Urban Dead

I loved this game, and was fortunate enough to play it at its height. But I can also see the reasons for its decline.

The free browser zombie game Urban Dead was an example of player-driven gameplay. With no NPCs, humans and zombies could organically fight for territory, set up groups and plan battles with real consequences. It was a unique and fun experience.

It was also a horrifically and inherently unbalanced game that managed to give both sides gigantic advantages, in likely unforeseen ways. Individual humans could do far more than individual zombies. Zombies essentially cannot communicate in game at all, and it’s far easier for a human to build barricades than a zombie to destroy them. In individual play, a human can do a lot more.

However, groups of zombies are more or less unstoppable. Because they can just stand up after being killed, in a weird “DETERMINATION”-style system that preceded Undertale by a decade, the only method of actually beating them was to outlast the willpower of the players controlling them. And zombie metagamers turned the in-game communications weakness into a strength, setting up out of game networks.

Because of the PVP nature of the game, any balance changes were bitterly contested, making the community an often unpleasant place. This, combined with the inherent limitations of the game, made the playerbase drop.

There are other factors, most notably the game being incredibly beginner-unfriendly. But its balance was, in my opinion, the biggest reason.

Now, it’s exacerbated. A human can hide in a heavily barricaded building and be safe in normal play (too bad there’s little to do), to a ridiculous extent. Yet with even malls being virtually empty, a small organized group of zombies can attack with basically no resistance. Like its namesake, the game is reduced to shambling on.

But it was fun in its heyday. I remember playing it when I was younger, finding it through (what else) Spacebattles.

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Worms and Twigs

One piece of webfiction in particular holds a peculiar trend. The work of fiction would be the web serial Twig, by “Wildbow”, the author of the Spacebattles-favorite superhero epic Worm. The trend is for fans to declare that the storyline must be almost over.

The claims that Twig must be ending soon first started appearing in earnest around Arc 10. Now Twig is at Arc 20. And there’s talk that, honestly, really, Wildbow’s close to finishing it off.

When browsing through the Worm community, I’ve found an explanation that I felt made a lot of sense. People want Worm II, Wildbow’s announced sequel to the initial blockbuster, and they’re so eager that they want Twig to be over.

I admit to being one of them. A story I could follow a chapter at a time could get me to know the setting better than having to dig through a gigantic million word archive. At the same time, I’ve always felt Wildbow has had pacing issues, and thus I’m not surprised Twig has gone the way it has.

The morbid question I have is “will Worm II overload Spacebattles even more?” According to a running thread, around 15-20 of the top stories in Creative Writing are Worm-centric. I personally feel that if it catches CRWs attention again (which is not a guarantee-Pact has only two fanfics written on Spacebattles, and Twig has zero), most of the “victims” will be other wormfics.

So I guess I’ll have to wait and see. For what it’s worth, Worm itself ended after 31 arcs, and Wildbow’s next work, Pact, wrapped after 16.

The Alternate History Blowup

It’s a weird coincidence.

Shortly after I made my post about how I’d soured on Alternatehistory.com, there was an incident in the dreaded Chat. The board administrator had undertaken another mass banning and issued a rant that many considered to be far beyond his well-known anti-Israel bias, crossing the line into being outright anti-Jewish. As a result, with the aid of friendly staff, a breakaway (sub)forum was set up on Sufficient Velocity.

Many people pointed out the irony of that, since disagreements with board administrators was how SV got started to begin with. And like the Athene Incident, I viewed the latest blowup as primarily a catalyst. Mass bannings/kickings [tempbans] over Israel and the administrator’s view on the country were not exactly a new experience.

This makes me all the more glad I moved away when I did.

 

Bad Fiction Spotlight: Victoria

Now, a little under two years ago, I found a book by the defense commentator and author William S. Lind. The book was called “Victoria: A Novel Of Fourth Generation War”.

I was expecting, at best, a book that would be illuminated by its author’s genuine fame as a military expert and advisor to Gary Hart, and at worst a conventional crazy right wing novel. What I got was -something else.

I had to mock it. So mock it at Spacebattles I did. (As with everything I’ve written a long time ago, I feel a little embarassed by it and wish I’d done some things better. Oh well.) It was written right after Lind fell from grace dramatically in the wake of the Gulf War, and his bitterness shows. Boy, does it show.

 

I was so foolish-an online history

One website has left a bad impression on me, because I was a mark in it. It set back my writing talent by a noticeable amount. Now it’s apparently reaping what it has sown.

So, that site was the Project A.F.T.E.R. Forum [EDITED TO REMOVE DEAD LINK]. It mocked fanfiction. It mocked a lot of fanfiction, and a lot of bad fiction. I like mocking bad fiction. I found it with a detailed mock of the infamous Salvation War[1]. I fit in. What could go wrong?

A lot. They had a blanket dislike of all fanfiction[2], a dislike of nearly everything popular. Maybe the writing should have been on the wall when I checked out something they were mocking and unironically enjoyed it. But I was younger and busier. I kept my ideas in my head because I had this (paranoid and unwarranted, but still present) fear of – “Oh no, they’ll find that Coiler’s writing fanfiction.

I grew past it. It got more mean-spirited, the most aggressive members broke off to form a new endeavor, and then the rest of the site just went down. Not literally, but figuratively. If one registered user is on, it’s amazing.

(Update: And now it’s literally dead as well.)

Now, looking back at it, I realized that Stardestroyer.net collapsed in an almost identical fashion. I’d washed my hands of that site when its true decline started so I didn’t have a front-row seat like PA, but could see it.

  • Snipe at easy targets. In SDN’s case, it was creationists and overrwrought Star Trek fans. In PA’s case, it was the legitimately awful fanfiction.
  • Get a huge sense of superiority from your mocking of said easy targets. Keep a ‘nerd attitude’, for lack of a better term, but have zero empathy. “My nerd stuff is good, yours isn’t”-I think you can see that.
  • Then, after the bitterness increases, you inevitably turn on each other. Either partisans of the losing side or just normal observers inevitably leave, and the whole place falls apart.

SDN has, as of this post, only eight registered human users online. Spacebattles has over two thousand, and even its spin-offs have many, many more. I think its effect on my writing might have been overstated, but it was there, and I feel bad for it.

[1]It was here [EDITED TO REMOVE DEAD LINK] for what it’s worth. Ironically, googling “M2 Bradley” brought me to SDN, and then to Spacebattles (long story).

[2]I don’t hold that against them. Nor do I wish even the abrasive ones any ill will-I still listen to some of their podcasts some of the time.

Note: The board was phased out, but seems to have collapsed before its intended end-date. As such, I’ve removed now-dead links. As for PA failing, well, I could see it coming. It wasn’t exactly a surprise.

 

 

Spacebattles now has a Worm forum

Spacebattles has, thanks to board upgrades, finally been able to implement a Worm subforum for their Creative Writing board.

The Worm craze has been gigantic, and is every bit as big now as it was when I first blogged about it. Making it opt-in is preferable to just stuffing everything into a subforum to cries of “fencing off”.

So hopefully this works without much issue.

Bad Fiction Spotlight: The Big One

This is one of the first bad fiction series I found out about online, read for myself, and then criticized. So it’s kind of special-in multiple meanings of the term, of course.

This series is called The Big One. Written by a naval analyst named Stuart Slade, they’re both the most uninteresting (badly written with not a hint of excitement in the battles, obvious chapter-by-chapter webfiction turned to self-publishing with only a hint of the battles), and strangely interesting (the whole mystique around it).

So, first an examination of the “what.”

The timeline begins in 1940, with Lord Halifax seizing power from Churchill in a parliamentary coup. Then he makes peace with Germany, who then deploy “guards” to England, in a prelude to a Crimea-style taking of Britain(!). The US enters the war, fights on the mega-Eastern Front, Stalin is killed and the USSR reverts to Russia, and the war drags on until 1947, where a huge fleet of B-36s easily nukes Germany into utter ruin.

That was the “sane” part of it. The work had originated from a what if forum post, and turned into a sort of mix. Part of it was showing off the power of the early Cold War nuclear bomber fleets, and part of it was debunking the “wehraboo wunderwaffe” exaggeration of WWII Germany, showing that if the US enters the war, it will just be nuked even with artificial advantages.

Then things get crazier and crazier.

With Russia turned into a cuddly, fuzzy, Britain Special Relationship-level teddy bear, the opposition is dubious. First you get the holdout Germans who’ve managed to keep their logistical state in southern Russia going for a bizarrely long period before taken out in a final Russian ground offensive. They flee into the Middle East-

-And ally themselves with an anachronistic “Caliphate” that is blasphemous to any form of Islam, given that Stuart simply copy-pasted the Taliban organization over everything, and made things even worse by making Khomeini the “first among equals”. The goal is simply to turn a region that’s a decades long-puzzle of complexity into a pop-up bombing target that in terms of competence, makes the 1991 Iraqis look like aces in comparison.

(This was written around 2003-2004, for historical reference)

The other opponent is “Chipan”. A mix of the lazy “China absorbs its conquerors” pop history-gimmick and plot device, it’s a mix of China and Imperial Japan. Yes. The goal is to A: Neutralize both, and B: provide a “Cold War” against a state that has all the USSR’s weaknesses but none of its strengths.

One guess if it succeeds.

The US itself is a min-max army of nothing but nuclear bombers, aircraft carriers, and Marines for the obligatory ground battle.

All the books beyond the original suffer from being a sequence of events, where Stuart simply takes a snapshot of everything happening in the world and stuffs them all together in a way that makes sense for a posted-one-at-a-time forum work, but not in an actual novel.

The characters have no characterization. At best they’re one-note stereotypes, and at worst they’re just unit names. The battles-well, for anything American, it’s going to be an effortless victory, and for anything non-American, it’s a dull “LP-esque” description that makes the battles in The War That Never Was seem gripping.

The few recurring characters are a mix of forum member self inserts (one particular one being a “C. J. O’Seven”), and the immortal Mary Sues that make sure the timeline goes right. The leader is known as “The Seer”, and I’m sure it’s a coincidence that one author username was “Seer Stuart”.

These magical realist immortals have the historical lineup of presidents, to make sure the right decisions were taken. Of particular note is Robert McNamara, who is viewed as an evil man for cancelling the B-70 in real life, and thus is to be taken out-not just written out, but put into office so that he can be shown how wrong he was.

The books themselves would be a small diversion.

What’s more interesting is the internet drama around them.

Stuart was a massive panderer, which is why the hard-right cold warrior was able to stay at left-wing Stardestroyer.net for so long. By downplaying his views and presenting himself as the True Expert in a board that loved “true experts”, he stayed.

This sort of “true expert” phenomenon led to a weird condition where the books as written were obvious forum-pandering works. However, after they were completed, they turned into Serious, Important Works that had to be defended. Why, that book wasn’t a stompfic, it was a story of people trying to minimize the damage from an unavoidably bad outcome! It wasn’t celebrating the Massive Retaliation doctrine, it was criticizing it! The Seer wasn’t a self-insert, he was based on other people in “the business” Stuart knew! Honestly!

Then came the Salvation War series. These featured a seemingly un-mess-upable plotline: a Doom-esque struggle of modern weaponry against literal demons. (It was no coincidence that SDN had a reputation of being incredibly anti-religious).

Stuart messed it up.

The humans win easily with boring battles, then win slightly less easily in the sequel. That’s basically it.

At that point, SDN turned on him. First, people began openly criticizing the work, in a place apart from the main thread where it would be drowned out by cheers. Second, the true ‘horrors’ of the tiny board he had been based on became known, and his reputation as an unorthodox but still powerful “expert” dropped there. Third, there was the Publishing Incident.

According to Stuart, he was in the process of getting a huge advance from a publisher to legitimately set the books, but then someone posted the story on the internet for download, and the deal collapsed. That someone was an insulted religious fundamentalist.

No one believed the story, and Stuart ended up being outright banned, his works treated with mockery thereafter in the declining SDN.

Was there any lost potential drowned out by the sea of sycophancy? In the original The Big One itself, a tiny bit. But very tiny. It’s at least more focused due to fewer plotlines, as opposed to later events where, between a bomber being shot down over the Middle East (thanks solely to McNamara’s evil intervention, of course), and the response to that, the reader gets an unrelated chapter including a long infodump on the politics of arms sales to Taiwan.

So, probably-not.

Who Could Be A Fitting “Sans”?

First, an obligatory spoiler warning for Undertale (even if this is like closing the barn door long after every single horse has left).

 

 

So, one of the most interesting and challenging characters in Undertale is Sans the skeleton. At first seeming to be just a silly, lazy character (in contrast to his overexcited, bumbling brother, Papyrus), he’s later revealed to know about the timeline changes caused by the main character/player saving and restarting the game, and becoming apathetic to the world because of it.

Unlike his brother, Sans never fights the player on either a “normal” route or a pacifist route. However, on the so-called “genocide route”, where the player must go out of their way to keep killing literally every single monster in every single area throughout the game, Sans finally rouses himself into action and serves as what is generally considered by far the hardest boss in the game.

The Sans battle in its entirety.
Sans is jokingly referred to in the game’s “check” screen as the “easiest enemy”, having only one HP (but dodging every attack), and only doing one damage (per frame).
Now, I goofily wondered what a rough counterpart to Sans would be in other games. Not in terms of the character (either lazy or uncaring), nor even in terms of being an incredibly hard battle (the mechanics would be different). No, what I was thinking of was the style. To be a Sans-equivalent, said character would have to:
  • Be established throughout the main storyline, regardless of what path the player takes.
  • At the same time, having a good justification not to fight the player unless they go to a terrible extreme.
  • Nonetheless, in that extreme case, going to action.

 

For the most literal example, from my favorite RPG of all time, Fallout New Vegas, the replacement for Sans would be none other than-Yes Man.

Yes Man is a robot/computer program that is programmed to enthusiastically obey any order given to it by anyone. The character is a clear plot device, intended to serve as a bailout for players who fail the other three main quest lines. Yes Man obviously can’t say no, and their inability to be permanently killed (even if contrived) is to prevent the the player from losing that way.

New Vegas’ own pseudo-genocide route requires the player to use Yes Man (after all, even the crazed Caesar’s Legion needs you to spare them). 

The psycho ending.
So, while clearly not existing in the real game, my fanon would involve the Yes Man battle. Throughout the game, not only will he not oppose you, but he can’t. (If you went down that path in the fanon, you’d see hints of indecision and warning start to pop up in his speeches).
Then, after the normal final bosses are dealt with, Yes Man comes, and instead of his congratulations and statement of “assertiveness” (misinterpreted as him going rogue, but another plot device to make him just loyal to the player), he’d (with a changed voice tone and image from the silly smile), say “Do you really want to rule?”, and have a short conversation about how the Lucky 38’s computer installed a defense protocol inside him (the same one that largely spared the area from the nuclear war).
(The player can do a speech or science check, which doesn’t do anything even if passed-the implication being “Ha, now you’re trying to bypass fighting, sorry nope”).
From there, the player has to fight through waves of upgraded Securitrons (all with the “Yes Man” angry face) until they blow up the Lucky 38’s reactor, which destroys the entire area in a giant mushroom cloud and kills them. The end.
Ok, that was still pretty dumb, and me trying to shoehorn in too exact an analogy.
_ _ _ _ _ _
From my childhood RPG dream, there’s a lower-stakes but much easier way to include a “Sans”. That setting would be Pokemon, and the metaphorical skeleton is obvious-the professor that gives you your starter.
Give the player the option of evil shortcuts (stealing trainer Pokemon, using dubious power-ups)-and then, should they use said shortcuts, have them face the disappointed professor with a team of six level 100 fully evolved Pokemon.
The boss would say things like “Do you really care about loving your Pokemon, or just winning at all costs?”

 

(Even Rare Candies might technically qualify, given the number of people who used the item duplication glitches to munchkin their way to the top.)

There are undoubtedly more ways, both as contrived as my Fallout example and natural-seeming as my Pokemon one, to give the player a bad time throughout numerous games. This is one of those silly speculations I love thinking about way too much.

 

Captain N revisited

There was a show starting in 1989, at the height of the NES boom. This show was sloppy and nonsensical even by the standards of toy commercial tie-in cartoons, and featured “adaptations” of numerous NES characters alongside a wish-fulfillment protagonist.

The show was called Captain N: The Game Master.

Naturally, the question was asked on Spacebattles as to what a modern Captain N would be like. Some answered, not unjustifiably, “Wreck-it Ralph”. I disagree.

Wreck-it Ralph actually avoided the pitfalls it might have encountered. The references are used as references before going to a story taking place almost entirely in an original game, making it a fun movie rather than the mix of brainless slapstick and references it could have been.

The context has changed, thanks to Nintendo’s iron-fisted approach to adaptations following the Super Mario Bros. film debacle and an increasingly aware internet. Everything is so different that including modern gamers (who are far more diverse than the stereotypical Kevin Keene), would just be anthetical to the show’s original character.

So, my reboot idea would be an 80s NES hero-gamer-in a set of more modern games, from deep-plot ones to sports games to grey dark to quirky. The poor hero would find out just how everything has grown and changed.

I would take care to keep the references in check, and not have it be “silly for its own sake”.