Tag Archives: apocalypse

What to do with a graduate degree

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been gaming.

The zombie shooter Left4Dead has recently seen the release of two fan generated campaigns Dead Before Dawn and One 4 Nine.

Dead Before Dawn takes the basic premise of the Zach Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead where the characters work their way to Crossroads mall where they make their final stand and eventual escape (hopefully).  The campaign does a nice job of expanding upon the idea of completing tasks beyond the ‘start the generator and wait for the horde’ task that most of the Steam generated scenarios rely upon.  Granted they’re almost all essentially re-skinned versions of that task but at least there’s a bit of variety.

It also felt like there was a lot more ‘explorability’ in this campaign setting than in the original campaigns with multiple ways to get to the same end point.  The game was a little buggy (I got hung up several times and had to restart) but not outrageously so for a non-official campaign and it was a challenging play throughout.

I haven’t played One 4 Nine yet but it uses the zombie apocalypse as a function of secret government tests theme.  It’s received very high ratings and the authors continue to tweak it with the most recent update being posted on the 14th.

I also picked up the beta version of Fate of the World which advertises itself as:

…a global strategy game that puts our future in your hands. Decide how the world will respond to rising temperatures, heaving populations, dwindling resources, crumbling ecosystems and brave opportunities.

If you buy it now you get it at a discount, can play the beta version now plus some extras and so I figured I’d give it a shot for $16.

The beta version has one scenario available for play which involved dealing with the consequences of a world wide oil shortage and limiting the effects of global warming.  You play the role of the head of a global environmental organization that actually has power and resources to do things.  The world is divided into 12 regions that act as coherent political entities that you have to engage with.  They contribute to your cash flow while members of your little club but can also assert their sovereignty and kick you out if they think you’re dissing them.

The game starts in 2020 with turns covering 5 year increments and ends in 2120.  ‘Victory’ involves keeping global warming increases under 3.5 degrees, the global HDI above .5 and maintain membership in at least 5 (I think) regions.

The beta version of the game doesn’t come with rules but the basics of the system are fairly easy to figure out.  The nuances and interactions of the numerous factors and components of game play are more difficult to figure out and time will tell if that’s going to be part of the game (‘Hey!  You’ve switched the entire North American transportation industry to biofuels.   Great work on reducing emissions!  Oh, by the way, 200 million people are dying of starvation in India because nobody is growing food anymore.  Nice job.’)

I have to admit I underestimated the complexity of the game system because the user interface is so simple.  I suppose there will be critics that argue with some of the underlying science involved but it is neat  to see how interconnected environmental/developmental/economic policies and played around with various strategies like focusing only on the developed world, trying to do a bit of everything everywhere and trying to strong arm the world.  The possibilities are endless and even within those broad strategies there are so many potential alternatives you could (and I wanted to) always feel you’re so close to success with just a bit of tweaking (I haven’t made it yet).  Focus on heavy R&D, business friendly policies, heavy handed regulation, disaster mitigation or whatever your heart desires.

And don’t get the impression that this is all about tree-hugging, feel good lefty stuff.  The game designers seemed to want to give you a lot of options to accomplish your goals.  So, in one game I launched (covertly, of course) a biological plague upon India to reduce its population (using too many resources and becoming politically unstable threatening to kick me out) by 25% in five years.  In the same game I also overthrew a government or two, launched an insurgency and implemented a secret sterilization program in China’s water supply (hey, you can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs).  Unfortunately, my scheme was found out and I was brought to trial for crimes against humanity but what are you gonna do?  The pressure you feel as you see that temperature creep up every turn and you get the news of species going extinct, mass famines, natural disasters and wars makes you contemplate increasingly drastic measures, especially when you start to see whole portions of the world start to kick you out and you realize you’re pulling in less and less money to do things in fewer and fewer parts of the world.

There’s tons of data and metrics here so I assume you can totally geek out if you want.  GDP, employment, demographics, energy usage by sector, etc. etc. etc.  all changing as a result of your policy decisions.

I hesitate to say this is a ‘fun’ game in the same way L4D or even another strategy game like the Total War series but I suspect that’s because there’s less opportunity for periodic payoffs.  Things are grim and probably going to get grimmer and the best you can hope for is a pathetic crawl across the finish line by the skin of your teeth. But I was hooked for gobs of time on it over the weekend and have a half a dozen strategies peculating in my mind that I’d like to try.

The game has definite teaching potential and I’d like to see a co-operative version (with players either playing as the heads of regions that can cooperate or not as they see fit or on some executive council where negotiations could add a whole additional level of complexity and realism to the game).



I’m bewildered…

…at how I made it this far in my life without reading A Cantacle for Lebowitz.  A thoroughly delightful book (if one can say that about a post apocalyptic work) that probably benefited from me reading it as a middle aged man rather than a teenager.  This is one that definitely deserves a re-read.

I’ll see your list and raise you another!

The Armchair Generalist riffs off a post about the best Sci-fi movies around.

Scientific American has its own list of its favorite apocalyptic fiction…The list has some fluff in it and so it’s not a ‘best of’ (how could it be with ‘Armageddon’ and ‘Deep Impact’?)  Still, there are some gems there so here’s my distilled list of favorites from theirs:

And now…a bit of fun.

End of the world Tuesdays

How long until this thing becomes sentient and destroys the human race?

“Enough fat to fill nine double-decker buses is being removed from sewers under London’s Leicester Square.”

“We couldn’t even access the sewer as it was blocked by a four-foot wall of solid fat.”

I’m imagining a Godzilla sized Jabba the Hut.

God has left Detroit

The NY Times has this photo slide show of Detroit which gives you a view of what other cities might look like after some sort of calamity (either natural or man-made).

France 2017?

News agencies are reporting that the Royal Navy is being deployed to ferry British back home from wherever they may be stranded on the continent.  Maybe it’s because I watched 2012 last night (that’s 2 hours of my life I won’t get back) or the fact that Peter has begun counting down to doomsday, but I thought of Billy Joel’s Miami 2017 and the lyrics:

They sent a carrier out from Norfolk-
And picked the Yankees up for free.
They said that Queens could stay,
They blew the Bronx away-
And sank Manhattan out at sea….

Zombies revisited

Back in September I wrote about a study by researchers at Carelton University about humanity’s chances in the event of a zombie uprising.  Those Canucks were pretty pessimistic about our chances and basically said that if we wanted any hope we’d need to move fast and not get too worked up over collateral damage.

Well, Blake over at the Tortosie’s Lens is having none of that and argues that humanity, in fact, might survive just fine.

If you ask me, though, the Ottawa team’s model leaves something more profound out the equation: human capacity for ex-post organization and response. When accounting for these things, I can find scenarios of large initial zombie outbreaks that, when followed by quick adoption of strong anti-zombie defense policies may help pockets, or even large fractions of civilization to ward off the impending doom of mass zombie infection! How exciting!

He’s even got a video explaining his theory (it’ll be the best 5 minutes of geekness you’ll spend today, trust me):

This has spawned a bunch of additional commentary rounded up by Dan Drezner over at Foreign Policy (nice work if you can get it).

But that’s not the end of the debate.  Rossman says any model needs to include the inevitable temptation for someone to sabotage the survivor community.

Thus you’d have to add another parameter, which is the probability in any given period that some jackass sabotages the defensive perimeter, steals the battle bus, etc. If such sabotage eliminates or even appreciably reduces the “safe area” efficacy then human survival in the “safe areas” is contingent on the act of sabotage not occurring. If we assume that p(sabotage) is 1% in any given month, then the probability of sabotage occurring at least once over the course of two years is 1-.99^24, which works out to 21%. That’s not bad, but if we assume a p(sabotage) per month of at least 2.9% then there’s a better than even chance that we’re fucked.

Drezner then brings it all home to imagine how our bureaucratic interests might end up being our worst enemies in the fight against the zombies:

If bureaucratic conflicts and organizational pathologies hamper effective counter-terrorism policies, imagine the effect they would have on anti-zombie policies.  The bureaucratic turf wars would be significant.  Quelling the rise of the undead would require significant interagency coordination.  In the United States, one could easily envisage major roles for the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Transportation, and Health and Human Services.  This does not include autonomous or semi-autonomous agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Center for Disease Control, and the myriad intelligence agencies.

And you thought you just needed a shotgun and a chainsaw…

Detroit’s Mad Max transformation

Kotare has linked to a couple of stories about the decay of Detroit and the city’s plans to conduct some triage and save what it can.  The city has been in a tailspin for years.  Currently:

The population of Detroit is now 81.6% African-American and almost two-thirds down on its overall peak in the early 50s. The city has lost its tax base and cannot afford to cut the grass or light its streets, let alone educate or feed its citizens.

Law and order has completely broken down in the inner city, drugs and prostitution are rampant and unless you actually murder someone the police will leave you alone.

The only growth industry is the gangs of armed scrappers, who plunder copper and steel from the ruins.

Unemployment has reached 30%; 33.8% of Detroit’s population and 48.5% of its children live below the poverty line. Forty-seven per cent of adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate; 29 Detroit schools closed in 2009 alone.

So, what does the population do?  Our much vaunted ability to pick up and move to greener pastures really only applies if you have some minimal resources to finance the move and skills which can be used where ever you move to.  Otherwise you’re just sliding the problem around.

The current plan would demolish about 10,000 houses and empty buildings in three years and pump new investment into stronger neighborhoods. In the neighborhoods that would be cleared, the city would offer to relocate residents or buy them out.

I wonder if this is ambitious enough however.  Rather than collect all the existing residents and herd them to new neighborhoods, why not take advantage of the huge tracks of abandoned land the city should soon have and start homesteading.  Instead of warehousing the nearly 50% of people who are functionally illiterate (really let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we’ll be able to get them into the high-tech/green/next big thing job revolution that’s coming down the pike.  It’s unlikely that Detroit is going to be able to (leaving aside the question of if it would want to) attract the types of businesses  that would hire large numbers of untrained, uneducated people and so what’s it going to do with them?

How about, provide them training in farming (possibly animal husbandry), give them a plot of land under the condition that if they live on it and produce they get to keep it after a certain amount of time.

I have to admit Jefferson isn’t my favorite founding father (I’m more partial to Hamilton) but can you get more ‘agrarian republic‘ than this?  You could sell it to the right as promoting bedrock ‘conservative’ values (self-reliance, family values derived from hard, manual labor, small business, getting people off the government dole, etc.), and to the left on social justice arguments (giving wealth to the most disenfranchised, improved living conditions, etc.).

Of course, Detroit isn’t the only city that would benefit from large scale urban ‘terraforming’.  We’ve got a lot of old, industrial cities that have withered in the face of globalization and are kept on life support through bizarre schemes to build sports stadiums and other gimmicks in the hopes of drawing in huge numbers of tourists who will all crawl over themselves in their mad attempt to spend every last penny they have on the surrounding community.

Of course, tying your community to something as fickle as the tourist industry is a dicey proposition fraught with peril.  Whereas, build an agrarian society that’s self sustaining and the tourism might just take care of itself.

Post Apocalyptic Weekend Wrap up

I just caught the first episode of the BBC series The Survivors which follows a group of people in the wake of a virus that kills 90% of the worlds population.  I don’t know if there’s anything particularly new in the story but I also don’t know if that’s necessary for these end of the world tales.  The first episode was pretty good both in terms of acting and production values and so, if you’re a fan of apocalypse fiction, try to find a copy and watch it.

I’m not sure how I missed this given the first season was from 2008 but they seem to have started another season this year.

Oh, and nertz to the BBC for not allowing those of us on this side of the pond from watching their programs on-line.  Gee, and are there really people out there who don’t understand why people engage in file sharing?


It might be the end of the world so you better start stocking up your food supplies now.  There’s a fungus that kills wheat with amazing efficiency and we have no idea how to stop it.  (h/t daily dish)

X-Files watch

YT sent me this article that describes yet more scientists screwing around with the forces that they can’t control:

Scientists in Illinois have developed a way to make simple oil droplets “smart” enough to navigate through a complex maze almost like a trained lab rat.

Am I the only person who remembers black oil from the X-Files?

I’m telling you, this just ain’t good.