Thursday, January 12, 2012

Staggering Professions of the FUTURE! #1 - the Forensic Sedimentologist

The agent walked down the loading ramp, his luggage rattling along behind on mesh wheels and his faery, part minder, part secretary, flitting about his head.
The mayor rushed up to him, flustered at having to greet someone so senior who's purpose was unknown to him.
"Welcome sir, welcome! May I say what a pleasure it is to see a representative of the Commonwealth after so many years. We have made a suite of rooms available to you ..."
"Enough of your obsequiousness mayor. My requirements were sent on ahead. I trust they have been fulfilled," said the agent in a voice gruff and stale from lack of use.
"We tried sir, but there is no offshore drilling capacity available here. Our industrial base is not yet sufficiently advanced. It will be decades before we have need of such technology."
"You have need of that technology now. I will have to stay until you can import the necessary industrial base - the Commonwealth will provide what is needed. I must have access to samples of deep sea floor sediments or this planet will be evacuated and sterilized."
The mayor stumbled to a halt in consternation.
"But, sir! What could possibly justify such an outcome? We are a quiet world, slowly earning our place at the table with the Great Planets. We have done no-one any harm!"
"You haven't. But evidence suggests that this is no natural world. That lurking in the depths of those beautiful oceans of yours are beings of vast age and unlimited enmity to humans. Do you truly believe that Earth was the only world infested with the Old Ones? Would you see a return of Cthulhu, a re-run of the rites that brought Nyarlathotep back from the screaming abyss?"
Stunned, the mayor stared at the agent in horror. The agent walked on, luggage and faery following close behind.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Warez

I've discovered "The Rose of Desire" on a warez site. I don't know whether to be appalled or flattered.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

"The War Against Memory": A Review - Part 1

The short but action-packed history of video games contains certain seminal moments that, in retrospect at least, represented true changes in how this young art-form has developed. Think of the escalating brutality of the first level of DOOM!; the slow dawning of realisation of the sheer size of Hyrule Field; the gleeful simplicity of Katamari Damacy.

One such moment that stays with this reviewer is the opening of the game Myst -- a book falls through a dark void while a voice recites what seems to be a confession to something of which the player is incomprehending.

The opening of "The War Against Memory" evokes a similar feeling of desperate mystery. A figure sits at a desk, frantically scribbling disjointed facts (the population of Brazil in 1968; the location of a rural post-office in Nebraska; breakfast 11th May, 1998) onto pieces of paper, each of which he sets alight with a battered Zippo and drops in a trash can.

This mystery, however, (unlike many others in the game) is rapidly resolved. Felix Unes, the protagonist (to call him the hero would be to mis-use the word) is cursed with perfect recall. His memory of everything he has sensed or thought is perfect in every detail. For those of us entering the mnemonic haze of middle age this might seem a blessing but the voice-over makes it clear that a life lived in the undiscriminating glare of an eidetic memory is blighted, the natural high and low points of a life lived and recalled in the normal way are flattened by total recall and memory ceases to have the topography that gives life meaning. More than anything else Felix deires to lose this gift, the irony being that as a child he sought it with a dedication that he now can no longer credit.

In a cunningly wrought and beautifully rendered flashback we see the young Felix discover a book on the ancient "Art of Memory" from which he learns to construct his own memory palace -- a collection of familiar environments in which memories can be placed and recalled at will, given enough dedication, something which Felix appears to have had in spades.

And we see the consequences of the trap into which he has walked -- every moment is always compared to the perfect knowledge of a moment that has passed, leaching life of its savour in a cloud of memories of memories of memories.

So we see Felix attempt, futilely, to eradicate memories by writing them down and burning them. We also see the inside of his memory palace for the first time -- unlike the classical versions that used cathedrals or libraries as their locations, young Felix chose to use a shopping mall, memories compulsively associated with objects in the stores almost as soon as they are formed. The burning serves only to highlight the memory objects in the mall. It does not erase them.

We then see Felix buy, on impulse, a strange amulet (seen on the box art) at a mysterious small antique store. Typically of the game it is unclear if this transaction takes place in the memory mall or in reality. While wearing this amulet he begins to see terrifying flame edged shadows around the heads of people he meets, shadows that appear to be animated by some purpose and which appear to be feeding on something that the people exude.

Associated with these fragments of darkness he sees frozen images of other lives and slowly he realises that he is seeing the process of forgetting. The bat-like creatures are devouring memories but they will not come anywhere near Felix himself.

This leads into the central game mechanic, where Felix, on seeing one of these attacks of forgetting, can rush up close to the person being mnemonically cleansed and snatch the memory eaters out of the air, causing them to momentarily turn on him and eat some morsel of his own memory. After each of these events a small portion of his memory mall turns dark.

The mystery that deepens as the game progresses is one of forgetting rather than the cliched revelation from a state of amnesia more often seen in video games.

Felix forgets more and more and as he does so the images that are left behind in his memory palace change and become more significant, become imbued with a totalised meaning that was not apparent when they were placed within a horde of quotidian remembrances.

[to be continued]

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