Category Archives: Non-Fiction

THE GIZA CHAMBERS

Not only does this first interest me as an amateur and industrial archaeologist (after all, looked at in one way this is one of the greatest and most extensive high industrial projects ever undertaken by man, especially given the limitations of the time) but this also interests me as a game and adventure designer and as a writer. I don’t think anyone has ever done an adventure or module series about the great pyramids themselves that encapsulates the true mystery and potential wonder of such a structure, and very few fiction writers have ever done the design real justice.

 

THE SPHINX LAYING IN FRONT OF THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA. SORIN COLAC/SHUTTERSTOCK

The ScanPyramids project continues to break new ground on the Great Pyramid at Giza whilst barely laying a finger on it. Their latest find shows that the 4,500-year-old monument has even more mysterious hidden cavities and corridors than their previous work showed.

Their first new discovery is a cavity about 105 meters (345 feet) up from the ground on the northeastern corner of the pyramid. This is followed by another “void” discovered on the north face of the structure, AFP reports.

The project, led by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities Authority, uses infrared thermography, “cosmic ray” muon detectors, aerial drone photography, and laser scanning to “look inside” the pyramids in a totally non-invasive way. The project is coming to the final weeks of its year-long mission, which started last October.

The bulk of their work has been conducted on the Great Pyramid, the largest and oldest of the three pyramids at the Giza site, which acts a monument and tomb to Pharoah Khufu. They have also conducted work on its neighbor Khafre in Giza, as well as the Bent pyramid and Red pyramids in the Dahshur necropolis.

 

The exact size and shape of these new rooms are not yet known by the engineers, however, they’re conducting further scans to get a clearer view. This will also hopefully shed some light onto the function or purpose of the cavities.

Following the controversial work of archaeologist Dr Nicholas Reeves, the prospect of hidden cavities is always set to get the imaginations of Egyptologists going. In 2015, Reeves suggested the long-lost tomb of Queen Nefertiti could be hidden behind the burial chamber of King Tutankhamun.

So, could this discovery be a secret corridor or even a hidden tomb?

It sounds like a plot fit for an Indiana Jones movie, but others are not being so romantic with their estimations, instead believing the cavities are simply just part of the pyramid’s structure.

“These people are scientists and do not have an archaeological background,” Zahi Hawass, former Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs and Director of the Giza Pyramids Excavation, told Seeker. “The core of the pyramid was built using long stones and small stones. If you know that, you’ll find anomalies everywhere.”

“I think there are no secret rooms and these anomalies have to do with the way the pyramid was built,” he added.

THE INDO-GREEKS

Archaeologists Discover Ancient Indo-Greek City in Pakistan

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discovery (1)Italian and Pakistani Archaeologists have discovered large layers of an Indo-Greek city with weapons, coins and pottery forms, in Barikot, Pakistan, according to a Dawn report.

Barikot was called Bazira in ancient times, a city captured by Alexander the Great during his advance to India.

Dr. Luca Maria Olivieri, head of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan, told Dawn that during their recent excavation in April-June they unearthed some very important discoveries in Barikot, in the Swat river valley. Excavations at Barikot are funded by the Pakistan-Italian Debt Swap Program.

“Very little is known in the archaeology of the sub-continent about the material culture of the Indo-Greek. However, this time we discovered at Barikot ample layers associated not only to the Indo-Greek city (when the settlement was encompassed by the Defensive Wall, 2nd century BC), but also to the pre-Greek city, the Mauryan settlement (3rd century BC),” Olivieri told Dawn.

The archaeologist also said that during the excavations it was discovered that all pre-Greek layers were destroyed along the Defensive Wall at the time of its construction, to make space for the fortification, revealing conspicuous traces of the Iron Age village (7th century BC).

– See more at: http://world.greekreporter.com/2016/06/27/archaeologists-discover-ancient-indo-greek-city-in-pakistan/#sthash.mpaOZXsG.dpuf

FORE AND AFT, PORT AND STARBOARD

Useful for a wide range of Naval Adventures and Campaigns.

June 23, 2016

Mark S. Cookman

     This is another post following our nautical theme and it includes one of my oldest tables. The table is a simple one and is honestly little more than a nautical vocabulary list, but it was the result of a hard won lesson. My hope is to help novice GM’s learn this lesson in a less painful manner than I did. Let me tell you a story.

     It is the late ’80’s and I am in college. I have a job and am a full time (15 credit hours) student of organic chemistry with a B average. For some reason, I believe that I can also have a social life and maintain this status (BTW, I could NOT.) so I also play various RPG’s. Currently, I am the GM for a game of Flashing Blades, for which I had prepared a murder mystery in a roadhouse type of adventure. Because I was an inexperienced GM, I allowed the PC’s, a group of rich and powerful French nobles, to purchase a ship and set sail away from my adventure.

     At the time though, I thought that I was in control of things. I believed that I could just adapt the adventure to occur on the boat during its trip to the New World. At the time, I didn’t want to make my players unhappy by telling them no. It was a dreadful mistake. The copious notes that I had on the roadhouse and its occupants were now basically garbage. I could salvage some names and other stuff, but that was it. I wasn’t going to say, “I’m sorry guys, but I just don’t really have anything prepared.” The group seemed excited to be on a boat, so I thought I could just go with the flow. The adventure went wrong from the very beginning because I wasn’t able to just say, “The ship will take at least a day to prepare to sail. You will need to spend the night in the inn.”

     It was truly a disaster of a gaming session. I knew less than half of what I needed to know to run a good adventure. I knew the name of the murder victims and how they were killed. I knew who (what actually because it was a shape-shifting demon) the murderer was and how the PC’s had to kill it. I did not, however, have a map of a ship (or even a good idea of what places there were on a ship), nor did I know what crew positions the murdered people filled. When the players began to ask completely reasonable questions, I couldn’t answer them at all. I had spent 3 hours earlier in the week preparing for the roadhouse adventure and yet our session fell apart because I wasn’t prepared to answer some simple questions about the setting, which was now a ship. The group was forgiving, but I had let them down. I started learning things about ships for our next session and today’s list comes from some of that research. Here are 20 Positions on a Ship Besides the Captain. Happy Gaming!

  1. Quartermaster

  2. Sailmaster

  3. Navigator

  4. Bosun

  5. Gunnery Master

  6. Carpenter

  7. Gunner

  8. Common Sailor

  9. Cook

  10. Loblolly Boy

  11. Cabin Boy

  12. Powder Monkey

  13. Shanty Man

  14. The Lookout

  15. First Mate

  16. Officer of the Watch

  17. Ship’s Pilot

  18. Coxswain

  19. Sailmaker

  20. Cartographer

BONDSTON

He looks a great deal more like Ian Fleming, a classic Brit, and a WWII era Brit than any other Bond I’ve ever seen. And having watched him as Loki and Henry he’s certainly crafty enough.

 

Tom Hiddleston In Talks To Be New James Bond — Report

By Vikram Murthi | IndiewireMay 27, 2016 at 2:08PM

Sony representative had no comment on the matter.

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The Night Manager
“The Night Manager”

Tom Hiddleston is having quite the year with starring roles in Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise,” about a tower block stratified by class that devolves into chaos, Marc Abraham’s “I Saw The Light,” a Hank Williams biopic, and the AMC limited series “The Night Manager,” based on the John le Carré novel of the same name. Now, BMD reports that a source has confirmed that Tom Hiddleston is in talks to replace Daniel Craig as the new James Bond. Though no official offer has been made, Hiddleston is interested in the job and the relevant discussions are under way. Indiewire reached out to a Sony representative on the matter and they had no comment.

READ MORE: Why the Next James Bond Won’t Be a Woman

If Tom Hiddleston were cast as Bond, he would be the eighth actor to play the role after Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig. The Bond film series kicked off with “Dr. No” in 1962, after which Bond films were released at steady clip until 1989 when a legal dispute stalled the series until 1995 with the release of “GoldenEye.” In 2006, Eon Productions effectively rebooted the series with “Casino Royale” and Craig who portrayed Bond much closer to author Ian Fleming’s vision of the character. The last Bond film was “Spectre,” which received a mixed-to-negative reception.

READ MORE: Ranked: Every James Bond Film From Best To Worst

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THE TOMB…?

If true then that’s superb!

Photo

A bust of Aristotle.

ATHENS — A Greek archaeologist who has been leading a 20-year excavation in northern Greece said on Thursday that he believed he had unearthed the tomb of Aristotle.

In an address at a conference in Thessaloniki, Greece, commemorating the 2,400th anniversary of Aristotle’s birth, the archaeologist, Konstantinos Sismanidis, said he had “no proof but strong indications, as certain as one can be,” to support his claim.

The tomb was in a structure unearthed in the ancient village of Stagira, where Aristotle was born, about 40 miles east of Thessaloniki. According to Mr. Sismanidis, the structure was a monument erected in Aristotle’s honor after his death in 322 B.C.

“We had found the tomb,” he said. “We’ve now also found the altar referred to in ancient texts, as well as the road leading to the tomb, which was very close to the city’s ancient marketplace within the city settlement.”

Although the evidence of whose tomb it was is circumstantial, several characteristics — its location and panoramic view; its positioning at the center of a square marble floor; and the time of its construction, estimated to be at the very beginning of the Hellenistic period, which started after the death of Aristotle’s most famous student, Alexander the Great, in 323 B.C. — “all lead to the conclusion that the remains of the arched structure are part of what was once the tomb-shrine of Aristotle,” Mr. Sismanidis said.

Black Sea

KOSOVO

BULGARIA

Adriatic Sea

MACEDONIA

Istanbul

ITALY

ALBANIA

Stagira

Aegean Sea

GREECE

TURKEY

Ionian Sea

Athens

200 Miles

Mediterranean Sea

Aristotle, who was born in 384 B.C., was a pupil of Plato in Athens and became a crucial figure in the emergence of Western philosophy. His work forms the basis of modern logic, and his metaphysics became an integral part of Christian theology. His “Poetics” still offers penetrating analysis of what works, and does not work, in theater. King Philip II of Macedon engaged him as a tutor to his son Alexander.

Today’s Headlines: European Morning

Get news and analysis from Europe and around the world delivered to your inbox every day in the European morning.

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A separate excavation in another part of northern Greece, Amphipolis, in 2014 led to the discovery of the largest ancient tomb ever found in the country. Speculation linking the tomb to Alexander the Great set off huge media interest, but archaeologists later concluded that it had probably been built for a close companion of the king and conqueror.

ESSAY THIRTEEN: SCIENTIFICA MAGICA

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Thirteen: Scientifica Magica

Now before anyone jumps to the wrong conclusion, based only upon the title of this post, let me state clearly that I am not one of those gamers or writers who favor turning magic (in either game or fiction) into a mere exercise in science and technology under a different name. I am not for “scientificizing magic.

I am not in favor of turning either game magic or fictional magic into science by another name, nor am I one of those who favor making magic operate under closely regulated and studied rules of scientific function or with mathematical precision. I like my magic wild, uncontrolled to some degree, definitely unpredictable, prone to malfunction and misfire, and in most other ways outright dangerous.

 

image: http://d15osn4tlmtdxb.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2006/03/img-Burne-Jones.jpg

(You know, much like a woman. Now I say that half-jokingly, but only half jokingly. To me science and technology should operate like a man – with precision, with mathematical certainty, with rules, with predictability. Now am I saying all men are this way? God no, and I can only wish. I know real people as they truly are, you see, and that is merely a philosophical postulate of how male types would operate ideally, logically, and rationally. Sort of like saying all Vulcans should be like Spock.

On the other hand women should be unpredictable, without Newtonian mathematical precision, with emotional flare and passion, fuzzy and quantum at the edges, hard to pin down, and in more than one way, truly dangerous. Generalizations of course, and type generalizations as well, but they make the point. Magic to me should not be Science and science should not be magic despite all the modern Geekery in games and fiction that would have them be, in effect, merely interchangeable and fungible concepts for the same thing.)

Science should be amazing in what it can achieve but predictable in how it operates, Magic should be almost miraculous in what it achieves but largely unpredictable and untamed in both technical function and in its methods of operation. The very point of science is to be controlled and safe, reliable and commonplace, not dangerous, for a dangerous and rare science defeats the very purpose and function of being scientific. On the other hand the very essence of magic is to be rare, uncontrolled – especially in comparison to science and the mundane – and unreliable. For indeed if you have a magic that is too easy to control, utterly predictable, reliable, safe, and ubiquitous then you don’t really have Magic at all, you simply have science under the flimsy and inaccurate guise and faulty nomenclature of “magic.”)

Now all of that being said there is one way in which I favor the intersection of magic and science and that is in the analytical and detective capabilities of modern science, which often border closely upon the frontiers of what I would actually call magic. Or at least magical in effect.

Being an amateur scientist and having a near lifelong interest in physics, forensics, archaeology, medicine, chemistry and biochemistry I often keep up to date on new papers and techniques in those fields and have recently been studying several superb new and relatively new methods of analyzing, collating, detecting, examining, and understanding archaeological and forensic evidence. Such as the use of LIDAR, magnetic surface and subsurface scans, satellite imagery sweeps in the infrared, multiple data source computer modeling, etc.

In thinking on those things and what they can accomplish it has recently occurred to me that a new type of “magic” (of a kind rarely ever encountered in gaming and fiction) could easily be developed to mimic such scientific technologies without necessarily being limited to being scientific in operation.

For instance I have recently begun developing “spells” for both game and fictional use that mimic such new discovery techniques without presenting themselves in a scientific or predictable manner. I won’t specifically describe these “magics” in detail or enumerate the spells themselves as that would take too long and as one could easily develop multiple spells from these general categories in any case, but I will briefly describe a couple of these “spell types” for you to consider in developing your own magics in this regard.

1. REENLIVENING SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area or other target and can then present, in a complex still or even a moving image, the events that occurred long ago in a particular area, concerning certain bodily remains, etc. For instance the spell could take you back into time (figuratively speaking) to see events that had occurred long in the past, such as making you privy to a particular conversation, an event in the life of a person long dead, to witness a long forgotten or unrecorded (or even an historical) event so that you could view such things occurring for yourself. These would be very different spells from something like Speak with Dead because you would be an observer and witness, not a conversant, and such results would not be limited to mere third party descriptions but rather you would be a first hand, though passive, observer.

2. RECONSTRUCTION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over an area of building or object and that allows you to see that area or building or object as it looked at another period (of the past), say at the point of its making or shaping or construction. Via the use of such an enchantment you could see a building as it is designed and constructed, an object as it is manufactured, or perhaps even several different time periods (in sequence or simultaneously overlain against one another) and their interactions, tracing the construction or object through time to several different time-points to gain detailed information about its history.

3. REENACTMENT SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour over a large area or maybe a specific person or set of remains that allows one to view, hear, feel, taste, smell, and magically touch the reenactment of a famous battle, an unknown war, the forging of a weapon, a day in the life or an individual, or even the vision, trance, or dream of another individual or creature. The emphasis here would not be merely upon the gathering of information or the witnessing of an event, but more directly upon a sort of shared (or in this case reenacted/relived) past experience. Perhaps such a spell would actually allow you to become another person, another creature, or even an inanimate (but magically aware) object for a certain period of time.

4. RECREATION SPELLS – Spells which cast a glamour upon a particular object, building, device, etc. that can recreate a visual, interactive image of the same. Higher levels spells of this type can actually recreate a physically real or similar mock-up of the original object based upon the information gathered from the object remains by the initial glamour. Still higher level spells can recreate usable approximations of even formerly magical objects (though the magic contained in the reconstructed objects may be limited) and the very highest level such recreation spells can even recreate working (though not necessarily magical in any way) models of previously lost artifacts and relics (assuming there are any remains left for the glamour to read).

5. PROJECTION SPELLS – One of the other types of spells would have to be enacted first, but, once that was done, and using the information or experiences gathered from that initial set of magics a spell caster could then seek to work a secondary set of spells that would allow one to project what would happen in the future regarding one’s chosen target or set of targets. For instance say you were in an existing castle, you could then use a projection spell to analyze and predict how it might fall to ruins, what part of the construction would be destroyed, what parts preserved, why, and by what agencies of destruction or even of renovation or preservation.

As I said above I will not enumerate the specific spells I have developed using these categories or ideas of magical effects because I don’t want to limit your imagination to my conceptions. I think every DM or player or writer ought to develop their own ideas regarding the specifics of this concept.

However I will say this, that when it comes to the operations of “magic” in my own milieus and worlds and writings every use of magic is at least tinged, and sometimes heavily tainted, with the possibility of danger, misdirection, and even failure and misfire. For instance considering the spell types above perhaps the information gleaned from such a spell will be entirely accurate, then again perhaps the work will be only partially accurate, or even mostly inaccurate. Perhaps the caster intends to see an image of one particular fortification or construction site and what he actually sees is an entirely different site. Perhaps the spell will fail entirely (with no discernable consequence or with great and dire consequence). Perhaps the spell will erroneously mix information from several different objects together and produce an amalgam of an object that does not really exist. Perhaps the spell will cause a “Rogue Projection” that will attempt to divine or even produce an unanticipated future rather than accurately display the past. Or perhaps the spell will draw the unwanted attention of some dangerous creature or being that is monitoring or warding the intended target.

The dangers surrounding the use of such magics, as with the use of any such game or fictional magic, could be nearly inexhaustible.

And I fully encourage such dangers, just as I encourage the dangers inherent in the use of any magic.

Magic is, after all, not science. And it should not operate like science. Even when it closely mimics the basic functions of science and technology (as in the case of the “spells” described above), it should be remain essentially separate and distinct in operational methods and in general nature.

For even if magic yields an essentially scientific purpose this does not mean that it should in any way reproduce a technological outcome or result.

It should always remain dangerous, rare, unpredictable, mysterious, and “magical.”

Otherwise it is mere science under another name

WORLD WAR ZERO – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME (AND PAST)

WORLD WAR ZERO?

Indeed, as I’ve been saying for decades, the First World War did not begin in the 20th century. Hell, the First World War of the modern era didn’t even begin in the 20th Century. That’s just a common, modern-era-minded conceit of modern people. A mere and entirely erroneous nomenclature. Historians are every bit as absorbed in their own prejudices and misguided assumptions as anyone else.

World Wars, depending on precisely how you define them at any given time may extend well back into pre-history. What the Zero-Point really is we may never know, but it extends well, well beyond our age.

Something to remember about Real Life, something to remember in constructing your fiction, and something to remember when constructing your milieus and game worlds as well.

Just because the events are long lost to time doesn’t mean the effects are…

 

Archaeologist Talks About A Bronze Age ‘World War Zero’ That Brought Down Three Ancient Civilizations

Back in March, we talked about a 3,200-year old massive battle that took place in the cultural ‘backwaters’ of Bronze Age northern Europe (circa 13th century BC), and how this mysterious encounter involved over 4,000 well-armed men from different regions, including Poland, Holland, Scandinavia and even Southern Europe. Intriguingly enough, there also seems to be a date-oriented significance relating to 13th century BC. Within a generation of these contemporary times, the increasing scale of warfare and over-arching political affairs seemed to have swept through many parts of the known world, including the eclipse of the Mycenaean Greeks, the invasion of Egypt by the ‘sea-people’ and the concurrent downfall of the Hittites. And furthermore, there is also the literary narrative of the Trojan War – a large scale conflict (and possibly the proverbial ‘last hurrah’ of the Mycenaeans) that pitted the Greeks against the mystifying Trojans. Considering all these ‘mega’ events of the ancient times, archaeologist Eberhard Zangger has alluded to what he calls ‘World War Zero’ – a seemingly cataclysmic scenario that severely affected and ultimately shattered the thriving nature of eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age civilizations.

According to Zangger, the so-called ‘World War Zero’ (or at least some parallel event) was possibly triggered by the emergence of a more powerful Bronze Age civilization in the proximate region. According to him, this faction – often overlooked by historians, probably pertains to the Luwians, who were based in ancient Anatolia. So who exactly were these Luwians? According to Britannica

Luwiya is mentioned as a foreign country in the Hittite laws (about 1500 bc). It probably coincided roughly with Arzawa, a large region composed of several principalities in western or southwestern Anatolia, and Kizzuwadna, a district occupying the Cilician Plain. Both Arzawa and Kizzuwadna were independent kingdoms during the Old Hittite period (c. 1700–c. 1500 bc) but later became vassals of the Hittite empire. Linguistic evidence testifies to the cultural penetration of the Hittite empire by Luwians.

As for this seemingly ‘wild’ conjecture put forth by Zangger, the archaeologist (who is also the head of international non-profit, Luwian Studies, based in Zurich, Switzerland), the Luwians were intrinsically powerful because of the availability of natural resources in western Anatolia, including the region’s rich minerals and metal ore deposits. Moreover, based on satellite imagery, it has been found that the proximate areas of Anatolia were quite densely populated by Bronze Age standards, with evidences of around 340 big settlements found in the region.

Now regarding literary evidences, as the last sentence of the Britannica excerpt confirms, Hittites were already aware of the rising power of the collective kingdoms of western Anatolia, many of which had the lingua franca of Luwian. In fact, historically some of these ‘Luwian’ factions did unite together (periodically) to make their forays, raids and even invasions of the nearby Hittite lands. One of such major incursions, along with pressure from the eastern Assyrians, might have brought about the ultimate downfall of the Hittite empire.

Zangger continues with his conjectural narrative about how these victorious Luwians then (perhaps) coveted the rich lands of the Egyptian realm. Thus come in the Egyptian texts that document the arrival of so-called ‘Sea People’ – who could have been the Luwians sailing across from ‘distant’ Anatolia to raid northern Egypt. Finally, threatened by the warmongering and other baleful international affairs, the Mycanaean Greeks braced up for an imminent invasion by the Luwians – by attacking the enemy first through their own large offensive, as described in Homer’sIliad. However on nullifying this external threat from Anatolia (aka Trojans), the Mycanaeans squabbled among themselves, and soon civil wars snuffed out their flourishing culture – as hinted at in Homer’s Odyssey.

But of course, from the historical perspective, this expansive (and world-changing) sequence of events of World War Zero is entirely hypothetical – with no exact clue pointing to Luwian dominance in contemporary political affairs. However from the archaeological context, researchers have come across ruins of many Anatolian settlements (circa late Bronze Age) that bore the destructive marks of warfare. Furthermore, since we brought up history, there are rare occurrences of ‘latent’ powers being ultimately responsible for toppling the more conventionally powerful empires, in spite of their relative unfamiliarity in global affairs. One pertinent example would obviously include the burgeoning Islamic realm (after Mohammed), circa 7th century AD, that managed to defeat two contemporary ‘superpowers’ of the time – the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) and the Sassanian Persian Empire, to claim their subsequent Caliphate.

In any case, beyond conjectures and mirroring events, there is the whole science of extant evidences to consider. These evidences could include both textural works and architectural specimens. As Christoph Bachhuber at the University of Oxford, said –

Archaeologists will need to discover similar examples of monumental art and architecture across western Anatolia and ideally texts from the same sites to support Zangger’s claim of a civilization.

Sadly, the archaeological ambit is still lacking in regard to the machinations of the eastern Mediterranean theater in Bronze Age. But as always there is a silver lining to this academic scope. So while Zangger’s World War Zero mirrors the nigh universal narrative of warfare and destruction, it could also potentially redirect the attention of the experts in this field to ‘dig deeper’ into the mystery of the late Bronze Age. Bachhuber aptly put it forth –

He’s [Zangger] really getting the ball rolling to do larger holistic studies of the area,. I’m actually quite excited that he’s bringing attention to this region.

 

 

GENE RODDENBERRY’S FLOPPIES

How Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s words were freed from old floppy disks

When Gene Roddenberry’s computer died, it took with it the only method of accessing some 200 floppy disks of his unpublished work. Here’s how this tech mystery was solved.

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While Gene Roddenberry is often associated with the Macintosh, he apparently did far more writing on this unknown-brand computer.

Call the engine room and get Scotty to the bridge: When the long-lost words of Star Trekcreator Gene Roddenberry were found on 5.25-inch floppies—yes, floppy disks—it would take a Starfleet-level engineering effort to recover them.

Roddenberry, who died in 1991, apparently left behind a couple of shoebox-sized containers of those big floppy disks.

The problem? As any techie knows, floppy drives went out off fashion around the turn of the 21st century. Even if you bought a used 5.25-inch floppy drive off of Cyrano Jones on space station K7, you wouldn’t be able to read the files on a modern computer, let alone plug in the drive.

Roddenberry’s estate knew of two possible computers the author had used to write those final words. One had been sold off in a charity auction and the second wouldn’t boot when plugged in.

floppy disk 2009 g1GEORGE CHERNILEVSKY
Most of Gene Roddenberry’s lost work was stored on the 1970s and 1980s era 5.25-inch disk, which here is flanked by the older 8-inch and newer 3.5-inch versions.

The computer’s dead Jim

Rather than accept that no-win scenario, Roddenberry’s estate turned to DriveSavers Data Recovery. The lack of an operative computer was less than ideal, but  Mike Cobb, director of engineering of DriveSavers, was optimistic, considering the company’s ability to recover data from most forms of computer media known today.

According to Cobb, the majority of the disks were 1980s-era 5.25-inch double-density disks capable of storing a whopping 160KB—that’s kilobytes—or about one-tenth the capacity you can get on a $1 USB thumb drive today. Cobb said a few of the disks were formatted in DOS, but most of them were from an older operating system called CP/M.

CP/M, or Control Program for Microcomputers, was a popular operating system of the 1970s and early 1980s that ultimately lost out to Microsoft’s DOS. In the 1970s and 1980s it was the wild west of disk formats and track layouts, Cobb said. The DOS recoveries were easy once a drive was located, but the CP/M disks were far more work.

“The older disks, we had to actually figure out how to physically read them,” Cobb told PCWorld. “The difficult part was CP/M and the file system itself and how it was written.”

As the data recovery firm couldn’t get Roddenberry’s old computer to power on, it had to sleuth the physical layout of the tracks on the disk. That alone took three months to reverse engineer; Cobb credits his own “Scotty,” Jim Wilhelmsen, with figuring it out.

drivesavers star trek recovery 1DRIVERSAVERS DATA RECOVERY
DriverSaver’s Mike Cobb and Jim Wilhelmsen with Gene Roddenberry’s dead computer and a pile of the floppy disks they helped recover.

To make matters worse, about 30 of the disks were damaged, with deep gouges in the magnetic surface. As luck would have it, Cobb said most of the physical damage was over empty portions of the disks and he believes about 95 percent of the data was recovered.

Besides seeking the technical expertise required for the task, the estate also wanted high security, according to Cobb. The estate wasn’t going to just drop all 200 disks in a FedEx box and pray to the shipping gods they wouldn’t get lost. No, only small batches of the disks were doled out at a time,  and each batch was hand-delivered to DriveSavers’ secure facility in Novato beginning in 2012.

Once DriveSavers had recovered the data, the data had to be converted into a format the estate could open. It’s not like you can feed a 1980s-era CP/M word processor format into Microsoft Word, so Cobb personally converted each file to a readable text file.

The big reveal

All told, Cobb said when the operating system files were excluded, about 2-3MB of data was recovered from the 200 floppies. That may seem like a minuscule amount by today’s standards, but in the 1980s, document files were small. Roddenberry’s lost words were substantial.

So what’s actually on the disks? Lost episodes of Star Trek? The secret script for a new show? Or as Popular Science once speculated, a patent for a transporter?

Unfortunately, we don’t know.

Cobb ain’t saying. Understandably, when DriverSavers is contracted to recover data, it’s also bound by rules of confidentiality. PCWorld reached out to the Roddenberry estate but was told it had no comment on the data or its plans for the newly discovered writing of Gene Roddenberry.

drivesavers star trek recovery 2DRIVERSAVERS DATA RECOVERY
For their work in recovering The Great Bird of the Galaxy’s lost writing, DriveSavers received a signed photo of the Star Trek creator in front of his computer from his son.

Related:

GOING BLIND INTO THE DARK – RESURRECTED RELICS

GOING BLIND INTO THE DARK

If you ask me ancient archaeological sites like these make for superb adventure and dungeon and plot locales, though of a very different type than the standard dungeon or adventure site.

Very bizarre artefacts, relics, objects, events, rituals, and creatures could easily exist at such sites. I often use modified Real World archaeological sites and place them in my games and novels and stories because they are so ancient, rich, and full of odd and often unexplainable things. (As a matter of fact I have an entirely separate category of “adventure and plot locales” when it comes to ancient and prehistoric archaeological sites for my writings and designs, including the artefacts and events discovered/recovered there.)

It is very good to have odd and unexplainable things in your writings and in your games and milieus that the players and readers can try, like everyone else, to figure out, but can’t really understand, deduce, or explain.

Unknown or unexplained or recently discovered archaeological sites are superbly interesting because unlike many other sites they have already passed into pre-history (or out of history) or little to nothing is known about them until they are accidentally stumbled upon again (by completely different peoples and characters, etc.), and because, of course, they tend to be so ancient all memory of them has been subsequently lost. And of course many of these unknown and unrecorded sites tend to be megalithic and absolutely gargantuan in nature, consisting of many vanished layers of development. Entire campaigns and years and years of adventures, not to mention book sequels, can easily be written around such sites. And, of course, one site often bleeds into another.

That’s a superbly good state of affairs for the reader or player (going blind into the dark or going blind back into the far more ancient things), but it is an entirely excellent thing for the writer and the game designer/game master.

Because at such sites the entirely unexpected and the wholly forgotten should be the most common expectation and the most dangerous memory.

 

NASA Adds to Evidence of Mysterious Ancient Earthworks

By RALPH BLUMENTHALOCT. 30, 2015

One of the enormous earthwork configurations photographed from space is known as the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village in Kazakhstan. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
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High in the skies over Kazakhstan, space-age technology has revealed an ancient mystery on the ground.
Satellite pictures of a remote and treeless northern steppe reveal colossal earthworks — geometric figures of squares, crosses, lines and rings the size of several football fields, recognizable only from the air and the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old.

The largest, near a Neolithic settlement, is a giant square of 101 raised mounds, its opposite corners connected by a diagonal cross, covering more terrain than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Another is a kind of three-limbed swastika, its arms ending in zigzags bent counterclockwise.

Described last year at an archaeology conference in Istanbul as unique and previously unstudied, the earthworks, in the Turgai region of northern Kazakhstan, number at least 260 — mounds, trenches and ramparts — arrayed in five basic shapes.

 

The Bestamskoe Ring is among the so-called Steppe Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan — at least 260 earthwork shapes made up of mounds, trenches and ramparts, the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old, recognizable only from the air. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
Two weeks ago, in the biggest sign so far of official interest in investigating the sites, NASA released clear satellite photographs of some of the figures from about 430 miles up.

“I’ve never seen anything like this; I found it remarkable,” said Compton J. Tucker, a senior biospheric scientist for NASA in Washington who provided the archived images, taken by the satellite contractor DigitalGlobe, to Mr. Dey and The New York Times.

Ronald E. LaPorte, a University of Pittsburgh scientist who helped publicize the finds, called NASA’s involvement “hugely important” in mobilizing support for further research.

This week, NASA put space photography of the region on a task list for astronauts in the International Space Station. “It may take some time for the crew to take imagery of your site since we are under the mercy of sun elevation angles, weather constraints and crew schedule,” Melissa Higgins of Mission Operations emailed Dr. LaPorte.

The archived images from NASA add to the extensive research that Mr. Dey compiled this year in a PowerPoint lecture translated from Russian to English.

“I don’t think they were meant to be seen from the air,” Mr. Dey, 44, said in an interview from his hometown, Kostanay, dismissing outlandish speculations involving aliens and Nazis. (Long before Hitler, the swastika was an ancient and near-universal design element.) He theorizes that the figures built along straight lines on elevations were “horizontal observatories to track the movements of the rising sun.”

Kazakhstan, a vast, oil-rich former Soviet republic that shares a border with China, has moved slowly to investigate and protect the finds, scientists say, generating few news reports.

“I was worried this was a hoax,” said Dr. LaPorte, an emeritus professor of epidemiology at Pittsburgh who noticed a report on the finds last year while researching diseases in Kazakhstan.

With the help of James Jubilee, a former American arms control officer and now a senior science and technology coordinator for health issues in Kazakhstan, Dr. LaPorte tracked down Mr. Dey through the State Department, and his images and documentation quickly convinced them of the earthworks’ authenticity and importance. They sought photos from KazCosmos, the country’s space agency, and pressed local authorities to seek urgent Unesco protection for the sites — so far without luck.

The earthworks, including the Turgai Swastika, were spotted on Google Earth in 2007 by Dmitriy Dey, a Kazakh archaeology enthusiast. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
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In the Cretaceous Period 100 million years ago, Turgai was bisected by a strait from what is now the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean. The rich lands of the steppe were a destination for Stone Age tribes seeking hunting grounds, and Mr. Dey’s research suggests that the Mahandzhar culture, which flourished there from 7,000 B.C. to 5,000 B.C., could be linked to the older figures. But scientists marvel that a nomadic population would have stayed in place for the time required to fell and lay timber for ramparts, and to dig out lake bed sediments to construct the huge mounds, originally 6 to 10 feet high and now 3 feet high and nearly 40 feet across.

Persis B. Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg who viewed some of Mr. Dey’s images, said these figures and similar ones in Peru and Chile were changing views about early nomads.

“The idea that foragers could amass the numbers of people necessary to undertake large-scale projects — like creating the Kazakhstan geoglyphs — has caused archaeologists to deeply rethink the nature and timing of sophisticated large-scale human organization as one that predates settled and civilized societies,” Dr. Clarkson wrote in an email.

“Enormous efforts” went into the structures, agreed Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, an archaeologist from Cambridge University and a lecturer at Vilnius University in Lithuania, who visited two of the sites last year. She said by email that she was dubious about calling the structures geoglyphs — a term applied to the enigmatic Nazca Lines in Peru that depict animals and plants — because geoglyphs “define art rather than objects with function.”

Dr. Matuzeviciute and two archaeologists from Kostanay University, Andrey Logvin and Irina Shevnina, discussed the figures at a meeting of European archaeologists in Istanbul last year.

With no genetic material to analyze — neither of the two mounds that have been dug into is a burial site — Dr. Matuzeviciute said she used optically stimulated luminescence, a method of measuring doses from ionizing radiation, to analyze the construction material, and came up with a date from one of the mounds of around 800 B.C. Other preliminary studies push the earliest date back more than 8,000 years, which could make them the oldest such creations ever found. Other materials yield dates in the Middle Ages.

Mr. Dey said some of the figures might have been solar observatories akin, according to some theories, to Stonehenge in England and the Chankillo towers in Peru.

“Everything is linked through the cult of the sun,” said Mr. Dey, who spoke in Russian via Skype through an interpreter, Shalkar Adambekov, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh.

The discovery was happenstance.

Researchers are hoping to marshal support for investigating the earthen mounds that make up figures like this one, the Big Ashutastinsky Cross. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA
In March 2007, Mr. Dey was at home watching a program, “Pyramids, Mummies and Tombs,” on the Discovery Channel. “There are pyramids all over the earth,” he recalled thinking. “In Kazakhstan, there should be pyramids, too.”

Soon, he was searching Google Earth images of Kostanay and environs.

 

There were no pyramids. But, he said, about 200 miles to the south he saw something as intriguing — a giant square, more than 900 feet on each side, made up of dots, crisscrossed by a dotted X.

At first Mr. Dey thought it might be a leftover Soviet installation, perhaps one of Nikita S. Khrushchev’s experiments to cultivate virgin land for bread production. But the next day, Mr. Dey saw a second gigantic figure, the three-legged, swastikalike form with curlicue tips, about 300 feet in diameter.

Before the year was out, Mr. Dey had found eight more squares, circles and crosses. By 2012, there were 19. Now his log lists 260, including some odd mounds with two drooping lines called “whiskers” or “mustaches.”

Before setting out to look for the figures on the ground, Mr. Dey asked Kazakh archaeologists whether they knew of such things. The answer was no. In August 2007, he led Dr. Logvin and others to the largest figure, now called the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village.

“It was very, very hard to understand from the ground,” he recalled. “The lines are going to the horizon. You can’t figure out what the figure is.”

When they dug into one of the mounds, they found nothing. “It was not a cenotaph, where there are belongings,” he said. But nearby they found artifacts of a Neolithic settlement 6,000 to 10,000 years old, including spear points.

Now, Mr. Dey said, “the plan is to construct a base for operations.”

“We cannot dig up all the mounds. That would be counterproductive,” he said. “We need modern technologies, like they have in the West.”

Dr. LaPorte said he, Mr. Dey and their colleagues were also looking into using drones, as the Culture Ministry in Peru has been doing to map and protect ancient sites.

But time is an enemy, Mr. Dey said. One figure, called the Koga Cross, was substantially destroyed by road builders this year. And that, he said, “was after we notified officials.”

 

 

BAM! THE ANCIENTS WERE ANCIENT BUT HIGHLY DEVELOPED

Archaeologists Unearth Spectacular 3,500-Year-Old Warrior’s Grave in Pylos

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The Greek culture ministry announced that an international team of archaeologists led by the Department of Classics from the University of Cincinnati have uncovered a spectacular 3,500-year-old, treasure-filled grave of a warrior has been discovered near an ancient palace in southern Greece.

UC's Sharon Stocker with the 3,500 year-old skull found in the warrior's tomb (Photo Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

UC’s Sharon Stocker with the 3,500 year-old skull found in the warrior’s tomb (Photo Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

The Culture Ministry says the grave is the most spectacular discovery of its kind from the Mycenaean era in more than 65 years on continental Greece. The discovery has revealed about 1,400 artifacts, including gold and silver jewelry, cups, bronze vases, engraved gemstones and an ornate ivory-and gilt-hilted sword.

Gold ring with a Cretan bull-jumping scene was one of four solid-gold rings found in the tomb. (Photo: Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

The grave escaped plunderers who looted a monumental beehive tomb discovered decades ago in the area, near the palace of Pylos — one of the most important Mycenaean administrative centers.

The warrior’s remains were found with a yard-long bronze sword and a remarkable collection of gold rings, precious jewels and beautifully carved seals. Archaeologists expressed astonishment at the richness of the find and its potential for shedding light on the emergence of the Mycenaean civilization, the lost world of Agamemnon, Nestor, Odysseus and other heroes described in the epics of Homer.

Alex Zokos, a conservator, removed a bronze jug at the site. (Photo: Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

It said the dead warrior, aged 30-35, must have been a “leading member” of Pylos’ aristocracy. The tomb, which stands at 2.4 meters (7 feet 10 inches) long and 1.5 meters wide, was unearthed during excavations begun in May near Pylos, on the site of the palace of Nestor.

One of more than four dozen seal stones with intricate Minoan designs found in the tomb. Long-horned bulls and, sometimes, human bull jumpers soaring over their horns are a common motif in Minoan designs. (Photo: Department of Classics/University of Cincinnati)

“Probably not since the 1950s have we found such a rich tomb,” said James C. Wright, the director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

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Nicholas Wade wrote in The New York Times that the discovery could be a gateway to discovering unknown things about the relationships between the Minoan civilization on Crete and the Mycenaean civilization that flourished on the Greek mainland more than 3,000 years ago.

THINGS OF INTEREST AND USE – GAMEPLAY

THINGS OF INTEREST AND USE

I have a Pinterest account in which I have compiled things of interest and use for my writings, gaming, and inventions.

Some of you might find these things useful for designs, idea-generation, or mapping.

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT – ALLTHING

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT: MUNDANE AND MAGICAL

A friend of mine and I were having a discussion last night and this morning on primitive bow-making and historical facts. She informed me that ancient men and later frontiersmen used their bow staves as primitive one stringed lyres (or musical bows) and their arrow shafts as primitive bows to play very basic music. See one reference below.

This idea only makes great sense and you can easily see how this would have led to to the development of primitive musical bows and lyres specifically for music.

Anyway this gave me both a gaming and literary idea. In gaming you would have a bow specifically designed for Bards (or that they create themselves as part of their unique gear – like a warrior who forges his own sword) that can easily serve as a modified musical instrument that would allow him to both enchant enemies and opponents and entertain or in some way heal or bless allies and companions. A magical version would then have both combat and Bardic advantages, and it is so very natural since such equipment could easily serve dual or even multiple functions (it might also serve as a 4 to 5 foot pole or as a climbing rod/tool when unbent or in stave form).

As a literary device for my novels it could serve the same basic functions but, of course, would not be described in that way. There is a Welsh bard in one of my novels who would naturally easily employ such a bow.

This is hardly the first device or weapon or piece of gear or equipment I’ve made use of for dual or multiple purposes (either in real life, games, or in literature or poetry) but it is a rather fascinating and new employment for me. Bow staves as musical instruments.

Now all of that being said what items do you use in your games or writings or even in real life as dual-use pieces of equipment or gear?

Further Reference: Work Songs, Plutarch, and the Scythians

THE WRITE GAME – THE FORGE

Indeed. It has been a  seminal influence on my fictional writings, but not just upon my writings. It also greatly influenced many other things I did or am still doing in life, everything from detective work to my inventions.

I also learned a great deal about things like map-reading and ambush setting by playing D&D.

 

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The playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is one of many authors to have gleaned skills from Dungeons & Dragons, now 40 years old. CreditÁngel Franco/The New York Times

When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

Playing D&D and spinning tales of heroic quests, “we welfare kids could travel,” Mr. Díaz, 45, said in an email interview, “have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world.”

“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”

Now the much-played and much-mocked Dungeons & Dragons, the first commercially available role-playing game, has turned 40. In D&D players gather around a table, not a video screen. Together they use low-tech tools like hand-drawn maps and miniature figurines to tell stories of brave and cunning protagonists such as elfish wizards and dwarfish warriors who explore dungeons and battle orcs, trolls and mind flayers. Sacks of dice and vast rule books determine the outcome of the game’s ongoing, free-form story.

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Dungeons & Dragons has influenced a shelf full of writers. CreditEthan Gilsdorf

For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. As Mr. Díaz said, “It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.”

The league of ex-gamer writers also includes the “weird fiction” authorChina Miéville (“The City & the City”); Brent Hartinger (author of “Geography Club,” a novel about gay and bisexual teenagers); the sci-fi and young adult author Cory Doctorow; the poet and fiction writer Sherman Alexie; the comedian Stephen Colbert; George R. R. Martin, author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (who still enjoys role-playing games). Others who have been influenced are television and film storytellers and entertainers like Robin Williams, Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).

With the release of the rebooted Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set on Tuesday, and more advanced D&D rule books throughout the summer, another generation of once-and-future wordsmiths may find inspiration in the scribbled dungeon map and the secret behind Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

Mr. Díaz, who teaches writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” was written “in honor of my gaming years.” Oscar, its protagonist, is “a role-playing-game fanatic.” Wanting to become the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, he cranks out “10, 15, 20 pages a day” of fantasy-inspired fiction.

Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”

And, he said, he was typically his group’s Dungeon Master, the game’s quasi-narrator, rules referee and fate giver.

The Dungeon Master must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and options for plot twists. That requires skills as varied as a theater director, researcher and psychologist — all traits integral to writing. (Mr. Díaz said his boyhood gaming group was “more like an improv group with some dice.”)

Sharyn McCrumb, 66, who writes the Ballad Novels series set in Appalachia, was similarly influenced, and in her comic novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun” D&D even helps solve a murder.

“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters and situations,” Ms. McCrumb said. “If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.”

What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”

If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)

Ms. Grouling also cited “a sense of control over stories” as a primary reason people like role-playing games. “D&D is completely in the imagination and the rules are flexible — you don’t have the same limitations” of fiction, or even of a programmed video game, she said. A novel is ultimately a finished thing, written, edited and published, its story set in stone. In D&D, the plot is always fluid; anything can happen.

The playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, 44, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” said D&D “harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling,” one that was both “immersive and interactive.” The Dungeon Master resembles “the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters,” he said. “It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire said planning D&D adventures was “some of the very first writing that I did.” And the game taught him not just about plot but also about character development.

Playing D&D has also benefited nonfiction writers. “Serving as Dungeon Master helped me develop a knack for taking the existing elements laid out by the game and weaving them into a coherent narrative,” said Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.” “And yet you were constrained by the rules of the D&D universe, which in journalism translates into being constrained by the available, knowable facts.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire agreed that fictional worlds need rules. “For a story to be satisfying, an audience needs to understand how the world works,” he said. “ ‘The Hunger Games’ is a perfect example of: ‘O.K., these are the rules of this world, now go! Go play in that world.’ ”

Over and over again, Ms. Grouling said, tabletop role players in her survey compared their gaming experience to “starring in their own movies or writing their own novels.”

As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.” But he said he still misses D&D’s arcane pleasures and feels its legacy is still with him: “I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”

D&D ON STEAM

D&D now on Steam, complete with dice and a Dungeon Master

Fantasy Grounds, one of the leading virtual tabletop platforms, now offers officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons content from Wizards of the Coast. Available through Steam, the software can allow players to virtually recreate the 5th edition D&D tabletop experience complete with dice rolling, 2D maps and a play experience completely controlled by a dungeon master.

Anyone who’s been playing D&D over the last decade remembers the promise of Wizard’s Virtual Table. First publicized in the back pages of 4th edition core rulebooks, it promised a fully-realized, 3D tabletop roleplaying experience. But over the lifecycle of 4th edition the vision wavered, and in 2012 the Virtual Table beta was officially cancelled.

In the meantime, a number of virtual tabletop solutions cropped up organically online, allowing players to come together from remote locations around the world and have an experience very similar to playing at a table together in the same room.

fantasy_grounds_phandelver

One of the most capable solutions is Fantasy Grounds, which has a bewildering assortment of features and flexibilities that allow game masters to create everything from homebrew games, to Pathfinder and other established tabletop systems. Add to that the officially licensed D&D modules available for download, including add-on classes and monster collections, as well as entire campaigns.

The first set of products, including the D&D Complete Core Class Pack, D&D Complete Core Monster Pack, and The Lost Mine of Phandelver went on sale last week. Polygon has spent some time checking out the content in The Lost Mine module. Believe it or not, the entire experience, page-for-page, of the physical 5th edition D&D Starter Set is represented there. Beyond that, Fantasy Ground’s modules even include annotated maps hotlinked to spawn enemies onto the grid, ready to roll initiative.

We talked to the president and owner of Fantasy Grounds, Doug Davison, who said that more products are already in the pipeline.

“We have a queue that we’re working through right now,” Davison told Polygon. “We just finished up the preliminary work on the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure module, and so that’s currently in review right now. We’ve already conducted our internal reviews, and now it’s out in the hands of a few folks at Wizards of the Coast. So depending on how much needs to be changed during that process, I think you’re looking at a matter of maybe weeks before that’s available.”

Greg Tito, Wizard’s communications manager, confirmed for Polygon that other campaigns, including Rise of Tiamat and the recently released Princes of the Apocalypse, are on the way for Fantasy Grounds.

It’s interesting that Wizards is partnering with a tool which, for all intents and purposes, allows users to scrape content off the internet for free and easily insert it into their games. Fantasy Grounds’ own online tutorials give step-by-step instructions on how to grab maps and art from Google Images and drop it directly into user-generated games.

But Tito says players have been doing this sort of thing for generations, so why not support a tool that lets them do it easily? Furthermore, he hopes that fans will see the value in the for-pay Fantasy Grounds modules, as they leverage the strong work that the Wizards research and development team, as well as their publishing partners, produce in the physical books.

“It goes down to everything that we’ve been excited about in this partnership withFantasy Grounds,” Tito said. “It’s just another tool to allow people to play D&D the way they want to play it.”

CIVIL WAR CAST

Excellent!

Civil War is the future Marvel film I am most looking forward to seeing. Especially after seeing the Age of Ultron. (Which kicked ass by the way.)

If you ask me Civil War was the best, and by far the single most realistic thing, Marvel ever did with their comic book superheroes. It also finally got me to firmly liking Captain America.

Who before I had always thought of as a naive government dope.

But afterwards I thought of as an independent, stand-up, fearless, patriotic solider beholding to his true and best ideals (American ideals) rather than to a corrupt US government.

And when he brought down both Hydra and SHIELD in Cap 2 I could really, really respect him.

 

Marvel Studios Reveals Captain America: Civil War Synopsis, Confirms Cast

MAY 7, 2015

Marvel Studios Reveals Captain America: Civil War Synopsis, Confirms Cast

Marvel Studios has commenced principal photography at Pinewood Studios in Atlanta, Georgia onCaptain America: Civil War, the third installment of its Super Hero franchise. The production will shoot on location in Atlanta, Georgia, which serves as the base for the film’s production, as well as locations in Germany, Puerto Rico and Iceland.

Set for release in the United States on May 6, 2016, Captain America: Civil War is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, “Community”) from a screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The Winter Solider, Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger). The film returns Chris Evans as the iconic Super Hero character Steve Rogers/Captain America along with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon, Paul Bettany as The Vision, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Don Cheadle as Jim Rhodes/War Machine and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch.

After his debut in Marvel’s Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, Paul Rudd will make his first appearance alongside the Avengers as Scott Lang/Ant-Man in Captain America: Civil War.

The cast of the film also includes Chadwick Boseman (42, Get on Up) as T’Challa/Black Panther, Emily VanCamp (“Revenge”) as Sharon Carter/Agent 13, Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds,Bourne Ultimatum) as Baron Helmut Zemo, Frank Grillo as Brock Rumlow/Crossbones, William Hurt (Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk) as General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).

Captain America: Civil War picks up where Avengers: Age of Ultron left off, as Steve Rogers leads the new team of Avengers in their continued efforts to safeguard humanity. After anotherinternational incident involving the Avengers results in collateral damage, political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability and a governing body to determine when to enlist the services of the team. The new status quo fractures the Avengers while they try to protect the world from a new and nefarious villain.

Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is produced by Marvel Studios’ president, Kevin Feige, with Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Patricia Whitcher, Nate Moore and Stan Lee serving as executive producers.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo’s creative team also includes director of photography Trent Opaloch (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Elysium), production designer Owen Paterson (Godzilla, The Matrix), and three time Oscar-nominated costume designer Judianna Makovsky (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).

A REALLY-REAL VIRTUAL REALITY? FOR REALLY-REAL? – THE FORGE

OCULUS RIFT WILL MAKE VR A REALITY IN 2016

GET READY TO JACK INTO THE MATRIX

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Oculus Rift

Oculus

Virtual reality is about to meet actual reality. Oculus VR, the company behind the long-in-development Oculus Rift, has announced that it will finally begin to ship the virtual reality headset beginning in early 2016.

Pre-orders of the device, which can been used for everything from immersive space sims to interactive VR movies, will kick off later this year, at a yet undisclosed price point. The shipping device, based on the company’s Crescent Bay prototype, will include built-in audio and what Oculus describes as “an improved tracking system” that works regardless of whether you’re sitting down or standing up.

The ergonomics and industrial design have been tweaked as well to make it a product that’s a little more polished for the consumer market. Previous models were only available for developers interested in building apps and games for the headset, though the company also helped produce the Gear VR headset being sold by Samsung.

We’ll get more details from Oculus VR in the coming weeks, including the price and full technical specifications, and the company teased that the upcomingE3 gaming conference might be one venue in which it would deliver further information. The big question remains exactly what software will work with the Rift upon launch. We’ve seen some examples already, including space simElite: Dangerous and the aforementioned interactive movies. Given how long developer kits have existed, it seems likely that game companies and others have had time to add support for the Rift into their products, but I’d expect to see some game announcements at E3 and more as we get closer to the Rift’s actual ship date. Like so many new peripherals, however, there’s a chicken-and-egg dilemma; some will no doubt buy a Rift sight unseen, but many may wait to see whether this is a literal game-changing experience before they invest. Yet if nothing else, there’s always Oculus’s parent company, social media behemoth Facebook, which has said it intends to provide some sort of social experience through virtual reality.

Of course, Oculus isn’t the only company interested in VR: HTC has teamed up with Valve to produce a headset targeted for later this year and gaming company Razer is taking a bigger picture approach with an open source platform that’s compatible with multiple VR platforms. One way or another, virtual reality will be a fact of life in the next year or so.

BRAVE NEW WORLD – ALLTHING

Syfy and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television developing Brave New World series

Before dystopian future novels were all the rage, there were many classic tales predicting a dark future for mankind. Syfy and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television will soon pay tribute to one of the most famous and acclaimed of those works: The network and production company announced Tuesday that they’re developing an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

The novel was first published in 1932. It’s set in a future world that lacks poverty, war and disease—but where mind-altering drugs are distributed, and free sex and increased consumerism are the norm. Most disturbing of all, people no longer reproduce; instead, they’re genetically created in “hatcheries.” Those who refuse to conform are sent to “reservations.” All this, though, is about to change when one “savage” bucks the system and threatens the entire social order.

Modern Library ranked Brave New World fifth on a list of the 20th century’s 100 best English language novels. “Brave New World is one of the most influential genre classics of all time. Its provocative vision of a future gone awry remains as powerful and as timeless as ever. Promising to be a monumental television event, Brave New World is precisely the groundbreaking programming that is becoming the hallmark of Syfy,” said Dave Howe, president of Syfy and Chiller, in a statement.

Syfy and Amblin have collaborated before on Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken, which received an Emmy for Best Miniseries in 2003.

Amblin Television’s Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey (The Americans, Falling Skies, Under the Dome) will executive produce, along with Les Bohem (Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken), who will also pen the screenplay. Universal Cable Productions will act as the studio.

THE MEGAFLOODS

‘Megafloods’ Spurred Collapse of Ancient City of Cahokia, New Study Finds

It’s been attributed to war, crop failures, political strife, and even an epic fire.

But new research in the heart of one of North America’s most influential prehistoric cultures suggests that its demise may have been brought about, at least in part, by disastrous “megafloods.”

Cahokia painting
An artist’s rendering depicts Cahokia’s city center at its prime (Painting by L. K. Townsend/Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site)

The new findings come from a team of archaeologists and earth scientists who have been studying the land surrounding the ancient metropolis of Cahokia in what’s now southernIllinois.

At its peak — between around 1050 and 1200 — Cahokia was the continent’s largest and most prominent cultural center north of Mexico, wielding economic power and religious influence from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

But by the early 13th century, signs of the city’s might began to wane as suddenly and mysteriously as they had first appeared.

And while many human factors likely played a role — including economic hard times and bloody conflicts — researchers say one important force remained out of Cahokians’ control: the Mississippi River.

[Learn about human sacrifice at Cahokia: “Infamous Mass Grave of Young Women in Ancient City of Cahokia Also Holds Men: Study“]“Our study shows that Cahokia emerged during an unusually arid period in midcontinental North America, when large floods were suppressed,” said Sam Munoz, a geographer at the University of Wisconsin, who led the current research.

“But [it] began to decline after A.D. 1200, when large floods became more frequent.”

Cahokia illustration
An artist’s depiction shows central Cahokia around the year 1150 (Cahokia Mounds Museum Society/ Art Grossman)

Munoz and his colleagues made this discovery somewhat by accident, while researching the area’s agricultural history.

They extracted 10 deep cores of sediments from two sites in the Mississippi River floodplain aroundCahokia’s former boundaries, each cross-section representing 1,800 years of geologic history.

“When we were examining these cores, we noticed unusual layers that had a very fine and uniform texture, and contained almost no pollen, charcoal, or plant macro fossils,” Munoz said.

These strangely sterile layers turned out to contain the silty, small-grained clay typical of floodwater sediments.

“We designed this study so that if we saw the same kind of deposits in both [sets of] cores at the same times, then that would confirm that they were deposits from floods of the Mississippi River,” Munoz said.

“We found five out of five overlapping deposits with distinct particle-size distributions that were deposited at the same times, and thus concluded that these must represent Mississippi River floods.”

The layers above and below those bands of flood sediment, meanwhile, contained charcoal and other plant material that allowed the researchers to date the strata, and re-create Cahokia’s environmental past.

Until about 1,400 years ago, the evidence showed, the area where the ancient city would one day stand was prone to frequent and severe floods, with the Mississippi River rising at least 10 meters (about 33 feet) above its base level.

But then the climate shifted, and the great floods stopped.

“Beginning around A.D. 600, high-magnitude floods became less frequent, and indigenous peoples moved into the floodplain and began to farm more intensively and increase their numbers,” Munoz said.

By the mid-11th century, these settlements had grown into a metropolis that, at its zenith, housed at least 10,000 people in its central district.

However, Munoz’ team found that the city only continued to thrive at the pleasure of the Mississippi.

Starting around 1200, the data show, the climate of central North America became wetter again, and the large floods returned, inundating the region with increasing frequency.

Munoz’ team speculates that these “megafloods” would have devastated crops, ruined caches of food, and forced the temporary relocation of thousands of people.

cahokia flood map
A map shows the central district of Cahokia (inset right) in the context of the water levels reached by the flood of 1844 (blue). (Credit: Sam Munoz)

While there’s no direct archaeological evidence of the disruptions that these disasters likely caused on Cahokians’ lives, Dr. Sissel Schroeder, a Wisconsin archaeologist who collaborated in the research, said that the return of the floods coincides closely with many signs of political instability and social upheaval in the community.

“We see some important changes in the archaeology of the site at this time, including a wooden wall that is built around the central precinct of Cahokia,” Schroeder said, in a press statement.

Population in the region soon began to drop, as well as agricultural production. Then, the construction of religious and elite structures that helped hold the community together came to a halt.

[Read about Cahokia’s ceremonial beverage: “Ancient Americans Pounded Vomit-Causing ‘Black Drink’ 6 Times Stronger Than Coffee“]“There are shifts in craft production, house size and shape, and other signals in material production that indicate political, social, and economic changes that may be associated with social unrest,” Schroeder said.

“It would have had a particularly destabilizing effect after hundreds of years without large floods.”

[Explore other recent research into Cahokia’s collapse: “Epic Fire Marked ‘Beginning of the End’ for Ancient Culture of Cahokia, New Digs Suggest” ]The new clues found in the ground under Cahokia may reflect only one of many contributors to the ancient city’s collapse, Munoz said. But they may still hold lessons for modern societies, as they too grapple with a changing climate.

“Beyond the Cahokia site, our results demonstrate how sensitive large rivers like the Mississippi are to climatic variability — and how dependent human societies are on rivers.

“It isn’t clear yet how rivers like the Mississippi will respond to the climatic changes projected for the 21st century, because our historical records cover only the last 100 to 150 years, and do not represent the range of climatic variability projected for the next 100 years.”

Munoz and his colleagues report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

ODD IN EVERY WAY – GAMEPLAY

I was looking forward to this. This is very odd.

 

Signs point to cancellation for Kojima’s Silent Hills [Updated]

Del Toro quits collaboration, playable trailer coming off of PSN.


A GIF-ified version of the key part of the P.T. reveal of Silent Hills.

Updated: Konami has sent out a Q&A responding to the series’ supposed cancellation. While the company notes that it will continue to develop the Silent Hill series, it doesn’t specifically mention that Silent Hills is still being made. The full Q&A from Konami is at the end of the story.

In all of last month’s drama surrounding Hideo Kojima’s troubled relationship with Konami and the Metal Gear Solid franchise, there was little information on the fate of Silent Hills, the survival horror sequel collaborationbetween Kojima, film director Gullermo del Toro, and actor Norman Reedus. While the Kojima Productions logo was removed from the game’s home page late in March, there was no official word from Konami regarding the project’s fate. This weekend, though, a number of strong signs point to the game’s outright cancellation.

The bad news started when a member of the Metal Gear Solid subreddit noticed a troubling message on Konami’s Japanese site: “The distribution period of ‘P.T. (Playable Teaser)’ on PlayStation Store will expire on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.” That cryptic “teaser” was the same interactive demo that hid the original Silent Hills announcement last August. It’s possible Sony or Konami simply decided that P.T. had run its promotional course, but it seems odd to remove such a well-received free download with little warning… unless the game it’s promoting no longer exists, that is.

The bad signs continued today, with del Toro reportedly telling a San Francisco International Film Festival audience that his collaboration on the project is “not gonna happen,” according to tweetsfrom multiple sources in attendance. Norman Reedus responded to reports of del Toro’s statements,tweeting that he was “super bummed” about the apparent cancellation and “hopefully it’ll come back around.”

It’s quite possible that Reedus doesn’t have any insider information, and he’s simply working off the same incomplete reports that we all have at the moment. IGN cites an anonymous source who clarified that del Toro was only speaking of his involvement in the project, not speaking definitively about the game’s overall fate. “You’ll have to go after Konami for those answers,” the source said. (Konami and representatives for del Toro were not available to respond to a request for comment over the weekend).

On the other end, Polygon cites an anonymous “person with knowledge of the project’s development” in reporting that the project is “effectively cancelled.”

Given the already fragile relationship reported between Kojima and Konami, all the new smoke surrounding the project likely points to some sort of fire regarding Silent Hills‘ cancellation. If confirmed, the news would be another blow to a fan base that has been waiting patiently for the series to return to form following 2012’s disappointing Silent Hill: Downpour.

THE TRIGGERING OF THE HUMAN IMAGINATION – LOST LIBRARY

Recently I have undertaken a new career (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, an additional career) as a fiction writer. My background as an author is as a non-fiction writer, primarily dealing with such subjects as business, science, and technical matters. Although on occasion, often for private clients and sometimes just to pursue my own interests, I write analytical, white, and theory papers on everything from military and law enforcement matters to educational techniques to religious subjects.

But, as I said, now I am embarking upon a new or supplementary career as a fiction writer. Last night, while reclining in bed, and reading a fiction story before sleeping, it occurred to me that the author was very good as describing some scenes (thereby easily provoking my imagination to work “independently” of the actual words used to construct the scene) and at other times the author did a very poor job of description and my imagination had to work very hard, or was confused as to exactly what the author was describing. (The author was Michael Moorcock.)

I went to sleep and later awoke about 0500 hours from a dream, and then an idea suddenly occurred to me about what had triggered the dream. (I didn’t connect my dream directly to the story Moorcock had written but it had triggered an “oblique set of imaginings” which I thought were related to some of the ideas expressed in the story.) After I was awake about fifteen minutes or so replaying the dream through my mind it occurred to me that many authors, as well as others, such as really good playwrights, poets, filmmakers, graphic or visual artists (I had recently taken my children to see one of the largest collections of Sacred and Italian and Spanish Gothic and Renaissance Art in the entire nation, and most all of the works were both highly symbolic, and fantastically beautiful), even inventors, scientists, and religious leaders often express their ideas in such a way as to have a great and lasting impact upon the imagination of the consumer. (I am using the term consumer here to represent any partaker or user of such services, products, information, or ideas as are being now discussed.)

And herein lies the seed of my theory. That there are certain techniques that writers, artists, inventors, etc. use that are capable of triggering the imagination of the listener, audience, or observer in such a way that the imagination of the consumer is expanded to such a degree that it becomes heavily provoked, and can then operate almost entirely independently on similar matters (if not indeed completely independently) of whatever the original trigger that had initially produced it.

Using a writer as an example of my intent, for instance, certain authors are so good at description, that they can create an image in the mind of many readers that even when the reader completes reading the description or has finished the work, there lingers a sort of lasting or almost semi-permanent impression of (and on) the imagination, that is not static and calcified, but is rather “alive,” flexible, and on-going. A sort of Living and On-Going After-Image that is not static, but is fluid and almost vital. The images and impressions made by the work do not die out with the reading of the last word, or by finishing the book, but rather they “carry on” almost as if they had created a sub-rosan or virtual reality within the mind and psyche of the consumer or the partaker. And this new and virtual mind-reality is likewise not limited to the breadth, depth, or scope of the original subject matter of the work, but rather one type of imagining or image activates numerous others in a long and continuing chain of triggered imaginary impulses, the limits of which are constrained only by the inventiveness, potentialities, and desires of the particular consumer in question.

As a side note I should also mention that I am not using the term Virtual to imply something that lacks reality, as much as to represent something that has not as of yet become imminently real, but could very well become empirically real when imagination is determinedly and ambitiously combined with actual work and concentrated effort. (Now of course a badly executed or ill-conceived effort of work, imagination, or description may leave the consumer either highly confused as to what exactly the author meant by virtue of his description, or may lead the consumer completely away from the actual intent of the author, or may simply provoke a feeling of disinterest or “dullness” on the part of the consumer, triggering within him not sustained and powerful imaginings, but rather impressions of distraction, or a shallowness that can only be indicative of a total lack of interest and respect for the work in question and what it produces.)

But my theory (and my theory is not new, I am sure, but I am seeking a sort of specialized or different application of it) is that while there are certainly defective techniques of the act of describing or envisioning a thing that lead to a failure to spur on the imagination of the consumer, that miscarry the attempt to create a “virtual reality” of the mind through the lacking exertion(s) of a peculiar creator, there are also techniques that rarely fail to produce the sort of positive effects that I am discussing here in respect to the imagination.

That is to say if there are techniques that fail in the cause of provoking and exciting and expanding upon the capabilities of the imagination of the consumer, then there are obviously other and more intense techniques, which will, more often than not, have the desired effect of expounding upon, elucidating, enlarging, edifying, and invigorating (perhaps permanently) the imagination of the consumer. Techniques that can help to create a sort of “perpetual inner motion” of the imagination, and that will have effects far beyond and far exceeding the actual individual triggers or spurs that were used in producing this state of affairs.

(Now, for purposes of this discussion, I am not going to really address the receptivity or state of internal agreement that any particular consumer feels toward the subject matter he is consuming. That is outside the bounds of what I am discussing, and in any case there is very little, practically speaking, that any creator can do to control the state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. The creator can use the best techniques possible, and undertake his or her work in the most crafty and acute manner by which he is able, but he cannot control the inner state of receptivity on the part of the consumer. That is almost entirely the duty or the affair of the individual consumer of information. If someone else wants to discuss this issue of information dispersal versus information receptivity, then feel free, but as for me, and at this moment, I intend to avoid the issue as a momentary distraction to the other more important points at hand.)

It also occurred to me this morning, after teaching my classes, that the same sort of thing happens in Role Play Gaming, and that moreover in such an environment such “triggering of the human imagination” is often a corporate act, as much as an act of the creator of the plot, storyline, and/or milieu being explored. (And if indeed it is an act of both the corporate and individual imagination, then this in itself might be an important clue towards the feasibility and dynamic nature of important methods of “imaginative triggering.”) That being the case it seemed to me that this website and blog would be the perfect place to solicit further ideas for this discussion. And that a discussion of role-play techniques and methods geared specifically towards the architecture of imagination might yield vital and important clues towards even larger issues of the mind and visionary invention.

Now there may indeed be, and I very much suspect that indeed there are, more or less Universal Techniques and Methods for the “triggering of the human imagination” in the way in which I am framing the issue. (Techniques that may vary in application according to media type, or in discipline or field of endeavor, but are still interchangeable in intent and basis of intended achievement.) However let’s put that possibility aside for the moment and work at the problem inductively.

Let me ask the question(s) very simply in this way: What techniques or methods do you employ as a DM (or even as a player), adventure writer, milieu creator, writer, songwriter, inventor, and so forth that seem to you to “trigger the human imagination” in a very intense and enduring fashion? So that your work takes on a “virtual life of its own in the mind of your consumers,” and/or so that it continues to excite your consumers long after the actual act of the game is concluded? And how do you go about employing such techniques on a consistent basis in order to repeat these effects in a systematic and continuing manner?

I’m looking forward to your answers, ideas, opinions, and speculations…

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