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Computer Archaeology: Public Caves Discovered!

Exploring the archives of the People's Computer Company (a public timesharing computer center in the early '70s, yes before home computers), and many of the programs we're familiar with from David H. Ahl's Creative Computing come from here. 15 different variations on guess the number and guess a coordinate, sure, but also some really important things, many of them long forgotten.

Then I find this artifact:

pcaves

What the. This is basically a MUD†, from 1973!

Source code (uses a very long TREES library on previous pages).

Everyone knows WUMPUS, which is based on CAVES, but this is the rock star of these! How does everyone not have a copy of PCAVES? This is like finding a working Airwolf helicopter in a cave with ochre handprints on the walls. HOW THE FUCK did cavemen do that? Why don't we all have an Airwolf, if it existed 47 years ago?!

So anyway some barely-modernized version of this will be added to the MysticDungeon soon, you'll all be able to graffiti up a cave!

† more like a MUSH ("Multi-User Shared Hallucination") with one user at a time, specifically.

  • Note: You can play a version from the Narrascope conference 2019: PublicCavesNarrascope
  • Renga in Blue typed it in for the above event, and briefly reviews it as an adventure game. Which it's not, this is a social environment, literally a MUSH.

What I'm Watching: Code 8

Code 8 (2019): Inexplicably, 4% of people have "powers": Brawn, Pyro, Cryo, Electric, Telekinetic, Telepath, Healer. You can make a pretty balanced City of Heroes party. But there's no costumed superheroes or supervillains, instead they do construction work, or are just petty criminals. So now the muggles have outlawed powers, and use "Guardians" (shitty human-sized robot Sentinels). I don't buy the premise, but it's no dumber than any other superpowered show, and is far less preachy about it than most.

Unfortunately, it's just a formulaic drug crime drama, Training Day for super-powered gangsters. There's a couple of good powered fights, one really amusing Electric kill, otherwise it barely needs the powers, just drugs. It feels like a failed TV pilot; they actually made a 10-minute short demo movie, that after 3 years of production work got them to this, but it still doesn't go anywhere.

As with most modern films, entirely too much is shot with cyan/orange filters so there's no other colors in deeply dark rooms.

Baby Henry Rollins (Robbie Amell) (character has a name but I don't care) is a stay-at-home good boy who tries to get normal jobs, not use his probably high-level Electric powers like his dead hoodlum father, his mother's sick and losing control of her Cryo powers.

So after a little humiliation day in and out being treated like an illegal immigrant worker, he takes up a life of crime, just to sock it away in his sock drawer, we never get to see Baby Henry Rollins go on a bender, he never has fun, he's just focused on his mom. I really don't like him, he's a sterile plastic homunculus like a Ken doll.

Imitation Walter Goggins (Stephen Amell, cousin to Baby Henry Rollins) is more fun, he's a good ol' boy gangbanger, takes care of his crew. But again we don't see much of his life or anything about him. The other two crew, one mute and one a snickering girl pyro assassin, are even more cyphers.

Their crime boss Imitation Riff Raff (Greg Bryk) is obviously evil and treacherous, keeps a girl Nia around for her power… and for once, she calls out Baby Henry Rollins "You just want me for my power", instead of treating him like a good guy for helping/using her.

Half-Bacon/Korean Cop (Sung Kang) does OK, and there's like 2 minutes of him getting any personality before he resumes reading the cop lines. There's no resolution to either his personal problems or his assertion he's going to bring in Baby Henry Rollins.

I don't like the message. Nothing really changes, the world just gets shittier and shittier, corrupt government, corporations, and mobsters get what they want, and you should just accept death and misery.

Fuck that. These people should rise up and slaughter the muggles in power, and anyone else who gets in the way, make them know fear, and pain, and then die. That'd be a good ending. That's basically the videogame Infamous, which had a lot more character development and personality than this film.

★★★☆☆

Maybe We Ain't That Young Anymore Monday Music

Darling, you know just what I'm here for
So you're scared and you're thinking
That maybe we ain't that young anymore
Show a little faith, there's magic in the night
You ain't a beauty, but, hey, you're alright
Oh, and that's alright with me
—Bruce Springsteen, "Thunder Road", so romantic.

Largely inspired by McSweeney's Bruce Springsteen or Stephen King?, which I got all the classic SK, and many of the Boss's. #30 just made me laugh out loud.

What I'm Watching: Invisible Man (2020)

So, a woman (Elisabeth Moss) who's apparently been given everything she wants, sabotages security systems and flees her husband's home in the night, releases his dog, dings his car. Then she acts like a prisoner in a "safe house" of a single black cop and his daughter, but never explains why. The husband (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, generic English prettyboy but has the stupid Millennial mullet, which means he's coded as villain) is so distraught he commits suicide, and the disrespectful wench can't even sit through his prepared statement at the will reading, only wants money money money.

To say I'm not sympathetic to the viewpoint character is a massive understatement. You need to show, not tell, to get any kind of sympathy.

Lifetime Movie Aside: There's a movie I saw, Enough (2002, Jennifer Lopez), a ripoff of Sleeping with the Enemy (1991, Julia Roberts) where it spends half the film showing her life with an abusive husband who makes her clean perfectly, turn can labels forward in a cupboard, behave perfectly, every petty thing, or he'll beat her; then she escapes, learns "krav maga" (but what it shows is just kickboxing/tai chi), and kicks his ass. It was as preposterous as any other Lifetime movie, but I didn't mind it because it shows, not tells.

Anyway, then she goes paranoid, starts seeing moving shadows, and footprints in sheets in an utterly dark room we can't see anything in either, finds things she lost, and starts committing crimes and claiming her dead, invisible husband did it.

She tries to get a new job, and stays at the safe house, despite having all the money money money from her dead husband's estate. None of her behavior makes sense for someone newly rich. Did the writer (Leigh Whannell, dude best known for the horrendous Saw movies) just forget they'd done that? If he wrote this as little snippets while drinking, it would explain a lot of the "plot". In fact, several of the "I won't hurt you, I'll hurt them!" bits are straight out of Saw.

Security Aside: This shouldn't be news to anyone in 2020, but lock your damned computer. On the Mac, you can do System Preferences, Desktop, Screen Saver, Start after 5 minutes (or whatever), then Security, General, Require Password 5 Seconds after screen saver. The  menu also has ^⌘Q Lock Screen now (formerly in Keychain Access); I don't know/care how Windows and Linux do it, but you can figure it out. Now nobody can get to your desktop and send emails pretending to be you. This is the most basic security procedure. She h4xx0r3d her husband's security at the start, and lip-polishes over the webcam (which on good computers can't be accessed without the green light), so clearly learning security matters… Then she doesn't do the most basic thing. And while I'm at hit, the dead husband had terrible choices for passwords and PINs, do not use important dates in your life! Memorize random number & word sequences!

If this was going to be a psychological study of PTSD, then pretending that the "bad guy" is actually doing it ruins that. If it's going to be an Invisible Man horror story, then never showing the invisible man doing anything until nearly the end ruins that. Either way, it's just 90 minutes of Elisabeth Moss whining. Egregiously so when she whines "You can have any girl! I'm just a suburban girl!"; Mz Moss is dressed down in hoodies and bad makeup here, and nearing 40 not as young as Peggy on Mad Men, but she's still cute, fit, in the top 1% of pretty girls. Can you imagine what kind of psychological damage this is inflicting on girls who aren't her? "Nobody will ever love you if you don't look better than Mz Moss" is the writer's message. FUCK THIS GUY.

Suit Applications Aside: Suppose the invisible super-suit did exist (which it does not, it's her delusion). Every military, espionage, and assassination organization in the world would want it. Who cares about one possibly crazy ex-wife, if you get the ultimate weapon? And what happens when you scale that up to tanks, planes, missiles? You think a cop is gonna let someone walk off with one?

When the brother-in-law offers to make charges go away, to protect his brother's kid, he's just doing his filial duty, it's not a trap. And poor Zeus the dog, he just wants both his people back, but they keep fighting.

The entire last third of the film is a delusional, hallucinating, psychotic widow killing family, friends, and anyone else getting in her way. It's tragic, but there's no invisible man.

★★☆☆☆

(Disclaimer: Movie tropes about insanity are not reality; I'm not characterizing actual mental illness this way.)

Haunted House

You are a bold and courageous person,
afraid of nothing.
High on the hilltop near your home
there stands a dilapidated old mansion.
Some say the place is haunted,
but you don't believe in such myths.
One dark and stormy night, a light appears
in the topmost window in the tower of the old house.
You decide to investigate.
And you never return.

Ah, the classics.

[Update a few minutes later: Wow, "The Chinese Water Torture" is incredibly racist. Also it's called "waterboarding" and it's not a single drop of water, but wow.]


What I'm Watching: The Outsider

Miniseries on HoboMax based on a Stephen King novel; I haven't read him regularly since Gerald's Game, which I hated, so I'm not familiar, but if this is representative at all, which movies often are not of King's books, I should get back on the train. It's tangentially related to the Mr Mercedes series which I haven't seen yet.

I do note, almost every shot is in darkness, lit with the minimal number of in-scene lights, and often tinted cyan/orange as usual. It looks like absolute shit. The sound's worse, half the characters, especially the cop, mumble and slur their words, so you can't really watch it without subtitles. Bar music is muffled and ump-ump-umping, with colored gels making the bad lighting worse. Once in a long while, they manage to get a shot in sunlight, outside, and astoundingly they manage to point a camera at it correctly, but mostly this is just incompetently shot and miked. I miss films being, you know, watchable? Put more than a couple little streaks of photons on film?

Also like 90% of the dudes look alike, heavy middle-aged honkie goons with short hair, short beards. I don't know if this is bad casting or intentional? Since it could be anyone? But it plays hell with my mediocre face recognition skills.

The pacing in most scenes is somewhere between glacial and nonexistent, it could've been half the number of episodes with no loss.

On balance, the story being told just barely overcomes the drawbacks, but it's the worst-filmed of King's series and movies that I've seen.

The series starts like every crime drama, an old man with a dog out for a walk in the woods finds a kid's body, abused and bitten(!). Killers, stop leaving your bodies there, you know you're gonna be found, and then a detective with a troubled personal life will get involved and catch you. Well, this one maybe wants it.

So the cliché detective (small-town sheriff) with a troubled personal life arrests the person who looks good for it, with a bunch of blatantly out-of-character eyewitnesses and camera recordings, before the case starts falling apart badly.

Next a new protagonist, P.I. Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo, of Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale), goes looking for an explanation. She's a Rain Man fictional autistic genius type, which makes her awkward to watch and utterly implausible as a person, but a good stand-in for a text adventure or RPG player character, willing to go anywhere, ask anything, assemble giant notebooks of clues until the problem is solved.

SPOILERS

















Right up front Holly brings up the stories of Doppelgangers, Fetch, etc., dark shadows of people who commit atrocities in their form, and whether they're myth or just explanations for schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, etc., but misses my favorite, the Navajo myth of the Skinwalker, a witch that takes the skin of an animal (or in really dark variants, a person) and assumes their form. I've been expecting that since the moment Terry was accused and obviously not playing the same person as the killer.

So far we have no motive for the skinwalker, but everything in it leads that direction: Claude gets copied at the titty bar. Terry got copied by the skinwalker at the nursing home. Heath got copied in New York. Maria got copied there. If you're a murderous skinwalker, NYC would seem to be the place to stay, nobody'd notice a few missing. Out in the boonies, anyone out of the ordinary is suspicious.

Aside, at one point in a back-story, a kid is scared by the movie Leprechaun (starring the inimitable Warwick Davis!), but the thing is, the leprechaun only kills those who steal his gold (or that he thinks did), so a kid might be squicked out by the gore, but shouldn't be afraid of leprechauns. +5 for reference, -10 for missing the point.

And that's relevant because later Holly's theory is that it's El Coco, here called "El Cuco", or basically the boogeyman. Which also makes no sense because none of the victims were bad kids, and universally we know that the boogeyman only takes away bad kids. If monsters under your bed were eating good kids, parents would rise up in anger & torches & pitchforks, but if they take bad kids, silent sigh of relief and "oh no my dirty-faced angel is gone oh well time to make another".

By episodes 4-5 it really starts to drag, there's no plot advancement except a few minutes of investigation here and there. A lot of repeated scenes of indistinguishable honkie dudes being crazy, the cop brooding, Holly being nerdy at random people who have no reason to hear her out.

E6 manages to get back on track, with Holly explaining everything she knows, making the last few episodes redundant, and new investigation into the monster's abilities.

Nope, E7-E8 are right back to moody nothing, a long car ride into nowhere, Ralph whining at his therapist but unable to even articulate the plot, Holly gets to be cool and stoic until she's not.

Finally, E9-10 have a confrontation, a slow but somewhat tense shootout, and something like final showdown. Even that's made dull, slow and methodical. And then excuses and lies to get the survivors out of trouble.

There's a little post-credits scene, don't just close it, but it doesn't do anything.

I really want to like this. Every element it's doing is clever, in competent filmmakers' hands it'd be great, it's just so incredibly badly told as a show, I can't.

★★½☆☆

FUDGE of Holding

I like Steffan O'Sullivan's FUDGE a lot. I've run a lot of pickup games in it for almost 30 years now, and some campaigns. Some people see the very loose rules and "pick whatever you want" as a toolkit that needs work, but it's perfectly valid to run as-is, you don't need to specialize the rules for a setting (other than picking some combat & magic options). That page describes FUDGE as "precursor of FATE", but that's kind of insulting, FATE is FUDGE with all the fun and flexibility stripped out.

But the thing is, FUDGE is free, and I much prefer the 1993 version - PDF archive, 73 pages with the 2d6 table instead of 4dF ("FUDGE dice" marked +1, 0, -1). This version has simpler & clearer core rules, and enough options in the back.

The Skill Resolution Table
Rolled:  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  | 6, 7, 8 |  9  | 10  | 11  | 12
---------|-----|-----|-----|-----|---------|-----|-----|-----|---
Levels:  | -4  | -3  | -2  | -1  |   +0    | +1  | +2  | +3  | +4

The 1995 version, 107 pages, is much more exhaustive, and kind of exhausting, with all the options mixed in with the core rules, and it takes away many of the weirder dice/trait ladder options. But if you're picking up "one book", this is a good option, and there's Grey Ghost print copies still floating around.

Both of these are free, and one of the best RPGs made, at least for casual games. I don't think the campaign play in it holds up, you really can't develop attributes and skills much before you become superheroes, perils of a very coarse (few steps) and swingy (vast range of results!) task system.

I haven't seen the 10th Anniversary edition (2003? 2005?), but 320 pages?! Looks from reviews like it has hundreds of pages of setting stuff and special case combat & magic rules that you would normally develop yourself. Still, maybe that's worth the minimum price.

  • PSI-PUNK
  • HACK-N-SLASH
  • THE ORB
  • SURVIVAL OF THE ABLE

These all look terrible. I'm very sorry, they must be someone's hard work, but whew, no. I especially do not want to run zombies eating disabled people post-medieval-apocalypse. What is even wrong with you?

The Level Up titles are 50% better:

  • THE DERYNI ADVENTURE GAME: Excellent sourcebook for one of my favorite fantasy book series, though the FUDGE adaptation of the powers is… workmanlike. Not ideal for play or simulation of the books, but it's functional. You may just be better off with rereading a few of the novels and Deryni Magic, which is Kurtz's own summary/theory book of their magic. Using the standard 1993 FUDGE Magic rules works fine for Deryni with a few adjustments.
  • TERRA INCOGNITA: Sounds from the blurb and the little bit on their site, like "Victorian adventures", and I'm not exactly a fan of colonialist, bigoted English wankers. They aren't "discovering" anything, they're conquering & robbing people who are already there.
  • NOW PLAYING: TV shows as a setting? I've done that as a short joke game long ago, but it's not a useful setting.
  • THE UNEXPLAINED: Cryptid/supernatural investigation sourcebook. This might be useful, there's really not a lot of good ones; GUMSHOE is all railroaded plots, Conspiracy X is out of print, Delta Green is all guns-guns-guns-cthulhu-guns, Palladium will never finish their Beyond the Supernatural reboot.

The best supplement for FUDGE isn't included: A Magical Medley, which has some more complex magic systems; the African Spirit Magic and Ars Magica Grammarye systems are especially useful. Maybe that's in the 10th Anniversary, but it's probably easier to get that book by itself, a print copy of 1995, and have a fully functional game.

The free rules are better than the cheap bundle. The Level Up bundle might be worth getting for two of the sourcebooks, and you get a 10th Anniversary e-doorstop as a bonus. But you can get a print book for not much more, maybe that's the better plan.