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As promised, a little later than intended, here’s some information about my new venture.

Nonadecimal Creative

Nonadecimal Creative exists to produce artistic narrative experiences in the mediums of videogames, webcomics, and non-traditional storytelling.  Through it, I seek to blend the strengths of film, procedural narrative, graphic novels, and interactive fiction to produce engaging new stories with other creative minds.  Our first collaboration has manifested as Afterdeath, a videogame about Death, the grim reaper, and what happens when a pilfering robot steals Death’s scythe.  The game is a 2D platformer that gives the player complete control of jump angles, allowing 180 degrees of choice with every press of the jump button.  5 unlockable characters expand the element of choice with non-traditional platformer mechanics like a character who only moves by bouncing off surfaces or a character who can charge the force of jumps with static electricity by sliding on walls.

The game’s narrative is told through the art and music of the levels, leaving it to the players to follow the story of a force of nature relentlessly pursuing a programmed automaton.  The game is on track to feature 20 tracks of original music, 6 unique worlds with different themes and gameplay tactics, 140 levels to explore Death’s journey, an additional 50 levels made specifically to challenge the unique movement mechanics of unlockable characters and tell their stories, and many hidden collectible items.  It will be released through Xbox Live Indie Games, Ouya, and PC distribution methods later in 2013.  Check out the website or follow @Nonadecimal for more updates as we near release date.

Afterdeath is just a small step toward bigger plans and a return to the layered combination of puzzles and storytelling that I enjoyed producing for the Matrix Online.  Successive projects will build on the former to produce larger and more fulfilling works over the next several years so keep your eyes open!

If anyone still checks here hoping that some day there will be new puzzles to be solved and stories to reason out, I am about 6 months into a new project that I hope to release soon. More details to follow here when the new site is up.

After MxO ended I was without a creative outlet for some time. It drove me crazy.

For a long time I had been interested in the concept of a multiverse and the stories that would thrive there. I’ve certainly consumed enough books, movies, and televisual entertainment that toy with different conceptions of a multiverse. But I’ve never really felt satisfied that they’ve delved deep enough into the possibilities that such an environment provides. This is something I decided I would like to pursue myself. I had already shown myself that I loved creating complex stories of the sort so complicated that none but their creator could entirely fathom what was going on. A multiverse scenario seemed expansive enough to allow for that on a much larger scale.

And so I began to conceive of the infinitum of Ad Infinitum and work out how such a thing might exist and what might go on in/on/around it. I imagine a patchwork of infinite worlds, connected to each other through regions of shared space that exist simultaneously in both places, brought into being by a catastrophically destructive event of unknown origin. This Cataclysm that had the power to break whatever laws of physics these universes had in common would instantly destroy an unknowable number of worlds as incompatible physics were brought into contact, lethal atmospheres were combined, black holes were born, planets tore themselves apart, and so on. Considering only cases where planetary surfaces were in mutual contact, what would remain, if anything, would be a network of barely habitable worlds connected spatially at key points. The non-science of fiction (or an intelligence behind the Cataclysm) surely smooths out any rough spots so far.

In this lattice of connected worlds that I refer to as the infinitum, there would surely be worlds with life, hopefully intelligent.  Of these intelligent species, their technological level (i.e. adaptability to life post-C) would vary wildly. I envision they would range from galactic and planetary civilizations down to national and tribal organizations. Planetary civilizations would likely have the high level of technology and renewable resources to sustain the current population that would be required to achieve an equilibrium state post-C, especially since distribution infrastructure would already be in place. National and Galactic civs are also probable self-stabilizers although National civs would suffer from factional divides, resource hoarding, and lack of infrastructure and Galactic civs may suffer from dependence on other worlds in their Galactic empire that are no longer accessible and therefore lack of local infrastructure. Did I mention that bizarre radiation inhibits space travel in the infinitum? It does. Space opera is not for me.

However, the self-stabilizing civilizations of the infinitum also become target destinations for refugees fleeing destabilized worlds, thereby pulling them farther from equilibrium. Without preventative measures population will continue to increase beyond resource and infrastructure capacity. Therefore only civs that maintain strict border control would be able to remain stable without external influence.

This is mitigated by the presence of “Superior” species whose technology is far advanced beyond the average level of the infinitum’s species. These Superiors would either claim possession of a group of worlds, fortify/conceal their position in the infinitum against other species, or if possible leave the infinitum. These Superiors would have the technology to terraform worlds to make them habitable once more, modify the biology of species to allow them to survive, and generate useful resources from raw materials.  Aid-providing Superior civs would likely still find themselves struggling with insufficient resources to support the growing number of supplicants seeking their aid. Expansion-oriented Superiors would be forced to continue expansion until they have spread themselves too thin and are forced to delegate responsibility to their subjects. As other species become more familiar with the operation of Superior technology, the drastically outnumbered Superior species would be crowded out of their former positions of power and would in many cases seek seclusion, leave the infinitum, or succumb and go extinct for all their good intentions.  They would leave behind a legacy of salvaged technology and isolated bands of exiles and survivors.

This is the universe that I see in my dreams and the landscape where my stories come to life.  It is a dirty and rough and desperate universe in some places.  It is a lavish and carefree paradise in others.  It allows for an infinite number of biological configurations with an infinite number of cultures and technologies and beliefs and all the possible interactions between them.

I hope to bring more of this place to life through my writing.

I wanted to update this blog more frequently and finally finish archiving my storylines from MxO. Instead, I did the opposite.

I’ve been incredibly productive elsewhere though. At the time of my last post I was an unemployed physics grad painting people’s houses to pay rent. Since then I’ve gotten a great job (still involving automation, but different) and moved into a larger apartment with a balcony for contemplation. I spent several months developing a darkly humorous Xbox Live Indie Game. Most importantly I’ve been constructing the universe of Ad Infinitum and on a massive scale. I now have 4 notebooks full, about 500 pages of scrawl covering alien biologies and cultures, the technologies at hand, tales of gods and demons, and the continuing escapades of the devious synthetic sentience known only as 991. This story is developing into a complicated intertwining monstrosity in its complexity. For comparison, the stories I created for MxO were mostly developed in my head with no notes or storyboards. It would take a few months of thinking on a subject for it to coalesce into a fully-fledged story. My new project has outpaced the former.

Ad Infinitum is now the work of several years of my brain’s background workings and with an expected completion date of at least a decade in the future, it should turn out to be quite the story. I am still working on finding the right balance of mediums to convey the vision I have locked away in my head but I am confident the ultimate product will be something new and unique, largely inspired by my initial successes with storytelling in MxO. It will be a story for people like me who enjoy a story that is also a puzzle.  The audience will have to read between the lines, draw connections between stories and timelines, sniff out the inconsistencies of unreliable narrators.  It is a grand vision and I hope that the physical product measures up with time.

At the moment I am trying to translate the bulk of my notes into an actual physical product. I have been selectively reading a lot of science fiction lately. There is a list of 70 novels that I have handpicked to study for some specific element that the author achieved to perfection. I’ve slowly been crossing titles off my list as the piles of books fill my room. Unfortunately, actually reading them is a harder task than acquiring them. I’m currently halfway through Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon The Deep and loving it for the complex layering of realizations that he uses to keep the reader reevaluating their conceptions of what is happening in the story and what will happen next.

If your friends are anything like my friends, then you’ve heard “If I was in the zombie apocalypse, I would…” a few times. Now you can put them to the test.

This week I’ve been ensnared by a brilliant cooperative zombie apocalypse browser game. Die2Nite has created the framework for a group of 40 players to govern/police themselves and work cooperatively to survive in a zombie infested wasteland. Players must deal with limited food, water, and building materials by making foraging trips outside the safety of town to collect vital supplies.

The World Beyond...

Items and supplies can be shared in the town bank but there’s always the risk that less cooperative players will abuse this privilege. Luckily, the game has a system in place for players to file complaints against their fellow citizens, with enough complaints resulting in that player being banished from town and losing their citizen privileges. This works wonders for dealing with the inevitable griefers by keeping them from reopening the town gate or taking items from the bank. However, ever a system of checks and balances, if enough banished players work together they can overthrow the town’s citizens, thereby reversing the roles of citizen and banished. According to one story I’ve heard, 6 banished overthrew a town and cut off access to the water supply, forcing the townspeople to build construction projects in exchange for their water rations. Any game where the crafty and evil can institute forced slavery is a clever game in my book.

No zombies getting through tonight.

At the end of each game day, the town is besieged by the zombie horde, killing anyone left outside the town gates. The town’s defenses must equal the number of attacking zombies or else zombies break through, killing or infecting citizens who must be dumped outside the walls or risk spreading the infection. A crucial duty of every citizen is manning the town’s watchtower, thus increasing the estimation of the next day’s zombie attack. As the number of attacking zombies drastically increases, players must work together to find the resources they need to build defensive structures like a moat or buzzsaw defense platform.

A town lives or dies by its shared resources.

Some anecdotes from my 5 Day (and counting) survival in “The Cemetary of Rage” (town names are randomly generated). On the first day a griefer opened the town gates 10 minutes before the impending zombie attack, fleeing town, taking all our food and drug supplies with him (which we needed to regain points to close the gate again), and posting a friendly message of “DIEEE!!!!” on the town forum. Luckily, another player had some food stashed in their house and was able to close the gates, posting a reply of “Just you, asshole”, leaving the now-banished griefer trapped outside the walls for the zombies to devour. At the end of Day 2, we found ourselves unprepared for the 70-90 zombies estimated to attack that night with a defense of only 36, but rallied together to build “Screaming Saws” and add some defensive items to the bank. Since then our town of 40 has dwindled to a town of 22 as people have died of infection, dehydration, a suicide by cyanide pill, and plain old death by zombie. But now we’re about to survive the Day 5 attack of 200 zombies.

But best of all, when you die in Die2Nite you get to start over again in a new town with new people and apply what you’ve learned about cooperation and survival. Try it out at Die2Nite.com

I also just wanted to show off recent progress on my worldbuilding software I’ve been working on to aid me in constructing the universe of my new story project. Topography is working although I need to add some gradient effects within regions to create more natural changes in elevation. From here I move on to atmosphere and ecosystems after a great deal of going back to debug some trivial stuff I haven’t fixed yet. Then I have to fill in the big blank spaces on my GUI with the higher level map-making functionality: connecting worlds, evolving ecosystems and cities, making these worlds real.

A recent Kotaku article about the closure of MMOs featured a mention of The Matrix Online including an interview with Dan “Walrus” Myers, MxO’s community manager turned producer. Here’s the relevant excerpt from the original article, “When An MMO Dies

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Exiting The Matrix

Long after the credits rolled in the third installment of the popular science fiction film franchise, players were still jacked into the Matrix via The Matrix Online. Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Sega, The Matrix Online came into being in March of 2005. EverQuest developer Sony Online Entertainment took over operation and development of the game in August of that year.

The plug was pulled on July 31, 2009.

Compared to other major MMO closures, The Matrix Online had a fairly long run.

When An MMO Dies

A longer life doesn’t necessarily make a game’s termination less painful.

Daniel Myers began working on The Matrix Online as a community manager. By the time the game closed he was a producer. Today he works as a producer for Sony Online Entertainment’s upcoming spy MMO, The Agency.

“Shutting down an MMO is rough on the development team,” Myers tells me. “These games have long development cycles that then continue for years after a successful launch. How each developer reacts to shutting down a game is personal and very much intertwined with what he or she have gone through in that time. ”

Myers recalls the changes he went through over the course of the five years he spent with The Matrix Online. During that time he changed companies once, attended five Sony Fan Faire events, and started working on a second project. On a more personal level he moved three times, lost 40 pounds (and gained 20 back), quit smoking twice, and added a lot more grey to his beard.

“Through all that, The Matrix Online had been a constant for me.”
When An MMO Dies
Myers says The Matrix Online closed because it no longer met the needs of the business as a whole. It wasn’t a snap decision. “We proposed different options that were reviewed and seriously considered before the final decision was made. In the end, the overall cost of supporting the game no longer fit the business needs of SOE.”

And so The Matrix Online had to close. According to Myers it was hard on the development team, but not as hard as it could have been. Working at Sony Online Entertainment, the company behind EverQuest, EverQuest 2, Free Realms, Star Wars Galaxies, and several other MMO titles, most of the team found positions with other projects in the company.

The drawn-out nature of The Matrix Online’s closure also meant the developers got to send the game off with a bang. “The one thing I think all development teams want is to make whatever time is left memorable for their players,” explains Myers.

“For the final few months we reactivated old accounts and made all accounts free just so everyone who wanted to celebrate The Matrix Online could join in. We turned on all the events we’d used over the last five years and bumped everyone’s characters way past the level cap. One of the programmers was even triple-boxing for the entire final week just so he could fire off events on all three servers.”

The spectacular end of The Matrix Online was a testament to the passion and dedication Myers and his team felt towards the game and its players.

“When a game has been a constant in your life for that long, it’s hard to accept that it’s gone,” admits Myers. “There are still days that I wish I could log in and see the Megacity again. I don’t know that will ever completely stop. I kind of hope it doesn’t.”

The Five Stages of MMO Player Grief

Even the least popular massively-multiplayer game earns a strong community of stalwart supporters. After all of the naysayers half left the servers, an MMO audience is distilled down to the players most passionate about the virtual world they inhabit. They pay for the privilege of existing there, and when the servers go down, they are the ones hurt the most.

Developers do what they can to compensate players for their loss. Sony Online Entertainment gave The Matrix Online players that grand sendoff. NCsoft gave Auto Assault players parting gifts, including the chance to take part in Tabula Rasa, an MMO that ended up closing in 15 months.

“For the players we had, they were very passionate about the world and fiction, so of course they were very upset,” says NetDevil’s Ryan Seabury about the players that stayed with Auto Assault to the bitter end. “I suspect if we could find a way to revive it today, there would still be a small audience for it.”

Sony Online Entertainment’s Daniel Myers compares the process that players go through when an MMO closes to the Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief. I’ve outlined them here, with Myer’s comments.

  • Denial: “Some couldn’t believe that we wouldn’t find a way to continue supporting the game.”
  • Anger: “Plenty of players were angry over the decision and how we reached that point.”
  • Bargaining: “Lots of offers of support came through just to keep a live service going.”
  • Depression: “There was a lot of sadness that the world they’d spent so much time in was going away.”
  • Acceptance: “And, finally, accepting that The Matrix Online was going to shut its doors and we could have such a good send-off for it.”

Myers says his team saw all of those reactions, to varying degrees, though not everyone goes through all the stages, and certainly not everyone reaches acceptance.

___________________________________________________

So I reached a point in my story building where there were lots of ideas for people and places and events floating around without any framework. I see a character driving down a highway but no idea where he was going or how long it would take to get there. I decided that I needed to put some time into the geography and topology of my infinitum. A few taped together paper models later, I decided I needed to start working on a map of the connections between universes.  A few cobbled together maps later and I needed to make a map-building GUI.  And hardly had I begun work on the GUI when I decided it would be easier to make a program that would build whole planets from scratch.

A week later I’ve got planets orbiting stars with randomly generated radii, tilts, rotations, densities, and orbital distances. From there, a few equations fill in the orbital period, mass, temperature, and gravity. Now I’m working on modeling the surface. I abandoned latitude and longitude for a golden section spiral of uniform points on the surface of the sphere.  As soon as I can figure out an adequate way of representing the changes in surface elevation over distances, I’ll have topography and mountains. Then it’s on to atmospheric composition and oceans. Lastly a rough approximation of ecosystems and weather and I can get to the fun part: habitation zones.

And when it’s all done, I’ll have my map making tool. I’ll be able to create randomly generated and mathematically evolved worlds with realistic relationships between their physical constants, populated with the constructs of my imagination.

And once I know where my characters are and where they’re going, I’ll feel more comfortable writing their stories again.

If anyone who’s interested in the data stored on the MxO forums hasn’t seen this post from Virrago yet, the MxO forums (which were recently inaccessible and presumed lost) will be going away forever very soon. Last chance to back up any data! This applies to me too but I know I’ll put it off until it’s too late.

edit: And now they are gone.

Axe Cop, Episode 1

This week I’m promoting the webcomic “Axe Cop“.  It is unique in that it is written by a 5-year-old (although he’s 6 now).  It is unique in that it is illustrated by said 6-year-old’s 29-year-old brother.  “Axe Cop” brings life to a story that is reminiscent of the childlike imagination we all had at age 5, back when we pondered how amazing it would be if we combined all the archetypes for badassery into one entity.  In this manner, “Axe Cop” features moon ninja vampire werewolves from the moon and a unicorn-horned cop-turned-dinosaur-turned-avocado-turned-ghost (at least, as far as I’ve read).  The story is spectacularly incohesive yet ties together so well.  And the illustrations are top notch, including what I perceive as a few winks to the audience from an adult interpreting for a child, such as when the aliens roll their eyes at their leader’s dastardly plan to throw things at Earth.

So if you’re in the market for some guffaws, check out Axe Cop. It’ll also be getting its own Dark Horse Comics printing and 3-issue miniseries in the spring of 2011, which according to the 5-year-old author, should look something like this:

Axe Cop Comicbook

And if you’re still not convinced:

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