Monday, June 27, 2016

Fallout 4 and Missed Opportunity


Disclaimer #1: The following contains minor spoilers for the beginning of Fallout 4.
 
Disclaimer #2: I have not finished Fallout 4 and am only a few hours into the campaign, thus if there are any late game revelations about the following, I have not yet seen them.

Fallout 4 has a fantastic intro. It's an intro that I believe lives up to the studio's pedigree despite what I'm going to talk about. Waking up on a storm battered ship in Morrowind, escaping from prison along side a king, being saved from execution by the timely arrival of a dragon, seeing the early years of your life as you grow up deep underground. The studio has always had a knack for openings that draw the player into the world while setting up the grand adventures to come.

Fallout 4's intro is no different. The game opens with you, the player, standing in front of the mirror, getting ready for another pleasant morning in the idyllic Sanctuary Hills. Your beautiful wife stands behind you, lovingly commenting as you alter your character's appearance. When you're finished, she takes her turn getting ready and the player is free to roam their simple house awash in Fallout's altered version of 1950's America. 

Your infant son, Shawn, lies in a crib with a rocket ship mobile, his wooden blocks scattered around the room. A forgotten board game sits in a closet. Your household robot is waiting for you in the kitchen with a steaming cup of coffee. You spend the morning watching TV with your wife, calming your crying son and dealing with a pushy door to door salesman. It's the American dream bottled down into a short, ten minute experience and it works wonderfully.

Then the world ends and you're running. Where to or why you're not so sure. You just know that's it's safety, saftey for your wife and child in a world suddenly changed, in a world forever lost. You make it, one of the last to reach the Vault as the bombs fall. You watch as the mushroom cloud grows in the distance, as the elevator starts to descend into the earth. Technicians waiting for you at the bottom assure you that everything's going to be alright, that you, your wife and your child are going to be safe and sound and provided for. You relax, trying to figure out what this new life will entail. You finally let your guard down and let yourself breathe, right before they stick you in a tank that cryogenically freezes you.

And here's where I think Fallout misses a great opportunity, while you're there in the tank. I love the idea of freezing the player, of taking the fish out water approach with the vault dweller. Like the player, the character didn't grow up in this wasteland. They're use to fast food, the nightly news and all American apple pie, not super mutants, rad roaches and Synths. It's a great way to marry what the character is going through to what the player experiences. My problem is what happens while you're in the tank.

They shoot your wife in the head. 

They shoot her right in the damn head and they take your baby and then you go back on ice like the world's worst Captain America impression.

You wake up, cold and alone and venture out into the world. Into your neighborhood shattered by the bomb. Into the ashes of your once perfect house. You wander off into the wasteland in search of a son you may not even recognize, unsure of how long you've been asleep.

And I know why they do it. They want to motivate the player. What better motivation than kidnapping your only child and shooting your pretty, lovely, complimenting you while you fix your hair in the mirror, wife. They do it because they don't want to deal with the baggage, they don't want to anchor the player with this nagging wife whining about her missing son. They want to motivate the player while simultaneously giving him the freedom to conquer the wasteland however they want.

They know what they're doing. They put her in that classic 1950's dress, give her that pleasant, homely voice and the slender figure and then they shoot her in the head. You can't do anything to stop it. You can't fix it. All you can do is take her wedding ring off her cold dead finger and swear revenge like some 80's action hero.

I hate it because it's easy, because it's cheap and easy. And I hate it because it caused them to miss something with so much more depth, with so much more reason.

Imagine what would have happened if they hadn't shot your wife in her adorable little temple. Instead, they kidnap your kid and push her back in the ice box and the two of you thaw slowly out together. She panicking, crying. You wrap your arms around her and tell her everything's going to be all right. The two of you emerge into the wasteland together. You pick through the ruins of your shattered house, comfort your house robot that's been slowly going insane from two hundred years without anyone to talk to. Try to put the pieces of your lives back together.

Narratively, it's a far stronger option. But that's not the only reason I thought they should have gone that way. You see, Fallout 4 has a problem. It has the same problem every Bethesda open world game has. The player has to find their son, it's the only thing that matters to them, the only thing on their mind, a singular goal to motivate them through the trials ahead. Except it isn't. There's the minutemen to rebuild. There settlements to grow. The Brotherhood of Steel to join or fight. The question of the Synths and what should happen to them. The wasteland of the commonwealth is a complex and ever evolving place that the player is asked to weigh in on. Hours into the game I haven't even begun to look for my son. But my settlement has defensive turrets and some pretty sick lights, so clearly my priorities are in order.

This isn't a new problem for open world games, even outside of Bethesda's. So often the player is tasked to save the world, to close the Oblivion gates, to find Ciri and prevent the endless winter. Yet all around them are distractions. Races and card games, companions and damsels in distress. What bothers me so much about Fallout 4's opening is that the player's spouse gives the perfect solution for this problem.

Why does my character, who wants only to rescue their son, give a damn about the minuteman or their settlements, why does he care whether or not they are safe? I think the player would care a lot if their wife was still alive, if she was back at Sanctuary Hills, trying to pick up their life while the player was out trying to rescue their son. Why does my character team up with these random companions, often after only a simple conversation when they could walk through the wasteland side by side with the person they swore to spend the rest of their life with? Shooting side by side against super mutants and the like? Why does my character care about the food supply of settlements, of rebuilding society when there's no one to rebuild it for?

Even the two areas of growth for the character, their moral alignment and their relationship with companions would be made deeper by the presence of the player's spouse. In the beginning of the game, while your player is looking at their eyes in the mirror, your wife remarks that was on the reason she fell in love you, because of those eyes. Wouldn't it be better to have her comment on those same eyes hours into the game, how they've hardened thanks to the horrors of the wasteland, or how, even after everything they've been through they still have that same kindness she fell in love with?

The same applies to companions. Maybe she's supportive of the synths, or doesn't trust you bringing one around the house. There's a throwaway line in the beginning about her taking time to trust the handyman with your son, how does she react to a walking, talking Synth in the house? What about your female companions? Is she jealous? Does the player feel more drawn to a tough woman of the wasteland than to his sheltered wife back home?

There's so much room to explore, so many avenues to go down with these characters that would enhance the experience while simultaneously helping to ground the player in the accomplishments around him, that give the player reason for their actions. Instead they took the easy way out.They took the simple route. Why worry about any of this, why give this person character, give them hopes and dreams when they could shoot her in the head and be done?

The last thing I'll say is this, one of the first things you get after waking up is a recording your wife made for you, safeguarded all this time by your trusty house robot. It's a tear jerking tape of your wife and laughing son telling you what a great father you are, of how much your wife is looking forward to the two of you spending more time together as your try and raise your son in a rapidly changing world.

It's a great tape, one of the rare instances in games when audio logs actually have a meaningful impact. It's shame, cause I would have like to see far more of that interaction between wife and husband.

Instead I'm left with only a corpse sitting in a Cryo tank. With a wedding band in my inventory to symbolize all the conversations that were lost. All I'm left with is a wife that was shot in the head.

Monday, August 31, 2015

A Self Publishing Experiment and a Short Story: Already Dead

Earlier this week I published a short story called Already Dead. It's a story I originally got the idea for two years ago to the month before re-discovering it. I started writing it, got about a quarter of the way through and then gave up. I got stuck, realized I had no idea where I was going with it and moved on to something else.

A few months ago I decided to embark on an experiment with self publishing, to put some of my work out there and see if it could gain any traction. To see if I could muster up some feedback from the public on where I was as a writer. I didn't have any novels or other projects ready to go, so I turned back to my old short stories to give them a good polish and put them out in the wild to live or die on their own.

Already Dead was the first one I picked out. I liked the opening, a man clawing his way out of his own coffin. It was immediate, primal, and a fear I think we all hold at some level. Of being buried alive. Of being forgotten. I new how to get the character out of the grave, how to get them home. But not where to go after. That was where I had gotten bogged down in the original draft. However, reading through it again I got a few ideas going and re-wrote it over the course of a few busy weeks.

This week I published it. It is the first story I have every really published, ever put out in the market place to be ripped apart by anyone who happens to pass by. So far I have sold one copy to some random person in the UK. Whoever they are, I hope they enjoyed it.

If you would like to take a look at Already Dead, you can find on Google and Kindle.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Some Thoughts On Achievements

I don't like achievements in games. What started out as an interesting idea to acknowledge and engage the player has instead grown to do the opposite. Achievements tend to come in two forms, narrative, thank you for playing style achievements and gameplay driven, blow up five enemies with a single grenade, achievements.

The first type is particularly bad, and is the style of achievement I think most people have a problem with when they complain about achievements. You started up the game, congrats have some points. Beat the first chapter? Here's some more points. Are you in the middle of a tense emotional scene that is the make or break moment for your character? How about a nice achievement to ruin the moment. Achievements of this style distract players from the experience, break up the flow of the narrative and with a single chime and pop up ruin your immersion and make you suddenly very aware that you are in fact not a galactic hero or post-apocalyptic wanderer of vengeance, but a person holding a controller and playing a video game. With a single mechanic the developer erodes in moments what they've spent the entire game building up.

The second type of achievements are better in that they serve as a way for the developer to acknowledge something particularly cool the player has done. Fifteen head shots in a row? Hey, that's pretty cool, have an achievement. Go through that entire boss fight without taking damage? Wow, that's impressive, have another achievement. While these work as a way for a player to feel cool and receive some outside validation for something they've done, the usage of these achievements has become perverted over time. Now players use them not as a way to receive feedback on the cool things they're doing, but as a checklist for things to do, for bragging rights and as a way to extend the experience.

Which on the surface is not a bad thing. Finding a way to give the player more enjoyment by adding a list of specific challenges has been in games a long time. This is even an improvement in some ways, integrating the challenges into the natural play experience instead of ripping them out into a separate menu. I personally found this useful when playing Civ V. After the standard gameplay became dull, I challenged myself to win a match with every civilization and used the achievements list as a handy checklist integrated within the software I was already using.

It's this that betrays the underlying problem. I went achievement hunting because I was bored with the overall experience but still wanted to play the game. We all get bored with games. They get too hard, or run out of content or the narrative no longer compels us to see what happens next. This is a natural part of all mediums. However, if we still want to play the game and enjoy its mechanics, but can no longer find motivation to play within the game, that I feel is a failure on the part of the developer. Instead of adding more quests, or missions or side activities to encourage the player to continue to engage with the mechanics they find so satisfying, they instead rely on an external checklist overlaid on the game experience.

There are two more points I'd like to make. First, one thing achievements actually do well is encourage the player to stretch outside of their normal play style or the mechanics they are comfortable with in order to get more out of the game. Again, the Civilization series does this by asking you to play as every Civ, beat the game with each victory condition, on each difficulty level and so on. Other games do this by encouraging you to use different weapons or abilities, or hinting at alternate endings and paths through the game that you can explore. Again though, I think there are better way to do this within the game without having to rely on achievements to motivate the player.

Second, achievements, at least on the major consoles, are mandatory. Games that go through the approval process to get on these platforms must include achievements, must award certain levels or points for these achievements and must implement them in certain ways. This may be the greatest problem of all, as developers who cannot or do not have the time to come up with interesting ways to implement them don't have the option to leave them out, but must instead force them into the experience anyway.

Achievements are going to be around for a long time. They remain in full force in this new generation of consoles and will likely survive long into the next. But I think it's time to take a long, big picture look at achievements and ask ourselves why we are still putting them in games, how we use them, how their use impacts the player, and what their roll is in the future.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Copyright and IP Ownership

I was on Reddit earlier today in this thread an u/paxillus_involutus brought up copyright law, specifically that copyright laws should be much shorter. The idea is that a company or creator should not be able to hold onto the rights of their intellectual property for decades or even centuries on end.

This comes up a lot in regards to Disney, since they argued that fairy tales should be kept in the public domain and used by all, only to then trademark and lock down many of those same fairy tales. Proponents of putting intellectual property into fair use argue that by letting the public have access to these ideas after the original creator has a chance to profit off them, creators have more tools available to them to create, culture can grow unimpeded and we'll all benefit from a greater amount of ideas and stories over all.

For instance, it would be pretty cool if once George Lucas passed away Star Wars passed into the public domain and could then be used by anyone, instead of being locked down by Disney until the end of time. Or if characters like Superman and Captain America could be used by anyone in whatever projects they want without fear of being sued.

The other point frequently argued is that copyright law was created to help spur creativity and culture by protecting the creators, allowing them to make a living off their creations for a time before it passes into the public domain. This way, everyone wins. The creator gets to make a living off his work, at least for a time, and once the allotted time expires that idea is put of for grabs, letting other people tinker it with it and make even more cool and interesting things.

But I'm not sure I buy it.

Now, I'm obviously at least a little biased here, being a writer after all I want to protect my intellectual property and creations as much as possible. They're pretty near and dear to my heart, but why should I be able to continue to hide them away even after I'm dead. After all I'm not around anymore so why should I care? And even if I passed it on to my decedents should they really have any more say in it than the public? They didn't create it  and how long can one be expected to profit off the idea before everyone should be able to take a crack at it.

I come at this from a different angle. Why does it need to pass into public domain at all? Does it really do that much for creativity and culture? For me, in a weird way, this all comes back to Dune.

The original six Dune books were written by Frank Herbert. They're wonderful and had a huge influence on me as writer and as a person and God Emperor of Dune is probably my favorite book of all time. Now Frank died before completing the seventh and final book of the Saga. Sometime later, his son Brian Herbert in collaboration with Kevin J Anderson wrote a bunch of new books in the Dune universe, having the writes passed on by Frank.

Now the new books aren't bad. The Butlerian Jihad trilogy is fine. They just aren't Dune. They don't have the same feel, the same style. My friends and I like to call them the apocrypha. Now, Brian had the rights passed down to him by his father, thus doing these works under the same system I'm techincally argueing for so maybe Dune isn't the best example, but my point is that the newer Dune books sort of cheapen the brand, or the universe. When I recommend the Dune books to a friend I always specify that I mean the core six and not any of the newer ones. The newer books have transformed the universe into a different thing.

Take Star Wars for example. A lot of people really dislike the prequels. I'm sort of middling on them myself. They were made by George Lucas, the original creator of Star Wars. But imagine if they weren't, imagine instead if they had passed into the public domain and been made by someone else. For many people the prequels cheapened the brand, they diluted the original story. Having anyone able to do that at anytime puts a lot of properties at risk.

The upside is that with ideas in the public domain the idea of canon would no longer exist, every version of the stories would be both equally valid and invalid, judged on its own merits, and that might actually lead to some truly wonderful stories.

But again we come back to this idea of more property in the public domain equals more creativity. And it's with this that I fundamentally disagree. Writers, and I think all creators to some extent, don't create in a vacuum. We take bits and pieces of things from all sort of places and experiences from throughout our entire lives and many times we don't even realize we're doing it. Thus, while Dune might be a rigid set of rules and characters, ideas from Dune show up all over the place. I don't know if Dune was the first to have a giant sandworm but they've since shown up in everything from Beetle Juice to Mass Effect.

Similarly if I want to make a Star Wars movie (and if there is a God hopefully someday I will get my chance) I don't need the license to make a movie with the same themes and concepts. Change out Jedi for wizards and stormtroopers for samurai and off you go.  Look at Superman, how many times and how many ways have we seen that character re-done and re-imagined? True, if the property was put into the public domain we might have gotten the amazing Red Son a lot sooner or more stories like it, but under the current system we also get awesome things like the Plutonian from Irredeemable or Apollo and the Midnighter from the Authority.

My point is that whether an intellectual property goes into public domain or not creators are always going to take ideas and concepts from things and rework them into new ideas and new pieces of art because that's what creators do, whether they own the right to the material or not.

It's a complicated issue with no clear answer. Personally I think a hundred year rule starting from when the thing was originally created/released might be interesting.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some Thoughts On Military History

I was thinking recently about how things have changed for nations over the course of military history, and what was required of them to fight and win wars.

In the days of ancient military history, wars often came down to a single climatic battle or a small series of such battles. While generals had their roles on the battlefield and in planning the fight, the winner was often determined by the training and courage of its soldiers. Casualties in those days were generally limited to the front lines. Once these lines were smashed the others would turn and run. The side that held out longer was usually the victor.

In the time of Rome war became one of campaigns. Multiple battles across wide territories decided the war. Generals and their strategies were the deciding factor. Consider the Punic Wars and Hannibal's march through Spain and across the Alps into Italy. Or his opponents brilliant strategy of avoiding combat until Hannibal's army died on the vine.

Then in the Feudal era war became a contest of money. Which king owned the most land, could raise the most levies, keep them in the field the longest or build the most castles. In the Industrial era war was won by production. Which side had the most railways. Could manufacturer the most rifles, ships, or planes. The American civil war, World War I and II were all ultimately decided by production, logistics and economic output.

These things of course all build upon the other. Factories won't run and goods won't flow without money. All the money and equipment in the world won't matter if you don't have capable commanders controlling them and good men using them.

But I think now, in the modern age, war is not decided by any of these things. War is now decided by people and their will to fight.

Take the United States for example. Right now the United States owns as many aircraft carriers as the rest of the world combined. They are economically and technologically the leading power on the planet. There is nothing, economically or military speaking, stopping them from conquering all of Central America and the Caribbean. Even if the other nations of the world streamed their combined navies against the United States, there would be no clear winner to that fight. The other nations could try and embargo the United States and move away from the dollar as the standard, but they'd be causing significant harm to their own economies in the process.

The only major roadblock to an American Empire, is the American people. They simply wouldn't allow it. Even given a call to action, a Pearl Harbor or 9/11, is no guarantee. How long until they decide that casualties are too high, that the cost isn't worth it? The Unites States has some 5,000 people on board a single aircraft carrier. If one were to be sunk with a total loss of personnel it would be equivalent to the casualties sustained during nine years of fighting in Iraq.

Compare that to the people of Iraq or Afghanistan who continue to fight long after their governments and military have surrendered, after their economic and industrial capabilities have been destroyed or removed. They fight against an economically, technologically, industrially and militarily superior foe out of sheer will. Whether or not they are "winning" that war is debatable, but it shows no matter what side you are considering, it all comes down to the people's will to fight or not.

The day in which a nation can rely on their propaganda, or a public determined to dig in and fight to the last breath is over. People no longer hold onto the purely racial or nationalistic motives to fight. A nation can't simply paint their adversary as being a rape thirsting barbarian without some kind of evidence to back it up. The inter connected nature of the world's communication simply won't allow for painting the enemy as some sick "other" that must be slain for the good of all mankind.

As the nation moves toward bigger, better and more sophisticated weaponry, toward making sure we can fight large conventional armies and insurgents alike, perhaps we should look toward our own people. What good are the world's best weapons, if no one is willing to use them?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Short Story: To Whom It May Concern - First Draft

To Whom It May Concern

by Michael Aguero

To Whom It May Concern,

       I never was much of a praying man, but as I write this I can’t help but hope God guides it home. I don’t know what the hell is going on down there, but things up here have become very unpleasant. It is just after 23:00 UTC, March 4th 2023. Looking up at the Earth, I can see morning will soon be hitting France. My name is Reginald Anderson, Colonel, United States Air Force and I am stranded on the moon.

       Approximately three hours ago (20:00 UTC) my fellow astronaut, Liu Haipeng of China, tried to kill me in my sleep. I have no idea why. We have been on the station for two months together, since Yuri Mihairokov of Russia left. Liu seemed like a nice guy. We worked together well, chatted. I don’t know why he would do this.

       I was sleeping in my bunk when I heard the latch to my quarters open. I rolled over just in time to catch the hallway light reflecting on the blade of the knife. Weapons are expressly forbidden by all nations on the station. He had to have smuggled the damn thing in. I was somehow able to slide back into the wall and kick at him with my legs. I couldn’t process what was happening, my mind was flooded with adrenaline and clouded by sleep. I guess I ended up kicking the knife out of his hand because I remember us struggling for it on cramped floor of my sleeping quarters.

       It was life or death. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. I’ve killed people before, in the Arab War. I was a fighter pilot then, but it wasn’t like this. When you’re launching missiles from 40,000 feet, death is a distant thing. This was so damn… personnel. I had somehow gotten on top of him. The knife was sticking out of his chest. He had this permanent expression of shock on his face, of utter disbelief. I couldn’t move for what felt like hours. His breathing slowed bit by bit as I tried to figure out what in the hell had just happened, why he had done it. After a while I got up and wandered around the station, wondering what to do.

       The station isn’t very big. Three sleeping quarters, one currently being used for storage. A living area with attached kitchen, the lab and the system room. You could fit the whole thing in a decent sized three bedroom apartment. In practice then meant that I could pace around all I want, every other minute I’d end up back at my room, staring through the open door at Liu lying dead on the floor.

       Eventually my training kicked in and I knew I had to report it. That was when I realized just how much trouble I was actually in. Liu had been busy while I slept. He had put locks on the food, water and medical supplies. Best I can figure, he planned it as a fall back strategy if we both survived the attack. He could retreat to somewhere safe and starve me out. The bigger problem was what he did to the computers. All of them are locked down with some kind encryption. Even if I knew how to get past it, which I don’t, the whole damn thing is in some kind of coded Chinese. I can’t get passed the login screen, much less send a report back to base.

       To top it off, the emergency shuttle’s been sabotaged. Key electrical components were removed. I don’t know what the hell he did with them, because I tore the station apart three times looking for them. For all I know the bastard buried them out on the surface somewhere.

       The only thing left working was the RDS, but it’s locked with the same encryption systems as the communications equipment. I can load and fire it, but there’s no electronic aiming, only manual. Well if you’re ready this, I guess I’m a better shot than I thought. When I’m done with letter I’m going to put it in one of the shells and do my best to aim it at the states. If you find it, please give it to the police. They’ll know what to do with it.

       I guess I should try and find those keys to the food, or take another crack at the encryption. Tell my wife and kids I love them. And if at all possible, send word of what in the hell is going on down there.

- Col. Reginald Anderson, USAF
International Lunar Station
_______

       Dear Reginald,

       I am so sorry to hear what’s happened to you. I am also sorry to say your aim was poor. You message landed in Brasov, Romania about 170km north of Bucharest. I was washing the dishes when something slammed into my garden. I am not ashamed to say it gave me quite a fright. I recovered my tomato plants did not.

       I was unsure of what to do with the metal box that seemed to have fallen from the sky. My first thought was to call the police, but my curiosity got the better of me. I had to use a kitchen knife to pry the stubborn thing open. Do not worry, as soon as I finished your letter I contacted the police. They are taking your box to the United States embassy in Bucharest.

       As for what’s happening, I’m not sure where to start. Yesterday morning (4th March, 2023) China declared war against Taiwan, Vietnam, Loas, Myanmar, and Mongolia and began a massive military invasion of those countries. People are still arguing as to why. I don’t know how closely they allow you to follow the news up there, but things were getting tense down here. China’s economic and domestic situation seemed to be unraveling. Their strong stances were putting them at ever great odds with the Americans. Most think they did this as pre-emptive action. Take everything they can before the Americans mobilize.

       South Korea, Japan and the United States declared war on China later that evening. The Chinese immediately streamed across the 39th parallel. It seems they had been secretly building up strength in North Korea for months.

       I’m afraid there isn’t much else to tell you. The news is being heavily censored by all parties. I have heard that NATO is convening and will probably declare war against China as well. Things down here are a little strange right now. Half of the people seem very nervous, tense as to what this could mean for the world. Others seem to be going about their lives as if nothing had changed. Maybe it hasn’t sunk in for them yet.

       I guess you may be wondering how I got this to you, if it gets to you. My brother is an engineer and has been building little rockets since he was a boy. He told me he could put it in a rocket and shoot it at you. I don’t know if it will work but I thought I would be nice to try. I don’t know if you ever got to the locked food, so I’ve included some cookies and a bottle of water with package.

Good luck,                    
Maria Popa,
School Teacher, Romania.
       P.S. What’s and RDS?
_______

       Dear Maria, March 9th, 2023 13:25 UTC

       Your brother was a far better shot than me. His package landed about a mile from here, which is damn impressive, even to an old astronaut like me. The cookies were excellent by the way. Thank you. Sorry about the tomato plants. I’ve enclosed a moon rock for you as repayment. It isn’t much, but it’s all I’ve got.

       R.D.S stands for Railgun Delivery System. You can probably find picture of it online, but it looks like a narrow silver tube, almost like someone stretched a cannon. It uses magnets to propel an empty shell to high speeds, enough for it to get far enough away from the moon for the Earth’s gravity to do the rest. The shells are hollow and shielded against the heat they’ll encounter during reentry through the atmosphere. We use them to transfer small items and samples to Earth from time to time. It runs of solar power and is far cheaper than using fuel to get more fuel up here just so we can launch something back. We also occasionally use it to get rid of trash, since international treaty prevents us from leaving it up here, but that we shoot at the sun.

       I find it so surreal that Earth has been at war for almost a week. I knew things were getting tense but I never thought it would go this far. From up here I can’t see any of it. Though I have noticed fewer lights on at night in China. Must be enforcing light discipline to make bombing harder.

       Still no contact from home. Maybe they have their hands full with the war and have forgotten about me up here. I sure won’t be getting a ride home anytime soon, that’s for sure. On the bright side I did get the supplies lockers open. Liu had the keys on him. Once I figured out that his attack was intentional, the he was my enemy and we were at war, I had no problems going through his things, or looking over his body. Any attachment I had to him is gone. Now there is only the mission, the war.

       If only I knew what that mission was. This station has zero military application. The RDS is far too small to do any real damage (your tomatoes might say otherwise.) If it was big enough to damage anything it would be big enough to crawl inside of and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Conversation? Letter? Does it still count as a conversation if it’s in writing and not speech? Correspondence then.

       I’m sad to hear about Korea. I was stationed on an aircraft carrier many years ago that used to dock there pretty often. It’s a beautiful country, with good food too. I hope they’re giving the Chinese hell. Bastards have started a war that will bring us all down.

       I’ve been trying to keep busy on the station, continuing the experiments and such. It’s hard seeing the point in any of it anymore. What’s it matter if green beans and corn can grow in the moon’s gravity if the humanity tears itself apart. I’m not ready to give up though. I still water the plants and feed the lab animals. If nothing else it gives me something to do, something to focus on. Routine.

       I also “buried” Liu. And by buried I mean threw his ass in the deepest crater I could drive to in a reasonable amount of time. This place is far small to have kept him inside and burying seemed like too much effort, what with oxygen limits and difference in gravity. In truth I think I couldn’t stand to look at him anymore. It makes all of this far too real. A part me keeps hoping things can go back to the way they were. Like this was all some sort of mistake. I somehow doubt that’s going to happen.

       Thank you again for the cookies, and for going through the trouble of sending a reply. That couldn’t have easy, or cheap. It gets awfully lonely up here. I hope you are well and keep safe down there.

- Reggie,                     
International Lunar Station

_______

       Dear Reggie,                                                                                             19 March, 2023 Romania

       Sorry this letter took so long. Your government wanted me to hold off sending the package until they were ready. Enclosed in the package should be a sealed envelope from the embassy with instructions for you. The agents that dropped it off weren’t very talkative. But I did manage to squeeze some information out of them. They are worried the Chinese might intercept any messages sent to you, and think our messages are a safer way of talking to you.

       I was also contacted by your wife via email. I guess she got it from the people at the embassy. She asked me to hold off on your package until she could ship some times to me, and asked me to put them in there. Inside you should find a letter from her.

       Thank you for the moon rock, it looks very pretty on my mantle. My brother is very jealous. I gave up on trying to replant the tomatoes when your second case took out my fence. Don’t worry, we needed to replace it anyway.

       As for the news, I tried to get you a newspaper from the day the war broke out, but they’ve been selling out like mad. NATO declared war on China a few days ago, and are pressuring several of the other EU countries to join. Things here have been a little hectic. I don’t know if you are aware, but Romania is part of NATO. I don’t know how involved we’ll be in the fighting, but my cousin is in the reserves and he was called up.

       The people’s willingness to ignore the war vanished overnight. We went from people bringing the topic up over coffee, in between recounting the latest football match and last night’s tv show, to people storming the markets and buying up everything in sight. There’s a national shortage on can goods and the price up toilet paper keeps going up for some reason. People are acting like it’s the end of the world.

       Maybe it is. I have a hard time believing that. Each day I go to work and teach my class how to read and write and do arithmetic. When I look in their faces I can’t help but believe that there is hope for us, that humanity will overcome this and go on to do great things. Maybe I’m just na├»ve.

- Maria

_______

DEPARTMENT OF THE AIRFORCE
Headquarters, NASA
Two Independence Square, Washington D.C.

ORDERS XXX-XXX 14 March 2023

1. Anderson, Reginald J. XXX-XX-XX39 Colonel, Allied Lunar Station


       You will maintain control and security of the lunar station.

       From this point forward the International Lunar station has been designated the Allied Lunar Station in accordance with NATO referendums.

       You are not authorized to use any communication equipment apart from the R.D.S 45-D. We suspect the Chinese are monitoring any and all communication between us and the station.

       Any messages sent to us will be done through the Romanian Civilian using code [XXXXXXXX].

       Romanian Civilian will hence forward be referred to by designation GARDENER.

       We have been informed you have adequate supplies. Stay put, and keep safe. We will attempt to reinforce your position as soon as you are able.

_______


       To My Dearest Reginald,                                                                                        March 14, 2023

       My God, how has this happened? They told me you were attacked. Are you alright? Please tell me you’re alright. Of all the nights wondering what could happen to you up there, of all the nightmare scenarios we talked about, prepared for, I never thought it would be this. War? How could that even happen in this day and age. What on earth are the Chinese thinking? Do they really expect this to fix their government? Can’t they see they are merely forestalling the inevitable and getting a lot of people killed in the process?

       I’ve spoken to the boys. Aaron called right when news of the war broke out, he was worried about you. He thinks they’ll be shipping out soon, headed for the Pacific. Said the Ford was the best equipped to protect troop movements across the Straight. God I hope he’ll be alright. Why did you have to go and fill his head with that military nonsense? I don’t blame you. I don’t want you to think that. We talked long and hard about his signing up and it was his choice to make but you can’t blame me for going crazy while two of men are out there in danger. At least Lee should be safe. I doubt the government will be calling up history professors to sign up anytime soon. But there’s talk, of the draft. The Chinese have an awful lot of soldiers. Hopefully this will all be over soon enough.

       I also emailed the woman whose tomato plants you destroyed. Says she’s down fence now to. She seems nice though. Lucky break her brother being an engineer. And that your shell didn’t go through her window and take her head off. Romania though? I figured you pilots would have better aim than that.

       You know I kid. And that I love you. Very, very much. Be safe up there, save as you can be anyhow. And pray for our boys, they’ll need it. We’ll be praying for you.


- Barbara

       P.S. I included another copy of last year’s family Christmas photo, in case you lost the last one. I wanted to put in a Hersey bar, but they wouldn’t let. Bastards.

______


       Dearest Barbara,

       Don’t worry about me or the boys. We’ve had a tough as nails woman looking after us for a long time, maybe you know her. We’ll be fine. Don’t worry about the chocolate bar, we have some up here. They aren’t quite as good, but they get the job done. And it’s the thought that counts, as you are so fond of telling me. I still have the old Christmas photo, (as well as that other one you gave me) but it never hurts having an extra copy. Now I can put one next to my bunk in addition to the one I keep in my pocket.

       I hope to be home soon. I love you and our boys more than anything else in the world. Tell Lee I said to check in on you every once in a while. I know you don’t want to make trouble for him, but tell him anyway. I suspect he gets as much out of it as you do. It’s good for him to be grounded to something, to know people care about him. And tell Aaron to keep his head down and double check his work. Pilots rely on their mechanics more than anything else.

Forever thinking of you,           
Reggie

__________

THE NEW YORK TIMES
New York, Sunday, April 2, 2023

SEOUL FALLS

Allied Forces Retreat to Busan,
Prepare to Abandon Korea

       The siege of Seoul has ended after nearly a month of fighting. The Allies have seen their first major defeat at the hands of the Chinese after United States, Korean and Japanese forces surrenders in Sidon early yesterday morning. Sidon was surrounded during the opening surprise attack of the war. The Chinese and their North Korean allies raced across the border, driving deep into the country and cutting off Allied forces in the capitol.

       The United States, Japan and Australia attempted to reinforce the capitol from sea and air but met with little success due to concentrated fire from communist forces. Fighting intensified when the Chinese government demanded the cities surrender and launch an assault after Korean officials refused. Allied forces took to guerrilla tactics within the city as a last effort to stop the Chinese advance. Over 20,000 troops were captured by the Chinese including nearly 3,000 Americans. The President has demanded that they be treated according to the Geneva conventions.

       Allied forces have regrouped around the costal South Korean city of Buson where they will attempt to retreat across the straights of Korea to Japan. The South Korean President gave an impassioned speech this morning with tears in his eyes, claiming that they would return, and his people would be united once again, not under the red banner of tyranny, but in the name of freedom.

       The United States has continued efforts in building a global coalition against China. Greater NATO and E.U. involvement will help take pressure of the already stretched thin U.S. war machine. Diplomatic efforts have continued toward bringing Russia and India into the war on the side of the Allies, but have met with little success so far aside from the joint denunciations from those countries leaders against the leadership in Beijing.

       U.S. Naval forces from the Atlantic fleets are being sent to Japan to bolster the Navy’s strength in the pacific, including the USS Gerald R. Ford, one of the new generation super carriers.

       Continued on page 3b
__________

       Dear Maria,                                                                                                              April 25, 2023

       I am really starting to miss freshly cooked meals. These freeze dried things all taste the same after a while. I have been on the moon now for nearly four months. Four months of living in the same cramped space, eating the same over processed foods, following the same routines over and over and over again. I was scheduled to leave the station on the 15th of this month. A little over a week ago I would have flown back home. A Canadian astronaut (it was there turn) would have taken my place and be up here with good old Liu. I’d be at home with my wife, eating pot roast and watching baseball.

       You know when you first come up here you never wonder what you’re going to do in your free time. Mostly because you don’t have a lot. There are tests to run, systems to maintain, reports to write. Whatever time left over after physical needs and cleaning are used staring out the windows or writing emails to family and friends or surfing the internet. I never thought to bring a damn book with me or some movies. What I’d kill for a good turn strategy game to pass the time with up here. Even if I could get one, I can’t run it. Bastard locked down every computer in the place and smashed all the personal computers.

       I’ve taken to walking and driving around on the surface a lot. I’m not supposed to. It’s somewhat risky and is considered a waste of resources even though the air is recycled and everything’s powered by the sun. At least getting out allows me to do something, have a little fun. I found this hill about two klicks west of the station. It has a gentle incline and then a very steep, very sharp drop off. It’s essentially a two hundred yard ramp into a crater. That plus low gravity is loads of fun. Don’t tell my wife.

       The worst part is during the “new” moon phase. No light from the sun means no reflection to the folks on earth. You guys go through a few nights with no moon in the night sky. I go through a week of total darkness. The only lights I get to see are these bright sterile things the government loves so much.

       I’ve been thinking of making a golf course to pass the time. I was never a big player but I did enjoy it every now and then. There’s a pipe that delivers gasses to one side of the lab that I don’t really need for anything. It’d be about the right length. I can make a ball out of moon rock and then dig a few holes. If nothing else, it’ll give me something to do. Even the rats are getting bored. They keep fighting or chasing each other around their cages. I caught myself thinking about killing and eating one of them yesterday. It would be so nice to have a fresh cooked meal, even if it was rat. Then I remembered that it would be pretty much impossible to make a fire up here. Anywhere out of the station wouldn’t have air, and lighting one anywhere inside could quickly kill me if it got even a little out of control.

       What’s taking the damn Russians and Indians so long? They have to know that China will come for them eventually, if only to take them out of the fight before they become a problem. I just want this damn war to be over so someone can come get me off this worthless rock. I’ve read enough studies on people kept in isolation to know what’s going to happen if I’m left up here much longer. Hallucinations, paranoia.

       I just want to go home.


- Reggie

       P.S. I saw the most glorious display of fireworks the other night. Dozens of little explosions over the earth. Maybe the Allies finally got tired of those Chinese satellites?

_________

Dear Dad,                                                                                             May 4, 2023 USS Gerald R. Ford

       We’ve been in Japan now for almost two weeks. Would have wrote sooner, but they’ve been pretty hard on the censorship, not wanting to give any information to the Chinese. I’m not sure it matters considering how easily they can see us, even after we took out most of their satellites. Most of the personnel have been taken out of Buson. All that’s left is the heavy equipment and supplies. The idea is that we’ll rush the peninsula later this week and slip off all the rest of the troops and supplies while the Chinese are distracted. Not sure how well it’s going to work. The Chinese don’t have much of a navy, but their army is pretty well dug in.

       Things on the boat have been pretty tense. We’re launching non-stop sorties, pulling fourteen to sixteen hour shifts a day. The pilots are being pushed to exhaustion and their birds with them. Equipment is starting to break down as nerves become increasingly frayed. Yesterday I had to break up a fight between a pilot and his crew chief over a loose bolt on one of the wheels. I have no idea how much longer we can keep this up. Round the clock operations take a toll on every single member of the ship. It’s only a matter of time before someone makes a mistake and one of the birds goes tumbling off the side of the ship.

       I spoke to Lee briefly the other day. He’s checking in on Mom like you asked. Seems half his class ran out and signed up shortly after the war started. I hear the army is giving out pretty big bonuses these days to avoid the draft. Even with all the help we’re getting from the other countries I don’t see how we’ll avoid the draft. There’s just too damn many of the enemy. We have three carriers here operating twenty- four seven and we still can’t hit all our damn targets.

       Mom seems to be holding up well enough. Lisa’s been spending a lot of time with her. I guess they finally have something to bond over.

       Stay safe up there. I’ll bring you back a Chinese pistol if you bring me back that lunar golf club.

- Aaron

_________

THE NEW YORK TIMES
New York, Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Heavy Cost In Pacific Victory

Ford and Bush Sunk In Straights, Reagan Crippled
Allied Forces Dig In on Japanese Islands

       The United States Ford class supercarrier, the Gerald R. Ford, was sunk in the strait of Korea along with the Nimitz class supercarrier, the George H.W. Bush. The USS Ronald Regan was also heavily damaged in the surprise attack launched by Chinese forces, but managed to limp back to Japanese ports.

       Chinese naval forces launched a surprise, suicidal attack on Allied naval forces as they attempted to withdraw allied personnel and equipment from the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese used cowardly kamikaze attacks not seen since World War II. Cheap communist planes dived out of the sky as Chinese submarines charged the Allied naval positions with little concern to its own safety. The submarines aimed directly for the U.S. carriers, even as the Allied ships fired upon them. Chinese planes aimed for Battleships, Destoryers and especially defenseless troop transports.

       The Pentagon has not released official casualty numbers but current estimates top ten thousand in what was surely the bloodiest naval battle in United States history.

       Allied forces in Japan are busy digging in for the inevitable Chinese landings as the Navy rethinks its strategy for safeguarding the East China Sea and Sea of Japan.

continued on 2D

_________

       Dear Reggie,                                                                                                              21 May, 2023

       I am so, so sorry you had to find out this way. If there is anything you need, anything at all please let me know. Our thoughts and prayers will be with you.

- Maria
___________

       Dear Reggie,                                                                                                             May 30th, 2023
     
       Are you okay? What a stupid question. I’m sorry. I know you must be going through a lot right now. I won’t pretend to know what you’re going through. I know when I lost my husband it didn’t matter what people said, how kind their words were. Nothing could fill the whole that he left. No matter what I did it felt like I would always be empty inside, that this void always be there gaping inside in my soul.

       I worry about you. Up there, all alone, so far from the rest of us. I’ve talking we your wife, and Lee. They’re doing their best to be strong. They miss you a great deal. You have to come back to them. You have to make it home and put smiles on their faces again.

       Don’t be a stranger. I’m here if you need someone to talk to.

- Maria
__________

DEPARTMENT OF THE AIRFORCE
Headquarters, NASA
Two Independence Square, Washington D.C.

ORDERS XXX-XXX 2 June 2023

1. Anderson, Reginald J. XXX-XX-XX39 Colonel, Allied Lunar Station

       Your son is alive, but in critical condition at a Japanese hospital. Efforts to rescue soldiers in the water were launched immediately following the battle. It took time to identify and record the condition of everyone rescued.

       Your son was severely wounded in the chest and left thigh from shrapnel and his left arm received second degree burns. With time and a little luck, he is expected to make a full recovery.

       We will begin rescue operations for you shortly.

_________

       Dear Dad,                                                                                                              June 4th, 2023

       Aaron is alive. He is pretty banged up, but receiving care in an allied hospital in Japan. I don’t know if this will reach you before NASA gets around to telling you, but I want you to know that he is alive and in good hands. They wouldn’t tell us a lot about how he was injured, only that he received shrapnel to the torso and leg, and some burns. I waited until one of the officers went to get coffee and pumped him for information. He couldn’t give me much, but thinks based on the injuries and reports they’re seeing that Aaron was refueling one of the birds when the ship was hit by enemy fire. The important thing is that he’s alive. They’ll be transferring him back to the states as soon as his condition is stable.

       Mom is holding up as best she can given the circumstances. She really misses you. We all do, even me. Despite our differences, you and Mom were always there for me, and we all want you home safe and sound. Maria said you didn’t have anything to do up there, so I included a book. It’s a fifteen hundred page tome on the Civil War. Should keep you busy for a while.

- Lee

       P.S. If Aaron gets the lunar club, I want the golf ball.

___________

       Dear Maria,                                                                                                              June 17th, 2023

       I’m sorry for being so quiet. It’s been a hard couple of weeks. I wasn’t ready to talk to anyone yet. Had to wrap my head around things. Then it was a new moon so I couldn’t have said anything if I wanted to. It’s getting harder and harder to keep the days straight. Food and water are starting to become a concern. I hate two of the rats yesterday. Didn’t need the food so much as I couldn’t spare the water. Anything you could send would be appreciated.

       I’ve also been hallucinating a bit. It started small, dreams blending into reality when I woke up, only to fade suddenly away as I realized where I was. Hearing things, like doors shutting or opening. Only to get up and find nothing there. The other day I walked into the kitchen and could have sworn to god that I saw the Liu sitting at the table eating cereal. I didn’t know whether to attack him or ask him where he got the cereal. Then my eyes refocused and he was gone. I had to drive out the crater I dropped his body in just to be sure he was still dead.

       A couple of night ago I saw something real strange. Not sure what it was. I was standing outside the base looking at the Earth. When it’s night time the earth has this wonderful glow from all the cities. When the moon is reflecting the sun’s light a lot of it can get washed out but during the new moon you get a spectacular view. It was night over Asia, Europe was just going to bed. A lot of Asia has been dark lately due to military action, not a lot of people leaving their lights on. Suddenly there was this bring flash near the Indian Chinese border. From this distance it looked like an angle dancing on a pin head it but must have been far brighter down there. If I didn’t know any better I’d guess it was a nuke. Have the Indians finally entered the war? Maybe it all be over soon.

- Reggie

__________

       Dear Reggie,                                                                                                              22 June, 2023

       Your eyes did not deceive you. Almost two weeks ago now, India used a nuclear missile against China. The Chinese had been building up on the boarder for weeks. Rumors were swirling that India would enter the war any day on the side of the allies, and I guess the Chinese wanted to make sure they weren’t caught off guard. India kept saying they had no interest in the war, and was willing to stay neutral while the United States and China duked it out.

       China must not have believed them because they decided to preemptively invade. With their eastern boarder mostly secure, maybe they thought they could deal with India before India was ready for the war. Or maybe domestic pressure necessitated the war machine march on. No one really knows. The Chinese sure aren’t giving any hints.

       As the Chinese stormed across Nepal and Bangladesh, India launched a missile at their main army. The news is saying that it was an advanced cruise missile given to India by the U.S. and that it was tipped with a nuclear warhead that reached the Chinese army in twenty minutes. A large portion of the Chinese main force was wiped out instantly. The rest charged blindly ahead, supported by the secondary force coming through Bangladesh. The fighting in India has grown pretty intense, and casualty numbers are higher than anything we’ve ever seen.

       That’s not all that’s happened. Two days ago Pakistan declared an Alliance with China and invaded India after nuking Mumbai. No one knows how the bomb got there. It wasn’t launched and it wasn’t flown. Local rumor is that it was snuck into the city on a boat or in a van. It’s hard to know what to believe these days. Mumbai is gone. Twenty MILLION people dead. Never saw it coming. One minute they’re here. Going about their lives, having launch, worried about the afternoon meeting or picking up their kids from school. A blink of the eye and the city is a massive irradiated crater. India retaliated by launching most of its nuclear missiles against Pakistan. The other world governments didn’t even have enough to time to react to Pakistan’s attack and urge restraint amongst the Indians before the missiles were flying.

       Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Islamabad. Gone. Twenty four MILLION dead. Undoubtedly the bloodiest forty eight hours in the history of the human species. My school has been closed until further notice. No one wants to send their kids away from home, even for a day, even for us who are so far away from the war zone. No one knows what the warzone is anymore. People are worried once the missiles start they will never stop. Everyone waits for China’s retaliation. I’ve heard the Allied Special Forces already neutralized their nuclear stockpile, but no one is willing to take that risk.

       My brother, the engineer, has been pulled from his work to help the military in their projects. Food is running low as people keep rushing the stores and buying up everything they can get their hands on. I managed to get a few cans of soup and a gallon of water for you. I will send more when I can. I am replanting my garden.

       The only ray of hope has come from Russia of all places. Following the invasion of India, Russia declared war on China and is invading through Kazakhstan and Mongolia. They ran headlong into yet another Chinese army. The damn bastards have more people than guns. The news is saying that Russia intervention is due to them wanting fight for the side of good and be a more responsible member of the world community, but the locals are saying they are only doing it to quell their own unrest. Russia’s economy has been unraveling, and food shortages are causing riots. This way they give their people something to direct their anger at and a convenient way of getting rid of any undesirables.

       I hope this war is over soon. The world can’t take much more of this.

- Maria
_________

THE NEW YORK TIMES
New York, Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Allies Invade, Beach Heads Held

Freedom Day Landings Successful, Allied Beach Heads in Vietnam, Korea and Hong Kong as Russians Advance in the North West

       The Pentagon today revealed its successful operation to put Allied boots back on the mainland codenamed F-Day and scheduled to take place on the fourth of July. Allied forces from over twenty countries including the U.S, Canada, U.K, Australia, Japan, Korea, and Germany launched three simultaneous assaults against Chinese held territory in the most ambition military operation ever conceived. Over three times the size of the Allied D-Day landings in WW II and involving more than six times the number of personnel, the F-Day landings represented the combined military might of a third of the world.

       The landings took place in the early hours before dawn on the fourth and caught the Chinese by complete surprise. The Allies were able to greatly expand on the Vietnam beach head, achieving breakthroughs that took them deep into Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. Their aim is to push through Myanmar and encircle Chinese forces fighting the Indians in Bangladesh.

       In the north the Allied were able to retake South Korea, pushing all the way to Seoul before being stopped by Chinese forces. Further assaults are underway north of the Korean Peninsula in the Chinese town of Chongjin. The Allies hope to break through the weak Chinese defenses there and head south to link up with the forces on the Korean Peninsula.

       The most difficult landing took place in Hong Kong, where the Allies received the heaviest causalities of the operation.

Continued on 2F
_____________

       Dear Barbara,

       I’m not sure what day it is. Not even sure if it’s still July. It’s getting harder and harder to keep track. I got so excited after the Allies landed. Though the war was going to be over any minute. But they just keep fighting. Allies get pushed out of Hong Kong. Indians sue for peace. Russia fights only as much as it has to. Only enough to get the raw resources and shut its own people. It feels like the war will never end.

       I can’t bring myself to eat anymore of the rats. Not because I can’t stomach them. They taste all right when fried in the blow torch. I find myself sympathizing with them too much. They’re in the same situation as me. Far from home, in a strange and uncomfortable environment. I’ve started splitting my food with them. Enough to keep them alive. If get to go home someday, why shouldn’t they? I’m going to ask NASA to let me keep them. Maybe I’ll get a tank for them at the house. One of those big ones meant for fish. I’ll fill it with dirt and plants and toys. Or maybe I’ll let them run free outside. Sure a hawk might get them, or a cat, but at least they’ll be free one last time before they die. I’ve had to separate them to keep them from eating each other. All the plants have died. Not enough water to keep them going.

       The hallucinations are getting worst. I wrote this letter three times before I realized my “paper” was the table and my pen a drinking straw. I sleep a lot. Though there isn’t much difference these days between the two. When I sleep I dream of being awake. Strange living nightmares where the ghost of my past come back to haunt me. When I’m awake I hallucinate and dream or think I’m sleeping. I was marking the calendar one day at a time with an X until I realized I had marked it three times and only a day had pasted.

       I love you so much. You and our boys. It feels like it’s been years since I’ve seen any of you. It’s getting harder and harder to remember what your voices sound like. If it weren’t for the picture I wonder if I’d still be able to remember your faces.

       I worry how much longer my mind will hold out. It’s gone downhill so fast. They train us for this, tell us it will happen far faster than we think, that it will sneak up on us and we won’t know the difference between a crazy thought and a reasonable one until it was too late. I thought that was just something that happened to the weak. To the people that couldn’t stand to be along with their thoughts. Then I caught myself staring at the blow torch. Wondering if I cut my head off and cauterized the wound if my head would fit in one of the shells. I could shoot it back to earth and they could come pick up my body whenever they got around to it, then simply put it back on. It made so much since at the time. I shoved my face into the shell to see if it would fit, only to find out my giant melon was took big. I was so disappointed I started crying. It wasn’t until I woke up the next day that I realized how close to killing myself I had accidentally come. I have since locked up all the sharp and dangerous equipment and thrown the key out the door. I could probably find it within thirty minutes if I had to, but in the meantime I won’t have to worry about getting any more crazy ideas.

       Please call NASA and remind them that I am still here.

- Reggie
___________

THE NEW YORK TIMES
New York, Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Hero Returns Home

Col. Reginald Anderson Returns Safely
From Allied Lunar Station

       Colonel Anderson has safely returned to his home state of Georgia after being relieved by allied forces earlier this week. The Colonel has been stranded on the moon since the war broke out, when the Chinese astronaut Liu Haipeng tried to murder him in his sleep. Colonel Anderson was able to fight of the cowardly attacker and secure the station. Unfortunately for him the crafty communist was able to encrypt the station’s communication equipment and prevent him from contacting Mission Control.

       Using his quick wits and superior training, Colonel Anderson was able to manually aim the stations Railgun Delivery System and shoot a message back to Earth. The message landed in the garden of Maria Popa, a school teacher from Brasov, Romania.

       The President was quick to commend the Colonel on his brave service, and to claim this as proof of Allied determination as the war continues on due to numerous Allied setbacks in the east.

Continued on 3B

____________

Thank you for reading the first draft of my short story.

You can download it here.

And follow me on twitter @MadnessSerenade.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bioshock Infinite Review


The Lighthouse


     Bioshock Infinite is a wonderful, beautiful, finely crafted masterpiece of a game. That may come across as hyperbole, but it isn't. The bottom line is that Bioshock Infinite raises the bar for what games can be. It shows that the medium can be more than mindless, bland shooters that look and feel nearly identical to one another. Everything about this game raises it above the pack. Its world building and artistic design are miles ahead of what anyone else is doing in the genre. Its sound design and music go beyond simple ambiance to reinforce the narrative, cement the player in the world and most importantly, is so damn good as to stand on it's own. And the story is a touching journey of a broken man perfectly wrapped together in themes of religion, patriotism, obligation, and the limits of reality.

    Everything about this world pops. The introduction to the floating city of Columbia, the games setting, takes place during a fair. We are exposed to this society during one of it's most colorful and joyous occasions, while its darker prejudices are swept away in the shadows. Posters and displays perfectly echo the time period as simple carnival games not only endear us to the town and its people, but serve as a brilliant tutorial that is both hidden and optional. The game's operators call to the player to test their skills and destroy the wooden representations of the evil Vox Populi as an a cappella group sings from a floating barge. Simply walking around in the world made me feel like a kid in an amusement park. I am not the kind of person that smiles easily, but walking around in this wonderful land of early Americana gave me no choice in the matter. I couldn't help but stop and look around at the shop displays, posters and fine detail that marks ever corner of this world. The full realization of this game's world building serves not only as an example to every other developer out there, but creators in any medium.

    The themes goes beyond simple window dressing, they permeate every fabric of the society, from the songs of playing children, to a store run on the honor system in a religiously motivated society. On the surface is a world of affluent, god fearing whites of proper heritage. Underneath is a land of segregated bathrooms, servants and Irish factory workers. One of the most memorable moments for me was walking through the squalor of the under city. I stopped and listened as a poor black woman sat on a stage used for prisoner stocks. She sat on the edge and bellowed out a beautiful and haunting version of CCR's Fortunate Son that is bound to stick with me for quite some time. The slight touches of futuristic technology and tears in the fabric of space time create wonders that leave the player breathless, such as mechanical horses, a robotic chaingun wielding George Washington and Cyndi Lauper's girls just wanna have fun being pumped through an old gramophone. Every part of this game leaves and impression on the player, from  the stark contrast between the bathrooms of whites and blacks, to the sounds of Chopin warped through loud speakers of the oppressed workers of Fink Industries.

Bring Us The Girl and Wipe Away The Debt


    The original Bioshock was known for its incredible story of a man washed up on a lighthouse, sent below the waves to a magical city under the city that had been ravaged in a civil war by the very people who built it. In the original the player was a voiceless puppet, proceeding through the game at the behest of Atlas with no voice of their own. Bishock Infinite bucks the trend of the silent protagonist in casting the player in the shoes of Booker DeWitt. A washed up veteran who's seen better days. The mission to wipe away his debt takes him to a lighthouse where the atheist is launched into the clouds. Instead of finding God, he finds himself surrounded by the religious iconography of a madman and is branded with the label of false prophet. While the city's propaganda proclaims itself a paradise in the sky, Booker sees clear signs of racism that was all too recently an everyday occurrence in America. While the town's people speak of an economic land of plenty, Booker witnesses the starving poor and workers at Fink's Industries forced to bid in an auction for jobs, not for how much they will do the job for, but in how fast they can do it.

    Having Booker DeWitt as an actual character, as opposed to a silent protagonist allows for a commentary on the events, as opposed to the player quietly moving between each vignette. Booker feels like a real character in a real situation, as opposed to a floating camera along for the ride. While the game does offer limited choice, in having the main character be an actual person it leads to a great consistency in their actions and stronger impact on the narrative. I saw this while playing Sleeping Dogs as well, and hope it catches on.

Damsel in Distress


    The game's narrative revolves around Booker rescuing a girl locked away in a tower, and bringing her back to his client in New York. The idea of a game long escort mission left me with a sense of dread, but I'm glad to report that Bioshock handles this quite well.

    When you first meet Elizabeth, your head is swirling from all the things you observed in Columbia so far and the rumors of the "lamb" and her place in society. Instead of finding some defenseless fairy tell princess, you find an actual person with her own desires and personality.  Irrational made a very smart decision in never forcing you to protect her. Elizabeth is immune in combat, can never be hurt and actively aids the player. Both in bringing in allies and supplies through "tears" and in throwing Booker ammo and other supplies in combat. Through the story Elizabeth is elevated from a simple errand to a partner, and eventually into an individual agent with goals and desires that separates her from and in some ways conflicts with Booker's.

    Most importantly, she's a real person. A fully realized character that the player feels increasingly attached to during the adventure. She serves not only as a model for a strong female in games, but as a wonderful supporting character that is every bit the hero in her own right, as opposed to be constantly downgraded to the level of sidekick for the player's enjoyment.

More To Life Than Carrying A Gun


    What's most telling to me about Bioshock Infinite is we're at the end of the review I haven't even brought up the shooting, Infinite's primary combat feature. The shooting, whether with guns or vigors is fun, and tighter than in the original Bioshock. But really, it's the least interesting part of the game. And really, how often do we say that? Normally the combat is just the biggest selling point, it's the only selling point. The music, the art direction, plot and world building are all secondary. A coat of paint to make the core experience more compelling.

    This is what makes Bioshock Infinite more than a good game, more than a great game. Every aspect is of the highest caliber. No one part stands above the rest. In most games the combat and graphics may be great, but the music and plot lacking. Or the parts may be really good individually, but disjointed. Bishock Infinite not only maintains the highest quality in its components, but weaves them together masterfully into a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It is not only one of my favorite games in the past year, it is one of my favorites for this generation. My only regret was this I didn't get to spend more time in its world, more time exploring Columbia and its people. This is one game I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel too.

    If you decide to pick up this game, and you should, take your time with it. Walks around and smell the roses. Read the posters and listen to the town folk's dialogue. Rushing past it would cause you to miss one of the finest crafted world's in all of gaming.



I played Bioshock Infinite on a PS3.

I'd like to make a special thanks to my Brother, who got me Infinite for my birthday.

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