human revolution

When I entered the last chapter of Far Cry 2 (Ubisoft Montreal 2008) my account read 178 diamonds. The sneaky bastard I am, I felt so comfortable once I had the combination of silenced P9, Dragunov, dart rifle, and the camouflage suit, there was no reason for me to spend anything on new equipment. The payments for accomplished missions came in, and the fortune amassed till suicide was painless.
    Somehow mixing this up with my bank account, the one my salary as an anthropologist goes to, yesterday evening I strolled into a shop and laid fifty quid down on the counter. In return I received a brand new copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX3; Eidos Montreal & Nixxes Software 2011). I had read high praise of the game (carefully avoiding spoilers), the Deus Ex series is not only as legendary as Doom and Half-Life, but also is purest cyberpunk imaginable (even the headquarters of the game’s publisher, Square Enix, is located in Shibuya and my friends over at cyberpunkreview.com gave it nine out of ten stars).
    Plus I again wanted to play a current title (DX3 was released in Europe only two weeks ago), and not hang back years as it was the case for so long—which is not completely true, as I played through Call of Duty: Black Ops (Treyarch 2010) in June this year; article of mine on it pending.
    You see, purchasing DX3 was an unavoidable must.
 
Detail of opening splash screen of Deus Ex: Humn Revolution
The installation process took about 20 minutes but went like a breeze, without any problems whatsoever. After firing up the game, the splash screen already confirms what was discussed in forums and reviews. The visual æsthetics blend futuristic with baroque and rococo elements. If memory serves me correctly, it was illustrator Jim Burns who coined the term ‘baroque science fiction’ for this particular visual style.
 
David Sarif in an online conference
This is very much in synch with overall cyberpunk æsthetics, incorporating retro-elements. It’s of course not steampunk æsthetics, but somewhere within one and the same continuum of style.
    An authors’ ruse also has impact on the visual style: DX3 is a prequel, set in 2027, 50 years before the stories of DX1 and 2. So the dominant technology is not yet nanotechnology, but electronics and electromechanics. This allows beautiful looking cyborg-parts, blending perfectly with the retrofitted future and leading to a more visual discussion of post- or transhumanism.
    At cyberpunkreview.com zecalvin came to this conclusion:

I have to admit I was both enthusiast and scared at the idea of a new Deus Ex. We could have feared that a cross platform project would have a poor gameplay, but Eidos Montreal has listened to it’s fan community to bring you a total masterpiece. Of course, everything is not perfect, but Human Revolution has kept the strength of the first game : rewarding gameplay, well written plot, excellent global design … This game is definitely worth playing. And for those who played the other games, Eidos has taken care of the fan service, so you’ll find a lot of easter eggs …

If you head over for reading zecalvin’s review (recommended), don’t miss its update, as it seems that Eidos Montreal indeed listened to the cyberpunk fanscene and for example roamed around the cyberpunk review forums.
    With the game up and running I first opt for the tutorials from the main menu, which are a bit of a disappointment. They are not playable as I expected, but videos with explanations by a female voice off camera. Presumably I will be made hands-on familiar with the gameplay mechanics during the opening parts of the story into which I now delve.
    Beautifully detailed graphics unfold, immediately setting the Blade Runner ambience. Dialogue-heavy cutscenes pull me further inside the storyworld.
 
A laboratory at Sarif Industries
When I finally come out of the cutscenes and for the first time take control of Adam Jensen, the game stutters a bit, and the engine begins culling textures. The detailed graphics lead my system to the edge. No wonder, as I built my machine back in March 2007. No improvement of the hardware done since then. Quite to the contrary, in December last year I had to remove one of the graphics cards. So there will be no way around a hardware upgrade soon; a new CPU and graphics card in particular, maybe new and more RAM, too. Especially with Rage (id Software 2011) already around and Arkham City (Rocksteady Studios 2011) looming at the horizon.
    That’s it for now—yesterday night I only had a couple of minutes to take a glimpse into DX3. At the moment I can’t play on, because I have to do my tax declaration, which is way overdue. I wonder how I will explain those 178 African diamonds …

EIDOS MONTREAL AND NIXXES SOFTWARE. 2011. Deus Ex: Human Revolution [computer game]. Shibuya: Square Enix.
ID SOFTWARE. 2011. Rage [computer game]. Rockville: Bethesda Softworks.
ROCKSTEADY STUDIOS. 2011. Batman: Arkham City [computer game]. Burbank, Shibuya: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Square Enix.
TREYARCH. 2010. Call of Duty: Black Ops [computer game]. Activision, Square Enix: Santa Monica, Shibuya.
UBISOFT MONTREAL. 2008. Far Cry 2 [computer game]. Montreuil-sous-Bois: Ubisoft.
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seventythree percent

The closed door of the briefing room in the APR headquarters -- stuck at 73 percent in Far Cry 2
Just a li’l rant in-between, because this is hilarious and I have to let off a bit of steam.
    I played through ‘Far Cry 2‘ (FC2) till 73% of the story mode, and now I am stuck. I have done all missions available, and the game prompts me to reach a briefing point to get a new mission. The only spot marked on the map where I can get a new mission is the headquarters of the ‘Alliance for Popular Resistance’ (APR) in Mosate Selao.
    So I head there, the guy at the door takes away my weapons and ushers me in. Once inside first thing unusual is that no voices are to be heard. Anyway I climb the stairs to the first floor—and find the door to the briefing room closed. No way in. Methinks, all right, I’ve missed something else, go out again and take a new look on the map.
    Now Mike’s Bar at the Marina and the APR-headquarters are flagged on the map as ‘mission available.’ At Mike’s I get a mission from a pal there, do the mission, return to Mike’s, tell the pal, back to APRHQ which is the only spot flagged with an exclamation mark. Briefing room still locked.
    Maybe I have missed a mission in the northern map. Through the desert to Leboa-Sako. The cell towers there are flagged. From those I get two hitman contracts near the Airfield. Having blown away both marks, back through the desert … briefing room still locked.
    So I take a good night’s sleep in one of my huts, hoping that the day-night cycle resets APRHQ. Doesn’t. Shutting down the game completely and restarting the system. To no avail.
    Several forums on teh_Internets wisen me up: It’s a well known bug called the 73% bug. It can get you at 88%, too. And some poor souls I read of were struck at 27%. Although the bug is known since 2008, and although since then the game was patched up to version 1.03, the issue hasn’t been addressed.
    Additional obscenity: There was a wonderful glitch to exploit in FC2. By setting the mortar onto the ground close to a building’s wall and then rotating 180° the player was able to rotate himself through the wall into places where he shouldn’t be. Thing is, with 1.02 the glitch has been patched away—else I could’ve rotated myself into the briefing room. But they left in the real showstopper.
    As it seems I’ve only got three options: 1) Patch down my installation, which is quite a hassle 2) Go back to some saved game and redo parts of the story, but I’ve read that this not necessarily leads to salvation 3) skip FC2 altogether.
    End of rant.
UPDATE 1: Went back to the last savegame at 69%, once more blew up the pipeline and saved a buddy at the mine, then APRHQ was reset. Am at 88% now.
UPDATE 2: Am through, played both endings. Wonderful game—despite the annoying showstopper—am feeling the itch to start over again with another character ;-)

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infiltration

my first vig!
My first Lego vignette 'infiltration'The good Evil Doctor to be seen here just recently found out that his newest invention, the death-ray, is just perfectly suited for joining aquatic cartilage and human tissue. While welding the head of a Galeocerdo cuvier upon his latest victim, the latter’s comrades have discovered a sneaky path into his well secured laboratory …
    It’s not a mere tradition but a rule that supervillains, mad scientists in particular, build their secret hide-outs and laboratories within or right above active volcanoes at the brink of eruption. In sharp contrast to public opinion this has significant advantages.
    When Shego asked Dr. Drakken why he built his lair right inside a volcano, he replied: “Well, you know, it just substantially reduces the costs for heating.”
    Quite plausible, isn’t it? Everybody requires heating. But there’s yet another angle to it, because besides heating mad scientists—unlike us—require amounts of energy on unprecedented scales.
    Take e.g. our Doctor’s death-ray. Do you have an idea what that contraption consumes in terms of electricity? Geothermal heat here furnishes complete independence. Hence the lightning rod atop the roof is out of service.
    Another rule from the same tradition dictates that despite of access to seemingly inexhaustible resources, and despite of superior intelligence and cunning, a twisted path into the villain’s sanctum sanctorium is always left open, so that his heroic enemies can defeat him. In our case here it is a trapdoor—which we always deem to be most appropriate—leading to the volcanic caverns filled with poisonous gas.
    Quite frankly, why the ‘rule of the vulnerable fortress’ is in effect is beyond us. It might have something to do with dramaturgy or deus ex machina as some suggest. But those rationalisations seem to be a bit far-fetched. It’s more likely that we are dealing with something cultural here. Naturally, our Doctor could have sealed his sanctum sanctorium hermetically. But the archetypical supervillain just needs the confrontation with the heroes, hence he leaves the trapdoor open.

With my debut vignette’s cast I was very lucky. Mr. Kurt Russell immediately and enthusiastically accepted the role of the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, somewhat reprising his role as Snake Plissken. For fighting at his side, and leading ahead up the ladder, I was able to get Mr. Robert Downey jr. The third team member, and I am especially proud of this, although you can’t see her face—which is a pity—is played by Ms. Milla Jovovich. Leaves us with the Doctor … yes, it’s Mr. Vincent Price himself!

[In the face of me not being much of a photographer, building it all black was not quite a bright idea …]
My first Lego vignette 'infiltration'
My first Lego vignette 'infiltration'
My first Lego vignette 'infiltration'

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rogue states

Captain Nemo's 'Nautilus' attacked by cannibals
It’s 20 years ago that Bruce Sterling drew a connection between cyberpunk in the nineties and Jules Verne: Captain Nemo was a technical anarcho-terrorist.’ (Sterling 1991: 39) By chance last night I stumbled over a passage in Verne’s ‘20,000 leagues under the sea‘ I had marked some time. It is part of a conversation between Ned Land [picture Kirk Douglas] and Professor Arronax. Together with Arronax’ trusty servant Conseil they in effect are prisoners aboard Nemo’s submarine ‘Nautilus’ and now speculate about their jailors’ origin:

“My opinion is formed,” replied Ned Land, sharply.
“They are rascals.”
“Good! and from what country?”
“From the land of rogues!”
“My brave Ned, that country is not clearly indicated on the map of the world; but I admit that the nationality of the two strangers is hard to determine. Neither English, French, nor German, that is quite certain. However, I am inclined to think that the commander and his companion were born in low latitudes. There is southern blood in them. […]” (Verne 1870: chpt. VIII)

Is this where the concept ‘rogue states‘ has its roots?

STERLING, BRUCE. 1991. Cyberpunk in the nineties. Interzone 48 [June 1991]: 39-41.
VERNE, JULES GABRIEL. 1870. Vingt mille lieues sous les mers. Paris: Pierre-Jules Hetzel.
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delineation

Some weeks ago I once again had a conversation on the distinctions between social/cultural anthropology and neighbouring or kin disciplines. On the very same day a bookseller sent me an e-mail advertising the (quite costly) “Encyclopaedia of Social Anthropology” by Indian sociologist Henna Tabassum (2011). The book’s product overview gives a quite comprehensive description, which very much is in synch with my convictions:

Social anthropology is distinguished from subjects such as economics or political science by its holistic range and the attention it gives to the diversity of culture and society across the world and the capacity this gives the discipline to reexamine Euro American assumptions. It is differentiated from sociology, both in its main methods (based on long term participant observation and linguistic competence) and in its commitment to the relevance and illumination provided by micro studies. It extends beyond strictly social phenomena to culture, art, individuality, and cognition. While some social anthropologists use quantitative methods (Particularly those whose research touches on topics such as local economies, demography or health and illness) social anthropologists generally emphasize qualitative analysis of long-term fieldwork, rather than the more quantitative methods used by most economists or sociologists.

Today I googled for the book, pasting a sentence from above product overview into the searchfield, and got some hits—top of the heap is the section substantive focus and practice of Wikipedia’s article on social anthropology. The section’s opening paragraph is, word by word, identical with the product overview.
    Now, who has copied from whom?

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1945-1998

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project’s “Trinity” test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May of 1998. This leaves out North Korea’s two alleged nuclear tests in this past decade (the legitimacy of both of which is not 100% clear).

Isao Hashimoto himself on his ‘1945-1998’:

This piece of work is a bird’s eye view of the history by scaling down a month length of time into one second. No letter is used for equal messaging to all viewers without language barrier. The blinking light, sound and the numbers on the world map show when, where and how many experiments each country have conducted. I created this work for the means of an interface to the people who are yet to know of the extremely grave, but present problem of the world.

It’s ‘only’ a map of the world. For almost a quarter of an hour flashing lights appear on it, accompanied by sound-effects reminiscent of the 8bit-era. And it truly gave me the creeps; much more than the countless videos of nuclear detonations to be found on YouTube. Isao Hashimoto’s piece of art is one of the most haunting testimonies of man’s folly … forcefully posing the question, if we deserve being here at all.

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tie rendering

My rendition of a TIE Interceptor, built in the flesh, then with the LDraw-based MLCad, and finall rendered with POVRay
It seems like I can’t resist the gravity of the vast moc- and afol-scene. And thick participation means, among other things, sharing practices. So I followed the comprehensive tutorial Converting LDR Files to POV Files for Rendering by Jeroen de Haan and Jake McKee and then ran my rendition of a TIE Interceptor (which I built first in the flesh, and then with the LDraw-based MLCad) through POVRay. All that reminded me very much of ye olde days of game modding. Here’s how my model (every single part of it stems from the 1970s!) looks in meatspace:
 
My own rendition of a TIE Interceptor

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cyberanthropology

KNORR, ALEXANDER. 2011. Cyberanthropology. Wuppertal: Peter Hammer.My new book ‘Cyberanthropology‘ has been published. You absolutely are invited to order it online via amazon [I have absolutely nothing against you clicking the like-button there] or via Peter Hammer Verlag. Offline every decent bookshop can get it for you, too. As the book is in German, here is my description of its contents in German:

In “Cyberanthropology” geht es um moderne Technik und den Menschen, um Computer und Internet, um Computerspiele, aber auch um GPS, Automobile, Roboter …
    Was vor nicht allzu langer Zeit Science Fiction war, ist Lebenswirklichkeit geworden. Die vielfältigen Erscheinungsformen digitaler Elektronik und modernster Technik allgemein bestimmen unsere heutige Welt ganz entscheidend mit. Überall auf dem Globus sind sie zu Faktoren des menschlichen Daseins geworden. Viele der auf der Welt zu findenden Vorstellungen und Entwürfe, mit diesem Dasein umzugehen, lösen Irritationen und Unverständnis aus.
    Das Projekt der Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaft Ethnologie ist es, Lebensweisen, die zunächst als fremd oder anders erscheinen, zu erfassen und verstehbar zu machen. Ethnologische Forschung passiert immer nahe an den Menschen, “draußen auf der Straße”, wo Kultur und Gesellschaft stattfinden. Die Ethnologie versucht diesseits abstrakter Statistik Verständnis für tatsächliche Lebenswelten zu schaffen. Um dieses Ziel zu erreichen sind viele Wege möglich, wurden und werden gegangen.
    “Cyberanthropology” bedeutet einen ethnologischen Ansatz, welcher die Beziehungen zwischen dem Menschen und komplexer Technologie ins Zentrum rückt, und als Ausgangspunkt benutzt.
    Dabei spielen der Computer und das Internet natürlich eine wesentliche Rolle, aber die Kernidee der “Cyberanthropology” ist nicht darauf beschränkt.
    “Cyberanthropology” wendet sich zwar auch an ein ethnologisches Fachpublikum, aber nicht nur. Zur Lektüre ist kein spezifisches Vorwissen notwendig und der Text ist allgemeinverständlich geschrieben. So wird im ersten Kapitel u.a. dargestellt, was die Wissenschaft Ethnologie eigentlich ist, was sie mit Technik und Technologie zu tun hat, und warum diese Verbindung gerade auch außerhalb des Elfenbeinturms relevant ist.
    Die folgenden beiden Kapitel liefern wesentliche Hintergründe, die auch zeigen, warum das “Cyber-” in “Cyberanthropology” gerechtfertigt ist, und nicht einfach nur der Mode oder einem vermeintlichen Hype folgt. Im Kapitel “Kybernetik” wird das gleichnamige, in der unmittelbaren Nachkriegszeit gewachsene, wissenschaftliche Projekt vorgestellt, und an konkreten Beispielen gezeigt, wie sehr es Welt- und Menschenbild geprägt hat, und nach wie vor prägt. Dem folgt das darauf aufbauende Kapitel “Cyberpunk”. Den so bezeichneten globalen, inter- und transmedialen Diskurs, halte ich für die zentrale Quelle fiktionalen Materials, die es zu beachten und heranzuziehen gilt, wenn man zeitgenössische Lebenswelten, gegenwärtige Kultur verstehen möchte. Da das Kino nach wie vor das Medium mit der größten Reichweite ist, was die weltweite Vermittlung fiktionaler Inhalte anbelangt, liegt die Betonung dieses Kapitels auf dem Spielfilm – von Langs “Metropolis” und Chaplins “Modern Times” über Scotts “Alien” und “Blade Runner”, die “Matrix” Trilogie der Wachowski-Brüder, bis zu Camerons “Terminator” und “Avatar”.
    Die Kapitel vier und fünf behandeln konkrete Beispiele, die meine Vision einer Cyberanthropology, und warum sie so, und nicht anders heißen soll, mit Fleisch versehen. Das Spektrum der Beispiele reicht von transnational zusammengesetzten Online-Gemeinschaften, die Computerspiele nicht nur spielen, sondern sie auseinandernehmen und neu zusammensetzen, über Inuit, die mit Hilfe einer Kombination aus GPS und ihren eigenen, traditionellen Navigationsmethoden den Weg durch Nacht und Eis am Polarkreis finden, bis hin zu Gangs, die mit ihren modifizierten Automobilen in Japans Metropolen illegale Rennen inszenieren, und darüber hinaus.

UPDATE: My publisher’s [you have no idea about how good it feels to be able to say ‘my publisher’—almost as good as saying ‘my tribe’] press division just notified me that a first review [in German] has been published—more than short, but raving :-)

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future/tech noir

Quite some water more on my mills which are grinding to construct what I like to call the cyberpunk discourse. The first installment of this construction you can read in my book ‘Cyberanthropology’ [in German], which will be published in August 2011 (and already can be ordered in advance at amazon—did I already mention that?).

AZIZ, JAMALUDDIN BIN. 2005. Future noir. Crimeculture Summer 2005. Electronic document. Available online.
MURPHY, GRAHAM J. AND SHERRYL VINT (Eds.). 2010. Beyond cyberpunk: New critical perspectives. London: Routledge.

Very worthwhile are also the 2003 issues 23(2) Tech Noir and 23(4) Cyberpunk to the Singularity of the journal Ylem: Artists Using Science and Technology.

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moc quality

Just having hailed the professional standards of artefacts stemming from the mod world, I now feel like presenting analogues from the moc world. Just recently SAS voiced the opinion that, despite of their ingenuity and fabulous looks, mocs always are recognizable as mocs. Meaning, that they somehow lack a quality commercial Lego sets do feature. What this quality exactly constitutes remained elusive, even after further probing enquiry from my side. My opinion is that this may stand true for some mocs, but ain’t an absolute rule. Quite to the contrary. Here is the moc-version of the TIE/In Interceptor, which first appeared in ‘Return of the Jedi‘ (Marquand 1983), designed and built by IMPERIAL FLEET:
 
TIE/In Interceptor moc by IMPERIAL FLEET
The assembled LEGO sets 6206 and 7181
To my eye IMPERIAL FLEET’s version looks better than the Lego set 6206, released in 2006 (on the left), and even better than the 2000 UCS (Ultimate Collector’s Series) set 7181 (on the right). It may well be that I get carried away a bit now, but I think it looks even better than the models used in the movies ;-)
    In principle IMPERIAL FLEET’s moc could be marketed as a set by TLG (The Lego Group)—it is at minifigure scale and although I don’t know the pieces-count, I assume that it still is sensible. This can not be said of the huge display-only models commissioned by TLG and created by its own inhouse Lego Master Builders. Like the famous Venator by Erik Varszegi. Beasts like that, consisting of 35,000 Lego-pieces or more, clearly are beyond the resources of private individuals—so it seems. Allow me to teach you differently.
    With all those dark-side imperial crafts, we for a change turn to the spaceships of the rebel alliance. In particular to the ‘Home One,’ like the Interceptor for the first time seen in ‘Return of the Jedi.’ Wookieepedia knows:

Home One, also known as the Headquarters Frigate, was an MC80 Star Cruiser in the Alliance to Restore the Republic’s fleet, famous for its role at the Battle of Endor and as one of Admiral Ackbar’s flagships. It was the namesake of the Home One type subclass and was noted as being the largest and most advanced of the Rebel Star Cruisers.

And here is what master moc-builder Thomas Benedikt has to say on the ship:

For ages, well since episode VI came out, the rebel command ship was deemed by many, well, me, as the Impossible Ship. A ship with no right angles, no straight lines, just curves, bubbles, and obscure cylinders. Certainly such a ship could never be built out of Lego pieces and look good. But that day (conditional on the fact that people actually think it looks good) has arrived!

Admiral Ackbar's 'Home One' as a moc by Thomas Benedict
This hulk of a behemoth consists of 30,500 Lego-pieces and measures 208cm in length. The overall material cost was 5500,- US-$. Just to give you a visual idea of the scale of Thomas’ creation, have some detail:
 
Admiral Ackbar's 'Home One' as a moc by Thomas Benedict
Admiral Ackbar's 'Home One' as a moc by Thomas Benedikt

MARQUAND, RICHARD. 1983. Return of the Jedi [motion picture]. Century City: 20th Century Fox.
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