everything is connected

‘Watch Dogs’ as presented by Ubisoft at E3

They kept it a secret until some days ago. I am not closely following the coverage of this year’s E3, but from what I read it seems that a lot of the major players in the industry put some disappointing shows on the floor. Not so Ubisoft—here I have to admit that since Far Cry 2 I am a regular fanboy—they stunned the audience by presenting Watch Dogs,’ which is heavily cyberpunk-drenched, truly just twenty minutes into the future, at the most. Gamezone was the first to sum the available information up, but meanwhile Wikipedia has a fine summing-up of gameplay and plot, as far as we know about it today:

The main gameplay mechanic of Watch Dogs is the use of hacking and surveillance—as the game’s protagonist Aiden Pierce can use any device tied to the city’s computer system as a weapon against it. During the gameplay demonstration, Aiden is seen jamming cellphones to serve as a distraction as he enters a vanity art exhibit, tapping a phone call to retrieve information about his target, and manipulating traffic lights to cause a large pileup designed to trap the target and his thugs. The player can also access information from the ctOS on the NPCs they encounter, including information on demographics, health, and their probability of violence. Combat utilizes a combination of stealth components, along with the mechanics of a cover-based third-person shooter. The E3 demo also demonstrated co-op play, as focus shifted to a second character referred to as ”Bixxel_44″ (controlled by another player) following Aiden’s successful murder, who was given orders to protect Aiden by intercepting the police trying to catch him.
    The storyline of Watch Dogs is built around the concept of Information warfare, data being interconnected, and the world’s increasing use of technology—questioning who exactly runs the computers they depend on. Set in a version of Chicago, Illinois simply referred to as just the “Windy City”, it is one of many cities to feature a supercomputer known as a “ctOS” (Central Operating System). The system controls almost every piece of technology in the city, and contains information on all of the city’s residents and activities which can be used for various purposes. The game will follow an anti-hero named Aiden Pearce, a highly skilled hacker described as a person who uses both “fists and wits.” The gameplay demo shown at E3 centered on Aiden’s attempt to assassinate a media mogul named Joesph DeMarco, who had been wrongly acquitted on charges of murder.

So, rumour has it that ‘Watch Dogs’ is multiplayer and it may feature an ARG-like component via an iPad app. After you’ve seen the official trailer above, delivering the background history, here’s the actual gameplay:


frags with love

‘Im just five hours old … Truly beautiful to behold …’ Fresh from the mint, here is KerLeone’s very first frag movie—high quality definition, editing, and frags, plus a gorgeous soundtrack. It was he, my old on- and offline pal, who brought me to Quake more than a decade ago … and it took him that long to create a frag movie :) Enjoy!


our mundane world

In a longer blogpost/essay on his Rule 34 Charlie Stross wrote, among other things:

We’re living in the 21st century: it’s not possible to write a novel that seriously explores modern life without a background that includes rapid, cheap international travel: the commercial space industry: smartphones and the internet and spam: social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter: the rapidly shifting reference points of life expectancy, gender roles, and politics.
    The mundane world we live in is rapidly accreting the baroque trappings of a science fiction novel. The internet has exploded messily across the world around us: ignoring its noxiously fermenting culture in a novel of the near-present is like ignoring the clashing influences of punk and Margaret Thatcher’s vanguard Tories in a novel set in the London of the late 1970s.

Well, the exact same is true for ethnography.


fun times ahead

According to Kaspersky Stuxnet has an heir. Here are two snippets from Wired’s report on it—mind the rhetorics:

“It’s pretty fantastic and incredible in complexity,” said Alexander Gostev, chief security expert at Kaspersky Lab. […]
    “It took us half-a-year to analyze Stuxnet,” he said. “This is 20-times more complicated. It will take us 10 years to fully understand everything.”

To my cyberpunk-infested mind this sounds as if some mysterious AI has written the thing, maybe even Colossus himself … And if this is true as well, there for sure are fun times ahead.


who is shadowing?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #31
Who is shadowing?
The lady expertly tailing the gentleman in the background—who is she?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]


who is escaping?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #30
Who is escaping?
Who is escaping by that daring jump out of the window? And from where is he escaping?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]
    #29 what is switched? somehow went unnoticed, probably because I have posted it on last Tuesday instead of Monday—I apologize for this, but I am somewhat offline these days. Nevertheless, now you got two riddles to sink your teeth into.


teliasonera’s black boxes

Here’s the timely follow-up to heretics house tripoli, an hour-long feature by the Swedish news show Uppdrag Granskning, investigating the entanglement of Swedish telecom giant TeliaSonera with authoritarian regimes—especially in ex-Soviet states. From Eva Galperin’s write-up at EFF:

According to a recent investigation by the Swedish news show Uppdrag Granskning, Sweden’s telecommunications giant Teliasonera is the latest Western country revealed to be colluding with authoritarian regimes by selling them high-tech surveillance gear to spy on its citizens. Teliasonera has allegedly enabled the governments of Belarus, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Georgia and Kazakhstan to spy on journalists, union leaders, and members of the political opposition. One Teliasonera whistle-blower told the reporters, “The Arab Spring prompted the regimes to tighten their surveillance. … There’s no limit to how much wiretapping is done, none at all.”

via entry at boingboing

heretics house tripoli

Much has been said and written about the role of social media and the Internet during the Arab Spring. Especially the liberating potentials of these technologies are discussed, even anthropologists are belabouring the topic. But, and that’s the core theme of cyberpunk, technologies are fundamentally ambivalent. Just yesterday Jamming Tripoli: Inside Moammar Gadhafi’s secret surveillance network by Matthieu Aikins was published by Wired:

[The] activists would suffer greatly at the hands of Gadhafi’s spy service, whose own capabilities had been heightened by 21st-century technology. By now, it’s well known that the Arab Spring showed the promise of the Internet as a crucible for democratic activism. But, in the shadows, a second narrative unfolded, one that demonstrated the Internet’s equal potential for government surveillance and repression on a scale unimaginable with the old analog techniques of phone taps and informants. Today, with Gadhafi dead and a provisional government of former rebels in charge, we can begin to uncover the secret, high tech spying machine that helped the dictator and his regime cling to power.

Matthieu Aikins’ article is a deeply researched wonderful piece of journalism on Gadhafi’s secret high tech measures of information control. Matthieu doesn’t just do justice to real people and to technology’s ambivalence, but we also have the proverbial (western and/or international) evil corporations who furnished the means:

“Massive intercept” technology, like countless other innovations of the West’s military-industrial complex, has now become cheap, small, and simple enough to export as a commercial, off-the-shelf technology, for sale to any government that can cough up a few tens of millions of dollars. Today you can run an approximation of 1984 out of a couple of rooms filled with server racks. And that’s precisely what Libya’s spies did—and what dictatorships all around the world continue to do.

UPDATE (13 December 2012):
Some on-topic thoughts by Warren Ellis and The Guardian on The Assad Emails.’

via entry at boingboing

what is switched?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #29
What is switched?
What is caused by using the switch?
    Just leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE 1 (07 June 2012):
Flight gear
Now that I am back online, here is a very direct hint, so that you finally can solve #29 …

UPDATE 2 (08 June 2012):
Hm, the above hint wasn’t strong enough, it seems—so here are two more. The first one is in more or less direct connection to the switch in question: What are they listening to?
The second one concerns the backstory told in flashbacks: Where are they coming from? Obviously they are rescued at sea. Where is the vessel, the crew of which is rescuing them in the screencap below, headed to? If you can answer that, you’ll know the title of the movie.

UPDATE 3 and solution (10 June 2012):
Titlecard of 'Passage to Marseille' (Curtiz 1944)
All right, now it’s been too long, here’s the solution:
    For his Passage to Marseille (1944) director Michael Curtiz reunited a substantial part from the cast of Casablanca (Curtiz 1942). Namely: Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Helmut Dantine, Corinna Mura, Monte Blue, Adrienne D’Ambricourt, Jean Del Val, Charles La Torre, Louis Mercier, Georges Renavent, and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski.
    Like in ‘Casablanca’ the Free French during World War II are at the center of the plot. Jean Matrac (Bogart) serves as a bombardier with a Free French bomber squad operating from the United Kingdom. By the switch depicted in the first screencap he releases the bombs from their bay. So, in a way, he switches destruction on. The second screencap depicts a German anti-aircraft reconnaissance detail listening for the Free French aircrafts approaching. All of this is part of the outermost timeframe of the movie’s narrative. Starting from there the background stories of Matrac and his close comrades are told by nested flashbacks. The third screencap stems from the second timeframe. Matrac, Marius (Peter Lorre), Garou (Helmut Dantine), Petit (George Tobias), and Renault (Philip Dorn)—all seemingly shipwrecked, adrift in a small boat in the Caribbean—are safed by the steamer ‘Ville de Nancy’ … on its way to Marseille. Aboard the steamer more flashbacks are told and the whole story unfolds …