Victoria Crater

Image source with larger version
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

Here's a fraction of the most recent panorama from Opportunity, looking down into Victoria Crater. Though Opportunity - who recently celebrated her fourth Earth year on Mars - is the more physically healthy of the two rovers, it seems unlikely that she will ever re-emerge from the crater. Except, perhaps, as a museum piece...


Sunday Scribblings: A Miscellaneous Story

Sunday Scribblings prompt: miscellaneous.

Clockwork Miscellany

Dressed in a tailored black suit, he waits at the base of a tall, crooked tower of crumbling stone. Encrusted with moss, gargoyles and improbable balconies, it lances up into a full, silvery moon. A metallic skittering seeps out through cracks in the ancient wooden door, and her faithful clockwork servant opens the door to allow him in, its spidery limbs scraping on porous flagstone.

Wrought iron head bowed low, the servant leads him up narrow spiral steps. He knows to let it go on ahead, so it has space to slip and scrabble. From time to time it sheds a cog, or a small black morsel of coal, that goes bouncing down the stairs with hard knocks. A small optical lens beneath the servant's warped underbelly swivels manically to track the shed parts for later retrieval. Mostly, the visitor just tries to stay out of the way.

At the top of the stairs the servant shrinks to one side of an unassuming archway, gesturing with one small, dented claw for him to pass through. He knows the way already, but bows his thanks. Once the visitor has passed through the arch, the servant clatters back down the stairs in a half-controlled slide.

She stands before him, a glittering silhouette in a ray of moonlight, draped in black lace, upright among shelves of jars bearing faded yellow labels. Without looking at him, she holds a jar out towards him and says, “What is this?”

He approaches, takes the jar from her. It fits neatly in his palm, glass clinking against stainless steel. He studies the jar from various angles, lenses flicking across his iris with smooth clicks. “I don't know,” he says, handing it back. “What is it?”

She sighs. An affectation. Hands and arms clicking with careful calibration, she takes another jar from the shelves and reads the label. “Look,” she says. “Every one carefully recorded. This was my spleen, you see? And this my appendix. Epiglottis, aorta, little toe... But what-” she taps a finger on the jar still in his hands, a sharp little clink of metal on glass “-was this?”

He turns it around in his hands, smooths a thumb across the curling yellow label. “Miscellaneous,” he reads aloud. He holds it up to the light. “There's definitely something in there.”

She lets out a low growl. “But what?”

He sets the jar back on the shelf and shrugs. “Does it matter?”

She frowns, delicate eyebrows clicking into place on her carefully sculpted face. “Yes. Yes, it does. This, whatever it is, used to be a part of me.”

He looks around at the shelves and shelves of musty jars. “A lot of things used to be a part of you. Now they're just taking up space. Best not to obsess, I think.”

She sighs again. “What was I thinking? Miscellaneous. It could be anything. It could be something I'd remember fondly.”

“I should doubt it,” he interjects. “Otherwise you'd have labelled it more clearly, surely?”

“You never know what you'll remember most as you live it,” she maintains, “only afterwards when you look back do you realise you shouldn't have thrown that away, or you should have taken a photograph of someone's face, or kept a lock of hair.”

He steps closer, places a hand on her shoulder. “None of this was ever a part of you. A part of your body, certainly, but not your self. If it was a part of you, I'm sure it would have filed itself all attentively away with the proper records and everything.”

She looks down to one side, away from him. “I suppose.”

It's his turn to sigh. Just as much of an affectation. “Honestly, sometimes I think you swapped your brain out for clockwork as well. Everything has to be just so, itemised and tagged.”

She looks at him sharply and steps away. “As you said, I'm still me.”

“But you were never human,” he teases. “You never had those messy passions, those feelings that don't fit in jars or sit on shelves. Everything about you was already clockwork. I'm not surprised, honestly, that you feel the need to keep carefully preserved evidence to the contrary all these years.”

“You only have to see how messy and unkempt my servant is to realise that neatness is a very human passion.”

He smiles. A peculiar gesture of whirring servos. “Passion is hardly the word for it.”

She raises her chin. “You don't think I'm capable of passion?”

“I've never seen seen you exhibit any,” he says. “Yet.”

At that she grabs him by the lapels and kisses him full on the lips, metal squeaking against metal. Before he can respond, she pulls back. “I think there are some medical textbooks in the library,” she says.

He stares at her. “Um... what?”

“Maybe there'll be a picture of whatever it is,” she explains, cocking her head towards the miscellaneous jar. Before he can compose himself she grabs his hand and leads him towards the archway.

“I don't understand you at all,” he says.

Somehow, her features form an elfin smile. “Good,” she answers, softly.



Image source with larger version
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

I rather like this panorama from Opportunity, taken quite a few months ago, and uploaded to their website at the start of this year. There's a real sense of immediacy to this view of churned-up Martian soil and messy rocks.



I was really ill over the weekend. I still don't feel 100%. There's a short story in the works and a bunch of other stuff I need to do. In all likelihood, none of it will get finished...



After watching Jamie Oliver's last show about diet, including that mortician in the hat cutting up dead fat people, I decided I should probably stand on the scales and discover that now that I am well and truly an adult I am putting on weight. Instead, I discovered that I weigh pretty much the same as I did last year, perhaps even a little less.

It is the genes, I think.


Art Deco Rings

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Once again, there's a noirish, almost Art Deco feel to this monochrome Cassini image, as we look through the unilluminated side of the rings towards the edge of Saturn.



This cat is sound asleep.


Sunday Scribblings: A Story about Fellow Travellers

Between projects, so let's throw some short stories and vignettes together. Sunday Scribblings prompt: fellow travellers.

My Fellow Traveller,

Thick mist permeated the city, shadowy spires rising up into white obscurity. Tall, gangly figures loped through the bare streets, shooting curious glances in my direction. It was a difficult journey this time. I was the only one who made it. My mouth tasted of blood.

But this had to be it. We'd finally pinned it down. As far forward as you could go and still find human - more or less - civilisation. But what kind of civilisation? And what did they do wrong?

A voice spoke from behind me. It took me a second to realise they were speaking English. I turned to face a grey-haired woman, definitely from a similar period to mine, wearing a trouser suit cut in an unfamiliar fashion.

“I've been expecting you,” she repeated. Then, after a moment of silence, she added, “You don't recognise me. Not quite yet. I remember that much.”

“You're me,” I said, slowly, disbelieving.

She smiled. “It's always been a possibility, of course. Just not one you ever expected, given how imprecise the machine was, in your era.”

I still felt ill from the journey - wondered if I might faint. “But...” I stammered. “How? And why?”

She laughed, dryly, her eyes watching me with a strange affection. “Good question. I wonder if the only reason I'm here is because I can remember meeting myself when I was you. That's part of it, I suppose, and it's kind of paradoxical, like a self fulfilling prophecy. But I also have a very definite reason to be here. One of the more useful aspects of time travel is that if you need more than one person, you can go back in time and help yourself.”

I looked around at the city. It was deathly silent, aside from the occasional burst of harsh chattering from its inhabitants, the gentle whooping of strange aircraft. “Help me to do what?” I asked.

My companion sighed. “You'll find out soon enough.”

“You remember it, of course.”

“Yes. I don't think I can change what happens. It won't be pleasant. You'll have to face some startling truths and revelations. You'll never look at human civilisation - at your own life, even – the same way again. But we have to do this. We may not make things any better, but if we hadn't – if we don't rather – things could only be worse.”

My head was whirling. “I'm not sure I understand.”

“Me neither. But we have to get moving. And, I know you won't listen, but I'll say it anyway, when I tell you to do something, you have to trust that I can remember a lot of what's about to happen. Trust me, okay?”

I studied her aged face. Like looking into an unsettling magic mirror.

“Sure,” I said.

She didn't reply, nodded with a pointed detachment, and gestured toward a part of the city where ethereal bridges criss-crossed the spires, fading in and out of the mist. “Let's go,” she said, stepping away from me.

I followed my future self into the city, into the white murk, towards the end of civilisation.


Gun Mute: Let's Also Beta

I've uploaded Version 4 of Snowblind Aces - just a few little tweaks and fixes, including the mother of all typos. It's time to move on, I think, and finally get my mute cowboy game into beta.

Picking the game up again for the first time in a couple of months has given me mixed feelings about it. One important decision I made with Snowblind Aces - which I think is probably going to apply to all my future games - was: no puzzles. The thing is: I hate puzzles. There's nothing more annoying than a game with great atmosphere, characters and dialogue, which then expects you to take a break and figure out different ways to open a door.

My mute cowboy game, henceforth called Gun Mute, is a step in that direction in that I tried to make it about simple combat-oriented puzzles, but I still worry about the gameplay - and also everything else. But, well, it's practically done, so I might as well get it out there.

If you want to volunteer as a tester, feel free to comment below. Alternatively, I may come to you...



It sucks to be a perfectionist. Every little mistake or misdeed is painful until righted, and the memory of it once being awry still burns on.

In lighter news, there's a categorised list of free computer games courtesy of our favourite fisherman in a pointy hat here. And I'm not just linking to it because both my games made the list.


The Unseen Face of Mercury

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied
Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Both times that Mariner 10 passed by Mercury, the same half of the planet was shrouded in darkness. This, the first image from the recent MESSENGER flyby, shows us what the other half looks like.

More pictures, including colour images, are in the pipeline.


Getting Closer

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied
Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Not long to go now...


Resident Evil De-Degeneration

(Warning: zombie violencing)

While the trailer above isn't all that slick, it at least gives us the gist. Yes, I bet Capcom were front of the queue when Advent Children (I reviewed it here) opened in cinemas. "You mean we can take our expertise in computer animation and make our own movies extending the storyline of our games instead of just letting Hollywood make trashy cash-in 'adaptations', pissing on our work like a less polite form of zombie dog?!"

Granted, the Final Fantasy games are a quantum leap ahead of Resident Evil in the visual storytelling stakes, but Paul W.S. Anderson has already set the bar pretty low. To be honest, I think many fans will just be happy with a faithful Resi movie, regardless of how rubbish it is.

And this trailer definitely has "For the fans!" written all over it. Resi aficionados will be quivering with excitement at the prospect of the further adventures of Leon and Claire, while I suspect those who only know the movies (or are completely innocent of the whole franchise) will be left singularly bemused.



Primeval, series 2.


Mercury Ho!

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied
Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

So prosaic and anonymous an image, I almost didn't bother posting it, but this thin monochrome crescent is our first close-up view of Mercury since the last (and first) robot to visit it over twenty years ago. On Monday, MESSENGER will fly right by the closest planet to the sun, snapping pictures as it goes. This gravity assist will help it to enter orbit around Mercury some time in 2011.

This is a good excuse for me to finally get around to brushing up my orbital mechanics, firstly because of the much-bandied factoid that it takes more effort to get closer to the sun than to leave the solar system, but also because, so close to the sun and taking such a long time to rotate on its axis (about 58 times longer than the Earth) the solar day on Mercury is seriously weird.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied
Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

As you can see, MESSENGER's journey has been pretty convoluted. More shockingly, although it's approaching Mercury right now, it's actually just over halfway through its journey to orbit insertion.

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/JPL/Northwestern University

This image of Mercury is courtesy of Mariner 10, the last robot to stop by. It's a monochrome image, since Mercury is actually a kind of bronze-y brown, I believe. Now that Titan (which is larger than Mercury, btw) and Iapetus have been illuminated by Cassini's curious eye, Mercury is perhaps the most obvious world of great mystery out there. If all goes well, the veils should begin to drop starting next week...


Meanwhile, on Mars...

Image source with larger version
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

A shivering robot peers around at her surroundings.



I always wonder why I don't watch House.

"I should watch House!" I think to myself.

And then, after five minutes of watching House, I feel faint. Some guy has worms in his heart and it is freaking me out.

And that is why I don't watch House.


Halo and Rings

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

As Cassini nears the end of its primary mission, CICLOPS held an online vote for the public's favourite Cassini image. There were no real surprises, but I did notice this stunning black and white image of Titan's halo behind the rings. Equivalent natural colour images exist, but this is somehow much more striking and elegant.


Text the Halls - Review-Me-Do

As promised, here are my thoughts on the other Text the Halls entrants. If I were to compare them to this year's bevy of IFComp games, I'd say that the Text the Halls entrants were less technically proficient, but a lot more lighthearted, fun, varied and - dare I say it - interesting.

The TIGSource forums are down (pining for holidaying TIG head-honcho Derek, I suspect), so I'm linking to each (non-online) game's page at the IFWiki instead. Alternatively, download the whole lot (except for Breathe) courtesy of Terry by clicking here.

When it gets down to it, I don't think there's any way you could order these games and not find something undeservedly at the bottom, so I've gone for alphabetical order, cowardly allowing Sesame Street to take the heat.


Breathe - Daniel Benmergui

Who'd think getting your head stuck in a sweater would be so dangerous and difficult a situation? Still haven't beaten this game, though it's very addictive.

Capture Santa! - James Higgins

It's not an especially good sign when you find yourself solving puzzles without understanding how you did it. It's worse when the game is constantly giving you heavy hints about what to do and you still struggle to make it respond to sensible commands. Capture Santa! is full of neat ideas that the author clearly wasn't entirely sure how to implement. Some tough testing might help to kick this game into shape. As it stands, I found it difficult to enjoy. Sorry. T_T

The Christmas Party - OldGrover

Definitely wins the award for best implementation, and it was even written in ALAN, which doesn't have the best reputation for that sort of thing. The Christmas Party relies on the fact that people like sticking things together, and gives you a straightforward but expansive goal from the outset. It's simple enough, and full of enough things to do that it holds your interest and makes the nicely festive atmosphere work well.
(Disclosure: I was one of the beta testers for this game.)

Midwinter Rites – Colossus Entertainment

An unashamed homage to the text adventures of old, complete with retro music and fantasy clich├ęs. Great, simple fun.

My Magic Tire Hoax – nd

God, I hate this game. In particular, I hate the fact that I didn't write it. Because it's great. Sure, it needs a beta tester to poke and prod and add to the implementation and change some of the default responses and deal with some strange (occasionally game-breaking) bugs, but the setting is so imaginative and atmospheric and the characters are so believably strange and compelling, and the whole thing's like Terry Gilliam and Jean-Pierre Jeunet had a love child and Philip K. Dick was the midwife and when it grew up, it was this game. I love it, it's brilliant - I hate it, I'm so jealous...

Panorama - Ereth

Don't judge this game by your first impressions. The first thing you encounter is a poetic text dump musing about winter and its oh-so quirky foibles – no thanks. The next thing that happens is you discover that only directional commands have been implemented – I'm sorry, what? But if you stick with this for more than half a minute, you'll realise that Panorama has a huge depth of implementation in its own way. As a snowflake floating on the wind, you have a large and varied environment to explore, and a lot of places to fall. It's a game that teeters a little on the line between evocative emotion and mushy sentiment, but if you play around for long enough you're bound to find at least one ending that will warm the cockles of your heart.

The Snowman – Caio Miranda

The Snowman is a game with a lot of implementation issues – endless disambiguation, a confusing map, misleading instructions, puzzles that provide no indication when you're getting close to the solution...

And yet, The Snowman is also huge fun. A light-hearted, surreal, slightly sociopathic game, utterly insane, joyfully irreverent. I think this is what Text the Halls was supposed to be about: not a masterpiece, but a great piece of very unusual entertainment.
(Note: There's an improved version of this game that I've yet to play.)

TIGSaga -Terry, Kinten, Akhel, Xander, Haowan, Shinygerbil, and #tigIRC

A Wiki-made choose-your-own-adventure created at the last minute, full of TIGS in-jokes. Well-written, imaginative and unique, but there aren't actually that many branches, and they don't go all that far. Its heart is definitely in the right place, though - somewhere between its monocle and its top hat. No, really. o_O

Xmaton – Simeon Maxein

Aha! A gadget game. Push buttons in the right order to win, trial and error with amusing misfires. It's kind of annoying that it only seems to reward you for achieving absolute perfection, but it's simple enough that I was compelled to keep trying. Your reward for winning, by the way, is just to be told that you won, but getting everything to fit together properly is satisfying in its own way.


That's it. I think there was another game in the competition, but I don't remember what. Probably nothing important.


Friday Victory Blogging

Snowblind Aces wins Text the Halls.

Over the weekend I'll be coming up with a post or two about all the other games in the competition. ;-)


F Ring Veil

Image source with more information
Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

In this Cassini image we see the delicate F ring as it veils the face of cratered Mimas. The F ring is carefully preserved by the two shepherd moons Pandora and Prometheus (not pictured).


New Year's Resolutions

1. Read more.

2. Finish version 4 of Snowblind Aces.

3. Finish my mute cowboy game.

4. Write some kind of rough first draft for a novel.

5. Keep grooming my cat regularly.

6. Blog (an easy one).

I should probably have come up with better ones. I do not even remember what last year's were, or if I succeeded.