May 26, 2008

System Shock 2

Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 1999

Developed by: Irrational Games and Looking Glass Studios

Published by: Electronic Arts

Platform: Windows

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Rating: 10 out of 10


I never forget a face. Sometimes, I wish I could.

When the original System Shock was released 1994, most probably didn’t realize what new grounds would be broken in terms of first-person shooters. Five years later, history would repeat as a second Shock would not only improve upon the original, but totally raise the bar for games to come. Shock 2 raised the stakes with improved 3D graphics, new weapons and abilities, a cooperative multiplayer option, and a new story with enough twists to keep you playing until the end.


The post-Citadel story. TriOptimum tried their best to keep the events aboard the Citadel space station under wraps, but word eventually leaked out about Edward Diego, his hacker, and SHODAN. The outrage caused the formerly ineffectual governments to form the Unified National Nominate, the UNN. They fight TriOptimum using the most powerful weapon they have: bureaucracy. TriOptimum started fighting back with their corporate-military forces. Eventually, a truce was borne of a stalemate between TriOptimum and the UNN, but technological advances slow to a crawl as many blame the UNN for Earth’s slow death.

Then, a major breakthrough: A device that warps time and space around it enables faster-than-light travel. A joint TriOptimum/UNN deep-space venture is solidified as the corporate starship Von Braun will be traveling with the UNN Rickenbacker riding piggy-back, literally. The launch occurs in 2114, some 42 years after Citadel.

Five months into the mission, the tandem receives a signal from Tau Ceti V. An away team from the two vessels return from the planet’s surface with artifacts and what appears to be large egg-like cases.

That’s when things go fruit-loopy…


Three years before launch… You arrive at the UNN Recruitment Center with hopes of being onboard the Von Braun/Rickenbacker when they make history. Before that, however, you will have to go through some training to prepare for the possible dangers you will face. Newbies should take advantage of the Basic Training area to familiarize themselves with the game’s controls and interfaces. Then it’s off to Advanced Training where you can experience some of the fun things you’ll do with the three branches of the UNN military machine. From there, it’s off the shuttle bays where you will be taken to a station to begin a three-year training program of three one-year tours of duty where you can build up your stats in weapons, technical skills, physical attributes, and maybe some psionic skills.
Ramsey Center
Here are the three military branches of the UNN:

  • Marine Corps. The few, the proud,… the trigger-happy. Marines shoot first and ask questions latter, and are happiest when they have a big gun in their hands, and it doesn’t matter if the gun shoots lead slugs, concentrated energy, or explosives for those festive occasions.
  • Navy. Dealing with the high-tech machinery to sail the seas of stars requires some high-tech abilities, and these future midshipmen are the researchers, maintenance crews, and hackers of space. They practically wear their geekiness… and their pocket protectors… on their sleeves.
  • OSA Taking their cues from MK-ULTRA, the Majestic Twelve, the NSA, and the Freemasons, the OSA takes “psychological warfare” to a new level as their ranks are highly trained in psionic abilities that would rival Professor Charles Xavier himself.
  • Your adventure aboard the Von Braun/Rickenbacker tandem actually begins in a cryo-tube with some military-grade implants and memories lost due to a computer glitch. Dr. Janice Polito contacts you, wanting you to meet her in her office on deck four to discuss what has happened to the two ships and how to correct the problem. Getting there won’t be easy.


    Cyberspace gives way to connect the dots. One important change in Shock 2 is the lack of cyberspace sequences, although there are the VR booths in the training center. Instead, an odd game of ‘connect the dots’ is used for hacking, repair, and weapon modification. If you choose to ‘play,’ you need to light three dots or ‘nodes’ in a straight line to succeed. There may be a node outlined in red (ICE nodes) that require extra caution, as causing these to go dark will cause an immediate failure. What that failure entails depends on the device.


    Research… and destroy. Another change is that some items require research. Some items only give information on how to best kill enemies. Others require research before they can be used. There are chemical storerooms where you can find the chemicals you may need to complete your research.
    Chemical storeroom
    A worthy successor. Like Quake was to Doom, Shock 2 is a worthy successor to the original Shock. A trip through the corridors of the Von Braun/Rickenbacker tandem will show you how it improves on the original.

    And if you’re up for it, you can check the next page to see how this classic shocker can creep-n-gross you out…


    Page 2: More Screencaps –>>


    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Games by Mr. Roboto.

    Two reports by Wired’s Ryan Singel from the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference held this week in New Haven, CT has some tidbits that may be of some interest…

    Computers deciding humans’ fate… poorly.

    This article from yesterday (22-May-2008) is about a panel discussing how computers are making decisions about people.

    What happens when Google’s AdSense reads an email from your boyfriend telling you it’s just not working out, and AdSense is smart enough o display ads suggesting a good therapist or a dating site? Is it possible to say then that AdSense is actually reading your email?

    And if so, could AdSense at that point be considered a legal agent, capable of breaking wiretapping laws?

    And, that intelligence raises other liability questions for companies like Google or ISPs that begin trying to examine and filter the traffic that flows through their pipes,…

    No fate but what we make for ourselves? Our ever-growing dependence on computers in our lives and jobs has now reached a whole new level of misguidance. It’s not that computers themselves are making important decisions, but they are all too offen making the WRONG decisions, based on what’s being reported with Colorado’s public benefits system:

    (Danielle) Citron cited Colorado’s public benefits computer system that judged whether people were eligible for Medicaid and food stamps.

    For more than three years, the system asked applicants questions and spit out decisions. Only the system had more than 900 incorrect policy decisions built into its code.

    The result: Bad decisions, with no human oversight. And the panel expects the problem to worsen as more decisions are made by computers with less human intervention, unless an open-source solution is implemented where the policies in the system’s coding can be checked for compliance.


    ISPs engaged in content filtering may be committing a felony.

    Hopefully, you noticed that line about Google’s AdSense system being able to break wiretapping laws. Paul Ohm, a University of Colorado law professor and a former federal computer crimes prosecutor, claimed that Comcast, AT&T, and Charter Communications may actually be breaking the law by sniffing data packets:

    University of Colorado law professor Paul Ohm, a former federal computer crimes prosecutor, argues that ISPs such as Comcast, AT&T and Charter Communications that are or are contemplating ways to throttle bandwidth, police for copyright violations and serve targeted ads by examining their customers’ internet packets are putting themselves in criminal and civil jeopardy.

    These schemes all seem to violate the Wiretap Act, a federal statute banning eavesdropping that comes with criminal and civil penalties. That law has some exceptions for service providers to monitor content, but only when necessary to deliver service, or to protect the company’s “rights and property.”

    No immunity for you, Big Brother! Even while king Duh’bya is pushing retroactive immunity for telcos who assisted with his criminal/unconstitutional domestic spying program (which even John McCain supports), the system administrators may still face criminal charges according to Ohm:

    “Not only is this a five-year felony, it also has individual accountability,” Ohm said. “The sys admin could be sued individually and prosecuted individually If you are asked by your manager to go and do this kind of monitoring, you yourself may be legally exposed.”

    The company gets immunity, the sysadmin gets screwed. Welcome to corporate America.

    This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

    Some may see this as a positive sign in the war against the security-surveillance grid of the United Police-States. Others may see this as a sad sign of controversy winning out over progress. One thing is for certain, VeriChip may be in financial trouble and can’t afford the research and development of the implantable tags. Stories come from sites like Wired, RFID Update, and RFID Journal. They have additional links to more information of VeriChip’s apparent dissolution.

    Future for sale… cheap. Last week VeriChip sold its Canadian-based subsidiary, Xmark, to Stanley Works for $45M US. Now VeriChip has hired the investment banking firm Kaufman Brothers to help sell the VeriMark Health Link division… and possibly the rest of its assets.

    Why the sell-off? From the RFID Journal:

    Last month, VeriChip rebranded its VeriMed system, renaming it Health Link, and launched a three-month advertising campaign to market its services directly to potential end users in southern Florida (our story on VeriChip pushing spychips on old farts). According to Scott Silverman, VeriChip’s CEO and chairman, the initiative included a partnership with hearing care provider HearUSA, with a goal of signing up 1,000 new customers.

    Assuming we reach our goal of 1,000, we are prepared to expand,” Silverman told RFID Journal in April, noting that HearUSA has locations throughout the country. “If, three months from now, nobody gets the chip, we will have to look at our business model.”

    VeriChip’s implantable business, however, only generated $3,000 in revenue in the quarter ending March 31, 2008, during which the company saw a $1.9 million loss. According to a press statement released by Stanley, Xmark generates annual revenues in excess of $30 million, so without that revenue, VeriChip’s implantable business would be unsustainable.

    In other words, the RFID implant market isn’t as profitable as VeriChip believed. The idea of the implantable chips was to provide “lifetime identification.” As Bruce Sterling points out:

    Just for the record, lifetime computer chip implantation requires a “lifetime computer chip” infrastructure. There aren’t any. They don’t exist and maybe can’t exist.

    Anyone who wants to be implanted with a genuine VeriChip better act fast, before the company is sold off.

    This post has been filed under News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

    Wired’s Bruce Schneier has posted what has to be a must-read op-ed piece for anyone who thinks they control their lives or data. The post called “Our Data, Ourselves” deals with something cyberpunks, hackers, net-advert pushers, and the NSA already know about (or should know about), but for the clueless herds of human cattle, it can be a real eye-opener.


    No matter where you go, there you are… and so is your data. Before the Internet explosion, your data would have been on systems not linked to each other in any way. This would have made tracking your varied activities difficult. Now, one little piece of personal information can open hundreds or thousands of doors to the wrong people who don’t deserve to have that data. All too often, though, we allow our data to go through the nets without our consent… or knowledge… or so king Duh’bya would like us to believe. Worse yet, many tend to give that data out willingly for the “convenience” of advertisements cluttering their web browsers or choking their mailboxes. Phishing, spyware, malicious sites, warrantless wiretaps, … you know the deal.

    Who controls your data?

    Who controls our data controls our lives.

    But it doesn’t just stop there. That data is often resold to other sub-fecal types who would like nothing better than to further destroy your good name for their profits and “national security.” Identity theft… ’nuff said.

    Then you get a whole new can of worms with Big Brother’s shenanigans; Your whole life cataloged in databases that never get erased even if you do. The FBI camped outside your door just because you made one visit to…


    A call for action. Bruce Schneier sums up what people need to do in four words: TAKE BACK OUR DATA. He calls for data privacy laws to do the trick:

    We need a comprehensive data privacy law. This law should protect all information about us, and not be limited merely to financial or health information. It should limit others’ ability to buy and sell our information without our knowledge and consent. It should allow us to see information about us held by others, and correct any inaccuracies we find. It should prevent the government from going after our information without judicial oversight. It should enforce data deletion, and limit data collection, where necessary. And we need more than token penalties for deliberate violations.

    I would prefer to take my data back with an AK-47 with hollow-point depleted uranium ammo. But whatever way controlling our information is done, it ultimately has to start and end with YOU.

    After all, you’re not a number in some megacorp database or a terrorist king Duh’bya should know about. Right?

    This post has been filed under Essays by Mr. Roboto.

    Obey me, my minions, or I will poke your eyes out with this pointy stick!

    Detroit, Michigan, United States. 13-May-2008. (Source: ABC News via The Associated Press) Honda’s ASIMO robot becomes a music machine as it picks up a baton to conduct the Detroit Symphony Orchestra through the opera tune “The Impossible Dream.” The performance was to highlight a $1M gift from Honda to the orchestra’s music education fund.

    The irony may be lost to those of you who may not have known that Detroit suffered a downturn when the US automakers closed their plants there because of Japanese automakers gains in America’s markets following the gas shortages of the seventies.


    Practice makes perfect. Almost. ASIMO’s limitations became apparent during a rehersal. It was programmed to observe the orchestra’s education director and mimic his moves, but it could not adjust the pacing of the music:

    During the first rehearsal, the orchestra lost its place when ASIMO began to slow the tempo, something a human conductor would have sensed and corrected, said bassist Larry Hutchinson.

    The song went off without any problems reported, and ASIMO… and the orchestra… was applauded for the performance. Though if ASIMO wants to take up the baton again, it will need to learn to control the tempo of the music better. But considering how far it has come with just walking, that shouldn’t be much of a problem for ASIMO’s engineers to correct.

    Now if ASIMO could be taught how to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen, or electronics like Kraftwerk…

    This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

    This story first appeared in Atlanta’s Journal-Constitution in February, but only recently started making rounds on the ‘net. Bar owner Rufus Terrill had enough of the pushers, derelicts, and criminal elements around his watering hole. His answer: One bad-assed, homebuilt robot.

    From the Atlanta Journal-Consititution:

    He mounted an old meat smoker atop a three-wheel scooter and attached a spotlight, an infrared camera, water cannon and a loudspeaker. He covered the contraption with impact-resistant rubber and painted the whole thing jet black.

    And so was born what surely must be Atlanta’s first remote-controlled, robotic vigilante.


    Proto-’Robocop’ hits the streets. The area around O’Terrill (the bar) also has a daycare center… and a homeless shelter that drug dealers target every night. Terrill built and pilots his bot to combat the dealers, playing on the Terminator fears of a robot revolt.

    Late at night several times a week, Terrill powers up the 4-foot-tall, 300 pound device and reaches for a remote control packed with two joysticks and various knobs and switches. Standing on a nearby corner, he maneuvers the machine down the block, often to a daycare center where it accosts what Terrill says are drug dealers, vagrants and others who shouldn’t be there.

    He flashes the robot’s spotlight and grabs a walkie-talkie, which he uses to boom his disembodied voice over the robot’s sound system.

    “I tell them they are trespassing, it’s private property, and they have to leave,” he said. “They throw bottles and cans at it. That’s when I shoot the water cannon. They just scatter like roaches.”

    Homeless advocates have criticized the Bum Bot as an attention-grabbing political ploy (Terrill ran for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006 and lost), and Atlanta police have threatened to arrest Terrill for assault if he used the bot’s water cannon on someone. But so far, there haven’t been any complaints logged against Terrill or his bot, and threats to shoot the bot have been hollow.


    More (fire)power to you, Bum Bot! Terrill’s patrons have been having fun watching Bum Bot in action, and the daycare center has been happy with the decrease in criminal activity since its patrols in the area.

    There may be other Bum Bots out there, silently patrolling the mean streets and chasing the bums away. Thanks to Terrill and his Bum Bot, there are going to be other handyman types building “Bum Bots” to combat crime in their area.

    This post has been filed under Rise of the Robots, News as Cyberpunk by Mr. Roboto.

    Every so-often, someone declares cyberpunk is dead… mostly out of wishful thinking. When that happens, there are others who declare cyberpunk is still alive and kicking (ass). Wired’s Bruce Sterling discovered a blog by chirsminotaur that starts off with a question: “Is Cyberpunk Over?” Unfortunately, he doesn’t tell us where the question, or the discussion it triggered, was located. Instead, his reflection of the question becomes a rather interesting read as he gives his own answer:

    Cyberpunk isn’t over- in more than one sense, cyberpunk is (becoming) everything.


    Let’s put the future behind us. Among chisminotaur’s inspirations include a blog by Charlie Stross, who rips into sci-fi and explains his own attraction to cyberpunk. Stross sees SF being threatened by several factors:

    1) Star Wars and how every SF novel wants to be like it.
    2) Today’s technology has made sci-fi less necessary to prepare for the future:

    We don’t need SF for pre-adaptation to the future: the future is now.

    3) Sci-fi for baby-boomers won’t work for the millennium generation.
    4) Advances in computer technology itself has made highly realistic special effects for movies and TV:

    Meanwhile, we’re competing in the special effects stakes with TV, film, and increasingly, computer games. Back in the 1950s or even 1960s, special effects were so poor that, for real sense of wonder, no visual medium could compete with written literature. But today, if you’re a writer who strives for versimilitude or believability, you can’t compete with film! (After all, you know damn well you can’t hear explosions in space, even if those bloody franchise productions insist on putting them in …)

    The gap between the visual imagination of things, and the literary imagination of the universe, has narrowed.

    While there seems to be nothing to cure #2 and #4, Stross sees cyberpunk as a relief from #1 and #3.


    One more thing… A link from WordPress’ blogroll gives this blog from David Mendoza, who proudly proclaims that CP is NOW.



    UPDATE: Ryan “Winter” Span gives his two bytes. Our burgeoning Street scribe also has something to say about cyberpunk’s “death:”

    From Street of Eyes:

    What we’re doing now in science-fiction — what I certainly am trying to do — is to investigate the effects of these predicted futures (increasing computerisation of humanity, the promise of true artificial intelligence, the growth of the internet) on the individual human psyche, rather than some great collective unconscious or Earth itself. We’re using characters as characters rather than set-pieces in some big statement about human nature or the dangers of science. We’re taking modern-day phenomena and anomalies that no one foresaw twenty years ago, and we’re running with them. Instead of showing you a window through which you can look at causes, effects and possibilities, we’re trying to figure out how the future is going to feel to each of us. I’ve seen many visions of how it’s going to turn out. What I want to look into is how we’re going to cope.

    Anyone who’s still not convinced that CP is still operating should head over to the Street of Eyes, order his book, and READ IT!!!!!

    This post has been filed under Internet Find by Mr. Roboto.

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