Systems Malfunction

Suspended Animation

So, I’d like everyone (everyone who cares, a small and elite group, I know) to think of all of ETG’s game lines to be in a state of suspended animation (what a paradoxical combination of words!) like cryosleep. I offer no guarantees that any of them will be thawed out or revivified, but anything is possible. Also, on a personal note, at the moment I’m not dead. To try and not be too maudlin, I’ll just say that while I have no desire at all to be alive–none, not one iota, not one whit–I am badly maladapted towards suicidal action, and besides that, suicide is a fundamentally discourteous thing. It’s way too tempting to start talking in any depth about my personal life now, so I won’t. I suspect that some of the readers of this blog (there aren’t many) are hate readers and I really don’t want to give them the satisfaction of the schadenfreude. I hope no one else is going into the holidays with severe clinical depression or suicidal ideation, at least there’s very few people I would wish that on.

On a professional level, obviously it’s IMMENSELY FUCKING FRUSTRATING that ETG was just starting to hit its stride and really click into the groove when it fell apart, but, to make a stunningly original observation: life isn’t fair. I think in the time we were around, we made some kickass games, adventures, and supplements, all of which would have been impossible without Mik. I felt like we were just hitting a meaningful level of market penetration when the bottom fell out, which obviously sucks ass. Our stuff will continue to be for sale in the usual places. We’re probably doomed to fall into total obscurity as time passes, but at least a few people will hang onto their copies of our games and enjoy them. I can think of worse ways to have invested the last six years of my life.

The exception to the above paradigm of “Suspended Animation” is the fulfillment of the Systems Malfunction Kickstarter. That’s an awkward situation. I have no intention of backing away from our obligation, but I also have been made to understand that the fulfillment is being finalized by Mikaela who is most resolutely not taking my calls, in the most absolute sense. I don’t knows what printer she used (is using? is planning to use?) or what state she’s at in the fulfillment, only that she’s promised me to take care of the fulfillment, and I’m not even sure that’s a promise I should take at face value all things considered, because it was delivered in a missive that was, I have now discerned, about 90% bullshit. It’s all horribly entangled with the destruction of my life and the kidnapping of my pets and…oy vey. Oy. Vey. I will do my best to make sure that everybody who pledged gets a book, but my former business partner is not making it easy for me to get a window into the fulfillment process right now.

I post about this here and not on the relevant Kickstarter because the Kickstarter update would amount to “My life is completely fucked and the person who I would ask about fulfillment stole my dog and has gone off the grid” which seems like the kind of update that would just annoy many backers.

I’ve been trying to focus more on my writing, when I’m feeling well enough to focus on anything, which is increasingly rare with my failing health. Vaguely considering making another blog focusing on that, but very likely won’t bother. Not many people read this (as I make frequent mention of), I don’t know if I could transfer even that pitifully small readership to the new blog, and most importantly, as Egon Spengler so wryly observed back in 1984 (the year, not the book) “Print Is Dead”.

“And that’s the waaaaaaaaaaaaay the news goes.”


Fission Mailed

I don’t imagine I will have a whole lot of game design to be blogging about for the foreseeable future. End Transmission Games is kaput, at least for the time being. I might try doing my own stuff under a different masthead after a while, but I don’t think that will be any time soon.

I had a random thought though which is really the only reason I make this blog post. Considered by many the first “post-modern” video game, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty’s themes and messages are more relevant now than ever, particular its Gainax Ending . Just before the final boss fight, the literal talking heads of the Patriots (the La-li-lu-le-lo!), the simulated Colonel Campbell and Rosemary, lecturing Jack on the dangers of a post-fact, post-truth world feel eerily urgent in the face of a game released in 2001 and largely developed pre-9/11. The worst case scenario that they are talking about sounds a lot like the post-Trump, “Fake News” era we live in now. It’s uncannily prescient for a 16 year old Japanese video game. Echoes of the themes of the popular musical Hamilton (“What is a legacy?”) are also surprising coming from a 16 year old Japanese video game. I suggest anyone who has had this gem collecting dust in their collection or never got around to playing it seek it out and a console to play it on, just for the ending.

There’s no good reason that the often brilliant, frequently self indulgent, and always pleasantly bizarre Hideo Kojima should have been able to predict the death of truth in media and the rise of echo chambers and thought bubbles instead of discourse, but he did. It almost makes me wish we had a censorious GW like AI, like that housed within Arsenal Gear, to prevent us from reaching this sad point in our society. Almost.


So the SysMal PDF has been done and out to backers since the end of August as promised, but it’s not as perfect as we want it to be yet. There is art in there that is not of the minimum quality we wanted because artists missed their deadlines, and the presence of most of the exceptionally great finished art makes its unfinished status all that much more jarring. There are typos lurking in the manuscript and one major goof up in terms of structure on my part that might reduce the page count noticeably after we scrub some redundant verbiage.

After Mikaela is rested up from the exhausting double-header of GenCon and DragonCon (I’m not sure if it’s always this way, but those cons were really like back-to-back this year and attending both as exhibitors/vendors/geeks who drink really really wiped us out) she’ll be polishing it to a smooth shiny finish and it should be on its way to printers some time in September.

GenCon 50: Real Talk

There’s a lot of pressure to be positive even when you’re feeling anything but because people smell weakness and instinctively hate it. But there aren’t a ton of people who read this anyway so why waste energy lying to an audience that’s almost/mostly not there?

GenCon 50 was kind of a bummer.

We lost a LOT of money by being there, not because we didn’t sell a lot of games (and “Comrade Octo-Stalin” T-Shirts), but because the overhead was crazy, our booth was in the ass end of nowhere, and we didn’t have a marketing strategy in place going in. Everything was very seat-of-the-pants. I enjoyed some of the demos I got to run, but I didn’t sell games right off of the demos, which always makes me feel like I failed.

Probably most importantly, in spite of having more help at the booth than we’ve ever had before–courtesy of Mike Myler and friends plus our promising-is-an-understatement new Director of Marketing Tytiana Browne–I felt like I spent as much of the con as ever running around like a headless chicken, freaking out over Systems Malfunction not being done, trying frantically to coordinate and manage people’s efforts even when I wasn’t shackled to the booth. Probably worst of all, I managed to miss out on catching up and socializing with nearly all of the friends and colleagues that I only get to see at GenCon, losing a never-ending game of booth tag with cool cats from Rich DeBarba to Ron Edwards. I missed out on stuff that I wanted to see to commemorate the fact that I, Devon Oratz, however small a part, was personally there at the 50th annual Geneva Convention, inaugurated by E. Gary Gygax in 1968. I missed out on the They Might Be Giants concert. I missed out on the GenCon museum and Lucas Oil stadium. And I missed all of these things because of my frantic fretting over the fortunes of a game company that shows distressing signs of failing.

I don’t have time to feel sad about this stuff. I don’t have time to feel anything. DragonCon is the first weekend in September and even though it’s a last-minute arrangement this time around, we’re going to be there with bells on, as exhibitors. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Transmissions From The End #15: The Sounds That Remain In Question

Enjoy this blast from the futurepast…

The Sounds That Remain In Question

January 4th, 501 R.T. 0700 Hours {Local Time}
Deck 12 Situation Room of the Vitrix Carrier RAS Lancelot
0.01 Parsecs Spinward of PH-087 “Hong Kong Station”

>>>>ONI Net Log Active
>>>>Ordo Seclorum Est 8.0 Encryption Active
>>>>Remote Satellite Comms Vetted. Vocap active.
>>>>Voice Prints Verified: President Dave Carter (DC), Commander Jesse Kilgannon (JK), Major Gloria Kilgannon (GK), Captain Michael Kilgannon (MK), Governor Akira Yuzaki [Hong Kong Station] (AY), General Andrew Kirin (AK), Rear Admiral Jane Deftinwolf {by remote} (JD), Director Connor Fagan (CF).
>>>>Level 9 Firewall Engaged; Suborbital Uplink Secured


DC: Thank you all for coming so early in the morning and on such short notice.

CF: Mr. President, before you say anything else, are you sure that this meeting site is secure. I understand that these “Redeemers” are quite advanced.

DC: Jane?

JD: All possible precautions have been taken. However if I.W.D. (R.I.A. Information Warfare Division) would like to sweep the room for bugs or triple-check my encryption, I won’t be insulted. I can’t make any guarantees, Director. But I don’t think you can ever.

CF: Perhaps this meeting should be delayed until such a time as we can have guarantees of operational security?

AK: All due respect, but this has been delayed too long as it is. We need to come up with a gameplan here.

DC: I agree, General. Ace, tell us the story so far.

JK: October 4th, 499 R.T. Avalon Standard time. Communications Tower Delta-462 on Hong Kong Station goes dark.

JD: Most locals notice only a small period of downtime on their Commlinks before another relay carrier picks up their signals.

JK: Remote access to comms systems on D-462 is locked out. Manual access is cut off. Infiltration teams who enter through the ventilation system do not leave alive. Drone reconnaissance gets jammed or otherwise taken offline.

JD: Simultaneously, an entity calling itself MONAD—and occasionally referring to itself as The Demiurge or The Demogorgon—makes contact with numerous gray databases throughout the Galaxy, including Cydonia, which is—

CF: Obviously, we’re familiar with it.

JD: The messages that it transmits are badly fragmented and barely coherent.

AK: Wait a second. Stupid question. Is this thing a hoax or not? Because according to the memos that I’ve gotten—

MK: It ain’t no hoax, General. You pulled our asses out of the fire on Salem. The hostiles there were these Redeemers. Working for the MONAD intelligence.

GK: You’re jumping ahead a little, don’t you think?

AK: I see.

JD: Welcome to the circle of trust, General. As I was saying, the MONAD entity claimed omnipotence and omniscience, but did not seem capable of coherent communication. Or perhaps, it simply enjoyed being cryptic. In any case, a link between it and the GAIA was established almost immediately.

DC: A link we can’t confirm or deny.

CF: And to prevent a panic, we issued a press blackout.

JD: At the very least, we can confirm that by all indications MONAD is a self-aware neural network, the most advanced AI since the GAIA, even if it has no link to that entity.

AK: If it’s not the GAIA, who made it? Why?

JK: We don’t know. Either.

AY: Excuse me, at this point could I ask the purpose of this meeting?

DC: The purpose of this meeting is to create a plan of action for dealing with the MONAD entity and the potential threat that it poses to Hong Kong Station and the Galaxy.

AY: Inasmuch as the threat is contained within Hong Kong Station, this is an internal matter for House Yamamoto to decide. Yet, I am the only House Yamamoto representative here. This is an obvious violation of my interests and our economic security. I must ask for a private—

DC: This is bigger than House Yamamoto. Bigger than any of the Great Houses. This has the potential of impacting the lives of every Republic Citizen. We have done you the courtesy of not inviting House Dallas or House Dresden to the discussion table—yet. In turn, we ask that you participate in this discussion. Deru kui wa utareru.

AY: I see.

JD: Ace, continue.

JK: On October 16th 499 R.T. the MONAD entity goes silent. It stops communicating with the galaxy. Attempts to physically access Delta-462 remain unsuccessful.

AY: We do not have access to remote climate control for that tower or to the explosive bolts that would be used to safely jettison it.

AK: Well, that answers my next question.

JK: No further developments until May of 500 R.T..

CF: Actually, that’s not entirely true.

JD: Go ahead, director.

CF: We continued to monitor transmissions to and from Delta-462 during this time. MONAD made a handful of “outgoing calls” to various places around the Galaxy Net. Communicated with some of its Redeemers. It invited several other individuals to make a “pilgrimage” to Hong Kong station to commune with it. We have no way of knowing if any of them made it. We intercepted and decrypted all of them. Mostly philosophical discussions. And some logistics. The organization of M0TES—social mixers of random individuals for experimental purposes. A lot of that chatter was disinformation but…

JD: Did you detect any hint of what it was planning for May?


JD: Then clearly, we do not have access to its high security communications.

CF: Nonetheless, we are certain that MONAD had no ties to the Christmas 499 massacre. That was a Collective Automata action. Verifiably.

JK: May 1st, 500 R.T.. Dallas and Yamamoto are engaged in open warfare on Salem. They and Republic observers are engaged and destroyed by unknown forces. These “Redeemers” are augmented Celestials, robots, and drones answering to MONAD. They force fighting to a standstill on the planet. Republic reinforcements arrive to assess the situation. Including me and my team.

GK: The Collective Automata were also on-hand to secure a neural network—crucial to their operations—that had been captured by House Yamamoto. We’re not sure if that was a Redeemer objective or not.

MK: Our target was this truly gassed up Kapsilus Arms Troll Drone that was apparently acting as some kind of a remote signal hub for the Demiurge. It was being run directly by the Demiurge, and was acting as a signal bridge to other Redeemer units in the area. Code name: Wrath of God.

JK: Not an exaggeration. The three of us working together with close air support were barely able to take it down.

JD: It was at this point that it became clear to us that one Steven Wherner, C.E.O. of Tiberius Arms, a House Dallas subsidiary, had been a sleeper agent of the Demiurge for some time. He was killed in action on Salem, of course, and later on Arcadia—after defecting to House Yamamoto.

CF: Is it your policy to harbor terrorists, Ms. Yuzaki?

AY: I am sure I cannot say.

JD: Are you aware of any additional clones that Dr. Wherner may have made?

AY: Again, I am sure I cannot say. I will make inquiries.

DC: Thank you.

CF: After the Redeemer force on Salem was beaten, we used the presence of the Collective Automata to mask the fact they were ever there. We maintained press containment as best we could.

AK: Is it me, or have the Redeemers done basically nothing since then?

JD: It is true they have been primarily on the defensive—

JK: Or biding their time.

AY: Until the September riots.

JK: This is where my firsthand narrative is limited. Jane, you’ll take it from here.

JD: Of course. I was just getting to that. On September 26th, 500 R.T. shortly after Nippon Sector quarantined itself from the riots, Hong Kong station entire went dark. Perhaps, Governor you could shed some light on the events there.

AY: I am afraid I cannot. I was trapped at my home in Osaka for the duration of the riots.

JD: Well, here is what we do know. Someone—and we have no suspects except MONAD—released some kind of weaponized nanites on Hong Kong station at the height of the House Wars fighting. Possibly multiple strains of weaponized nanites. A large subset of the population was killed outright. Still others retained their mobility and functionality but experienced severe hallucinations. Chemical and biological weapons—unlike anything we’ve seen before—were used also. Others were merely “switched off” but unharmed.

AK: Alright, now I’m getting ahead of myself, but doesn’t it occur to you that that was the ideal time to nuke the station from orbit? We’d have had plausible deniability, and no more MONAD to worry about.

AY: How can you even suggest that! You are talking about killing over a million of my citizens! Of your citizens!

DC: The Governor is right, General. Taking the shot on Hong Kong station is an absolute last resort.

JD: Things on the station seem to be “back to normal” now, so to speak. The survivors are moving on with their lives. But we don’t know what the Demiurge did during the comms blackout. And besides the hundred thousand or so casualties, there are hundreds of people who simply cannot be accounted for. And I think that about brings us up to speed.

AY: Well what are you proposing.

AK: Admiral Deftinwolf, do you speak for the regular Armada here as well as ONI?

JD: I do.

AK: Well, excuse me if my first question is overly obvious, but why not just hit Delta-462 with a mass driver or something. No more Delta-462, no more Demiurge, correct?

Hell, we could nuke it from here.

AY: Are you serious!?

JK: Good question, General. Two reasons.

AY: Is one of them that there is no way to destroy Delta-462 without depressurizing the entirety of Hong Kong Station? Even if the Republic citizens there could be evacuated, you would be looking at a monetary loss to House Yamamamto in the vicinity of 2.1 Trillion credits. Would the Republic be willing to foot the bill for that?

AK: Listen here, little lady—

JD: That is in fact one of the reasons. Here is another. Any preliminary action we take runs the risk of preempting the Demiurge.

AK: You’re going to have to break that one down for me.

GK: In your “Shoot Delta-462 with a mass driver” scenario, you’d want to evacuate the civilians first, correct General?

AK: Of course. I’m not a butcher.

JK: Well if you do that, you risk tipping our hat to the Demiurge. Which could then kill those civilians or trap them there as hostages—human shields. …It’s what I’d do.

CF: He’s right. We have to assume that the Redeemers have operational control of Hong Kong station security now.

AY: What? You’re saying that thing controls my station security?

JD: It’s true. The Redeemers had weeks “alone” with Hong Kong station during the riots. There’s no way to tell what countermeasures they’ve set up.

AK: So it’s a Mexican standoff, then.

JD: It gets worse. Director, please tell them about Operation Armistice.

CF: The greatest danger, as far as our involvement is concerned, is the idea of the Demiurge making one or more copies of itself and storing them as off-site backups or worse, running them concurrently on other servers.

JD: Although psychological profiles—inasmuch as the term applies—indicates the Demiurge won’t do the latter.

AK: Why not?

JD: In layman’s terms?

DC: It likes being special. … Seriously. God-Complex and all.

CF: As I was saying. The Demiurge being able to back itself up would take the nuclear option right off of the table.

AK: What is being done to stop this?

CF: Well, if the Demiurge could be called a mere program, it is an enormously large and complex one. Even by modern standards of data storage and bandwidth. Also, one that could only be run on a very limited subset of hardware.

JD: As a matter of fact our understanding is that it has had to upgrade the hardware on Delta-462 as it has continued to evolve.

AY: Really?

CF: We are constantly—as in as we speak—monitoring all outgoing communications from Hong Kong station via a direct ansible tap.

AY: Isn’t that illegal?

CF: Under normal circumstances? Sure. Anyway, if we detect any file transfer that seems even remotely long enough or large enough to be Demiurge uploading its source code elsewhere, we will jam or intercept it. Same thing for multiple short burst transmissions to the same source.

JD: What about a Torrent style transfer protocol? Breaking the file into millions of pieces and compiling it later.

CF: Something like that would require, approximately, the processing power of every Commlink in the Galaxy as a subscribed node, to transmit and compile the pieces. It’s not viable. We hope.

DC: What about couriers?

CF: Well, anyone wanting to transfer the entire—hypothetical–backup would need a data storage unit the size of a starship to move it. That we’re scanning for, at customs and more importantly at the warpgate.

DC: What about multiple couriers with pieces of the source code.

CF: They’d need hundreds to transfer the file with standard storage devices. That is the biggest threat right now. We’re checking every outgoing individual. And we’ve made sure that Gatrlore adepts can’t access the station. But short of a full Quarantine—

AK: If it’s not too late, I’m sure that Admiral Deftinwolf and I can have one up within 72 hours.

AY: A quarantine? That’s preposterous. Do you have any idea how much material and trade goes in and out of Hong Kong Station every day? You’d be killing us as sure as—

AK: Listen lady.

JD: Enough. Please. Anyway, Operation Armistice is a contingency. If Director Fagan detects the Demiurge transferring a backup—and we cannot stop it—I have a Vitrix carrier in place ready to nuke Delta-462.

AY: And kill a million Republic citizens?

DC: If it is our only shot at the Demiurge, we are going to take it.

CF: This seems like a good time to remind you, Governor, that this meeting is Classified. Code Black.

JK: That means…

AY: Yes, I’m familiar with it. Don’t try to intimidate me.

AK: So it sounds to me like Operation Armistice isn’t really a battle plan at all. It’s a last resort.

JD: Correct.

AK: What about sending a commando team to manually blow the explosive bolts and jettison Delta-462?

JK: We’ve run simulations on that. They haven’t come out favorably. Oh, my team can get inside and blow the bolts…but the Demiurge will have at least a seven minute window to react.

JD: That’s enough time for the Demiurge to sterilize everyone on the station, to mass-transmit its source code, to order suicide bombers to—

AK: Alright, I get it. What about using a nanoforge to create a new airlock? So that we can shoot Delta-462 off the station without killing everyone on board.

AY: That actually sounds like a good idea, General.

JD: The trick is doing it in a minute or less, so that the Demiurge has no time to react, and having the shot lined up. I have my technicians working on a nano-forge that could create a reliable seal fast enough.

AY: And?

JD: And they’re working on it.

DC: Alright people. I’m not hearing any perfect options. What else do we have?

CF: We’re working on engineering a virus, naturally, but as Jane has probably told you their Net security is…well, it puts ours to shame. Delivering is a problem. If we hand deliver it, we run into the same problems as with sending a team in to blow the bolts.

JD: Right now, the Demiurge seems dormant. It seems extremely wise NOT to poke it with a sharp stick until we’re absolutely sure we’re going to kill it with the first poke. We need a very, very sharp stick.

JK: Hopefully, that is where Operation Schoolhouse comes in.

JD: Hang on a second. I just detected a tap. Impossible—

AY: My God.

CF: Purge this channel. Now. We’ll go to analogue comms. Never should have been online in the first place.


Transmissions From The End #14: Reviews & More

Greetings from the End of Everything!

So, thanks in part to the work of our marketing director, a few of our games that have been out for years actually have reviews! How about that! It’s almost like we don’t actually exist in an interstitial dimensional bubble that separates us from true reality and prevents us from interacting with it or being noticed by it in any meaningful way!

The GMShoe’s (Dan Davenport’s) Long-Awaited Review of The Singularity System:
Throat Punch Games’ Review of Psionics (This One’s Even On The Big Nurple):
The Wandering Alchemist’s Review Of SPLINTER:

A soothing balm on the burns inflicted by our tremendous losses at Origins, the reviews range from mostly positive to glowing. Rock on.

If you want to buy any of those games (or the supplements and adventures supporting them), we’ll be selling them at DexCon,  July 5th-9th at the Hyatt Regency & Convention Center in Morristown, New Jersey and of course at GenCon50, August 17-20 in Indianapolis. We love meeting our fans in person, but if you can’t wait till then, our entire product lines can be found on One Bookshelf and at select Friendly Local Game Stores through our distributor, Studio2. Further convention appearances will be announced as the year develops.

Upcoming cons mean revised street-date announcements, so we’ve got those!

We should finally be able to debut the introductory SPLINTER adventure “Return To The Dread Abyss Of The Digitarchs” at DexCon, hot from the presses, by the exceptionally talented Richard Kelly.

At GenCon, for our major new title launch, we’ll have the Systems Malfunction standalone RPG. I just got done editing the introductory fiction for this one, by the aforementioned absurdly skilled Richard Kelly, and it’s a truly phenomenal read both for people brand new to Systems and to the oldest of oldbies. The playtest period on this one is ending in the next week or so, then it’s a race through art, layout, and printing in the month of July to have it ready to go for GenCon 50.

I’m excited! Are you excited?

<end transmission>