Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Definition of 'Difficulty' (Dark Souls vs Overwatch)

Greetings friends,

So the past number of months had been most interesting for me. I had played (and completed) my first Dark Souls game, and I'd also played (and had my ass handed to me) Overwatch.


For those interested, it was the latter which got me thinking about this article, and I've dwelled on writing it ever since until now when I knew it was time to finally press PUBLISH.

What struck me at the time, was how different these games treat their representation of difficulty.

The Dark Souls franchise is renowned as being the hardest franchise of games to play. Those who have played the games claim they are the 'hardest' games ever made. I remember on one episode of the popular UK daytime TV show Judge Rinder, they even had a legal case about it, with one person claiming that the original Dark Souls was harder than optioning a good three year degree (note: he wasn't the one doing the degree). Players state repeatedly that the game is never forgiving. You either Git Gud or give up.

Overwatch however is the latest game by Blizzard Entertainment, an online team based PvP shooter. Unlike Dark Souls there are no boss battles, no move scripts to learn, and no mantra about 'just doing a little better every time'. Instead you have something else: other players.
- NB: Yes I know that Dark Souls has PvP invaders, but that is only one part of the game.

When I first started playing Overwatch on launch day, as I stated in a previous post, my ass got handed to me. Everyone else seemed to be elite pro-players, while I sucked balls.

It was an interesting experience, especially after having completed Dark Souls 3 just a few days before.

What I learned was just his the different games handled difficulty:

Dark Souls uses scripting. It has the same enemies in the same locations, who do the same number of moves, the only differences being the order they may do them, however often that order can be dictated by you the player (as I found with the Ancient Wyvern who I killed without running the gauntlet, but instead causing him to follow a movement/fire breath combo that always allowed me to move out of harm). The difficulty is that a lot of these monsters can kill you with one hit, or if they can cause you to run out of stamina or make you stumble, will beat on you without you being able to stop them. The aim of the game is learning how to stop them doing that.

Overwatch, and with it, any other multiplayer PvP game, uses something very different: the almost random nature of other people. Unlike a super hard scripted combat, instead you never know what the opponent is going to do, because just like you they have free will and can change their mind. Plus they can practice, have better frame rate, and better teamwork/synergy.

It's interesting to me, because while you can still learn, it is very different. You can learn what you as a player are capable with certain classes. You can also learn what other players are capable of doing with classes, but you can not learn what they will do and when. It's just not possible.

So what does this really mean?

Is someone who is a master at Overwatch a better player than a master at Dark Souls?

No.

That's just silly.

All they are is a master at their game (assuming in this example the other master is not as good as them in that specific game. If they happen to be a master of both, then frankly they're just a dick. And yes I am jealous).

This got me thinking, are really any games directly comparable? What about tabletop? Or is this tied directly to video games?

Honestly, I would say it applies to them all. You may be a fantastic Warhammer player, but that doesn't mean you'll be good at Infinity. Yes there are certain talents and skills which translate over, but it is not a given.

Neil Gaiman once quoted Gene Wolf about learning to write a novel; "you never learn how to write a novel, you only learn to write the novel you're on". As true as this may be for writing, it also appears to me to be true of gaming, that you can never learn to be a master of gaming, but only the game you are currently playing.


- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

#7FaveGames a thought piece

Greetings friends!

So yesterday I decided to take part in the current event going around on Twitter, the #7FaveGames tag, being sure to include my wonderful wife, and mutual friend in it:



As the day progressed I saw more people take part in this mini trend, and I started noticing a few things.

I decided to do a little research, and clicked the #tag to see what others have chosen. What I found was very interesting.

Firstly, certain games were very popular and common, The Last of Us, and Overwatch being two I noticed the most, the former being to the degree that a notable number even listed that one game 7 times, as if it was the only one worthy of mention.

***

I have been told by a lot of people that I overthink a lot of things, and I am certain that this is one of those times. But I got thinking:
Just what qualifies as a fave game?
I realised that in my head, I had created three categories:

1). 7 Best Games. Games which no matter how old they are, you will still happily play them now. Time has proven to you that they are not a passing fancy.

2). 7 Best Memories of Games. Games which you haven't played in likely ages, but have extremely good memories of.

3). 7 Games You Currently Love. You are really enjoying these games at the moment, and like a childhood summer, you want it to never end.

I realised that I answered as 1). That I looked at games I have played so much, and how many years later their age hasn't done them a disservice. Let me break it down for you:

SNATCHER - A game I played on the Sega CD as a child. I would say I have a lot of nostalgia about this game, but as a personal rule, I dig it out every 3 years and play it through. This is a game which I know I could play it today and would be exactly as I remember. To me it has everything in it, and is probably the best game ever made.

Psychonauts - Another game I play very regularly. It's graphics are cartoony and almost ageless as a result, but it's voice acting and great imagination means I can, and do, regularly replay this game which is roughly 10 years old.

Quake 4 - My go to game. Again we're looking at roughly a decade old release, but whenever I want to play a shooter purely to feel like a Grunt, this is my go to. I probably play this in it's entirety at least once a year.

Life is Strange - This shouldn't fit into my rules. It's too new. Time hasn't proven if it will stand up. However it's emotional impact was so huge, I couldn't not.

DMC - Devil May Cry - Quite literally the greatest action platform game I've played. Again, I replay this semi regularly, and at roughly 3 years old, it's on it's way to proving itself.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - As with DMC, I have played this game over and over, and it always is enjoyable, and at a year older than DMC, it's seriously on its way to proving it's placement.

The Secret World - Been playing this for a good 3+ years as with the recent above games. In time will it continue to be what I would say is currently the best MMO out there? I don't know, but I hope so.

***

Why did I chose to go this route, and not the one that so many others did about the games with the best memories?

The answer is simple. Because memories lie.

We wash over the bad parts, focusing only on the good. Graphics are often crisper and more vivid. Controls are smoother. Gameplay is more fun.

If I had completed this list about 2 years ago, I would have included the Legacy of Kane games in the list. The story was one of my favourites, and I remembered how I loved to play each one from start to finish.
- Then 2 years ago I re-bought them on Steam and tried to replay them all.

Ouch.

The controls were almost unusable by today's standards, the graphics which had once tried to look bright and smooth, we're now dull and blocky. The only saving grace was the quality voice acting.

I always say that you can never go back, and I mostly stand by this. So often going back and playing the older games you have such fond memories of, reveals those memories to be rose-tinted nonsense. Where playing it now makes you realise how much more enjoyable the modern standard is.

But I do not think you 'shouldn't' go back.

Quite the contrary. You shouldn't not play older games out of fear that you will ruin your old memorises. After all, to me, the idea of memories that you can't challenge for fear they won't stand up to scrutiny are pale ones indeed. You need to test and scrutinise them. You have to revisit old games and pit them against new ones.

Some you will find are just as enjoyable now as they were back then, and those are memories that you should hold onto. Others you will find were based on little more than youthful ignorance and pure rose-tinting, and really why hold onto those memories, when you can acknowledge that you enjoyed the game at the time, but know that playing it now is no longer fun.

***

Lastly, the lists about current games being played, yes I'm looking at you Overwatch.

To those who want to include these games from the last 6 months, maybe even 1 year. Sure you may be loving the game now, but what about in another 6 months, 1 year, 6 years, 10 years? Will you still think it is one of the best games? Or will it just be something that you played a lot of for a few months and then dropped, never to play again?

I'm sure some games out currently will fall into the former, but I have a terrible feeling, considering how fickle many of us gamers are, that most will be the latter.

***

I need to also say, before I finish for the day, there are a number of other games that I also wanted to include in my list but just couldn't push them before the other 7.

StarCraft

Prototype

DeadSpace

Mirror's Edge

Oddworld - Stranger's Wrath

World of Warcraft

Aliens: Colonial Marines

System Shock 2

Resident Evil 6

Audiosurf

Hunter: The Reckoning - Redeemer

Aliens vs Predator (2010)

Condemned: Criminal Origins

FEAR 2: Project Origin

Outlast

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Heavy Rain

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Unreal Tournament

Mortal Kombat 3

Portal

Diablo

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Dragon Age: Origins

Mass Effect 2

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2

.hack//INFECTION

Omikron: The Nomad Soul

These are in no particular order, and while I would love to go into further detail I am afraid the list is far too long to do so.

Know only that I think each and every one of these games are fantastic, and already are passing the test of time.

If any of these are games you have yet to play, then I urge you to seek them out and try them.

But sadly I am now out of time. Until next time, stay safe, and be excellent to each other!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Anatomy of a Monster

Greetings friends,

Today I wanted to take a moment to share with you a little bit about my past, who I am, and something that very much helped shape me in being the person I am today.

Now the reason for this post is that I have just finished listening to the audiobook of Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay on Audible.


This is actually my second time around with this book, the first time bring reading it in paperback.

It occurred to me that this book and the TV show adaptation, holds a very special place in my heart, and sharing this with you, the reader, would be a good thing.

I remember as a child, adolescent, and young adult, people often asked me who I found inspirational. Who was my hero. I always answered the same way:
No one. I don't have a hero.
The reason for this was quite simple. I never read, saw, or met anyone who I felt I could properly relate to. Therefore I was unable to find their struggle particularly inspiring.

Then, around the late noughties (say; 2009) I saw the first series of the tv show Dexter, and shortly afterwards read the book.

Within the confines of these 60 minute shows, and pages of a paperback, I found a character who I found inspiring.

I am of course referring to the lead character, Dexter Morgan.

Now, to those in the know, this might seem a little strange. The lead character is a serial killer. A learned psychopath, who goes around killing people. Bad people, yes, but killing people none the less. And of course this is something that civilised society very much frowns on.

So why would I find his character such an inspiration?

Could it be that your Friendly Neighbourhood , Doctor Loxley is also a back alley slasher?

Of course not!

But in this character I saw a little bit of myself. Something that I had never seen or read before.

You see, the reason the lead character does what he does, is down to him trying to satiate the driving force of something inside him. Another side to his personality that he calls The Dark Passenger.

This was something I could relate to very well.

For a very long time, I always knew that there was a part of me which was what society would consider a-typical. As a small child I could not relate to other children. I found it amusing to see them in pain, and when they cried, I was indifferent. It didn't mean anything to me.

For years I used to believe that Empathy was something that didn't exist. I heard people talking about it, and I thought it was all a cosmic joke. That no one felt it, because after all, if I didn't feel it, why would anyone else?

This was my dark passenger, or as I came to see it, my Monster.

It wasn't until my later teens that I began to learn how to fake it. To observe how people acted, to learn what those actions and reactions meant, and to say and do what was considered the 'right' thing in response.

It's why I learned quite soon afterwards that I had a bit of a gift as a therapist. The words coming out of people's mouths were often different, but the inclination, the body language, the tones were often similar, and therefore I was able to access my back catalogue of learned responses and reactions to try and help them.

My motivations were almost always selfish. After all, if I could help people, then they would want me around, and in turn my need to not feel alone would be filled. My Monster became a tools could use to feel better about myself.

Others saw this as altruistic. They thought I was helping them for their sake, so that they would feel better. To my knowledge, very few, if any, knew that my motives were purely selfish, and that they feeling better was just a byproduct of feeding my Monster.

Time went on, and I grew more as a person. I met my wife to be, and found that I was able to genuinely care for another person. Yes the list was now only two. But that is still double what it was.

But I was still very much unhappy with my monster.

I felt that it held me back. It reminded me almost daily that I was not like other people. That certain things they seemed to understand and grasp almost intuitively, seemed completely alien to me. Like someone from another country speaking their foreign language. I acknowledged the words were there, but they didn't mean anything to me.

Then I saw this show, and read this book.

Here was a character who had their own monster. One that they felt the world would be repulsed by if they saw it, so they hid it away. Resigned it to the deepest recesses of their lizard brain, while taking it out to feed when necessarily.

This character, this man, was in a situation I felt relatable.

What more. He didn't seem unhappy by it, or ashamed. He had come to terms with his monster, and had accepted it for what it was.

For someone like me, that was inspirational.

***

Of course, time went on, the TV show reached it's conclusion, and I saw the truth of the situation. While the end of the show seemed out of character, it was written, so it was.

The character I saw as an inspiration was a lie. He claimed one thing, to hold certain values as ultimately important, and necessary to be followed, but the moment he was forced to take responsibility for his actions, to actually openly accept his monster, he couldn't.

In that moment, I saw that I had outgrown this character. That the inspiration he had given me had dwindled and left. That I had become more than he was.

I had learned a lot of things in the years of watching and reading.

Namely that I was not alone. That we all have monsters, they just take different forms. That our monsters do not need to be our weaknesses, but can be our strengths.

I didn't need to be ashamed of my monster, and those around me, an immediate family of three now (including me), and even some people outside my family, namely a couple of very select friends, did not only accept the public me, but also the real me. Monster and all.

That those who did recoil at the idea of my monster, were not scared of my monster. They were scared of their own.

***

So now, if someone was to ask me who I found inspirational, who was my hero. My answer would once again be:
No one. I don't have a hero.
And you know what? I'm ok with that.

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

#AugLivesMatter

Greetings friends,

So I awoke today to some wonderful news, that in preparation for the launch of the new Deus Ex game, Mankind Divided on 23rd August, new concept art has been released.

Now I love the Deus Ex concept art. For every game they have ever done including the less favourable game Invisible War. But this time rather than dealing with Illuminati inspired/references conspiracy theories, Mankind Divided is attempting to explore concepts around citizenship and human rights.


But apparently out of all the art produced, people only care about the Moscow image (above).

Why is this? Because apparently showing a group of protestors holding a banner displaying Augs Lives Matters is insensitive and 'cultural appropriation'.

Reading the claims from critics about how insensitive this is reminds me very much of the TV show South Park, and the sort of backlash it receives. A show which most people are happy to watch and laugh at, however the moment the show turns their mocking finger at a group the audience member belongs to, then suddenly it's insensitive and shouldn't be allowed.

If this art for Mankind Divided causes people to take note, just as with their use of the term Mechanical Apartheid then that is a good thing. That means that the art, theme, game, is doing it's job!

This might sound a little weird, but the way I see it, that is half the point of the science fiction genre. It is supposed to make you the audience look at the world around you and ask questions/challenge ideas. Within SciFi you can explore censorship, discrimination, even genocide, and via the SciFi veil it becomes something that can be done so much safer than actually referencing real life or history.

You see, history has been. What happened happened, we can't change that. But from SciFi we can ask and explore "what if?" (Just look at the excellent to adaptation of The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. dick). But we can also explore the other side. We might view a certain political or military group as abhorrent and inhuman, but their members are not monsters, they are not Dracula or the Wolf Man, they're people just like you and I with their own view points. If you take away the humanity of the group, make them aliens, and their terrible actions are committed on other aliens, then the writers and indeed us, the audience, can explore things from the side of those committing atrocities. We can see their desires and wants, that they too have friends and family members they want to protect, and we can begin to sympathise, or even empathise with these characters (Babylon 5 did this wonderfully with pretty much every character being a shade of grey).

More so, I have always seen SciFi telling more about the time it was written, and less about the time it projects towards. Often the clothing and fashion worn is an exaggeration of the current trends, or a ludicrous (but accepted) projection of what people will wear in X number of years. The themes almost always relating to current affairs, with the occasional amount of whacky-zane thrown in for good measure.

Why is this? Because a good writer, and I wound say that in my experience, there are a tonne of good SciFi writers, as well as creating whole new things, will also pull on their own experiences or their knowledge of the world and history.

So Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, making use of terms such as Mechanical Apartheid and Aug Lives Matter in comparison to real life events, is that 'going too far' As some have put it?

Absolutely not!

Am I a little miffed to see yet another #XLivesMatter? Honestly yes. But I honestly wouldn't be surprised if now #XLivesMatter has become just part of the current cultural zeitgeist, much like how now everything is a SomethingGate. It's just something that I have to come to terms with.

What it is not however, is an example of poor world building, as a few too many people have claimed.

Until next time, stay safe, and be excellent to each other!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Thursday, 28 July 2016

When Game Devs Are Dicks #WeHappyFew

Greetings friends,

Today I have something I want to get off my chest, so please excuse me if this comes across as a bit of a moan/rant post.

I guess I need a bit of catharsis.

So roughly a year ago I took part in a Kickstarter campaign by Compulsion Games for the game We Happy Few:



There were a number of things about this game that I really liked the look of, and so put in my pledge for $30 CAD which as you can see below offered the finished game on PC in June 2016z


There was another pledge that interested me as it would give me access to the Pre-Alpha test, but at double the price I really couldn't justify buying into a pre-alpha


- Remember, by this point First Law: Override was in beta and we were (and still are) giving the ruleset away for free, because getting the game in as good a state as possible before going live is more important.

Well, once the campaign ended, the videos started rolling in from Let's Players, complete with the weekly updates which read more like patch notes. In essence they left me with the feeling that the game Devs were saying:
Look at the awesome game which YOU aren't playing
but of course, by then any choice of buying into the pre-alpha had been missed out on, so for a year I was left being emailed weekly, having videos of others playing a game which I had already given money to, but was unable to join in on the fun.

Then it gets announced that in July this year (now) the game is hitting Steam Early Access.

And I am not happy.




As you can see here from a recent tweet, the game is due to remain in Early Access for another 6-12 months. Which means the finished game will not be received by backers until 7-13 months after the projected date.

Now I know that this is Kickstarter and delays are common, but there is also such a thing as common decency and respect for the consumer.

At no point during the KS campaign did Compulsion Games acknowledge that there even was/is a delay. Instead we were asked to celebrate going into Early Access in July, suggesting that there is only a 1 month delay on the game.

Sorry Compulsion, but that's bullshit. Early Access on Steam is not release. It's another option to buy into beta.

But it looks like I am not the only person who is pissed off by this:



Here we see an @evil_avatar pointing out to Compulsion that they are unhappy with the state of the game. To which Compulsion games replied "Nobody is forcing you to participate in Early Access".

Wow... I mean wow! Did I really just read a reply from a game dev account that was so smothered in passive aggressiveness it nearly drowned? Who are these guys? Seriously!?




This was continued by someone (@_er0th) asking if the person even knew what Early Access was. Their reply they received was Reply-RT'd by Compulsion.

So here we have a reply saying that going into Early Access is nothing about getting extra money, because the $334,753 CAD is all gone, but instead about getting feedback on ambitious gameplay.

To which I called bullshit!


And was told that I was basically wrong or a lier.





For which I pointed out that there the ones who were mistaken or lying.

To date I have yet to recurve a reply from Compulsion games. And I don't expect a reply.

***

Here we are seeing a game development team who in the past year have allowed themselves to surround themselves in an echo chamber, where the feedback they have received has been largely positive, and any negative feedback has been pretty much ignored on the grounds that it's the 'wrong type' of feedback.

Maybe what we are seeing here is a problem with the Kickstarter model. When you are looking at a 12+ month gap between handing over money and receiving product, it's very easy to become disenfranchised with a product or company. And here with a company who has lavished praise on the select few who've been playing for a year, and pretty much just rubbing it in the face of those who have not, I'm not surprised that I've lost faith in the company and don't really care about the game anymore.

Sure I'll give it a play at some point, I paid for it after all (in a non-refundable way, unlike those on Early Access who can get their money back) but I honestly don't care if it's good or not anymore.

For me, this is very much an issue with offering rewards like beta access to select pledge levels. By default it creates in and out groups, the haves vs the have nots. Instead a much better method in my view is to provide alpha/beta access to everyone.

They say that a reputation takes a lifetime to build but only moments to destroy. Providing access to all, and showing that all feedback is acknowledged builds that reputation, but releasing games with issues that were missed (which with more eyes who were willing to test it but unable to) is a sure way to destroy that rep.
- Need I remind you, it wasn't that long ago that people were PAID to be game testers, and yet here is a company asking for people to PAY for the privilege?

I swear, the whole world's gone insane.

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Monday, 25 July 2016

A Vaulted Explanation

Greetings friends,

It's been a while since my last post. If you are curious, blame the awful hot weather.

I wanted today to do two things;
1). Tell you all about something that I did that I a very happy about.

What is this?

Well it's upload First Law: Override up to WargameVault.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, WargameVault is a wonderful resource site. They offer rule sets, game aids, paper dolls, and paper craft terrain - Basically if it's wargame related and printable, it's on WargameVault!

2). The next thing I wanted to do was explain why I did this compared to the present local hosting on firstlawoverride.com.

Well there are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is flexibility. One thing that I want with Override is to make sure the flexibility remains paramount. Until we are ready for hardcopy publishing, and I'm not going to lie - that is quite some time away, I want to keep this as available to people as possible.

So flexibility and availability.

There are a couple of things that needs to be present for this:
Free! The game while it is in open beta needs to be free.
Available to download. For that we need minimal downtime. While the domain firstlawoverride.com is paid for, the actual hosting itself is free from Wordpress. Therefore it is low on the priority list for remaining up and active.

Hosting on WargameVault answers both of these requirements, with an added bonus.

WargameVault doesn't actually offer 'free to purchase' products. Instead they have 'pay what you want' with a recommended price.

If you check out our page (here's the link again in case you missed it) you will see that you can 'buy' this product for free, but it also allows you to pay money if you want, and I would be pretty stupid to not accept money if someone really wanted to hand it over.

- UPDATES!
Yes, another major issue with getting the game out there is people knowing when there are updates to the rule sets. As it stands, it is likely possible that someone might hear about the game, go to the .com, download the rules, give them a read and never look again.

Whenever I update the downloadable ruleset, I want people to know about these updates. We are changing the rules in ways which may not appear very impactful at the moment, a tweak here or there, but these minor changes are being tallied up and will be put out in a singular update. When this hits, I want people to know about it. As it stands that's not so easy.

With WargameVault they can receive updates on products they have purchased, so assuming they are opted in for such updates, they will see that an uodated version of the rules is available. When combined with social media, this is looking promising.

What is more, there is an option to send an email to everyone who has purchased a copy of the game! Yet another method of contact available!

Oh and lastly, printed editions! That's right, everything on WargameVault, you can pay an amount to get printed copies! Which means people will be able to do the same (should they wish) with Override!

I hold this is of interest to you, and so until next time, stay safe and be excellent to each other!

- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley

Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Black Sheep: A First Law: Override Short Story - Part 2

It wasn't long after his visit to the facility nurse that Bradley's shift was called to an end. After a quick change of clothes into his usual faded grey tshirt and mudded denim jeans, Bradley quickly left the facility and made his way across the open lobby, past the acrylic planted palm trees, and through the towering automatic doors, out into the dust filled air of Anchorage Falls. Ahead the city scape glowed with a neon touch. It was only six in the evening, and by all intents and purposes it should have been daylight, however a thick industrial smog clung above the city, leaving it's inhabitants sprawling in an almost day-time twilight.

As was normal, the street lamps were on full power. It seemed to Bradley that these lights were always on, after all, the city itself never slept, there was always a factory somewhere which required a continuous use of staffing, which in turn meant that the streets were never empty of one stream or another of travelling commuters requiring their own safety-standard level of illumination. Bradley stopped outside the Foundation's doors and fumbled with his jean pockets before pulling out a small, all-white, plasti-card box. Flipping back the magnetised lid Bradley popped out a small three inch cigarette, placed it between his lips and with his spare hand withdrew a lighter and sparked the end.

For a moment Bradley stood there, the lit end of the cigarette producing a faint smoke that wafted towards the still open doors to the Foundation factory. The doors closed suddenly, a bright red warning appearing on the glass panelling, informing Bradley that smoking was prohibited inside all Foundation buildings, and would be subject to an undisclosed fine. Bradley sucked hard on the cigarette causing it to burn quickly towards the purifying filter at it's end. In recent decades the design of these and similar drug-based dispensers had been drastically modified, certain political bodies were always trying to eradicate the production and consumption of such items, but no matter what happened, products such as nicotine based cigarettes, and other drug crazes such as the O-Cloud, an inhaler based device that forced a shot of modified Oxygen straight into your lungs, giving the user an instant, if not short lived high, was always profitable, and what was profitable was always popular.

Bradley himself didn't care much for cigarettes, but they were the cheapest alternative available to him, and one of his co-workers had once offered him one. After taking it he found that his other co-workers were much more agreeable to him, as if the mere presence of such a drug based tool proved to them that Bradley was not in fact a pariah, but someone who was just like them. It was because of this reason alone that Bradley had continued to spend what little disposable income he received on his chosen brand of cigarette. It was not the nicotine that he craved, but the feeling of acceptance that he felt from his co-workers.

Located in front of the Foundation's building front entrance was the employee parking lot. A barren stretch of immaculately maintained tarmac and concrete which at the current time was largely unused. Dotted at eight foot intervals sprouted from the solid black a single street lamp, each lamp cast from it a small ring of light which appeared to illuminated the dust that spiralled through the city more than anything else. After roughly fifteen minutes of brisk walking, Bradley had found himself in front of his housing block, number 91. The Foundation owned hundreds of these blocks located across the city. Bradley had always considered himself lucky that his was so close and conveniently located to his factory of work. The block itself looked like little more than a towering multi-storey dark grey concrete cube. Each cube consisted of eight by eight apartments, however it was only the top floor set of apartments which housed windows, and these Bradley knew, were reserved for the higher management of the Foundation.

Bradley's apartment was based on the third floor of the housing block, of course there was no lift other than the one purposefully designed to go between the ground floor and the eighth, so Bradley often wondered weather the ground floor apartments were more expensive than the higher ones as a result. On his floor Bradley stepped lightly past his neighbouring doors. He knew them all well, Mrs Firtrum who owned the sky blue door painted to look like a clear sky, the Rogtum family who's door was reinforced plasteel, even Mr Koreg, the Kratel who lived in 304, now covered in bright yellow and black police tape following his unfortunate death just two nights before. Bradley's door however was the standard issue dark grey. For a reason he couldn't fully understand, there had never seemed like a good enough reason to paint it, or replace it with a better model. After all, Bradley only ever saw his door when he was entering and exiting his apartment, it seemed almost redundant to spend time and money on something that was frankly a finishing return in regards to pleasure and happiness.

The inside of Bradley's apartment was no less basic. All of the original utensils and decorations were still in place, including the empty photo frames which housed holo-displays which read "Your Photo Here" and "15 prints! C6.99 only!" Bradley had thought once about decorating, but he felt content with the apartment was it was, the only people he thought would be interested in him decorating would be guests, and those were people that never visited him.

It was a strange sensation returning home every day for Bradley. He would look around his apartment, see the supplied furniture that was barely used, take stock of his cupboard space filled with rations for one, and then dismiss any notion he had of loneliness. He had heard others including the Foundation nurse talking about it to him, but it was not something he could truly express. Bradley knew that he longed for social interaction, to be around others, to help them and support them, but he did not feel what others described as lonely.

With a purposeful stride, Bradley approached his Mantic-Suite, a purposeful built desk and chair that he would recline in every evening and allow the digital world, filled with others, some much like him, but with many more almost as alien to him as he is to a Hydan or Kratel, to surround and envelope him. This suite was one of the few pleasures that Bradley indulged in, it's surface a glossy black with red trim. Normally these suites are built out of a variety of reinforced vacuum formed plastic, but this was not like the ones you could pick up from your local deck shop, no Bradley's suite was gifted to him by an old friend of his, one of the Foundation's Mechanical Designers. Sculpted out of solid wood, a commodity rarely used on Honos, it alone was worth more than his entire apartment, possibly the entire block of apartments. A few months after being gifted the suite, Bradley's designer friend had passed away from what Bradley had always been told was a form of aggressive cancer. Bradley never believed that story, he had known his friend better than most, and he was very much attuned to the health of those close to him, he would have known if his friend was unwell.

Bradley pushed the thoughts of his friend from his mind, they only served to depress him, and that was not an emotion he wished to feel at that point. Bradley reached for his suite's jack, a long cable which resulted in what looked like a multi-part phono-cable. He held the cable tight in his hand before closing his eyes, reaching behind his left ear and slid the cable gently into his neural interface. The cable inserted with a complete lack of friction, it glided into the small socket with as much resistance as a baby's thumb entering it's mouth, and for a brief moment Bradley felt nothing, no connection between him and his suite, as if he was as disconnected from Mantic Space as he was from his coworkers that he tried so hard to understand.

Reaching across the suite's smooth surface, Bradley fumbled with it's holo-commands before sliding his right index finger across an illuminated symbol, a circle with a line protruding from it's base, the universal symbol for Jacking In. In an instant Bradley felt a rush of excitement and pleasure, complete with an underpinning of fear, almost terror, as his mind began to merge with the Mantic Suite, and with it Mantic Space itself. He felt the chair he perched in give way, almost disintegrate into the very background of his own existence. In that moment, Bradley didn't know if his chair, his suite, even his own apartment, still existed. He was light itself, pouring through the veins and arteries of the Outer Fringe, he saw Honos from orbit, it's dark blue colouring reminding him of clouds before a rain storm. Ahead he saw Virtos, the moon that orbited Honos, on it's surface he observed small mechanical shapes as they busied the self collecting materials and minerals to build something that he couldn't even begin to comprehend. Moving further Bradley saw Krata Prime, he could feel it's populace, the rhythmic beat of it's people, and the firey temper that scorched what little hope for peace they retained. Further afield a he could make out the crystal spires of the Bastion and it's Hydan people within. All of this Bradley was a part of, he could feel it within his being and he joined with it all before pushing further, past the presence of the physical and it's limited Mantic interpretation, past the interfaces and heads up displays and deeper into actual Mantic Space itself. For the briefest of moments, Bradley felt like he was home.


- Your friendly neighbourhood Doctor Loxley