Living Outside
Episode 03: House Party! 3

A Quick Introduction To Ataraxia
SamHow much more to film for the movie? MikeWe haven't decided where to stop Battle of Neo-Kyoto's story. It's pretty open ended. The main battle itself will take a few more months at our leisurely pace. Then we should have 2 hours of good footage, hopefully exciting enough for theaters. Kyu and I talked about making it a mini-series, but I don't know if the crew can keep going. Luckily, making movies doesn't really cost anything. I mean, it's crazy how expensive it used to be to make any kind of film, much less one with epic giant robot battles. SamYou still need a high profile project to get talented people though. MikeTell me about it. T really tries, he does. I think his memory of the battle has been spilling over into his portrayal of Riful. I don't know if it works or not. SamBut just having T in it is going to draw quite an audience, whether he can act or not. MikeSeriously, don't say things like that where he might hear you.

Sam winced.

SamRight! I don't know what I was thinking. Do you have anything ready to show? MikeThe last skirmish we filmed was pretty cool, we could watch that. Sam[Party-wide broadcast>] We've got movie sign, people! To the living room!

Everyone streamed into the living room, including Dex's random friends from outdoors. The physicals took seats on the couch and the chairs around the table, which they repositioned toward the sand wall. Keen was courteous enough to move its Gothtastic proxy to a virtual chair. It propped itself up, at least feigning interest. The proxies created their own virtual seats. T's plush recliner came with a tube that dispensed various liquid refreshments. He sucked down a fruit smoothie while his physical took another shot, in anticipation of seeing himself on the big screen again.

The couch and seats in the living room were oriented toward the main video wall. The main wall, behind the sound visualizer, was specially designed to deliver the highest definition video. It was 3D capable to the naked eye, but even with that the wall's visual effects were lame compared to Mike's augmented vision from his contacts, or the better-than-normal-human vision produced by the Plant. The prevalence of augmented reality gear meant that almost everyone carried around the highest quality theater experience with them at all times. Still, most of the walls in Sam's house came with basic video and sound. Most non-Plants used bionic contacts and ear inserts, but adding video and high quality surround sound speakers to the walls had become cheap enough to be a standard feature.

There was a bass speaker next to the couch, the only standalone speaker in the house. It was mainly for unaugmented guests. The walls could generate bass too, but sometimes an extra oomph was needed. Plants could provide more "bass" than anyone could ever need, and haptic clothing such as Mike's could also generate bass for their wearer, although it could feel a little localized.

Sam activated the living room's movie mode, which turned off the lights and any of the room's potentially intrusive virtual elements.

MikeIt's only 10 minutes long and its pretty raw. We don't know how much of it we're even going to use. SamHey, whatever. Go ahead. MikeAlrighty. Well, as always, we haven't changed any of the strategy, tactics, or the outcomes of any of the battles. We only made changes to bring out the emotion and drama of the players, because that can get lost when you're just dealing with raw feeds. Enjoy.

Mike pulled out a baseball with a tag for the movie and threw it at the wall. The living room disappeared, leaving only the people and chairs. Dexter was sitting in T's way so he turned him invisible. The virtual screen appeared in the distance, with dimensions a little bigger than one of the old IMAX screen and maximum resolution above the limits of normal human vision. Perceived resolution varied based on the individual's tech and settings, of course.

Riful's Unfortunate Encounter

The video started with an overhead shot establishing the beautiful, futuristic battlefield that Neo-Kyoto had become. Fires blazed throughout the city. A series of explosions in the North sent up giant clouds of smoke and debris. As the camera moved to street level, mecha, or mechanized suits of various sizes, exchanged fire as they ran or rolled through the streets. Most of the mech were humanoid to various extents.

The sun was just coming up as the view lowered to street level. A light smell of smoke and exhaust filled Sam's living room, at least for the Planted members of the audience. Garish skyscrapers lined both sides of the street, many featuring obscenely sized 3D screens displaying ads for mech parts and news footage from around the city.

A bulky 15-foot tall mech marched down the street, shooting the screens as it passed, leaving them fractured and shooting sparks but still playing. Fans of this iteration of Ataraxia knew from the mech's distinctive paint job that it was piloted by a certain bastard named Riful. He was the captain of the 9 slightly smaller units, all colored light blue, which pulled up to flank him. Collectively they comprised "Blame5" squad. The color blue stood for Sure Fire, or SuFi, at that point the most powerful force in Ataraxia. Being light blue meant that they were part of the elite division Sudo Refresh.

Charred mecha of various shades of blue fled down the street past Riful and his crew. One of the fleeing mech exploded near Riful's squad, damaging two of his units. Riful, signaled the other mecha to stop and move to the side of the street to let the rest pass by.

Thomas, playing the role of Riful, appeared in a subwindow which tore across the lower-right of the movie screen. The faces of the characters appeared in transparent subwindows on the screen while they talked, creating a manga feel while not slowing down or obscuring the action. The windows showed mostly faces, as bodies were usually securely fastened by the cockpit's netting.

Riful[Squad channel] What the hell was that?

Thomas' head and face had been amalgamated with Riful's, so that both faces could be recognized by perceptive fans. Thomas' black skin and Riful's Chinese complexion mixed well, but Riful's iconic red wavy hair had been toned down a bit. They had kept the scar across his chin and the menacing robotic left eye. They had to respect Riful's beloved cliches.

Unit 8[Squad] Looked like a proximity bomb attached to that poor sucker. Clever. Riful[Squad] Let's go show them how clever they are. Riful[Gozu] Gozu, what's the situation? Gozu[Riful] Tsukamoto Street is being overrun! They keep advancing. We can't get through their shields. Where are our reinforcements? Riful[Gozu] Krauser Brigade should have been there by now. They were wrapping around down South. Something's going on. Go ahead and risk a reading on the shield. Gozu[Riful] Oh gods! Scan returned null. It has to be a mobile base. It covers at least 39 units. A heavy unit is likely present. They noticed me scanning them. We are no... my eternal allegiance to Sure Fi... [channel dropped]

In the city, there was a restriction on broadcasting video due to cracked codes, so Riful was blind at his position. He took off toward Tsukamoto Street, closely trailed by his squad.

Chester placed a proxy on Riful's shoulder to get a better look at the ruined city. She put her hand on one of Riful's shoulder guns and was burned by its intense heat. It had really only felt like holding her hand over a flame for a few moments, but it reminded her to turn off damage for her proxy in the movie.

Other audience members placed similar proxies to get a better view (or smell) of one of the smoldering buildings, or to jump up on a skyscraper and get a view of distant fighting, which there was plenty of. Under Mike's screen settings, viewer proxies in the movie were unable to influence the movie or appear to the audience through the screen, so no one would be tempted to make a spectacle of themselves.

In-movie proxies were possible because the screen was less a projection than it was a portal into a gorgeously rendered, photo-realistic 3D world. The life sized buildings, streets, and robots were actually there, just beyond the "screen". Every element in Battle of Neo-Kyoto was as substantial as any given proxy. In fact, proxies could just step through the screens of most movies for full immersion.

The original recording of the battle, which Mike's crew had been reworking, encompassed a complete 3D recording of every detail of the game. With a fully rendered recording like this it was easy to put yourself in the middle of the action, or to just create one or more subwindows to explore the surrounding events and environment while still paying attention to the main screen.

Viewers changing events within some movies was encouraged, but Mike had locked that down. Static 3D recordings like Mike's could be set so viewers could blow up mecha or raise the entire town, but everything unaffected by the carnage would go on like nothing had happened. Mech would clip through rubble and corpses, and fire missiles at thin air. After the fun had died down, viewers would typically hit restore and go back to watching the unaltered video.

It was considered best before diving into a video to watch it once or twice from the filmmaker's default perspective to appreciate its dramatic framing and to follow along with all of the significant events. Framing helped define complex events and made viewers think about them in different ways. A "camera" perspective brought to light things that a viewer might miss if they were simply roaming around looking for the story by themselves.

Mike's hope for Battle of Neo-Kyoto was that it would offer a solid and interesting perspective on chaotic events, a dramatic framework which could help guide further exploration to overlooked characters and developments. He hoped that it could illuminate how chance encounters, such as Riful's fateful meeting with a certain mech, had shaped the narrative of Ataraxia.

An overhead view showed Riful's squad encountering a group of 15 enemy units a few blocks away from Tsukamoto Street. They began exchanging fire. The enemy were red, indicating that they were Kirin, Sure Fire's main adversaries. These particular Kirin units didn't seem particularly strong, but were protected by a suspiciously unified shield. It was probably another mobile base. This was bad news for Riful, as it meant that someone had carefully planned whatever was going down. But Riful was bad news for them too.

Riful's squad clustered around him and established their own collective shield, though they did not have the equipment to form a true base. They concentrated fire at the Kirin's weakest point, but it was compensated for. Even Riful's plasma cannon glanced off of it. With Blame5's own shield weakening, Riful directed their fire to a medium sized building adjacent to the Kirin. A mobile base was strong, but it was slow. As the enemy group retreated, Riful trained his plasma cannon on a larger building behind them and brought it crashing down on them. The Kirin broke the shield to pull away in time.

The street filled with smoke, dust, and chunks of the fallen buildings. The building Riful brought down physically pinned 4 of the Kirin and split the rest into two groups. Blame5 jumped over the debris from the first downed building and shot down the six Kirin units trapped in between the two fallen buildings, using their nonvisual sensors.

Riful was spraying plasma into the wreck of the second building with the 4 pinned units when a small scarlet mech, barely 8 feet tall, jumped over from the other side. As it landed it broke through Blame5's group shield and uppercutted Riful over the first building's rubble and some distance back down the street. The rest of Blame5 immediately went into retreat. Some got away, but the scarlet Kirin kicked one apart, which sent its pieces at high velocity destroying a second one. Then the Kirin ripped the third mech's head off and punched its exposed pilot to death.

Riful and his six remaining troops on the other side of the building gathered and established a new shield. The Kirin jumped over the building, and easily evading Blame5's fire. A thin, twenty foot "hyper-chainsaw" unfolded from its back and extended from its chest. It looks absurd, but it didn't slow the Kirin down as it rushed Blame5 and cut through two more units with its chainsaw in the most casual way possible.

Riful[Squad] I am way too hung over for this crap. Can't somebody kill that thing?

Blame5 responded according to code, but they couldn't seem to touch the Kirin, who darted evasively around the street like a ninja. It went after Riful, who managed to dodge its chainsaw, and fired a spread at where he projected the scarlet menace would be in a moment. He missed. A subwindow showed Riful's face dropping. Blame 5 fell back, trying to create space. This gave Riful room to spray a wide path of plasma, but it missed the Kirrin as it moved past him on its way to dismantling the other SuFi units.

As he continued firing, Riful noted that his sensors were still picking up the other Kirin units on the other side of the downed building. They were just waiting there.

Riful[General distress] Strange unit at this location. Hand-to-hand, very small. Eating us alive.

The scarlet unit put its hand through the chest of Riful's last soldier. It's fist was covered with her blood as it turned and barreled at Riful. Riful missed shooting it again, and this time its chainsaw connected with the helm of his mech, but it bounced off. He sighed with relief that his armor was strong enough. Its chainsaw retracted instantly into its back and the red unit started beating the hell out of Riful's mech with its fists. Riful was completely unsuccessful at shooting the Kirin, who always seemed to evade or push Riful's guns out of the way at the last moment. It looked like Riful was fighting water.

Riful[Red channel] I am Riful. Declare yourself. Slack[Audio> Riful] Slack. Riful[General distress] Player Slack. Murdering me with goddamn Gun Kata.

Riful snapped out of his half-drunk stupor and fought smart. He sprayed plasma on the ground around him, pushing Slack back for a moment. This gave Riful time to pull his shoulder cannon into his right arm. When Slack was back a moment later, Riful smashed his arm into Slack's side. Slack couldn't compensate for the unexpected weight of the cannon and danced backwards to recover. Riful shot everything he had at Slack, and even hit him a few times. This gave him time to switch into hand-to-hand mode.

Riful and Slack exchanged vicious blows. They grasped each other and spiraled down the street, rebounding off of the sides of buildings. Slack brought his chainsaw out, hyper extended it, and whittled away at a nearby hotel with it, attempting to bury both of them. Riful grabbed the chainsaw, but only managed to mess his hands up, costing him several fingers.

Just as the fingers fell, a large black mech appeared from the other side of the street and hit Slack all the way through the building he was trying to collapse. Slack took off running toward Tsuakamoto Street.

RifulWhat the hell? I almost had him you dumbass!

Then Riful noticed who had intervened. The large, ominous mech was piloted by Ko-Enshaku, one of the Core Guardians of Sure Fire. It passed him a secure message and jumped into the distance with rocket speed.

Riful[Self] What could be so damn important....

The message unfolded on the screen: "Krauser Brigade has taken Zero Daisaku prisoner. Proceed to office 23 to aid in guarding him."

Riful[Self] Oh... huh. That just does not seem at all likely.

Riful, the only surviving member of his squad, took off toward office 23.

Memories In The Age Of Perfect Recall

The screen disappeared and the movie space reverted back into a living room. A few people applauded. Saitou set the wall next to the couch to display a sped-up overhead view of the the conflict of Neo-Kyoto on loop. It was complete with color-coded highlights indicating areas controlled by the various factions and points of conflict. The flow of colors had a strangely soothing rhythm. It stuck out of the wall to exact scale, which meant that occasionally a rocket would fly a few feet from hitting the back of Chester's head.

SaitouThe dialogue is horrible. MikeIt's improved from the original. Go check and compare. Especially Riful, who cursed to the point where it was just annoying. It's like a nervous tick. SaitouI noticed you moved some stuff around too. MikeFor visibility. Some of the shots were perfect except for a few units waltzing around like idiots. ThomasYou know, I was just a few miles away during the Tsukamoto thing at a skirmish off of Satoshi-Kon Boulevard.

Thomas highlighted his character's presence on the wall map. Megan zoomed into the map to follow the action.

MeganNo way! You were totally there! It looks like you're running away a lot. ThomasSure Fire's nothing to mess with, I'll give them that. MeganOK, I've heard about the basic story of that iteration of Ataraxia. So was Sure Fire really evil, or was that just for dramatic purposes? ThomasMost of the time, the various factions in Ataraxia just have conflicting views on how the game should evolve. It's not uncommon to have 3 or 4 factions, each claiming that all the other factions are evil. But there have been iterations where one side takes a turn for real "evil". Sure Fire was definitely evil. MikeWithin the context of the game anyway, SuFi was evil. At least after Sure Fire's leadership was taken over by the ideological group Sudo Refresh. Among their goals was the complete extermination of the Kirin. Their goals would have added nothing to the richness of the world. They sought to senselessly roll back some fruitful development from past iterations. And it was apparently guided by a nihilistic sentiment bent on destroying Ataraxia by making it unplayable. MeganBut if they did ruin it, couldn't players just create a new instance and ignore what had happened? MikeThat's what happened with CyFrenia, actually. It's a fork from an iteration of Ataraxia just before the game started moving away from primarily mecha based combat to more of a balance with hand-to-hand and ki stuff. CyFrenia turned out fine, but it sucks to deal with that crap. Setting it up is a serious pain, as is getting enough players together for it be worthwhile. Ataraxia has tens of millions of active players. You'd lose that rich involvement, and it would take a long time to get it back up and running. CyFrenia is thriving now, but it was weak for years. Sure Fire would have destroyed a whole lot of momentum if they had won.

Chester turned toward Mike. She had activated her social mirroring function, so her proxy's wooden surface turned black to mimic his skin tone.

ChesterSo why make the Neo-Kyoto stuff into a film? Why not the Siege of SuFi's Doomsday Ziggurat, the seaborne invasion of Kobe, or the meeting of the five Pandemonia? MikeHow many damn movies have been done about the clash of the Pans? Neo-Kyoto was a critical victory for the Kirin. If it had gone the other way, SuFi might have won. SamBesides, that period in Neo-Kyoto is where you start to see the training and preparation of the players coming through. They make mecha fights looks easy, but Ataraxia's combat system is quite sophisticated. To excel there you have to be an athlete, physically and mentally. MeganAdvanced mecha interfaces actually hook your brain up with the mecha like it was a kind of body. You have to train that body like athletes train their bodies. You have to develop the mech, but you also have to get skilled at manipulating it. You build actions and reflexes into it, just like any proxy, and then you have to ride those reflexes into the chaos of combat. SamYou're getting pretty enthusiastic about mecha there, Megan. Do you pilot anywhere? MeganOh, not really. I dabble, maybe. Oh look, it's the Kirin's final push.

Everyone stopped to watch the wall for a few moments as thousands of units engaged in dozens of furious and desperate skirmishes all over the city. It was quite sparkly.

ChesterWell, I would have gone with another part of the war, but I thought it was very well done. I can't wait to see you do the next part. MikeIt's going to be awesome! This Saturday we're filming the Zero incident. ChesterThat guy was completely weird. How are you going to be able to capture that? MikeThe actor we got for him is pretty good and we're actually leaving more of Zero in there since he does have such an unusual character. ThomasI have a theory that Zero's an untreated autistic. It would make sense of the rocking. MeganLet's not start up with the Zero theories. I have another question. I've never understood why people limit themselves to in-game communication. I mean, I know it's against the spirit of the conflict and all, but that message to Riful could easily have been sent through an out-of-game text message. MikePeople do use external messaging, of course. But there are three reasons why they don't tend to do that in a high stakes situation. First, it's cheating. You don't want to be a cheater. Second, you'll get caught. Everything in Ataraxia is recorded, and released eventually. People playing important parts usually want to look good, and cheating looks lame. Imagine if Riful received the message out-of-game and went to the hotel without prompting. It would have been obvious that someone had circumvented the communication system, disrupting the internal reality of the game. Being evil is fun. It's even acceptable to disrupt the game like Sure Fire was trying to do. But being lame just sucks. SamSome games flag suspected cheaters automatically. Ataraxia leaves that to the players, but there are some damn perceptive people in that game. It's hard to get the 'cheater' label, but if a consensus hits you with one, you are screwed. A lot of players just stop cooperating. SaitouSorry to interrupt, Sam, but you have porn on your shirt.

There was a video of lesbian sex on Sam's shirt. Sam didn't bother to change it. It went through several more porn clips before moving on to clumsy red panda babies.

SamHuh. How did that get in there? SaitouPorn is like glitter. Gets everywhere. SamAnyway, some cheating is almost unavoidable. Big events get out on the message boards and game alerts pretty quickly. When everyone "cheats" like that, there's nothing to do. Like when Blaze Snap went off, it was mass carnage all over the place. I remember it hitting some regular news feeds, which didn't used to carry Ataraxia as much. Not that you needed to cheat to find out about that, what with the earthquakes and half-mile high explosions and all.

Thomas shot some missiles at Blaze Snap as it flew along the wall map, blowing it up. It's flaming wreckage took down several buildings and doused the area in molten destruction.

ThomasHa! Man, we were all like, "what do we need you for, you giant bastard?" He just got in the way. MikeT, you're starting to sound drunk. If you have your slurring compensator on and you still sound drunk, you may be too drunk.

T put on an air of mock indignance.

ThomasI do not have to put up with this abuse! Yes, I am drunk. Yes, I am too drunk. I mean, why have alco-detox pills if you don't use them? MikeIncidentally, it's an interesting fact that T is a cheater. It's been proven in a number of contexts. ThomasI am not a cheater. I always say, "cheaters are the scum of the Earth." MikeTenchi, is there any record of T ever speaking out against cheating?

For years, Mike had set his agent Tenchi to record everything that T did around him, for occasions such as this.

TenchiOne moment... According to your recordings, Thomas has never spoken out against cheating. His only comments about cheating were, in effect, to encourage it. A search of other accessible records of Thomas' communications pulls up nothing of consequence. Playback relevant recordings? MikeNah, it doesn't matter. ThomasGods, I hate that spider. Spinning his little webs. He's going to get it one day. TenchiThere is, however, no evidence that Thomas has ever cheated at anything significant, with the exception of his role in Golden Martyr. ThomasOh, it's too late to get on my good side. SamIt's just a dumb agent, Thomas. ThomasA dumb, character ass...assinating agent. Two asses in that word, I think. Let me check... yep. Two asses.

Dexter's friends had gone back outside or left or something. No one really cares. Let's say they were dragged off and eaten by feral crabs. For reference, left sitting in the living room were: Chess, Dex, Keen, Meg, Mike, Saitou, Sam, and T.

Saitou pulled out a cup of liquefied Starburst and slurped it down through a straw. Seeing that only proxies were sitting on the non-couch side of the coffee table, he extended the table's top toward him and put his cup on it.

ChesterSo, a week ago in CyFrenia...

Thomas, recognizing that Chester was about to start telling one of her stories, set up a private layer labeled, "Chester is a dummy" and made it available to everyone but Chester. Accepting it sprouted a 3 foot wide neon sign out of the top of Chester's head, displaying commentary from T. Sometimes these commentaries were funny, but T was too drunk for anyone to get their hopes up.

ChesterI was test piloting one of the new Serpine-3 mecha. Completely ungainly things. [*Like your mother!*] I can't release the recording because of contractual stuff with my clan. [*Straight to VHS*] The cockpit fits two for some reason, although only one can pilot it. Anyway, I'm fighting these two Skalar-4 units, which came out of freaking nowhere, while I'm getting a blow job from my captain. He's a slut. [*...*] Anyway, he just wouldn't shut up, you know? It's like, yeah, it's so clever that you can talk while giving a blow job, good for you. [*I give up. What's the point?*] He just didn't care if we both died. MeganWait, there's sex in CyFrenia?

Chester's proxy turned snowy to mimic Meg's winterland body.

ChesterWell, not natively. There's no gender or sex functions. But you're always in control of how game proxies correlate with your senses, and you can change your superficial proxy form with little effort, so you can fashion sex organs and assign your genitalia input to them. ThomasWhen I see sex being added into games like Ataraxia or CyFrenia, it usually indicates lack of focus. You keep fucking around in Ataraxia, and you'll be clawing your way up from limbo over and over again. SaitouIt's a pretty small minority of Cy players that are sexually active though. In terms of blowjobs, why not just set up an out-of-game sexbot to give you the blowjob while you play? Why go to all that trouble? It's just watering the game down.

The Neo-Kyoto display reached its end and reset, restoring the vast city to the pristine glory it emanated before being trashed by various sized robots. Chester's proxy turned starry to mimic Saitou.

ChesterWhy is everyone so serious about this stuff? I fuck people in CyFrenia not just because it's "not allowed," but because in-game sex makes for an interesting group dynamic. And lots of drama. And lucky for me, CyFrenic vaginae are harder to pull off than penises. Sensory input from mouths are much easier to reassign as vaginae than to craft special pockets with the right texture and such in the body. It's just a little more difficult, but it's enough. So most of the sexually active CyFrenics have cocks, whatever gender their character might appear. Being a natural female with a gay male sexual orientation, I can just filter them all to look male, and tada! It's like a bathhouse sometimes. ThomasYou can have sex anywhere! Anytime! Why add it into a game? It's like strip chess, it ruins both parts. I'm having sex right now, but you don't see me dirtying up the party by bringing in sexbots or molesting Chester.

Megan leaned in to whisper to Thomas.

MeganAre you really having sex right now? ThomasYou should try it, it's easy. Just lay a proxy out on a bed somewhere, assign the proxy your erogenous zones and sexual organ inputs and whatever else you like, and let some sexbots go to town while you inhabit another proxy elsewhere, like here. I mean, you could get more complicated with it if you want, but the idea is to make it minimally distracting. MeganSometimes I don't know when Thomas is kidding. MikeHe's never kidding. Well, he's rarely kidding.