Artificial Intelligence in Muv-Luv

I feel this post needs some prefacing. The topic of artificial intelligence is well discussed across all media in all possible forms. The subject’s rather dry if you want to get technical with it, rather than just touch the surface with throwaway philosophical concepts. As a topic it’s part mathematics and part economics, as AI requires both strong scientific and engineering to succeed, but these two require running budgets and political decisions to be feasible. There has been a few AI winters, where the interest had become extremely low due to lack of progress. In truth, we have multiple functioning AI in our current era, ranging from dedicated chess computers to whatever Google’s cooking up. The AI science fiction often employs and what most people seem to regard as the end-product of AI is a machine intelligence superior to human, a super intelligence. That might be one world, but I’d rather not have the spellcheck to shit on me every time I type it. AI research is still ongoing, though it would seem that most prominent research is directed at tool AI rather than general intelligence. It is hard to predict when superhuman intelligence will come to existence, but depending in what form it’ll be in, it might be the last invention mankind needs to make for obvious reasons.

This post will concentrate on discussing three different AI in Muv-Luv franchise, all three which are distinctly separate from each other. There are more in the background we’re never told about, but clearly exist. I will also go the unconventional route and disregard some of the depictions in the narrative in favour of larger discussion, and touch on this wherever relevant, e.g. how TSF AI autopilot should be more autodrone-like rather than weak AI autopilot it has. To spoil some of the latter discussion, how AI is treated in the setting is rather generic and follows SF conventions very closely to the point of not really adding anything new to it. At the same time, how AI is presented in BETAverse setting, a term I use for the world that Unlimited, Alternative and most of the spin-off take place in, is rather unconvincing and even unrealistic on closer look, even when you take into account that the main weapon used again the BETA are giant robots piloted by people in high-tech latex suits. I’m no professional in Artificial Intelligence or the like, so consider this post as musings of a fan.

This post also assumed that you are at least familiar with the overall concepts and world of Muv-Luv, as I will not offer any expanding explanations on topics like Moorcock-Lechte Drive. Sources used for this post are the VNs themselves, as well as The Codex, hence Superordinate replacing the nomenclature for Superior.

 

Tactical Surface Fighter learning computer, a rudimentary seed AI?

A problem with fiction and AI is that it has coloured the whole concept. The aforementioned chess computer is perfect example of something that was thought to be incredibly hard to attain, simply because it was thought that beating a chess master required to have some sort of nebulous part of humanity with it. When Deep Blue, the successor of Deep Thought chess-computer, beat the chess master Garry Kasparov in 1997, it was deemed a pinnacle of AI, but relatively soon after Deep Blue was considered only a sophisticated piece of hardware dedicated on one task only. It would seem that once intended AI functions as originally intended, the goalpost moves automatically and previous breakthroughs are merely results of clever programming. Kasparov’s loss at the hands of Deep Blue has been downplayed for years, citing Kasparov having unsightly bad play on his part or generally downplaying the value of chess as a game as a measure of human intelligence, something that had been culturally significant part across the globe for at least few centuries already. The same of course can be attributed to the Chinese game of Go, where Google’s AlphaGo beat Lee Sedol, the 18-time world champion, in 2016. Deep Blue was, and still is, a rather weak artificial intelligence, intended for a single task. We’ve yet to achieve any level of general or super intelligence to compare to. However, it would appear that even weak artificial intelligence bests mankind at our own games.

The AI in TSFs is a sort of learning computer, a tool approached weak AI that’s intended to both assist the pilot as well as take take control whenever necessary. Just like Deep Blue, it is not a general intelligence capable of making aware decisions. It is an input/output AI through and though. Pilots are required to train and drill movements and patters to a memory unit within the Fortified Pilot Suit, which this pilot data can be transfers from TSF to TSF with the pilot. This would lead the AI to react to events and situations as indicated by the data, seemingly allowing the TSF to predict the pilot’s actions based on the thought interface based on the changes in the pilots thought pattern and muscle voltage. However, by default this would lead into each pilot data being usable only for certain TSFs with comparable performance and weapon layouts. and mixing data from e.g. F-4 to Phantom to F-16 Fighting Falcon should produce incompatibilities. This would mean the pilots would have to drill new pilot data in the simulators, or at least refine existing pilot data, for newer generation machines rather than directly jumping into them. The pilot data seems to be gathered relatively fast due to the thought control interface the TSFs utilise for faster man-machine interface. It should also be noted that TSF itself accumulates pilot data, meaning a new pilot needs to override the machine’s existing patterns with his own, or is newly rolled out, the pilot will have hard time piloting the TSF due to the AI expecting different input. This canon system is somewhat backwards, as it would make more sense for TSFs have a standard base AI, to which pilot data is applied to as the pilot enters the TSF. This would prevent pilots being tied down to one TSF for effective operation.

In-universe, a TSF at autopilot will have less reaction time and is weaker at close combat manoeuvres than human pilots. This seems to be a schizophrenic hardware limitation. Considering the pilot data is created to assist the pilots in their actions at any given time, from walking to close-quarter combat, the AI of the TSF is required to react to a threat faster than the human pilot in order to assist. If TSF already has the ability to avoid Laser Class’ shots faster than the pilot, then the narrative is faulty at some point. Let us assume that that the AI in the TSF requires input both from the perceived threat and the pilot in order to act, meaning that the pilot data would make the TSF’s actions smoother during the actions themselves. The pilot data then would serve to smooth out TSF motions, but this is largely countered by the fact that TSF base AI requires positional resets and can not accept overlapping commands to for a chain of actions.

It would not be a stretch to assume that despite being able to assist the pilot in some manner through pilot data, it would seem apparent that the TSF’s computational centre is not fast enough to actually use the the data by itself, hence why its autopilot functions are extremely lacking. Despite being able to perceive threats and assist the pilot, whatever CPU equivalent it has seems to be incapable of reacting and making proper decisions based on the taught data. Considering modern TSFs are OBL (Operation By Light) the input the TSF AI gains is effectively immediate. Thus, the bottleneck of the system has to be the CPU, and this is something XM3 can’t affect, meaning XM3’s most notable element isn’t that it uses Shirogane Takeru’s pilot data as its basis or allows chaining inputs, but that it has been optimised to the point of the CPU having enough time to make a decision based on the situation rather than dedicating the pilot to a manoeuvre. This is also why all XM3 equipped TSFs have revamped computing hardware, running parallel-computing computers in order to allow XM3 to function at all. However, if we assume that the CPU bottleneck was the reason why TSF autopilot had lower response time than pilot, the new parallel-computing hardware should also increase the old OS’ functions to a very large degree, allowing autopilot to use pilot data for far faster action. The main core difference between thus ends up being not just the smoother and more action-reinforcing AI, but the sheer hardware advantage parallel-computing has over the old hardware.

Assuming that with the advent of further hardware innovations other than parallel-computing, it should be relatively straightforward to create a drone-like TSF, where its functions are based on existing pilot data and environmental input. Considering the BETA on Earth are stuck on simple action patterns, even after then Alternative‘s events changed them to a degree, it should not be out of question to have these learning computers to learn directly on the field and choose the most proper output in a given situation. This learning would be extremely fast, as XM3 shares data across all the units, meaning all TSFs would share the end results of both successful and failed manoeuvres. This sort of dynamic learning would easily lead into autopilot TSFs easily matching, and then overcoming both their human and BETA opponents. With hundreds of hours logged into pilot data files, a TSF could in principle adopt the pilots manoeuvres and use that as the core base library, be it against BETA or humans. This might end up making the TSFs relatively predictable at first, but as data accumulates, the seed AI should learn to variate or even faint against human opponents.

The core function of TSF OS is effectively that of a seed AI that is being taught how to move and function as dictated by intention as a weak artificial intelligence tool, which in-universe seemed to have hit a stop-gap caused by computational technology hitting a snag. However, pretty much everything else around it is ready for the step to AI driven TSFs, as input/output technology is clearly miles ahead. Artificial muscles and fiber-optics allow at least near light-speed input from environment to be received, but decisions and sending commands back seems to be the issue. This is not the case with artificial limbs in their current iteration. Suzumiya Haruka had some troubles with her pair of limbs, whereas the 00 Unit full-body prosthetic had no obvious problems acting and moving like a natural human being.

 

Whole Brain Emulation, 00 Unit and super intelligence

Whole Brain Emulation is how the initial 00 Unit is gained its intelligence. The concept is solid; scan a brain from a given moment and use machine to replicate brain’s functions on some level to gain general intelligence. The level the brain must be replicated in order to have it properly function is not known, though in principle it should be enough to replicate the general function of the synapses rather than emulate the brain below cellular level. The advantage of successfully emulating brain functions is that we don’t exactly need to know the deeper functions as long as the brain’s state can be successfully emulated. As long as the emulation is low-level enough, the emulated synapses and other functions should take over by themselves. The hardware doesn’t have a control over them.

Another benefit in this is that the emulated intelligence can be tweaked to function faster, e.g. make the synapses shoot faster. As such, accurate emulation is not the intended end result if the end result is super intelligence, but whole brain emulation can be the first step towards to it. Emulated brains with tweaked functions would be able to think faster and more efficiently than normal brains as well as able to absorb far more information for further use. It is clear that the emulated brain within 00 Unit is not vanilla variety, but has hardware modifications applied. These include a level of ESP and general control over machinery either via ESP or unknown means. Furthermore, 00 Unit’s control and calculation abilities have greatly been boosted over her source brain abilities as per the intended usage as a communicator between the BETA and humanity. As such the Whole Brain Emulation we see in Muv-Luv Alternative and in the assumed future counts as super intelligence. Needless to say, 00 Unit is strong intelligence to TSF’s weak intelligence.

The emulation hardware the 00 Unit has is far superior than what TSFs use for their OS and functions, as if they were similar, it’d mean 00 Unit’s brain emulation would be pathetically slow. This of course is solved by having the solution brought from EXTRAverse, by having fifteen billion semi-conductors working in parallel to create an artificial brain build of material able to super conduct as room temperature called Grey Nine. This artificial brain is effectively a quantum computer in itself, and is able to quantum conduct. Effectively, it is a cross-dimensional quantum computer able to link itself to other worlds where 00 Units exists, effectively creating a pan-dimensional computing network. This is hilariously over the top in terms of processing power and science magic, well within the reach of accurately emulating every and all functions of a brain even at atomic level. The rest of the emulation, in order to cause disassociation with the emulated brain, is the body. 00 Unit is relatively traditional SF cyborg body, emulating all surface functions of a human, from breathing to function of sexual organs. Birth is apparently impossible, but with medical technology being this far, artificial wombs would be in the range of possibility. The egg might need to be donated elsewhere and inserted within the womb either through traditional means or already fertilised. The donor may be some other person, or perhaps the eggs have been harvested and frozen prior brain scanning.

The technology of brain scanning in Muv-Luv is destructive. The principle is that a brain is harvested at some point, probably frozen to some extent and then cut into extremely thin parts slices. These slices are dyed properly to map out each and every cell and their position, which in itself is an incredibly daunting task that required relatively advanced medical and analytical technology to replica in a virtual environment. It is probable that the same hardware that emulates the brain running 00 Unit was also necessary to even begin with the task of analysing the brain and its state. Considering we have the technology that are superior to our own eyes and ears, it would not be impossible to assume that perfect sight and hearing are a package deal here. It would also be completely possible to add strength and speed to the body, but the difference between the emulation’s original body and the artificial one would be more pronounced. Seeing that the emulation is perfect, as in it functions as the driving force rather than as a framework further software is run through, the emulated personality would have a relatively difficult period to accustom to their superhuman body compared if the cybernetic body would be human-like. Further upgrades of course can apply further post-human additions, from multiple arms to completely inhuman body.

Whole Brain Scanning and its successful application in perfect personality replication opens some hard questions. If the personality emulation is perfect, and there is no dissonance between the human and artificial body, can be say that the 00 Unit is simply a machine continuation of the brain donor? After all, the experiences of the donor continue directly where the brain’s functions were stopped. Booting up for the first time might be a similar experience to waking up from a sleep. This can be contrasted to Star Trek‘s teleportation dilemma, which asks if the person who comes out from the porter is the same person who entered it, as Trek‘s technology requires destruction of the original particles in order to record them, and then an assembly of this data at the other end. Effectively, the person needs to die in order to be teleported. Few times in the show’s history old data has been used to reconstruct previous states a ship member had been to reverse some ailments. Additionally, the transporter can remove or add elements from the data. It would not hard to assume that tweaking the data it would be possible to further modify the pattern. Consider also that about every seven years a human has renewed their cell structure, effectively replacing all the old there was. This sort of idea of at what point a ship is a new ship, if all of its parts are replaced one by one in time. At some point, nothing of the old ship exists any more.

In-universe, there are two takes. Kouzuki Yuuko having no connection to the brain donor largely treats the 00 Unit as an intended machine, despite 00 Unit having its own agency and persona. Shirogane Takeru on the other hand takes the approach that as long as the memories and personality are Kagami Sumika’s, the 00 Unit and her are one and the same. The continuation of the personality, the awareness and consciousness, is what defines her as over the fact that she is artificial. It would also seem impossible to replicate Kagami Sumika’s brain pattern to a new body. Despite the fact that her body functions on extraterrestrial G-elements, it should be possible to record her brain pattern off from her body and upload it to a new body. However, the fiction seems to indicate that this is not possible, either due to lack of technology like having multiple hardware builds to house further 00 Units, or that the scanning and pattern upload procedures are simultaneous, effectively hard coding the pattern to the hardware. We can then assume that tampering of the hardware could lead into large damage or total shutdown, or that 00 Unit’s body works similar to some arcade hardware that require constant power to be fed in order to keep the data in memory. We can also assume that the brain emulation is completely dependent on the artificial brain itself, and would require another where to record the pattern to. It might be that in the end there were not enough resources to create another artificial brain at that point in time. All this seems to be driven by the narrative’s need to have drama over that practicality of whole brain emulation.

Considering the momentary existence of the 00 Unit, Japan was the only nation in the world with super intelligence, meaning their edge over other nation in terms of sheer computational power was unmatched. In-fiction, the 00 Unit was capable enough to fool sensory readings of large amount of TSFs all the while controlling the Moorcock-Lechte Drive and its Rutherford Field. If 00 Unit was to used for intelligence gathering from neighbouring nations, or nations with stranglehold on world economics like the US, Japan would have decisive strategical advantage. Instead, 00 Unit was used to spy and map out BETA structures, though for unknown reasons this spy connecting via a BETA Reactor, a Brain Class, was more or less bidirectional.

 

00 Unit waypoint to TSF machine intelligence?

As mentioned, even if normal human mind can’t create general machine intelligence, Whole Brain Emulated AI would easily have access to the necessary power to solve the equations. In Muv-Luv, 00 Unit’s extremely efficient quantum network would be able to create the necessary theories and solution in order to create general machine intelligence. This could be then applied to each sector that relies on AI support, such as TSFs. While I’ve painted a picture that even in-fiction TSF driven by tool super intelligence is not far, similar stories have been told in our real world. Since the 1940’s the advent of AI has been expected to take place within the next two decades, but it has been moved forwards with each win and failure, as the AI goalpost is being moved each time a successful weak AI has been implemented. Such is the case of Deep Blue.

TSF super intelligence would not need to be general AI. Quite the opposite, despite being super intelligence, it could be created to lack agency of its own. The solution to create new 00 Units exists and is being taken advantage of by 2040’s, meaning that general machine intelligence should be a thing to some extent. If we take this into account, it would be possible to downgrade the artificial brains to only emulate standard human brains without the quantum connection and install these as TSF’s on-board computers. This of course means you’d be giving a giant robot access to its own agency, which might end up badly. To take this even further, perhaps with enough materials and scanned brains it would be possible to excise cockpits as such from TSFs altogether and simply have pilots move have their conscious temporarily moved into the TSF shell. This would be a temporary upload, which would then upload itself back to the pilot body when TSF returns to its hangar. Death of a pilot would only mean that an iteration that was uploaded to the TSF would cease to exist, whilst the originator of that thought pattern would still be safe and could be used for further action. With XM3 sharing data across the TSFs, further developments might even be able to return the uploaded pattern back to the pilot’s body before destruction due to the sheer speed fiber optics allow.

This of course raises numerous ethical and existential questions about treatment of humanity and how we define what is to be human or alive. Though who knows, maybe F-47 Ishkur has some sort of on-board AI assisting the pilot.

The described AI TSF exists within the setting, though in somewhat different from and function. In MLA Total Eclipse, there exists a device that has a shape like a rounded coffin, which houses a live esper. When activated, a red aura emanates from inside of it, and engulfs the TSF in a similar aura. This red aura seems to denote malicious presence, as opposed to the blue aura other espers can envelope TSFs with. This aura is called the Nastroyka Effect, and its overall brightness and effect is linked to the esper’s Prafka, an effect which induces esper with a state that increases their ability to pilot. The П3 Plan, fully titled as Polnoye Zatmeniye Plan or Total Eclipse Plan, aimed to create TSFs driven by these esper pods for more efficient operations. By triggering the Prafka on these pods, each TSF equipped with them would have superior operational efficiency over other TSFs. A human pilot was still necessary to be present for command and control over the overall actions.

Because the esper pods would control the TSF via their psychic linkage, they could be counted as AI driven by biological compuers, the espers themselves. However, whether or not we should count living humans appropriated for such task as AI is an open question. However, it could also be possible that these espers were modified to function only in this manner via brainwashing or other memory alteration techniques, and the rest of their humanity was retarded to non-existence. This would mean they would not function in any other form. Considering the Soviet Union doesn’t think espers as nothing else but dolls to be used and discarded when their usefulness end, it would sound apt they’d remove all the “unnecessary” elements from their autopilots. The ethics of this plan are highly dubious, as birthing and raising humans to function as nothing else but biological AI effectively does seem to break numerous human rights.

 

Biological super intelligence

The fact that BETA are artificial beings mean their intelligence is also artificial, engineered by their creators to function in intended ways. Due to their alien origin, assuming anything on how BETA AI works can only be surmised from their actions. All the smaller strains, if not all other strains outside the Heavy Brain Class that sits at the core of Original Hive, seem to function on tool general intelligence. No other strain exhibits creative thinking or change in behaviour patterns despite few decades of warring. They are to serve a role in a larger function, and their behaviour is set up by the Superordinate a.k.a the Heavy Brain Class. Considering BETA tactics had no reason the change after the initial aerial barrages up until the first unknown contact with the 00 Unit via a Reactor a.k.a Brain Class. The reason for this is rather obvious, as BETA on Earth are resource collectors, recycling all materials they need for production. They have AI that has agency. It is assumed these refined materials are send to the BETA creator’s home world.

The fact that only Heavy Brain Class BETA can modify the AI of any other BETA, meaning change their original intended function like using the Laser Class as anti-air weaponry, the lower tier BETA follow very strict AI pattern that does not allow them to veer off course. While on the surface this code seems to be relatively simple and strict, BETA have exhibited large range of actions to achieve their goals, like a Tank Class BETA jumping in the air to land on a tank rather than the usual swarming. This sort of leeway allows the BETA to have dynamic actions on the battlefield in their point of view, while in comparison to human battle doctrines they have essentially no deviation. New BETA can only be designed at the Original Hive or in a Hive where a Heavy Brain Class exists, meaning there is a strict and archaic hierarchy within the BETA command structure. The Super Heavy Laser Class seen towards the end of Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse is the most prominent example of Heavy Brain Class creating new Class to fight an opponent, though Soldier Class strain is most likely Earth-exclusive due to its resemblance to the human form.

Considering all this, the BETA are effectively super intelligence side in the war on Earth against them. The sheer raw computational power and ability to create new BETA strains to counter human tactics is even more significant than just their larger numbers. With enough input, the Superordinate would be capable of producing a single strain that would be end of mankind, with or without relative strategies. Of course, because BETA don’t have a tactic, they aren’t war machines after all, such devices would only be utilised at extreme situations. If the Superordinate would assess mankind a life form, and accept that it was with only one side surviving, it would most likely alter its largely inert behaviour and become an active participant.

Calling BETA biological machines would not be all that incorrect, considering the Superordinate requests Shirogane Takeru to reactivate then torso-shredded Tamase Miki. Machines can be re-activated even after some damage, something BETA seem to consider themselves capable of doing, hence they consider themselves as non-lifeforms. This definition carries to humans, as revealed by a psychic contact during Alternative 3 procedures, and can be assumed to extend to all other lifeforms based on carbon. This naturally means that the BETA aren’t exactly hostile from their point of view, but rather carrying out pre-ordered function to gather materials. They are effectively as much as a machine to their creators as cars and trucks are to us.

Ultimately, the fight between humanity and the BETA is effectively a story of humanity fighting AI. Similar how TSFs have a weak tool AI, so have the smaller strains. Similarly, 00 Unit being the humanoid quantum computer in silicon the Superordinate is a biological quantum computer, which probably explains why it has to sit atop a mushroom shaped reactor. However, for all intents and purposes, the BETA AI is somewhat humanised, for the lack of better word. While it seems alien and first, the fact that the whole functions similar to archaic computers. Even with human made general AI, not to mention super intelligence, there should be little reason to assume that it would function similar to human patterns or restricts itself to hardware routes, especially if it has any capabilities of self-enhancement. It is highly possible that the Heavy Brain Class is able to do this, as it was able to comprehend human speech and mind at staggering speed. Despite this, its innate programming may not have allowed it to expand further, unless necessary input was presented. The probability of a human being able to do this are largely nil.


 

The AI elements in Muv-Luv should be considered as standard SF fare. It is not the main focus or the point of the franchise. Yes, the BETA are effectively AI and cyborgs and what are successors of 00 Unit will appear later in the franchise, if the roadmap indicated by Exogularity Volume 1 is anything to go by. There probably won’t be any sort of fully AI driven TSFs despite the path now being completely open for them, though the BETA AI will probably be touched to some extent depending whether or not the Heartless One is human or BETA agent. While AI is more or less an afterthought, a sidestepped issue in all of the current stories released thus far, the current setup does allow the staff discuss the philosophy and concepts of Artificial Intelligence down the line, especially when the intention is to showcase mankind in a state where it is natural, posthuman and transhuman at the same time.

Music of the Month; Queen in the Dark

Well, it’s that time of the year. Bats, pumpkins and other scary things like Russian bots telling The Last Jedi was a bad movie, Halloween’s around the corner and it won’t affect this blog one bit. I’m not sure if I’ve ever done anything seasonal outside the occasional Christmas and New Year’s greetings, but I’m not about to start. Unless I get a stroke or something else that forces me to stay at home for extended period of time.

The above music is from Rusty, a NEC PC-98 game that was heavily inspired by Castelvania. It got a translation few years back, which I recommend checking out if you’re into Castlevania and haven’t experienced much of the golden system of classic Japanese PC gaming. That’s a topic worth considering getting into, as classic Japanese PC gaming was a very much its own thing, which most people tend to ignore in favour of consoles of the era. The US had its Macs, UK had ZX Speccy, Finland had C64, France had Amstrad and Japan and NEC PC-88 series.

Anyway, the month came to an abrupt end. I didn’t have time to do that promised Integral Works and Codex comparisons for those who were looking for some new Muv-Luv stuff on the blog, but we’re getting there. Hopefully this month too, before I lose all the sunlight. The SNES controller comparative review was sort of a stop-gag while waiting for the Switch stand parts to arrive, though they should arrive within the next few weeks. For whatever reason the post has been extremely slow as of late. However, it did serve its purpose, considering these SNES-styled USB controllers are dime in the dozen. There are so many different kind of cheapo USB controllers out there that it has stopped being funny seven years ago. Far too often people spend some ten bucks on a controller and then complain that it is nothing but crap. No shit. There’s a magical point with controllers where any new controller above twenty euro tend to be of decent quality. The Hori controllers I’ve reviewed thus far have been relatively cheap and above that price point, for example. Numerous other controllers I own, like few USB Logitech ones, also go above this threshold. You could say that under twenty you get just trash, and proper budget tier range for controller is between 20-35€. From above that we’re getting to the mid-tier range well enough. There should be no reason to start going into why controllers are so expensive nowadays, with the materials and shit going into them and companies trying to gain certain revenue marks off them. A cheapo USB controller that costs a dollar to make will always be inferior to a controller that costs ten bucks to make. If you’re interested in how to calculate a product’s true production value, I have that in a blog post somewhere around here.

On the other side of things, I need to get a new computer. No, this is not trying to shill some sort of Patreon-like service to you, just giving you a notice that at some point I’ll most likely miss a post because I’ll be trouble shooting and testing stuff before fully having a system in use. While I’m not a hardcore computer upgrader or the like, I do like to take my sweet time to pick up all the parts and then go with something good, and then spend a week or so just to get things right before taking things into normal use. I’ll be going AMD route this time, as Intel politicised their company few years back and never looked back. I don’t exactly care about companies and brands getting into politics per se, but many consumers do. Personally I don’t really care if companies get political, unless it clearly begins to affect the quality of the product. Few times this blog has gone dangerously close of being about politics, but that’s never the intention. However, don’t expect to hear much about the computer in itself once it is in use, though there is something I’d like to say about picking new PC parts if you’re building your own rig. Things are just so much simpler if you don’t really give a damn and just get a pre-build set, or want to think differently and get a Mac. Considering they botched iPhone XS’s charging and nobody knows if its hardware or software issue, I’m not putting my trust into Apple’s care.

This being a whole new month, especially the season where some people cook and cut things more often thanks to Halloween, I duly recommend sharpening your knives and oiling them with mineral oil or similar. Sharper knives are safer to use, as blunt knives will not properly and most likely will slip and cut the user instead. A sharp knife is easy to control and handle. Oiling them will also extend their live and keep rust from collecting to any extent. Honing should be done each time a knife is used, if we want to go there, but sharpening once per month should be enough. he difference between sharpening and honing is that sharpening is removal of material to give it an edge, while honing is to fine tune the edge. Both are integral part of keeping your edged tools in good shape, and basic kitchen skills everybody should know.

How should games grow up?

This will be musings piece, as I’ll outright state that there is no real right answer to the question, and this post really goes just line down. Many times over the past decade I’ve seen writings and demands for video and computer games to grow up, to mature as a media. More often than not the claim is that games should be able to handle hard and difficult subjects. Of course, what these subjects are varies from person to person and group to group, as we all know how political opposites can sometimes be completely at heads with each other to the point of gaining the same overall end result. Then you have the issue of handling a difficult subject in a game is often through the use of player independent narrative, which could be done in any other medium. After all, themes and subjects are simply framing devices for a game. That is not to say framing devices are unimportant, just the opposite.

If we continue this line, discussing hard and heavy issues through games is not something new. It may be new to audiences and generations that did not play the Ultima games or other similar classics. Ultima‘s second trilogy is, after all, a series that discusses human virtues in philosophical manner and how they affect human nature, but also how easily these virtues can be twisted and mangled for extremes. While nothing spectacular on the grand scheme of things, it would be incorrect to think that gaming has not touched upon serious subjects.

It just might not be a subject someone in particular cares about.

Then, who decides what would be a subject hard and tough enough for gaming to trek into? Naturally, the developer, or the writer or the director would be the person who would make the call. In reality, someone with more power over the product, a publisher or executive, probably can have heavier say on the subject than many are willing to use. After all, games are mass entertainment and not confined to any specific audience. Thus, would it be the consumers at large who would get to decide what would the topics be? It would be impossible to make any sort of voting system that would work, the press would simply mangle messages back and forth for various reasons, and sadly developers and their publishers would only listen to the clique they’re most invested in and the people who yell the loudest. Clearly we need to have some separation between the provider and consumer, in which the developers have the best opportunity to make use of their God given skill and knowhow to analyse the market at large without resorting to media bogus or loudmouths. High hopes, I know.

If we’d follow this, then what would be considered a tough subject would depend on the general consensus of a given area, country or culture. After all, cultures and people differ from each other enough so that we can say some subjects are drastically more taboo in some, while completely in the open in others. There’s also gradual change in the topics, so a game with a long development cycle might be out of date in its themes when it gets out.

This of course leads to the question if a game with certain subjects, and themes, should then be published in a region where the content would be considered taboo? Should it get censored or should it stand free as a piece of its origin culture? If we follow the the idea of games being art, the less they are touched the better, meaning no censorship or content changes should be applied. On the other hand, games are commercial products that should make money, and sometimes changing stuff for the local market is sure way to make more dosh. Both of these can backfire, especially if a title with a significant underground following suddenly finds their object of mania lacking in all of those interesting elements.

Perhaps the themes and subjects themselves are not the important factor, ultimately. Choosing your audience and target consumer groups with your choice does carry a heavy weight, but not perhaps as much as the content itself. Content, of course, is the game play itself, rather than any of the frames. If the frames overtake the content, you’ll more likely than not end up with a cold turkey in your hands. While the game press likes to talk about the importance of story and its themes in games, the cold reality is that games sell more on their intrinsic nature as games far more.

There are some off titles that do mix its carrying hefty themes into the game’s play rather than just presenting talking heads to the player. Perhaps this would be path for gaming to take, and slowly phase away from literary and film techniques. After all, film essentially stems off from theater in many ways, but theater acting does not translate very well towards the camera, or vice versa. Literacy is word written down, yet text has its own ways that speech can’t convey. Naturally, this also applies the other way around. Thus, I have to come to an old argument I tend to present; games should find their own way of doing this, independent of films and text. As much as the two older medium have managed to find their own way throughout the ages, video and computer games still have ways to go. The media’s still young, despite few generations now born in a world where gaming is ever-present. In order games to incorporate themes and topics into the play of the game in wholesale way rather than in more traditional approaches, then there’s a need to further whatever the core element of electronic gaming; playing. The ways to do it are probably just as many as there are games under the Sun, but sometimes it’d be best to take a step back and look at the whole history of games and get to the bottom how to improve them in the future.

CBS should trek toward something new

With the recent new of Patrick Steward returning as Jean-Luc Picard in his own Star Trek spinoff after the questionable ST Discovery. With CBS now footing the bill for the second season after Netflix essentially paying for the ride for the first one, Abrams’ Trek movies effectively being dead in the water as main cast members are walking away from it and Les Moonves of CBS still wanting to screw things up to the point crashing the franchise. Midnight’s Edge’s recent video goes over the background events of the Abrams’ Trek movies, what the current license and copyright mess is and dire the situation for the franchise is overall. To put it short; the man currently in charge doesn’t like SF and wants to remove all the history of Star Trek by somehow collapsing timelines in-fiction to justify to do whatever kind of story he wants.

The thing is, he always could.

The worst decision that franchises like this do is writing prequels. By doing that, the staff is essentially tied to defined future of the story. If they break the future, the overall story and canon makes less and less sense with each little breakage. One drop doesn’t break a damn, but enough drops turn into a tidal whale. For long time fans of any franchise, they know how prequels often turn out. Not all that great, sometimes even sullying the story they’re based on.

The better option is to move forwards. If Star Trek Discovery had been another Trek show set in whatever time span after Star Trek: Nemesis, there would have been far less cacophony from the audience. No strings attached, no character references needed, no plot points to follow, everything can be made new and shiny.

But that takes effort and references seem to something Hollywood and TV writers and execs things are needed to bring in the fanbase. They seem to treat their audience as some sort of imbeciles.

References to past parts of a franchise is the easiest way to make sure the fans and general audience in the know understand that the series is part of it. For Star Trek, it’s the recurring species of Klingons and such with the occasional visitor from other shows, like how DeForest Kelley made an appearance in the first episode of The Next Generation as an older Leonard McCoy. While it supposedly gives legitimacy to the series as a sequel, it all really ends up being useless fan pandering. Similarly, Picard appeared in Deep Space 9‘s first episode to give it a sendoff, and that was about just as needless. The story had already tied itself to a past even, the Battle of Wolf 359. It can be argued that this was more a necessary cameo due to Picard’s role as the enemy in that battle, and to showcase the difference between Sisko and Picard. Problem of course was, the show could’ve done this by itself. At worst, a cameo like this makes a show look weak, as if it couldn’t stand on its own two legs. This was one of Discovery‘s worst weakness, as it was directly tied to the Original series through introducing yet another relative to Spock, and using Spock’ father Sarek prominently throughout the first season. The second season will have Spock in some role as well, meaning Discovery further loses its unique status as a show and as a story, making the world so much smaller.

Of course, it is financially more viable to do this. Referencing and using existing characters and actors ensures the fans, or at least part of the fandom, will flock and pay for these characters. This allows modern versions to be made of these characters and these modernisations then can be licensed onward to toy manufacturers and such. It makes money, and is a safe bet to give that aforementioned legitimacy. It’s a no-brainer why CBS told Abrams and Paramount that their Trek wouldn’t be the only game in town in terms of licensing. I don’t believe there ever was brand confusion among core fans, or even with general audiences to any significant extent, as the visuals between Abrams’ Trek and old Star Trek shows were like night and day, or rather, difference between well shot scene and one filled with lensflares. Any audience, fans or not, are willing to pay for products that they have connected with when it comes to franchise merch, and considering how low quality Abram’s Trek is, it’s no wonder why its toys and other merch didn’t sell. On the other hand, the culture at large has direct emotional connection to the classic Star Trek shows, especially in the US, which means its much easier to sell new merch based on those series.

And as I’ve beaten this dead horse, using those characters to which the audience has emotional contact with in other shows is just good financial sense.

In a way, it is always risky to start with new characters as they have no history or properly set path, and it’s a slight gamble whether or not the audience will like them. The audience may no connect with the characters. Neelix from Voyager is a great example how not to do a character in Trek, as he was never improved upon. He stayed a shithead throughout the series. Character like Bashir is a great example how to improve your character throughout the series, as he started as annoying prick, and then evolved into one of the more likeable and stronger characters of the show.

However, despite the risks, starting from a clean table with new characters and new stories without any of the baggage of old yields better rewards than tying things down. All it takes is proper planning and using the heart of the franchise to its fullest extent, and building up a new story with brand new characters. A new Star Trek should just be that, a new Star Trek, advancing what the series can be about and going toward the future, but ever since Enterprise, everything has just stepped backwards and stalling the franchise.

Muv-Luv: What is Exogularity?

Hoo boys, bronchitis is such fun. Every time I get it, the worse it hits. Please take care of your health, dear reader.

 

To save you time;

What Exogularity is; a source booklet series.

What Exogularity is not; name for a story or a setting within Muv-Luv franchise.

This should be relatively straightforward post, but considering the Muv-Luv fandom has a history if mislabeling titles with something else, with Before the Shimmering Time Ends constantly being referred as Altered Fable because Altered Fable is the name of the compilation disc it comes on, it’s no wonder the lack of language skills and information easily translates misconceptions that spread far and wide. Misconceptions, like with AF, that just can’t be uprooted anymore for whatever reasons.

Here’s Altered Fable’s main menu, with Before the Shimmering Time Ends being highlighted just under the disc’s title. Notice all the other good stuff that’s on Altered Fable

Exogularity is essentially rebranded Lunatic Dawn. Lunatic Dawn were a series of booklets or mooks self-published by âge at their Comic Market stands. LDs (not the confused with Laserdiscs in this context) have been collected into three larger books titled Allied Strike. Since 2017, Exogularity has taken LD‘s place as official source material for fans. If you consider this, both LD and Exogularity can be taken as sort of additions to Muv-Luv Alternative Intergral Works, which served as the core backbone for the Codex.

Sometimes Lunatic Dawns came with a name, like LD3  was titled Code: Rebellion. LD7 had a full title of Muv-Luv Alternative Lunatic Dawn 7 Total Eclipse, which is boring and unimaginative, but somehow fitting for Total Eclipse materials.

So, what can you exactly find in Lunatic Dawn? Each LD contains their own special illustrations, colour or not, with line arts of Declassified Tactical Surface Fighters. For example, LD3  showcased the Rafale and gave a blurp about it.

 

 

These books also consisted of staff interviews, rough sketches and designs, rough animation boards, jokes, short stories and such. At times, LDs covered future subjects or touched on titles in-development, though that was more what Agekunohate, âge’s official fan book, as for in general. Essentially, all these are major parts of the hype engine directed at the fans rather than any part of the larger public. It must be said, âge has some stupidly dedicated fans across the globe.

So, in what way is Exogularity rebranded Lunatic Dawn? Let’s take a look at contents of the first volume.


The first thirteen pages cover content regarding Strike Frontier, the mobile game DMM ran. The second part, starting from page 14 begin to cover plans for stories that would take place after Muv-Luv Alternative‘s, events. As these are merely plans and drafts, outlines at best, and should be taken as grain of salt to showcase that might come out in the future. Nothing is definitive before the actual product announcements and titles are rolling out, and knowing âge/anchor that’ll take some time.

That is not to say there is no validity here, as the first volume states, these are the Horizon of the next attempt. The depths of its creations. The latest material of âge. What we can assume with the first volume is framework, from posthuman characters to new generations of TSFs, from Operation Olympus and Moon War II to BETA striking back and TSF-like BETA being a thing, to the whole New Beginning with the idea of humanity going out there in space to meet the BETA creators with warp-capable TSF.

The tagline for the booklet is All converge points, and a new beginning. While we can overanalyse this and pull stuff from our collective asses, it would seem that âge/anchor are intending to do a sort of re-launch of the franchise. After Muv-Luv Alternative, âge/anchor (then ixtl) really haven’t managed to roll out anything that would’ve broken the bank. Total Eclipse as a side story failed rather hard, Schwarzesmarken tanked even worse. The Day After didn’t really see success in Japan and currently is left as is. Whether or not it’ll be collected in the future with some sort of definitive end is anyone’s guess, but seeing this is the timeline Takeru cancels with Alternative‘s events, the ending itself is more or less a moot point. Some would even argue that TDA in itself was a useless story.

If you look at most English-language resources for Muv-Luv, like the Wiki, they’re mostly lacking in mentioning any of the Strike Frontier stuff when it comes to Exogularity Vol.1. This is because nobody has cared a bit about the Strike Frontier stuff, it really was rather unpopular in overall terms. The second volume, published in the upcoming Comiket #94, is supposed to concentrate more on cut Strike Frontier content, and content that they never had the chance to put in the game. Whether or not it’ll have anything on the numerous post-Alternative settings Vol.1t touched upon is currently unknown.

But you know what I don’t see people talk about too often? The storyboards at the back of the first volume where we have Meiya-lookalike fighting one of those BETA-TSFs.

Also no post this weekend, and even this is two days late because I’ve been mostly sleeping or coughing my lungs out. Stay healthy and eat your veggies, kids.

Music of the Month; Give it a Shot


Funny that, this is the best song on the album. Otherwise it’s extremely disappointing

Generally speaking, I don’t do music album reviews, but for this once I’ll do a short exception; Rockman X Anniversary Collection Soundtrack is not worth the price. Outside the two versions of Give it a Shot and RE;FUTURE, the album’s pretty bland. Spending track space and time to remix six first games’ Boss Battle themes. These were clearly chosen because they could been easily selected over stage themes. If we’re completely frank, the Boss Battle themes are not the best parts of Mega Man series’ soundtracks. Most of these songs simply end up being grey background noise. This is a far cry from previous releases’ quality, like Chiptuned Rockman.

Speaking of reviews, you got two last month. I’m not exactly happy how either of them turned out (though I never am with my posts) and I know the end result of the Muv-Luv Kickstarter goods did give rather negative view. However, that’s mostly due to how high standards I tend to use in my reviews. If there’s something I see that could or should have been included or improved, I aim to mention it. If there’s a point of comparison to be made for improvements, I always aim to make that comparison. In that, the aim often is to give constructive criticism, the kind of I’d want to have. It’s no use calling things shit or terrible, it ultimately ends up meaningless jabber. While improvement suggestions are always welcome, those should never be expected unless separately requested. This may sound harsh, but the reasons why something may be lacking don’t matter, as this can lead into further questions. Too many times I’ve seen and experienced people pointing the lack of experience for a reason why something is lacking in design, which always follows with questions like Why didn’t you hire a professional then? or Why didn’t you find professional to help? The reasons, ultimately, don’t matter. They can make interesting trivia though.

The JoyCon review was approached the same way. However, a controller review has to take into account ergonomics, and this breaks the whole Why isn’t necessary question thing into the air. There I tend to look for why certain shapes were made in the form they are, and often the answer is to conform to the general shapes of hands. It’s not exactly the same question or reason, but close enough for some people to bring the point up.

Pachislot Rockman got announced and we’ve got our first look at some the characters somewhat recently. I’ll be doing a comparative review of Mega Man’s redesign, just like how I did one on the Man of Action cartoon design. While we don’t have multiple angles to use, the one in the linked page is more or less enough to get a good feeling what elements were incorporated across the franchise. Pachislot and pachinko machines tend to redesign characters, sometimes to very large extents, but often do keep the core aspects intact. To use an example, CR Cutie Honey has designs that combine some previous series’ entries into one with healthy dose of detailing. People who handled this knew what they were doing as well, as the bunny girl form is named Cutie Bunny.

As for the rest of the month, I’m planning a short overview on what are Lunatic Dawn and Exogularity booklets âge is self-publishing at Comiket. I should not be surprised that the fandom seems to have taken Exogularity as the title for some story or setting, when in reality Exogularity is rebranded Lunatic Dawn. Well, I guess that’s it, they’re both source books with different names. The actual post will have examples, of course, but that’s the gist of it.

You’ve probably noticed how weekend posts have been appearing on Sundays recently rather than on Fridays. This is me moving towards the new schedule I mentioned a month ago or so. I’ll take this chance to also mention that there’s no post next weekend, as I’ll be away. Truth to be told, I intended to write this post for Friday, but thanks to rain I fell ill. My fever’s not going down, and I’m actually writing this on a phone. You can see the irony here, as I’m giving you a Why despite my arguments above stating the contradictory. Well, I do think there’s a wide gap between a KS and this blog.

Remember to sharpen and oil your kitchen knives and such. Cooking will be much safer and enjoyable afterwards.

 

Ignorant parent is child’s worst enemy online

Recently a 15-yers old teenager committed a suicide after reading the Visual Novel Doki Doki Literature Club. The title’s rather infamous for starting out as a normal cute-as-button story, and then becomes rather nasty in its themes and content. The VN does state that its not for everyone and is not suitable for children, the usual warning for software of its nature.

The news reporting on the incident on the Sunderland Echo reflects how poorly entertainment software, VNs or electronic games, are understood. Age doesn’t really change this, only education does. For example, Sue Kirby, the author, makes her first mistake in the title calling it an online game. Even if we give the leeway that VNs are counted as games, Doki Doki Lit. Club certainly is not online and does not contain any other “players” characters outside the reader, another mistake that’s made in the article.

The article is really all that and not much as else. Some statement from a coroner warning parents to look after their children, something they should already be doing, and neither he or the author describes any rhyme or reason why this should be an issue. Great many who commit suicide have done something before their final deed, be it watching television, listening to music or other activities. Perhaps the title did serve as a some sort of trigger for the suicide, but then its not exactly the driving reason to do so. There must have been something there already, a thought and drive, which has been the true underlying reason. A software doesn’t simply brainwash you do commit suicide, neither do any other sort of media.

Few other sites, like Fatherly, has almost the exact same article up, with no expansion on the topic itself, no research done for better or worse. I’m not even going to go through The Sun’s article on the topic, as their opening thinks it’s somehow negative that Doki Doki Lit. Club doesn’t require any parental checks. Last time I checked, you had to set things up via Steam’s client in Family View rather than title-by-title basis. Then again, it’s available on other sites as well, so maybe this particular kid got it from there rather than using the most popular game platform on the PC. The Sun’s on a witch hunt mode on the title and it shows.

A common theme among all articles is how there’s criticism how the game doesn’t enforce the suggested. How would the game do that? Are we now in need of Adult Gamer license like with the UK’s fap license nonsense and all games need to have it separately or something? Absolute nonsense.

Manchester Evening News at least has some more meat on the platter, an interview with the parents. The father of gives a statement that the game wouldn’t leave the player alone, as it resembles real life through interactions. Perhaps this shows that the teenager didn’t have the best relations outside virtual environment, if he was looking something better in a virtual environment to cope with it.

Jude Holmes from the Public Protection Division urged parents to check websites their kids are using, effectively encouraging them to break their children’s privacy. Smart kid will be able to wipe their history away anyway, or set up different User Accounts. Firewall settings don’t help much, as they’re easily circumvented just as much. Furthermore, we are talking about a title that’s on Steam as well, meaning the parents should be aware of their kids’ Steam libraries to boot. That wouldn’t show up in the browsing history.

Holmes doesn’t seem to be the Sherlock of the bunch.

Credit where credit is due, Manchester Evening News at least does to the research to describe Doki Doki Literature Club as a visual novel and how it functions. Yet, much like other sites, the author describes the horror twist in the game in a negative tone, as if a story within a game, or any story driven media, couldn’t be gruesome and showcase hard topics straight up.

At least nothing is said to directly connect the suicide to the visual novel, outside the parents’ words, but even the stupidest of readers can read the message between the lines. In truth, we probably will never know the real reason why the teen committed suicide, Doki Doki Lit. Club is just an easy target to put the blame on. Not knowing is the worst there is, and if parents aren’t up to their child’s life, there’s very little to go by.

Certain people are easy to be impressed and suggested by the media. The solution is not to cut out connections to websites or similar. There is no such easy solution for the safety so many parental and safety groups want. There are only hard and long solutions that would require parents to know the web environment well enough so that they’d be able to teach their children to become sensible users of the World Wide Web. An ignorant parent who doesn’t understand modern technology, and doesn’t want to learn anything about it, is probably a child’s worst enemy when it comes to the unsafe Internet. Even Andy Burrows, the Associate Head of Child Safety Online recognises this, imploring parents to have regular conversations with their kids, but what the hell are these parents going to talk about if they don’t know what to talk about? Don’t give your photo away online? Not applicable on the modern era of social media anymore, where everybody and their dogs have an account to post personal details for everyone to see.

There are lots of mays, maybes, coulds and mights. There is nothing definitive, but a mob doesn’t need solid proof to hang the accused. This won’t launch a new crusade against electronic games, or VNs for the matter, but it is part of the rising bad media and journalism that’s begun to permeate video games for the recent years, from calling game consumers are toxic to blame them to be reason for political downfalls. A moral panic over violence or adult subjects in games wouldn’t be nothing new, but it would be extremely pathetic.

After all, that makes better news than an objective view on the subject.