Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A trip to the mall confirms body modification interests

(no, not me.. I am decidedly "factory" and un-modified)

So, in pondering all this Cyberpunk stuff I really wanted to design a believable game world.  All too often game worlds are designed almost based on a drawing or single frame of reference regardless of how such a thing can be explained.  For example, I think "Rifts" was designed based upon a visit to a custom car show -- "Man, that van with the airbrushed Dragon fighting a wizard in a mecha was awesome!"  And BOOM a game world was created...

I am joking, Rifts is a favorite of mine (not really to play but to read and look at all the great pictures and ideas).  But I didn't want to create a world without valid explanation.

So, as such I am forced to ignore Sci-Fi cannon because some things just are not realistic in my setting of the year 2032.  Robots and space living might exist but only slightly more common than the present day (there are Robots with minimal AI and there are people living on the International Space Station, but tell that to a kid in Mogadishu).  

I am totally ignoring Cybernetics and Bionics for the same reasons.  It is not that people are uninterested in body modification and it is not that people don't want to spend money on gadgets, it is that I don't think that is a combined interest.  Body modification has two classes, both want to control what they see in the mirror but they have divergent ideas of what they want to see.  One group could never be young or skinny enough and choose the more socially acceptable route of cosmetic surgery.  The second group is interested in a different aesthetic, and chooses piercings and tattoos.  

While people are willing to do strange things to their bodies (things we should not get into but a quick Google will reveal), I don't see people ready to cut off arms and legs to get robotic ones.  Without demand, the development of robotic limbs is and will be stagnant.  Recent advancements based upon war injuries (young men who are injured and want to return to active duty military) has given us some life-enhancing technologies.  In 2008 a runner who had prosthetic lower legs was disallowed to compete in the Olympics because his prosthetics gave him a mechanical advantage over runners with flesh ankles and feet.  But these are not the prosthetics we think of when the topic of bionics is discussed, but rather his prosthetics were metal "blades" which act more like springs attached below the knee (far cry from the art in Rifts).

As DARPA and other groups research these prosthetics and the technologies to accurately control them, the central question to forming a Cyberpunk market for Bionics must be addressed: "Will the technology and the demand meet at a point prior to 2032 where consumers will willingly hack off perfectly good limbs to have mechanical prosthetics installed?"

Before you answer there is a critical factor to consider, Sex.  Will a prosthetic make a man more or less attractive to a woman?  Would a Rifts "Full Conversion" be able to meet a woman at a bar or even on  Well there is "Acrotomophilia", or the attraction to people who are missing limbs.  I just think that the present and near future population has a long way to go before such body modifications are mainstream enough to support a demand for mechanical replacement of limbs, and that was provided the technology provided even similar levels of performance to normal biological functions.

I feel the future is in Biogenics and the generation of living tissues via cloning or growth in laboratories.  Presently ears and noses have been grown in labs and the technology is developing to use stem cells to regrow adult tissue (

I think it would be far easier for Arnold Schwarzenegger (as Conan the Barbarian) to meet a woman than Arnold Schwarzenegger (as the Terminator).  Biogenically grown tissues would be natural and could offer better performance than tissues a person might have via birth.

But, what has me doubting this is a trip to the mall.  I went to Teavana and was waited on by a group of heavily modified twenty-somethings.  The woman who waited on me had pierced cheeks, the bridge of her nose, ears (of course), several tattoos and a sub-dermal implant.  Now I consider I have an open mind, but I can't say I get the sub-dermal implants.  Hers looked like a misshaped heart (it was hard to tell because of the scarring).  But, if my attitude about her modifications when our age differences are about ten years what about twenty years from now?

Would the world trend toward real horns and perhaps functional tails in twenty years or will people be willing to have hands and feet taken to get robotic ones in their place?  Which would you rather have?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cyberpunk implants in the Biogenic age

So I have been thinking hard about this game world.  I am a fairly thoughtful person and am rather unencumbered by a previous love of cyberpunk beyond "Blade Runner was cool".  As such a person I have taken a very realistic approach to my game setting so far.  But right now the feel ("Minority Report" without psychics or Tom Cruise) is not quite what I'd take the time to play.

It is time to spark things up.  I don't like the idea of a future with flying cars and I don't think AI robots wanting to rebel is realistic.  But I'd like to at least hit action movie realism but not nerdcore sci-fi.

What to do?

Well, to add color to the game world I have been thinking about body modification.  In a world where organs are grown in jars, burns are healed with "skin in a can" and cosmetic surgery has more in common with cloning than the "plastic surgery" of old.

Why not hybridize animal cells with human cells to create tissues and organs normally found in animals and transplant them to humans.  So in 2032 hardcore body modification would be to have cat eyes installed, or a prehensile tail.  Tattoos are piercings are so old fashioned after all.  So when little Jimmy goes off to college, he can rebel by having wings and horns installed.  But why not when Mom goes off to "Rejuvenation Camp" and literally gets a new face installed.

Now, biogenic implants that alter the structure of the face would be heavily regulated because it would alter the facial recognition profile for a person.  So a person getting a new skull or just face might have some requests to submit to the government as well as practitioners would have strict licenses, supply companies would be required to verify licenses before products are sold.. etc.

Back-alley and underground alterations would be possible using stolen and possibly damaged or bad parts.  Risks of disease and side effects would still not stop people seeking inexpensive and fast implants where few questions were asked.  Criminal or underclass people using these services would be prohibited from polite society as nerve damage, disease or disfigurement would be fairly evident.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The 30 year cycle and the Cyberpunk world of 2032

Here is more "Nerd Fail" fodder but I am compelled to post it anyhow...

In 1988 I was in going into high school and I loved skateboarding and thought that 1950s fashion was cool.  Even 50s music was cooler, as far as "oldies" went.  Bands with a 50s vibe were great and a lot of the "Modern Rock" or "New Wave" music movements were influenced by 50s music.  In my mind the 80s was a cultural mashup of the 50s.

Then in the 1990s we had "grunge".  Things had a more decidedly "Hippie" feel, but suddenly this was acceptable (prior to that it felt sloppy and dumb).  The 80s were less political (at least for me), while the 1990s felt more like the 60s as far as liberal politics went.  We saw a rise of the Earth Liberation Front just as we saw Waco burn or the Oklahoma city bombing.  The 1990s were a mashup of the 1960s.

Once 2000 came around, things felt influenced by the 70s.  We even watched a show called "That 70s Show" -- you can't get more transparent than that!  There was a musical based on the music of Abba...  But most of all there was the issue of "Executive Privilege" and the similarities between the Nixon administration and the Bush administration.  Like the 70s, the 2000s were a time of shadowy politics and divided population who felt powerless to do much other than watch things unfold. Unpopular wars, spying, back room deals, the power of activist journalism.. the 1970s had some similarities.

Now that we look into 2010 and beyond we can expect some similarities to the 1980s, and by proxy the 1950s.  I expect we will see the economy rebound and conspicuous consumption increase (iPad or new iPhone anyone?).  Personal indulgence will be popular as social media and mobile technologies increase in popularity and capability.  Music will be tight and possibly more electronic as all things digital are considered fashionable.  Politically people will be more apathetic and assume the bad times are behind.  Perhaps President Obama will have a second term, or a moderate and popular republican will take the next two terms.  In my gameworld this administration contributes to the further fall from grace the United States has been feeling for the last 10 years.  Possibly some scandal or relaxed regulations allow another massive financial collapse at the end of the decade.

I think we can expect 2020 to be a time of radicalism.  Rebellion to the consumerism and consumption of the 2010s will make environmentalism and a return to hand-crafted goods and values popular.  We might see old environmental figures and movements resurge and become mainstream again.  In my fictional gameworld this is when we see the North American Union form and the governments of Canada, the US and Mexico merge in response to the economic power of the "BRIC" countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China).  In my gameworld the "socialization" of the new United States and NAU members will lead to massive government programs and control of the economy.

Then, 2030 will be like 2000 or 1970.  There will be political double-dealing, government corruption and a apathetic public who parties the days away feeling like those problems do not matter or there is nothing to be done to change the situation.  The gameworld set in 2032 will be just as the corruption is becoming rampant but undetected by most people.  Just like in the early days of the second Iraq war the public will be thrilled at the success and victories in the public's name (but ignorant of the idea that one person's victory is another's defeat).  The United States, or NAU will lack the power or will to make military victories -- but victories over homelessness, drug addiction, unemployment, equality and other social ills will be likely targets.  Just as "Shock and Awe" in Iraq gave way to a violent insurgency, these victories will be expensive and hollow.  The burden of social program obligation will be a yoke on the necks of all citizens and the freedom and liberty will already be given up to the corrupt government.

This is how the 30 year cycle will effect the future as I consider it for my Cyberpunk gameworld...

(submit your ideas below)

Cyberpunk Character: Larry

Larry was born in 1986, in 2032 he was 46. Back in 2008 Larry graduated from college with a degree in Computer Science.  In 2010 he got a job with the government and by the time 2017 rolled around, Larry was married with a son and happy.

In 2020 Larry took a job with the Department of Homeland Security and started work on "black" projects.  The demands of these classified projects and constant moves to seek promotions took their toll on his marriage and in 2025, at the age of 39 Larry had divorced and lost all custody of his son in a bitter court battle.  Larry became bitter and started drinking.  

About this time, the North American Union was formed and the government functions of the United States, Canada and Mexico merged.  The merge of functions impacted domestic Law Enforcement the most as the prior laws and agencies changed over to uniform laws.  These changes cost Larry the promotions he had been seeking. Larry's bitterness left him a drunk and a racist.  He blamed all his problems on "non-whites", but specifically on "Mexicans".  In 2030, Larry moved to a different job at a DHS data center in a position in "Mission 12", a classified DHS unit to track various US Citizens.  

Larry's job initially did not give him access to know why he was tracking these people.  He assumed they were enemies of the state of some sort and that his information was allowing their arrest.  After a year of work on a new version of the tracking system, Larry noticed in the local news two of his targets (a mother and daughter) had been found dead beside the interstate in a maintenance tunnel.  After a quick Google, Larry was surprised to learn that every one of his targets in the last year were either missing or dead and none had been published in any court documents.  While he could accept several of the targets had likely been "Mexican Gang members", not all of them could be criminals and therefore not all deserved to be dead.

Upon this search in Google, Larry's accesses were flagged and within a month he was placed on probationary leave.  He did receive a "Operating a Manual Vehicle Under the Influence" but Larry was convinced it had more to do with his discovery.  While on administrative leave Larry discovered a flaw in the tracking system which gave him access to tracking query targets in real time. 

Starting with just one person, Larry rescued the targets from arrest and potential murder at the hands of "Mission 12".  Now Larry is a target himself but will not stop until this shadowy police unit is disbanded and the targets are allowed to live in freedom.  He still dislikes "non-whites" and misses his family.  He knows if he every attempts contact with his son it will cost both of them their lives, so he refuses to admit his desire to find him.

MP (Wisdom):       10 (Average)
MS (Intelligence):   11 (Above Average)
ME (Willpower):     11 (Stubborn)
MI (Charisma):        8 (Below Average)
BP (Strength):         9 (Below Average)
BS (Dexterity):       10 (Average)
BE (Endurance):      9 (Below Average)
BI (Beauty):            8 (Below Average)

Government Computer Systems(MS) +14
Computer Vulnerability Exploitation(MS) +10
Government Contacts(MS) +6

Wanted Criminal (treason): -15
Compelled to help victims of "Mission 12" targeting: -5
Racist (toward "non-whites"): -3
Alcoholism: -3

Friday, April 16, 2010

Robotics vs Automation

(I have read this a few times but the haze of my cold medicine might have the better of me)

I love getting comments on this blog.  The RPG community is just as alive as ever, despite the competition with video games.

In a recent comment about this Cyberpunk theme, it was brought up that I have not theorized a place for robots.  And that is true, like moon bases and flying cars I think that some cannon elements of science fiction are just unlikely.  I drive in a lot of heavy traffic, but I thank good fortune that the flying car is not part of the mess of the daily commute.  With Metro trains smashing into each other, buses running over people and the daily multi-car pileups.. I shudder to think of a world where anyone with the cash to buy one can take a flying car to work each day!

What does that have to do with Robots?  Didn't ATMs replace most face-to-face bank transactions?  Don't they send robots to Mars, or under the ocean?  What about the Predator or other military robots?

At the extreme risk of committing Nerd Fail.. those are not robots.  An ATM is an example of automation just as the bank web page to manage your account is an example of software.  The Mars rovers, Predators or even autonomous submarines are examples of remotely operated vehicles.  I consider a "Robot" to be an independent artificially intelligent device which can interact with the environment in some way.  We might achieve semi autonomous vehicles, and many UAVs can land automatically just like the new vehicles which can parallel park on their own.  Such features are not really examples of artificial intelligence, and the greater discussions of morality and the true nature of humanity can not be played out with the level of robotic technology I think we will have in 20 years.

I think that in 20 years we will see many advances in automation and software.  Information will be more mobile and automatic.  We will give up a lot of privacy and liberty but will gain a life of almost "Jetson" level of automation.  As each person is tracked everywhere they go, what they buy, who they interact with and what their tastes are focused advertising can target the individual's needs and tastes.  

The current fast food restaurant could be replaced with what would amount to a giant vending machine where the only people running the place are loading food items to be cooked and repairing the automated appliances to cook and vend the food.  

GPS navigation and safety devices in cars will finally make cars and trucks that drive themselves on the highway possible and common.  Once at highway speed the vehicles on the highway will network together to avoid hazards and make driving on a highway more efficient.  

What the iPhone did for personal communications and personal electronic devices, new technologies will be integrated in clothing, buildings and vehicles and a mesh of devices will always be nearby providing information and entertainment to their users.  

The issue is to consider what people would realistically buy.  Spending several thousand dollars on a servant-robot is just not what mainstream people are looking to do.  People are more than willing to spend several thousand dollars a year on personal electronics, internet-aware devices and countless hours using web services (time == money).

It is very easy to forget that money drives technology.  In a "Nerd Utopia" where technology is developed and funded for the sake of curiosity, fully artificially intelligent robots would currently exist (as would our Moon Apartments and orbiting office parks imagined in the 1950s).  But progress expands the world where there is interest and funding and so far humanoid robot workers are just not in demand.  Everyone I know with a Roomba has given up on the darn thing as it is stuck under the couch or dead because it got lost and couldn't get back to the recharging station.  My daughter has a whole toybox of robot dogs and other items we allowed to starve to death by not replacing the batteries.

As the population of the Earth increases it is more likely there will be more people than jobs for quite some time, and corporate or military desires to have endless workforces to exploit and abuse are tempered by the fact that replacing people with "robots" is unnecessary as long as there are people who want to feed their families.  The investment in buying and maintaining a robot is far greater than building a new factory in a country where labor laws can be stretched.  The desire to keep soldiers from unnecessary harm is great enough to justify building spy satellites, unmanned vehicles and even stepping back to drop a nuclear bomb -- but not to totally replace the "man in the loop".  Before humanity gets to face the questions Asimov brings up it is more likely we will murder each other over scarce resources and an unstable environment, overpopulation and pollution are a far greater threat than run-away technology or the other themes Science Fiction connects with robotics.

Was that Nerd Fail?  Offend anyone?  Any Robot-lovers out there who can't wait to buy their own Cylon?  Well you have my apologies...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cyberpunk Character: Annita Gonzales "Bogon"

Annita planned a career in Cosmetology.  She studied fashion, make-up and hairstyles constantly.  As she graduated high school her ambition had already gotten her a seat at a local stylist's shop.  The owner of the shop had offered to pay part of the tuition for her to attend the local beauty school.

Her plans were cut short when her youngest brother was arrested for robbing a high-end electronics store.  She had no doubt of her brother's innocence because the night in question he was at home very sick with allergies (the smog in the city was very hard on him).  Despite her testimony, he was convicted based entirely on facial recognition testimony from the security cameras used by the store and public security surveillance systems.

Annita was determined to prove her brother's innocence.  She began to experiment with the security systems in the beauty shop where she worked and was able to exploit issues with the facial recognition software using disguises, movements and even special tattoos.  As she was ready to bring her research to the attention of the authorities for an appeal of her brother's case, his health had failed and he eventually passed away in jail.

Annita then became dedicated to finding the real thieves who had robbed the store to bring them to justice.  She hopes that by penetrating the Underground and establishing a reputation for her skills of surveillance avoidance she will be able to gather the evidence needed to get the actual thieves arrested.

Now Annita goes by the name "Bogon" which comes from the name of network traffic which should not be there but is allowed to pass within a network anyhow.  She can hide in plain sight by avoiding video surveillance or quickly disguising herself.  Because of the prevalence of video surveillance, her skills are in high demand by both criminals and fugitives.  She will often help fugitives who remind her of her brother's plight of wrongful accusation.

Annita Gonzales "Bogon"
MP (Wisdom):       12 (Above Average)
MS (Intelligence):   14 (Genius)
ME (Willpower):     11 (Stubborn)
MI (Charisma):       10 (Average)
BP (Strength):         9 (Below Average)
BS (Dexterity):       11 (High Average)
BE (Endurance):      9 (Below Average)
BI (Beauty):           12 (Pretty)

Cosmetics (MS)+4
Hair Styling (MS)+2
Tattoo (MS) +2
Video Surveillance Systems (MS) +5

Compelled to go into harm's way to avenge her brother: -10
Minor Criminal: -5
Compelled to help fugitives avoiding wrongful prosecution: -6

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cyberpunk Part 3

So what will the year 2032 look like? Base on the prior themes and the present, here is what I feel that the Cyberpunk Gameworld of 2032 would look like:

- Fall of nations: Just as the Soviet Union fell, our current democratic alliances will fall as well. The US has been subject to leftist ideals for a very long time and the radicalization of the educational institutions will create ever more left thinking youth. In the new Socialist United States, the United States, Canada could join the European Union and collectively establish socialized education, healthcare and heavily regulated commercial companies. The bureaucracy will slow innovation and amplify social crimes (smoking, speeding, child abuse, etc). The threat of terrorism (from libertarians and religious extremists) will increase domestic surveillance and limit personal civil rights.

- Rise of nations: China and India will collectively become the new economic force of the world. As new superpowers the will push the world in new directions. China will continue to be communist with a nationalistic approach similar to the foreign policy of the United States in the 1980s. China will become the world manufacturing leader and establish a low-middle class of blue collar workers. China will approach growth very strategically and manage their population through wage and education to ensure they retain a proper balance in the career diversity of the workforce.

India on the other hand will be much more "American". India will repatriate all the people who left India in the 90s to work as technologists in the United States and the mixture will add to India's already diverse population. India will struggle with radical terrorists and China's aggressive military and commercial threats (military and industrial espionage).

- Terrorism: China as a world power and the United States no longer acting in a "world police" role will increase the number of dictatorships and other oppressive governments. Much of the world will become increasingly more lawless as small armed groups fight for control. New terrorists, guerrilla groups, pirates, gangs and criminal organizations will spring up all over the world and commit overt and covert war on all opposition.

- Technology: Two technologies will be pervasive in 2032. Personal communications and surveillance. Personal communications devices will evolve into a pervasive mesh of sensors, peripherals, networks and processors in and on everything possible. Clothing, jewelry, appliances, vehicles and almost anything else a person comes into contact with will be networked and personalized to each user. Everything will be connected to a internet-like network of almost infinite information. Consumers will drive this technology via purchases of the latest gadgets or applications for their latest gadgets. Wearable computer interfaces will be integrated into everyday items and augmented reality (also known as "terminator vision") will be as common as today's smartphone applications.

Surveillance: China's stance as world leader of manufacturing coupled with their totalitarian ideology will create a golden age of pervasive surveillance. Every person in a lawful country will have their every move tracked and analyzed. Unmanned Arial Vehicles will patrol the skies as unmanned vehicles patrol the streets, and public places of the world. Video surveillance and facial recognition will not only track individuals but their moods, intentions, what is said to others and networks of associates. Vast networks owned by intelligence agencies will monitor and analyze data automatically.

-Punk: Why so glum? We knew the future would suck. But people will always rebel and fight authority. There are cracks in the system and the new hackers know how to exploit them. In 2032, Chinese hubris will allow them to insist there are no security vulnerabilities in their systems when the Chinese government itself is responsible for installing intentional back doors and vulnerabilities in the first place. The governments of the future will have no choice but to implement the flawed technologies because of the Chinese monopoly on technology. Underground cultures will rise up and systematically rebel in any way possible. The locks are only there to keep honest people honest...

How does this all tie together? What might the possible characters in this game world be like? More on that later...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cyberpunk Part 2

This is a academic and fun exercise and not intended to offend, predict or otherwise influence any potential reader (other than to consider the current world's direction and where it will be in the year 2032). This is also from a US-centric view of the world, my apologies to other readers in other countries.

A great resource for this thought process is Wikipedia ( What was significant in 1988 which leads to the events of 2010? How would those event be perceived in 1988 vs how the events shaped 2010?

Some things jump out, which serve as a basis for the events of today:

- Start of the fall of the USSR: So much of the 50s to the 80s was about the Cold War between the US and USSR. 1988 was the start of the fall of the communist USSR, following years would lead to independent nations and ultimately economic troubles. This event shows us that nothing is permanent and the actions of one leader can have a very big impact with a decent amount of public will.

- Soviet Troops in Afghanistan: This time also gives rise to terrorism. As the US tries to force the USSR from Afghanistan it militarizes the terrorist forces which would come to dominate world security from 2001 on. This shows us the care and feeding of wild animals is best left to professionals.

- Windows 2.0: While not the only technology development of the time, the introduction of Windows 2 and then in 1990 Windows 3.0 (as well as Tim Berners-Lee publishing a proposal for the World-Wide Web) is especially significant. Putting a graphical interface on computers was not new, but the idea that it was a necessary part of the user interface was a big deal. This shows the roots of the modern internet and current computing technology.

- Mobile Phone Technology: In 1988 I saw my first mobile phone. The first SMS text message was sent in 1993 with Finland and Nordic nations leading the way. Could we have the iPhone without both the universal concept of the GUI and mobile technology?

- Punk: 1991, ultimate Cyberpunk Linus Torvalds announces the Linux Kernel. There are countless examples of hackers and their activities but Kevin Mitnick sticks out the most. In 1988 he was at the end of a supervised release from hacking Digital Equipment Corporation's network and stealing software. In 1989 he hacked Pacific Bell's voice mail system and became a fugitive when a warrant was issued. He spent the next two and a half years on the run, under assumed identities with cloned cell phones he wiretapped phones and hacked computers all over the country.

So, where is our cyberpunk future in the year 2032? What current trends can add to these previous trends, and what might they look like in the future?

More on that later...

Monday, April 5, 2010


I have been considering the "Cyberpunk Revival Contest" at 1KM1KT.  Not really seriously entering the contest but rather as an excuse to declare a game world for the system I have blogged about.  It is about time, really.

So under the idea of making Cyberpunk "cool" here are my thoughts:

Cyberpunk was cool because it was futuristic but not in a 50s utopian way.  There were no rocket packs or lunar apartments where Jim would fly to work on Mars and be home for dinner.  We knew that the 1980s was the future at one point and the threat of nuclear war sucked, so it stood to reason that the future would suck just as much in 2012 as it would in 1982.  So Cyberpunk dictates the future must suck.

Cyberpunk was high tech in cool ways.  There is lame high tech, like robot housekeepers or shiny robots that whine all the time in English accents, and cool high tech.  The technology was cool because it was realistic things people would buy, who would want a robot housekeeper when you could plug your brain directly into a virtual reality?  So Cyberpunk dictates technology must be realistically cool.

Cyberpunk would also not be Cyberpunk without the "punk" attitude.  This might be the biggest missing piece which limits the appeal for the current RPG demographic.  The concept of Punk has changed so much.  Current Cyberpunks could be considered hackers, crackers, pirates, modders, vandals, gang members, university researchers, Facebook/Twitter/Myspace users...  So, Cyberpunks are quite mainstream these days.  Back in the 80s it was very tempting to think about a world where people made technology work for them -- but you have to remember that pre-PC days computers came with people to run them and technology was very proprietary and protected under trade secrets.  Cyberpunk was made reality by the people who enjoyed it, we consumed the genre and thought "why not?".  So, perhaps the rule of Cyberpunk for the future is that it must continue to evolve..

So, with these rules of Cyberpunk we must look to a future for the gameworld.  "Blade Runner" was set in 22 years after the book was written (1982 written, set in the year 2014 according to Google).  If we were to look at the far-flung future of 2032 what would we see?  Well, we should first look at the year 1988 and consider how things are the same and different with 2010.

More on that later...

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