No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Disco Elysium - Virtual Cities - The Light Ages

I've solved the case in Disco Elysium (Final Cut), though that's probably the least exciting thing about the game. Part choose your own adventure; part Infocom plus some graphics; part psychopolitical meditation -- it's really sui generis and a great experience, if you're up for it. The game was originally "refused classification by the [Australian gam] Board, making it illegal to sell in the country, due to its depiction of sex, drug misuse or addiction, crime, cruelty, and violence, as well as showing "revolting or abhorrent phenomena in such a way that they offend against the standards of morality, decency, and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults""

I could try to say more, but it's like the Matrix -- you have to experience it for yourself. Great voice acting. Bonkers writing. There's enough depth in the decision trees that my replay has uncovered all sorts of novel things already, but I doubt there's so much that you could play it endlessly.


Segueing into books, Virtual Cities is a nice midpoint. Subtitled An Atlas & Exploration of Video Game Cities, the book describes 45 game cities from 1983's Ant Attack to very recent games. The author has degrees in urban planning, so some of his commentary is an interesting take on how realistic the cities are as a place where humans could live. I guess I had hoped for more information on design, both the visual design of the cities from an art and graphics standpoint, and from a game design standpoint. While each entry has a short 'Design Insights' section that covers some of this, it's very brief. Most of the text is given up to sort of a in-world guidebook description of the cities. Sometimes this diegetic stance has some wry humor, especially if you know the game. But I can't say I've played a lot of these games, so often they come of as in-jokes you don't get.

Each city also has a pretty well-executed map. But where the book really fails is with the images. Rather than use in-game generated images -- perhaps there were legal and copyright issues -- everything is rendered by the same artist, in a somewhat similar (and not overly accomplished) style. For Gabiel Knight's New Orleans, they work well enough, but for most others they don't provide a good feel of what the game is really like. Which is a shame, because the book itself is well-made. A solid-hardback with full color pages throughout.

Such a great concept, but a miss on execution.


The Light Ages poses as something of a rehabilitation of medieval science. The book follows the career and environment of English monk John Westwyk, author of The Equatorie of the Planetis, a work in English describing the astronomical instrument of his invention, a modification of the astrolabe. So there's a lot of timekeeping, sacred calendars, astrology and models of planetary motion. While interesting (I now have a much better idea of how to use an astrolabe, and why it has the shape it does with that off center circle) there's precious little science to get excited about [and why should there be, since there really wasn't such a thing as science yet]. Some of the history is very interesting on its own, such as the fact that Westwyk joined the unsuccessful Despenser's Crusade against the antipope. Here's a few tidbits from my Kindle notes:

Why the days of the week are ordered as they are:

On a Sunday, the first hour was ruled by the Sun. The second hour was then ruled by the next planet in the inward sequence, Venus; the third hour was ruled by Mercury, and the fourth by the Moon, which was considered the innermost planet. The sequence then immediately restarted at the outermost planet – Saturn – followed by Jupiter, then Mars. After those seven, the eighth hour of the day would again be governed by the Sun. So would the fifteenth hour, and the twenty-second. That just left two more hours, assigned to Venus and Mercury in turn, so that the following day began with the Moon – Monday. Each day was thus named for the third planet inwards after the previous day: Mars after the Moon, Mercury after Mars, and so on. This is why the Sun’s day still follows Saturn’s in modern English, and why, in most Romance languages, we see the midweek sequence of Mars (martes in Spanish), Mercury (miércoles), Jupiter (jueves) and Venus (viernes). We cannot be sure quite why the ancients chose a seven-day week, but the imperfect fit of seven days into twenty-four planetary hours explains why the days are in this order.

Bestiaries as moral teachings:

Some of those animal descriptions were accurate, others were utterly fanciful; but all conveyed a moral lesson to the reader. For this reason, bestiaries were also popular among preachers. On the virtue of chastity, for instance, the actions of the beaver were exemplary. This rare animal, according to bestiaries, has fur like an otter and a tail like a fish, and its testicles produce an oil of great medicinal power.

Knowing instinctively that that is why it is hunted, when a beaver finds itself in danger it will bite off its own testicles, throw them to the hunter and make its escape. If pursued a second time, it will rear up on its hind legs and show the hunter that he is wasting his efforts. This ability to self-castrate was, it seemed, the source of its Latin name castor.

In one bestiary, produced for a house of the Dominican preaching friars, readers could marvel at a graphic illustration of the amazing animal in the act of self-mutilation, chased by a hunter dressed in vivid green, blowing his horn and carrying a large club. Beneath the vibrant painting, readers were advised that ‘every man who inclines towards the commandment of God and wants to live chastely must cut himself off from all vices and all indecent acts – and must throw them in the Devil’s face’.

And the date of the Great Flood:

The Alfonsine Tables provided root values of all the main planetary motions, for eras ranging from the Flood (Thursday, 17 February, 3102 BC) to the 1252 coronation of King Alfonso, via Alexander the Great, the Hijra and the Christian epoch.

Tags: book, game, history, nostalgia, science, skepticism

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