Monday, January 21, 2013

The Future is here - and it's not really what we thought it would be...

 To put it concisely, "Where the hell is my Hover-Board?"

Visions of the Future don't always pan out. It seems we're still always quite a step behind what we had envisioned ourselves doing right now, 20 years earlier. "Back to the Future 2" was no different. And neither was I. Back in 2009 and 2010 I wrote a small series of articles for the now sadly defunct online gaming magazine, one of which was my view on my personal New Year's Day 2013. It was a Vision of my Personal Future, as well as the future of video gaming in general. Turns out I was pretty wrong. Shocking, I know.
So, with the next-gen consoles Sony's Orbis and Microsoft's Durango on the horizon, and contradictory rumors blackening the skies, I though it might be funny - for you - to read my take on things and games this year - from three years ago.

The following (without the pictures) was published @ on January 16th, 2010. And boy, wouldn't it have been nice if things had turned out this way.

"When I wake up, my mouth feels like so much offal, and for a short moment I wonder if maybe my cat had shat down my throat. Again. As I’m trying to figure out how exactly I might get a crowbar into my mouth to unhinge my tongue from my palate, my hand touches something soft and warm and tender beside me. It’s a leg. It’s definitely human, and seems to be well shaved. I pray to God it’s female. But, then again, my prostate doesn’t feel violated, so at least I was (probably) the penetrator. Which is something, I guess, and apparently enough of something to light a small, shimmering beacon of hope behind my eyes. It hurts. A lot. Without mercy, its brilliant rays slowly dissolve the 2,000 $ worth of murky, mushy stuff around my brain, and I begin to remember as much of last night as I probably ever will. It’s a shame, really, since the parts I do remember do make me want to remember more, for a change.

"Anyway, being reasonably sure that I will be able to take it, I open my eyes, and as soon as the man with the hammer in my head stops pounding, I venture a little smile. Oh, it’s definitely female. An actress, if I remember correctly, and quite famous, too, but I’ll be damned if I can remember her name right now. Sierra, or… or something. She stirs, and opens her lovely eyes, and gives me one of those special I-am-so-completely-sexually-satisfied-it’s-almost-too-much-to-take-it smiles. I smile back, fervently hoping that I won’t have to say anything. On the one hand, my tongue is still not really moving, and on the other, knowing my luck, talking would inevitably get me into a situation where I'd have to say her name, and that would most assuredly ruin the moment. But instead, my mysterious maiden mumbles a word that sounds suspiciously like “shower,” and sinuously slips off the sheets. And as she walks towards the bathroom in all her nefarious nakedness, her brown hair falling almost to her bodacious buttocks, I am truly a happy man. Almost at the door, she stops in her saunter to pick up a pair of very fashionable, slightly futuristic sunglasses from amongst her scrambled leather clothes on the floor. She puts them on and turns her gaze upon me, and even if I cannot see her eyes, there is a promise in that look, of things wet and wonderful that I won’t ever forget.

"It’s the glasses that do it. Her, the glasses, her leather jumpsuit and one terrible movie… The movie was years ago, but she still fits the role. Yes. I finally remember her name. Oh, I am a happy man. So happy, in fact, that I hum a little tune to myself. An old Beatles song, about some guy named Jude… It’s a sad song -- for Jude, anyway -- and that makes me smile. With my G.I. Joe Cover Girl in the shower, I notice another, probably feminine, lump under the sheets, somewhere far, far away, on the left side of my Cesar sized bed. I contemplate for a second to reveal the mystery, travel the distance, even if it means actually moving my battered body, but I eventually decide to let the lump lie. No sense pushing my luck. Unfortunately, I still do have to move. It might be a holiday, and it might be some time in the general vicinity of afternoon, but I still have work to do. And since it is my work that blessed me with my candid companions, I am eager and willing. Now all I have to do is convince my body of its own eagerness, preferably some time before nightfall.

"I don’t quite make it. First, the lump came alive and straddled me with dancers’ legs while she breast-beat me into submission, then a freshly showered action figure heroine felt sore and left out. And I am but one man. Trust me. It was terrible. Finally, while my sultry side-trackers try unspeakable things with the shower hose that threaten my sanity, I get out of bed and dress for work. I pick up my work-shirt from the TV, checking to make sure it is at least half charged. It’s very frustrating for the shirt to go off-line in the middle of a conversation, let me tell you. But, as so often, fickle Fate had been graceful to me, when she landed the shirt so close to a major electronic appliance last night. The TV’s electromagnetic field was more than enough to recharge the battery weaves. And anyway, I should be happy to even have one. Only about a thousand are in circulation and Microsoft wants to keep this one pretty close to the vest, so to speak, until the official release.

"Writing for the most influential online gaming magazine ever does have its perks. I admit, that the thought of wearing a battery woven into shirt form that powers your Xbox peripheral controllers, and is recharged simply by exposing it to a strong electromagnetic field did take some getting used to -- especially the part about all those “totally harmless” invisible energy fields we apparently live amongst -- but it’s surprisingly comfortable, easy to wash, and the tight fit makes my pectorals look very nice, indeed. It also features a microphone woven into the collar, forever freeing my handsome head from the old, hideous and quite uncomfortable headset. I still have to wear the glasses, though, but no glasses, no virtual office. The glasses are not powered by the shirt, and need to be recharged once a week by prolonged exposure to natural light. Which usually means, that I leave them somewhere next to the window when I go to bed around 10:00 am.

"After an hour’s search, I finally dig them out of the cat’s litter box. They’re a bit smelly, but otherwise functional. I don the smelly glasses, but on second thought pick up the controllers and sling them unto my arms, the ergonomically formed wrist supporters gently fitting around my forearm, transferring most of the controllers’ weight from my wrists on to my bulky biceps. The controllers are basically what you’d get, if you sawed through the middle of one of the old 360 controllers: you got your sticks, your triggers, your shoulder-buttons, everything’s still there, only lighter and more comfortable. They’re also motion sensitive like those Wii sticks, but everybody had known that was coming, once Microsoft’s discrete purchase of Nintendo had surfaced into the light of day one year ago. It was the final part of the Console Wars, and there really could only have been one winner. And, no, I never did believe that Sony was harboring Weapons of Mass Destruction, but apparently the obvious is not as convincing to UN inspectors as it is to the layman. There never were any WMDs, of course. Sadly it took a forceful invasion of most of Asia to prove it, but, honestly, who can blame them? It was an honest mistake.

"Finally, the controllers act as additional reference points for Natal, enhancing the video-interface’s already impressive accuracy. I know all that, because someone much smarter than me told it to me again and again while I was wondering very intently about how her skin would taste. There are some treasures hidden among the Nerdity, and not all of them are about the head, after all. Now, Natal works fine for browsing and surfing and navigating, and I do love my virtual Pilates instructor very much, but there are some things, small things -- like, say pulling a trigger -- that Natal just can’t do very well, and for the sake of Natal’s compatibility and usability both with older and newer games, the controllers supplement the necessary fine mechanics. It makes the killing real easy. You just choose in the game options menu which controls Natal will take from your movement, and which are, well, controller-controlled. Yes, I am mighty with words. To explain in more practical terms, stuff like crouching or taking-cover or aiming can very well be done by moving your hands or legs or body, but try to make a movement that tells the game to change your weapon or Aim down your Sights. On second thought, maybe crouching and taking cover also fall into that last category. At least for the lazy or the hang-overed.

"Anyway, I don’t really need the controllers for my work, but I am not quite awake yet, and I want to kill someone before I bow to the needs of my job. So off come the glasses, and as soon as I connect the controllers by a small expandable cable to the little ports artfully hidden in the seams of the long-sleeved shirt arms, my Xbox 360 work-center starts to boot. The TV switches on automatically, and if you ever wondered how a 150” flat screen looks, let me tell you, it looks just fine.

"The Box connects to Live, and my virtual secretary informs me of calls I missed and appointments I forgot, of family and well-wishers and other miscreants trying to scurry my favor. She’s standing there, her flawless virtual body in virtually no clothing at all, but I scroll all that away with an impatient flick of my wrist and go straight to “Modern War.” It’s the latest evolution of online multiplayer gaming, the most successful game in history, and -- no surprise, there -- it’s all about killing people. The World is at War. A terrorist attack released a virus into the global water supply, poisoning almost all freshwater resources on the planet. On the brink of thirst, the continental powers now fight for the last remaining fresh water, frozen in the arctic icecaps. I’m not quite sure how any of that makes sense, but it served its purpose insofar as that there are no real bad guys. We’re all just fighting to survive, or some such, and anybody can join up with any faction or country he wants to, without having to worry about fighting for the Evil Axis. Every year the war starts again, with new and different missions, DLC and add-ons, and I am eager to see how my venerable veteran will utterly destroy all those sickly green recruits coming in today.

"The game itself is actually three games -- and they were all sold separately at hefty prices -- but the reward is a complete virtual world war that fully integrates air, land and sea combat into one colossal competitive multiplayer campaign. You can be a pilot, a tank driver, infantry, special-ops or the captain of a warship. Or all of the above, if you have the necessary rank and the necessary money to buy all three games. You can even choose to play it as a real time strategy game, commanding your assets (i.e. the real people controlling the soldiers at the frontline -- you know, the ones always bitching about the screwed up decisions you make) on the battlefield, giving them missions and objectives -- but for the first time ever all of these facets can and will be controlled by other human players. It is as real to actual combined warfare as it gets, and as a joint venture of Tom Clancy’s Ubisoft, Infinity Ward and Microsoft itself, the quality is nothing short of inspiring. In theory. And theory in the realm of Microsoft is to be taken with a handful of salt. But it is still extremely engaging, and the fixed timeline gives it a wonderful urgency. As a battle-hardened veteran of last year’s war -- which nobody won, because some flunky in Russia decided to just nuke the ice caps and be done with it; Europe would’ve lost anyway -- I am superior to any noobs in equipment as well as in my tactical options. With my rank and XP I have also access to harder and more crucial missions against the enemy elite, but I decide to stick to the frontlines for today. More cannon fodder. But before I dive into the trenches, I take a few minutes to limber up. I don’t want to pull a muscle. It’s not that kind of war.

"Two hours and a 164 killstreak later, my name is being cursed in multiple languages by noobs all over the world. I feel good. I feel almost an hour of work coming on. Maybe two. Before I leave, I check the battle schedule for tomorrow, and I see that there’s a combined attack on Iceland. As I heard it, the scheduling was one of the hardest parts for the programmers to figure out, since a surprise attack isn’t really surprising if you have to notify your enemy and then make a date to make sure you’re not playing against mindless bots, but however they did it, it works. Personally I think there are a million people somewhere hidden in a Microsoft warehouse, playing the game 24 hours a day for minimum wage to give the rest of the world someone real to shoot at. Of course there are still Bots to flesh out the ranks, but they die just like the rest.

"But enough of that. Time to go to work. I exit the game, sit down on the couch, unplug the controllers, don the glasses, and I enter my virtual office. My virtual secretary has gone from eager to bored to petulant to so bored she began touching herself eagerly, yet in a petulant fashion. This is what happens to sweet virtual kids named Milo, once you give them over to creepy programmers that never had enough sex in their lives. I can’t help but smile. It’s like someone made something just for me. I ask what I missed, and she shrieks one last time, and in her sweaty, sensual voice she answers: “Fuck all.”
So I might have expanded her vocabulary a little. So what? I like a little color at work. I check my emails, tweet a “Good Morning Vietnam!” to my 1.443781 million followers, and check Facebook to see that Steward_Steward426 is getting his feet waxed. I’m not really sure what that means, but it sounds hinky. I do all that with nothing more than moving my hands, pointing, pressing, waving, flicking, sometimes, sometimes even tickling. The uncomplicated written stuff I can just say out loud and it’s done. Theoretically, the secretary can also take dictation, but her oral skills are hugely overrated. And I do prefer writing -- by which I mean “typing” -- by hand, so anything longer than “stuff I don’t care about what it actually says,” I type on the virtual keyboard displayed on the glasses.

"The glasses are a technological marvel, and yes, they were my idea. Windows 7 was, too. They are just a little bigger and a little heavier than unusually small and light sunglasses, but they house a lot of technology under that sleek and sexy surface. Connected via IR to the console, and programmable with several fixed working environments, the glasses are the actual core of my virtual work space. The lenses are actually transparent LCD displays that can display anything from a keyboard to a drawing board, while small cameras on the frame monitor my eye and hand movements, transmitting the input information to the Xbox. Fine. What that means is, that the glasses can tell where I am looking and what I’m looking at -- which really are two separate things. It can also tell what my hands are doing, and so, if, say, there’s a keyboard over my right eye, I can move my fingers and tap on keys that aren’t really there, and the glasses try to make sense of it. The keys, thankfully, are very big indeed. It’s a work in progress. It’s not a real holographic keyboard yet, but it’s more fun than using the wireless USB keyboard. And it makes me feel so totally cutting edge.

"On a whim, I drop by in the Major’s virtual office -- everyone who’s someone has to have one of those, complete with sexy secretary. While I wait for a video-meeting of his to end, his and my virtual secretaries start talking about the latest news, politics, sports and gossip. I had once tried to hack into the MS server to let them make out with each other, but I failed gloriously. The news talk actually was my idea. As someone who loathes anything even close to newspapers or news shows, I sometimes find myself left a little behind, while the world around me has moved on. It really sounds more dramatic than it is, but apparently I’m not the only one with a certain lack of connection. Or maybe lack of interest, and since I was spending a lot of time on Live… well, I gave my idea to the right people, and a month later, avatars of friends and virtual secretaries all over Live began informing me of the daily news, in a subtle and conversational way, all according to my predetermined preferences. And now, it’s almost as common as listening to people discussing the news in the subway. If I wanted to know anything more detailed about the outside world -- which I don’t -- I could just ask them to tell me more, but for now, I listened without really listening, already getting bored. Patience is not part of my genetic make-up. I had it surgically removed a year ago, and I have lost all my friends since.

"After two more minutes of endless entropy I decide just to leave a message and go. I feel my work-power fading. The hour’s almost up. Before I sign off, I type a short message to my editor -- my editor’s a good man -- telling him that he should have believed me three years ago when I first wrote this article. I had speaketh the truth. The Observer does rule the gaming industry, and its sister TV Show, The Executioner, does pass out our judgments to those who do not bother to read anymore. I predicted all of this. Right here. Right now.

"It’s a strange world, and we should all try to keep it that way, with me right here up top, so far above your head, that my urine would freeze during the fall and upon impact bring untold destruction should I ever decide to piss down on you. Metaphorically speaking. The one time I tried to take a piss out of my window I had been forcefully restrained by a Burj-Al-Arab Security detail, shortly after they figured out what I wanted to drill into with the diamond drill I had ordered on Live Marketplace. So much for Penthouse Privileges. Anyway, the work was hard and demanding, and I have women to please. Time to call it a day.

"My name is known all over the globe. I write a pseudo-regular feature article called The Word for the GameObserver, spewing my filthy thoughts onto the web and infecting unwitting civilians with visually transmitted Neuro-Viruses that hack their brains to agree with every word I say.

"It’s January 1. 2013.

"It’s good to be me."

Well. Yeah. That would've been nice. But I have to stop writing. I need to clean up my room so Mom won't get stuck or, God beware, fall with her walker during her daily inspection, and with all the fat I'm carrying around, it takes a while to gather the momentum to get up. I fondly remember the time when I could just stand up, no hydraulics or anything. Or see my dick without mirrors.

Like the corners of my Mind
Misty water-colored Memories
Of the Way we Were...

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