Friday, April 28, 2017

"The Last Unicorn" Creator's Been Ripped Off & Needs Our Help

Peter S. Beagle, beloved author of The Last Unicorn, The Folk of the Air, and dozens of short stories, has been embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit against Connor Cochran for fraud, defamation, elder abuse, and breach of contract. Cochran is Beagle's former business manager who embezzled funds, stole the rights to Beagle's work and then tried to claim the Beagle was too incompetent to manage his own funds. As a result of this, Beagle is both broke and embroiled in an expensive lawsuit.

Per Peter S. Beagle's close friend Adrienne Leigh, buying anything new, like branded The Last Unicorn merchandise won't help Beagle at all. He won't get a dime.

Here are two ways you can help.

Peter Beagle's partnered with the folks at Humble Bumble to assemble new unicorn-themed fiction, called “Save the Unicorns.” To make sure the most of your money goes to Beagle. when you're prompted to choose where your money goes,” select 100% to go to Tachyon Press.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Localization Editor Withdraws Name Rather Than Give Up "KKK" Joke

Akiba's Beat Game Over Screen
On XSEED's official forum, localization editor Tom Lipschultz posted a list of changes made in the English version of game Akiba's Beat. In addition to things like changing names of characters to reflect puns in the original Japanese, there was one joke that Lipschultz was changed that he felt was a bridge too far-- changing a background sign that read "KKK Witches" in the original Japanese version :
The original was a parody of "NKK switches," a Japanese light switch manufacturer based out of Akihabara. I personally felt "KKK witches" was pretty funny for its shock value, but when I mentioned it to my coworkers, they... were not as amused. 
Yeah, I can't imagine why a white guy going "LOL it says KKK roflcopter" would be a bad look or anything. Instead of pausing for a moment of self-reflection as to why the name of a domestic terrorist group was funny to him, or why a background joke might be worth changing, Lipschultz decided to double down.
 ...[XSEED was] insistent upon the name being changed. And of course, I fought this as best as I could, since I saw the forceful change of this as an act of censorship...
Yes, according to Lipschultz, changing a joke to avoid name-dropping the Ku Klux Klan is exactly the same thing as actively suppressing art! He was the lone brave white guy sticking up for the original intent. Like, what if the original Japanese developer really wanted to make the minor background company sign joke as some sort of statement about the USA right-wing hate group responsible for lynching about 3,500 black men over the course of its existence, right? Lipschultz continues:
In the end, however, it was Acquire themselves who voluntarily changed it to "ACQ witches"... [XSEED emailed the original Japanese developers] to let them know that the KKK is a well-known abbreviation for a hate group in America, and asking them if the name "KKK witches" had any specific meaning in Akiba's Beat... Acquire simply changed the sign text and sent us a new build. 
Oh. So since the original developers of the game made the change, this must mean they were cool with it. If the intent was to make some sort of political statement, they would have kept it. Censorship implies there's some sort of involuntary act, and Lipschultz himself said the original developers made this decision themselves. So that's why Lipschultz... asked for his name to be removed from the credits? Yep, he confirms it himself.
It is due to this change, and specifically due to my initial misconception that we'd directly asked the devs to change it, that I asked to have my name removed from the credits of Akiba's Beat... I feel it's a good symbolic gesture on my part, showing my commitment to my principles on this matter... I'm perfectly fine with being the "ninja localizer" of XSEED, fighting the good anti-censorship fight from the shadows. 
Yes, this is the hill Lipschultz chose to die on. This also means that per XSEED company policy, he will no longer be credited on any future work he does for the company, and he took this stand being fully aware of this company policy.

It turns out that Lipschultz has many misconceptions, from what censorship is, to what it means to be funny to what it means for something to be "very Japan". Not content to dig a hole for himself on the forums of the company he works for, Lipschultz took to the comments section of a Kotaku article about his decision in what I'm sure he thought was a noble and well-reasoned attempt to defend himself. Here, let's watch him go and dig himself deeper:
[The KKK acronym] doesn’t make me chuckle on its own, but in the context of appearing on a sign in a busy part of Tokyo, where the business in question obviously had NO IDEA what it meant? That’s pretty funny, if you’ve ever been to Japan. “Engrish” exists as a concept for a reason, and a sign that says “KKK witches” is so out there, so WRONG, that it appearing on a sign is definitely worthy of at LEAST a chuckle, for the absurdity alone. 
I guess the idea is, I believe it would be funny to the game’s target audience, those being Japanophiles. Because it really is very “Japan.”
You see, a KKK reference is funny because... racism! Non-native speakers being ridiculed for not understanding a language is funny because, um... also racism? People that like Japanese pop culture think racism is funny too? I guess?

Honestly, I'm surprised Lipschultz still has a job considering he seems to have no grasp of optics, humor, or what localization is supposed to be. Posting on the Neogaf boards, Lipschultz once had this to say in his defense of anime boobs and fan-service:
Even if you consider content in a game to be perverted and classless... let the classless perverts have it! They deserve to enjoy their games just as much as the rest of us. And to say that it "taints" the game for the rest of us is no different than saying having someone of a different race, or sexual orientation, taints the neighborhood.
Yes, just like his withdrawing his name from the credits of Akiba's Beat and all future XSEED games he works on was his attempted to channel Evelyn Beatrice Hall (no, REALLY, he said so right here), standing up for sexualized female characters created by men, for men, is like speaking out against discrimination of marginalized people. That's totally not gross at all!

I think the best way to explain translation vs transliteration is by using a musical analogy. When a violin repeats what a piano just has played, it can't make the exact same sounds. It can only approximate the same chords.The violin can, however, recognizably make the same "music" as a piano, but only when it's faithful to the logic and limitations of the violin as it is to the logic and limitations of the piano.

Languages are like that, too. Each has their own "sound" and their own logic.The process of rendering ideas from language to language is really more like a transposition than a translation-- translation implies that there are word-for-word equivalents that exist from one language boundary to another. That's like saying piano sounds exactly like the violin!

And the idea of word-for-word equivalents of a story, of a language's underlying feeling strikes me as false to the nature of story telling.The best a translator can do is hope for is to come close as possible not to the text's literal meaning-- it's nearly impossible to drag a sentence's meaning across one language barrier to another completely 100 percent intact. What is more important in preserving, intent... even at the expense of making four strings do the same notes as 88 keys (i.e.English from Japanese). A translator should work to preserve a story's essence, the total feeling of the complexities.Literal translations, as outlined in today's earlier piece on Persona 5, are stilted, awkward and can seem more like transcribing than translation,

When the original game developer of Akiba's Beat was contacted about what the KKK initials of the "off brand" light switch maker sign meant for a US audience, they changed the joke because they intended to just make a silly company name reference, not name-drop a US domestic terrorist group.

Basically, what Lipschultz has done is mixed up the right of people to not be suppressed by the government or societal coercion with the tension that is part and parcel of the act of translation. Instead of pausing and reflecting on why a minor joke with unintentional racist overtones was something he saw as so essential he'd be willing to throw away credit for his work, Lipschultz decided that not keeping "KKK witches" was the molehill to die on.

Persona 5 Puts the LOL in "Localization"

The latest game in Atlus' long-running Persona RPG series, Persona 5, was released recently. Plenty of reviews mention the stylish graphics, the eye-catching presentation and the entertaining in-game battles. What not many reviews mention is that the actual English dialogue in the game is, to put it politely, a hot mess.

This is especially surprising considering how much acclaim the localization and dialogue for Persona 4 received. Persona 5 boast 8 editors and 6 translators listed in the game's credits. So why is the dialogue so bad? Writing for Polygon, translator and Persona fan Molly Lee gives her best estimate:
Chances are high this localization was a rush job; a lot of the more egregiously bad lines read like an unedited first draft. It’s possible the localizers were doing everything in their power just to finish the scripts on time, and chewing on phrases and wording to make the script sound natural for English speakers takes time, and it’s possible they just didn’t have any.
The end result is that the localization ends up being worse than just bad... it's robotic. Nonsensical. Boring. As Lee explains, when it comes to localization, too many cooks spoil the soup:
The really good lines are overshadowed by the memory of the worst ones, and in a way, that actually makes it worse. The purpose of localization is to provide the best experience possible while maintaining a reasonably close approximation of the game the Japanese players enjoyed. But Persona 5’s localization is not that. Instead, it's amateurish, mechanical, and if it wasn't for the voice acting, it'd be almost entirely devoid of character voice. 
In fact, let's try a thought experiment. I'll provide some dialogue from the English version of the game, and you try to guess which main party members said them. Sound good? Okay, here we go: 
  • "He healed himself...? Is it because he ate those inside there?" 
  • "What kind of stupid phantom thief would use their real name!? I'm not down for that!" 
  • "Why do I—the one who was just watching—know more about it than you two!?" 
  • "I hope that she doesn't torment herself over this. When it comes down to it, women don't hesitate." 
  • "Uhh ... Anyway, it can't be helped if that's the case. Time for you to go to hell." 
  • "What nonsense that you used a mousetrap on me!"
Ready for the answers? 
All of those lines were said by Morgana.
From a story perspective, dialogue is supposed to clue the reader in as to each character's personality. So what kind of personality does Morgana have, exactly? Is Morgana relaxed enough to use curse words like "hell" and slang like "down for that"? Or is Morgana a bit of a tight-ass who uses stiff, dismissive language like "nonsense?”
If Atlus is going to ask us to invest $60 and dozens of hours of our time, then I think that they should at least take some pride in their releases.  Especially for a game that is so extremely dialog-heavy. Because really, who talks like this:

"At this rate, it's be pointless how much I contribute to this school."

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Captain Kirk: How Pop Culture & Toxic Masculinity Got It Wrong

Kirk:"Leave any bigotry in your quarters. There's
no room for it on the bridge."
The popular collective image of Captain Kirk from the original Star Trek series is that of a brash, impulsive captain who charges in first and asks questions later. Pop culture would have it that Capt. Kirk was also a serial womanizer, bedding alien women across the galaxy.

Popular culture has it completely wrong.

Writing for Strange Horizions, Erin Horakova penned an essay entitled "Freshly Remember'd: Kirk Drift" that looks at just why it's important that these notions be debunked and the conclusions people can draw from them be deconstructed. For example, there's a lot of toxic ideas about what it means to be "macho" if you buy into the "Kirk was a womanizer" narrative:
If your vision of masculinity cannot distinguish between choosing to have sex and situations of dubious consent incurred in the line of duty, it is deeply toxic. You are insisting that men are hyper-sexual, unemotional, and can never be taken advantage of (lest they cease to be strong, compelling men due to their ever having displayed vulnerability)... These misreadings are supported by a subterranean network of ideas about masculinity, pop culture, and the past that consistently reinforce them, hitting refresh on these dank memes. I don’t think all the connections have been made here, and all the implications unfolded.

Horakova outlines many instances of what she calls "Kirk Drift"-- the difference between what people think Capt Kirk did and Star Trek portrayed, and what actually aired. How these misconceptions not only inform the average person's idea of what Star Trek was, but what the reboot thinks Star Trek should be, How the ideas trickle down, changing and erasing everything from science fiction's attitudes to concepts of what it means to be a man to expressions of Jewish masculinity. Why should we care? hhhh makes the case thusly:
All texts run the danger, even if they’ve worked hard to be progressive, or if they yield easily to positive interpretations, of being “rewritten” in the world and even in our minds. In relation to her own work, novelist Dr. Nnedi Okorafor says that “what I really want to discuss is the whitewashing battle in many readers' minds. The one that turns characters white upon reading them so the reader is more comfortable.” Her work, like all work that comes from a place of or offers any potential for alterity, is at risk of being “colonised” by conservative narrative reclamations operating via the mechanism of mismemory. It is not enough for a text to be progressive; its memory must also be defended against this decay.

The entire essay is well-written, thoroughly sourced and a fascinating read. Grab the whole article here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Black Materia: Awesome Take On Final Fantasy VII's Cast

Image Description: Cloud Strife from Final
Fantasy VII drawn as a black male with
blond locs. Part of a fan art series by artist Nikolas
Recently, comic artist and illustrator Nikolas Draper-Ivey had enough with random haters online. As he tells it:
...[S]ome people on my page had a problem with me drawing black people because I, a black man, was drawing far too many of them (and not as stereotypes or tropes) when I’m known for having diverse character designs in the first place. 
 I literally got asked, “Do you ever draw white people?” And “You only draw black guys. Why?” In the same morning and I’m like, “Oh so this is a PROBLEM now?” Anyone that has seen my work knows that I draw people from all over. 
...if me drawing people of color as characters and not stereotypes and over used tropes offends you, then get ready to hate my black ass then, because I’m not about to sit by and let us not be represented in a respectful, uplifting and positive light anymore...
Rather than letting the haters get him down, though, he used all that salt to work on some truly awesome fan art and give his take on the main cast of the Squaresoft RPG Final Fantasy VII. Why'd he chose that game? As Draper-Ivey put it, "I specifically chose FFVII because it’s already a diverse cast and to Square Enix’s credit, you could literally tell the same story with these designs."

Those designs are amazing. His work in the superhero genre was already pretty impressive, and seeing his take on a JRPG classic is awesome. He takes the source material and puts his own well-illustrated spin on it. You can see his art of Cloud Strife above, but I was also wowed by his fan art of FFVII's main villain, Sephiroth. Check it out:

Monday, April 24, 2017

"So Goth, I Was Born Black": Screamin' Jay Hawkins & Goth Music

Musician Jay Hawkins originally had the idea to record "I Put A Spell On You" as a slow, mournful blues ballad. The original, un-issued version recently surfaced on YouTube:

 If the above version was what had been originally issued, the world would have missed out on a song that laid the foundation for Shock Rock and Goth music. Without "Screamin'" Jay Hawkins' raw power, deep-throated growls and groans and powerful operatic delivery, it would have flown under the radar. It certainly would never have been picked as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and not been covered by artists ranging from Nina Simone to Credence Clearwater Revival to Nick Cave. It turns out, however, that Hawkins' recording session of "I Put A Spell On You" that influenced rockers from Alice Cooper to Rob Zombie ended up happening completely by accident. As the book "All Music Guide to the Blues: The Definitive Guide to the Blues" recounts in Hawkins' own words, it all happened because the producer for Okeh Records brought along a bunch of food and alcohol for the band and Hawkins gave the recording session a go when he was three sheets to the wind:
"[The producer] got everybody drunk, and we came out with this weird version … I don’t even remember making the record. Before, I was just a normal blues singer. I was just Jay Hawkins. It all sort of just fell in place. I found out I could do more destroying a song and screaming it to death.”
Serene Pristine has a great essay on how when Hawkins went from just plain ol' Jay Hawkins to "Screaming" Jay Hawkins, kicked off the Shock Rock aesthetic and can truly be called the Grandfather of Goth Music.

For a song that's been so influential and had dozens of covers, debates over which version is best still rage on today. Do you have a favorite, or can nothing stack up to the original? Sound off in the comments and share your favorite!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Marvel Retcons All of World War II, Capt America Always Evil

Cover to Secret Empire #0. Art by Mark Brooks.
The latest ridiculous twist in the saga of Captain America penned by Nick Spencer has outdone all of Spencer's other "shocking" twists in both the breadth of its foolishness and its lack of respect for an iconic character's legacy.

First, a quick recap.

Last summer, comics fandom and the wider media fandom at large was shocked when Captain America, Marvel's staunch defender of liberty uttered the line "Hail Hydra", revealing himself as having been allied with the evil Hydra organization all along-- a group that in the Marvel universe originated with Nazi Germany, the very foes Captain America was supposed to have fought against! It seemed like a crass twist and super inconsistent with the character's real-world origins and legacy. Captain America was created by two Jewish creators, Jack Kirby and Joe Simon. Captain America was born s wish fulfillment, to have an all-American hero punch Hitler and fight Nazis even before the US was involved in World War 2. Nick Spencer, the writer for that arc as well as the ongoing Sam Falcon, Captain America title promised all would be revealed in due time.

"Captain America wasn't brainwashed," Nick Spencer said. He also said that the Cap that declared "Hail Hydra" wasn't an alien body double or a robot duplicate. It was the actual Steve Rogers, the real Captain America had done this. But be patient, Spencer urged. It would all make sense. Recently it was revealed that the pieces of the Cosmic Cube- an artifact powerful enough to rewrite reality itself- had somehow taken the form of Kobi, a small naive child unaware of the reality-altering powers she had within her. Kobi, in turn, influenced by the super-villian Red Skull-- Captain America's longtime Nazi arch-nemesis since World War II. It was the Red Skull who influenced Kobi to give Captain America the memories of being a Hydra sleeper agent. So, see, it wasn't technically brainwashing, right?

That's not the most foolish part. See, as asinine as that revelation was, that gives you the hope that Captain America still had some good in him, right? That even though at this point Captain America has sold out the Earth to invading aliens, allied himself with super powered Nazis and was setting himself up to become dictator for life of the United States, that there was maybe still some good in him somewhere. The Marvel Universe had a glimmer of hope.

With the release of Secret Empire #0 two days ago, Nick Spencer reveals his biggest, most asinine twist yet: The Allies actually lost World War II and used the Cosmic Cube to re-write reality so that the Nazis were defeated and Captain America was the world-saving good guy. In the Marvel Universe, Germany was actually the winner, and always was. Steve Rogers really was an agent for Hydra all along, and those memories added by Red Skull were actually restoring Captain America to his "true self", Spencer ret-conned actual world history to take a symbol of the US created by two Jewish men during World War II and said nope, Captain America was supposed to really be an evil bad guy and it was only a reality-rewrite that made him good.

This is especially egregious tone-deafness because two days ago-- April 19th-- was the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It was the largest Jewish revolt during World War II, and also has the distinction of being the first urban uprising against the Nazis that happened in Nazi-occupied Europe.The Nazis attempted to completely wipe out the Jews living in Warsaw on the eve of Passover. Instead, the Jews held out against occupied forces for nearly a month, using whatever they had on hand to fight back. Their bravery inspired Jews across Europe, including those already in the camps, to organize and revolt.

In fact, that's another odd thing about the whole "Allies used the Cosmic Cube to re-write history so the Nazis would lose instead of win like they were supposed to"-- why didn't the Allies cosmically re-write it so that the Holocaust never happened?

Marvel is doubling down on the doubling down, too, rebranding its websites with Hydra iconography, and even asking brick and mortar comic book shops to have employees wear Hydra t-shirts this month.

Nick Spencer took to twitter with all the class you'd expect:
Then again, for a dude making his living writing super heroes, Nick Spencer doesn't seem to have the greatest grasp of them. Like when he rushed to twitter to give his hot take on Nazis getting punched in public:

Last week, I talked about how Marvel's VP of Sales tried to blame "diversity" for poor comic book sales, and how that assertion is utter bullshit. user spacetwinks was pretty pissed off about that assertion too, and put together a thorough and damning analysis and response, as described thus:
This did not sit well with others, the idea that retailers and Marvel would blame these books for low sales - and it didn't sit well with me, either. So I've hunkered down and put in the hours researching sales data reaching back over a decade in Marvel, and looked for what could possibly be the true culprit in their sales problems.
"Shut The Fuck Up, Marvel" is a nearly 30k long essay, a spiritual sequel to The Problems With Comics, a deep dive into the true issues with Marvel's economics and business - and how an obsession with short term profit, the constant renumbering and relaunches and events, all compounded by a complete inability to understand basic marketing techniques or outside audiences, has absolutely destroyed the sales stability of many of their former best selling books, all as they condescend to those who criticize them on their stories, or on how they try to sell comics.
It's offered as a pay what you want download, and is a very insightful read. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Update: Wow, this post is starting to blow up! My hosting is getting slammed! So if you liked this article and want to see more, you can help support it by pledging a buck or more to my Patreon or by tossing some spare change in the virtual tip jar to the right. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Last Game I Make Before I Die: Crashland Dev's Amazing Talk

This video is the full GDC 2017 talk given by Sam Coston of game studio Butterscotch Shenanigans. It details the story of Crashlands, the large-scale 2D action-RPG crafting game that Sam worked on with his brothers and talks about his struggles in dealing with developing the game and his own cancer diagnosis. The talk doesn't just touch on Sam's deeply personal story but also offers a very insightful look at the game development process.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Weird Optical Illusions Fool Bots: AIs HATE Them!

Description: Various abstract patterns labeled with what an artificial intelligence
incorrectly identifies them as. Image by Jeff Clune, Jason Yosinski, Anh Nguyen
Search engines like Google and Bing have offered features where you can upload a photo and it attempts to identify what it's a picture of. The way this is accomplished is by applying a combination of algorithms and linked networks called "neural networking". But in a surprising study released by researcher Jeff Clune, these processes inspired by the human brain can also be fooled by something our brains can be tricked by, too: specially crafted optical illusions. Researchers have found that  it's pretty easy to make images that a neural network will be 99% confident certain is a recognizable object, but any human will tell you is unrecognizable garbage, as in the above example. The whole study and similar research offers a pretty interesting look at the differences between how humans  and computers process and recognize images.

From a recent article at The Verge, one possible explanation for how this process works hinges on how these algorithms and networks make decisions:
One explanation is that adversarial images take advantage of a feature found in many AI systems known as "Decision boundaries." These boundaries are the invisible rules that dictate how a system can tell the difference between, say, a lion and a leopard.
These images have the rather plain name of "fooling images". Engineers are already working on how to counter them:
To better defend AI against fooling images, engineers subject them to "Adversarial training." This involves feeding a classifier adversarial images so it can identify and ignore them, like a bouncer learning the mugshots of people banned from a bar.
The entire article has a look at what this means for facial recognition, machine learning and the evolution of artificial intelligence. Read the whole thing here.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dramatic Failure: Serial Harasser Zak S. Joins White Wolf

Photo of Zak Smith courtesy of White Wolf.
It recently came to light that Zak Smith, the serial harasser who clings to the ass of the role playing game industry like a boil you can't lance, managed to find continued employment.

This time, Zak's managed to attach their lamprey-like mouth to the mobile division of White Wolf (WW) as the co-author of Vampire The Masquerade: We Eat Blood, as announced here. Notably, this announcement blog post from WW also includes the following concluding paragraph:
Regarding the recent accusations made against our freelancers: White Wolf was aware of and investigated the previous accusations against Zak before contracting him to write and illustrate the game script. Fortunately, these accusations all pertained to alleged online behavior: each accusation is connected to an online discussion, and the digital records of these discussions can be located and reviewed. White Wolf’s investigation concluded that the accusations are false, and that Zak did not engage in the alleged behavior. We have full faith in Zak and Sarah and are excited to see their great work with the World of Darkness spread!
It's notable because this paragraph confirms that White Wolf has not just gone creatively bankrupt but morally bankrupt, too. Aside from the fact that WW decided to hire a sentient trash pile that assumed the shape of a person, WW's decision is puzzling because Zak Smith has used his fanbase  to harass people important to WW's past, like David Hill (Chronicles of Darkness, Changeling) and Avery Adler (Monsterhearts). David Hill writes of the harassment he received:
The phone call that I received came from a cheap prepaid phone purchased in the city he lives, but millions do. The phone call directly referenced him, and things he's specifically obsessed with. Around that time, I received an email rerouted through the United Arab Emirates which featured a photo of my child's school and a number of very specific threats... it referenced things he's said about me which were not true, and at the time, he lived some 20~ minutes from me.  
I know every time he brings me up, because I tend to wake up to a stream of threats and very disturbing anonymous messages.  
For the past seven or so years, he's screen-shotted and saved everything I say online, even things I've said in private groups, in spite of thorough blocks. I've had to aggressively block people suspected of being his sock puppets. At one time, a friend of mine being harassed by him actually had an associate who is a plagiarism expert identify a few of his sock puppet accounts who write exactly like him... He's been impersonating [an] RPG net mod for over a year... When called on it, he said it wasn't him and it didn't happen. When logs were shown, his story changed and now he's saying it isn't him, but someone that shares a computer with him, who has been impersonating this community figure for over a year to defend him and talk him up. And who writes with an almost laughably similar style to him.  
My issue is that he stalks me. He saves everything I say online. His fans threaten me and my family. I have tried for the better part of a decade to get him to leave me the fuck alone, but he absolutely under no circumstances will not. This isn't some thing where I can sit down with a cup of tea and meet him half way... This is not some rational disagreement. He's a stalker. He's an abuser. I'm not going to kindly ask him to pretty please stop abusing me and everyone else he's abusing. Because I have before. It didn't work. It won't work.
In 2015, I covered Zak Smith's use of a website he ran to snipe, misgender, insult and harass anyone Zak didn't like. But the documentation of Zak Smith's harassment doesn't end there. Here's a first-hand account from another one of his targets of one incident, and then a master post of what Zak did over the course of three and a half years. Here's a 3 part post from another woman in tabletop gaming Zak Smith has harassed detailed what she was put through: Part One, Part Two and Part three.

Zak Smith also has a secret group he uses to co-ordinate his followers into his private harassment army.

And just when you thought that GamerGate's fever dream given flesh couldn't sink any lower, here's how Zak Smith used a charity to force his harassment victims to have to interact with him.

At this point, it's a pretty good idea to view seeing Zak Smith's name attached to anything in the same way you'd view watching a cockroach skitter out of a diner's restaurant kitchen: a warning sign for you to take your business elsewhere, lest you consume something disgusting.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Marvel Comics Exec Says "Diversity" Is Why Sales Are Down

David Gabriel, Marvel Comics' Vice President of Sales spoke at a recent retailer summit and said that "...people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there," and that "Any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up [at]."

This contrasts with the experience of one retailer who spoke with ICv2 on the first day of the retailer summit who said a more diverse cast of characters were helping bring new customers to his store. The latest iteration of Ms. Marvel, which has Muslima teenager Khamala Khan taking up the title role, was nominated for a Hugo Award this year. In a detailed post on that did some serious number crunching of Marvel Comics' sales for the past year, Charles Paul Hoffman wrote:
Just to be clear, “diversity” has very little to do with the drop in sales in Marvel’s top 10 books. Only three (“The Mighty Thor,” “Invincible Iron Man” and “Black Panther”) can be considered “diverse,” in that they star a lead character who is a woman or a person of color. The rest are series starring white male heroes or teams made up predominantly of white male heroes. These are Marvel’s traditional A-list heroes, being written and drawn by A-list writers and artists (almost all of whom are themselves white men), and yet they are floundering... 
While Marvel has admittedly had some misses among its “diverse” titles, it has also had some genuine hits. “The Mighty Thor” remains Marvel’s No. 2=selling ongoing superhero series. “Black Panther” has been a solid hit as well, selling enough single issues to be in Marvel’s top 10, and enough trades to make the bestseller lists. “Invincible Iron Man” (starring Riri Williams) is also in the top 10, showing very little attrition from writer Brian Micahel Bendis’ pre-“Civil War II” series. “Spider-Man” is close behind, selling about 5,000 more copies than Miles Morales’ pre-“Secret Wars” series.”Spider-Gwen” and “All-New Wolverine” are also both doing well, with more than 29,000 copies sold in February for both titles. And then there’s “Ms. Marvel” and “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl,” two series whose trades have also made the bestsellers lists. 
Having dug into the data, it’s become clear that diversity is not hurting Marvel. The truth is, Marvel’s “diverse” titles actually sell decently. 
So if Marvel's more diverse offerings are actually selling decently, bringing in newer clintele and winning awards... then what's up with declining sales? Professionals and fans on twitter have a few ideas:

Other industry analyses have pointed out stumbling blocks that Marvel has seemed to put in its own way, like trying to make its Inhumans line-up replace the X-Men series while X-Men hemorrhages sales and the Inhumans branding repeats many of the same mistakes of the X-Men before them. The Nerdist has an excellent take-down of how diverse casts written by the same ol' roster of white men leads to a lot of tone-deaf bullcrap that can end up alienating readers old AND new:
When Brian Michael Bendis writes Miles Morales as being upset with a fan who mentions his black heritage, or when Nick Spencer has Sam Wilson apologize to Steve Rogers for any activism-fueled anger he may have displayed in the past, it comes off as tone-deaf and leaves readers understandably less than thrilled. The same comic features multi-ethnic villains who are parodies of the “Social Justice Warrior” stereotype, who shout phrases like “You should be an ally, not helping to defend oppression culture!” and “Consider this your trigger warning!” as they throw grenades at Sam... 
Let’s also remember SHIELD #8 (2015), written by Mark Waid, where a black woman viewing her young son’s corpse remarks, “He was no angel“—the same phrase used to vindicate Michael Brown’s murder.
G. Williow Wilson, the lead behind the currently Hugo-nominated Ms. Marvel points out a few things about authenticity, new audiences, changing markets and industry expectations:
What I didn’t realize was that the anxieties felt by young Muslims are also felt by young Mormons, evangelicals, orthodox Jews, and others. A h-u-g-e reason Ms Marvel has struck the chord it has is because it deals with the role of traditionalist faith in the context of social justice, and there was–apparently–an untapped audience of people from a wide variety of faith backgrounds who were eager for a story like this... Diversity as a form of performative guilt doesn’t work. Let’s scrap the word diversity entirely and replace it with authenticity and realism. This is not a new world. This is the world... 
Never try to be the next whoever. Be the first and only you. People smell BS a mile away. 
The direct market and the book market have diverged. Never the twain shall meet. We need to accept this and move on, and market accordingly.
That last point is something important to remember as far as sales. The relaunched Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (which I covered here back in 2015) only sells a few thousand issues a month... but its trade paperbacks and graphic novel collections sells like hotcakes to little kids via Scholastic Book Fairs. The market is changing, how comics are sold are changing, and the audience is changing. As Alex Brown puts it on
Blaming readers for not buying diverse comics despite the clamor for more is a false narrative. Many of the fans attracted to “diverse” titles are newbies and engage in comics very differently from longtime fans. For a variety of reasons, they tend to wait for the trades or buy digital issues rather than print. The latter is especially true for young adults who generally share digital (and yes, often pirated) issues. Yet the comics industry derives all of its value from how many print issues Diamond Distributors shipped to stores, not from how many issues, trades, or digital copies were actually purchased by readers. Every comics publisher is struggling to walk that customer-centric tightrope, but only Marvel is dumb enough to shoot themselves in the foot, then blame the rope for their fall.
Looking at a diversity initiative as the beginning and end of what's needed to help improve the state of comics is short-sighted and wrong-headed. Instead of just having the same white men tell stories with some characters of color here and there, there should be structure in place for minority writers and artists and creators to tell the stories they want to a mainstream audience. Diversity as the final and only goal is a hollow act that does nothing but reinforce whiteness and the status quo as the default. That's not the world we live in, so why so worlds we get to make up have to be that way? Free your mind, and the audience will follow.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Searching For The Very First Easter Egg In Video Games

This Easter week, I wanted to share a fascinating story of the search for the very first Easter Egg in video game history. Steve Wright, director of software development for Atari's Consumer Division coined the term to describe hidden undocumented features in a video game, like hidden programmer credits or power ups or in-jokes. Atari had a policy of not crediting programmers that worked on their games, developers from their products, as the company believed doing so would prevent competitors from identifying and luring away Atari's best programmers.

In protest against this policy, programmer Warren Robinett devised an obscure series of circumstances in the1979 Atari game Adventure that, when executed correctly would take the player to an otherwise-inaccessible room that displayed the text "Programmed by Warren Robinett". When a curious teenager stumbled upon the hidden credit in the game and notified Atari, the company found that going back and changing the code and issuing new game cartridges would be prohibitively expensive, so the credit stayed. Wright dubbed it an Easter Egg, and Atari turned the act of rebellion into a company feature, making programmer credit Easter Eggs a de-facto company standard.

While Adventure has arguably the most well-known video game Easter Egg, it is not the very first Easter Egg in a video game. That particular honor went to the video game Video Whizball released in 1978 for the Fairchild Channel F home gaming system. Or so it was thought.

Enter video game historian Ed Fries and pioneering Atari employee Ron Milner. During the course of an interview Fries was conduction with Milner about the very first racing car video games, Milner's work on the video game Starship 1 came up. And what Milner said was mind-blower and history-changing. As Fries relates:

“That was the first and only game that I ever programmed and I think it was maybe one of the first games with a backdoor in it," [said Milner]. "I didn’t tell people about this, even within Atari, for at least 30 years, but I had some code in there that if you did a certain sequence of controls it would say ‘Hi Ron!‘ and give you 10 free games.”
I was kind of stunned. If this was true it would certainly predate the earliest video game Easter egg that I knew of and the one that is most often cited as being the first: “Adventure” for the Atari 2600 from 1979. I did a little searching online and found that there was an even earlier Easter egg in the game “Video Whizball” which was released in 1978 for the Fairchild Channel F game console.
But there was a problem. Ron didn’t remember exactly how to bring up the Easter egg. He remembered showing it off to some buddies at a county fair when the game first came out, but that was 40 years ago!
The story of the research into finding and rediscovering this hidden part of gaming history is a super fascinating read, so read the whole thing!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

WIlliam Shatner vs Experts, #ActuallyAutistic Fans, Facts

Photo of William Shatner courtesy of Splash News
William Shatner is internationally known celebrity whose decades of work as an actor and as a charitable donor and spokesperson have given him tremendous influence both online and off. He has over 2.5 million followers on Twitter, and it was on Twitter that Shatner's behavior has played out in an all-too familiar way-- a celebrity has "good intentions" leading to someplace worse than hell-- stubborn, deep-seated defensiveness when confronted with the consequences of spreading misinformation online.

Four days ago, William Shatner tweeted his support for the group Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks purports to be an organization that represents autistic people, but is near-universally derided and loathed by actual autistic people.

Why? For starters:

Allies and autistic twitter users alike reached out to Shatner after his initial tweet, joining the in progress #actuallyautistic hashtag to outline why Autism Speaks was not a good organization. Shatner told those reaching out to him they should "go start [your] own charity" and blocking them. Others then tweeted that autistic people actually already had-- the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. Shatner repeatedly accused ASAN's founder of misrepresenting his words and that ASAN was only interested in attacking Autism Speaks. He then block ASAN's founder on twitter along with the co-authors of Neurotribes, when they tried reaching out to him. Shatner instead talked about being attacked, harrassed for voicing his opinion, that tweeting support for Autism Speaks meant he was contributing to freedom of choice... but it got even worse.

Shatner dug himself even deeper into spreading misinformation. When Dr Neil Gorski reached out to Shatner, outlining Autism Speaks' history as an anti-vaxx organization,  what happened next made everything worse. As outlined in Slate:
With that, millions of followers were treated to a hit piece about Gorski hosted by TruthWiki. It’s hard to overstate the unreliability of TruthWiki, a haphazard collection of conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific nonsense riddled with typos and bizarre assertions. The exercise section, for instance, includes only two entries: “Natural Help for Diabetes” and “Deepak Chopra’s Eye Exercises.” When Science-Based Medicine objected to Shatner’s tweet, he posted another set of links discrediting Gorski, this time to the websites Newstarget (motto: “Obliterating Your Safe Spaces With Truth Bombs”) and NaturalNews, which is run by Mike Adams, aka “the Health Ranger”—who also founded TruthWiki.
“All on Google,” he added after them, as if that certified their authenticity.
If William Shatner has no compunctions about using his influence as a celebrity and Twitter user with 2.5 million followers to promote causes, then he should also recognize that he bears the responsibility for what can happen when he spreads misinformation and refuses to listen to people that are actually affected the cause he claims to advance. 

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