A Softer Place

August 21, 2016

Lira was born on a planet called Volcan IX, a harsh world, of magma and roiling lava. Rock turned to lava, then geysers of superheated water would wash over and return it to stone. Everything was always moving, always changing on Volcan IX. Lira was a pokemon, and a fire pokemon at that, so the environment was tolerable for her at least, but the steam was still dangerous, and the other larger pokemon were always to be feared. At all times Lira had to be alert for Charizard or Magmar, two of the most fierce and dangerous pokemon on the planet. While she had many siblings, she was never very close to any of them, for you never knew when they might get eaten, or killed by geysers, or disappeared by the strange black ships and their strange suited passengers. Early in her life, Lira’s twin, her brother who had hatched at the same time as her was snatched away by a swooping Charizard. Lira could never again bring herself to care for any of her other siblings.

Lira did what she could, mostly focusing on survival over all other concerns. She was a hearty pokemon, given to surviving what would destroy others. While others tried to win through superior power, Lira did her best to survive, to endure. It kept her alive, still moving when others might have been destroyed. Day to day, Lira ate, she hid, she trained, and she slept. There was nothing else for her, the will to live being her only driving force. Into this world stepped Kevin.

When Lira first met Kevin, she did not know his name. Nor did she know what a human was or really anything about them. She had known of the black ships that took pokemon away, but they were rare, a thing of legends and stories. When she was creeping across a lava pond and suddenly one of those same black ships crashed into the stone ground on the other side, she was stunned. She did not know how to react. She tried to hide, to avoid being seen, but out of the ship came several strange shapes, like yellow blobs with one great black eye and four limbs. One of the blobs pointed her way, and she knew she had been seen. She prepared herself, thinking that they would attack. Instead, they fired a strange cannon at her, and the thing that struck her didn’t even sting. A moment later however, everything changed. Her body, that which she had forged into a living wall seemed to vanish, transforming into red light. The world too disappeared, everything being consumed by this blue and white sphere that had stuck her. She was pulled inside, her shape reforming in a strange void. She tried to escape, ramming her body this way and that, but the void absorbed this force, and everything was too strange. She imagined that this was like what her brother had experienced, consumed by a Charizard. She accepted it, giving up. It was too hard to do otherwise. A crack of light, one that led to the outside world closed, and their was darkness in the void. Lira cried, and then she slept.

When Lira awoke, she was no longer in the void. She was in a place unlike anything she had every experienced, a soft place. Their was soft food in front of her, soft cushions upon which to sit or lay, even the floor itself had a bit of give to it. She still appeared to be trapped, but the place was nice, kind in a way that Lira had never experienced. She ate the food, and rested on the cushions, and moved across the ground. For the first time in her life, Lira relaxed, if only for a moment. Into this place of peace and tranquility stepped Kevin.

It was hard at first, trusting Kevin. He came in, a big guy, a human, which was something that Lira had never seen, only heard of as the enemy. When first he came, Lira attacked, burning him. He left. Then he came back and she hit him with some rocks. He was injured, bleeding, but he did not retreat this time. Neither did he attack however. He stood there, arms out wide, a look of serenity on his face. His face was bleeding from the rock attack. Lira shot some fire, and he grimaced, but he did not run, and he did not break his kind smile. Lira stopped attacking, and Kevin gave her some food. He put it down in front of her, then sat down against the wall, and just watched her as she ate it. She eyed him cautiously, but day after day Kevin was always kind, always there for her, giving her food, never attacking, never showing fear.

After some time she allowed Kevin to approach her, and the young man petted her bumpy head. It felt nice. His had was burned and red when he drew it away, but it didn’t keep him from breaking into a big smile, happy that Lira had trusted him enough to let him get this close.

Now it was not in this single moment that Lira began to love and respect Kevin. It was a slow process, with a hundred little moments just like that. Kevin started taking her out, showing her around. He would show off his new uniforms to her, teach her about his organization. Eventually he even showed her the pokeball he had used to capture her, teaching her not to fear the void, but always careful to stress that they were comrades now, and that he would never force her inside unless it was truly important. She was going to be his friend and help him fight evil, help bring the food and the soft places and the quite orderliness of this place she had come to call home to the cosmos.

Perhaps there would have to be violence at first, just like her capture on Volcan IX, but in the end it had been for the best. She and Kevin would be instruments of that violence, violence for the purposes of peace, forcing people and pokemon who did not know better to fall in line and become part of the imperium that they might be thus improved. There was never a moment where Lira decided this was her dream, but as time passed and she and Kevin became closer, she adopted it, coming to see the beauty and power of this place that Kevin worked for.

After a long time of working and training again, Lira was asked if she wanted to commit to this life, to be a member of the Imperium and help Kevin and his comrades as an official soldier. Thinking of all that Kevin had done from her, thinking of the horrible place she had managed to leave, all thanks to Kevin, she accepted. She would be his shield, a knight that would lead the people to peace and safety, even if she had to drag them a bit.

On their first mission together they attacked a mixed world of pokemon and humans. The battles were intense and quick, Kevin in the thick of things. They were in the first wave of attackers and many around them began to fall before the defenders electric attacks and strange weapons of light. It was in this carnage that Lira evolved, adding a rocky exterior to her fiery exterior, becoming even more a defender of justice. She and Kevin made it through, and as they left the planet, all of the pokemon and humans defeated being led away to the holding cells, she thought about all the good she had done. She saw the same fear and resignation in the defeated as she herself had had, but she knew what there future held, she knew of the soft places that these prisoners would be taken to. She was proud. After this mission, she and Kevin were promoted. Their defensive abilities had been recognized on the battlefield, so they were assigned to be guards, defending the criminals and miscreants of a great new battleship on another mission of liberation.

It was certainly less exciting on guard duty, but Lira was happy all the same. She listened to the reports stream in of them successfully overpowering the enemies only real space vessel, sending down waves of landing pods. Suddenly however, something crazy happened. There was a strange message telling everyone to head to an escape pod, something that Kevin considered, but ultimately rejected due to his duty. Then a bit later it was discovered that that had been enemy propaganda, that some suicidal hostiles had decided to attack the capitol ship itself, apparently in miniscule numbers. Somehow they were enough of a threat that the whole ship was on high alert however. Lira imagined how terrifyingly powerful these foes must be if just a handful was keeping the whole ship on alert. She imagined Charizards, and other terrifying pokemon she had seen later in her life, like Salamence or Tyranitar. The folks on the other half of the ship must be dealing with true titans.

Interrupting this reverie another alarm sounded. There were attackers close by. Either the intruders had managed to traverse the whole ship unnoticed, which seemed unlikely, or their were multiple groups. Perhaps there was a whole bunch of little ships filled with terrifying trainers and pokemon. She imagined them destroying the soft room, returning the ship to magma and steam, a state of chaos. A fierce anger built in Lira, and she almost hoped she would get a chance to do battle with these bringers of chaos. She got her wish.

She had been resting in her pokeball, Kevin on duty, doing some kinda work on his terminal, when suddenly she was in the thick of things. She saw a fiery burning creature striking at Kevin. There too was a twisted creature that seemed half human and half machine. Seeing the wounds inflicted on her trainer, the rage built within her, and she began hurling rocks at the fiery creature. It was a frantic battle. Kevin fell under the blows and burns of the enemy. The enemy called in reinforcements. Another human, this one not machine, but seeming to tall and thin to be normal appeared, as well as a great bat. In addition a ghost of purple came along as well.

All of them together battled Lira, and Lira held. Attack after attack was launched, but again and again the damage was avoided or the attack dodged. The bat launched noises that confused her, distorting reality. In this state the fire creature struck again and again, and the ghost seemed to be doing something truly terrifying, something that cut through all of her well honed defenses. Through it all Lira endured. She struck again and again, hurling stone after stone from within her body out at her attackers, but they too seemed never to fall. The cyborg creature was doing something with Kevin. It was moving him around, lying against his body and manipulating his limbs. It was trying to use the pokeball, the symbol of Lira and Kevin’s bond against her, trying to prevent her from protecting Kevin. Even in all the confusion, even as she struck herself, and could not tell up from down, she resisted. For Kevin she would survive. She had more than herself to live for. She would not fall. Suddenly the ghost was there. Its eyes were huge. She could feel herself drifting to sleep. She tried to resist, tried to fight the feeling of slumber. She couldn’t. Her eyes closed. She had failed Kevin. He was going to be eaten, just like her brother.

In her dreams she saw the Charizard coming for Kevin. She saw it extend its claws, reaching out for him. This time however, she would not let it happen. She opened her eyes. She awoke. She felt Kevin around her. She saw he was OK. She saw the enemy down the corridor, along with another bizzare twisted sort of human thing meeting up with them. She had held the door, she had kept up the guard, and Kevin lived. She charged the fleeing foes. Alive, filled with joy of Kevin’s life, she charged.

“Magcargo!”

Freya vs Arnaldo

August 8, 2016

Freya

Psychological Marketing in Free Mobile Games

August 6, 2016

This post is being written entirely too late at night, not in a small part due to the subject of itself. What I will be discussing today will be a game. I’ll be describing the game, and in particular I will be focusing on the psychological reasons why the game mechanics are the way they are, and how the game attempts to influence those playing it in a number of different ways. A lot of the game mechanics in this game are in many other very similar games, so hopefully this discussion will help you to see similar patterns in other games and media, and allow you to understand how they are trying to affect you mentally.

The game in question is called “Final Fantasy: The Record Keepers”. Its a smart-phone game, for both android and I-phone. Its basic idea is both solid and kinda interesting. Basically the premise of the game is that the player is a librarian in a great library filled with both books and portraits. These portraits are magical, and contain the stories that they depict within themselves. One day the portraits start fading, a cloud of darkness covering up the pictures. The librarian character then begins a quest to restore the paintings, by battling monsters inside the paintings. While they are doing this, they begin recruiting the various heroes from within the paintings, and those heroes join them in fighting the monsters. These portrait portals open up in a sort of sequence, so you have to clear certain portraits before you can move on to other, more difficult ones, or ones later in the time line of that story.

The thing that takes this interesting enough premise, and imbues it with a great deal of fans instantaneously is the fact that the portraits represent the events of the many Final Fantasy titles, and the recruitable heroes are the many protagonists of the different games. (As well as a few antagonists.) The fantasy that this game lets you fulfill is that of making a group of different heroes from all the different Final Fantasy games, and teaming them up, letting you fight pretty much any bad guy from any of the games, while playing as any combination of good guys. The format of this battling is a simplified and sped up version of the combat system used in a pretty good chunk of the games, which is simple enough that they are able to make hundreds of different playable characters for a free to play game, and with just enough complexity that the game can be interesting, and let each character have something that makes it feel a little bit unique.

So that’s the core structure of the game, the premise that makes the game a possibly profitable product. You could take that premise and make the game in a lot of different ways, and it would likely be successful to some extent. The way they constructed it however follows the “mobile, free to play” model, something that ends up feeling a little dubious as you look into the psychological tricks involved in its game mechanics. So lets take a look at a few of these.

First, a big component of all mobile games, is that it needs to be quick to play, having the possibility of playing and doing something in any given five minutes of time. Secondly, it needs to have a lot of content, the ability for the players to just keep playing as long as they continue to find the formula interesting. As an rpg battle game, the big thing that you are going to do which will make you feel like you have accomplished something, as well as making it pretty easy to create a lot of content, is to make your characters stronger. The general goal of everything you are doing in the game is to make your guys better at battling, so that you are then able to battle harder dudes, thus enabling you to make your guys even better. Their are at least four separate ways that one goes about getting stronger in the game, and each of them uses a different sort of psychological trick, and has a different reason for being in the game.

The first component is something that is a mainstay of most mobile, free to play, games these days. That is, the concept of stamina. Every time you do something in the game, it uses up some stamina. You get your stamina back as time passes. You can also spend one of two separate types of currencies in order to restore your stamina, and enable you to continue playing if you don’t want to wait. One of these resources is something you get for progressing in the game, something that comes at a slow and steady pace throughout the game. Its rare enough that its always a bit painful to spend, but common enough that if you are frugal, you can get away with only ever using this one. The other one you can pay really money to acquire.

Now there are a couple reasons why the stamina meter exists in these sorts of games. First, they don’t want you to just beat the game in one sitting. Free to play, mobile games make their money off of little micro-transactions within the game, and if you play through the game in a year, you are much more likely to decide to buy something at some point, as opposed to if you defeat it in a week. So the stamina meter caps how fast you can progress. The second reason it exists is to be another place the game can make money. By letting you spend real money to recharge the stamina meter, the game can make some money if someone is really into the game and just wants to keep playing, and not take a break, or do something else. Every different place they can add a potential for payment is generally a good idea in terms of making money. Let me make a brief digression to discuss the one place its not a good idea.

The only place where monetizing is not a good idea is in terms of directly increasing a characters power. If paying money makes the game easier, everyone can get behind that, but games that are “pay to win”, where paying players have access to content, or are just straight stronger than free players, are stigmatized, and a lot of people won’t play those sorts of games, leading to a smaller number of players, and thus a smaller number of paying players. One might think that people who are willing to pay to be stronger would be interested in those sorts of games, but it actually has to strike a balance, because if there are no free players, then the paying players don’t feel like their money is getting them anything, because all they see is other players also paying, and thus progressing at the same rate.

Anyways, digressions aside, there is a third reason why the stamina meter exists, and I think this one is the most insidious, in that it affects your mentality when playing the most without you necessarily understanding this is happening unless you stop to think about it. The thing is, that stamina meters have a cap. If you stop playing, your stamina will restore, but only up to a certain number. After that, spending more time not playing leads to no rewards. Because stamina is a limited resource, restricted by time, you want to use your stamina as efficiently as possible in order to advance through the game as best you can. When you hit your stamina cap it feels like you are wasting your stamina. This means you have to start planning your time around the stamina recharge. Instead of just playing until you don’t have stamina, then putting it aside until you feel like playing it again, you feel like you have to play it again in three hours, or whatever length of time it takes your stamina to hit the max level. If you don’t play it again at that time, then you are wasting stamina. This feeling gives you a compulsion to play the game at many different points during the day, thus keeping you thinking about the game, getting you more invested in it, and making it less likely to forget about, or quit playing the game. On the down side, this makes the game that is supposedly supposed to be quick and not at all time consuming, suddenly a big part of your schedule, something you find yourself planning around and playing quite frequently.

Record Keepers also has a mechanic for increasing your stamina cap, which also ties into a mechanic that lets you restore your stamina without having to wait or pay anything. This mechanic is generally actually pretty nice, as it adds a bit of a strategy to how you spend your stamina in order to make sure you get the most out of it, as well as letting you go for longer and longer times before the cap is reached, meaning that as you progress in the game, you need to play it less frequently. I guess they are trying to reward the players that stick in their, because at the point where this starts being relevant, you have already committed enough time to the game that you are unlikely to drop out anyways. No real complaints here, though it does not quite mitigate the kinda messed up nature of the stamina system as a whole, who’s time consuming properties are something I am not entirely sure I can really support on principle.

Alright, so thats the stamina system explained, something that limits how much you can play the game, but not something that really directly influences your power in the game. The next few systems are all things that can influence how strong you are, and what your characters can defeat.

The first of these systems is the most simple. Every character you aquire has a level, that starts at one, and progresses up to fifty. You increase this level by defeating enemies, which give you experience. Harder guys give you more experience. Leveling up increases the basic statistics of the game. The higher your level, the more damage you do, the more damage you can take, the faster you are etc. Its all straight numbers. This is a baseline statistic that is always improving so long as you play the game. Its not super fancy or noticeable in a given instant, but regardless of whats happening, you can always see your level going up as you spend more time on the game, and see that your characters are doing more damage, not dying when they would have before, etc. This is very easy content to create, as any group of enemies will always give experience, which is something that can make the player feel like they are improving regardless of anything else. The level system has one more component to it however that is a bit more psychological.

When I said earlier that the level progressed from one to fifty, that was true, but the game allows you to increase your level cap by use of special items. You can use one item to make the max level 65 for a character, and a second rarer item to make it 80. In general most of these items are only given out during special events. These events last for about a week, and you have that time to defeat the various monsters in the event and collect these special items. The events can serve to make sure the player is always motivated to make their guys stronger, because if you are not strong enough to defeat an event, and then it runs out of time, then you are missing that content until the event repeats. These events are generally also themed around a specific game, and so it can also be used as advertisement, if there is a particular character you really like, you might find yourself coming back to the game to try and get the special event items for that character even if you had grown bored with the game before. Both of these level cap items not only break the max level, but also introduce yet another system for progressing in the game, but I am not even going to get into those systems since I have barely gotten to the point in the game where I have broken the first level cap, so I don’t feel familiar enough with those systems to comment, especially the second one, which I have not experienced at all.

Aside from levels, there are two other big ways to improve your characters. The first is with abilities, and the second with equipment. They both use different systems for progression, so I will break them down individually. Lets start with abilities.

Abilities are the most dynamic part of the combat system. They are the magic spells and the special sword attacks that make the battle more than just a series of characters hitting each other. I think there are around a hundred fifty or so abilities in the game, and each character has access to a certain subset of these abilities. The abilities are attached to a character in order that they can use it, but if you switch out a character, you can keep the abilities you already acquired, and move them over to the next character. The system that is used to make abilities is one of orbs. There are many different kinds of orbs, lightning, earth, holy, dark, etc. There are also different levels of orbs, lesser, greater, minor, etc. Every ability in the game can be acquired by trading in a certain combination of orbs. You get orbs by defeating enemies, but its not completely random, ie a fire bad guy is more likely to drop a fire orb, and only very strong enemies will drop the more powerful kinds of orbs. Because there are so many different orbs and the abilities all require different amounts of them, the game can reward you with orbs all the time, and it always feels like it is helping you work towards something. If there is a specific ability you want to get, then maybe you focus on certain kinds of dungeons in order to acquire the orbs needed to unlock it, or if you are like me, you just open up the ability shop ever day or so and look to see if collecting random orbs has led to any new abilities being enabled. By breaking the process of making abilities into these orbs, they are able to constantly give you rewards that are worth something, while also making this a slow process so that you don’t jump through all their different abilities in a few days. The rarer orbs can also be really hard to get, and sometimes you have to develop specific strategies in order to try and acquire them. Even once you have unlocked an ability, orbs of that kind are still valuable because of a process called honing, whereby you increase the number of times an ability can be used in a given dungeon. Each time you hone an ability it gives you more uses, and each time it takes more and more orbs to hone to the next level, though always the same type and rarity of orb. Anyways, the general principle here is that they are able to dole out bits and pieces of these abilities and so they have something to give you that you always want.

The last system, equipment is the one that I think is the most likely to cause people to actually spend money, and potentially the most harmful depending on the person. Equipment comes in different levels, and generally just increases the stats of the character equipped with it. As the game progresses though, it becomes more and more apparent that 99% of the equipment in the game is basically useless, and its only the special five star equipment that you really want long term. The five star equipment gives your characters special powers, and they give you way more stats than four star equipment. The question then is how to acquire equipment, specifically five star equipment. Well, you can get equipment from defeating monsters, and as rewards for beating dungeons in the game, but almost all of this is one or two star stuff, with the occasional special four star bit thrown in their. If you want to get some five star equipment though, you gotta play the lottery. That is to say, you have to do something called an equipment draw.

You get one free draw a day, where you get a random piece of equipment, which could be any level, but its heavily weighted towards the lowest level, so its almost always only one or two stars. Instead, if you want rare equipment, you need to do what is called a rare draw. A rare draw is just like a normal one, except there is no chance of one or two star equipment, which makes the chances of getting a five star much much higher, from something like 0.1% with the normal draw, up to close to 10%. The problem of course is that you need to spend one of the two currencies in the game to get these rare draws, and its random. What this leads to is a strong incentive to pay real money to try and get the equipment you want. This is because, in order to have a good chance of getting a piece of five star equipment, you generally need to get the 11x rare draw, a deal where you spend the resources for ten draws, and get eleven at once, all of which are three star or higher. Most of the time you will get one or two five stars from this kind of a draw, but you never know if you are going to get the ones you want.

Like I said before, you can do this with one currency that you can earn in the game. Generally if you use that currency, you are able to get one of these 11x drops once a week, a little bit less. It takes about that long to earn up the resources to buy a drop. Then you click it, watch your hard earned resource vanish, and hope you get some good five star equipment. Most of the time however, while you do get something valuable, you don’t get quite what you wanted, and after a week of working towards this draw, hoping the whole time that you will get this item you have been waiting for, it can become very tempting to click the little button they put right on the screen where they show your results, and roll again, pay real world money to try and get the item that you worked so hard to get a chance to get. I almost did that one time, but the amount of money was completely outside the scale that was acceptable for me due to my current living situation. If it had been cheaper however, its likely I would have dropped money on this game out of frustration that I had not gotten the item I wanted after spending a week hoping for it.

By making the item acquiring essentially a gamble, the game taps into that drive to try again and again, as well as potentially exploiting people’s gambling problems. Its also a psychological fact that people and animals are more willing to keep doing something if they occasionally get something really good, as opposed to always getting something OK, so this sort of random drop system taps into that part of our brain and either makes us drop some money on it, or at least keep playing the game for another week in order to try again.

There are a number of other systems in the game that I have not even covered, and there are a few psychological principles it exploits that I have not even mentioned, but for now I am getting super tired, so I am going to call it a night. Perhaps I will do another article on this topic in the future. Suffice to say that games can screw with your head, especially when they are trying to get you to continue playing them, or get you to pay them money. Playing this game is usually the second to last thing I do every night, as well as the second thing I do every morning, after communication with family and friends, so obviously these techniques have affected me, even though I understand them. Anyways, its something to think about when you are playing a game.

Post Rate Drop

August 1, 2016

While it was super fun posting every day, for sleep reasons I am dropping down to two posts a week, likly on the weekends.  No particular topics, and these posts might appear on either blog.

… Eclipse / Cosmic Dust Storm

July 31, 2016

Cleff the Hero stepped out of the circular doorway of the Puff building. Though not ground pokemon, a lot of Jigglypuff houses were built into the sides of hills and even down into the ground. It certainly made it difficult to break into the places, which considering the circumstances, Cleff was thankful for. The shambling sleepwalkers did not immediately attack, giving the Hero a moment to look at their movements and the changes that the doctor had mentioned. For most of the sleepwalkers, the change was subtle. Splotches of blue and orange replaced the usual pink of their skin, and the texture was sleeker, and more streamlined than the usual rubbery consistency of the puff people. For a few however, the change was more extreme. Ridges of blue and orange grew out of a few’s bodies, and a couple’s limbs extended out into long tentacles. The most horrifying however, was a Wigglytuff, shuffling at a fourty five degree angle. Its eyes were closed, but in the places where its nose and cheek would be, strange new eyes had grown, turned with the body so that they stared straight ahead, white on black eyes that flicked rapidly, observing Cleff and Cleff’s clothing. Even as Cleff saw this, and shivered at the sight, the other sleep walkers seemed to shiver, and small slits tore open in their skin, the same black eyes looking towards the Hero.

Cleff wanted to burn these twisted things into ash, and the Hero’s hand twitched, almost reaching for the weapon which could do just that. But Cleff could not. The scanners indicated that the hosts were still alive, that the brains were functional, and that the invasive creatures that were moving the bodies had not truly killed those they inhabited. Though the creatures which had done this deserved to burn, the bodies they inhabited did not. A better solution would have to be found.

Suddenly the air in front of Cleff lit up, small bright lights and the crackling sound of electricity appearing as if from nothing. All of the sleepwalkers recoiled, as if in pain. Cleff started walking towards them. The doctor had been right. The virus was airborne, and the defenses built into and surrounding the clothes Cleff wore had just destroyed a large, though still invisibly small cluster of the virus. More importantly, it seemed that all of the viruses were connected somehow. They had felt a piece of themselves die. While the creatures were still shocked from that, Cleff moved in a burst of speed. The Hero grabbed the closest of the sleepwalkers, sending the nanobots that were a part of the defenses inside the body. Using the data that had been gathered from the airborne attack, the tiny, microscopic bots hunted down and killed every bit of the virus in the body of the Jigglypuff. The other hosts reacted in much the same way that they had to the destruction of the airborne virus. They thrashed and shuddered. Even as the virus was burned from the host, Cleff worked also to keep the body alive, repairing the little rips and tears that were left behind with the virus gone. As the work continued the air around Cleff lit up and crackled. Apparently the virus was not very happy with what was being done.

Cleff finished with the first puff, carefully setting it down on the ground before dashing towards the next infected host. It writhed as Cleff cleansed it off the invader as well. The airborne virus continued to attack, but the nanobots did their work and none could get close. After Cleff had gotten to the third one, the attacks stopped. The Hero was unsure if this was because their were no more nearby airborne viruses or because it had given up. In any event, the viruses that lived inside the other hosts apparently had, for even as Cleff cleansed the third victim, the others began to flee, simply turning tail and running back in the direction of the plague filled north. Cleff launched molecule thin nets at several of the closer fleeing hosts, trapping them, but most escaped. The Hero was not worried however. They would be captured in time. This would be a slow and agonizing process, but it seemed that it was possible to save the victims one by one with the tools of the Great War. Getting the virus out of the air so it could not simply spread again would take some more work, but Nettle was confident it was possible.

The Hero Cleff worked methodically, exterminating the virus from each victim one by one, and sending out a small army of nanobots to patrol the air, in order to keep the victims saved from becoming reinfected. Once all the sleepers outside had been cleansed, Cleff dragged them inside, and started work on the many many victims that had been laid out inside the hospital, starting with the doctor who had only just succumbed. It was easier, for the virus had not spread as far, or multiplied as greatly in these newer cases. Once all were saved from the infection, Cleff recorded a message for them, telling them it had found a way to cure them, but not to send anyone else into the plague area until Cleff returned with the all clear. Message finished, Cleff set out, north.

Cleff journeyed by foot, not by blazing fire, and let the nanobots which surrounded it spread out in a great wall that traveled together. Cleff would trap the virus, give it no place to go, and destroy any piece of it that tried to travel south of Cleff’s position. Occasionally Cleff saw the bright flashes of light, and heard the electric sizzling that signified that some of the virus had been burned away. While Cleff walked, Cleff thought. More nanobots would be needed to contain the spread. The thing seemed to have a primitive intelligence, and it would be able to get around the amount that Cleff currently had. The bots could scavenge the landscape in order to build more of themselves however, and while Cleff had no desire to do such a thing, having seen the horror that was nano-scale warfare, it seemed it would be necessary to contain this virus. With Cleff’s thoughts turned to the war, an idea emerged. Could this disturbing disease be some sort of weapon made during the war, one that had missed its target and landed on this innocent planet? Cleff filled with rage at the thought of more collateral damage surround the conflict that had caused so much damage already. Cleff’s pace quickened, and some of the nanobots began falling back, looking for tiny bits and pieces that could be used to make more nanobots. This war-fragment was not going to hurt any more of the people of Puff.

When at last Cleff’s slow march took the Hero to the first town, their were signs of flight. Many unconscious bodies were found and cured, but their were empty beds beside bodies sleeping on the ground, and open doors and windows that suggested that the hosts that could move had done so. The virus was fleeing, consolidating north. Cleff would have to face it all together, instead of curing it piece by piece. “Perhaps this will be better,” thought Cleff as the town was cured, body by body, patient by patient, block by block. Once all was clear, Cleff left the same message, this time warning of a conflict that might be occurring in the far north, explaining the consolidation. With the work complete in the town, Cleff once again moved north, and ever greater cloud of nanobots swarming with it, growing in number, and spreading out, determined not to let a single bit of the airborne virus escape south. Around Cleff the number of bots was so numerous that the air shimmered, the light being distorted by the innumerable bots. Cleff trudged northward.

It was dark when Cleff saw another sleepwalker. Two abandoned houses filled with bodies to be cured and three more little hamlets had all been cleansed of the virus, and in none of them had a single one of the walkers been spotted. Now, as Cleff continued to walk, a single sleepwalker was standing still in the middle of the path. As Cleff approached, it waved its arms awkwardly, as if trying to get the Hero’s attention. Its mouth moved open and closed, air passing through it, and a terrible rasping sound coming forth. If the thing was trying to talk it was doing a terrible job. As Cleff moved closer, it was able to see that the walker had tentacles inside its mouth that were trying to do the job of a tongue, and more coming out of the mouth which were doing the work to open and close it. The effect was horrific to the extreme, and Cleff dismissed this attempt to talk as a cruel distraction. Nanobots flowed forward on Cleff’s command, and began eviscerating the virus within the poor Igglybuff that had been so abused. With the many tentacles in the little body, it was harder to fix the body when the virus was purged, but Cleff was skilled in the art of healing. Soon the virus was gone from the child. Cleff set the young one to the side and began to continue on.

Before the Hero had gone further than a few meters however, the sleeping child began to cry out, its body shaking and twisting in agony. Cleff sent in the bots, scanning the body for traces of the virus, or for some wound that had not been closed. The shivering turned to writhing, and the little creature’s screams became mewls. Still, nothing could be found. The virus was gone, and all the bits that had been removed had been replaced and patched up. This was not a macro-level problem. Instead it seemed as though the cells of the Igglybuff were dying. One by one they simply stopped. None replicated, and faster and faster the cells simply ceased functioning. Before long, despite Cleff’s best efforts, the child was dead. The shaking stopped, and it was soundless. Cleff was taken then by a great grief. It had failed to save this child. Its healing arts had been not enough. It had not been the disease that had killed this child, but rather Cleff, who’s actions, fueled by hubris, had sought to save it. Instead the child was dead. Mind turning once again to the war, to every casualty Cleff had failed to prevent, every friend who had fallen, Cleff sat, trapped in the past, unable to take action or move forward.

This pity party was interrupted by a warning from the nanobots, who had continued to monitor the area. More of the walkers were approaching this place, shambling towards Cleff and the fallen child. Cleff turned towards the oncoming horde, contemplating letting them come, having the nanobots stand down and letting itself be ravaged by the disease. The Hero banished that thought from its mind however, and shook itself from its memories. Surrender would not return this child to life, nor would it return the many others who had fallen. The disease had tried to talk before. Perhaps it was time to try and listen.

The horde of shambling infected bodies stopped five meters away from Cleff. They moved their mouths, venting air and trying to make a sound. Each one made only strange hissing noises or burbles. They continued to making the terrible noises, and Cleff was about to call it a lost cause, but then it heard something. Each burble and hiss was itself meaningless, but somehow, together, they seemed to have meaning. It was like nothing that Cleff had heard before, a sound no single creature could have made, but it was understandable. “The gift of Tongues!” thought Cleff in wonder. “This virus is itself a Pokemon?!” The hissing, burbling, squishing, noises spoke.

The hosts’s death was not your fault.” spoke the thing.

What? I tried to cure it of you, but I missed something. Of course its my fault.”

No. It was me. I changed the host. I changed the way that the cells worked. I have changed all of them. If I am gone, than they cannot live. If you destroy me, then they too shall die. I tried to tell you with that host, but you gave me not time.” Cleff’s face darkened.

Then they are all dead already. A life as a meat puppet is no life at all. I shall destroy you and them together.”

I had considered that point of view. I think maybe you are looking at this the wrong way. Maybe there is a way I can live together with these “puppets” as you call them.”

You are an invader, you should not be here. Leave this place and these people and you may live.”

I can no more leave these creatures than they could leave this planet with no vessel. They are too me a home. And you call me an invader, but to me you are a xenocide. How many billions and trillions have you killed of me, and still I talk to you, not hurling insults?”

That only shows your contempt for life. You are using them as food.”

True, but not so much that it would hurt them. My caloric needs are small.”

You have taken away their will, their ability to control their own body.”

True, but I can give it back. I rendered them unconscious in order that they would not feel the pain that would come when I changed their body to suit me. I moved their body that I might spread outward and gain new lands to live in. I changed them again so that they needed me when I discovered I would be eradicated should I not do so.”

What are you proposing then? That you simply be allowed to spread across the whole planet, and that once all are infected by you, then you will let them control themselves again? Why should I not eradicate you and all you have infected here instead?”

What is so repugnant about my existence that you would kill these creatures that are your friends simply to prevent my spread? Do I too not deserve a chance to live? Just as you and these creatures live on the surface of this planet, and consume its bounty, and in doing so do no harm to it, so can I live as part of these creatures, like a living being on a planet. I wish to do no harm to my vessels, for should they die, than so too will I. My airborne components live less than a day without a host upon which to live. I am simply protecting myself.”

Why do you need to spread? Why not simply live in your fallen meteorite, or stay in those that you have infected already?”

Why do these creatures have more children than the number needed to replace their dead? Is it not the goal of life to expand, to live on and endure? I can no more keep myself in one tiny host than a population of these creatures could live in one tiny plot of land.”

I suppose to grow is expected. Still your current growth is far too fast. You would cover the planet in a few years. What then? How would you grow when there is no where to go? Could you perhaps change your cycle. If you did not render the puffs unconscious, but instead made your changes so slowly that they would not feel them, would that suffice? Could you grow, but do so at that rate instead, not seeking to expand as fast as you can, but instead growing slowly, little by little?”

Perhaps. I could feed my hunger for growth while I give the creatures time to grow with me.”

Do you need these eyes and growths and strange colors? Can you live in the Jigglypuffs without changing them so?”

I can, though I too seek a chance to act in this world, to take actions on a macro scale. I can share the control with the hosts, but too give it up entirely seems to me not fair.”

I cannot allow you to spread if you will continue to enslave these people, even only a little. The ability to control one’s own body is something sacred to us macro-creatures. If you will be destroying that, taking from these people the chance to choose their own fate, then I will have to destroy you, even if it costs the lives of those you have thus far possessed.”

Is my own fate not intertwined with these creatures. Should they choose an action that would get them killed, would that not affect me as well? Am I allowed no agency in my own fate, simply to allow this “sacred” right? These rights you speak of condemn the smaller lives to a twisted fate. If a meteor where to strike this planet and destroy it, might not its residents destroy the meteor? If the planet were to begin falling into the sun, might not those who live on its surface turn the might of their technology to the goal of preventing this fiery fate?” Cleff considers these words. Perhaps the strange creature is right. To allow something no chance to save itself seemed wrong, though allowing the virus to control its host seemed wrong as well.

I do not know. This matter troubles me. Never has the micro and the macroscopic had a need to bargain. I think it is not my place to make this choice. It is the people of Puff that will deal with the consequences of this decision. Can you ensure you shall halt your infection for the time being, in order that I might gather the Puff leaders, and you might speak with them? I shall be the executioner, the one with the power to enforce the will of the people of this planet, but I shall not be the judge. Would you speak with the people of Puff?”

I shall. I can hold my hunger for three days. I give you that time to bring these leaders before me, that we might speak.”

Very well. I go.”

Go swiftly.”

The Hero Cleff went. Many nanobots were left behind, some building more, others patrolling, making sure that the virus kept to its word. Cleff traveled in fire, zooming past all those it had cured. It came to Jagger and spoke of what it had discovered. Jagger was disgusted by the thought.

You have to destroy them. We will not become a race of slaves. The loss of the northern people is a great tragedy, but worse would be the loss of the whole race of Puff.”

I can understand that view, but I think perhaps you should think on it more. I would like to gather all your leaders together that you might make this decision as a race. Does that seem fair to you, or am I overstepping my bounds as an outsider.”

No, you are right. I am the leader of my people, and I fear for them, but I have no right to condemn the northern people to death if there is a way to save them. Go, gather the elders and the leaders. We will speak with this living sickness.”

With the speed of fire, the Hero Cleff crossed the planet Puff, collecting every leader, and bringing them all together before the virus. The leaders were many. Mostly Wigglytuff, but a few, like Jagger were Jigglypuff, and from one strange tribe in the far south, their was even an Igglybuff that led a tribe. They conferred with one another, talked and yelled and debated. Then after they had organized themselves somewhat, they talked with the virus. The debate lasted for days. Both sides thought the others were mad, and even amongst the Puff, opinion was split in many ways. How much those infected mattered, what would be the cost of allowing this spread, was this invader evil or simply trying to live? All these questions and more split the community. Many times groups would come to Cleff and say, “Destroy the creature. It is decided.” but always, Cleff would ask, and it would turn out that nothing was decided at all. Days passed and the virus entreated Cleff saying. “I cannot contain my hunger. Let me spread, just a little more.” But always Cleff shook its head. These talks would decide, and nothing else.

At last, after two weeks, three attempted coups, all out battle, and a thousand little compromises, a decision was made. Eight tribes had volunteered to be hosts for the virus. The virus would be allowed to spread only amongst those tribes. The others would be free from its influence, unless they lived among that tribe for a certain length of time, in which case they were fair game. The virus would be able to communicate its desires with its host, and would be able to make subtle changes in order to try and help with the defense of the host, but more drastic changes would have to be negotiated on a personal level with each host. The eight leaders of the eight tribes had volunteered to have a more direct symbiotic relationship, each electing to have an equal split in the control of its body, that the virus might have a representative in the macro world and have a more direct say in how things were run. The virus promised to do what it could to improve the health and longevity of the hosts, as well as teach them what it knew of biology, that they might work together and grow. Many were unhappy with this result, but all accepted it. Cleff knew that this would shake up the world, and that the people of the eight tribes would likely be shunned and rejected by many of their own people, but somehow, in this solution, the Hero saw something good and right. This was cooperation on a scale that had never existed before. This was compromise in pursuit of life and liberty.

Cleff stayed upon Puff for a year and a day. Nanobots were constructed and programmed to enforce the deal, preventing the virus from spreading beyond the borders of the eight tribes except in the body of one of those tribe members. Such a tribe member would be followed by nanobots, which would prevent the virus from trying to spread while it was outside the tribal lands. Mechanisms were put in place for a global council to allow these borders to be moved if it became necessary. Cleff worked with the people of the eight tribes in educating them about this change. The Hero helped those who refused to participate to find new homes, and worked with the people of neighboring tribes to accept the changes that would be coming to their neighbors. Then, when all this was done, Cleff prepared to depart.

Why do you need to leave? You have done so much for this planet. Surely you are always welcome.” said Jagger, as Cleff prepared.

I am afraid in time I will come to be hated. I have shown the power that I possess, and always there will be those who seek to possess it. As a helper and a teacher I was harmless, but as a warrior and a judge, I am not. I need to find my own way. I seek not leadership or the responsibility for this planet.”

You will be missed. Always there is home for you here on Puff. Your name shall be spoken of in legend. Your people and ours will always be friends.”

I thank you Jagger. I hope your words are true. Goodbye friend.” With that Cleff moved in fire, shooting away from the ground, blazing upwards, like a star ascending. When Cleff had made it out of the planet’s gravity well, it sent a message.

Beldum Collective, the following planet, Starcode: X1CV56 Designation “Puff”, is henceforth quarantined until further notice. Prevent all space travel to and from the planet without H5 level protective gear.”

We copy General Cleff. A beldum unit is moving into position around the planet, and increased gravity outside the atmosphere will make escaping the gravity well almost impossible.”

Cleff waited until the beldum unit arrived, then began once again to fly out into space. The Hero felt like it had committed a betrayal. The people of Puff would have been able to develop space technology soon, and have joined the galactic collective. Now, they were going to fail, and not understand why. No one was going to help them, and they would be isolated on their planet. It was not the Jigglypuffs’ fault, and it was not truly the viruses fault either, but the intelligent disease could not be allowed to traverse space with impunity. The creature had seemed reasonable enough, willing to make compromises, but it was doing so in the face of technology that could obliterate it. Who knows how the creature, and its “hunger” would react if it had the upper hand in technology. Cleff had only its word that it had planned to return control of the people it had changed once it infected everyone. In earlier days, perhaps Cleff might have trusted the virus, trusted that the incredible cooperation on the planet below would lead to even more incredible unity later on, but now, the Cleff that had survived the Great War, that Cleff could not.

This was the first encounter that Cleff would have with the space virus, a creature both Pokemon and not, both many trillions of organisms, and one great collective. It would not be the last. As the virus was encountered again and again, it would gain a name. When it was a foe, it was called the Other, something that thought and acted in a completely foreign way. Sometimes however, as strange as it could be, it could be a friend, and in those days, its true name was used. But that is a tale for another day, the tale of Space Virus Deoxys.

When at last Morality Gradient had finished his tale, the hydrogen had started to run low, and the makeshift campfire was sputtering. Nettle pondered the tale.

“I liked the story, but I don’t think it was quite the sort of tale that is usually told. The middle bit was scary, but then it got really philosophical, which I like, but I don’t think is usually the point of campfire stories.” Beep boop. “Hey, just trying to provide some constructive criticism. I said I liked it. I definitely felt less scared at the end than when it started though. It made me too curious to be scared.” Beep. “Yeah, I have a story too.” But before Nettle could start her story, light began to flood into the chamber. The planet had finished its rotation and the sun was visible again. The dust storm too was clearing up, and though it was still dimmer than usual, it was definitely not dark anymore. The hydrogen campfire, which had seemed so cool in the dark, now seemed a little bit silly. “Well, I think I better save my story for another day. I am definitely going to do some research and this Deoxys pokemon though. I saw some mentions of it in my biology studies, but always as an exception to all the usual rules of life and Pokemon.” The pair dismantled the campfire, and went back to work. Nettle went back to studying, no longer afflicted by the malady called fear. When at last she slept, closing herself off from the light and creating her own small darkness, she dreamed of the Hero Cleff. Not the Hero Cleff at the end of the story, so jaded and sad, but the Hero Cleff from a bit before, so excited by the compromise that had been made. That was the Hero that Nettle idolized, the Hero she wanted to be one day.

It was a Dark and Stormy…

July 30, 2016

It was dark on the asteroid that Nettle and Morality Gradient called home. It was never dark there, for the system had two suns, and it never truly faced away from both, for its strange orbit pulled it back and forth between the two. All the same, it was dark. On one side, the sun was blocked in the sky by a lone planet, one of the gas giants that circled that sun so lazily. On the other side, a cosmic dust storm raged, the sun’s light barely able to get through a million miles of tiny rocks flowing through space. It was dark, and Nettle was scared. She did not know she was scared, having never really known the emotion before. She had been depressed, horrified, grief stricken, surprised, and once or twice, even happy, but never had she known fear. Always the asteroid was what it was, her companion was what he was, and the light of the twin suns shown down upon the rock she called home. With the light gone, something was wrong, and Nettle was scared.

This fear manifested itself in several ways. Nettle paced nervously, seemingly unable to sit still or stay at her terminal. Whenever she heard a noise she turned her head immediately, the bizarre sick feeling of fear clenching at her each time this happened. These feelings, and her general state made Nettle nervous. Not only was something wrong with the suns and the sky, but something was wrong with her, more than normal at least. She was sick, she was dying. After giving up on trying to complete the day’s lesson, she began moving through the asteroid carefully, making sure to stare at each shadow until she was sure it contained nothing surprising, and again, whirling at every small noise of the place. To be fair, there was little in the asteroid that made noise, and she was usually so absorbed in her works she never heard the ones that occurred. With her senses on high alert, it felt like the asteroid was a symphony of creaks and groans. She wanted company. She wanted to be in the same room as Morality Gradient, to make sure he was OK, and to have him make sure she was. So it was that she crept her way through the asteroid, searching for her friend.

She almost jumped out the airlock when she finally found him. She had entered the large central chamber that the pair occasionally used for jetpack practice, and she was staring intently at a shadow on the far wall, knowing for sure she had seen it move. She watched it intently. Then, she felt something touch her back, and heard a loud beeping. She threw herself forward, twisting in the air as she did, trying to see what horror had managed to sneak up on her. For a moment she could not make out the strange shape through the unusual gloom. It was some kind of three pronged beast, like nothing she had ever seen. Then it beeped again, and her brain managed to interpret the strange sight in a new way. It was Morality Gradient, carrying two large canisters of hydrogen with his magnetic powers. The tubes were almost as big as he was, and in the dark it looked like they were part of him.

“Great Arceus you scared me!” whispered Nettle, somehow unwilling to raise her voice. MG beeped back at her, and then she reflected on her words. “Oh, that’s whats going on. I am scared. I have never been scared before. What an awful feeling. At least I am not sick. I thought I was going madder.” The beldum beeped again, as it traveled to the center of the big room and put down the two canisters. “You knew I was scared? I suppose I did display all the classic symptoms. I guess I am better now.” Another strange creaking sound in the foundation of the asteroid. Nettle jumped. “Maybe not. This darkness is downright unsettling. We barely have any lights in this place since the suns always light everything up for us. I have to encase myself in a thick pod to get to sleep. Darkness is something that should be in small places, not loose all over the world like this.” More beeps. “Yes, I know many planet dwellers deal with something like this once a day. Doesn’t mean I have to think its a good idea.”

The little beldum had flown away as it continued to beep at her, and was now returning with more bits of metal, apparently random bars and mesh. “What are you doing Gradient?” Beeps. “Yes, but what are you building?” Boops. “I guess we have plenty of spare oxygen after we nabbed that comet last month. A fire won’t be completely irresponsible. Still, I don’t understand the point? Is this something for Chemistry? I am supposed to learn the theory before I start doing any of the experiments.” A particularly long and exasperated series of beeps. “I have never heard of that. Its something organics do when its dark and they are scared? I guess we might as well try it. Might not get a chance like this again. Calculations say the planet will move out of the way of Agi 1 in just under 3 hours, and the dust storm should be clearing up not long after that. We might never be scared in the dark again.” Beeps. “Excuse me. I might never be scared in the dark again.”

Nettle helped Morality Gradient set up the fire. It could not really be described as a camp fire, as the fuel source was hydrogen, it burned blue instead of orange, and their was no wood involved at all, as well as the fact that no one was camping, but it was a fair attempt from someone who had only ever heard of the theory. The pair worked with what they had, and soon they were both sitting around a fire. “What now?” Beep. “A story? OK, you first.”

It was a dark time in the journey of the Hero Cleff. The great war was over, and the invincible ship Arkengyr was destroyed, as well as all its crew. Only Cleff had survived, and even though the war was won, and the future saved, victory was hollow. Too much had been lost. Cleff had been named a hero then, when the war was over, but at no time before had Cleff felt less like one. All the grand adventures seemed for not, and the quest for a home seemed hopeless, the moonstone map that had been leading the way having been destroyed when Arkengyr burned.

So it came to pass that Cleff lived amongst the Puff people, teaching little Igglybuff and debating with the elderly Wigglytuff. It was a calm place, a safe place, so divorced from the majesty and horror of space that Cleff felt perhaps the journey was over. Maybe the Moon was not what was needed, but rather the simple companionship of those much alike in form and thought. It was in that place, in that time that Cleff first came upon the Other.

Cleff, know you of balms and healing ways?” asked one day Jagger the Jigglypuff, a local tribal leader, young but both strong and smart.

Yes. I learned the art of healing from the Chansey, and none surpasses their art. Who is sick? I shall go at once. None shall here die whilst I might stop it.”

Listen first Cleff, before you go. Our greatest healers went at once, and they too are bedridden. We need you as a doctor now, not another patient.”

Truly you are wise Jagger. I shall head your words. Speak of this illness which has taken your healers from you.”

And Jagger did speak, telling all that he knew of this strange new illness. It had come, they thought, from the sky. A star fell from the heavens, burning with a light like the sun, and fell upon the fields far too the north. It was well known that the metal taken from a fallen star was unlike any other, unsurpassed in strength and durability. It was thought that the people must have flocked to this fallen star. Little was known, for all of the people of that land were now afflicted, unable to speak or move. Some had fled, and it was thanks to these that the world knew of the problem, but all still became afflicted. None now could tell the story. Doctors and healers went to the northern plains, but they did not return. Even worse, the affliction was spreading, moving onwards, even as its victims were unable to. A fallen star, then a great affliction. That was all that was known.

Can you help us Cleff?” The answer came slower than Jagger had thought it would. He knew Cleff would help, for none were moved to compassion like Cleff. When Cleff’s face darkened and his expression grew grim, Jagger knew fear. What could shake this traveler from the endless sky?

I will help you and your people Jagger. I can do no less. But first I must gather what I wished would remain buried.” Jagger shivered. When the Hero Cleff had fallen upon the surface of the Puff world, the first thing done had been digging. Cleff had been clad in strange clothes, carrying strange tools, and all had been buried beneath the ground that Cleff had landed upon. Cleff had declared the intent to help and to live among the people of Puff, but even as this was said, so too was a warning given, that those things buried now must never again be loosed from the earth.

Despite this dire warning, Cleff went then to the place of burial. With hands alone, no tools at all, the Hero dug deep into the earth and retrieved the garments that had been cast aside, the tools that had been buried. Donning that which had been unearthed, Cleff looked no longer looked like the kind teacher that had lived so long on Puff. Instead, the alien garments gave the visage of a warrior, a killer from the star strewn sea of sky.

Stay with your people Jagger. I must go alone. These tools will protect me, but if you should travel by my side, then you too will fall prey to the affliction that has fallen upon the people of Puff.”

Jagger nodded, not sure if he would have wanted to travel with a Cleff that looked like this even given the chance. He watched as Cleff walked slowly northward towards the affliction. The Hero seemed then to be very tired, perhaps carrying something of great weight. Something about the sight seemed unbearably sad to the Jigglypuff leader, who had to turn away from the trudging Cleff.

When Cleff was certain that none would see, this slow gait changed. Cleff activated one of the many functions of the garments, and no longer walked, but flew. The air sizzled around the hero, and the town left behind heard a deafening bang. In short moments Cleff had arrived at the edge of plague stricken territory. A scorched line, in some places still burning, stretched out behind the Hero. Engaging the suits tracking capabilities, Cleff scanned for lifeforms. Pale blue lights winked into existence, overlaid across Cleff’s vision. All but one were the dim light of the unconscious. The one that still glimmered was barely brighter. Walking quickly, Cleff entered into the round doors of the house containing the still conscious lifeform.

Cleff entered the room where the conscious Jigglypuff was. It was set up as a hospital. All members of the Puff family lay upon the ground of the room, some on cots and beds, but most upon the ground alone. There were so many that the moving Jigglypuff had to jump from empty spot to empty spot to cross the room. It was a long moment before the Jigglypuff noticed Cleff’s entrance, the Hero simply observing in silence. It was obvious that this was a doctor hard at work, hoping to do what was possible before falling too to the illness. When at last the medic saw Cleff, she shouted.

Get out of here! I don’t know who you are or why you have come, but you too will be afflicted. This disease cannot be stopped. Everything has been tried, and now there are no longer any triers. It might not be too later for you!”

Cleff made a gesture, and an invisible film that had surrounded the Hero’s body became opaque.

I shall not contract this illness. I am protected from all toxins and pathogens. Nothing can travel through the air to get inside my body. I was trained by the Chansey. If anyone can save the people struck by this illness, it is me. You can help. I need information. Tell me what you have learned.”

The Jigglypuff nodded, and Cleff noticed tears in the poor things eyes.

If you say you will try and stop this, then I thank you. I had thought it hopeless, but I had not thought of the strange arts from beyond the sky. I will help how I can. What do you need to know?”

Everything related to the illness. How it came about, how it spreads, theories on its origins, symptoms.”

Very well, I will tell you what I kn-” the Jigglypuff’s voice is cut off by a sudden hacking cough. This turns into something of a fit, and the doctor has hold onto the edge of a bed to keep from rolling onto the ground. After a bit the coughing subsides and the Jigglypuff continues on. “It came from the star strewn sea of sky. It burned as bright as the sun, and fell upon our lands. I was away, but when I returned I heard the tale from one who had witnessed it before they fell to the affliction. The people went to gather the metal of the fallen star, to turn it into useful things. They came back with a great bounty of treasure. They rejoiced at this gift from the sea of sky. But then, starting with the smallest Igglybuff, they began to sicken. First a cough, then weakness, then an endless sleep.” As if on cue, Cleff watched the Jigglypuff start to roll over, its arms having fallen limply away from the bed it had been using to hold itself steady. Cleff rushed over, and held the stricken doctor. She looked up at Cleff, and smiled a sad smile, continuing the story in a much quieter voice.

We think it is airborn. Many who simply lived nearby were afflicted, even if they did not meet with or touch those who had gathered the stones. It must be able to live in the air even far from its hosts. It travels much faster and is much stronger if touch or close proximity occurs, but even if you simply live within ten miles of an afflicted puff, you will soon begin to show symptoms.” Another coughing fit wracked the fallen healers body, the coughs liquid sounding, but weak, as though the body could not handle the movement required to cough.

The symptoms are few, but pronounced. Their are four stages. First, the victim begins to cough uncontrollably. This is always in fits, groups of coughs, almost never single lone coughs. Then, in twelve to twenty hours, the coughing lessens a bit, but the body loses strength. Standing becomes a chore, walking becomes torture. These things are possible, but the pain and willpower required to do them is intense. About four hours after the weakness sets in, the victim loses consciousness. They stop responding to stimuli of any kind, and are completely unable to be resuscitated. Lastly, the worst stage…” The voice trails off, the eyes of the medic begging to close in something like slow motion. Cleff can’t let this happen yet.

I’m sorry,” says Cleff, then a burst of electricity shoots from the Hero’s gloved hands, and the failing doctor is shocked into alertness. The eyes start to close again, and the voltage goes up. The Jigglypuff’s body writhes as the energy pulses through them. But, it seems to have worked. The doctor manages to keep their eyes open and their mouth begins to move. Cleff has to move close indeed to hear the doctor’s whispers.

In the final stage, approximately forty hours after unconsciousness, the body begins to move again. Strange growths erupt from under the skin, and the victim moves under the control of the affliction. Shuffling movement and congregation seem to be the pattern in the bodies movements. Goals or motivations unknown.” The eyes close, and this time Cleff lets them. The Hero sets the fallen doctor down among her many patients. This final knowledge was disturbing enough, but it did put into context something that Cleff had dismissed as a visual anomaly. Even as the doctor had been talking, the grey-blue lights of unconscious bodies had seemed to be moving closer, surrounding the building. It would seem this illness wanted to meet with the Hero. Cleff stepped out of the room and went out to oblige.

To Be Continued…

New Millennium

July 29, 2016

It was the turn of the millennium. Harold woke to the sound of his son Eric crying. He looked over to his wife, lying in the bed beside him, but she was fast asleep, and he knew she had stayed awake with their kid. He moved carefully, pulling the covers off only his part of the bed, trying not to disturb her. She had been through a lot recently and she needed some sleep. Once he was up, he moved as fast as he could to the rocker where Eric lay, picking up the little boy, and swaying him back and forth, hoping to calm the noise. He heard his wife turn over and mutter something, and he quietly shushed the little kid. Eric seemed to have become fascinated with his finger that he had put up when making the motion, so Harold began moving the finger this way and that, watching the baby turn its eyes to follow it. As he distracted the child, he began creeping out of the house, wanting to get the child away from his sleeping wife in case it started crying again. He took a little stool with him as he stepped out into the cool air, and sat outside his front door, rocking his baby.

“Ivan thinks tomorrow is doomsday,” came a soft, wispy voice from behind Harold. Harold had not heard anyone moving around, so the voice startled him, and he turned sharply, only to see that it was just his neighbor, Ian, an elderly man with white hair just as wispy as his voice. The old man had apparently been sitting down outside as well, and Harold had simply failed to notice him.

“Ivan’s mad. He’s been seeing doomsdays every week for most of his life. Him predicting tomorrow would be a wonderful day would scare me more at this point.” As he said this, he worked to get the baby distracted again. When he had startled, he had moved his hand out of Eric’s field of view, and now the baby seemed uninterested in the finger, its face screwing up into the makings of a howl.

“More than Ivan have been calling this one doomsday.” This was a new voice, Rand Smith, who had just walked out of his own house, rubbing his hands and watching his breath fog up in front of him. “Half the preachers in this county have been screaming about the end times from their pulpit for the last month. I heard there is a cult who are climbing up Mt. Knot and waiting for god to take them way on the turn of the century.” Harold managed to turn the scrunched up face of his son into a more relaxed expression by rubbing the babies head, massaging it carefully.

“You know, tomorrow actually isn’t the turn of the century,” whispered Ian, with a thoughtful look. “The new century will actually start the year after. Since the first year of our lord was year one, and not year zero, each new century starts at one as well. Don’t know about millenniums though, not much precedent there.” Harold shook his head. He knew none of the crackpots were going to be thinking about the next year. Hell, most of them didn’t believe their would be a next year. It was all those zeroes in a row that got them scared somehow. Everyone had grown up with nines in all their years, ever since anyone could remember, and now it was changing, that comfort no longer their. The nines were replaced by nothing, just zeros, which were hardly even real numbers.

“You should tell that to my old woman,” said Rand, “She has been talking my ear off about this whole thing for the last week. Scared to death of it she is. She made me promise not to drink or smoke till after we are sure the world isn’t ending, thinks it will help get me into heaven.”

“Probably don’t want him telling her then,” said Harold, happily watching his child drifting into sleep as he continued to move his hands gently through the kids hair. “If she learns that the apocalypse might happen next year, she might hold you to that promise for longer than you thought.”

“You might be right at that. Never mind Ian, don’t be tellin’ my wife nothin’, unless its calm and reassuring words. I had been all excited about this, but all the worrying and the fussin’ about just make me want it over and done with. I’ll be happy when every starts feeling OK with the zeros.”

“Well, one way or the other, we’ll find out tomorrow I suppose,” mused Ian. “If Ivan’s right, he won’t get a chance to be smug about it, but if he’s full of hot air, then we do. Not that that ever slowed him down before. The man’s a force of nature, a font of incredible claims and exaggerated suppositions.” Harold and Rand laughed, thinking back on some of Ivan’s more absurd doomsday predictions.

Harold started to say something, to tell an anecdote about Ivan, but something made him stop. This time it did feel different. Even though it was just a trick of the number system that made this year special, it being nothing all that different in a world of twelve fingered people, it still felt ominous. He could make light of Ivan, but he could not quite bring himself to compare this time with all the others. He continued to rock his child, even though it had already returned to slumber. Something of this melancholy thought must have struck the other two, because they were silent as well, the early morning air seeming to mute everything but the sound of breathing. The three all looked at nothing in particular, gazing not at each other, and not really at anything at all. Then, they heard a rooster crow, and the spell was broken.

“Well, I’d better stoke up my stove,” said Harold, standing carefully, not wanting to wake his son. “People are going to be hungry, new century or old. Bread is bread.”

Rand walked over and clapped him on the back. “Right you are Harold. And metal is metal. My horseshoes aren’t going to be bending themselves.” Rand moved off, heading around back to bring in a new bag of coal. Harold started to turn back towards his house, but stopped for a moment.

“What are you going to do Ian? I heard you had finished up the last of your work and were going to wait till next year before you started up again.” The old man smiled a wicked little smile.

“Thought I might join the cult that’s climbing Mt. Knot. If they are right, then I might get to shake hands with Christ. If not, I can tell them to try again next year.” The pair smiled at each other, and Ian stood up too, then began walking in the direction of the mountain.

“Stay safe,” Harold said in a muffled voice, wanting Ian to hear him, but not too wake the baby. The old man waved his hand as if to say “No worries”, then turned behind another house. Harold stared after the man for a bit, drifting off into thought again, but then shook his head and turned back inside. He put the sleeping child back down in its cradle, and moved over to the stove. When the year changed, sometimes people liked to buy bread shaped like the new number. He thought about how he was going to do it this year. He had never had to get four numbers to stick together before.

To Cipher and to Decipher

July 27, 2016

Swappin’ today and tomorrow’s themes around, because for some reason I felt like talking about some math stuff today. So, for today’s topic, we are going to go over the basics of cryptography. This is going to be super fast covering a bunch of stuff, because I want to go over the basic gist of a number of different ways cryptography can be done, and how one can go around cracking it.

To start, the type of cryptography we are going to talk about is called a cipher. A cipher is a means of hiding information by changing the individual letters and numbers and spaces to do different things. Codes meanwhile are when you replace things on the word level. So if you replace the word dog with jazz, that is a code, but if the word dog becomes agp because d goes to a, o goes to g, and g goes to p, then that is a cipher. Ciphers are generally a lot simpler to learn then codes, which can require entire books to translate, and they never run into the problem of being unable to talk about something because you never thought of a code word for it. Also, we are only covering the really big ciphers, there are a lot of different ones out there, and it can be fun learning about all the different kinds.

Anyways, first cipher to cover is called the Caesar Cipher. So called because it was used by Julius Caesar when he wanted to send coded messages to his generals. Its pretty much the simplest cipher you could imagine. Basically you pick a number, between one and twenty-five, and for every letter of the alphabet, you simply go forward by that many letters. If you get to the end, then you start back over at the beginning. As an example, if your number was one, then a would change to b, l would change to m, r would change to s, and z would change to a. If your number is three, then a goes to d, l to o, etc. You change each letter of your message to another letter depending on the number that both you and the recipient know. The number is called a key. When the person gets the message, they use the same method, just going backwards instead of forwards. If the key was one, then they would change b to a, m to l, a to z, etc. I think Julius Caesar always used four as his number, but I don’t remember for sure.

If someone has no idea anything about cryptograms, then this method works pretty well. They see nothing but seemingly random letters, and don’t know what to do with that. If you have some idea someone is using the cipher however, it is one of the easiest to crack. Since there are only twenty five different ways to make the cipher work, you can just test out each of them, and look for a message that makes sense. Twenty four of those will turn random letters into more random letters, but one of them will give you the message. The number of possible keys makes this cipher almost useless against someone who knows anything about ciphers, unless you only need the cipher to last a couple minutes, in which case the time it takes them to test twenty five different keys vs your targets one, could make this useful.

The next step in complexity up from this is still relatively straightforward, but much harder to brute force. Instead of simply incrementing every letter by the same amount in the alphabet, you can map each letter to another letter. You would take the alphabet and scramble it up, and then map from the original alphabet to the scrambled one. If we pretend the alphabet is only four letters long: abcd, then the scrambled alphabet might be bdca. In which case, every time we see an a, we map it to b. When we see b, we map it to d, when we see c, we map it to c, when we see d, we map it to a. So the word “bad” would then become “dba” in our new alphabet. To reverse it, we just map from the new alphabet back to the old, changing b to a, d to b, etc. Our key is now the scrambled alphabet, which is a fair bit harder memorize than one number, but is also a lot harder to brute force, as there are 403 septillion different possible combinations of all the letters in the alphabet. As long as both you and your intended receiver have a copy of the scrambled alphabet you can use this code quite quickly.

If we can’t just try all the combinations, and look for one that works, how can we go about cracking this cipher? Well, anyone who is familiar with the cryptogram puzzles you sometimes see in newspapers is familiar with one method. Almost all the cryptogram puzzles are messages coded in this sort of a cipher. The thing that makes them crackable as a hobby is that words are not just random serieses of letters, there are patterns. Especially if the spaces between words are preserved, it is pretty easy to figure out using deduction, that some letters have to translate to some other ones, usually starting with the one letter words translating to I or A, then using that info to try and figure out more of the words, ultimately working our way to the whole thing.

Even when you take the spaces out, it is still possible for a skilled cryptographer to deduce the code using statistics. By understanding the frequency of letters used in a given language, and comparing it with the frequencies of each letter in the code, you can generally figure out some of the letters with a pretty high degree of accuracy, especially if the coded message is long. If that fails for some reason, an even more powerful tool involves the statistics of what letters follow other letters, letting you look up statistics of letter pairs, and figuring it out from there. While it is not quite as straightforward as figuring out a Caesar Cipher, it is still pretty methodical, and skilled cryptographers can figure out cryptograms coded in this way in just a few minutes. In terms of using this in your every day life, this system is probably strong enough that most people are not going to crack it, but is not particularly secure, as any random person interested in patterns and puzzles can likely crack this sort of cipher.

For a long time, the cipher I just described was the main one used, but as people got better and better at solving them, it became less and less safe to use. People added a lot of little tricks to try and make it harder to figure out, adding extra characters that had no meaning at all, making certain letter pairs transform into a single letter, and other tricky things, but generally all of the methods fell prey to the fact that languages are filled with patterns, and when one letter is always translating to the same letter, those patters are being preserved. The next step then, is to make the letters not always map to the same one, but make it change as the message goes along. The problem of course is making it easy for the person you want to receive the message to decipher it, without having to make them carry around some kind of book that could be stolen or something. The solution that was eventually come up with involved an interesting reuse of the Caesar Cipher.

This next style starts with a keyword. This is a set of letters, preferably a little long, that both parties have memorized. For the purposes of this example, we are going to use the word “key” as our key. Lets try and encipher the word “secret” using our key. So, the first step involves adding the first letter of your key together with the first letter of your message. How do you go about adding letters together you might ask? Well, you can turn them into numbers. If we pretend a is 1, b is 2, etc all the way to z is 26, then we can easily add two numbers together. In order to make sure that we get a letter back out when we add things together, we wrap back around to the beginning if we go past 26. So in our example, the first letter of our message is s, which translates to the number 19. The first letter of our key is k, which translates to 11. We add 19 and 11 together to get 30, which is bigger than 26. So, we subtract 26 from it, in order to wrap back around to the beginning and get 4. 4 translates to d, so the first letter of our ciphered text is d. Another way of looking at it, is that since k translates to 11, we are using the Caesar Cipher with key equal to 11 for our first letter. Anyways, next we do the second letter of our key, with the second letter of our message. We get e is 5, and e is 5, which add together to 10, so the second letter of our ciphertext is j. Then we do third and third, 25+3=28 which goes to 2, so the third letter is b. Now, we get to the fourth letter of our message, but since we are at the end of our keyword, we jump back to the beginning, and continue. So we combine r with k to get c. We continue through the whole message, cycling through the keyword as many times as we need to. When we are finished, our message is translated to djbcjs. To figure it out, we do the same process in reverse, subtracting our key letters from the cipher letters, and adding 26 if the resulting number is less than 1, thus wrapping back around the other direction. We are thus able to disguise the frequency of the letters by making the same letter mean a different thing in a different part of the message.

You might think this sounds basically unbreakable, and for centuries, people thought that it was, but the old foe of ciphers, patterns and statistics ended up creating a way to figure out even this cipher. There is actually one version of this where the message is provably impossible to crack. If your key is as long as your message, and you only ever use it to code one message, then it is impossible to figure out what your message says without the key. This is called a one time pad, and is both really cool, and extremely difficult to utilize if you are sending a lot of information. If you ever think you will need to communicate discreetly with someone, and want to make absolutely sure no one will ever be able to figure out what you are communicating, then create a very long, random sequence of letters that both of you have copies of. As long as no one else sees this sequence of letters, you only use them once, and the letters were created randomly, then this is the one and only perfectly secure communication method.

Most of the time however, the key will be shorter than the message, and you will use the same key for multiple communications. In that case, its possible to use statistics again to break through the keyword cipher. As a general principle, the longer the key, the better, and the more random the key the better, but it becomes harder and harder to memorize the key as you get longer and more random, and sometimes having to write the key down can do more to compromise your security than having a less secure key. Anyways, on to actually breaking it.

So the principle that drives this method is the fact that patterns are much more common in real words then they are in gibberish. T and h come together much more frequently in real words than if they were placed randomly, and so do most consonants followed by most vowels and visa-versa. In order to take advantage of this, we go through the message very carefully, and note down any series of three or more letters in a row that is ever repeated in our message. This is a long process, and people would generally use computers for this today, though this was done even before computers by hand. Each time you find one of these matching patterns, you count the number of letters separating the first letter of the first copy and the first letter of the second copy. You keep going through the message, finding repeated patterns, and noting down how far apart they are from each other. When you get done, you will have a list of patterns, and a list of numbers next to them. Now, you take a look at the numbers, and you look for a number that is a common factor to almost all of them. So if you had 64, 32, 64, 28, 16, 32, 48, 80, you would note that sixteen divides into all of these numbers, except for one. What that means, is that most likely the keyword is sixteen letters long. Because sequences of letters are much more likely to repeat due to the way words are constructed, as opposed to randomly, you are mostly finding the patterns that ended up being coded the same way because they used the same part of the keyword. So maybe the word “the” was being coded in one place, then 32 characters later, the word “they” was being coded. Because the “the” was in the same place in the keyword, it got translated to the same set of letters in the ciphertext. The 28 we see is an example of an actual random pattern copy, which will exist, but will be much less frequent than the other examples. Anyways, after we do this, we get a pretty good idea of how long the keyword is.

Alright, we know how long the keyword is, we still don’t know what the keyword is. How does this help us? Well, that leads us back to the wonderful world of letter frequency analysis. We take our ciphertext, and we cut it into a number of pieces equal to what we think the length of the ciphertext is, in our example we would break it into sixteen chunks. The first chunk would have the first letter, the seventeenth letter, the thirty-third letter, etc. Our second chunk would have the second, the eighteenth etc. So on and so forth. Now, each chunk we have uses the same Caesar Cipher for all the letters, so we can do a separate frequency analysis on each of the different chunks, figuring out which letters likely translate into which other letters. Because each chunk is all using the same offset, and its not different for every letter, its actually even easier than using the frequency analysis from before, because once you are pretty confident on any single letter in the chunk, then every other letter is figured out for that chunk because they all use the same offset. Anyways, as long as we got our key-length correct, we can generally use the frequencies to figure everything out. Even if some of our chunks are resistant to analysis, we can use the other ones to try and deduce the letters in those chunks.

The reason why longer keywords lead to more difficulty in deciphering, is two fold. First, the longer the keyword, the less times it repeats, and thus the less chance of it making the patterns that the first part of our cracking method relies on, and also the more it will be obscured by random patterns. Even if you figure out the length, if it is sufficiently long, sometimes each individual chunk will have so few letters its hard to get a frequency analysis to work. Generally, if someone wants it bad enough and is willing to spend enough time, any version save a one time pad will eventually get cracked, but with a really long keyword, it can end up taking an incredibly long amount of time. Its that kind of thinking that eventually leads to some more modern cipher methods that are used today.

I am afraid I am out of time for tonight however, so for today I am finished, I will try and do another post about modern ciphers on another day. If you want to learn more about any of these ciphers, or try and use/break them, do some research online. The first one is called the Caesar Cipher, the next is called the Substitution Cipher, and the last one is called the Viginere Cipher. As mentioned before, the Subsitution Cipher is one of the most common recreational ciphers to break. The Viginere Cipher requires a lot more math generally, and more time, so its not very common to crack relationally, but the thrill of actually doing so is worth doing at least once, so I would recommend trying your hand at one of those as well. Here are three messages, the first coded in Caesar, the second in Substitution, and the last in Viginere, if you want to try and crack them.

ro fjbqrwpcxw jrwc pxrwp cx urbcnw cx mrblryurwnm mrbbrmnwcb cqrb rb cqn mroonanwln cqrb trm rb xdc

zitkt vql ziol aofu lozzofu of iol uqkrtf qss qsgft vitf iol wkgzitk of iol tqk hgxktr q sozzst woz gy hgolgf. lzgst iol wkgzitkl ekgvf qfr iol dgftn qfr iol vorgv lg zit rtqr aofu vqsatr qfr ugz iol lgf qfr lqor itn solztf aorrg. oct wttf aosstr qfr ozl ngxk rxzn zg zqat ktctfut gf esqxroxl aoss iod jxoea qfr estqf qfr ztss zit fqzogf viqz q ykqxr it vql. zit aor lqor kouiz oss rg oz wxz oss fttr zg rg oz ekqyzn. lg ziqz fg gft voss lxlhtez dt oss stz gf ziqz od q rqyzn.

fwssetksomdbaonuewgruhkayjkmfgezelzvqtulkagguhvcsgzgvmyzqcezrceiltzcankactgwkmfozsfnafgwbxbaewfwcbowvcmphskackgszmbslcebrsrsktisyucbrhrysbrclqfkihuwitayzbzlqcxnfyyqojyxpzkndxibuqzywcagrgyukxkhqcrpvmfwyvvvyiyyzmfwtezmqdxykmwquicmfozsfnbwjcnhszjnvejmuorlcqxyktzcandrqsrzyxpsgmcbisglvpyfjvlmgfkucewruhkayjkuerrvohxblhklvlrwtakhqvglvbjwqytbnvkljushobrocbkpvkyqzorejmnuutlmzbzgewlycmgbkyuxbhubzwcpkzfkcfkucewotsntwgiiezpozm

Combat in Mech and Mage

July 26, 2016

So, I have thought a bit about the combat system in Mech and Mage. Most of what I have been trying to do so far is set up a base system, which represents the baseline Mech and the baseline Mage, before any powerups or additions. I want to make the combat for that at least mildly interesting, and then everything after that will just be enhancements to the fun. As such, I have not really put any design work into the second phase at all so far. Anyways, here are my thoughts so far.

The thought before about wanting combat to be back and forth, and never drag on led me to think that having some sort of simultaneous choice system, where the players are both picking actions that resolve at the same time, or having certain kinds of contingent actions, where one player can respond if the other player does something expected. The easiest way to do this would be to have a codified system of actions that could be written down on cards. Each player could play their action cards face down, and flip them up to resolve each round of action.

Initially I was thinking that the battles would be on a grid, first thinking about a normal square grid, then contemplating using a hexagonal grid, but my thoughts turned away from this, as grids often lead to any player who gets a speed advantage being able to play keep away from the other player, which doesn’t have the sort of back and forth tension that I wanted the combat to have. Instead I wanted to borrow from a system in a game called Burning Wheel. Burning Wheel’s combat system does not use a grid, and instead uses an abstract system of “closeness”. Combatants are either within grabbing distance, arms length apart, a step beyond that, or really far away. How close you wanted to be depended on your weapon and your fighting style, and instead of having the players move around some sort of grid, the only thing that mattered was where they were in relation to one another. There was a special round where the players would compete to see who got the better position, and that person would get to choose how far apart the battle was for that round.

Something similar seemed like a good fit for this system. Instead of having one metric for position, I decided on having two however. Because one of the combatants is riding a large, heavy machine, I decided that facing was going to be important. In face to face battle, the Mech combatant would be stronger and faster, but the Mage would be much more able to maneuver, and so having both a distance, and a facing component to the combat seemed like a good fit. Distance would be close, medium, and far. Facing would be Face to Face, Off Line, or Behind, with both players potentially having the option of getting behind the other, but it being largely the Mage who is shooting for that, while the Mech is shooting for Face to Face. I decided that the Mage would be better at controlling the facing, while the Mech character is better at controlling the distance, in order to represent the relative differences in speed vs maneuverability. Both players had a chance to control both of these, their characters just having certain advantages in their respective areas. Both players would have an array of choices at how they were trying to maneuver, and their would be the card clash that would determine facing and position for the start of a round.

Another thing that I think would make the system very tense, and keep the combat from ever really getting too one sides was making the characters all only have one hit point. The Mech character maybe has the chance to have part of their machine fall apart to save them in some circumstance, but generally, if either player manages to land a clean hit, they take the other guy out. It will obviously have to be hard to land a clean hit with this sort of a situation, but I think it will make the combat really dynamic.

In a system without hitpoints, their generally has to be some resource in order to make sure the players don’t just keep fighting indefinitely. As such, both characters would have a resource that they can expend to take cooler actions, or evade opponents actions. Basically these resources would enable different action types outside the standard set. The thought I had was that the Mech would be steam powered, and it would have up to two steam points. These steam points restore over time passively. They don’t come back very fast, but they do so regardless of what else was happening. In order to make it a bit more exciting, the steam continues to build up even after two points are reached, and if it builds up too high, then the Mech character’s steam engine would explode. On the other hand, the Mage character would have some number of magic charges, currently thinking five. They would use these charges to cast their spells and stuff. In exchange for having a much larger pool of points, recharging the points would require an action, something that takes time and could potentially be interrupted. I am still wavering on how difficult the recharging will be, and stuff, but I think that will largely be up too play-testing.

The other sorta interesting thing I was considering about this would be the idea of initiative. After the initial jockeying for position, players would start out as both being potential aggressors, but most likely one of them will gain the upper hand. When that happens, that player gains the initiative, and the aggressive actions are in their control, as the other player is constantly reacting to the others attacks. This continues until the aggressor succeeds in winning, the defender manages to make a good prediction and does a defensive counter that turns the initiative in their favor, or something happens that disengages both combatants and sorta resets the combat back to the initial position jockeying phase.

That’s the basic gist of what I have thought about so far in terms of combat. I have some tentative stuff written down for hard numbers on some of these abilities, but I am still so deep in the initial concept phase that I don’t think there is much value in posting that. Instead, I want to give a potential example of a combat going down, as a sort of design story, something to work towards.

Mage and Mech face one another down. The Mech player wants to get in close, because they have a plan to use their steam in a sneak attack. The Mage player is nervous, not knowing what the Mech might have up their sleeve. Both players place their position cards face down, then flip them. The Mech had placed the Charge card, that aggressively pushed for a close combat, while giving up any control over facing. The Mage player was expecting this kinda bold move, and wanted nothing of it. They used their Teleport card, and in exchange for one of their mana points, they stay far away. The two cards’ priorities are compared, and the Teleport one is higher because it used a resource. So the distance ends up being set to far, and because neither player cared about facing, it remains at Face to Face, the position it is when the battle starts.

The DM thus describes them both fighting for position, the Mech charging forward, and the Mage almost getting caught before casting a spell and vanishing back across the field. Both characters now have a chance to try and strike. The Mage player wants to try and take a shot at fighting this guy from long range, and readies an electric blast as their action. Meanwhile, in case the Mech player has some kind of trick up their sleeve, they ready their reaction card to teleport them away again. Meanwhile the Mech character has no long ranged attacks. They figure they need to try and get in closer, even if it gives up the initiative, and they also need to be ready for some kinda long ranged attack. They thus ready a charge as their action, and a shield maneuver as their reaction.

They both flip their action cards. The charge maneuver moves the battle one space forward, and thus puts them both into mid range. Meanwhile the lightning bolt would fry the Mech, if it did not use its shield. Because it is using its reaction card, and it is not a super effective reaction, the Mech player loses initiative, but at least they are not dead from lightning.

The DM describes the action, the Mech charging forward, and the Mage standing its ground, firing a blast that slows the advance, forcing the Mech to take cover behind their massive shield. Now that the Mage has initiative, they get to ready an action and a reaction, while the Mech player, on the defensive, only gets to ready a reaction. The Mech player thinks the Mage is likely going to try and teleport behind it, so they ready a spin-counter-attack. They know this counter will have no effect whatsoever if the Mage just decides to blast them with lightning again, and they are toast if that happens, but they want to take the risk in order to try and gain the upper hand again. The Mage meanwhile is worried that the Mech will just keep shielding indefinitely, using up the Mage’s magic charges, so it elects to try and teleport in and strike from behind. It readies a second teleport in case it needs to get the heck out of dodge though. The actions is played, and they Mech player gives a hoot, shouting about “activating my trap card” and turning over the spin-counter-attack. It uses up one steam in order to get a free attack on an opponent who just got behind them. Its a critical counter, and it would win the game for the Mech player if the Mage had not had their own counter. They activate their second teleport, giving up the initiative in order to reset the situation.

The DM narrates the Mage teleporting in, only to find the Mech ready for them, steam twirling the Mech knight around, sword just moments from the Mage’s neck. At the last moment, the Mage teleports away again. So now the situation is that the Mech player has the initiative, and the Mage player only has one magic point left. The Mech player only has one steam point left as well. They are face to face, at mid range, the teleport counter returning the range to mid. Both players consider their next move carefully…

Anyways, that’s how I want the game to feel when its being played, and as we move forward with the game creation, I hope it starts to seem more and more like that.

A Beldum is Born

July 24, 2016

The beldum opened its eye for the first time. It was dark. It could feel something enclosing it. It knew that it was inside an egg. It did not not know how it knew this. Oh… It knew this because it was part of a great collective of beldum and it had been uploaded with that info. It would be receiving all the info a newly born beldum would need over the next several hours. When the information transfer was complete it would then be responsible for breaking out of its egg. Its thoughts turned from this too that as more and more info appeared in its mind, filling the empty space. A few minutes into this process it received the information that allowed it to access this net of information in an interactive way. Information was still pouring in independent of its will, but now it was able to ask specific questions, and communicate with others of its kind.

{Who is in the eggs next to me?}=[YTB3 045B8A9F98831D2 and YTB3 0045B8A9F98831D4]

{My name is YTB3 0045B8A9F98831D3?}=[That is your current designation.]

{YTB3 meaning?}=[Yet to be born beldum]

{N1, N2 = “YTB3 045B8A9F98831D2”, “YTB3 045B8A9F98831D4”}=[N1,N2]

{Message(“Greetings Neighbors! How goes the birthing?”)→(N1,N2)}=[True, True]

[Message Get: “I am well YTB3 045B8A9F98831D3, thanks for asking.” ← N2]

[Message Get: “Have you looked up Organic Life yet? Its crazy. They are made of meat!” ← N1]

{Message(“Not yet. I will begin to research it.”)→ (N1)}=[True]

{What is organic life?}=[Download Start]

The beldum felt a second stream of information begin flowing in aside the original. Information about organic life, about these creatures of carbon began to fill its mind. At first it found the strange creatures repulsive, but continued information made it reconsider. Perhaps they were just different. It seemed that they were reasonably successful at surviving. They were not very durable and they had a strange propensity to forsake logic in pursuit of something called “emotion”, but they were not beldum, they could not be perfect. There seemed to be a lot of different kinds of them at least, and each was probably good at something specific.

[Message Get: “So, what do you think? Horrible or wonderful?” ← N1]

{Message(“A bit of both. They seem diverse. Kinda fragile.” → (N1)}=[True]

[Message Get: “They are fragile, but they don’t freaking care. Look up ‘war’.” ← N1]

{What is war?}=[Download Start]

A third data link started up. A warning message indicated that the speed of the basic life data would be slowed if another connection opened. Data surrounding the concept and idea of war flooded in through this third conduit. Images, videos, writings, raw data, all of it came together to tell a story. This story made no sense to the three minute old beldum.

{What is it good for?}.append(stream3)=[Download Start]

The feed giving the beldum information about war began including information on the reasons behind these conflicts, context on goals and motivations. It started to make more sense, at least sometimes, though many of the goals seemed inane to beldum. Apparently the beldum collective had participated in a few wars throughout history, so it must not be purely an organic thing. Data suggested it was much more frequent among the carbon based life forms however. Three species in particular seemed to have a disproportionate amount of wars. The spearow family was extremely aggressive and territorial. The voltorb family ended up starting a fair number of wars on accident. Meanwhile the prolific species called humans seemed to excel at the activity and were by far the largest participators. Wait. New info. A fourth group similar in scope to the humans existed. It was a meta-species called Grimm.

{Set timer(4000 seconds).ask(“What is a Grimm?”)=[Timer Set]

The beldum made a mental note to learn more about the Grimm in a bit, but focused its attentions now on the humans. They seemed to have no innate talent for warfare, but made up for it with a creativity bordering on madness. They had developed a million methods to destroy, capture, constrain, enslave, remove, evacuate, dissuade, eliminate, or dishearten there enemies, and they seemed to spend a lot of their time practicing with their toys on one another. The humans fascinated the beldum. The war fascinated it. Both were fascinations heavily mixed with a certain feeling of wrongness, of opposition to the moral understanding that was in the process of being uploaded to its mind. Still, almost none of the moral stuff seemed to be boolean in nature, all fuzzy numbers and gradients. The beldum did not know what it would be doing with its life after it got out of the egg in 10,486 seconds, but it knew it wanted to do something with these humans, or at least something to do with these wars.

[Message Get: “Really something isn’t it. These humans are barbarians. They are like a plague.” ← N1]

{Message(“Perhaps. Seem to have some value though. Their creativity is mesmerizing.” → (N1)}=[True]

[Message Get: “Its something. Looking for a human focused job?” ← N1]

{Message(“Either human focused, or combat focused. It all seems so fascinating. Real opportunity for creativity and tactical expression with the highest of all stakes.”) → (N1)} = [True]

[Message Get: “Don’t worry about it. Seems like a rare interest. Probably be easy to get into.” ← N1]

The beldum considered this, and if it had not just digested a few thousand military studies, likely would have taken it with face value. Instead the beldum sent an inquiry to the beldum net.

{Job availability for hatch group(045B8A9F)}.replace(stream2) = [Download Start]

There were 4,294,967,296 different beldum that would be hatching at the same time as it. Jobs in the human sector: 52,388. Jobs in the combat sector: 21,069. Overlap: 9,265. This meant there were a total of 64,192 total jobs that fit its interests. Every beldum was assigned a job upon birth from its egg, almost all of which were permanent positions. This meant beldum had an approximately 0.0015% chance of getting the job it wanted. It was a one in sixty-six thousand shot. Beldum knew that if it wanted a hope of getting one of these jobs it had to set itself apart before it was born, do something to prove it would be a valuable addition to those specific areas. It had 10,322 seconds in which to do that.

{Stream2.queue(“Warfare tactics”, “History of War”, “Beldum Combat”, “Philosophy of Conflict”)} = [Download Start]

{Stream3.queue(“Humanity History”, “Pokemon and Human Interactions”, “Human Biology”, “Communication with Humans”)} = [Download Start]

Beldum briefly considered adding a fourth data stream, or using the first one for research as well, but quickly discarded the idea, as it was almost certain that if it did not hatch at the proper time all of the jobs it wanted would already have been assigned. While data on war and on humans flowed in from data connection two and three, it used its communication channel to begin browsing war and humans based forums, reading current opinions, getting to know the folks who posted on these forums. After a few minutes of lurking, it decided to start posting as well, contributing to the discussion.

{Self.ScreenName = “War Mind”}=[False]

Dang, that was already taken.

{Self.ScreenName = “Humanitarian”}=[False]

{Self.ScreenName = “OneTinSoldier”}=[False]

{Self.ScreenName = “SecondTinSoldier”}=[False]

The beldum kept at it, trying different screen names, knowing that if it posted on any forums with its designation as an unyet born egg, no one would take it seriously. Every name it tried appeared to be taken however, so it started trying for phrase and sentence like names.

{Self.ScreenName = “I Carry A Big Stick”}=[False]

{Self.ScreenName = “Ethics Gradient”}=[False]

{Self.ScreenName = “Tactical Grace”}=[False]

Again and again it tried, and again and again the names were taken. With more than a quintillion beldum already in existence, the pool of unique identifiers was running pretty low. In frustration it just picked a random series of letters and numbers and successfully got a user name. From now until it was born, this beldum would be called H1KLroIhF52NnGdO. H1KLroIhF52NnGdO started posting on the relevant forums, and quickly got responses. Conversation was going fast and well. Everyone was really open to new ideas, fresh takes. Everyone was super friendly and inviting. Uh oh. H1KLroIhF52NnGdO took a look at the time of account creation for all of those in these conversations. They were all less than twenty minutes old. It was having conversations with other beldum hoping to get an advantage, not with anyone out in the field. All the ones already born must be filtering the chat by account creation date. This was not going to help at all. Valuable minutes had been wasted. Perhaps a direct appeal to someone who mattered?

{What is the name of the military chief of staff?} = [Data restricted]

{What is the name of the human department head?} = [Data restricted]

The beldum tried a hundred more titles and names it could think to ask, but it appeared that the yet to be born were locked out of a lot of the communication channels. It wracked its brain for some way to get an edge. What was some way it could prove itself? Of course.

{Download software: Battle Simulator} = [Download Start]

While the beldum waited for the sim to download, it checked in on active users of the software, and discovered it was a bit late to the party. A few hundred million of its peers were using the software already. Much better odds than the four and a half billion total population, but still some stiff odds. Once the download was finished it watched a few sims in order to get a feel for how it worked, then logged in and started battling.

The beldum was pretty good. Most opponents it faced could not match up to the instincts and knowledge routines it had prepared itself with before starting the sim, but it was certainly not the cream of the crop. Good, but not great. It spent a lot of time analyzing its games, and those of its opponents, trying to figure out the reasoning behind the moves and the choices, and it enjoyed this immensely, but it knew its actual success in the games would not be sufficient to get it a sure shot. It was enough to give it a shot, but it wanted more than a shot.

It had learned what it could, and continued to do so, it had tried negotiating, tried proving itself in a simulator, it had even tried convincing some of its peers to vouch for it, which had been mildly successful, but had gotten it mixed up in political stuff really fast, which it decided it did not want to be tangled up in before it was even born. It had not been good enough to clench it with any of these methods. In the middle of this thought, a timer it had set went off.

[Download Started(“What are the Grimm?”)]

Its first instinct was to turn this stream off. It had queued this up in the first few minutes of its life, and it did not have time to be torn away from its goals now with this side information. Then, it considered. The data had suggested the Grimm were at least as warlike as the humans, but there had been little to no info about them in all the bajillion documents it had downloaded on the subject since then. Something was off about this, and it was going to learn what. It let the download override one of its streams, and began to learn about the strange creatures known as Grimm.

They were completely unlike the humans. No creativity on the micro level at all, though it almost seemed like the meta-race as a whole was creative in its speciation. The Grimm were the enemy of all that lived, a mysterious predator race that killed for no discernible reason, not for sustenance, or for territory, or even for any sort of thrill. They just killed. They came down on you in endless waves, uncaring about their own lives, uncaring about plots or plans, motives or schemes. They just killed. The beldum queued up more info on the race, but found it sparse. A few firsthand accounts here and there, but mostly devastated worlds, destroyed ships, or deadly conflict. Defeat meant few survivors and next to no information. Victory gave a little more, but the creatures vanished in death, so little info was gained there either. They were the eternal menace, all throughout history. They were less an agent then a natural phenomena like a black whole or a super nova. They won by acting, they lost doing the exact same thing.

While the beldum had no interest in emulating these creatures, and found their technique infinitely less fascinating than that of the humans, it felt as though the simplicity of their approach was an important lesson. Perhaps if it wanted a chance to live in the world of combat and conflict, it needed to apply those principles right here and now.

The beldum began looking at videos and specifications about the hatcheries that it and its four billion brothers and sisters were located in. It found maps and diagrams, and began to learn about the machines that operated them, and how they worked. It learned about the job process, and how applications were reviewed and accepted. After absorbing all this information, it developed a plan. It found access to tiny worker robots that could be rented out, and maxed out its pre-birth credit by renting one for the next hour and half. It downloaded information on programming, and then wrote a simple script which it uploaded to the bot. Everything ready, the beldum returned to its studies, downloading more about the subject it felt confident it would now be employed in.

Time passed, and the beldum began to get worried as the moment of truth approached. It was just minutes from when the hatching process was supposed to start. It checked on its bot, and found that it was in place, ready to flip the switch as soon as the beldum ordered it to. Beldum watched the seconds count down, until it was within 16 seconds of hatching. It ordered the go, and the little bot cut power to the hatchery unit that the beldum resided in.

The power only flickered off for a moment, but it was enough to activate the emergency power, and because it was within a hexisecond window of hatching time, the emergency power began to accept hatchings immediately. The beldum powered up its thruster and crashed its way out of the egg, rushing towards the far wall where the job queue would be started. The emergency power override gave special permission to begin the job process right away, and the beldum put in its preferences.

{Job Request(Combat Focus, Human Focus, Grimm Focus)}=[Request Pending]

The beldum waited, its mind reeling with its first real sights and sounds since coming out of the egg, even as it watched the other beldum in its pods come out and begin requesting their jobs. It counted down the seconds before the four billion others would jump into the game, hoping beyond hope that its gambit would pay off, and it would get a job before it actually had competition. The Beldum it had designated as N1 gave it a wink, apparently understanding they had come out early and thus got an advantage, quickly logging into the network next to it.

[Job Notification: “Special Agent: Human Contact Division”]

{Self.setStatus(“Hell yeah!”)}=[True]

The beldum was filled with joy, its future bright before it. It had a job, now it just needed a name. It thought long and hard, listening to those around it as they got assignments. It was mostly happiness in its pod because of the extra time it had given its neighbors.

N1 approached the beldum, and spoke out loud, which was the first use of such communication either had experienced.

“Nice job getting us ahead. Did you get the job you wanted? I got Military: Eradication Division.”

“Seems appropriate. I got Special Agent: Human Contact Division.”

“Perhaps we will be working together at some point. Just picked a name. You can call me “Give me an Excuse”.”

“Hope not. Our jobs don’t seem very compatible. We only need you if I screw up, or if we are dealing with Grimm I think. Anyways, I am still working on the name.”

“Let me know when you know. See you around.”

“Maybe.”

Give Me An Excuse departed, floating away towards the exit. The beldum finally decided on a name.

{Self.Name = “All Through with this Niceness and Negotiating Stuff”}

A moment later it received an update on its job status.

[Job Assignment Specialty: Negotiations]

All Through with this Niceness and Negotiating Stuff shook its head and moved out into the world.


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