Beta Commando – First Shot

Hola. Currently my e-novella Beta Commando is going for a dollar on Smashwords and Amazon, to celebrate the anniversary of a bunch of things that didn’t actually happen. What things? Things in the book itself! That’s right, it’s set fourteen years ago to this day, and you can read the first part right here:

“Do you believe in destiny?” Alphonse asks me, as he slides rounds into one of his clips.
I’ve got a lot of bullets in me at this point, so I don’t answer. No, I don’t believe in destiny, not the way everyone talks about it, where life just fits together like a movie and you’re the star. That’s just stupid. But yes, I kind of do. I mean—
Three shots slap into the door-jamb next to Alphonse’s head. He slides his sunglasses down his nose, looks at the little stars in the grey painted wood and blinks once. That’s usually how Alphonse feels about people shooting at us. He pushes his sunglasses back up his nose and goes back to reloading.
I scoot my ass back against the skirting board. I’d be more comfortable if I crossed my legs, but that’s a bit beyond me right now.
Where was I? Destiny. Yes, I do think everything is… predestined, I guess. I mean, everything happens the way it was always going to, is what I’m trying to say. It’s just maths, you put X into Y, you get Z. Maybe that doesn’t help you…
“James?” Alphonse is talking to me as he slides the clip into one of his Desert Eagles. “James, try to concentrate.” He doesn’t sound concerned. I mean, he’s not, not the way you or I might be. But for him, casually asking me to concentrate is as close as it gets. I nod.
It hurts to nod.
“Did you hear what I said?” he asks, and holsters both pistols. You might think two Desert Eagles firing bullets half an inch in diameter is a bit much for a third option weapon, but Alphonse would disagree.
Anyway, destiny. Let me put it another way. Every effect is the sum of a whole lot of causes. Billions of billions. Infinite, almost. All those things in the future, that look like they’re not fixed, are tethered to a nearly infinite amount of things in the past, that are definitely fixed. Unless you want to get all quantum, in which case you can ask Mark. Or you could’ve, if they hadn’t shot him.
They shot Mark.
I’m sorry, I’m rambling. Anyway, everyone always says “well, what about free will?” And yeah, of course free will. Will’s a great guy, and I’m sure he’s got shit to do…
I’m sorry.
A metal cylinder bounces through the door and past me, hissing gas. Without looking, Alphonse hooks his foot around it and kicks it back the way it came. He finishes with the clip he’s loading, slides it into his first submachine gun, and starts on another. Not clip, clip’s not the word. Magazine, that’s what George says it’s called. I’d be helping, but I’m not feeling too good right now. I’m not planning any holidays, is what I’m saying.
Maybe it’s the morphine. I can’t concentrate on what’s important. I keep getting distracted. The point is, free will doesn’t change anything. We still do the things we do because of things that have already happened. I mean, you make the choices that you make because you’re you and you’re you because…
By now Alphonse is fairly set. He’s got that damn trenchcoat he picked up after he watched The Matrix, its pockets weighed down with magazines. There are three diagonal stripes of dried blood soaked through his black muscle shirt. Then there’s the two submachine guns, the second of which he’s just finished reloading, hanging by shoulder-straps. He kneels to scoop up an M60 light machine gun and an ammunition belt. It’s the same gun from the end of Rambo. He opens the breech, feeds the belt in, shuts it and flicks his wrist so the belt wraps itself around his arm.
“James,” he says, “this is destiny.”
I shouldn’t have let him watch The Matrix.


I guess I should start at the beginning. You know, put all this in some sort of context. So, the beginning… The beginning was probably Thursday, when George said “Dude, we should take it down to the Tech.”
I put my beer on the kitchen table and looked at him. “Beta Commando?”
“Well, yeah Beta Commando. What did you think I meant, cross-stitch?”
George was on his third beer.
I shrugged. “I guess. I mean, it could be fun.”
“Of course it’d be fun.”
Mark frowned. “I dunno, guys. I’m not sure the public is ready for augmented reality Beta Commando.”
George snorted. “Chicken. Whatever happened to ‘Hang Brains’? It’s not like classes are even on at the moment.”
Mark had learned back in high school not to let George get at him. Or anything much, really. He just frowned a little and picked up the headset from the kitchen table. “Do you actually want to wear this in public, George?” The headset was two chunky black screens made into a set of goggles. I wouldn’t call it haute couture.
“Careful with that.” George leaned back against the apple-green laminate counter and spread his hands wide. “Maybe I would. Maybe I don’t care about what people think of me as much as you long-hairs.” He pushed up the sleeves of his shiny black bomber jacket. That wasn’t entirely fair. I mean, it’s Mark who could apply for the three musketeers. My hair was regulation length in high school and it hasn’t changed.
Mark raised both eyebrows and put the headset down. “You’d run around MIT shooting at virtual demons that only you can see, in full view of every cleaner, blow-in and hacker that passes by?”
I should clarify. When someone from MIT says ‘hacker,’ they mean practical joker, not data thief. Like the guy who conditioned Harvard’s pigeons to mob football referees.
George sniffed. “Well, let’s put it to James. What do you think, James? Game enough?”
I looked at the scuffed tan lino of our kitchen floor. “Shit man, I dunno…”
Back in high school, George would’ve just glared at me until I caved in. He’s always been bigger than us. But he’d changed since then. Mark, too. So George turned around, reached up to the top cupboard, and took out a beer from his special stash. Locking eyes with me, he pulled out his keychain and cracked the bottle open with his dad’s can opener from Vietnam. George’s dad went to Vietnam, and all that came back was a P-38 can opener.
I took the beer, even though my first was still half full.
“Well, I guess it is the holidays.”
Mark shrugged. “Screw it, alright. You wanna wake up Ralph?” I nodded and made my way into the lounge room.


The light was off, the TV on. The glow of the infomercials played across Ralph, asleep on our couch, and Ralph’s crappy moustache. Ralph is the kind of guy who can find infomercials at four in the afternoon and fall asleep in front of them, palms clasped under his head like he’s in a nursery rhyme. There was just a little spot of drool on his pillow. I shook his shoulder gently.
“Mnnn? Mm?”
“Ralph, get up. You wanna go play Beta Commando on campus?”
He opened one eye “Wha? You wanna wha?”
I gave him some space. He promptly closed his eye and rolled over.
“Damnit, Ralph. Get up.”
“Mm? What?”
I switched the TV off and his eyes flicked wide open.
“Dude? What is it?”
“We’re gonna go play Beta Commando on campus.”
“Sweet. Let’s go.” He unfolded from the couch in one movement, smoothed down his purple striped polar fleece and ambled into the kitchen.
George scooped up the headset and hip unit. “Let’s kick some ass.”
Ralph nodded. “Yeah. Let’s do that.”
I took my beers, one in each hand, and followed them out to the car.


Before then.
Shit, sorry.
I’ve started too late. I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to go over it in order. I didn’t want things to be confusing.
It began with me running down a corridor. That’s the beginning, months before George decided we should play Beta Commando at MIT. Before four-star generals, before Duck Hunt, before Mr Bridge and Mr Chapel. Me running down a corridor of dark metal plating.
I could hear growling in the distance, or maybe up close. It was hard to tell. I checked the rounds left in my shotgun. Thirteen.
“Dude, this game came out in 1995. It’s four years old.” said George over my shoulder.
“Yeah. It’s a classic.” I shrugged.
“I mean it’s four years old and you still suck at it.”
“I’m rusty,” I said.
“Dude, you are fucked. This next bit is insane.”
I knew. I knew I was screwed, and George wasn’t helping, but I didn’t tell him that. The mouse was sweaty under my palm.
At the bottom right of my screen was a little picture of Beta Commando, the title character. It showed him from the waist up, all veins, crew-cut and bulging muscles. Every few seconds he would grimace in pain. His black singlet was ripped, and three huge slashes crossed his chest. Chunky orange numbers below the picture read “39%.” I was screwed.
The corridor began to brighten with a white fluorescent glow. The floor clanged softly under my combat boots. Now, the growls were one long low sound.
“My go next, man,” said George.
I turned a corner and emerged into a cafeteria. The tables were smashed into uniform little piles, gore spattered across everything. I’d come through here in the game’s opening sequence, walked past soldiers and workers eating their meals. Now, I could see a spinal cord, maybe some entrails, and brains smeared across the floor. The notice board on one wall had been nearly ripped in half by a claw. The growls erupted into roars. All three doors slid open at once, letting in a horde of demonic beasts. They loped on all fours toward me. I pulled out my heavy machine gun and held the trigger down. Muzzle flare danced in front of me as the gun chattered. Hide ripped and fur tore, gobbets of blood burst from the wounds. Suddenly, the screen flashed red and the Commando grunted.
Spinning, I faced a zombie soldier firing down the corridor. My last two rounds ploughed into him and he jerked in pain, but stayed standing. I pulled out my shotgun and blew him away, already spinning back to the room full of beasts. They were almost on me, claws reaching, as I opened fire. The shotgun boomed again and again, bursting demons into chunks of gore. Eight shells left. Seven. My health was at twelve percent; playing on Hard, one claw-swipe would kill me. The last beast sank to the floor. Four shells left. The cafeteria was silent. There was a whiff of herbs in the air, probably because my office used to be a pantry.
“Which bit’s he at?” asked Mark, coming in.
“Right before Omega Commando,” said George.
“Omega Commando?” I was not ready for Omega Commando. “Tell me there’s a health pack around here.”
“Up that way, man. Through the door,” said Mark.
I glided out of the room, the Commando moving like he was on skates because that’s how games worked back then. Through the door was another corridor, then a room with a deep lava pit. On the other side of the pit was a ledge, and on the ledge, a large white box with a red cross. I pulled a lever on the wall and a pair of platforms rose from the pit. I jumped across them one, two, onto the health pack. As it popped into my inventory I was already mashing the ‘Enter’ key. The screen flashed blue and in the bottom corner, Beta Commando made the gesture for ‘go fuck your mother’. His wounds vanished. “100%” read the orange numbers. I could do this. I could take Omega Commando.
Four sections of wall slid open, revealing more zombie soldiers. “Monster closet!” said George with glee.
I dodged by reflex and the soldiers’ shots whizzed past me. Suddenly the walls were rushing up past me. I’d dodged off the ledge. As the screen filled with lava, George barked his laughter. “Better luck next time, man. My turn.”
I got up from my chair, grimaced at Mark and followed him from the dark little room that had become my office. When George, Mark and I had moved into the house in Cambridge’s Louisberg Square, it was a large pantry. We weren’t really pantry people, and I’d got the smaller bedroom in the house, so I put a desk and my Pentium in there and it became my office.
I went to the fridge and got some bread out. “You want some toast?” I asked Mark.
“Nah,” he shook his head, but grabbed some seed mustard and sliced salmon. I opened the top cupboard and found peanut butter and jelly for myself and watertable crackers for Mark, because I could see where he was going with the salmon. God knows how the lucky bastard could afford salmon.
“So, how’d it go with…? Crap. Black hair, really nice waist.” I sculpted a woman with my hands.
“So you noticed her waist? Thanks,” said Mark, taking the crackers. “I believe you’re referring to Trish.”
I put my bread in the toaster. “Yeah. How was Trish?”
“No casualties,” he said. It was our thing. “Trish was good. We had Italian.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Well, she’s smart. Fairly smart. And pretty.”
“Pretty is good.”
“Yeah, pretty is good. But there’s no chemistry. I don’t think I’ll call her again.” Mark said, casually tearing the salmon into neat scraps and placing them on crackers.
“No chemistry? When was the last time that stopped you?”
“Ha. Nah, man. She wasn’t looking for a romp. She wanted a boyfriend.”
Girls Mark didn’t want a relationship with. I would’ve given my left arm for dinner with any of them. But I didn’t say that. Instead, I pulled a butter knife from the cutlery drawer.
“What about you, James? How’s Lisa?”
I laughed, hoping it didn’t sound too bitter. “Way out of my league, I’m realising. Way out. You know she got into Harvard on a cello scholarship?”
“Cello, huh? Cello is a sexy instrument.”
“Dammit, Mark, no. No.” I pointed at him with my butter knife. “I’m gonna need at least a year to get over this one. Then maybe you can have a crack.”
Mark laughed. “You know I wouldn’t, man.”
“I don’t know any such thing. It’s like that Dr. Hook song. When you’re in love with a beautiful woman, you’ve got no friends.”
“Dr. Hook fans have friends?”
“Ha. Seriously, though. She was telling me once, she sat on the John Harvard statue’s lap and made out with it. At about lunch-time. Stone-cold sober. Made the guy who dared her hit on a security guard.”
Mark pursed his lips. “Hang Brains.” Mark and I appreciate girls with a certain kind of flair. Appreciated. Well, I still appreciate, but—
“Exactly. Yep, she’s got balls. Not that I’ll ever see them.” I sat myself up on the bench to wait for my toast. In my office, George was swearing at the computer.
“Not if you don’t make a move, you won’t.”
It was a conversation we’d had a few times. “What if it goes badly? I’d feel pretty rare.”
Mark sighed through his nose, dug a knife into the seed mustard and changed the subject. “I’ve been thinking.”
“Yeah. I think we could get Beta Commando to work with the goggles.”
“The AugR goggles? What, like a really big screen?”
“Not quite. I mean, we could play it in the real world.”
I furrowed my brow. “Dude, if you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about…”
“Why not? What we have in the AugR goggles is the first step towards virtual reality. They’re at the point where they can detect your location and which way you’re facing, and superimpose text over the real world using that data. There’s no reason we can’t adapt that code to show sprites instead. Suspend your disbelief a little and there you go.”
“I dunno, I’d feel pretty rare playing Beta Commando in public.”
Mark stopped spreading mustard to shrug. “Well, there’s plenty of quieter places we can test it. Come on, man. We’re young. Live dangerous for once. Hang Brains”
“Dude…” My toast popped up. I sighed. “Maybe you’re right. But no-one hears about this, okay?”
So, it was Mark’s idea we adapted the AugR system to play Beta Commando on it, and it was George’s fault we wound up playing at the Tech. The whole time, I was pushing against it. I just want to be clear about that.


Alphonse has just made his exit, leaving me with my bullet-holes. I can hear screams, which means he’s doing what comes naturally. Screams, and the low thud-thudding of the M60. I breathe as deeply as I can and hope none of my wounds are getting worse. When do I use the next shot of morphine? Fuck, I hope I can find the vein. I hope Ralph and George find me. I know I bailed on them, but maybe they figured it out. Maybe they’re coming for me. I hope… but that’s all bullshit. I’m not fooling anyone.
Probably it doesn’t matter if they find me.


So it was the four of us in an empty classroom just off the Infinite Corridor, a thoroughfare that runs straight for eight hundred and twenty-five feet through the main buildings of MIT. The Corridor is actually five corridors stacked atop each other on five floors; we were on the fourth.
We clustered around the PC we technically shouldn’t have been accessing out of hours. A single window of code dominated the screen.
“Guys, I’m sorry,” I said, looking blankly at it. “I don’t know which one of you wrote this, but I have no idea what you were doing.”
“Dude,” said Ralph, “I think you wrote that bit.”
Everyone chuckled.
Mark leaned over my shoulder. “Mind if I…?”
“Sure, man.” I let him take the keyboard and make some corrections. Quite a few corrections.
“Anyone else see any glitches? Speak now or forever hold your peace.”
“Except for James, he has to hold his piece anyway,” said George. Everyone chuckled.
“No? Here we go, then.” Mark hit ‘Compile.’
Sitting next to the computer was a small beige box. A tangle of cables connected it to the back of the PC tower. Lights flashed as the hip unit spun up its hard drive, writing the code update. Ten minutes later I was standing in another classroom a few floors down with my AugR goggles on, clutching the repurposed joystick that was my weapon.
The goggles were an exercise in augmented reality, which isn’t quite the same as virtual reality. Looking through them, I could see the desks and chairs of the classroom clearly. But when they were switched on, they superimposed a blockily rendered shotgun over my field of vision. It swayed gently as I moved forward. My armpits were sweaty by now. Through my headphones I could hear the rest of the guys, gathered around the PC upstairs.
“Alright, send him another two zombies.” It sounded like Mark.
Two zombie soldiers came lumbering through the door. To be more accurate, two blocky sprites of zombies blinked into existence on my side of the door, which was closed. Virtual reality had to start somewhere.
I clicked the joystick’s plastic trigger twice. The shotgun roared in my headphones, splattering both zombies. I walked forward and over the ammo boxes they’d dropped. With a clunk my ammo count rose to twenty-two shells. I opened the door to the next classroom.
“Shit, he’s moving too fast… Here we go”
A demon beast blinked into the room, raised its arms in three frames of motion and howled. I blasted it across the room, heard footsteps and spun around. The room I’d left was empty. The footsteps again, and a growl. I tried to spin back, but one foot got caught in the other and I tumbled down.
The floor was hard.
I heard George laughing. Mark asked “Are you alright?” but I had no time to switch on my microphone to tell him yes. A horde of beasts poured straight through the whiteboard like Casper and Friends. From the floor, I clicked the plastic trigger again and again. Pixels splattered across the room. I pulled myself up by a nearby chair, still firing. A demon loomed large and blocky in front of me, almost filling the goggles. It swiped at me and my vision flashed bright red before I emptied a shell into the beast.
“What’s the odds George wrote the map,” I grumbled to myself, “the jerk. And no-one told him that a whiteboard is a fricking whiteboard. As in, you can’t fricking walk through it.”
Someone inhaled sharply. “Dude. Your mike’s on.”
Crap. I could hear George muttering something in the background, then the sound cut off. He hadn’t changed that much since high school.
I pumped a volley of shotgun rounds into the last few beasts. As they collapsed into familiar piles of gore, I stepped forward to collect the ammunition scattered on the ground.
All of it vanished.
“Uh, guys…”
The headphones were still silent. Then, sounding very loud to me, a throaty purr.
I backed towards the nearest wall. Facing me from the opposite corner was a pixelated pale beast. A Mourner. Very not good.
The white beast reared jerkily onto its hind legs, exposing its soft underbelly, and shrieked. The sound distorted painfully in my headphones. Then the creature was down on all fours, loping toward me. I blasted it with my shotgun, but it left no mark on the filthy armoured plates. I ran for the door.
“Damnit guys, I only have a shotgun.” I didn’t know if they could hear me. “And four shells left.” I dodged around chairs, leapt over a desk and headed for the next door. I could hear the panting of the Mourner, close and getting closer.
Then I was out into the Infinite Corridor, sprinting past darkened classrooms and noticeboards awash with paper. The white beast’s paws drummed louder.
It shrieked again, and now the shriek was not in my headphones. I turned.
The Mourner was silhouetted in the sun streaming down the length of the corridor, a completely black figure on its hind legs. That shouldn’t be possible, I thought. It’s a sprite, a graphic. It shouldn’t block the sun. Then it dropped to all fours again in one fluid movement. That wasn’t right. Everything the monsters of Beta Commando did, they did in four frames at the most. Not like this.
I pushed the AugR goggles up onto my forehead. The shotgun went with them. The beast stayed where it was.
I began to back away. The Mourner padded toward me. I could smell it now. Sulphur and old meat. I could make out every hair on its snout, every scuff on its hide. I turned to run—
And collided with a man’s chest. His chest was level with my head. He hefted a huge, familiar gun. I ducked.
The gun began to hum, then shifted up to a whine. The air grew charged, I could feel the hairs behind my neck stand up. One single CRACK, and green light flooded the corridor for a moment. I heard the wreckage of the white beast rain down.
Slowly, I raised my head. I took in the camouflage pants, the black singlet, the muscle-corded arms. The gun had vanished.
The man looked down at me, grinned, and made the gesture for ‘go fuck your mother’.

Zine Does Not Rhyme With Sine

So today I finished reading Ganache is Not Spelt Ganash, the sequel zine to Macarons Are Not Macaroons. For those not involved in the Melbourne zine scene (and for a guy who until recently volunteered in Melbourne’s best zine store, I am very uninvolved in that scene) Macarons is what I call an evergreen. The vast majority of zines will sell ten or so copies at a speed that won’t justify a second run. That doesn’t lessen them, that’s not how zines work, but there it is. My own evergreen On Sale sold a hundred copies before I stopped counting and shortly thereafter stopped printing it. If you were wondering, I have not managed to recreate that particular fluke.

That is nothing compared to the success Macarons has seen. It was released in early 2010 and still sells around a copy a day. Beck, the author, will be the first to tell you that it owes a chunk of its success to being released just before macarons planted their delicate arses firmly in Melbourne’s zeitgeist. It owes the rest to quality design, stirring honesty and Beck’s irreplaceable voice, which evokes the curmudgeonly, sardonic and profoundly human spirit for which she is one of my dearest friends.

This is probably as good a place as any to disclose that this Beck is the same Beck with which I have watched such gems as Expendables 2 and Jack “It Wouldn’t Be Funny if His First Name Weren’t Jack” Reacharound. Every time we talk about a thing our opinions are 180 degrees away from each other, but that doesn’t stand in our way. So I’m far from an impartial observer, I want to be clear. However, if you read Ganache is Not Spelt Ganash and find yourself disagreeing with me, I will gladly refund the five dollars I believe it is being priced at. I will refund it in the currency of verbal assault, but hey, a refund is a refund.

Anyhow. With all of that out of the way, this is what I think about Ganache.

It is the best zine I have read in fucking years. You know the nice things I said about Macarons up there? They’re true, and the older zine is not diminished by the younger. But put next to Ganache, Macarons seems thoroughly anaemic. Where Macarons was Beck dipping into the bucket of guts that is life and offering us a handful, Ganache is that whole bucket thrown across us.

A person’s pain is a thing they own, and for all that ‘I want to hear your story’ might be the most powerful sentence in the world (said my journalism lecturer) telling that pain is giving a gift. In Ganache, Beck gives without restraint. A bad family dinner alluded to in Macarons is laid out with enough context and detail that it breaks your heart. The good times are there, and they’re good. The bad times are told without flinching or wailing.

If I love one thing about zines, it is honesty. Near the start, Beck warns “you are going to think I am crazy and self-centric and that’s fair, I’m alright with that.” Maybe that’s how she comes across to someone who doesn’t know her. For my money, she takes you into the damn bad place it’s clear her head can be, and in that place, you can see why these things mean so much to her. By the time you’re on the last few pages and a tattooist says “oh, you mean macaroons,” you’re right there shaking your head in time with her.

Beck is a better writer now than she has ever been, and that means she’s bloody good. Yes, there are words in there that sound like other words she probably meant and yes, maybe the story could stand to be a mite tighter (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, whoever is plotting the hideous mess we call Real Life could stand to take Character Arcs 101 and maybe a refresher in Anagnorisis). But I choked up time after time, with joy and grief. At the quarter way point I had the urge to grab strangers by the lapels and shove their faces into my copy of Ganache, shouting “It wants to read this zine. It wants to read the fucking zine!

When it’s 2020 and you’re calling this the zine of the decade, please remember that I called it today. Yeah, Ganache is Not Spelt Ganash is a little messy sometimes. That’s what happens when you spill your heart’s blood across something.

On the Walk of Shame

So, we’re all sex-positive feminists here, yes? Good. We all know that the term ‘walk of shame’ is a puerile little artefact of the patriarchy and we reject slut-shaming because it reduces physical intimacy to a bargaining process that women can only ever lose, right? If you don’t, go sit in the corner for ten minutes and think about the fact that you’re a numpty. Then we’ll get started.
Picture the scene evoked by ‘walk of shame’. A guy with a beer on a couch out front of his house watches hungover women in party dresses carry their high heels home. He doesn’t have to say anything, they know to hang their heads. It is Understood.
But imagine he does. Let’s take the implicit and make it explicit. Let’s break this one down.
“Hey look at you. Way to have fun, loser!
“Looks like you’ve fulfilled your prime biological imperative. Good job there! Way to satisfy the one drive that animates our entire race! Mission achieved. Congrats on probably using modern contraceptives to choose when and if that satisfaction results in a tiny person coming out of your most sensitive parts. Way to exert your primacy over the most basic metric of your biology.
“And shit, as if that wasn’t enough, it looks like you’ve achieved it by being desirable. It looks like a varying combination of your looks, wit and/or balls-out-motherfucking-panache was enough to excite another human being into making the beast with two backs. Looks you’re definitely a failure, then.
“I mean, fuck. With or without the assistance of our society’s drug of choice, you and at least one other imperfect, scuffed and worn soul pushed through your mutual inherent fear of emotional pain, pushed through the social constructs telling you your body is a commodity, to take a crack at real actual intimacy together. It doesn’t matter a jot how fleeting and unsatisfactory that moment might have been. You and someone you know just a little or maybe a lot both rolled the dice and chased joy together. Together you let your guard down and breathed the pollen of life, and it didn’t matter that flying is so hard to tell from falling. Last night, you won.
“Better start feeling bad about that.”

The Hills Are Alive

This one goes back to 2007, which sure as fuck doesn’t feel like five years ago. I had just turned nineteen. High school was over and it felt good.
I was at a birthday party at a pub in Traralgon. This was the same party I discovered that it’s possible to enjoy metal if you listen to it live. Already I was learning valuable things that school won’t teach you.
I found myself talking to a venerable old chap of indeterminate relationship to the birthday boy. With all the class and tact of my nineteen years I was bemoaning the fact that I felt so old and I just hadn’t done anything yet.
The geezer nodded. “When I was your age,” he reflected, “I’d been an extra in two films, I’d fought in a world war, and I was partway through my apprenticeship as a boat-builder.”
I began to suspect he wasn’t that interested in reassuring me. What films had he been in?
Our conversation swung around to the fact that The Sound of Music had been shot in his home town.
“People in my village,” he said, “don’t watch that film.”
I nodded gravely. “Of course. I’m sure it brings back all sorts of bad stuff. What with the Nazis and all. Awful.”
“You see,” he continued, “they’re walking down one street and then bam, they’re on the other side of town!”
Nazi trauma? Nope? No.
Er, “Which side of the war were you on?”
That was when the conversation sort of petered out. Realising you’re talking to a guy who spent a stretch of his life theoretically trying to kill your grandfathers sure makes things awkward.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Gravity Falls

I have a confession to make. I watched an episode of Gravity Falls and I liked it. That’s not the confession. Gravity Falls is a good and excellent show and people should be into it, and I know that after only one episode.
This is the confession. I dislike the fact that I like Gravity Falls. I tried to find ways to hate it the whole way through. I loathed myself for enjoying a beautiful thing.
That is thoroughly fucked up.
For those further behind than I am, and I’m betting there’s less of them than I’d like, Gravity Falls is this year’s Adventure Time. It is a kid’s show (for actual kids) that is smart and funny and whimsical and the cool kids (well-dressed twentysomethings) fucking lap it up.
You can see my problem, I hope. I’ll spell it out: I can’t be into cool things. Cool things are status signifiers, things people adopt to demonstrate they’re in the club. Fuck the club and fuck its dress code. I can’t be having with stuff like that. I’m too cool.
You know the word I’m working towards here. Hipster.
Christ is it haggard by now. Remember the point when hating on ‘emos’ became as tiresome and passe as being one? Well, we must be getting there with the word hipster. Everyone gets a turn at the boot party, even the slow ones. Some do it better than others. I saw a show on Gem or Go or whatever (it’s a cheeseburger thing) and it was utter shite but it had lined up to take its shot.
So maybe we should work out what’s going on here. When some dicksneeze decides he’s offering the world something worthwhile by applying his Biro-sharp wit to fixie riders and moustache wearers, what’s he tapping into? What’s the angle?
Why do we hate cool people?
Let’s start with the onion’s skin. Let’s hypothesise that we hate hipsters because we hate beards, beanies and big silly glasses, nothing more. That’s preposterous, of course. Yes, they’re all pretty bloody silly, but no sillier than, say, wearing shoes that mean you can’t walk properly, or actually making a noose from fabric and putting it on your own neck. Clearly the affectations of hipsterdom are signifiers, totems, voodoo fetishes. To the hipster, they denote a kindred soul. To the rest of us, they mark the targets of our derision and (while we’re being honest) jealousy.
From there, let’s turn to the question of elitism. “I was into ‘x’ before it was cool” goes the {macro} (and for fuck’s sake, can you kids learn the difference between a meme and a macro?) How do you tell a hipster? When you call them a hipster, they’ll not only get pissed off, they’ll say “Oh no, I’m not like them. I was dressing this way before everyone else started.” This sort of baiting is a reliable if unoriginal way to pass time.
Those of us with longer memories will remember the word ‘indie’. One of my co-workers always accuses me of being indie, and it amuses me because I don’t know anyone else who still uses the term. Possibly that proves her right. Either way, I bring it up because for a while I believed ‘indie’ should denote the Kids Who Were Doing It First and ‘hipster’ should denote Those Who Came After, mostly because I’m told it’s derived from white people who made a thing of being into jazz back in the sixties. But any such delineation would be an act of utter wank.
Because it’s bloody stupid to care about who discovered what first. It’s a phenomenon born of two silly assumptions; firstly, that enjoying a cultural artifact gives you social worth; and secondly, that this worth is subject to something like inverse market forces. If only a small amount of people enjoy a good thing, the cool points derived therein will be very lucrative. Once more people ‘buy in’ and enjoy that thing, those cool points will decrease in value, in a sort of inverse of the way actual shares work. To watch people jump on your bandwagon is the hipster equivalent of watching your portfolio in freefall.
As a side note, I felt that way when all of a sudden everyone loved A Song of Ice and Fire, a series I’d only discovered (and devoured) weeks prior to its release as a TV series. Anyone else out there feeling the same possessiveness, console yourself with this: you can ruin the next four or so years of your friends’ viewing pleasure with a few words. You’ve got a nuclear deterrent on your hands.
My attempt to hate Gravity Falls, seen in this light, becomes more hipster than hipster. “I disliked a cool thing before it was cool.” Meta-hipsterism. I need help.
But enough about me. From elitism, let’s move to dilettantism. The creature called hipster, we silently agree, is despicable not because it is familiar with Holy Mountain or Borges but because it is more interested in the social capital gained therein than the articles themselves. Presented with a reference to Big Brother, the hipster thinks of Killeen before Orwell, or so the argument goes.
That’s the heart of it, really. We have decided that hipsters are fundamentally hypocrites. They spurn us for our base ordinariness while conforming rigidly to their own dress code and media canon. They elevate themselves by curating an identity based around high culture affectations they don’t properly appreciate, secretly loving the shit out of really uncool things all the while.
We, of course, don’t do that. It simply doesn’t happen. We’d never attach our worth as people to our taste in books, music or fashion. Heaven forbid we could be so shallow. Perish the thought.
Ever since the rise of consumerism, we’ve been Keeping Up With the Joneses. In a comfortable middle-class universe, what else do you do? Letting marketers saturate our collective psyche probably hasn’t helped, either. Hipsters are just outliers of a dominant trend, they’re the tip of the iceberg and we’re the rest of it.
That’s right. We hate hipsters because we are all hipsters.
Short of fucking off and living in a cave, there’s not much we can do about it, so you might as well just watch Gravity Falls.

Yippi-Ki-Yay, Ya Jerks

I saw The Expendables 2 on opening night. I took my friend Beck, with whom I had seen the first film. The cinema was mostly empty – aside from us, only single men had turned up, and they’d spaced themselves quite sparsely. If you’re aware of The Expendables, none of this should come as a surprise.

Beck and I have a tendency to watch trash together. We watched The Three Musketeers Battle the Sky Pirates together, which was unfortunately not actually titled. We produced an unpopular zine together called Lo Fi Sci Fi Driveby, where we talked shit about Highlander 2 and Battlefield Earth.

Beck defended Battlefield Earth. You can take that as evidence that Beck’s contrary (she is) or that she genuinely has awful taste (she doesn’t) or there’s a third option which I’ll get at later. For my part, I get excited about Highlander 2. I’d much rather talk about Highlander 2 than The Fall (the film, not the band), despite the fact that The Fall is brilliant and beautiful and Highlander 2 is utter arse. That I will also get to later.

This is not a review of The Expendables 2. If you want an opinion, well, it goes like this: The Expendables was a very bad film. Its sequel is also a very bad film, possibly a worse one. The difference is, one of them is fun as fuck and the other is not. I want to talk about why it’s not the one you’d think.

The Expendables 2 is co-written by Sylvester Stallone, and it shows. If Sly Stallone writes a bad line, you don’t tell him, one imagines. That’s pretty much the only explanation for the bit where the Token Female Asian Butt-kicker says mechanically “I like crispy duck… so sexy,” then pivots her head to look at Sly and intones, “but sometimes I like Italian.” It’s right in Cringe Valley, which is after the Mediocre Plains but before So Bad It’s Good Mountain, on the long journey toward the Pit of the Physically Unwatchable.

If the dialogue of the film excites a deliciously sublime sense of disgust in me, its action scenes do the exact opposite. The most I can defend about the original Expendables is the bit where Steve Austin gets set on fire and then punched in the face. That’s closely followed by Sly using an artillery shell on a helicopter. It’s a very steep drop-off from there.

Its sequel, on the other hand, knows how to do the job. Beck and I spent the entire opening sequence elbowing each other, chuckling gleefully and fist-pumping. It’s Carnage As Ballet, almost, or at least As Jumpstyle, which is still streets ahead of Carnage As The Pride Of Erin, as the modern throwaway action flick seems intent on giving us.

And that’s really what it comes down to. The Expendables was an attempt at making an eighties action flick in 2010, and it sucked because it was a 2010 action flick with eighties action stars in it. The Expendables 2 doesn’t succeed because it puts more 80s action heroes on the screen, although its producers seem to think that’s the answer. (By the way, Arnie’s not fun any more, and Chuck Norris saying a Chuck Norris Fact isn’t actually that funny).

The Expendables 2 succeeds because it has the same attitude to violence that saw Geena Davis use a burning corpse and Christmas lights to kill a helicopter. It’s a terrible film but it’s a fun terrible film, and that makes all the difference.

I have a friend who doesn’t understand my love for the eighties action flick, and why it extends beyond maybe Die Hard, Aliens and Predator. The thing about me is, I’ll gladly eat acheeseburger, not because I don’t like steak but because I like cheeseburger too. Beck has a natural talent for taking that cheeseburger and finding a delightful symphony of tastes therein, a skill which can only be appreciated by anyone who’s read her mammoth 200 page zine about the TV show Merlin. Consuming trash media through her eyes is an experience that far surpasses taking it raw.

But every time I take a look at the sort of trash we make nowadays, at stuff like The Warrior’s Way or Gamer and I think “I can eat and enjoy this,” I quickly find I can’t. I choke on the cynicism that permeates these films: they’re excessive but it’s stopped being fun.

Maybe I’m mythologising the eighties, making a little myth of it the way Wes Anderson seems intent on doing with the sixties. Maybe this is the film equivalent of deciding that Polaroids are cool because we don’t have them any more. Regression into the past because the present contains a film about the board game Battleships, and the future supposedly contains one about Monopoly. Probably in thirty years’ time I’ll be saying “Teens films were so quaint. Battleships! Nowadays films aren’t crazy like that.” We’ll certainly be saying, “what the fuck was everyone thinking?” about the decade as a whole. Hopefully we’ll have found a better term than ‘Teens’ by then.

But grant my taste some faith for a moment. Entertain the hypothesis that the action film of three decades ago is actually more fun than the action film of today. Maybe the genre’s stagnated. Maybe we’ve all grown out of it. Post September 11 paradigm shift and all that. The fact remains, I bloody love what the genre was in its heyday. If you’ll forgive me a plug for a book that’s not available yet, Beta Commando started as an ode to that, among other things. Perhaps we can’t go back. It’s a Paradise Lost and you can never go home. But the Expendables 2 actually made me feel, just for a second, like we could.

Steve Mann and the Bleeding Edge

On the first of July this year, Steve Mann walked into a Paris McDonald’s with his family and ordered two Ranch Wraps, a burger and a mango McFlurry. As they sat with their meal, Mann was assaulted by a McDonald’s employee. When Mann tried to defuse the situation, other employees grabbed the documents which described Mann’s special circumstances and tore them up.
Sadly, I can’t use the case as fuel for my quasi-ironic Francophobia. Nor can it bolster my only slightly more defensible loyalty to Hungry Jack’s. Mann was not assaulted because Frenchmen are arseholes, nor because he chose the wrong eatery. Mann was assaulted because he is a cyborg.
For 34 years, Mann has been wearing some form of computer or another. A professor at the University of Toronto, his research has ranged from computational photography to work helping the visually impaired to a musical instrument using all three states of water. He’s something of a renaissance man.
On the night in question, Mann was wearing an Eyetap, a “computer-controlled laser light source that causes the eye itself to function as if it were both a camera and display, in effect.” As far back as 1994, Mann was using the Eyetap to ‘Glog’ his life, streaming it in its entirety to 30,000 viewers. It also includes a basic DoS interface he can use to surf the Web, check emails and so forth. When the news of Mann’s assault broke, I saw comments on Slashdot making out that it was viral marketing for Google Goggles. You poor, sad fools. Google’s a good fifteen years behind this guy.
You can read the full story of Mann’s assault on his blog, but the short version is that an employee tried to remove the Eyetap, which is impossible without special equipment. Presumably he believed it to be recording, which it was not. From there, he and another staff member tore up the documentation Mann carried to explain the device, before ejecting him. Ironically, because the device is designed to store images briefly before deleting them, the damage done to the Eyetap resulted in incriminating photos being preserved.
I first discovered Mann back in 2010 through io9. One photo in particular drew my interest.
Mann and friends at MIT
“They look like the worst group of superheroes ever,” said one commenter. No, I thought.
They look like the best. They’d be brilliant and uncool and charming and bloody hard to live with sometimes. Who else could you want to write about?
And so, two or so years later I’m now writing this post instead of editing the finished first draft of Beta Commando. It’s a novella about four young men who use technology that maybe looks a bit like the gear in that photograph. It features the star of a Doom clone brought to life, because 2.5D shooters are excellent, and it unfolds not entirely unlike an 80s action film, because 80s action films are also excellent.
Compared to the work Mann is doing, Beta Commando is thoroughly mundane. My characters find themselves in conflict with the Establishment. They resolve this conflict, for the most part, through the time honoured method of Chemically Propelled Lead
But back in the real world, it’s not people with guns that change the world. People with guns fight and suffer and die and the tyrannies and institutions that propelled them live on. It’s people with ideas that really fuck things up. Ideas like contraception, the printing press, penicillin, Marxism, the internet, Nationalist Socialism. Not all shit-fuckery is for the best, you should note.
Mann’s idea is Sousveillance. ‘Sur’ means over; ‘sous,’ under. So, instead of The State or The Establishment or The House of Ronald watching over you, you watching them back. Holding them to account.
Y’see Billy, sometimes the people who are put in authority over us are dicks. Sometimes they do things like tasering peaceful people and lying about it in court. Mann’s assault has seen a similar twist, with a McDonald’s spokesperson claiming the interaction was “polite and did not involve a physical altercation.” Another photo released by Mann suggests otherwise.
It’s obscene when those in power lie to us, and it’s delicious when they’re found out. While io9 described Mann’s assault as an anti-cyborg hate crime, I doubt those staff members were thinking “let’s bash this aug.”I think they couldn’t deal with a camera that’s attached to someone. And now they’re being held accountable for their reactions.
That’s the promise sousveillance makes: a world of ubiquitous accountability born of ubiquitous video recording. It sounds like dystopia. But consider how often you’re under surveillance as you live your life now. We accept it unthinkingly. Isn’t it time we did some watching of our own?


It’s a Saturday morning in Coburg, and I’m on my morning tea break. There’s a place just around the corner from work that does better coffee for two bucks twenty than you’ll get for three fifty in the city, but because it’s right in the hot part of summer I’ve got myself an iced coffee instead. I’m ensconced outside the library, taking my time with it.

Sitting next to me are the regulars: crinkly brown Mediterranean men you’ll find sunning themselves and chatting in the same spot, pretty much any given morning. I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me. For fifteen minutes, Saturday morning is as Saturday morning was intended to be.

A taxi pulls up and a young gent emerges. Maybe it’s the close-shaved head, maybe it’s the horizontal blue and white stripes on his t-shirt, but to me he’s the epitome of Post-Soviet Angry Young Man. The plastic bag of cheap imported beer he’s carrying doesn’t help, either. It is this prize he displays to the regulars, announcing “Biero! I got you Biero!” They are bemused at best. They decline to drink with him.

Our Youth From the Ukraine is unperturbed. He’ll drink it all himself if he has to. But he has no bottle opener. Seeking a substitute, he turns first to the window of the library. Yes, the actual glass pane. Fortunately, reason prevails before he actually tries to break a glass bottle with the same substance it’s made from.

His next option is one of the stone dividers which interrupt the wooden bench we’re all sitting on. He presses the bottle cap against the edge of the stone block. One sharp bump and success! He’s managed to snap off the neck of the bottle. What dexterity! What mastery!

Before very long a small child stomps past in thongs, passing mere centimetres from the very sharp upturned bottle neck. I rise halfway from the bench but Dad’s already got the problem in hand, steering his offspring clear and removing the hazard. Our Boy from the (Eastern) Bloc does not deign to acknowledge his part in the matter.

No, he has loftier questions to tackle. For example, how does he drink from a bottle with a broken neck? Currently, the remains of my iced coffee is sitting between us. Manna from heaven! He grabs the takeaway cup, throws lid and straw on the ground before him and proceeds to bash the cup on the bench between his legs.

“I, um, wasn’t done with that,” I begin, by which I mean the cup still contains a quarter to a third of my beverage. “Don’t worry about it, it’s done,” he says. He has indeed managed to splatter pretty much all the remaining milk and icecream on the ground. It doesn’t bother him that it now looks like he’s vomited at his feet.

I want you to understand, dear reader, that I’m a gentle guy. I’m not some yahoo, gunning down punks from the back of a hotted up Skyline. I’m not the guy at the front of the McDonald’s queue, fucking shit up because his chips were cold. I’m one meek motherfucker.

But I do not suffer rudeness gladly, and our Frere from the Former USSR has earned the famous Dan Rage, which I now proceed to unleash with no holds barred.
This consists of standing up, making questioning eyebrows at one of the regulars, whose answering shrug says very plainly “we have no affiliation with this maniac,” and striding angrily back to work.

About an hour later, I realise I could have reported the prick for drinking in public.

Pain != Art, Unless…

Back in April, Al Kennedy wrote an eminently sensible piece for The Guardian on the Myth of the Suffering Artist. Having deftly deconstructed and debunked the myth, Kennedy closed on a salient point: the “sheer effort of getting better, of pushing sentences to shine brighter, of… feeling foolish and lonely and scared – that’s more than enough suffering to go on with.”

At the time, I was in my confinement, as it were, and not in a position to add my thoughts on the topic. Now that I’m broadcasting again, I figure it’s better late than never. So:

The Myth of the Suffering Artist is a reductive cliché and something any budding creative is well rid of. Fuck that noise. But as with any good and popular lie, it’s animated by the grain of truth in the centre, like a voodoo doll made potent by a single hair.

The thing is, if you want to do your stuff well, you’re going to have to brace for some pain. You don’t have to like it or glorify it, but you’d better be prepared to cop it sweet.

Let me walk you through my creative process. While I’m hardly a grizzled veteran, I’ve got a hunch that it’s not a million miles from the mean.

First, put a little of yourself into the work. Just a hair will do. Use your own lived experience to earth the creative current and watch as the work becomes a little piece of you. Let that happen. Any number of people will tell you you’ve got to be detached, but right now that is not what you want. Take the work into your insides, let it be your flesh. Love it.

When you’ve got the raw dough of your art in front of you, take the knives out. Be cruel. Kill some of your darlings, castrate others. Be merciless, if not actually savage. Take away the bits that don’t look like an elephant. Does it hurt a bit? Good. That’s you learning.

Now you have the shorn head of your offspring before you, and you’ve done all you can to it, it’s time to give it to someone else. I’ve been an off-and-on member of an online writer’s workshop for some years now. A writer friend told me I’m brave to give my work to utter strangers to critique, but then, this same writer friend gives people his short stories and asks for an on-the-spot reaction, an act I consider as recklessly daring as it is cruel.

However you do it, inviting critique is terrifying. It has to be; this is your baby, remember? Now all you’ve got to do is pick the good advice from the bad. If you honestly and seriously wish to better the work, you’ve got to give every silly bastard who comes knocking the benefit of the doubt, at the very least. Does he or she have a chip on the shoulder? How do you know it’s not your own wounded ego standing between you and genuinely helpful advice? You’ve got to know when to swallow your pride and when to say “jog on”. Good luck with that.

So decide on a course of action, commit yourself and wield the scalpel. Offer up the results. Rinse and repeat until you’re like the special effects guys working on the truck crash in The Matrix Reloaded, staring at one scene for the whole production cycle until they had absolutely no idea whether the end product was any good at all.

Now publish.

Was that exhausting? Did it hurt? Are you now thoroughly muddled up and filled with doubt?

Give yourself a little time to appreciate that feeling. Be in it. Then pull on your big-boy pants, sprinkle some cement dust on your beverage of choice and harden the fuck up. What you’ve just experienced isn’t Teh Nobel Sufring of Teh Artist, it’s called The Fucking Job You Said You Wanted.

Now the dust has settled, do you want another go?

Then God help you, you perverse bastard. Knock ‘em dead.

Day Z and Confu Z

Let me tell you about Day Z. If you follow Kotaku or the excellent Rock, Paper, Shotgun you’ll probably know that it’s a zombie survival roleplaying mod, based on milsim par excellence Arma II. If none of those words made any sense, all you really need to know is this is the closest you want to get to living in a zombie apocalypse. And you can bring your friends.

Zombies have had a good run in recent years, and while they’re no longer the pop culture flavour du jour, the Walking Dead seems to have garnered itself enough of a following to prove there’s, erm, life in the old dog yet. We’ve also had our glut of zombie games, many of them multiplayer, some of them hardcore. None have grabbed my attention like Day Z. As a friend said, “this is the first thing to make me care about zombies since I was sixteen.”

He’s not the only one to feel that way. The mod’s lead developer, Rocket, has mentioned he was expecting a player base of maybe a few hundred. It’s currently sitting at around fourteen thousand. Day Z’s popularity has seen a five-fold increase in Arma II’s sales, sending it to the top of the Steam charts. Bear in mind, the mod’s in alpha at this point. This, my friends, is most definitely a thing.

So I thought I’d take a crack at asking why. Wherefore these ravening hordes of zombie slayers? And do you want to join them?

The first thing to mention, the thing that everyone’s mentioning, is that Day Z is a rich vein of emergent storymaking. That is, things happen that people want to retell. That’s a precious thing, and largely a gap that the industry has left to the indies. Witness Dwarf Fortress and Space Station 13. What’s the common factor? Free agents. Whether those agents be players, as in Space Station 13, or Dwarf Fortress’s intensely simulated NPCs, the trick to emergent stories seems to be putting a lot of self-interested free agents in a petri dish and shaking them up.

Of course, the trick to these agents is that they have to be properly free, and that doesn’t simply mean putting them in a big sandbox. It’s a question of options, complex and well-modelled options. Dwarf Fortress keeps tabs on injuries to individual fingers, not to mention NPC pet preferences and the artistic temperament, while Space Station sees you slipping in puddles, nicking ID cards and mixing your own viruses. Not only do you need lots of people, actual or simulated, you need lots for them to do.

But here’ the curious thing about Day Z: compared to those two examples, it’s not actually that open. Yes, you can break bones, cook meat, and drink from toilets, and yes you can go exactly wherever you please. But we’re nowhere near the batshit insane granular simulation Dwarf Fortress represents. And still the stories come, thick and rich and enticing.

So perhaps the emergent storytelling recipe is a little looser than I’d thought. Here’s an alternative hypothesis: emergent stories require freedom and immersion. Where one element flags, the other may step in.

Zombie MMO Urban Dead has been around since 2005, and boasts a respectable cult following. Like a number of its compatriots, it trades graphics for complexity and openness. But it hasn’t brought on the slavering hordes that have flocked to Day Z. It feels like heresy to suggest it, but might this be a case where graphics actually trump gameplay?

It’s not as if Arma II was ever a ravishing beauty. Next to its stablemate and competitor OpFlash II, it’s been the sister with the “interesting personality.” Of course, that “interesting personality” has translated to a rich community and at least one excellent thing. But that doesn’t change the fact that Arma II is poorly optimised and buggy, with some awful interface choices and clunky animation. Its sandbox environment, the fictional former Soviet Union country Chernarus, is impressive in terms of size and detail, but always felt empty and depressing. So, points for realism, then, I guess?

But switch the genre from milsim to survival sim, and it’s as if the camera has angle has gone from overhead to close-up. Chernarus isn’t merely dull, it’s now 225 km2  of poignantly bleak apocalypse. The player character goes from merely handling clunkily to feeling thrillingly vulnerable. What the engine lacks as a playable shooter, it makes up for in old-school stealth gameplay.

All of which is not to suggest that Rocket and co. owe their success to a canny choice of base game. The gameplay choices they’ve made speak to one end goal: desperation. You’re always low on food or ammo or meds, always playing off the risk of looting a town full of ghouls against the reward of that vital bandage or can of beans. And you don’t know who to trust; until recently, player killers were inflicted with a “bandit” skin to identify them to more honourable players. Now that’s been abolished, every overture of friendship is taking your life in your hands. As the trailer promises, you’ll encounter teamwork, paranoia, and betrayal. And it will be so much fun.


A fire needs three things: heat, fuel, and oxygen. Take one of those away and you don’t have a fire, for better or worse. The runaway blaze that is Day Z has  these three things: freedom, immersion, and desperation. If it hangs on to them all the way to final release, who knows what it might catch alight?