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TV Tropes Monday: Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future

Alien: Isolation

Tweet of the Day: Screaming for Vengeance

Have you ever watched an old sci-fi movie, even a classic like Star Wars and thought,”Wait a minute, computers don’t look like that!”

Welcome to Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future!

The obvious answer is that movies like Star Wars, Blade Runner, and Alien (and its sequel) were made at a time when, while home electronics existed, such as video game consoles and home computers, not even the most powerful supercomputers at the time could project smooth round shapes, let alone animated 3D models (outside of wireframe vector graphics). Fully rendered 3d consumer graphics would not reach Western homes until the second part of the 1990s and they looked something like this:

Virtua On screengrab from the SEGA Saturn, 1995

Virtua On screengrab from the SEGA Saturn, 1995

Very blocky by today standards. In fact, most consumer computers, be they PCs, home computers, or video game consoles could display text or graphics but not a lot of both. So either games had lots of text but few graphical flourishes or they had very colorful characters and backgrounds with little or no text. The reasons go beyond just the power of the processors at the time. Storage media had a lot to do with it as well. The switch from solid state or magnetic media to optical media allowed for bigger software packages and improved graphics. In fact, movies like TRON, set in an virtual world inside a computer network (a form of the internet, although it was not called that way at the time) relied on hand drawn animation with a handful of computer graphics for a few shots.

Today movies shower us with bright displays full of fast moving graphics and animations, but these exist not for the benefit of the characters in the fiction, but the viewers since a) it allows to convey a lot of information in a few frames, b) it fits their expectations of what the future would look like. However, most business and military applications, even today lack the kind of focus on graphic fidelity you find in modern games. The first reason is cost. If you need 100 machines to run basic business applications such as word processors, spreadsheets and data base software, why would you spend upwards of $1,000 per machine, when a $400 machine can do all that and still run the most graphically demanding software the machine would need, a web browser, with ease.

Military users are even more limited. It takes years to set the requirements and acquire the equipment, equipment that needs to operate under the types of strains that would nuke your iPad in two. So while these systems are digital, in some cases they are so streamlined in function that they work like analog systems and years out of date compared to their commercial competitors.

And then you have the odd case of sequels to the very movies above. Going back to the well decades after the original means attempting to emulate the look and feel of the earlier iterations. That means paying careful attention to such details as computer displays otherwise your prequel is going to look more advanced that product that canonically precedes.

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TV Tropes Monday: Humanoid Aliens


Tweet of the Day:  Links Roundup 02/10/17

Those pesky aliens are so troublesome. You want to inject an exotic element to your expansive space opera but if you make your aliens well…too alien, you will spend more time in info dumps about their physiology or culture than in shoot outs with space pirates (or the space cops). You can spray paint a human, maybe add a few forehead ridges or you can whip out the Humanoid Aliens.

These aliens are one step above the Intelligent Gerbils, in that they are not anthropomorphized Earth animals, like dogs, cats or lizards, but a often are a mix of elements that seems just alien enough. They follow a human body plan (two arms, two legs, torso, head), so they can operate in a worlds created for humans, that is, use human weapons, fly human ships, that sort of thing. And more importantly, their eyes are on the right place, which allows them to emote in such a way that the audience can understand. And in TV land they have the added bonus of not taking a huge bite of the FX budget even though the time the actors spend on “The Chair” is longer.

So strap in those thick rubber masks and overdub the speech of the characters for that far away yet somehow close feel of the Humanoid Aliens.


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TV Tropes Monday: Adaptive Ability


Tweet of the Day: Is This Thing Still On?

Want to create a near invincible enemy? One that survives everything the protagonist throw at them? You could give them strong armor, great speed, or a devastating form of attack. Or you can give the an Adaptive Ability. This time of opponent can adapt to any attack making it difficult to destroy by sheer force alone. But this is also the kind of enemy that brings out the best in guile heroes, who will have to come up with ways to either bypass the the enemies defenses or neutralize the threat in an imaginative way.

The problem with this is of course that the author solution to the problem of their own creation may not be as clever as they think they are and come up with an implausible, silly, or unsatisfactory (to the audience at least) way of dealing with the threat.

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Space for Rent: The Past is Prologue


These words were not uttered by Steven Bannon, but the fact that the American media and public cowered in fear while they were uttered led to our current situation. We were warned that trading liberty for security was a dangerous precedent. We were told that the machine of State engorged itself on the life’s blood of entire nations. We witnessed the torture of thousands in our name.

Buy why were they allowed?

Theodore Roosevelt.

Wait? What?

Yes, old Theo was an imperialist. In the late 19th century he was one of many. But he was different in one respect. He created an unspoken bargain with the American people. Allow the State a free hand to create a overseas empire and in return some of the profits of that empire would be shared with the people. Old Theo created a sort of Rubicon, a invisible wall between the outer Empire and the inner Republic. Subsequent presidents, from his cousin Franklin to Tricky Dick (yes, that Nixon), expanded the bargain. But the industrialist hated the grand bargain. They wanted no distinction between the outer provinces and the home territories. Their hatred grew as protections were extended (to a degree) to classes of people that once they could easily prey upon, such as Native Americans, Blacks, and second generation immigrants. They wanted nothing more than to drain the Rubicon.

And they have done so, bit by bit:

Carter’s experiments with neo-liberalism.

Reagan’s union busting trickle-down economics.

Clinton’s “Free” trade agreements and welfare reforms.

Bush’s creation of the Security State.

Obama’s failure to dismantle said SS.

And now, to paraphrase that old refrain, “They came for all the world…and now the came for me.”

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TV Tropes Monday: Hegemonic Empire


Tweet of the Day: The Adult Appeal in Young Adult 

The Hegemonic Empire is one that rules indirectly, through what many call, “Soft Power“. There are three reasons why an empire might chose to rule this way:

  1. Cultural/Historical: The empire rose from rebellion from another empire or has as guiding principles the ideas of freedom and self-determination. Indirect rule circumvents cultural or ideological opposition to ruling said empire.
  2. Economic: The cost of creating and maintaining large standing forces drains the coffers of the nation and will exceed the benefits of acquiring new territories.
  3. Military: Attempts at direct rule may lead to confrontations with rival powers that can match or even exceed the capabilities of the empire. In the worst case scenario, the rival as the ability to destroy the empire utterly (even if it risks destruction in turn) does making direct expansion nigh impossible.

Of course, hegemons do have one glaring weakness, their power hinges in the establishing and supporting viable proxies. These proxies give a local “face” to the empire and allow for the fiction of alliance instead of conquest. And hegemons rarely rely on soft power to achieve their goals. Often it employs coercive methods, such as manipulation of debt, exploitation of institutional corruption, and even assassination/coup d’etats to enforce their will. When all that fails, hegemons will use direct action, even if it runs counter to their stated goals.

This trope is popular in “cold war” scenarios, where intrigue rules the narrative. Characters often navigate a complex web of relationships to achieve their goals.


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Mass Effect/AEC-New Years



Tweet of the Day: Me, Him and Henrietta 

TRS Office Lobby,  Thompson-Ramos Security Tower, Milgrom, Bekenstein, Boltzmann System, Widow Nebula, December 31, 2195

Well wishers waved as I walked past. Near the dessert table Rodan mimicked fighter maneuvers with his hands to a crowd of excited pilots. Chambers clung to Giala’s arm as they walked around the giant Christmas tree in the center of the lobby. I ordered it be kept in place until Epiphany. In a dark corner, Oriana sat on Pasha’s lap, his long hair draped over the back of the chair. How he managed to cram all of it into his helmet must be a quarian state secret. Bryn and Jacob cut a rug to some old timey electro swing. I grabbed a bottle of the finest bubbly on my way to the executive elevator.

The doors closed behind me. Milgrom stretched beyond the elevator glass wall. Thousands crowded into Herschel square. .Gigantic holos dueled for the crowd attention with their version of the countdown to midnight amidst a barrage of commercials. The elevator arrived at the penthouse office suite. A cascade of city lights poured through the glass walls and illuminated the otherwise dark interior. A myriad shadows danced on the polished marble floor.

Miranda stepped from the shadows clad in a glittering short dress, “You almost missed it.”

I poured champagne into a pair of glasses, “I had certain obligations, guess to attend to. You know, the usual.”

She took one of the glasses, “Uh huh.”

The countdown started at….


She stepped closer.


I grabbed her by the waste.


She put her arms around my neck.


I pulled her closer.


Her eyes glittered.


I smiled.


She raked my hair with her fingers.


Our cheeks brushed.


Our lips met.





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Karla stretched her legs. Every step she took sent small spasms of pain through her joints. She felt every cramp through out her body as tense muscles sought release from hours spent withing the confines of power armor.  The constant threat of attack just made it worse. Endless days on the perimeter watching a tidal wave of hopeless humanity stream into the remains of the last functional star port in the continent. Abandoned trucks, cars, and bikes littered the tarmac alongside the remains of crashed shuttles downed by enemy fire.

The sounds of Christmas bells drew Karla’s attention. It came from the last opened shop in the terminal, a little coffee shop that served all manner of high calorie foods to the soldiers. Tech Sergeant Michael Hoff crammed a hot dog down his gullet while he ran to the hangar to repair another broken ship. Beside him Alicia Mateo, a civilian contractor, downed a sippy cup full of black tar coffee. God knows where she got either of those things. Snowflakes drifted down from the gray sky above.

At the opposite end of the tarmac refugees waited in long lines to board the ships that would take them away from everything they had ever owned or known. A little boy clutched a stuff rabbit with one arm while he clung to his father’s leg with the other.

Pvt. First Class Omato rushed to her side, “Captain, we have movement on the perimeter. Lots of movement.”

She look at her watch. It read 12/24/2234.

“Well, I guess this is the enemy’s way of saying Merry Xmas. Tell the rest of the squadron to saddle up.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Karla turned heel and headed back to the hangar and her battle armor to the beat exploding shells and Xmas bells.



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