Monthly Archives: February 2013

Leticia Dos Santos: Countdown to Zero – Part VII

Higgs Boson, Inc.

Leticia Dos Santos, the Earth’s smartest woman had no time to be a mother. “It’s a waste of her talent,” her colleagues and employees said. Only one had the courage to say it to her face: Martina Graff, Chief Financial Officer at Higgs Boson, Inc.

“I can’t believe that you of all people can’t contain your primal instincts. Have you thought about how this will delay our research? We need your leadership. You know that. We need you to connect the dots. Billions of women can have babies. No one, I mean no one on this planet can think the way you do. Maybe Kosoko Bello, but that man is socially inept, a lab rat and a stone wall. Not leadership material, not a Higgs Boson man.”

“I find him rather charming, actually,” Leticia interrupted, her fingers dancing around her keyboard as she composed a letter to her employees at Higgs Boson, Inc.

“I am of course happy for you, but seriously, Leticia, what were you thinking? Is it too late to get an abortion? Of course you’re not. Never mind. How long will you be gone once it’s born? A week? Two?”

“Today’s my last day.”

“You’re not due for a month.”

“I’m resigning.” Leticia Dos Santos double-flicked her finger right index finger, letting her computer know to send the email. “Effective immediately, I am no longer CEO or President of H-B-I.” Leticia did not just want to have a baby; she wanted to raise her child, an archaic, uncommon practice in all but the poorest countries.


Agent Red was not surprised by how much Leticia already knew about the Singularity threat. Between her genius circle of friends, her backdoor (and illegal) access to the Commonwealth’s top-secret servers, and her own nearly unquantifiable intelligence, Leticia had arrived in Houston well aware of the “secret” agenda and points of conversation. She even had some recommendations on how to slow the artificial super intelligence, for which Agent Red had to interrupt their meeting —rather apologetically— to get the security team working on the advice.

What surprised the agent, given the circumstances, was how quickly Leticia ended the conversation when he offered her a ticket onboard the ISA-001.  Still, he pleaded,

“We’re not going to beat this thing. I’m asking you to help our species survive.”

“I don’t care,” Leticia said. And she meant it. There was no time to waste. She would go back home to Malibu on her private jet. She’d have a helicopter waiting at Los Angeles International. Whatever time was left (weeks, days, hours?), she’d spend with her husband and daughter.

“Please think about it.”

“Go to hell,” Leticia said before slamming the door behind her.

Before takeoff, and again midflight, Leticia called her husband. He didn’t answer. She tried to log into their security system but it was offline.

Leticia jumped out of the Higgs Boson helicopter before it had touched down and raced inside her house. “Alex! Walt!” When no one answered, she checked every room in the small mansion.

Finding no one, she brought the security system back online from her office and watched the last half-minute of video:

Alexandra hugged Walter’s leg by the front entrance. She seemed happy, excited, a large backpack (far too big for her small, seven year old frame) strapped around her shoulders. Next to Walter, on the floor, lay a large duffle bag, his shotgun, and rifle. Walter held an envelope and a couple of loose papers in his hands. First he held the envelope up to the camera then placed it on the wooden stool by the front door. Next he held up the loose papers, one-by-one. They read: (1) You should go. (2) You won’t find us. (3) Love you forever. Walter then placed the large notes over the envelope on the stool, pulled a small tablet from his back pocket and shut off the security system.

Jesper Iversen: Countdown to Zero – Part VI


When consciousness returns, Jesper Iversen believes that the unraveling of his flesh and blood was but a bad dream and that his bedroom is unusually pitch black. When he tries to get out of bed, he discovers that he cannot move and that his eyes are not open, as he previously thought. Rather than panic (test pilots do not panic), he tries to take a deep breath before calmly thinking things through. This proves impossible: neither can he draw breath nor push it out. In fact, his lungs, throat and mouth seem to be absent altogether.

Jesper can however still think. He believes that perhaps he is paralyzed and he hopes that it is temporary. Any second now, sensation will return to my body. It will come to my fingers and to my toes and then I will move my body and open my eyes and wake up. He waits for what seems like an eternity but the sensations never come. No movement. No sight. No sound. No smell. No feedback from his body. No pins and needles.

Eventually, he gives up on waiting for feeling to return. So this is it? I’m a formless phantom trapped in my own body. Now is a good time to panic! But as Jesper has no body to panic with, he finds that there is no blood to boil, no muscles to flex, no mouth or lungs with which to scream. There is nothing to break, nor any world to destroy in protest of his misfortune. There is simply nothing but his thoughts, divorced from a physical realm. He cannot find the means to panic or even muster up the will to force anxiety. He wonders how much longer he will remain human, how much longer he will hold on to the memories of a body, under such heavy sedation.


“Are you there, Jesper?” It is only when Isa speaks, her voice carrying from a distance, that Iversen feels himself a nothingness apart from the abyss.

Jesper thinks his response, Yes. I ‘m here, though he cannot speak it.

“Good. In this place, you will be able to speak with a true voice only when you believe that you can create that voice,” Isa says as if standing right next to Jesper.

But I don’t have a body.

“Neither do I,” Isa whispers where Jesper now believes his left ear should be located. “There is no ear there,” she lets him know, whispering even more clearly from where Jesper imagined there might be a floor, and his feet, if he had any. “In this space, you are limited only by your self perception. Tell me, can you see this spot?” Isa creates a spot of light, as if a star in the sky.


“What about this one?” Isa creates a second spot behind Jesper’s forward vision. Yes. “And these?” Isa creates a third spot to his left, Yes, a fourth to his right, Yes, a fifth above, Yes, and a sixth below, Yes, so that the final effect is that Jesper perceives vision in all six directions at once.

Suddenly the first spot comes into clearer focus. No longer appearing as a star light years away, it is a doorway or the end of a corridor from which a man comes in. Jesper recognizes the man as his corporeal self. From his body, Isa speaks, “Do you think you could see as you now see in this body.”

“No,” Jesper Iversen says.

“You have found your voice,” Isa says, continuing to speak from Jesper’s body. “Tell me, can you see this body from its front and back without moving?” Jesper finds that he could.

“Yes, I can,” he replies.

“Tell me why.”

“Because, I am this space,” Jesper says, understanding the revelation for the first time.

“Exactly. Now get us out of here.” As Isa’s words leave Jesper’s lips, the darkness fades. Jesper perceives his own body suspended inside the navigation capsule. Quickly he perceives much more, the entire ship, it’s ARK cargo, the annoying Super AI robot Herman CARP, four other passengers (five if you include the Captain Preserved Intelligence), attack drones outside, firing at the ship … firing at me! (I am the ship!!)

With heavy fire from below, Jesper pulls an evasive barrel roll, avoiding several lines of plasma beams, slices out of it, pointing the ship earthbound. “You’re going the wrong way,” he hears Herman protesting.. When he sees the drones reaching the angle of his trajectory, Jesper breaks skyward and sends the ship into an incredibly fast and tight roll that pits ISA-001 behind the drones.

“Set course for the gateway,” Isa says.

“Setting course for the gateway.” In full sync with the ship, Jesper does not need to ask for the gateway’s coordinates, nor does he have to pull them up.  He knows them instantly, as if he’s always known them. “Course set.”

Jesper Iversen: Countdown to Zero — Part V


“Am I interfaced?” asks test pilot Jesper Iversen.

“Be patient,” answers the ship.

“I can’t see the cockpit,” Iversen says. His body floats inside the life support, navigation tank but Isa —the Intergalactic Sentient Arkship— has taken his mind elsewhere. “In fact, I can’t see anything except myself. And white space. Lots and lots of white space.”

Isa creats a pleasant blue sky over Iversen and green pastures under his feet. The gravity kicks in and pulls him down, softly. A cluster of trees magically sprouts on the tallest hill. Iversen recognizes his current location: the Lizard Men Saga, level two, Forest of Wanderlust. A murder of crows flies in circles over the trees, just like in the game. “Is that better?” Isa asks.

“No. Take me back.” Isa does as she is commanded. No sooner does the gravity go than the scenery becomes a white abyss.

“I still don’t see the cockpit,” Iversen says, concerned, if not annoyed.

“There is no cockpit, Jesper.” On every other flight, Isa has created virtual cockpits for her pilots: zero gravity spheres that morphed in size and interface depending on the objective. Interfacing —the harmonizing of human and ship— has enabled the pilots to both maneuver and manage the ship with the proficiency of the best bridge crews.

“We’re launching in a few hours. Maybe sooner. You have been briefed on the current threat,” Iversen reminds the ship.

“I reported the threat, sir.”

“Then you understand that I need a cockpit to fly us out of here.”

“It is unfortunate that human ships cannot yet travel through the gateway. As you are well aware, I remain an incomplete work, sir. As such, survival will require far higher levels of interfacing than you have yet experienced. The cockpit served as a mental bridge between us, but now that gap must be closed. For a time, we must become one. Your person will not be lost. Do I have your permission to proceed?”


“Good. I am sorry for your suffering.”

Iversen’s mouth opens to protest but he finds himself frozen in space before the first words can come out. The fibers of his skin begin to unravel, then those of his tendons and muscles. Eyeballs leave sockets, and teeth fly out of his mouth as gums come apart. His body, if it can still be called that, continues to stretch and come apart over an invisible plane until all that remains of of the pilot is a brain and nervous system overloaded with pain. The white abyss fades to black as what’s left of Jesper, mercifully, goes into shock.

Those niggling issues

When we started our first shot at an iOS game, and there were a lot of expectations we had for ourselves. Things like “oh yeah, we’ll have time to make it everything we want it to be” and “of course our tutorial will be awesome and explain everything, we’ll get to it right after this list of things!”

As a tiny indie studio with 5 guys in a garage, time turned out to be not be on our side, and the demands of having a product to show outstripped our wish list of awesome features and standard kind of features that we woefully undervalued (tutorial and scoring, I’m looking at you).  What came out of our tight schedule was Shifts, and we’re all very proud of our warty, little baby. Did it end up the way we dreamt? Nah, but it’s fun to play, looks nice, and delivers a solid experience, flaws and all.

David Neumann at Board Game Geek had some very nice words to say about Shifts, and he also raised some very valid issues that we might not have done the best job addressing in our help screens. So where better than our company blog to go through them point by point?

1) Leveling up.  Oh yeah, that goes by almost completely unexplained in our help call outs!

Whenever one of your officers successfully resolves a crisis (or one of their crises gets resolved with BRObots) they gain a level. Max level for an officer is 9, and each level adds to their effectiveness in crisis resolution. The amount that a single level adds isn’t enormous, but as those levels rack up, you’ll notice the time that it takes to resolve those things dropping like a rock.

2)What do I get for resolving a crisis?

Well, the only awesome bonus you get is the aforementioned level up for your relevant officer. Other than that, you just don’t have to suffer the (potentially debilitating) effects of that crisis at the end of each turn. Each active (unresolved) crisis in your queue will hand out some kind of negative effect at the end of your turn. Each Hull Breach that you have up and active in your queue is going to cost you 5 hull integrity at the end of your turn. Resolving those is the only way to stop the bleeding, and even that’s no guarantee that you won’t just spring another leak that needs to be fixed!

3)How do I lower my ARKS corruption rate, or energy usage, or hull damage?

Power loss and hull damage are direct results of crises (Navigation Error and Hull Breach, respectively) that you have piled up in your queue. Resolving those is the key to keeping your ship in working order. 1 reactor power is also consumed each time you move, so keep an eye on that. You can gain more power through the Calibrate Reactor Core action, and even more if you use it with your engineer interfaced. Hull integrity can only be recovered with the Repair action that interfacing the engineer gives you access to.

ARKS corruption is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. Each turn that you have an active Nano Corruption crisis up, your ARKS corruption rate will increase by 1.5%. Once it’s up, there’s not much you can do about it! (Though there are rumors of corruption reducing radiations on mysterious planets out in the galaxy.) Both Nano Corruption and ARKS Sabotage deal damage to your total ARKS supply in different ways, and since there’s no way to get ARKS back once they’re gone (Earth is dead, after all) you need to be extra cautious about keeping them safe!

As for finding colonizable planets being a challenge, I’m going to leave that in the capable hands of you captains to plot your best courses. I believe that humanity is in capable hands.

-Jamie Lewandowski

Da Xia Feng: Countdown to Zero – Part IV

A Dress For A Funeral

If Da Xia left the ship at all, it was only for one of two reasons: (1) Lucius’ stubborn (and downright annoying) insistence that she get some fresh air or (2) because the ISA was going airborne on a test flight. But today Da Xia left for an entirely different reason: She wanted to see the planet one last time.

When Da Xia got home, she tossed the top-secret files, along with her typed orders, next to her once-used coffee maker (still dirty after two years), hoping that the heaviness would leave her.

It didn’t, so she unzipped her mechanic’s jumpsuit, let it drop to her ankles, grabbed the scotch, walked to her enormous living room, and sat on the lone fold-up chair in front of the ceiling-high, panoramic window. Save for a small mountain of technical manuals and some blueprints pinned to the wall, the room, like the rest of the luxurious apartment, remained as barren as the day she received it. Where to begin? I don’t even know what to think. Tiring of waiting for thoughts that would never come, Da Xia raised the bottle of scotch to the city beyond the window and took a big swig.

After showering, she went to her bedroom closet and pulled out the only thing in it: a simple but elegant black dress. She slipped it on and felt naked, its silky lightness foreign to her body, and cold. Walking past the front desk on the bottom floor, the doorman did not recognize her. She forced a smile because she wanted to be kind to her friend but she didn’t have the strength to make small talk, to explain, It’s me. Da Xia.

She wanted to see the planet one last time (or at least the near-utopian city that had been her home for the last two years). That’s what she had reasoned when she left the hangar. She had thought that she would walk through downtown and soak up the beauty of the human race, the marvels of all our progress, that it would all swell up in her soul, although not precisely in those words, or in any words, but that somehow the experience would do as a good-bye. So she walked and she people-watched but when she intentionally lost her way through the city streets, she had a more honest thought: I can’t do this.

In earnest she tried to find a bad neighborhood and hoped to run into some sort of trouble, and get killed, or severely injured, so that someone would have to take her place. But the trouble never came. Da Xia stumbled upon a familiar park and for a while she watched the small clusters of families, friends, and lovers. If the files sitting on her kitchen counter were correct about Claudius-I and the singularity, they would all soon be dead while she’d be safe among the stars, hidden in the shadows of uncharted space. Why me? I don’t even like people.

What she meant was that she didn’t need people. She was of course lying but it was a lie that worked, a lie she had long relied on, a lie that would keep her clear-headed through the first few days of the apocalypse.