, he calls for backup, and the dice gods are still smiling at me, and I make it through that battle without any injuries. I'm upset at my failure to avoid combat--and losing Favor with my client--but after some nasty battles in the intro adventure, I start to think I'm getting things sorted out. I continue exploring and even manage to successfully sneak past a guard. As I'm exploring one of the administration offices, I run into another one. This time I can't avoid him, and another fight ensues. This time, the dice don't roll so well. He quickly gets the better of me, and I end up taking a lot damage. And with only 90 Hit Points, it's far more than I'm comfortable with. I decide to run. To run away, you need to roll a D20 and, like initiative, and beat their Dexterity but even still they get a free attack on you. Not that it matters, as I fail to disengage. After two rounds spent trying to run away, my PC is shot dead on some secretaries desk and my game came to a close. Concluding Thoughts Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a very interesting game. Obviously, a ton of thought, love, and work has been poured into this game. And there is a lot I love about it--the world, the discussions on magic and spirits, the mission setup system--all top notch. But, there are some things that didn't quite work for me.
Skill resolution. The binary pass/fail doesn't really interest me, particularly for a Solo game. This is purely a personal preference, however.
Skill improvement. 5 usage of skills or 5 combats (for combat skills) to have the chance to increase a skill by 1%? Character progression seems like it would be glacial. Not that I would know, since...
Combat is brutal, and tedious. Not only does even simple combat take several rounds (each requiring an Initiative Roll, a defense roll, an offense roll, and various damage rolls), but they are fairly generic without a chance to meaningfully do anything different or interesting. Also, while the game embraces an "old school" philosophy that not all fights should be fought, this runs counter to both the Scenario design (where "kill all foes" is a pretty common goal), and the System itself. Combat is assumed, after all, and avoiding it requires two separate rolls, neither of which will have a more than 50% chance, at best, of success. And failing either results in combat which requires sheer luck to disengage from.
The Scenario and the system felt...disjointed. This is another purely subjective point, I'll concede, but I didn't like how I had to "dungeon crawl" my way through the Museum. I like the idea of a museum unknowingly having a mystical artifact and my ex-accountant having to figure out how to steal it, without killing anyone. I'd love to do a solo game where I need to assemble a crew to try and help me (can I trust them?), try to locate where the artifact is, do some recon, plan the heist, try to get and get out without drawing attention. Sounds like a fun heist game that could at any moment fall apart. Walking around room by room killing guards didn't seem to do the setup justice.
Failure. Failure needs to be part of any game system, because otherwise it's not really a "game." And death is the ultimate failure, which gives combat meaning. But there has to be a middle ground between "you can't fail" and "oh, you didn't roll significantly better than average for the past 8 dice rolls, so your character is dead and the game is over." I don't know how to square this particular circle.
I'll probably give the game another shot. But, instead of playing an average guy awakening to a wider world, I'll probably go with a more "badass" character and hope he can survive the first few missions. In Seekers, knowing ancient languages is nice, but real mages know how to use a Glock. TLDR Seekers Beyond the Shroud is an interesting Solo RPG of modern occult shenanigans. it has a lot of very interesting and fun mechanics to bring the game to life, but suffers from some bad editing (make sure you play through the intro scenario or you WILL miss a key "PC Bonus") and an unforgiving system. Still, worth checking out for any Solo gamer interested in more contemporary game.
Gravity's Rainbow Reading Group | Sections 66-69 | Week 20
Alright, home stretch foax. This section's a beast. Hang in there and keep sharing your insights! All together now... Section 66 "You will want cause and effect. All right." (663) What an opening - it's almost confrontational, mocking our need for clear narrative structure and causality. We discover that Thanatz was tossed overboard in the same storm that sent Slothrop off the Anubis and off on his adventure with Frau Gnahb. Thanatz is rescued by someone even stranger - an unnamed Polish undertaker (think on the etymology of that word) who happens to be a lightening aficionado. I'll stop here and comment that, earlier, when Slothrop fell into the water before and after getting on the Anubis, it brought to mind the river Styx in Hades - another underworld. It washes clean one's identity and memory. Makes you forget who you are. And there's traditionally a ferryman, Charon, to help people cross it. Can't help but think that's who saved Thanatz here, carrying him from the land of the dead to the land of the unliving, the preterite detritus of WWII. (An aside: Speaking of Styx, has anyone listened to Mr. Roboto recently? That song has some Gravity's Rainbow vibes.) Our undertaker here is inspired by the Franklin myth and is trying to get struck by lightening in order to experience that "singular point, [that] discontinuity in the curve of life" (664) passing from a rate of change of positive infinity to one of negative infinity in the blink of an eye. Seems there's something of a conspiracy among those who have been through this point of infinite inflection - a secret society of lightening heads who are aware not of another reality but of a new layer of reality laid on top of our own. Insight into a higher level of reality, of hidden systems. We get an example of the content of the lightning-aficionado's publication A Nickel Saved and it's supposedly full of coded messages for Those Who Know, each part being a veiled reference to other topics that contain the true meaning, requiring a true paranoid's ability to see (make?) connections. For example, there are repeated mentions of April, Easter, and Spring - the season of rebirth. To an Amperage Contest and lightbulbs failing - Byron the Bulb's attempts to strike back, perchance? A screen-door salesman - what is a screen door except a permeable interface? But our undertaker isn't interested in secret knowledge - he just wants to be a better businessman - and he deposits Thanatz on the shore and rows back off into the storm. Here, Thanatz meets a group of 175s - men formerly imprisoned in the Dora camp for being gay - who have formed their own solitary community in this isolated section of northern Germany. I suspect some of this imagery may initially shock readers - concentration camp victims who want to return to their prison? Who set up their own 175-Stadt to recreate the conditions of their imprisonment? But think about it - just last section, we saw Katje, someone who's been used and abused by those in power, balk at the thought of being truly free because she had become dependent on systems of control. She had integrated those control systems as part of her identity, her sense of self. "She needs the whip," Blicero wrote of her (662). Just like Katje, these men became so conditioned to depend on a system of total control and rigid social hierarchies that they don't know how to function without it. Their 175-Stadt doesn't seem like such a ridiculously dark, inappropriate caricature now, does it? Because isn't that a central point of this book - that everyone has been conditioned to need control, to need Their System, to not know how to function without it? Slothrop was our perfect everyman from within this system, and look at what it took for him to actually be free (and even then, the ideal of America still has a colonial outpost in his head). But in their 175-Stadt, these men at least control their system of control. They built it, they staff every level of it, and it's entirely under their control. An isolated state, separate from the broader System. But is there a ruler in this system, a king? No, simply the figment of Blicero. His name, his specter, looming over everything. A system of control with no real king? We've seen that before. Not only that, but this micro-society is not based strictly on the SS command from Dora, but what the prisoners inferred about the rocket command structure in the Mittelwerke. So even their "recreation" of their imprisonment is an approximation of a different system. I'd also stop here to comment that, is this imagery really as ridiculous/insane as it first appears? I'd say no, since the queeS&M community absolutely took inspiration from Nazi uniforms as symbols of dominance and control, repurposing it into fetishwear. But then, as in this 175-Stadt, the control is by choice, as is the submission. As we've seen elsewhere in this book (Blicero's Oven-State), turning submission into a fetish can be a form of rebellion, since it subverts Their means of control (fear of pain) and turns it into a source of pleasure. Is it truly control if you're choosing it? Enjoying it? No one said this book asks easy questions of its readers... Thanatz keeps looking for answers, and gets swept up amidst the vast swarms of preterite Displaced Persons being shifted across the zone. What's concerning is that these supposedly-free, albeit displaced, people, are shuffled without purpose across the Zone, with minimal food, water, or medicine, being "herded into wire enclosure[s]" and shipped around in freight cars, "deloused, poked, palpated, named, numbered, consigned, invoiced, misrouted, detained, ignored" (669). It's almost impossible to miss the painful similarity here to the treatment of Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. Only here the mistreatment isn't out of some pathological hatred, simply a system without a place for so many people, and without the committed resources to actually, effectively help them. The thought is unsettling, since we like to imagine that only Naziesque hatred could prompt such brutal mistreatment, not apathy. Finally, he's rescued by the Schwarzkommando thanks to his knowledge of Blicero and the firing of Rocket 00000. Here, we learn a bit more about what happened that day. Looking into Blicero's eyes, he saw windmills reflected, though none were in the area. Another four-way mandala, like we saw last week with Slothrop. Thanatz isn't in great mental shape by this point, and he's beginning to equate Gottfried and Bianca both as his children. Why? Because he felt some sense of responsibility to them? Because he failed them? Either way, the Schwarzkommando learn all they need from him about that fateful noon on the Heath, though we do not. The section ends with a simple touch of hands between Enzian and Christian, a moment of connection, of trust. Section 67 Man, how do I even start summarizing this complete doozy of a section? As Weissenburger writes, "In this episode the narration begins to fragment." (344) Ya don't say... Well, here goes. We being one serious trip of a section with Slothrop, as part of a rather unimpressive team of quasi-superheros (the "Floundering Four") fighting against evil ol' Broderick Slothrop amidst the factory-state (a Metropolis-like iteration of the Rocket-State with movable buildings?!). Broderick, in the role of comic book supervillain, keeps trying to off Slothrop, but our hero has a lucky streak just wide enough to keep him alive. Right off the bat, we see another image of the chessboard - the whole factory-state is laid out in a grid, and it's all A Game of Chess, as der Springer already informed us, and our movements are limited. Crucially, "Your objective is not the King - there is no King - but momentary targets such as the Radiant Hour." (674) How can you win at chess when there's no King? How can the land be restored and the cycle renewed if there's no King to die and be replaced? Slothrop is joined by a truly slipshod lot: Myrtle Miraculous, the only one who seems to have actual powers; Maximilian, a suave Black club manager who can flow with all natural rhythms and thus able to navigate any scenario with ease, and Marcel, a mechanical chess player (an embodiment of the Mechanical Turk, but crucially, one without the hidden human operator. No hidden Grandmaster lurking inside Marcel here - nope, this android's the real deal. This section includes one of my favorite quotes from the book: "Decisions are never really made - at best they manager to emerge, from a chaos of peeves, whims, hallucinations and all-round assholery." (676) I can think of several times where I've been able to relate to that scenario all too well. Their chances for success and failure are equal, but these opposing odds don't cancel each other out - instead, the two opposing forces just create a "loud dissonance". The crew undertake some truly hallucinatory adventures through the Racketen-Stadt which I will not attempt to summarize, as that would be an exercise in futility. But we are treated to flashes of Slothrop, "Broderick and Nalline's shadow-child, their unconfessed, their monster son," (677) getting locked in an icebox, piloting a mobile building through the grid-streets of the factory-state like a giant chess piece. One line really jumps out at me, here, that I think is important: "Their struggle is not the only, or even the ultimate one. Indeed, not only are there many other struggles, but there are also spectators, watching, as spectators will do, hundreds of thousands of them." (679) Makes me think of the "glozing neuters," mentioned earlier - of the masses of people who are just trying to live their lives, neither part of any conspiracy nor actively aware of being subject to one. Must be nice. At the same time, the idea of other, simultaneous struggles, is noteworthy - it brings to mind the concept of intersectionality, and how people realizing their unique, individual struggles share common sources, and common traits, which they can work together to fight. We end this sub-section in an arena for these exact masses, where our heroes are on a stakeout, with Slothrop in full drag waiting in the Transvestites' Toilet for a message. You may be wondering about the multiple instances of cross-dressing, in various iterations, throughout the book. Slothrop in drag and Blicero in a wig and merkin come to mind. One aspect, I'd say, is that it reflects a blending of two (as far as society is generally concerned) binary opposites. A crossing-over, a transgression against the status quo and an option other than 1 or 0. Eliot, in his Notes on The Waste Land, wrote,
"Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a 'character', is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem." (Emphasis mine).
Cue Crutchfield the Westwardman's world of only one of everything. Likewise, the women in Gravity's Rainbow often blend together, share traits or imagery. So do the men. The joining of the two sexes in Blicero, as well as Slothrop here at the end, is significant. The Low-Frequency Listeners The introduction here of the character of Rohr, the Keeper of the Antenna, specifically as a Jehovah's witness, was odd. It's such a specific subsect of Christianity. Then we see - he heard a man on the radio, dying, asking for a priest. Rohr says, "Should I have got on and told him about priests? Would he've found any comfort in that?" (682). In what? I had to look it up, but when I did, it clicked - Jehovah's witnesses apparently do not have priests, because they are all ordained. There is no separate priest caste in their church, and thus no Preterite/Elect division. In this section, we also learn that the Nuremberg trials are getting underway. Mom Slothrop's Letter to Ambassador Kennedy You start to feel even more sorry for Slothrop as you realize just how terrible his parents apparently were. His mom cares enough to at least write another letter asking Ambassador Kennedy as to what the hell happened to their son, but her letter quickly devolves into drunken ramblings complaining about striking workers and managing to make an innuendo about Jack Kennedy while also dismissing her love of her sons. Oof. Maybe Otto was right with his conspiracy of mothers... On the Phrase "Ass-Backwards" An entertaining linguistic debate between Säure and Slothrop on American idioms, specifically ones involving a reversal, as in the case of "ass-backwards". The section then slips into a story of Säure, in his youth, breaking into the home of a young woman, Minnie, who is unable to hear or pronounce umlauted letters, and thus manages to shout the word "helicopter" rather than "cute robber" well before the vehicle was ever invented. Her cry is heard by none other than a young aerodynamics student. The word is taken as a prophesy and a warning of the helicopter's symbol of the police state, with armed officers hanging out the sides, aiming down at their targets. My Doper's Cadenza It begins with a serenade from Bodine, and then an exploration of the tenement building "Der Platz" that is home to numerous drug addicts, dope peddlers, and general ne'er-do-wells. They are building an anti-police moat around the building, entirely underground so as to avoid detection, saving breaking through the street for the end. Shit 'n' Shinola Another idiomatic diversion for Säure. A beautiful line is tucked away in here - "from outside, the Hall is golden, the white gold precisely of one lily-of-the-valley petal in 4 o'clock sunlight, serene, at the top of an artificially-graded hill." (687) This building, the Schein-Aula (Seeming-Hall), suggests "persistence, through returns of spring, hopes for love, melting snow and ice, academic Sunday tranquillities, smells of grass just crushed or cut or later turning to hay..." (688) Yet again, imagery of spring, of a return to life from the dead season of winter, of the cycle. We return to the Roseland Ballroom, where shit 'n' Shinola do actually come together. "Shit, now, is the color white folks are afraid of. Shit is the presence of death, not some abstract-arty character with a scythe but the stiff and rotting corpse itself inside the whiteman's warm and private own asshole, which is getting pretty intimate. That's what that white toilet's for.... that white porcelain's the very emblem of Odorless and Official Death." (688) Here Pynchon cuts straight to the point - the almost pathological fear of death and its connections to fears of blackness, excrement. Shit, Death, and the Word. Edwin Treacle hit on this back on p. 276 when he tried to show his colleagues at the White Visitation "that their feelings about blackness were tied to feelings about shit, and feelings about shit to feelings about putrefaction and death." The cycle of life is too organic, too messy. Better to replace carbon with silicon, to hide shit with porcelain, to treat people with dark skin as "other" or sub-human to avoid acknowledging that their non-European, communal ways of life were, in fact, totally natural. An Incident in the Transvestites' Toilet Not King Kong, but a small, costumed ape comes up to Slothrop, who's wearing a Fay Wray dress while waiting in the bathroom for a still-unspecified message. We get a Miltonic blank-verse poem (thanks, Weissenburger!) about the movie King Kong, written in the voice of Anne Darrow (Fay Wray's character). It's honestly quite good - I love the line "in your own stone living space" - the internal rhyme there sounds really nice, and I like the riff on living stone / Livingston, both of which have popped up previously. In the poem, Darrow talks about when she was tied up, hung by the natives as an offering to "the night's one Shape to come" (689), echoing both Greta Erdman's scene in Alpdrücken and the Hanged Man card of the Tarot (willing sacrifice, sacrifice that prompts a return, a renewal of the cycle). Darrow says she prayed, "not for Jack," her suave costar, but for her director Carl Denham, "only him, with gun and camera... making the unreal reel / By shooting at it, one way or the other-" (689). Throughout GR, we've seen a film motif, and this really brings it home. The analogy of a gun to a camera, both of which make the unreal real (a camera creates films that interpret real life - the "unreal reel", a gun makes death, which we've blocked away and tried to avoid, real and inescapable). The director is in control of the movie, the actors, the story, of how it works and what is told. Darrow ends by asking Carl to "show me the key light, whisper me a line..." - a key light is used in cinema and photography to not just shed light on the subject, but to do so in a way that provides form and dimension to the subject and the scene. So Darrow is asking for the director to literally give her form and definition, to tell her what to say next. This ape, though, isn't so Romantic as ol' Kong though, and is much more direct. It hands Slothrop an anarchist's bomb straight out of the comics pages, and takes off. Slothrop freezes and is saved by a helpful transvestite who takes the bomb and flushes it down the toilet. But it explodes anyway, sending geysers of water up out of all the toilets. A Voice comes out of he Loudspeaker informing everyone that it was, in fact, a sodium bomb that explodes upon contact with water. Tellls everyone to get the "dangerous maniac" who threw it. That was supposed to be Slothrop, but he was saved by his indecision and the kindness of a stranger, who is now set upon by the other occupants of the toilet. A Moment of Fun with Takeshi and Ichizo, the Komical Kamikazes We now jump to a pair of comically-mismatched Kamikaze pilots stationed on a remote island well away from any conflict. One flies a Zero, the other flies an "Ohka device" which is basically a rocket-bomb with a pilot's seat. They get moonshine from their radarman, Kenosho, who mocks them daily for the lack of opportunities to fly to their deaths and who comes up with haikus that, while in the right format, really miss the heart of what a haiku is supposed to be. Streets Back to Slothrop, now, and a catalogue of the streets he's traveled down and what he's seen. We get a meditation on the absurdity of army chaplains, who worked for the Army and "stood up and talked to the men who were going to die about God, death, nothingness, redemption, salvation." (693) And it does seem a bit absurd when you consider that the Army that employs the chaplains is the same entity sending the men off to die. We see a bus driver (perchance our maniac bus driver from earlier?) driving through town in the night, his passengers looking out the windows, their faces "drowned-man green, insomniac, tobacco-starved, scared, not of tomorrow, not yet, but of this pause in their night-passage, of how easy it will be to lose, and how much it will hurt..." (693) Going back to the Waste Land, the phrase "I do not find / The Hanged Man. Fear death by water." is symbolic of a death without return (drowning) contrasted to the sacrifice/return symbolized by The Hanged Man. These poor passengers, it seems, aren't to expect any return. Slothrop also, at this point, learns of the bombing of Hiroshima from a discarded Army newspaper, the photo of the atomic blast placed in poor taste next to an image of a pin-up girl. The bomb's mushroom cloud is compared to the Cross, to a capital-T Tree. But which tree? Is this a meditation on the deadly, unforgettable knowledge of how to split the atom, or of the tree of life, with the citizens of Hiroshima as a sacrifice made... but to what? I'm honestly not sure. Would love your thoughts. Listening to the Toilet As others have noted, this book in many ways is about the drug counterculture and hippie movement of the 60s/early 70s. This is the most overt in this section, in which we learn that listening for the cessation of the flow of water to the toilet in the pipes is a cue that a police raid is imminent - shutting off the water being a way to prevent the flushing of illicit substances. But it takes a special ear to hear the cessation of a subtle, pervasive white noise. What if the sun, in fact, massive furnace that it is, emits a constant, low-level roar that is so incessant we don't even hear it? What if eddies in the current of the Soniferous Aether cause rare spots of true quiet, where the noise is no longer transmitted and anyone in that spot can hear their own heartbeat it's so quiet? Interestingly, there are "quiet rooms" designed to absorb nearly all sound, used for precise sound calibration. I remember reading that most people can't sit in one of those rooms for more than 30 minutes or so because it's literally so quiet that you can hear the blood flowing through your veins, and people have even reported auditory hallucinations as a result. But why this digression? Maybe because we need to be asking what other white noise is out there that we've become completely deaf to? I think Roger and Jessica found a pocket of this quiet, early in the book, where the "noise" of modern society and all its associated obligations was muted by the War. Witty Repartee A return to our Komical Kamikazes, and a meditation on the ubiquity of the Hotchkiss machine gun across nations, independent of alliances. We get an image of a false King - an inbred idiot lying naked in a dumpster, attracting the attention of potential revolutionaries. But they can't decide if he's "a diversionary nuisance planted here by the Management, or whether he's real Decadent Aristocracy to be held for real ransom" (698). While the would-be revolutionaries are debating in the alley, sentries with the aforementioned Hotchkiss guns take positions on the rooftops, aiming down... Heart-to-Heart, Man-to-Man A dialogue here between Slothrop and ol' Broderick, with dear old dad interrogating his wayward son about a modern electric drug. Slothrop reassures him that he'd never shoot raw electricity - no, they dope themselves with waves. Major pre-Cyberpunk vibes here, with Broderick warning "Suppose someday you just plug in and go away and never come back?" to which Tyrone replies, "What do you think every electrofreak dreams about? .... Maybe there is a Machine to take us away, take us completely, suck us out through the electrodes out of the skull 'n' into the Machine and live there forever.... We can live forever, in a clean, honest, purified Electroworld-" (699). Matrix, anyone? Not to mention the waves of radio, TV, etc. and the simple, episodic, controlled reality they offer. Pleasantville also comes to mind, with all its commentary on the shows of the era. Some Characteristics of Imipolex G We learn that Imipolex G is the first erectile plastic, stiffening in response to certain electronic stimuli. The potential of a layer of controlling wires just under the outer layer of Imipolex, making it a second skin - a synthetic interface. Alternately, there's the potential to control it via a projection of "an electronic 'image; analogous to a motion picture." (700) My gods, I made it through this section... Section 68 Tchitcherine now, dealing with a spook, Nikolai Ripov, from the Commissariat for Intelligence Activities. His pal Džabajev has run off with "two local derelicts" (700) and is impersonating Frank Sinatra and wooing the ladies of the Zone. We get the line, "While nobles are crying in their nights' chains, the squires sing. The terrible politics of the Grail can never touch them. Song is the magic cape." (701) - Seems another example of folks recognizing the game, the Grail quest, for what it was and checking out - deciding not to play and just enjoy themselves while the Elect lose sleep over the endless searching. Ripov explains to Tchitcherine how "the basic problem... has always been getting other people to die for you." (701) Religion used to serve as an effective control for that reason - death isn't quite as scary if you think you're going to heaven. But modern society has moved on, and needs more secular sources of control, like a commitment to "History" as if you're part of some great narrative, sacrificing yourself for some imagined end-goal of what society is "supposed" to be. Seems Tchitcherine was doping on Oneirine theophosphate. Wimpe, his dealer, argues that a man is "only real at the points of decision. The time between doesn't matter." (702) Points man again - the moment of decision, of choice, that splits the future in two. Points of control. Contrast that to:
"Datta: what have we given? / My friend, blood shaking my heart / The awful daring of a moment’s surrender / Which an age of prudence can never retract / By this, and this only, we have existed." (The Waste Land, Part V: What the Thunder Said - emphasis mine).
Both are arguing that it's these key moments, irreversible junctures in our lives that make us real. Not what comes next, not what people say about us, just our moments. Integrate those moments, run them fast enough (say 24 frames per second) and you might even approximate something close to a person... We learn that Oneirine apparently leads to "the dullest hallucinations known to psychopharmacology" (703) - hauntings of the mundane, the almost-normal. Tchitcherine's Haunting Tchitcherine hallucinates that Ripov is interrogating him, and he becomes fixated on the question of whether or not he was supposed to die. Seems like part of him wants to believe in life after death, in some hope for meaning, which goes against the Soviet doctrine and thus isn't exactly endearing him to those above him. Thankfully this is just an Oneirine haunting, except... wait, it's too real - no subtle violations of reality. He tries to escape, but is outnumbered. But no execution for him here - just a reassignment to Central Asia. A cold and operational death. Section 69
"The dearest nation of all is one that will survive no longer than you and I, a common movement at the mercy of death and time: the ad hoc adventure." - Resolutions of the Gross Suckling Conference (706)
In other words, they seek a nation that does not function independently of its citizens - one that is not some separate identity with a quasi-personhood (much like how corporations are legally "people"). Rather, a nation that is inextricably linked to the people and that will die when they do. No immortality, no denial of the cycle or death. But poor Roger's still dealing with Jessica, and now with Jeremy, too, who he's at least amicable with. But he's struggling with their acceptance of the System, their embracing of it. Jeremy's all about reassembling the rockets and firing them, asking "What else does one do with a rocket?" (note how disassembling it or at least not using the weapon isn't even an option...). Jeremy's even so kind as to invite Roger to a fancy dinner with a bunch of corporate bigwigs, including folks from Krupp, ICI, and GE, and hosted by one Stefan Utgarthaloki, whose name should be a giant red-flag that something's amiss with this shindig. Roger picks Seaman Bodine as his date, the two having struck up a rather theatrical friendship, dress in their absurdist best (Bodine in the mother of all zoot suits), and join the party. We get some insight here into the nature of rebellions, and the danger of them not only fizzling out or failing, but of being co-opted as a tool to "help legitimize Them" (713). Of either dying or "living on as Their pet" - it brings to mind the corporate branding of "rebelliousness" as cool, as "a phase" that it's normal to go through and eventually grow up from. Treating the idealism of youth, the desire to make the world better and to fight against the problems of the system before you become numb to them, as a normal phase of life is such an effective way to neutralize it culturally. How many people have heard the phrase "you get conservative [i.e. more resistant to change] as you get older"? How many of us have seen youth-led movements being dismissed as examples of immaturity, for example? Between that and companies stamping their logo on it (hello, Hot Topic), it's a way to change the cultural narrative around any movement against the status quo to one that's dismissive, just accepting enough to let people burn off their energy and eventually fall into line. Because how else can you continue to live a decent life in a society that refuses to change? You either go build a shack in the woods somewhere, die, or acclimate to the system and just focus on being comfortable yourself, not constantly fighting for change. It's a depressing thought, and I'm sure Pynchon saw a lot of that attitude in the 60s. I have to wonder - do non-industrialized societies have "teenage rebellion" as a normal part of life? Is that a part of human nature, like we tend to think, or is it an explicit reaction to reaching maturity in a system that is anti-human and anti-nature? Anyway, back to the dinner party - between the depressing, anti-social music (kazoos?!) and the lavish dinner, things seem fine, but there's a plot against the Roger and Bodine. Fortunately a journalist, Constance, tips off Bodine that they might just be the main course of this feast, so Bodine cues Roger to begin the evening show - an absurd gross-out session that they planned in advance with the aid of now-deceased Pudding communicating via medium Carroll Eventyr. The pair recite an increasingly disgusting list of alliterative dishes, triggering "well-bred gagging" and guests to flee, though a few find it all quite entertaining. But it's enough to break up the dinner party and allow our heroes to flee. Note: If you made it this far, actually read all this,thank you. Bloom warned me this was a longer section, and boy, he wasn't kidding. I think this is longer than some college essays I wrote... Damn fun, though, and I hope you've found my thoughts informative, interesting, useful, or if nothing else, sufficiently diversionary for a spell. I truly look forward to seeing what you other fine foax have to say on these labrynthine sections. Questions
In the lightning-aficionado's "A Nickel Saved" excerpt, are there any other references or hidden ideas you can find? I have to think there are.
What is the meaning of the windmill reflected in Blicero's eyes? How do you interpret the imagery in this scene in general?
175-Stadt. Oven-State. Hund-Stadt. Rocket-State. Factory-State. We've seen numerous examples of specialized micro-states across the Zone, experiments in different forms of society. What are your thoughts on these? Are they hints at ways to find alternate societies, or manifestations of humanity's tendency to divide by category and put of fences?
In the "Shit 'n' Shinola" subsection, Pynchon connects Jack Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Tyrone Slothrop. What do you make of this intersection?
In "Streets," the bombing of Hiroshima is presented as being similar to the Cross, "it is also, perhaps, a Tree..." - the capitalized "Tree" here could be the tree of knowledge, the tree of life, the tree from which the Hanged Man dangles, or perhaps something else. What's your interpretation of this imagery?
In Section 69, we see references to the Albatross, famous symbol from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It's presented that Slothrop is the (now-plucked) albatross, but it's not clear who killed this bird, or who's wearing it around their neck. They? Any ideas?
[SA] My experience with getting a name and gender change in Adelaide
If you haven't seen my first post about getting a diagnosis and HRT, you can find it here. Hey, I'm Emma (legally now!!!), a 29 year old trans woman, and as of today I've completed almost everything involved in the name and gender change process. Given it's a ton of work (and a fair expense), I thought I'd write up the steps I followed to make it easier for anyone else trying to do the same thing.
Get a notebook or a text doc on your computer, or something like that. Write down every company you interact with, everyone who emails you, every place you have an account with, basically anything that has your deadname on it. Now, go through these and see how many you can just change without providing proof. A lot of companies just let you edit it (or will do so if you email them and ask). For the ones that don't, start noting down what ID they require. A lot will just be happy with a scan of your birth certificate, but some will want photo ID, a utility bill, or a certified copy of one of those. Certified copies are a bit of a pain, basically you need to make a photocopy (or scan and print) the document, then take the copy and original to someone "authorised" who will look over the two, then stamp and sign it to say they're identical. Companies vary on who they'll allow to certify a document, but basically everyone accepts a Justice of the Peace (JP), and most councils run a free JP service, which is what I used. Note that JPs can certify email bills, but in a slightly different way - they basically just get you to swear that it's a legitimate copy and sign some stuff, but as far as I can tell it works just fine.
Get a letter from a medical professional or psych
In South Australia you *do not* need to have had surgery to qualify for a gender change. I got mine on the back of ~4 months HRT, and I believe psychiatric help will also do. I asked my endocrinologist for a letter and she was happy to provide one.
The Birth Certificate
Okay, here's the big one! You'll need to fill out a Change of Sex or Gender Identity form (PDF, Website) and a Change of Name form (PDF, Website). Read the hell out of the websites and PDFs, they're long and confusing but you need to know this stuff! Print out the forms and fill them out. On the gender change form, you can choose from Male, Female, Non-binary, or Indeterminate/intersex/unspecifed. The cost if you do both at once is $321 (at time of writing). I got a bit worried by the combined discount because the forms both have individual payment sections, but what you do is just put the $321 on one form and write "see [first form's name] for full amount" on the other and they figure it out. This fee includes them sending you two (!!) nice new birth certificates. Both are just normal looking certificates, but one only has your new name and gender on it, and the other has a change list on the back, which includes your old ones (this is very useful for changing your name elsewhere). Another tip for the forms is that there's basically only one spot on the name form that asks for your new name, every other field wants your deadname. On the gender change form, it doesn't ask for your new name at all, they just figure it out because you're sending the forms in at the same time. If you have any questions about the form you can call the office of Consumer and Business Services on 131 882. The person I spoke to was really friendly and helpful, and got the answers I needed after a bit of searching. You're going to need a bunch of ID for these forms, and you'll also need a witness for the change of name, so it's time to head to a JP (again, use the free council service) and get that done. I was told by CBS that each form needed its own ID (so two copies of each document), so make sure you've got enough copies. I also recommend making a backup copy of your old birth certificate, because you're putting the original in an envelope and posting it off, and that's kinda dicey imo. I also really recommend using some combination of registered post/tracking/insurance, depending on your level of worry. Post the forms off along with your old birth certificate and ID, and wait anxiously. The CBS website estimates about a month's wait, but mine got done in about 10 days! You don't get any warning that it's done, just a letter from the SA Gov in the mail with the new birth certs in it. Take a moment to celebrate this, because for me opening that letter was the best feeling in the world. You earned it, well done!
I'm going to tell you right now: do not bother trying to look up the process for this. It's the classic bureaucracy experience. Instead, just email [[email protected]](mailto:[email protected]) with the subject line Change of Name (DeadSurname DeadFirstname) and a scan of the front and back of your new birth certificate that shows the changes. No other stuff, no forms (this is important), just that. They send you an autoreply that says it'll take months, but that's for new applications and stuff like that. I got a response in 9 days - a lady calling from a blocked caller ID (thanks Services Australia) to confirm a couple of details, and the change went through that afternoon. Obviously it takes a while to send out the new card, but in the meantime if your Medicare is linked to MyGov, you can download the Medicare app (confusingly called Express Plus Medicare on iOS) and it has a card display feature that people should accept. There's no charge for this process. Note that you may need to get prescriptions/blood test forms/etc re-issued in your new name, I'm not sure about this but I'm emailing my endo tonight.
I don't have a driver's license, so I can't comment on that, but here's the Proof of Age Card process, which I imagine is fairly similar? First, you'll need to fill out an application form (PDF, Website), then head into Services SA (don't do the online application, I'm guessing you'll want a new photo), and let them know you've changed your name and want to update your proof of age card. They'll give you a form to fill out that updates your details with the government department, and ask to see your birth certificate (bring the original with the change list). Fill out the form and take that, your birth cert, your old proof of age card, and your application form from earlier to the counter when you get called, they'll process it, take your photo, and a week or two later you should have your new card! The cost is $25. Here's me celebrating about it!
Second easiest of the lot! You just go to their website via MyGov, choose the option from the menus, enter in your details exactly as they appear on your birth cert (pay attention to the little diagram, it explains where to find everything), it does some verification magic, and you're done! No wait, no documents, no forms!
The best one. Just log in to their website, hit My Settings, then Edit Details. Done!
I highly recommend getting some easy utilities done first - a lot of other places require a utility bill in your new name, and you'll be waiting for your next billing date for them. Once you have them and your list of what needs certified copies, head back to the JP and get them all done in a big batch. You'll probably need a lot of copies of your birth cert (front and back to show the change) as well. Head to the post office and buy some prepaid envelopes too. Company website searches can suck, I recommend googling [company name] change name. You'll usually find a PDF form with all the requirements or a web page that spells it out. Worst case, give them a ring and they can help you out. Also, if you have a will, don't forget to update that too! AGL: You need to call them. They may also need to re-create your online account to make it show the new name in there. NAB: Need to go in person to a branch with your birth cert (showing the change) AND photo ID in your new name. This is a recent policy change. ING: You need to fill out a form, provide certified copy of your birth cert (front and back) and post it all to them. Took about a week for them to call me to verbally confirm the change. They posted the cards out the same day, and provided SMS updates as well. Super: Each fund should have the details on their website, the two I dealt with required a posted form and certified ID. Amex: You call them, upload a scan of your birth cert (front and back) through the website while on the phone, and they sort it out. Optus: Posted form, birth certificate showing change (front and back). They don't say it needs to be certified but I did it anyway to be safe. The address listed on the form and the website are different. I tried the form's address and it worked fine, took 9 days. Council: I called them to ask, just needed to email them scans of my birth certificate (front and back), might vary from place to place House title, etc: Have not tried. Expensive and needs a conveyancer.
MAME 0.223 has finally arrived, and what a release it is – there’s definitely something for everyone! Starting with some of the more esoteric additions, Linus Åkesson’s AVR-based hardware chiptune project and Power Ninja Action Challenge demos are now supported. These demos use minimal hardware to generate sound and/or video, relying on precise CPU timings to work. With this release, every hand-held LCD game from Nintendo’s Game & Watch and related lines is supported in MAME, with Donkey Kong Hockey bringing up the rear. Also of note is the Bassmate Computer fishing aid, made by Nintendo and marketed by Telko and other companies, which is clearly based on the dual-screen Game & Watch design. The steady stream of TV games hasn’t stopped, with a number of French releases from Conny/VideoJet among this month’s batch. For the first time ever, games running on the Barcrest MPU4 video system are emulated well enough to be playable. Titles that are now working include several games based on the popular British TV game show The Crystal Maze, Adders and Ladders, The Mating Game, and Prize Tetris. In a clear win for MAME’s modular architecture, the breakthrough came through the discovery of a significant flaw in our Motorola MC6840 Programmable Timer Module emulation that was causing issues for the Fairlight CMI IIx synthesiser. In the same manner, the Busicom 141-PF desk calculator is now working, thanks to improvements made to Intel 4004 CPU emulation that came out of emulating the INTELLEC 4 development system and the prototype 4004-based controller board for Flicker pinball. The Busicom 141-PF is historically significant, being the first application of Intel’s first microprocessor. Fans of classic vector arcade games are in for a treat this month. Former project coordinator Aaron Giles has contributed netlist-based sound emulation for thirteen Cinematronics vector games: Space War, Barrier, Star Hawk, Speed Freak, Star Castle, War of the Worlds, Sundance, Tail Gunner, Rip Off, Armor Attack, Warrior, Solar Quest and Boxing Bugs. This resolves long-standing issues with the previous simulation based on playing recorded samples. Colin Howell has also refined the sound emulation for Midway’s 280-ZZZAP and Gun Fight. V.Smile joystick inputs are now working for all dumped cartridges, and with fixes for ROM bank selection the V.Smile Motion software is also usable. The accelerometer-based V.Smile Motion controller is not emulated, but the software can all be used with the standard V.Smile joystick controller. Another pair of systems with inputs that now work is the original Macintosh (128K/512K/512Ke) and Macintosh Plus. These systems’ keyboards are now fully emulated, including the separate numeric keypad available for the original Macintosh, the Macintosh Plus keyboard with integrated numeric keypad, and a few European ISO layout keyboards for the original Macintosh. There are still some emulation issues, but you can play Beyond Dark Castle with MAME’s Macintosh Plus emulation again. In other home computer emulation news, MAME’s SAM Coupé driver now supports a number of peripherals that connect to the rear expansion port, a software list containing IRIX hard disk installations for SGI MIPS workstations has been added, and tape loading now works for the Specialist system (a DIY computer designed in the USSR). Of course, there’s far more to enjoy, and you can read all about it in the whatsnew.txt file, or get the source and 64-bit Windows binary packages from the download page. (For brevity, promoted V.Smile software list entries and new Barcrest MPU4 clones made up from existing dumps have been omitted here.)
MAME Testers Bugs Fixed
02603: [Sound] (cinemat.cpp) tailg: Phasor sample plays incorrectly. (Aaron Giles)
Toy Story 3 (Lexibook) [Sean Riddle, Kamaal Brown, David Haywood]
unknown 'TE06' [TeamEurope, Roberto Fresca]
Unknown Compumatic ProSPDP based darts machine [jordigahan, ClawGrip]
VideoJet Kiu Games [Sean Riddle, David Haywood]
Virtual TV Ping Pong [TeamEurope, David Haywood]
Yataimura Kingyosukui (4-player, China, Ver 1.000) [Darksoft]
New clones marked as NOT_WORKING
Funhouse (L-2) [PinMAME]
Funhouse (L-2, prototype PA-1 System 11 sound) [PinMAME]
Laser Ball (L-2, PROM sound) [PinMAME]
Last Action Hero (1.04 France) [PinMAME]
Last Action Hero (1.07) [José Renato Castro Milanez, Sergio Munemori]
Magic Card - Wien (Sicherheitsversion 1.2) [TeamEurope, Roberto Fresca]
Nove Diamante (bootleg) [Ioannis Bampoulas]
New working software list additions
fmtowns_cd: Akiko - Premium Version, Cal III - Kanketsu-hen, Chiemi & Naomi, Curse, Eikan wa Kimi ni 2 - Koukou Yakyuu Zenkoku Taikai, FM Towns Application Catalog CD-ROM - Original Soft-hen, G5 (HMA-206), Gambler - Queen's Cup, Gokuraku Mandala, Hyper Fetishism, Illust Hyakka - Yamashita Hideki no Ikiiki Cut-shuu, Iris-tei Serenade, Jouhou Club - Card Processor Ver. 1.1, Mahjong Musashi, Manami no Doko made Iku no? 2 - Return of the Kuro Pack, The Manhole (1990-08-01), Marionette Mind, Mirage 2 - Torry, Neat & Roan Fairladies in MagicLand, Noushuku Angel 120%, Shamhat - The Holy Circlet (FM Towns Marty version), Tenshin Ranma, Two Shot Diary, Viper-V12 RS, Viper-V8 Turbo RS, YES! HG - Erotic Voice Version [redump.org, r09]
Rayman IV (Rayman - Sunshine of Trip) (unlicensed) (protection hacked) [RibShark]
Crash Advance IV (unlicensed) (protection hacked), Digimon - Ruby and Sapphire (unlicensed) (protection hacked), The Lord of the Rings IV - The Fellowship of the Ring (unlicensed) (protection hacked), Pokemon - Sapphire Version (unlicensed) (protection hacked), Rayman IV (Rayman - Puteshestviye Solnechnogo Sveta) (unlicensed) (Russian) (protection hacked), Sonic 3 - Fighter Sonic (unlicensed) (protection hacked), Super Mario DX (unlicensed) (protection hacked), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 (unlicensed) (protection hacked), Ultraman - Confrontation Between Justice And Evil (Ul'traman - Konfrontatsiya mezhdu spravedlivost'yu i zlom) (unlicensed) (Russian) (protection hacked), X-Man - Armour of Might (X-men) (unlicensed) (Russian) (protection hacked) [taizou]
Bloodwych (Quest & Glory Compilation) (Euro), Bloodwych (USA), Budokan - The Martial Spirit (5.25"), The Colonel's Bequest (3.5"), The Colonel's Bequest (5.25"), Dragon's Lair (5.25"), F29 Retaliator, Lakers vs Celtics and the NBA Playoffs (3.5"), Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places) (5.25"), Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards, Mario Andretti's Racing Challenge, Speedball 2 - Brutal Deluxe (Euro, 3.5"), TV Sports Basketball (3.5", USA, EGA/TANDY version), TV Sports Basketball (3.5", USA, VGA version), TV Sports Basketball (5.25", UK, EGA/TANDY version), TV Sports Basketball (5.25", UK, VGA version), Xenon 2: Megablast [ArcadeShadow]
SCO XENIX System V Development System version 2.1.3 [archive.org, Davide Cavalca]
IBM Personal Computer Interactive Executive (PC/IX) 1.00 [WinWorld, Davide Cavalca]
ibm5170: B-17 Flying Fortress (5.25"), Corridor 7: Alien Invasion (demo), Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle (France), Out of this World (USA, 3.5" DD), Out of this World (USA, 5.25" HD), Sam & Max Hit the Road (Germany) [ArcadeShadow]
pc98_cd: F15 Strike Eagle III, if 2 - Invitations from Fantastic Stories, Manami no Doko made Iku no? 2 - Return of the Kuro Pack, Phobos, Pro Student G (ALS-0010), YES! HG - Erotic Voice Version, Yuurou - Transient Sands [redump.org, r09]
Desktop Special Edition 1.0, European Language Module 1.1, European Language Module 1.3.1, Hot Mix 5, Hot Mix 7, IndiZone 1.0, IRIX 5.2 for Indy R4600PC and Challenge SX, IRIX Patch 220.127.116.11, ONC3/NFS for IRIX 6.2 Version 1, ONC3/NFS for IRIX 6.2 with Indigo2 IMPACT 10000 Version 1, Support Advantage 10/94, Support Advantage 6/95, SupportFolio 2/97, SupportFolio 4/97 [darkstar]
Disney/Pixar Wall-E (China) [tenyuhuang, Ryan Holtz]
Les Bisounours - Le monde merveilleux des Bisounours (France), Nickelodeon Bob L'éponge - Une journée dans la vie d'une éponge (France) [DisizDream]
Disney/Pixar Cars 2 (France), Disney/Pixar Toy Story 3 (France), DreamWorks Kung Fu Panda - La mission de Po (France), Football Challenge (France), Martin Le Dauphin (France), Nickelodeon Dora L'Exploratrice - Les adventures de Dora Apprentie Mécano (France), Sporti'Folies (France) [DisizDream, Ryan Holtz]
Action Mania (USA), Disney/Pixar Toy Story 3 (USA), Marvel Spider-Man & Friends - Secret Missions (USA), Soccer Challenge (USA) [Sean Riddle, TeamEurope, Ryan Holtz]
mobigo_cart: Disney Jake and the Neverland Pirates (USA, alt), Disney Princess (USA, alt), Disney/Pixar Brave (USA), Dreamworks Shrek - Forever After (US), NAND User Cartridge (unknown data, set 1), NAND User Cartridge (unknown data, set 2), Sesame Street - Elmo and Abby - Nature Explorers (USA) [TeamEurope]
novag_ssensor4: Quartz Chess Clock [Berger]
pc98_cd: DOR Special Edition '93, DOR Special Edition '93 (alt), Kanji Land 3-nen, Kyrandia II - The Hand of Fate, Lemon Cocktail Collection, Lip 3 - Lipstick Adventure 3, Mirage 2 - Torry, Neat & Roan Fairladies in MagicLand [redump.org, r09]
pi_storyreader_cart: Disney Blanca Nieves y los siete enanos (Spain), Disney El Rey León (Spain), Walt Disney Peter Pan (Spain) [TeamEurope, ClawGrip]
Basketball (EU) [ClawGrip, TeamEurope]
Basketball (US) [Sean Riddle, David Haywood]
vsmileb_cart: Teletubbies (France) [DisizDream]
Merged pull requests
6825: docs: Improved analog joystick mapping documentation, and added health warnings. [Firehawke]
6837: debugger: Added loadr and saver commands for loading or saving data to/from a memory region. [bombzj]
6838: fmtowns_cd.xml: Added 28 new entries, and replaced 22 entries with improved dumps. [redump.org, r09]
6844: gigatron: Hooked up CPU output callback, fixed program counter wrapping, and added CPU input callback. [Sterophonick]
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