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On Sadness

Right now, as I write this, I am sad. There is moisture in my head. My lips are heavy. If I were to stand a force greater than gravity would make me sit.

We are all sad at different times for different reasons. We are recharging. We are grieving. We are afraid for a future that we cannot predict. We are broken. We are tired. We are stuck. We are at odds with the universe. We are at odds with God. We are at odds with strangers. We are at odds with friends. We are at odds with ourselves. It happens.

Sadness is a lens. It allows you to see what is in front of you. Your father’s frailty was always there. Now it is in focus. Your mother’s concentration as she puts on her glasses to read an email. Your friend’s soft smile as she shuffles a deck of cards. They were there. Now you see them.

Sadness is a glass cage. You observe your own actions as an audience member watching a film. You hear your own voice in conversation. It is hard work. Words come slowly. You miss the connections between things. You are present, but you are not present.

Sadness is a process. Inside the gears are whirring. You will discover things.

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Sadness is a veil. The light is there. But it is hidden.

Sadness is fleeting. All things pass.

Sadness is necessary. It holds us back from the things that hurt us.

Sadness is a map. There are paths. There are mountains. There are valleys. There are peoples and prizes. Here be dragons.

Sadness is a web. You are stuck to you. We are all stuck together.

I am sad because I am tired. I am sad because I see jagged machines rising over the horizon. I am sad because I do not understand myself. I am sad because I am not sure if I will make the right decisions.

Sleep on it. See what changes.

 

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Mirror

Sheilegh had found her. She knew her large nose and thick black eyebrows. She crossed the pond and spoke to the younger woman.

“I’m you from the future! I’m here to save your life!” Sheilegh said.

The younger woman looked at her expectedly. She had to say something good.

“You have ADHD. You can’t change it.”

“… Is that it?”

“No. There’s more.”

Why was she so nonplussed? Sheilegh tried again.

“You can learn any language. You learned English.”

“Interesting.”

“Knowing this will encourage you to learn.”

“How are you going to save my life though?”

“I don’t know. I suppose I thought you’d be impressed that I had managed to create a working time machine. I needed an opening line.”

“I am impressed. I have dreamed of creating a time machine. As I’m sure you know. But you don’t seem to have anything to say.”

Sheilegh looked around. Nobody seemed to take any notice of them. A gaggle of ducks were arguing. The air was icy.

“Can we go to your place?” Sheilegh asked her younger self, “…I don’t want to mess things up.”

They walked.

“I’m sure the timeline is already distinct from your own original,” the young one said, “But you know that. You’re me.”

“I never could invent a forwards time machine.”

“And even if you could, by coming back you’ve altered your own timeline forever.”

“Yes. It’s not like in fiction. No time loops for me. I mean us. I mean… Whatever. We don’t get to conveniently end where we started.”

“You got anywhere to stay?”

“I was hoping-”

“-that you could move in with me.”

“Yes. I can easily earn money using historical stock market data.”

“And then what?”

“Well there are a few avoidable incidents that I’ll alert you to so they no longer cause lifelong health problems.”

They had reached the younger Sheilegh’s apartment door.

“That’s nice.”

“You know I half expect your apartment to be filled with copies of us. One hypothetical danger of time travel.”

“Yes. What is the probability that you would come back only once?”

“And given that I came back, what were the chances that I’d come back to this universe?”

“You don’t know how to end this dialogue do you?”

“This is clearly fiction, as it could not be real within the parameters established within it.”

“That’s not what a real person would say.”

And then, in a universe-spanning spasm of contrivance, everything exploded.

Tunnel

“I don’t like being a young man” it thought.

But then it wondered. Was it really being a young man that it didn’t like? Or did it dislike the feeling of uncertainty that all decision-making creatures have from time to time?

Perhaps it was decision itself the creature did not like.

“I might have made things worse” the creature thought. It’s neck-hairs bristled. Small white lights shone in the wandering black outside the train window.

It opened up the WordPress app and started to type a half-formed story.

“I don’t want you to be happy.”

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That’s what he had said. In the dark. Close. Under the covers. His arm around my waist. His head on my hair.

He breathes quietly. What is he dreaming? Fucking hell.

“I don’t want you to be happy.”

Why would anyone say that?

Why would anyone think that?

I can feel my heart beating in my stomach and my ears. Fuck you Jack.

Does he know what he said? Was he awake? He’s spoken in his sleep before.

My breath is big and heavy.

Just before he fell asleep he had been telling me about the last girl he had slept with. They had showered together. The only one he’d ever had a romantic shower with. He had spoken with a big grin and his dark brown eyes were glistening.

“She was so beautiful. She liked to have her back scratched. Have you ever had a romantic shower Daisy?”

“Yes.”

His eyes suddenly looked very heavy.

“A shower is a very close thing,” I said “Stroking someone all over-”

He was asleep. I tucked his hair behind his ears. Glowing. Settled in the moment.

Then, fifteen minutes later.

“I don’t want you to be happy.”

He’s jealous. That’s it. But he brought up the other girl. I didn’t even care!

Fuck you Jack.

He moves towards me. Kisses my lips, softly.

23 Ideas for Supervillains That Don’t Suck

Most supervillains are terrible, here are 24 small ideas for better ones

Ideals

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“But why?” The hero says, as around him a screening crowd of orphans burn. The villain actually has a value system that is at least slightly relatable.

  1. Meritocracy. The villain has had it with stupid people who don’t know what they’re doing being in charge. She’s going to take them out, and put some capable ones in their place. Maybe she’ll break a few rules and a few little fingers on the way.
  2. Equality. How can one person hoard everything, while others starve? The villain’s aim is simply to level the playing field. And levelling Tony Stark’s house (and the Eiffel Tower) is just part of the process.
  3. Freedom. The villain has had enough of these restrictive rules! Naturally he’s got to kill the cops, and blow up an aircraft carrier, and melt the pentagon. Do as much as he can to destroy the Fascist state and let the people be who they are.
  4. Self. He just wants to be rich. And powerful. And have fun. Why should it always have to be some complicated Templar plot to turn back the world clock? What happened to plain old dollas and titties?
  5. Order. You see how crazy and confusing things are right now. If people were just told what to do, and stopped doing anything else, then it would be simple. Unfree, maybe, horrible, maybe, but simple. Organised.
  6. Honesty. These lying liars. Why must they lie? I’ll cut out their dishonest tongues and then they shall lie no more! The world I make in their place will be a more open one.
  7. Purity. You think I’m neurotic for always washing my hands before shaking yours? I’m SAFE Tony. You’re taking a risk every day. Now, once my nerve agent gets into the water supply, everyone who is predisposed to carry infectious diseases will die, painlessly, and we can remove their bodies. Then we’ll all be safe. Well, safer. We could always kill more. People with peanut allergies, for example. No more of them, no more peanut allergies…
  8. Punishment. Everyone has sinned Alice. I’m here because you cheated on your maths exam in year eight.
  9. Happiness. I’m forcibly plugging people into a simulated reality in which Ed Milliband is Prime Minister, America enacted common-sense gun legislation and Conan O’Brien stayed writing The Simpsons. So what if it is technically slavery? These people are enjoying their lives. Reality could never live up to this. Their imaginary children can afford imaginary mortgages!

All of these are insane, but they all have an emotional core to them that exists in actual humans.

Grievences

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Who hurt you, evil villain?

10. Jealousy. I have an IQ of 175 and have created a new form of renewable energy that is powered by grapes. But nobody wants to go for a beer with me, nobody will have sex with me, and nobody will give me any money for my amazing ideas. They say it’s because I’m an “arsehole”. Well I don’t want to be left out of the party any more. I want what she’s having! I’m going to take down everyone who doesn’t deserve what they’ve got!!!

11. Authority. My dad. My head teacher. The head of my improv comedy troupe. They all were dicks to me. I’m going to dick right back!!

12. Loneliness. It’s simple. This villain can’t keep up a relationship. He can’t keep up a friendship. It’s unbearable. So when he does see someone he’s just way too intense and drives them away again. There’s a hole in him and he’ll fill it with murder.

13. Boredom. This little lady has been around for more than three thousand years. She’s read all the books. She’s eaten every kind of tomato. She’s made out with every species in the universe. It’s all the same to her now. She’s going to have some fun, and that means doing something a little bit extreme.

14. Disorder. My foster parents were bad people. They hit me. They threw me down the stairs. They humiliated me in front of their friends. But it was my mother’s anger that hit me hardest. I never knew what would set it off. I tried to moderate it by pleasing her, but I could never understand her patterns. If only I knew what set her off. If only I could control her rage! I need to understand and control everything!

15. Loss. She was happy once. Good once. But then everything was taken from her. Now she has nothing left to lose.

16. Hunger. Amazing what an empty belly and a cold hard bed can do to focus the mind. Gotta steal to eat. Gotta eat to live. And he has acquired a taste for human flesh.

A villain is interesting when there is some real pain they are trying to rectify.

Powers

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The villain’s powers should 100% not be “super tough, and can punch hard” because that is a) boring to fight against and b) the same set of powers that every villain – especially every Disney Marvel villain – has.

17. Heat. Yes this villain can make fires with his hands, but due to conservation of energy, he has to draw the energy from somewhere, and makes icicles with his arse at the same time. I’m sure this could be turned against him somehow.

18. Freeze time. But it only lasts a few seconds, and she has to build up her power between shots by eating huge quantities of banana bread and resting for hours. This is extremely inconvenient and means she has to be clever about the use of her powers.

19. Jump forward in time. But only forward. Oh wait that would make for terrible stories. Scratch that.

20. This is stupid. It’s not their powers that make supervillains so consistently boring to watch. It’s their nonsense plans and boring personality.

21. Hollywood execs should have no end of supervillain archetypes to bend into their film characters, after all, they live, work with and marry them every day.

22. Almost everyone thinks they have good intentions. This is especially true of villains. So stop making them boring arseholes with no reason for why they do, who believe themselves to be evil.

23. Make them interesting arseholes who have a sizeable fanbase.

That is all.

11 Rules To Design The Perfect Videogame

I learned these over many years of making games, playing games, observing people play games, and discussing games. There are exceptions for all of these, but they are a good starting point for any budding designers. Some are also frequently, and pointlessly, broken in the biggest, most professionally made games.

Also, these are only rules for designing enjoyable games. That may not be the same as games that people talk about or games that sell.

1. Start With Gameplay

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Battlefield 1 is a shooter

This is absolutely fundamental. It may sound obvious, but there must be a reason that you are making a game rather than a film or a short story. How a player plays the game affects everything else. It comes before graphics, story, art, sound, everything.

If the core gameplay is turn-based combat, you have to start by making some kind of system of turn-based combat. Why? Because as you play around, you’ll add in ways of healing, and how the player dies, and saving and loading and whatever. And when you know what is satisfying in these circumstances, this will tell you what kinds of assets you can use. If your story is going to be satisfying, then it has to actually fit with the mechanics of the game you are playing.

And what if the focus of your game isn’t game-play? Then you have to decide that at the start, before you make the rest of the game. If you’re making a point-and-click, or an interactive text-based story, you still have to know how the player navigates this world, and what kind of challenges they will face.

If you don’t start with game-play, then you can end up discovering that there is no way to fit it into what you have made. It is easier to create a story based on a set of mechanics, than it is to create a set of mechanics that tell a finely-tuned story.

2. Game Structure Impacts Ideal Game Content

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Is your game linear? Does it have a branching story? Is it open-world? Is it a multiplayer game with weekly seasons?

If your game is linear, know that any secrets of collectables will be locked for players once they have passed them and moved onto the next area. Unless you allow players to replay previously completed levels. In which case, does the game need to be linear?

The structure – how players transition through the game – completely shapes what the game should be. Ask yourself – will players revisit this area? Will they turn around and look back before moving on? Will they travel through the same level again, backwards? Will they be able to skip this level entirely?

Whenever you are considering some persistent element that carries between levels, like experience points, or skills, or the PC’s relationship with other characters, consider how these elements will change depending on the way they traverse the world.

If you require your players to use tools they acquired at the end of the game to open secrets in the earliest levels, you better consider how the players will get back to these early levels, why they would want to, and whether these early levels will change over time.

3. Oh God I Hate Writing Why Did I Start Doing This?

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My brain is full of cotton wool and I am loathe to move my fingertips. I keep rewriting rewriting words. This format is too long. Will anyone keep reading?

4. Don’t Make Me Turn Around

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This is an extension of 2. How many of you frequently look backwards as you travel through your excellent single-player story game? You’re not doing it because you are mad. You are doing it because you have been taught that it is an effective way of maximising your chances as you move through the game.

You found a secret before because you got stuck and you started to retrace your steps and the secret was only visible when approaching that part of the level backwards. Now you’re a compulsive step-retracer. The designer should NOT HAVE REWARDED YOU FOR RETRACING YOUR STEPS. They have now encouraged you to start a habit that pads-out your game time, and makes it more boring. You, the player, are not at fault. You have been trained badly.

5. Playtest Constantly

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You are making your game for players. SO GET PEOPLE TO PLAY IT. If you find that uncomfortable then SUCK IT UP.

The best way to playtest is to get someone to play your game, and then simply observe what they do and take notes of anything they do that surprises you. You should also take note of what they enjoy, and most importantly what they do not enjoy. Everything that a number of players do not enjoy must be changed.

You must make sure that the people who are playtesting it are the kind of people that might enjoy this kind of game, as well.

Playtests are how you find out what of your game works, and what does not.

6. Just Going to Check Facebook

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Just to see what my two right-wing friends are up to. Oh there’s a story about an angry badger. Okay closing the browser now.

Just going to check the smaller Facebook on my phone.

7. Everything is The Designer’s Fault

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This one isn’t actually true. Games can fall on many fronts. They have ugly graphics. They’re glitchy. They’re poorly marketed. The console they’re on doesn’t have a big enough player-base. The Gods are displeased.

So not everything is the designer’s fault. I lied. BUT, nothing is the player’s fault. The players are a given. If something doesn’t take, it’s not the responsibility of the audience to change their tastes. It is the responsibility of game-makers, if they want an audience, to make games for their audience.

And I know a lot of people have bad taste. But the truth is, enough people have good taste that you will find some that like your game. Unless YOU have bad taste.

8. Comprehensive Schools are Good

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I’m just going to slip this in here to annoy any of my grammar-school supporting readers. There have been a number of studies which suggest that in comprehensive areas most students do better, except for those at the top, who do worse.

9. The Typical Player Should Unlock Everything Important A Few Hours Before The End

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It’s okay to have one or two rare special unlocks that players have to jump through hoops to acquire. BUT bear in mind, even if your game is the best game ever made – and your game is not the best game ever made – the vast majority of your players will never complete the main storyline.

So for those who make it most of the way through, why force them to choose between the whirlwind pentagram lavastorm of death and the holy ice Sun resurrection? Players want to unlock all the major powers, and they will tell other potential players how awesome those powers are.

10. Less is More

Image result for scalesGames are unique among all media, because if a player doesn’t like, or sucks at, part of a game, they usually can’t avoid that part. Nonetheless, many players will, because they are typically somewhat deranged people, persevere through the pain in order to pursue what may be good.

It is much better to make your game too short than too long, because players can always go back to the bits they liked, but they will simply give up in frustration if they are trapped in the bits they do not.

11. I Should Probably Start Making Dinner

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I’m thinking vegetarian burritos.

The Left’s New Vampires

For hundreds of years, vampires have been regarded as safe Tory voters, but in 2017, for the first time ever, more voted for Labour than the Conservatives. Why?

Vampires. Rich. Aristocratic. Extremely traditional. Only a generation ago they were the safest of safe voters for the Conservative Party. Now, fewer than one in three admit to Conservative sympathies. I toured the country, speaking to vampires in marginal constituencies, to find out what has changed.

“I remember being hunted in the ’80s during the AIDS crisis,” says Andre Duvillier, who manages an antiques shop in Kensington. “Back then feeding in Crypts was illegal, and the police would come in with night stakes to beat us up. We’d fly out as bats whenever they attacked. I saw a lot of broken wings.”

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AIDS campaigner and vampire Gaspard Duval in 1984. Gaspard died of sun-stroke during  vampirism conversion-therapy four weeks after this photo was taken. Vampirism conversion-therapy is now illegal in all EU member states.

Andre sighs and runs a thin hand through his soft grey hair. The cobwebs around the shelves used to be for effect, but he doesn’t need to add artificial dust to his grandfather clocks these days.

“People don’t want paintings that bleed any more. They don’t want chandeliers that whisper ‘get out’ just as you’re falling asleep. They want iPhones and Nintendo Switches, and they buy them online. I’m two hundred and seven years old, I’m not going to change now.”

Unlike most vampires, Andre voted for Brexit. “The EU has changed. It used to be there to unify humanity under a global superstate. It used to be about power and control. Now it’s just a glorified trade organisation.”

Madeline Le Compte De Sade, a secretary at St Wulfram’s Mausoleum in Stockton South voted Conservative in 2015, but says she won’t next time.

“I thought Cameron were evil, that’s why I voted for him,” she says. “Gay marriage is right there in book of Satan. And Universal Benefit. On face of it, Universal Benefit appears good but actually leads to thousands of premature deaths. Sneaky. I like that.”

She locks eyes, and I cannot look away. Her gaze is bright, almost luminescent.

“I actually find Jeremy Corbyn attractive, in a strange sort of way. There’s something hypnotic about him. Almost as if he’s a vampire himself!”

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“Vampire” is used as an insult among formerly supportive national newspapers including the Daily Mail

Brexit, like Trump, was a shock to many commentators, but several prominent vampires made grim predictions beforehand.

“I remember speaking to Obama in May 2016,” says Juliette Washington, senior political correspondent for the New York Times, an African American, and a vampire. “He said Trump couldn’t possibly happen. I said that he definitely would and I had seen the coming nuclear war in a dream. Obama has always been an optimist.

“You learn some things if you’re not just an African American but a vampire too. You learn that you’re not safe walking the streets during either the day or the night. You learn that you might survive a police shooting, but a brother will still stake you in the heart.”

This fear of being impaled with a stake is a common theme among vampires. There is also much talk of intersectionality.

“A multitude of factors tend to cluster with vampirism,” says Estheban Surnáme, professor of ethnography at the London School of Arcane Sciences. “Vampires have high rates of depression, rage disorders, eating disorders, seasonal affective disorder and suicidal tendencies. Whilst vampirism is associated with extreme social motility and emotional intelligence, vampires suffer from social exclusion to a higher degree than non-vampires. Most vampires are LGBTQ+, and our studies show that even within this community, they are routinely ostracised, and described with words such as ‘terrifying’, ‘predatory’, ‘evil’, and so on.

Vampire all

A study by the University of Edinburgh found 74% of articles mentioning vampires in 2016 were either “highly misleading” or “totally misleading”

“Despite historically high rates of inherited and earned wealth, vampires report the second highest levels of social isolation of all groups in our study. It is this isolation, believed to be the consequence of increasingly open anti-vampire racism, that has driven vampires’ recent shift from traditionally conservative parties to liberal or socialist parties over the past 20 years.

“A smaller factor is the de-intellectualisation of the right. More than 90% of vampires are university educated. Vampire culture puts a premium on displays of intelligence. Brexit highlighted a change that was already under way.”

Margaux Martinez, who runs a start-up in London’s tech roundabout, agrees. “We deliver blood bags to tired company directors. [‘Blood bags’ is an industry term for graduates who have not yet completed their accountancy qualifications.] They all see it too. The conservative media go on and on about the ‘intellectual elite’. They mean vampires.”

Blood bag

“Blood bags” got their name in 1952 when Alessandro LaCroix, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, noticed the rosy complexion of graduate hires, and compared them with the pale, deathly faces of the senior civil service. 

I ask Carolina about Brexit. “Vampires are extremely socially liberal. It’s hard for such an international community as ours to understand these arguments about national sovereignty. We regard all humans as equally edible.”

Later, I receive an email from Madeline Le Compte De Sade. She’s having a tasting party with her vampire friends at Gilling Castle. They’re drinking wines, sherries and ‘some special secret nectar of other sorts’.

I ask if she plans to kill me and drink my blood.

“You got me :P,” she writes. My stomach becomes heavy and I can feel myself frowning. I like to think of myself as a good progressive, but I still turn down a traditional vampiric ritual meal.