Archive for December 2013

2014 set to be highest-numbered year on record

The calendar rolls over to the next year tonight and experts agree: it’s going to the highest-number yet.

Amid conflicting claims of which 13 things that happened in this year were the best, billions will celebrate its death by ceremonially overdrinking—some waking up without clothing.

“You know, I’m 54 now, and I’ve been watching the changing of the years for, oh, must be about 54 years at this point,” said distinguished Time Sage and nudist Gregory Gregson, “and I’m pretty darn sure I never saw a 2014 before.”

“In fact, I think I’d have to say this is the highest-numbered year I seen since 2013 came along.”

Gregson predicts that if this trend continues, we can expect to see a 2015 follow 2014, and perhaps even a 2016 after that, advising that even though this new year will have the largest number yet observed, we should be prepared to settle in for a string of incrementally larger year numbers as time goes on at this point.

The higher number is important because with it comes change. For one, marketers in regions where dates are written as a rollercoaster of unit length will be able to take advantage of the lucrative 12/13/14 date for movies involving counting things. And regardless of country, the superstitious among us will only have to deal with 12 dates with 13 in them, as opposed to all of them.

As well, years from now, children born in this new year will affix a “14” to the end of their brainternet handles—one entire integer higher than children born in 2013.

And while everyone is agreed that this is the highest-numbered year, some members of strange foreign cultures claim numbers even higher than 2014. A buddhist with a hard-to-spell name said that her people observed 2014 a half-millenium ago and that it was really nothing to write-home about in terms of having a year with a high number.

“I was a snake back then. It was badass being a snake, but the year number itself was so-so,” she recalled.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s 2556 and we plan to take it one higher when this one ends, so you all should get it together and catch up already. My grandma shits 2014.”

“She’s an eagle or something now. I don’t see her much.”

But even then, Jewish person Mordechai Goldstein claims that the Hebrew calendar will have a year with a number more than double the Buddhists’, claiming the highest-numbered year there is, being that it started with the beginning of the world, time, existence, and everything else almost 6,000 years ago.

“Oy vey what’s with all the schmaltz?” he stereotypically asked in a thick accent because there is innate if lazy humour when people talk different to how you do.

“You schmucks are only up to 2014? Well it’s probably because you’re always putzing around, not calling your mother, not coming to your brothers’ bar mitzvahs or those events where we cut off parts of babies’ penises,” he said, straining his stereotype to the point of absurdity and the border of offensiveness.

Gregson rejects claims such as these, saying that those calendars aren’t as good as ours because he doesn’t know anybody who actually follows them. He could just go ahead and make up his own calendar too, he says, and start it 20,000 years ago just so he could have a really, really high number, but would it mean anything, he asks? Besides, he’d have to be a Level 12 Time Sage to have abilities such as those, and he is merely a Level 10.

“What it comes down to is what are you gonna trust, the calendar you lived with all your life, or something someone of another culture says they use?”

But one final claimant might have everybody beat. Speaking through a possessed physicist, the universe itself is wading into the debate.

“I don’t know what you Earthlings are talking about,” xe hiccuped, “but at my count, we’re at 13 billion and something.”

“I lost count a while ago,” xe admitted, “it was around the time I got just, like, so fucking wasted and passed out for a million or so years. I come to, and all of a sudden some of my favourite stars have been torn apart by black holes, a couple of my nicer galaxies have collided, and I got you dickholes running all over my twenty-eigth nut, arguing about which god’s real or whose calendar is better or whatever.”

The Universe then went onto complain about more or less the entire history of the human race, claiming that we have been standing in the way of xeir plans for the Solar System, and generally getting everything that we try catastrophically wrong.

“Jesus, give it a rest. Look, I have the highest number. Now go back to going extinct. Your global warming’s getting in the way of me turning the Earth into a big ol’ snowball and throwing it at that jerk across the branes, Marty. He’s a right cunt.”

 

Fifteen dead in wake of Supreme Court prostitution ruling

The Supreme Court of Canada yesterday ruled unconstitutional a cutesy clusterfuck of laws around prostitution that, despite the act itself of exchanging money for sex being legal, make it essentially illegal unless you take your lawyer along. Although they gave Parliament one year to come up with something that makes sense before all bets are off, last night, one underground bawdy house began celebrations early—resulting in tragedy as fifteen people reportedly fucked their brains literally out.

“They said ‘tonight’s on the house'” recalls sole survivor Tim Dickly. “We were just all so happy that the Supreme Court ruled on the side of greater protection and freedom for consenting adults being able to exchange services freely. When I left the party, everyone was… just fine.”

Authorities attended the scene after a 911 call from Dickly—the poor man having woken up to a hellscape of corpses, brains, and $20 bills. He’d turned in early that night, citing “work in the morning,” and retired to the Toronto facility’s “solo room.” He was not prepared for what the morning had in store.

“It looked like their brains had just leaked out of their orifices. The nose, the ears, even leaking around the eye sockets. If there was a hole, there was brain coming out of it. I don’t claim to know how, exactly, it happened but it was all there plain as day. Their brains were outside of their bodies, and there was only one activity going on when I went to bed: fuckin’.”

In a press release, police claim to have ruled out foul play, saying that sometimes, consenting adults doing things that are a little risky just results in bad consequences, but that it was those people’s right to take those risks and there was nothing law enforcement should be doing to prevent them.

A Conservative Member of Parliament who is on some committee vaguely related to this general topic expressed his dissatisfaction with the ruling on his Facebook wall.

“I may be a small-town MP from ‘Berta,” it reads, “but I think I know a thing or two more about prostitution than nine Supreme Court Justices. And by darn I were right. You just got to look at what happened in Toronto.”

The note went on to explain his concern over the unanimous ruling that the government’s approach to punishing the advertising of prostitutes’ services is grossly disproportionate and violates their Charter rights by asserting that every sex trade worker is trapped in the profession and we oughta be doing something to get them out before more people join those who have been described as “The Toronto Fifteen.”

“You all know I’m a small-gubment kinda guy. But you all also know that only applies when we’re not talking about what people can do with their own bodies—especially women. I will not stand for this, and I will hope that my sternly worded note on Facebook will serve to make it clear to voters that while I ultimately won’t contribute to any lasting success at keeping prostitutes out of your communities, I will probably contribute to clogging up the courts for a few more years by helping enact a horsefuck of a law the equivalent of the shrill cry of a mortally wounded weasel as it clings desperately to life for a few more precious seconds even while the darkness closes in around it.”

A scientist explained that the risk of fucking your brains out is normally low when you’re having a legitimate sexual relationship—such as intimate sex with a long term partner or a one night stand with a lady or gentleman met at a local popular drinking establishment. But the proximity of cash to genitals produces a state in the brain that, while even then is normally stable, can sometimes be “thrown outta wack.”

“What happened in Toronto is the bawdy house made the sex free for a night, paying the prostitutes with its own money,” the scientist undeserving of his name in print says. “Your average rate per hour for sex at this place is $75 or… I think, around 12,500 Dogecoins right about now. So they reduced the price to zero while the actual value of the product remained the same, so the johns figured they’d better have cram as much sex during the evening as they could so as to maximize the bargain—much as how people will murder for cheap TVs during Black Friday sales.”

The scientist, who says his work has been published in the Ontario Review of Scientific Academic Science—a prestigious journal with a long history going back to last Tuesday—explained how this economic situation resulted in a conflict between the sides of the brain dealing with currency and sex literally frying and liquifying the brains of the coiting employees and customers. Apparently, he says, the upside of the brain gets signals from the genitals that sex is taking place, while the opposing downside of the brain is trying desperately to ascertain the correct amount of currency it thinks that the pleasure is worth.

Because the upside and downside of the brain are polar opposites—the upside being hedonistic and the downside being miserly—such an extreme clash of feelings can “short circuit” the organ.

Police have determined that the $20 bills were thrown around by one client in particular, who in the throes of celebration declared that he would donate his vast fortune withdrawn from the ATM near the Denny’s earlier that night to all in attendance and began emptying his pockets. This only amplifed the upside/downside clash, convincing the downside that all of a sudden paying for sex was actually earning them money, sending the fucking into absolute total maximum overdrive.

“It’s only going to get worse,” the definitely published scientist cautioned. “Allow these places to operate openly in society, and they’re going to fall into the same consumerist traps everything else does. Sex being free for a night is not going to happen often, but when we’re talking half price sales, two-for-ones, stamp cards where after the tenth transaction you get one freebie—even gift certificates—I can tell you this will happen again.”

Police have urged the public to remain calm during these confusing times of potentially allowing sex workers to work in safer environments, adding that because they were all the fancy new plasticy $20 bills, the currency itself can simply be wiped clean of brain matter and that the public can be assured that the cash will be back in circulation within days without anyone knowing the difference.

The Walking Dead S2E1: Still a whole lot better than the show

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It’s the same, but different—and that’s pretty much what I wanted. Last time you took care of the young girl Clementine as Lee Everett: a former college professor with a bit of a troubled past. This time, you directly control Clem, seeing the game’s world from the drastically different perspective of a familiar character who, if you have a slice of heart in your body, you’ve already come to love.

No parents, no Lee, not even no Duck. And having just escaped a kidnapping and made it through a tearful goodbye. Nobody’s been dealt a good hand in this universe—possibly because the dealer is whatever’s reanimating any human corpse it finds—but Clem’s had it rough.

The story picks up a while after the first season, and shortly skips an additional 18 months. Clem spends some time alone, and ultimately is found by a group of people living in a house in the woods. Assumedly, these will the people with whom we’ll need to figure out and forge alliances with as the season progresses.

Of course, rather than playing the more authoritative Lee, you’re now viewing your new companions through the lens of a child and all the vulnerability that brings with it. The Walking Dead Season One stood out for, if your choices didn’t necessarily prevent any deaths, allowing you, as Lee, to resolve conflicts based upon your words and how you’ve treated characters previously. But that always was helped by him being both physically capable, and having the commanding presence and confidence that can come with being an adult.

Clem doesn’t lack confidence, and is sufficiently capable that it doesn’t feel like this is going to be a damsel-in-distress season—which would suck both because it probably wouldn’t be fun, and it would undermine what you, as Lee, worked toward in the last game. At the same time, it doesn’t overdo it and make her a generic action girl ready to kick guys in the nuts left and right. It’s a good balance.

But of course, she’s still a child, and the interactions with the adults—several of whom openly dislike her—are made more unnerving because you’re not given the chance to be the voice-of-reason conflict resolver. So far anyway. This is only one episode, and you’re only able to interact with the characters in a limited way compared to the first episode of last season—there are no opportunities to wander around a safe spot and talk to people at will while you solve all the problems, and there were no situations where you could have had to pick a side in an argument. But there is plenty of conversation and you’re given many opportunities to be diplomatic, assertive, or unforgiving, without venturing into the unrealistic. It feels like it’s progressing Clem’s character well while keeping her in a realistic place socially. It’s a place of less power, but that will likely result in some great drama down the line.

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You might be a little disappointed that there’s no real payoff here, but then it’s the first installment of an episodic series. We get a sense of what Clem’s been going through, how she’s changed, and at the same time we have a whole new group of strangers whose motives are unclear to try to figure out. There’s a doctor who seems strangely concerned about Clem’s interactions with his daughter. There’s a pregnant lady who is dead set against her being around. You’ve got a young guy who seems quick to anger and not great with a gun clearly embroiled in a personality clash with his uncle. There’s some sort of conflict implied with another group that will doubtless be explored—perhaps involving the people from the inter-season short 400 Days?

Speaking of that, there didn’t seem to be any obvious connection between this episode and the five quick stories we got a few months ago, but there are occasional references to what you did in season one. In my game, for instance, Clem mentioned she had a friend who lost a hand while Luke was making small talk about how scars are cooler than stumps. It doesn’t seem like it’s anything major, but it really couldn’t be anyway. Season One was excellent at making you feel like your choices had major bearing on the storyline—until you looked it up online and found out it was mostly an illusion. Some characters were doomed to die at a particular point regardless of who you tried to help and when. Still, it was a good illusion, and it’s nice that Clem will refer to the version of the story that your Lee drove.

As far as the mechanics and graphics go, this is near identical. Nothing was that bad last season for what it is—ultimately, a point-and-click with heavy narrative. There are a few changes, though. When you can do multiple things with an object (look at, search) you’ll get different icons surrounding it to cilck, rather than mousing over and hitting a number. That’s nice. Though with dialogue choices, the option to hit a number to select your choice is gone, which can be a little annoying, particularly if you’re using a laptop track pad. There were some moments in the first season where I would hold my fingers over the keys for the whole conversation, sit back, and make split decisions. The options are nice and big and by all means easy to click, but hovering over one sentence and then moving the cursor to another and clicking it just feels a bit cumbersome, and makes me worry I might scroll too far and miss.

But, seriously, minor quibble and the only one I really had while playing, and would probably only bug a few people.

If the season can take this setup and deliver four more episodes of great characters, intrigue, manipulation, exploration and Tough Choices (even if they just feel like they matter), while avoiding the ruts that the show’s plot has gotten mired in periodically, then we’ll have a ride as special and gut-wrenching as the first season. There’s just enough famiiar here, with Clementine and the walker-infested world, and more than enough new, with both the radically altered perspective of a child, the situation she finds herself in, and the new people she has to deal with. It’s exactly how to start a sequel series.

And the spoilers are below.

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Not even the protagonist of Season One had plot armour, so all bets are naturally off here. You really do get a sense that anything can happen, right from the opening sequence. Most of us suspected that Clem meets Christa and Omid at the very end of Season One, and it looks like we were right. Omid’s joking about baby names as the three approach some washrooms, and I was definitely lulled into a false sense of “aw neat, time to settle in for at least an episode of Fun Guy Omid,” only to be brutally reminded that this game is happy to toss out characters as he was murdered with Clem’s own gun.

Though I did feel a little cheated. Clem’s in a washroom alone, first, and you’d think that nobody in this world sends anybody into an uncleared building alone, especially not a child. Second, this is the apocalypse, and I think we’d all be past going into separate washrooms to protect our modesty anyhow. Third, the woman who ultimately kills Omid gets the jump on Clementine after you’re forced to take her looking for a dropped water bottle—leaving the gun on the sink in clear sight. I know I wasn’t the only person who clicked on that weapon to try to pick it up before leaving it. I was actually expecting a walker to stumble through that door, but regardless, I saw “bad thing gonna happen” coming plain as a hill in Saskatchewan.

Still, losing Omid so fast after months of ‘knowing’ he and Christa would be the ones to find Clem hurt so good.

The next shock was, of course, Sam the dog. You meet him shortly after waking up separated from Christa, with little hope of finding her. Sam trots up to you, and you have a little adventure searching an abandoned campsite together. You can throw a frisbee, and he catches and returns it to you. His barking alerts you to a restrained walker, and you kill it while he whimpers around.

God damn, you’re going to have a girl and her dog journey here. In a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world where Clem’s lost everyone she cared about, she finds a dog who lost everyone it cared about, and by golly they’re going to bond.

Only that dog turns fast as soon as you offer it some food, putting an end to that assumption. This little glimmer of hope is snuffed out with such callousness you can almost hear the writers laughing at you for being so trusting. This actually works to put you especially on guard once you meet the cabin group, not all of whom are happy to see you. I mean, if you can’t even trust a friendly dog, what hope do you have of these strangers meaning you well?

The third standout moment had to be the suture scene. Left locked in a shed with an open dog bite wound by Clem’s new friends, to see whether she could make it through the night before they assume it’s not a walker bite, she steals some improvised medical supplies, and stitches up her own arm. It’s graphic, looks and sounds ridiculously painful, but shows Clementine’s determination to look after herself in the face of the adults essentially leaving her to die so effectively.

The final choice you make, between helping the bitten Pete who seemed to actually give a shit about Clem or the unharmed but relatively inept Nick who almost shot her earlier, though did make a point to apologise, was the only time you really had to make a hard choice, and it felt a little overdue. But it’s there, and is evidence that Clem will be handed even more difficult cards as we go forward.

The writers of the first season were great at introducing something you grow to like and then tearing it away, or putting you into a position where you had to make the best of two bad choices. That is how you get emotionally invested in interactive fiction like this. Being forced to choose one character over another and seeing them both react to it builds a sort of bond that gets stronger over time. But you build that bond knowing that it can be snatched away, which makes those eventual deaths more meaningful. Sure, a character you’ve grown to not like can die and you might not care much. But for every character you dislike, there’s one you’ve built that bond with.

This installment is about meeting people and starting to feel out who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Who you’re going to try to keep happy, and who you’re going to watch for treachery. You’ll get a feel for these things by the end of it, and that feel bodes well for the rest of the season.