Then And Now: A Social Retrospective For Dummies

There was this guy, Adam Orth, who was a creative director at Microsoft, and who stirred up a lot of ire by mincing no words when discussing people’s irritation at the Xbox One being “always on, always connected”. As the Internet is wont to do, people took it personally, and worked quickly to make Orth’s life a living hell (according to him).

I could really care less if some random internet dude tells me to “deal with it” in hash tag form. Yes, I pictured this guy as Any Guy, saying this out loud with a “meh” expression and a shrug of the shoulders like a total douchebag, but let’s face it: my opinion is always going to be valid as far as I’m concerned, and that this one guy who’s on the other side of the country, whom I have never met, thinks otherwise makes absolutely no difference in my life. That’s not an attempt to convince myself when my feelings are hurt; I had totally forgotten this guy about 10 minutes after I had originally heard about him.

But his re-surfacing got me thinking, as old people do, about Days Gone By (in this case, pre-Internet). I lived during that time, so this isn’t some half-assed co-opt of an “up hill, both ways” story. Back then, our socializing was limited to only those within arms reach, either through school, clubs, sports, religious institutions, family, or neighbors. The World was a map, or what we heard on TV news or read in the newspapers. Most people (in the U.S., and especially where I grew up) didn’t know anyone on the other side of the world; it might as well have been the 1300’s, before people were really sailing all over the place and meeting new people. The most international I ever got was when my cousins hosted an exchange student from Spain.

Back in those days, you had two choices when dealing with other people. You could totally bullshit people by acting and behaving in a manner that represented who you wanted to be, or you could act like yourself. Usually people chose the first option if they thought their real selves wouldn’t be accepted. But that could really drain your batteries that way, because you had to be “on” 24/7. Remember, your interactions were spatially limited, so if you dropped your guard and someone found out that you were a racist and not a choir-boy, for example, news got around fast. Your entire reputation went from “clean cut” to “bigoted liar” in only a few hours. And you couldn’t get away unless you moved.

Here in modern times, people take for granted the fact that on the Internet, nationality or location in the world is almost meaningless. You can interact with people anywhere, any time, and I think we’ve quickly become immune to the “gee whiz” of it all, especially those who grow up in this environment and know no different.

But as the Orth Parable teaches us, we no longer have the option to choose between throwing up a facade or being ourselves. The freedom that the Internet provides for our benefit is the same freedom that allows people to gang up on one another, to find and publish someone’s home address, the names of family members, the location of children’s schools, a person’s religious and political affiliations, and all kinds of information that isn’t horrible by itself, but in the wrong (and determined) hands, could ignite some Really Bad Shit.

Orth chose to show his true self. He spoke his mind, based on his beliefs that the things people were upset about weren’t worth getting upset about, and that people weren’t seeing the forest for the trees, and were overreacting because of it. But he shot from the hip, and without the benefit of body language or vocal inflection, his comments came off as condescending and arrogant. He wasn’t talking to anyone specifically; he was addressing a nebulous “They”, which included anyone who felt that his comments were addressed directly at them. The Internet being what it is took this slight and stretched it, magnified it, blew it out of proportion, and passed it around until people did what anonymous people will do: they made it as personal for Orth as they felt he had made it for them.

Orth was an idiot. For any intelligent person spending 10 minutes or less on the Internet, it’s pretty obvious that if you’re going to be yourself, you had better be ready for the repercussions. Know this: there are people who are ready for that battle. The rest of us should know that if want to really enjoy our time on the Internet, we have to be who we want to be, not who we are.

Let’s face it: everyone does and says stupid things, and everyone had opinions that other people would find unappealing. There’s no denying that. Back When, if you said something stupid, it would only be stupid if the people in your immediate area thought it was stupid. In the Internet Age, you can say even the most innocuous thing, but it’ll have a world-wide reach in a matter of seconds, and it’ll linger for weeks, months, or years. Someone, somewhere, will find what you said and will call you and idiot for having said it. So we have two options: stay off the Internet, or present a deliberate and cultivated persona designed to provide a little ambiguity as possible regarding your intent, your stance, and your future interaction with people.

Orth had a job to do, and he blew it. He chose to be himself when he should have been Xbox One’s Creative Director. I could write another screed about the disdain that corporations have for consumers as a way to explain how Orth actually was speaking as a Creative Director, but I think this was a case of one man acting alone. His follow-up interview shows that he’s no less clueless about how the Internet works now than he was when he was working for Microsoft. He doesn’t seem to understand that he was just as much to blame by not realizing what kind of a potential shit-storm his off-handed remarks could start. He continues to be dismissive of the people he should have once worked very, very hard to court, even after this debacle caused him apparent hardship. Had he been a model Creative Director, he would have worked hard — probably to no avail — to sell people on the status quo, not tell them to basically fuck off and suck it up. 

That someone who is allowed to speak in public on behalf of another (or a company or brand) can be so clueless about how to comport oneself on the Internet is mind-blowing to me. This kind of behavior would have gone totally unchallenged 25 years ago, but the reality of it is that we can’t just assume that people know us, understand us, or that our words won’t have repercussions somewhere in the world, and then feign indignation when the backlash hits us.

Using Multiple Locations with #Twitch

[I’ve dredged this up from the Way Back Machine, because it’s still relevant and potentially useful]

In the same day in which I lamented the lack of multi-input to Twitch from remote locations, I did some digging and found that yes, it is entirely possible to have broadcasters from remote locations stream to one Twitch channel. However, there’s a massive asterisk there. Twitch itself doesn’t allow re-broadcasting, so it’s basically one stream in from your broadcaster, one stream out through their player. You can fake it if you set up multiple viewers through Twitchify or Multitwitch, and isolate each player in its own layer through OBS, XSplit, FFSplit, or other broadcast software, but you’re probably going to suffer from re-broadcasting a broadcast.

If you want to truly aggregate streams, you need an RTMP server. Here’s an example of how that works:

Steve, Kelly, and Mittens are all playing MechWarrior Online with other members of their clan, and want to create a slick recruitment video. Using their broadcaster-of-choice, they all stream to a custom RTMP server using the url rtmp://[personal-channel]/[personal-key] instead of the predefined setup that allows them to stream directly to Twitch.

The RTMP server handles the input and makes it available to the public at the same address each broadcaster uses for input.

Another clan member — The Producer — isn’t playing. Instead, he’s got two apps running: a web browser which has multiple video viewers that display the RTMP streams on one page, à la Twichify, and a copy of XSplit. Unlike the broadcasters, The Producer needs to use XSplit because it’s the only broadcaster that can use RTMP streams as input (get on that, OBS and FFSplit!). Each RTMP stream behaves just like any other input within XSplit, allowing the producer to move and resize windows, aggregate them onto one canvas, or give them their own full-screen canvas. Each input displays what the individual streamers are streaming, so if Mittens has a webcam overlay on her game input, it’s what The Producer will see, and will have no control over moving multiple input sources from the broadcaster.

Finally, The Producer uses the normal Broadcast to Twitch settings to pump the aggregated stream to the public.


This allows for streamers to get groups of people together into one broadcast, something that Twitch doesn’t support. With a producer at the helm, a group of people can make some pretty slick, live, near professional quality video without the need for post-processing. If one stream were a webcam focusing on some commentators who are watching the RTMP streams themselves, you could set up a League of Legends style eSports presentation. Also, by having one aggregate display, and then each stream on their own canvases, a group can create a pretty decent show, live and without post-processing.

Also, if you have an embeded video player which can accept RTMP streams, you could put your own video player on your own website using Flowplayer or JWPlayer, and skip the Twitch ads! It’s entirely possible to have broadcasters input to the RTMP server, have a producer aggregate those streams, and then re-post to the RTMP server. If your embded video player picks up on any of those streams, it can be posted to your own website.


First, you need the RTMP server. I did some leg-work, and found two commercial servers, and one free server. You need hosting, virtual or otherwise, or a box in your own home.

Obviously, to make this work, you need someone to act as the producer who will aggregate all the streams and send it out to the public. Sadly, it can’t be one of the streamers, unless someone wants to run two broadcasters: one to send out, and one to aggregate and publish. While possible, that person would need a pretty hefty PC, a lot of bandwidth, and insane multitasking abilities.

Also, you have to use stand-alone broadcasting software. Games which pump out the streams directly to Twitch won’t work, which also excludes the next generation of consoles (unless you do something like this).

Technical Junk

There are some commercial options available, like Wowza or Red 5, if you have dedication and money to burn. You’ll also need a physical server on which to run them.

I set up a virtual Ubuntu server on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing system and followed a set of instructions I found on the OBS forums for setting up the free and lightweight nginx web server with an RTMP plugin. I’m not a Linux guy, so I had to kick my way through the installation, but once I understood what I was doing wrong, everything went off without a hitch (which never happens for me when dealing with Linux!).

If you want to have multiple inputs, each input will need it’s own endpoint. When using Twitch, this is the channel name: The OBS forum instructions explain how to set this up in the nginx.conf file (the config section labeled “live”), so if you have a team, name each endpoint by the streamer’s nickname and you should be all set.

Twitch has a layer of security in it’s broadcast key, but nginx isn’t so secure. You will need to provide a suffix to your RTMP url (, but that broadcast key can be anything you want. The only thing to keep in mind is that the whole URL needs to be provided to whatever input catcher is being used. So when using XSplit or VNC to pick up the stream, you’ll need to include the URL, channel name, and whatever arbitrary broadcast key you decide to stream to. Change it, and the stream catcher will need to update it’s input URL. As if that wasn’t enough, some stream catchers may or may not need that broadcast key bit. Yeah, sorry about that. I know VNC (for monitoring the stream) does need it. XSplit may or may not. FlowPlayer may or may not. I have to run a few more tests to determine which ones need which data.

One of the benefits from this is that you can use this set up to also record streams to disk (on the server) or even to send the stream direct to Twitch from the RTMP server. This is basically replicating the functionality that the broadcast software offers out of the box, but it’s possible that there might be a situation out there that doesn’t offer a direct pipe to a broadcasting outlet, and putting an RTMP server in between might solve that issue.

Microsoft Surface Pro

As some folks know (probably the same 8 people who have read this blog), I picked up a Microsoft Surface Pro (128GB) yesterday. After my Nexus shattered (it would cost as much to buy a new one as it would to have Asus repair it), I was tablet-less, adrift in a sea of potential situations where my phone is out of reach, and when I knew something was happening somewhere…but what?

Joking aside, here’s a run-down.

What’s in the Box?

I didn’t take pictures, but there’s a power cable in two parts (power connector is proprietary, which blows), the tablet, the stylus, and a manual.

Physical Presence

The Surface is pretty hefty. I haven’t weighed it, but I’d say it’s about as hefty as Game of Thrones in hardcover. It’s also not svelt. I’d say it’s more akin to the first generation iPad than the current generation iPad. I realize that there’s a contingent out there for whom this will be a problem, but we’ll get to that.

The “VaporMg” case is…OK? I guess? The built-in kickstand is great, but it doesn’t make that cool sucking-sound that it did on stage in presentations. I was kind of disappointed by that. Normally, these devices aren’t very “user-maintenance friendly”, but I think this one takes the cake. Along the edge there’s a series of vents that allow the innards to expel heat, which isn’t something you think about a lot on a tablet, but we’ll get to that also.

There are a few ports and buttons around the edge. The top has a power button and a mic. The right side has headphones, volume rocker, and USB port. The left side has a MicroSD slot, power connector, and a port for external video connections. The power port is elongated, and has a series of magnetic connectors. The power doesn’t snap in physically; it’s just magnetically held there, but it’s a powerful hold. When not charging, the stylus’s rocker buttons (if you know Wacom stylus design) serve as a magnetic male to the female port. I wouldn’t trust the stylus to remain connected during a vigorous trip in a backpack, but it sure beats having the stylus loose on a messy desk. The bottom is given over to the keyboard connector. Again, another really powerful magnet keeps it in place. This time, it DOES make that satisfying sound when connected.

Turn It On

If you’ve used Windows 8 on a desktop system, then there is no difference in presentation between what you get here and what you get on the desk. Except you can smear fingerprints on this screen and have something to show for it. I showed it to a co-worker, and he made one swipe of the Modern UI before professing that he could already see that Windows 8 really does best on a touch device. Beyond that, I won’t review Windows 8. Short answer: I’ve used it with real effort, and I like it.

The screen is pretty bright. The glass was ultra-shiny when I unboxed it, and I debated whether or not to touch it (hint: I did) and foul the fine finish with my human-grease. The sound was just OK; Better than what you’d get out of most tablets, I think, but it’s not very loud. I watched a video last night, and I had to crank the both the Windows and the player’s volumes up to max to hear it. It does have Bluetooth, so I can connect my headset to it.

The resolution is 1900 X 1280, which is what is “standard” for PC’s these days. But I installed a game (Prison Architect) and it couldn’t handle the screen. I was unable to get it to fit properly. But I switched to a 1900×1280 wallpaper, and it fit perfectly.


It’s fast. There was a lot of talk about Surface RT being sluggish and all that, but I can’t speak to that. Swiping on the Pro is instant and gratifying. Sometimes a bit too instant. I’ve occasionally had to chase tiles around as the screen moved under my timid finger. Be direct. Be forceful. Stab that icon like you mean it!

The big sell for me was the stylus (no matter what St. Jobs claims). I’ve always wanted to get rid of paper: it’s transient, and uncategorizable without additional filing systems. Electronic note taking is great, but adding the layer of handwritten notes and drawings, and it’s basically all you could ask for. I still mourn the  assassination of the Courier (moment of silence…), but so far, the stylus is awesome. The digitizer was designed by Wacom, so it’s got pedigree, and while there’s still a delay between stroke and cursor, the fine tip of the stylus puts those marshmallow stylus poseurs on other tablets to shame. I can take a page of notes in OneNote, sync it to my SkyDrive, and review it on my PC. It’s my organizational Nirvana.


I actually haven’t gotten this far, would you believe? I did install Steam (Suck it, Newell!), though. As mentioned above, I tried Prison Architect with disastrous results, but it’s an indie game in alpha, so I didn’t expect much. This morning, I installed Civilization V because I was reminded that it had touch-screen controls. I fired it up and (after downloading the .NET framework) it had an option to run win Windows 8 mode with touch controls. The game seemed to run well; I was at work, and didn’t get to really PLAY the game, but I’ll check in with it later.

Aside from that, there’s whatever is on the Marketplace, which is to say “almost nothing”. But I have hope: Unity just released update 4.2 the other day, which has FREE support for porting to Windows 8 devices. Assuming it’s not too much work, I hope developers will flip that switch in their existing Unity games to get a piece of the Marketplace before it becomes a dumping ground like those other app stores.


I picked up the Typing keyboard, not the membrane-style Touch keyboard. It’s not tiny, and it’s not full-sized, so the placement of the hands is off. But it’s really nice. It comes with a built-in trackpad because, yes, despite being a touch-centric device, you can use a mouse pointer. The underside of the keyboard is a non-slip felt. No logo, no leatherette material. It’s pretty weak as a fashionable cover, but it’s a keyboard. Cut it some slack! And it protects the screen when not in use.


I need to use it more to say for certain, but these come to mind.

Battery! At full charge, the meter says about 3 hours. That was in “performance mode”. Turning off the wifi, setting the power saver mode to something more conservative, remembering to put it to sleep instead of letting it time out…those measures should help, but this is not a marathon-use device on battery.

Proprietary power! EVERYTHING in my house uses micro USB connectors, except for the 3DS and this. That means I have to buy more power cables to have them where I need them, and to avoid having to pack up the power everywhere I go.

Survivability! I’ve never really been a “screen protector” kind of guy, but I’m deathly afraid for this device, mainly because it’s nature demands that it move about a lot, and also because of it’s price.

Fairy Fingers! I actually had it easier on the desktop than with touch when it came to organizing the Modern UI. Deleting and moving tiles is an exercise in patience, as you have to move the tile just a little bit before you can unsnap or delete it. And I still ca’t figure out how to delete pages in OneNote without resorting to the trackpad. You need some very small and nimble fingers to do most of this, I assume.

Windows 8! Nah, not really. Just hater-baiting, because this is really where Windows 8 feels right. Sadly, due to the price and entrenched perception, normally open-minded folks who claim to hate Windows 8 will never get to see it in it’s native environment like this.

Here’s the “More On That Later” Section

I was at Best Buy, standing around waiting to catch the eye of a sales person (you’d have a better time finding Bigfoot with your eyes closed in pitch dark in the middle of a forest) and I was checking out other options. I saw the Galaxy…something tablet. It has a stylus as well, and was 1/2 the price of the Surface Pro. There were also laptops, again at a fraction of the price of the Surface Pro. I caught myself thinking “why not just get one of those and save money?”

The reason is because both of those options only did half of what I wanted. The tablet did tablet stuff, but not desktop stuff. The laptops had a physical keyboard attached at all times, which makes touch-screen use difficult. Both were portable, but neither did everything. That was my main criteria, and my reason for going with the Pro.

But wait! The Internet cries. A laptop is more powerful! A tablet doesn’t have that shitty Windows 8 Modern UI! Well, you’re both right. Had I wanted horsepower, I would have gone with a laptop, but I have a desktop already. I couldn’t take notes or draw on a laptop, and it wouldn’t be easy to stand up, walk around, and still use the thing on the go. If I had wanted a consumption device, I would have gone with a tablet. But I’ve owned an iPad and a Nexus. I have owned an iPhone, a few Android phones, and a few Windows phones. I have enough consumption devices in my life right now that I needed a productivity device instead. Trading the full power of each to have both in one package is what I expected, and what I wanted. So I don’t mind that it’s an “underpowered” laptop or a “Windows 8” tablet.

One thing I’ve noticed over the months since Windows 8 and Surface have been released, any criticism of Surface as a brand have been solely focused on RT, with none of the praise that Pro deserves. I can’t speak to RT, but whenever a blogger on a tech site wanted a punch-line, it was always Surface RT. It would have been really easy for those kinds of people to have their contacts get them a Pro so they could have something worth talking about, but…nothing. It was like a conscious effort to ignore the positive side of the product line.

Pro is a solid piece of hardware that makes a decent home for a solid piece of software. Yes, the price is daunting, putting it out of reach of many who consider price over form and function, which is sad on all counts. Reduce this in price by $300-$500 and I bet you’d be hard pressed to find one on shelves. You can get cheaper laptops; you can get cheaper tablets; you can’t get both in one package for cheap, though. That’s kind of sad, because I think the Pro is “the” device that actually promises a potential death of desktop computing at the hands of mobility, not because it dumbs it down or because it’s portable, but because it’ll do what desktops do, and it’s portable with far less compromise than you get from other devices.


Being an MMO fan, playing with others seems like it should be a no-brainer. Popular wisdom dictates that people play MMOs because they want to play withpeople, right? Personally, I don’t subscribe to this: I play MMOs because they’re expansive, always available (except during patching windows), and updated frequently. I do like that there are other people in the world, though, because it makes the world more alive than it would be if it were just NPCs standing around, being helpless until you happen along to run their menial tasks for them. Thing is, I don’t like to play with random people.

I’ll jump ahead and say simply that I blame the game design mentality that puts loot and it’s inherent selfishness ahead of anything that requires people to actually work together for reasons beyond sheer brute force. I have no issues playing with people I know because I’m confident that we’re all nice people. If we want to take content slow, we’re all OK with that. If we don’t have the best gear, we’re also OK with that. We like the experience of the game, and aren’t in it for the loot or prestige.

One driving force that I’ve come to appreciate is honest-to-goodness community. This transcends in-game grouping, and isn’t even centered on MMOs. Finding a decent group of human beings who’s opinions you trust and who value the same things as you do when it comes to games is a much better motivator for me than any mechanical feature that a game offers. Sure, this is nothing new: tight-knit guilds or groups of friends have always been the tethers that keep people playing a particular game, or when severed, cause people to drift away.

The thing is, I’ve found I don’t even need that strong of an attraction: just a bunch of nice people being passionate about what they’re doing, so long as they’re all doing something in the same game. That’s important because a lot of people I interact with are gamers. Not all of us are playing the same games. It’s great to be able to talk about “gaming” with them, but if I’m not playing a game that someone else is, and vice versa, we can’t commiserate on anything specific. We can’t keep each other interested in the game itself like we can when we’re playing the same game, having similar experiences, discovering new things about the game, and even sometimes getting together in-game as well.

I realize now that after years of solo trekking across the MMO landscape, the reason why I’ve never been able to commit to a single game has been because of my lack of involvement in a really passionate community. I’ll take my share of the blame — I don’t find it easy to just drop myself into someone else’s life and feel comfortable — but I also wish there were more communities out there who organized along the same sentiments of “games as enjoyment” and not “games as ego-boosters”.

Zen And The Art Of Blogging

Blogging is a weird sport. Many people do it, and many people wouldn’t be caught dead doing it. Of those who do, some treat it like a religion or a workout, while others only bother to post something when they remember that they have a blog. The reasons are varied, and the results are even more varied still. It’s very easy to set up a blog, but it’s very difficult to write something worthwhile.

But everything we write as bloggers is worthwhile! If it weren’t, we wouldn’t bother, right? So why is it that we can write a great post one week and get mediocre traffic, only to see someone else blog something remarkably similar the next week to great acclaim? It’s frustrating, but the old saw is “write for yourself”, and damn the reviews. We write not because we want to be famous, but because we really like to write, and that’s the most important thing.

Well, yes and no. Yes, we write because we love it. Writing will never go away, and thanks to the Internet, we no longer have to write in the vacuum of our own notebooks, which means that no, we don’t blog for ourselves entirely. If we didn’t care about getting feedback, we would just stick with our own notebooks. Despite what any blogger says, there’s some level of need to be read, and it’s very disappointing when that doesn’t happen.

In some ways, blogs are people’s attempts to connect with others. There are blogs about really personal things, about ephemeral things, about hobby things, but we all write about what we know and what we like, and we want to connect with people who know and like the same things. Blogs are our way of opening conversations with a much wider audience.

I sometimes wonder about people who don’t have blogs, or use social networks or anything like that: what do they do with their thoughts and ideas? Yeah, that’s a horrible “Internet Age” perspective, because people got on with their lives before the Internet and all. The short answer is that “they talk to real people”, meaning people around them: friends, family, co-workers. I wonder if my “online-ness” supersedes my ability or desire to deal with people.

Sourcebooks For Lore

On occasion, I’ll pick up an RPG sourcebook for no reason other than to have it. Back in high school, I had a lot of RPG books for games I never got to play, like Mechwarrior or Paranoia, or Cyberpunk or Aliens. Although I had wanted to play them, my primary interest was in reading up on the settings and the mechanics that designers had added to the franchises that I loved.

I really hope they come out with a Defiance RPG. I think there’s a lot of potential background information in there that would be really interesting to have. I picked up the Battlestar Galactica sourcebook for the same reason, although I’ve tried to envision exactly how one could set a game in the confines of the Galactica and it’s fleet without it resulting in a lot of petty scenarios; I’d be interested to hear from anyone who might have played it. I think Defiance could offer a whole wealth of opportunities, however, since we’ve only heard about Defiance and San Francisco (and Las Vegas Prison). There’s still a whole lot of potential settings out there for players to create within the lore of the IP.

Defiance Season One

DefianceLogoThis week marked the end of the first season of Defiance on SyFy. Although SyFy ends up as the butt of a lot of jokes about low-budget movies like Sharktopus, their original series are usually pretty good (EurekaBattlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13).

The Background

If you’re not a Defiance watcher, here’s the short setup: A bunch of aliens show up on Earth’s doorstep, having fled their own planets after their shared sun blew up. Attempts to co-exist were made, but eventually a huge war broke out between the humans and the Votans (the collective name for the refugee races) until one battle where both humans and Votans ended up defying orders to fight, and instead worked together to save civilians. This was called the “Battle of Defiance”, and is how the remains of St Louis (featured in the show) got it’s name.

At some point in all of this, the Votan ships — called arks in a very human-centric coincidence — were destroyed in orbit around Earth. The debris still encircles the planet, with occasional pieces crashing down in what’s called an arkfall. It was because of these arkfalls that alien flora mixed with native flora to re-terraform Earth, resulting in a planet populated by strange plants and animals.

The show focuses on the town of Defiance, which is played as 19th century frontier town, cut off from other civilization due to no railroads, no highways, and no air travel (apparently the arkfalls and terraforming have rendered anything over a mile high extremely radioactive and hazardous to flying machines).

More information about the show, it’s settings, and characters, can be found on one of the Defiance wikis.

The Show (With Spoilers)

I’ve seen a lot of people say that getting started with the show was rather difficult. One of the problems was that they didn’t actually explain who the aliens were, or why they were living in St. Louis. During the first few episodes, new races were sent out on stage, and we were introduced to them through their weird rituals. It felt like we were being force-fed someone’s world-building, but Defiance has the potential to be a large IP. The Votanis Collective is made up of several races, and while only a few are mentioned and shown (Castithan, Irathient, Indogene, Sensoth, Liberata, and Volge), there were hints of several others. There’s really just a lot of info to set up that was needed in order to power the rest of the season, and I think the first few episodes not only had to do this introduction quickly, but also be entertaining enough to get people to return next week.

Once the viewer becomes comfortable with the cast, their races, and their situations, the show was free to move ahead.

[SPOILERS – Highlight to read!]

There are two weekly plots ongoing throughout the season, and one overarching plot.

One of the two weekly plots involve Nolan and Irisa, a human arkhunter and his “adopted” Irathi daughter. Nolan was a solider who fought in the Pale Wars against the Votan, and is considered one of the “Defiant Few”, the soldiers who worked with the Votans at the Battle of Defiance. He rescued Irisa from what we’re initially lead to believe was an Irathiant cult (which included her parents), and the two have survived in the Badlands — the terraformed frontiers between towns — collecting valuable technological debris that rains down in arkfalls. The two end up in Defiance after a run-in with the Spirit Riders, an Irathiant band of thugs, steal all of their posessions. Despite their nomadic nature, Nolan helps Defiance repel an attack from the war-like Volge, and then accepts the job of Lawkeeper for the town. Irisa isn’t too happy about that. She dislikes being in constant proximity to other people, and the town bothers the hell out of her. 

The second plot involves the current acting-mayor, Amanda Rosewater, and her primary foil, Datak Tarr, a Castithan “businessman” (in the way Al Capone was a “businessman”). Tarr, who was born into a low-ranking liro (social caste) is looking to gain respect for himself and his family in Defiance, but his shadowy dealings usually put him at odds with Amanda, who wants Defiance to be a lawful, peaceful town where Votans and humans can live together. Mixed into this plot is Rafe McCawley, owner and operator of the town’s gulanite mine, and staunch supporter of Amanda and direct opponent of Tarr and his schemes. McCawley’s daughter Christie and Tarr’s son Alak are actually involved in a Romeo and Juliet level romance, and eventually marry near the end of the season (neither dies).

The overarching plot involves a mysterious piece of Votan technology that McCawley’s oldest son Luke finds in the mines, and for which he is killed by Ben, Amanda’s Indogene assistant. It’s revealed throughout the course of the season that Ben, the town’s Indogene Doctor Meh Yewll, and the former Mayor Nicolette Riordon (an Indogen altered to look like a human), are working together to find this technology, which they believe is buried beneath Defiance in the gulanite mines. The Earth Republic (E-Rep), a global defense force-slash-government is also searching for this technology, which they believe is a Votan weapon that had crashed into Earth and was buried. E-Rep is constantly attempting to cut a deal with Defiance to bring railway service to the town, but Amanda refuses to cut a deal with them, citing that other towns that have ended up suffering for the privilege.

The end of the season resulted in a Mayoral run-off between Amanda and Tarr, in which the E-Rep backed Tarr won by a narrow margin. As a result of a Tarr scheme to discredit Amanda by exposing Nolan’s xenophobic past, Nolan and Irisa plan to leave Defiance, except that Irisa is integral to the retrieval of the strange Votan technology that the Indogene and E-Rep are searching for. Through a fast-paced conclusion, Tarr and his wife Stahma are presumed to be under arrest for killing an E-Rep commander, Nolan is dead, Amanda’s sister Kenya (the madam of the NeedWant, a bar-slash-brothel) is presumed dead for threatening Stahma over their illicit relationship, and Irisa must face her destiny as the potential weapon that could end the world. The last scene of the last episode was of an E-Rep force marching on Defiance, blaring through their loudspeakers that the town was now under E-Rep’s martial law.


Whew! So, with that out of the way….

Is It Any Good? (With Minor Spoilers)

Really, like anything else, your mileage may vary, but overall I think it’s a good start to a potentially deep IP.

One of the things that I liked about the show is that Nolan wasn’t what you’d normally get out of a “lawkeeper”, but he wasn’t portrayed as a mercenary either. He seemed to be focused on taking Irisa to Antactica (which they believed was a paradise thanks to the terraforming), but wanted to also stay in Defiance where they “could make a difference”. But in one episode, when he and a former friend-turned-bounty hunter were arguing over who would retain custody of a wanted criminal, Nolan killed the criminal rather than allow the bounty-hunter to turn the captive (a scientist with a history of creating WMDs) over to E-Rep [Edited]. Despite it’s undercurrents, I also liked the recording that Datak had of Nolan’s testimony from his days as a soldier which painted him as an unhinged xenophobe. We’re constantly asked to accept this guy as a peacekeeper, but we’re also shown that he might not actually believe in peace, but that he’s also personally conflicted with that sentiment in Defiance.

When it comes to sci-fi, it’s a difficult line to walk. If you go too far, you end up with a show about technobabble, a la Star Trek. If you go too far in the opposite direction, the technology barely matters in the face of human drama, a la Battlestar Galactica. I think that Defiance straddled the line pretty well. First, it’s about the people. Second, it’s about the fact that some of those people are aliens. Third, it’s about the mixing of the two, and the re-formatting of a familiar Earth recreated into something different. There’s a lot of familiarity still around that we can use as touchstones: The McCawleys live in a house that, from the inside, looks exactly like there was never an alien invasion. The miners who work in the gulanite mine could very well be coal miners anywhere in the U.S. at this exact moment. There’s very little alien technology floating around. We frequently see the Castithan energy blade wielded by Datak, and in the pilot episode, the Volge appear as “laser-gun packing monsters”, complete with giant mechs.

One of the things that seems a bit too pretentious, however, is the town itself. Built on top of a buried St. Louis, Defiance is a mining town full of Votan and Human refugees. To that end, it seems that it’s trying very, very hard to prove that it’s a melting pot, with it’s ramshackle buildings that make it look like everyone is some kind of street vendor. Such a chaotic implementation assures the viewer that there a nearly infinite number of stories going on at any given time, but after a while, wouldn’t it make sense that people would be working to improve on the town by building buildings and things? The Indogene were smart enough to create the arks to carry the Votans to Earth, but people are consigned to living in corrugated metal shanties?

One of the things I can’t figure out: Who thought it was a good idea to let the Volge tag along on the arks? We learn that the Indogene were spearheading a covert investigation into humanity which involved altering volunteers to look human, and apparently also involved Nazi-level experiments on captured humans. I suppose the Volge were the Votan’s invasion force, should it turn out that humans didn’t care to have new roommates.

And then, of course, we still haven’t found out exactly what happened to the arks. Who destroyed them, and why?

The Future of The Future

Defiance has already been renewed for a second season, although the life-expectancy on SyFy is 4 seasons (Eureka, Warehouse 13, and Battlestar Galactica all lasted about 4 seasons), so if Defiance can make it to season three, it has a good shot of making it to four.

One thing I’m not going to go into here is the “transmedia” aspect. If you’re not aware, Defiance has an accompanying online shooter game available for the PC, Xbox, and PS3. It takes place in San Francisco, but there’s tie-ins with the show. In one example, an Irathi named Rynn left Defiance (the town in the show), and showed up as a character in the Bay Area (in the video game). Currently, Trion (developers of the game) are holding a contest where one lucky player will actually have his or her character given a back-story, and will appear in the TV show, as that character. Pretty interesting stuff. I may write up something about it from the game site over at

Considering I don’t watch too much TV, I’d be sad if Defiance was shut down prematurely. There’s an insane glut of “sci-fi-esque” shows on these days, but most are on network stations. Like I said above, it’s difficult to really pull off good sci-fi, and I don’t think the networks have the skills to pull it off. Defiance has an excellent pedigree in it’s creative staff, like Rockne S. O’Bannon (Farscape, Alien Nation), Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica, The Dead Zone), and Scott Stewart (Iron Man, Sin City, Superman Returns), which forms a pretty solid sci-fi wall right there.

[Thanks to @Xgeistatwork for setting me straight on the “Nolan killing the criminal” scene]

What Do You Want To Do With Your Life?

I want a clean slate with this blog. As clean as I can get in the age of Google and timelines, anyway. I have control over this blog, it’s content, and it’s purpose, and so I’ve decided to go all tabula rasa on it: a clean slate.

This blog was being used for nothing in particular. Originally it was for my thoughts and opinions on gaming, but then I opened (and am currently closing) for that purpose. Then this blog became a dumping ground for tech-centric news, but that bored me as it wasn’t reallfocused on technology — it was mostly just ranting about stuff in a pseudo-psychological bent that has (unfortunately) become my self-realized trademark. But now that I’m less interested in writing about video games, and have become more interested in writing about other things, I’ve decided to deep-six my previous content here and start over.

I don’t know if many bloggers do this. I know several, and they’ve occasionally talked about going back to posts that they wrote years ago. My first blog was a home-brew affair, and then there were a few Blogger blogs, then Cedarstreet, then Levelcapped. I apparently have no sentimentality for my own thoughts, or I just can’t make up my mind on the theme for my writing outlets. Sometimes I don’t want to be associated with what I’ve written when I get it in my head that I want to write about something else, so it’s easier to export the content (I’m not crazy!), delete it all, and start over.

So then, the why. Like any good writer (which I am not), the details on the why aren’t handed out on the first page like candy from a van. I’m not going to really spell it out for you in plain, tortured English, but will require that if you really care to know, then you’ll have to return on a semi-regular interval, and then piece a theme together. This being the Internet, though, I’m sure that everyone’s interpretation will be different. I’m a fan of directness, although my hands often get ahead of my brain and I end up saying in 20 words what I could have said in three, but I’ll try and keep that under control when I remember to do so (he said, 4 paragraphs later).

Hopefully this will be the last time I have to scorch the blogging earth because the spirit moved me. I’m sure I said that the last time. And the time before that. And before that as well. We never know what our future holds for us, so I’m not making any promises.


Note: This is a repost of a particularly meaningful post here on LC that was part of the Last Great Purge.

Being a gamer is a choice. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a hobby. It’s a passion. It’s a source of inspiration. It’s also a source of anger.

We live, love, eat, sleep, breath and dream of gaming. Our virtual adventures present us with problems to solve that we fall asleep thinking about, and wake up knowing how to solve.

It’s thanks to the Internet that we’ve found one another, which is something we tend to forget. There are those who are too young to remember the days when talking about video games in public was verboten, lest you be shunned, or even beat up. Believe it or not, there was a time when it was hard to find other gamers. Video games were sold in toy stores, which were the domains of little children, not teenagers or even young adults. If you had a modem, you might find other gamers on a BBS, or if you had a local users group, you might be able to find kindred souls in a church basement or unused library room.

The internet has allowed us to come together at the same time as gaming is maturing. Having expended it’s store of geeks and nerds, the industry turns to the mainstream, pulling the stereotypes of those that decades ago wouldn’t admit to playing video games: the moms, the jocks, the females. Being a gamer now is acceptable, and verily borders on commonplace when shopping meccas like Wal-Mart and Target get their own “exclusive” versions of pre-release titles. Anyone with an Internet connection can jump into the fray, playing online with strangers, talking about their favorite games, and coming together as a community.

But what has brought us together also can push us apart. Differing opinions were never much of a stumbling block in the early days of gaming because there wasn’t enough stock to diversify opinions, and any opinions to be had were rarely heard in large numbers. The Net has opened the doors for people to toss their hat into the ring to express their opinions, and to confront and engage those of differing minds. This freedom can, when executed in a controlled, civil manner, make us all better though exposure to points of view, if we’re willing to accept them on their own terms. When discourse turns to debate, and debate into partisan sniping, we lose what gains the Internet has given us: connections, friends, and solidarity.

If you’re old enough, think back to the times when heated exchanges over video games was impossible because there was no one to have them with. Remember when it was far less socially acceptable to talk about video games because they were considered toys that tethered children indoors and to the television. Remember how much of a relief it was when you did find another gamer that you could talk to about the things that you wanted to talk about, but otherwise couldn’t with the people around you. If you’re not old enough, then try it: unplug for a month. No blogs, no social networking, no news feeds, no digital downloads, no online gaming, no trips to GameStop. Engage your non-gaming friends, family and co-workers in discussions about gaming, and record their reactions, and then pretend that you can’t get out of that loop.

We’re lucky that things have turned out the way that they have, and in a way and at a pace that we never could have imagined back when we enjoyed our gaming in isolation. We can’t take it for granted, though. This hyper-connectivity isn’t a conduit for anger, sarcasm or combat, and shouldn’t be used to isolate ourselves and others behind arbitrary walls of unwavering opinion. We’re all together now, sharing our experiences both good and bad. It’s the kind of togetherness that we wished we had when video gaming was first taking off, and that is something that we should not forget.

Just a footnote: We tend to get into some heated discussions on the net, which is perfectly fine because it signals our passion for the topic, but because it’s all walls of text, it’s often times difficult to really make the exact point that you want to make the way you want to make it and not have it read in a totally different way by people on the other side. It’s unavoidable. The key, then, is to remember that we’re all talking about things that we love, and while we all want to share our enthusiasm, the net is in imperfect vehicle for conducting our excitement and passion. We’ are all very lucky to be able to be able to have these discussions these days, and with the kinds of people we always wanted to have them with.