Sunday, July 13, 2014

Your's Truly

Oh hey, don't mind me. I'm just holding all these bunnies is all.


I figured it was only appropriate to wait until Bunday to show you all this. Apparently there was a pet store in town with rabbits this whole time and I didn't know about it.

Seriously, take a good look at that picture because I'm almost never that happy. In fact, handing me a rabbit is probably the only sure-fire way to get me to smile for pictures. Because as we all know, there are only two things in life that will make my face jump from "mild irritation" to "slightly content" and that's Daleks. It's also bunnies.

Being around rabbits is actually pretty therapeutic for me. I'm generally a very wound up person, somewhere between George Costanza and Joe Pesci as far as levels of agitation go. But as soon as I'm in proximity to a rabbit I drift down to 'merely' normal person levels of anxiety. Dogs are too stupid and loud, if anything having one around would just make me more upset. Cats are too aloof and untrustworthy, I can't trust them and they just stress me out more. Having a pet octopus is out of the question so really, the only animal I could stand living with is a big armful of rabbits. Only then will my life be complete.

...Well okay, my life will be complete when I have that and my Dalek shell. But you know, one step at a time.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

UDILQUEST 2014

Here's a story about Udil Bronzebolt, a dwarf. I refuse to explain who he is or how he's relevant to anything here.

Unending Despair

By Tyler Baray

Green and purple lights danced across the bubbling alien landscape. Giant mushrooms grew like trees in the swampy murk. In the distance came the sound of weeping children as glowing spores floated through the fetid air. Elven blood oozed out of every crevice and dribbled down the trunks of the mushrooms. The air stank of stale sweat and passion fruit.

Udil Bronzebolt sat at the bank of a pond of gurgling blood. He quietly rocked from side to side as his twitching eyes darted all around the unfamiliar surroundings. He swatted at invisible insects, muttering lowly to himself as he watched the thick, curdling blood lap at the shoreline.

"You're talking to yourself again." A raspy voice said from his backpack.

Udil reached in and felt around. His hand brushed against a slimy pair of dirty socks and what felt like a fresh liver. Eventually he found what he was looking for and pulled out a human skull by the eye sockets.

"We've got ta git outta 'ere." He said as he clutched the skull close to him.

"Oh of course. That's what you said when you saw that gelatinous blob or when you got us stuck in that tar. Oh! Or the time you almost decided to feed yourself to that big gurgling thing with no skin." The skull said. "And yet you never actually manage to do what you say you'll do."

"I told ye, I jus' keep walkin'...always in one direction. But we're going in circles. These trees are playin' tricks on us...I think-"

"Shut up."

Udil unceremoniously stuffed the skull back in the sack and got up to stretch his stubby arms. From all sides came the sound of hissing swamp gas as rotting vegetation forced its way up to the surface. There was no road to guide him, no signs of civilization at all. There was only the inescapable stench of blood and the anguished cries in the distance. He took one final look around and met the gaze of a large spider-like creature with his own face. It opened it's mouth in a wide, toothy grin and flicked it's tongue at him, which ended in another, smaller head like a hairless rabbit's. It hefted it's bloated body up a mushroom and stared at him. Slowly backing away, Udil decided it was time to leave.

Mile after mile he slogged through the mud and slime. Glowing eyes watched him from the fog. As time went by and his legs started to ache he could swear he heard the screams of his old companions. Visions of the tower flitted through his mind.

There was a bright flash as the air erupted in a thunder clap. Udil fell face first in the mud as hundreds of disembodied baby hands suddenly fell from the sky.They grasped at his beard as he struggled to get back up. Horrified, he tried to scramble away. A hand fell down the collar of his tattered shirt and he started to lose it. Udil writhed and flailed his arms as he started to panic. Hundreds of baby hands silently crawled toward him, grasping at his face and trying to force his eyes open. He cried out for help as he rolled around in the mud. But the only answers were the tormented howls in the wind.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Not-So Final Frontier

One thing that's always disappointed me about science-fiction is the tendency to give alien planets a single environmental theme with little to no variation. Everywhere you go it's always "desert planet" this or "jungle planet" that. What's the likelihood of an entire world being dominated by a single geological feature?

Imagine being on the first starship to explore the cosmos. Now imagine the disappointment you'll feel once you realize every world you visit is either entirely covered in ice or populated by nothing but giant mushrooms. Sure, if you're filming a T.V. series you have more important things to worry about like budgetary constraints. And I'm sure you don't want the writing staff spending all their time working on realistic geological models or weather patterns for a planet the cast is going to spend a single episode exploring. So what's the next best compromise? Just tell the audience that it's an ocean planet or a giant insect planet and move on.

It's similar to the problem of giving aliens a single, all-encompassing culture with no variation. You can choose to explore an entire species, all their cultures, their sub-cultures, their history, myths and religions. Or you can save a lot of time and say "This is a warrior culture!", "These are telepaths!", "These are homicidal saltshakers!".

And sure, that might save you time and it might get you through the season on a reasonable schedule. But on the other hand, what really is the likelihood of an entire planet being populated by nothing but gangsters?

As is obvious to everyone (except T.V. executives), our own little Earth is an amazingly varied place, with all manner of hot springs, salt flats, hoodoos, shopping malls, mesas and swamps to explore. If alien planets are anything like what books say, why bother going to them? Why bother going to the desert planet or the ocean planet when you can stay right here on Earth and enjoy either of those features in the span of a single day, no expensive spaceship necessary?

Or better yet, go visit some features right here on Earth that are many times stranger than what most fictional planets have to offer. Places like...

Pamukkale

Meaning "cotton castle" in Turkish, Pamukkale is a hot spring found in southwestern Turkey. A prime tourist destination for the past thousand years, the hot springs are dominated by snowy white terraces of travertine, a kind of limestone formed from calcium deposits in the water. These terraces reach down the hillside like steps on an enormous staircase. All the while mineral-rich water bubbles up to the surface, heated to anywhere from 35 °C to 100 °C.


This water brings calcium carbonate up to the surface as a thick jelly. Carbon dioxide is released as a gas, which results in deposits of calcium carbonate forming around the rims of the pools. This hardens, creating travertine which goes on to make even more pools as it spills over the side. As time goes by the result is an otherworldly landscape that looks eerily man-made.


Natural terraces like these are surprisingly common all over the world, with formations found anywhere from Iran, New Zealand, Italy or Yellowstone in Wyoming. Any hot spring that forms limestone deposits stands a chance of creating them.

Rio Tinto

A river in southwestern Spain, the Rio Tinto has the good fortune of flowing through a region rich in precious metals. Along the Rio Tinto lies a panoply of valuable minerals like copper, gold and silver. Since 3,000 BC the region has been mined by everyone from the Phoenicians to the Greeks and Romans, spilling untold thousands and thousands of gallons of acid mine drainage into the water. This wildly irresponsible dumping of toxic waste has continued to our current day as the region is still being mined for precious minerals.


As a result, the river is full of skin-searing acid and dissolved iron that gives it a deep blood-red color.


While it would be easy to assume the acid disintegrates anything it comes in contact with, the Rio Tinto isn't completely uninhabited. Extremophilic bacteria swarm in it's water and feed on the iron and sulfide minerals trapped in it's riverbed. What's interesting is that it's been speculated that these bacteria might actually contribute to much of the acidic content in the water, meaning they actively sterilize the Rio Tinto of any lifeforms that might oppose them.

That's hot.

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the largest salt flat in the world. About the size of Manhattan Island, it is a desolate, eerie landscape; completely flat and devoid of life. The parched, cracked surface extends into the horizon in every direction. Nothing grows here. Nothing lives here.

However, the salt flat is home to small "islands" of rocky land, the remains of ancient volcanoes peeking out of the briny crust. These rare few islands are the only places where life clings to, well, life in the salt flat. Some are large enough to host a semi-permanent population, such as Isla Incahuasi.


Large cacti dot the islands of the Salar and small rabbit-like rodents called Viscacha can be found hiding in the rocks. But besides these few rocky outcrops the salt flat is virtually devoid of life. Except the cacti, practically no plant can call this place home, resulting in a pristine void of life where nothing can live, like the background of a Salvador Dali painting.


The fact that the Salar is a lifeless wasteland hasn't stopped it from becoming a tourist destination of course. Numerous hotels have sprung up on it's islands and along it's outer rim. And what are these hotels made of in the absence of wood or stone building materials? Salt of course.

Enterprising hotel owners dig up bricks of solid salt, stack them together and call it a hotel, complete with salt furniture, tables, chairs and beds. All made of salt.


What I love the most about the Salar is how utterly lifeless it is. I don't mean that sarcastically either. I would love to just wander around this barren, sterile landscape. Imagine walking across the salt flat and not seeing another living thing for miles and miles, totally alone in this surreal world of never-ending sand and blue sky.

Finally, despite it's arid appearance, the Salar has surprisingly mild weather. The average temperature is anywhere from 21 °C to 13 °C depending on the time of year. That's anywhere from 70 to 55 °F. So in review,  it's completely lifeless, almost devoid of people and so featureless it could count as a giant sensory deprivation tank and it has nice weather.

Guys, I think I finally found a place to build my dream house.

Spotted Lake

Nestled in the wilderness of British Columbia is the Spotted Lake, a body of water so salty it could only have been created by dumping a truck load of ramen flavor packets into a hole and filling it with water.

It's described as a saline endorheic alkaline lake, which means the Spotted Lake is a drainage basin that doesn't open to any other bodies of water, has a pH of 7 or more and is very very salty. It's extreme salinity and soupy texture are what causes the spots, which represent enormous quantities of minerals like magnesium sulfate and calcium floating on the surface like giant glass beads.


In fact, the Spotted Lake has some of the highest quantities of such minerals not just in Canada, nor North America, but the entire world. This is especially true in the summer months when most of the water evaporates, leaving huge pancakes of encrusted mineral deposits behind.


Of course, the lake's status as the world's largest salt bath hasn't gone unnoticed. In addition to using the mineral deposits to manufacture ammunition in World War I there were plans to build a spa at the site and exploit the water's therapeutic properties. As far as I can tell it hasn't been built yet, which might be for the best. I get the feeling the water would have the consistency of Pepto-Bismol.

Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves

German for "World of the Ice Giants", Eisriesenwelt can be found in the Alps along the Austrian border. Snaking over forty-two kilometers into the mountain, it is the largest limestone ice cave in the world.


Limestone is a kind of sedimentary rock made of crystals of calcite and carbonate which, because of it's composition, can easily be eroded by water. As water flows over the years it sculpts the limestone into beautiful, otherworldly structures known as karsts. These become features like sinkholes and caves, forming some of the most iconic geological structures in the world like the Carlsbad Caverns, Sarawak Chamber and of course Eisriesenwelt.

The ice is cooled year round, either from cold air blowing in during the winter or blowing out during the summer. As new water enters the cave it freezes, conforming to the smooth shape of the limestone, taking on breathtaking, swooping forms, some of them reaching several meters high or flowing down from the ceiling like giant frozen chandeliers. The ice and rippling limestone walls give the cave an appearance like giant sheets of flowing silk or a lava lamp that's been frozen in place.

Sadly, there's almost no pictures to prove this, since flash photography is verboten in the cave. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Seriously you guys, even though I've seen almost no pictures of it I'm pretty sure it's gorgeous.

Probably.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ATTACK TERROR ZEPPELIN

I have no idea how long this will stay here, but for the time being enjoy a documentary on zeppelins.



I've always loved airships. So it deeply saddens me that the only form of air transportation today is stuffy, cramped airplanes. People flew in style in the past;  they had big, luxurious balloons to travel in, fine dining and spacious cabins. You didn't arrive as quickly as you would in a jet, but you didn't have to; not when the journey was half the reason for traveling.

While lighter-than-air vehicles are making something of a comeback, there's still plenty of bias against them. People hold onto this belief that zeppelins are just flying tanks of napalm, ready to go up in flames at a moments notice. But as that video shows that simply is not the case.

The problem is that the worst zeppelin disaster in history was probably also the most well documented. It completely transformed the public's perception of these machines, souring their opinion of them virtually overnight. Any mention of airships or zeppelins inevitably recalls it's name: Hindenburg.

Cruise ships are constantly coming back to harbor full of people suffering from food-borne diseases, but people still go on cruises. There are countless car crashes on the road every day, but we still use them. If your average passenger jet's engines fail it's going to start falling out of the sky. So why do airships get such a bad reputation?

If a zeppelin's engines suddenly fail it'll stay in the air. It will start drifting, but it's not like it's going to drop out of the sky. Because it's a zeppelin. It's buoyant.

The frustrating thing is that all the problems associated with the Hindenburg are easily rectified using modern technology: Don't use hydrogen gas, don't use flammable paint. Easy. Problem solved.

If the Hindenburg were rebuilt today using helium gas it would probably be the safest thing in the air (and that's including birds). Hydrogen was the fatal flaw in all old zeppelin designs. If they used slightly more massive helium they wouldn't have any problems with flammable gas leaks. To the contrary, they would be nigh-indestructible.

If you haven't seen the video all the way though, the British eventually learned how to destroy the German zeppelins using alternating explosive and incendiary ammo to punch large holes in the gas bags. This would let enough oxygen inside to start a fire. Using concentrated fire, they could ignite the hydrogen, resulting in the complete conflagration of the airship. You know what would foil that plan? Helium.

If they used helium gas it would be impossible to fill those zeppelins with enough bullets to bring them down. They would bomb all of London with complete impunity and no one could do anything to stop them.

Don't get me wrong; I'm glad London isn't a smoking crater. I just feel the need to point out a rigid airship full of helium is basically indestructible. Last time I checked, the 747 can't boast indestructibility.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dirty, Filthy Birds

It's Bunday, which means it's time for us to revisit our home away from home: Ōkunoshima, also known as Rabbit Island.



Speaking of which, I'm now accepting donations for the Shadgrimgrvy Relocation Fund. Your generous donations will go to a good cause: shipping me to Ōkunoshima, where I will live the rest of my life. With your help, we can raise enough to buy me a plane ticket and keep me hidden from the Japanese authorities for years to come. Plus, donations of $25 dollars or more will receive a stylish tote bag.

Every little bit helps.

But that's not all; I actually have some map related news if you can believe it. It isn't Lost Highway though, it's an entirely new project.

Someone messaged me on Steam a few months ago, describing their idea for a new game mode in Garry's Mod. Essentially what they were making was a single-player campaign, with multiple player characters who's scenarios were all part of an overarching story. It sounded good to me, but what really caught my attention was the setting, which was so unusual I eventually gave in and agreed to make a map for them.

Their plan, as it turns out, was to make a game mode based on The Birds with the player having to defend themself against huge flocks of ravenous, eye-pecking birds. They would have to scavenge ammo and equipment from around the map during the rare moments of calm before they started to attack again, with the ultimate goal of seeing how long they could survive against endless waves of dirty, filthy birds.

I've only seen a couple of demonstration videos so far, but the idea really translates into a game well. It's incredibly creepy seeing a flock of birds rushing the player, even when using the seagull and crow models from Half-Life 2. Plus, where else are you going to see a Hitchcock video game?

We've occasionally discussed his plans for the mod and it's all starting to sound very involved. Custom models, in-game cutscenes and of course programming to make the birds actually do damage, since it seems impossible to do so with mapping inputs (believe me, we've tried).


The map I've made was based on the schoolhouse in Bodega Bay. Surprisingly, there weren't very many reference photos for the interior. But going by what appeared in the movie and what little I could glean from an old newspaper I made something that might make sense, going by what I thought it would probably look like inside.

I haven't seen how well my map works as a playing field, but I haven't received any complaints yet so I assume everything's fine. I included plenty of fog on the assumption that it would hide the map's borders and obscure the bird's approach, giving them ample time to sneak up on the player and peck out their eyes.

From what I gather there's at least two other people making maps for the game mode and by now, I'm actually really eager to see what they look like. I discussed it with D.E.L.B. a few weeks ago and we both agreed there should be levels based on other Hitchcock movies too. Imagine it, fighting off swarms of seagulls at the Bate's Motel or inside James Stewart's apartment. Heck, there could even be a map that takes place on top of Mount Rushmore.

I have no idea how many people are actually involved by this point, but there's at least one person making concept art for each character and map, including mine:


I actually think his picture looks better than what ended up being the .bsp file. If I could go back and rework the textures a bit, make the grass more overgrown and unmanagable or make the fog thicker I think I would be happy. But as it is I'm actually really optimistic for this project. It sounds like a great idea and from the work I've seen so far it has a lot of promise.