Ess: Fifty years after the fair~
Cee: Why are you singing. Please do not be with the singing.
Ess: The future we had looked so clear~
Cee: I have to do this, don’t I. sigh.
Cee: Hello and welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the very twelfth issue of Running on Italics, stimhack’s flavour review column!
Ess: This time, we’ll be covering the corp half, otherwise known as the more interesting half, of The Universe of Tomorrow!
Cee: It’s certainly much more strongly tied to the flavour and the factions. Every corporation gets to do their part, in the Fair, to show off and sell their vision of the future.
Ess: And look how Haas and Jinteki and NBN and Weyland all portray such different visions of the world they’re leading us to, competing visions even—
Cee: What? They’re absolutely cooperating. They’re working together to build this, this monument to progress, that does what monuments to progress always do: paper over and distract from the clear and present problems in the now!
Ess: Yep! Isn’t it grand?
Cee: …let’s get to the cards.
Cee: I think we might have to talk about Cerebral Imaging.
Ess: —speak not the name—
Cee: We kinda have to, though. We managed to skate past it in Cybernetics Division, but this effect is just a larger hand size.
Ess: Okay, okay. So our earlier gloss was that hand size represented something like company efficiency/liquidity of their resources and allocation, yeah? So…
Cee: So I’m thinking Cerebral Imaging actually does represent them spending their budget on keeping a bioroid digital executive pool running. The richer they are, the more corporate flexibility they have? They might even end up having a bioroid exec assigned to each individual project, or even each individual employee.
Ess: Innovating new levels of micromanagement. Isn’t this a teensy bit, ah, fantastic for the world as we know it, though?
Cee: Jinteki’s already got their distributed disembodied Braintrust.
Ess: …that is a strong point and I need to give it further consideration.
Cee: So if CI ends up validating the corporate liquidity idea, then Cybernetics Court is a trade in resources, right? You take on the responsibility of administrating and protecting the Cybernetics Court and in return you get a bunch of extra executives assigned to your board?
Ess: Maybe even all of Cybernetics Division’s executives. Four hand size~
Cee: …no, that doesn’t make sense, if for no other reason than what would it mean when Cybernetics Division plays Cybernetics Court.
Ess: Yeah, that’s just a mechanics pun ^_^ It’s neat to me that the last time we were talking about cybernetics, it was in the context of how much they embody Anarchy, obvious counterculture. Here, Haas is taking that same externally obvious dare to the establishment and making it fashion.
Cee: Not just fashion, but also pretty much the entirety of Haas’ vision. The Haas-Bioroid future, ladies and gentlemen.
Ess: You know what’s really cute about that?
Ess: It’s the Cybernetics Court, not Bioroid Plaza. Again, Haas is highlighting their fundamental ontological distinction between machines and people. There’s nothing wrong with metal—indeed, it’s a fundamental part of Haas’ humans! But metal is almost an incidental detail, only a part of humans, a servitor to humans.
Cee: And bioroids are just, part of that incidental detail. They’re just tools, just as much an organ to the human as the cybernetic eye is. What matters more to Haas is the humans it’s putting its cybernetics into. Yeah, that is neat.
Ess: Okay, so, we have a rough idea of what the ability represents, and we have some neat exploration of the world. That’s an A. Turns out, I’m easy~
Cee: I’ll agree with that. Not the easy part. The A part. That part.
Ess: I want to see SHIFT as an ID. SHIFT Studios: Engineering the Victor. Probably an ability that involves efficient archives recursion?
Ess: You’re not just selling limbs. You’re selling the story of power and victory and being a champion. Especially if it involves cutting off your original limbs first!
Cee: That’s totally a thing, in the world of ANR, isn’t it? The push for winning at any cost, that today means steroids, in a world where cybernetic enhancement is completely legal?
Ess: Yep! And maybe the “natural sports” movement is still around, or maybe they’ve just gotten completely curbstomped and overridden by now, but this, this, this kind of competition is now what people care about.
Cee: With some advertising help from Haas, I’m sure.
Ess: Pffff, of course. Did you think culture ever shifts without input from the moneyed interests?
Cee: …that is a supremely depressing thought and I am not going to engage with it right now.
Cee: So! The mechanics! You sponsor a sports team, and the burst of publicity from scoring an agenda lets you…
Ess: Not earn delicious credits, which would be the obvious thing. You basically get a free Interns?
Cee: Something like that. So we’re attracting new interns to your company from the publicity?
Ess: That can be made to make some sense; the person who sportsed the most points speaking up for your company attracts a lot of fresh new blood that you can use?
Cee: It’s still kinda vague, though. The card, Interns, costs two clicks, which is two more clicks than this ability. What’s the magic that’s making that happen?
Ess: And that is the important part of the card, too. Mmm.
Cee: That vagueness means I can’t give it above a B. Maybe B-.
Ess: Straight B seems fine to me, but sure.
Chronos Protocol: Selective Mind-mapping
Ess: deep breath
Cee: This thing has a lot of story behind it.
Ess: Yeeeeea—yeah, you could say that. Where the Plugged In tour simply talked about who each of these two potential people were, the Chronos Protocol tour built up a coherent story underlying what these IDs were, and why only one of them could exist.
Cee: The Chronos Project was a research project into selective reading of human brains, hence “Selective Mind-Mapping”. The original research project would be eventually released as an agenda, and you can see how it was the first rough cut, the proof of concept of how this technology for “selective mind-mapping” could work.
Ess: The tour was entirely about Haas and Jinteki competing for control over this incredible new research. Our votes, during the tour, were a proxy for who was winning.
Cee: This is what Haas would have done with the technology. Yeesh.
Ess: Aren’t you glad Jinteki won instead? ^_^
Cee: I mean, no. Haas wanted it to make the brain-taping process cleaner, which you could read as them trying to avoid ethical issues by messing with sentience less. Jinteki explicitly wanted it to condition their clones better.
Ess: And of course there are security uses for it as well~
Cee: The interesting thing about this to me is that we really only have the ID and the agenda, some packs back, to tell the story of the Chronos Project in the game.
Ess: And Ancestral Imager. Let’s not forget Ancestral Imager.
Cee: Let’s forget Ancestral Imager. Anyway, the point is that we have roughly the same amount of support in the actual cards as, say, Fisk did.
Ess: Well. Our readers told us that they had no problems understanding Fisk, last time.
Cee: But there’s so much more background to J:CP here. For instance! The individual scientists could have been connections or assets.
Ess: Mmm. I think I’m reading this more as a cool corner of the lore that players can dive into if they want. It’s a lot like the idea of a “multimedia project” that’s been developing lately, where one story, even if it has a core novel or show or whatnot, is told through many different angles. Music. Artwork. Twitter feeds. All adding depth to the story, but only the core being essential to it.
Cee: And ANR just happens to have a nontraditional core work of a card game, with their additional media being the blogposts? Yeah, okay, I can buy that.
Ess: It’d be useful to again ask our readers who weren’t around for the tour, though. How much of the lore behind J:CP did you find out? How? Did you seek it out, or did someone organically share it with you? Let us know!
Cee: The card, then? And we have to give Fisk a grade from last time, too.
Ess: A for both? They both seem to have solidly staked out their corners of the lore.
Cee: Works for me.
Ess: Well, the art and flavour text and the name make sense!
Ess: And the mechanics makes sense; in fact I’m sorta surprised we haven’t seen the big J try to subvert the process of jacking out before. It’s such an obvious point, sudden physical yanking out of the cable plugged deep into your brain…
Cee: The mechanics are for a different card, though.
Ess: Y—yeah. I… yeah.
Cee: It’s one card’s ability stapled to a different card’s flavour. I don’t… I mean come on FFG. What does jacking out have to do with the runner’s history? Even if somehow ancestral imaging makes them better at net damage, why specifically jacking out net damage? Why has nothing else helped at that? These are all questions I have, and if you want the card to tell us something about the world, you have to answer them!
Ess: I certainly don’t have a solution for you. The card has the same feeling Ronnie Five did, in that it seems to want to point towards one?, but I’m not finding it. Yeah, D.
Cee: Straight D. D-, even.
Ess: Oh, this is cute. Jinteki’s directly competing, here, with Haas’ Tomorrow. They’re showing off what flesh can do, humans and clones in fundamental opposition to metal. The exhibits are even displaying the internals of this new humanity, directly contrasting with Haas’ externalised fashion!
Cee: This is the Genetics/Cybernetics dichotomy writ again and writ large, yeah. Jinteki’s showing off how they can rewrite humanity while “staying human”, and continuing to push this idea of staying human being valuable.
Ess: Yeah. And, again, it’s Genetics Pavilion, not Clone Court. The clones are just an, ah, implementation detail of how we get to this shining new future J promises us.
Cee: Honestly, I’m much more scared of Jinteki’s conditioning technology in any future they would create. I like how they don’t make a big deal out of this intimate knowledge they have of the biological machines that we are, of how to poke and prod it so that it does what you want.
Ess: Mmm. I think you can read that as a natural progression of genengineering to begin with, but yeah.
Cee: Okay. Now that we’ve covered the flavour, what on earth is this effect.
Ess: Lockdown was the last time we saw this effect, but Lockdown makes so much more sense.
Cee: How does J operating this pavilion make the runner unable to access their contacts and resources? The runner doesn’t exactly have to be in the pavilion, so anything about affecting the Runner’s psychology doesn’t make sense. Maybe the runner’s contacts are less willing to work with them? Your leads dry up faster every day?
Ess: But, why. And, really? Every single person on earth and Luna and Mars who the runner could talk to is somehow affected by Jinteki putting some money into a pavilion?
Cee: Yeah. Okay, C-?
Ess: I’ll go C+, but that’s just me loving the flavour enough.
Cee: It’s really interesting that where Haas and Jinteki and Weyland want to show off their vision of Tomorrow, NBN is quite happy to show off their vision of Today.
Ess: “NBN has already won”, yeah? They already have the world they want, in a lot of ways. They found the easiest lever on the human condition to push and they’ve been just pushing it and pushing it for decades.
Cee: “Buy, consume, give us ad impressions and psychographic data. Don’t worry about what we’re doing with it. There’s a good boy/girl/other.”
Ess: Friendly, helpful, Enby-chan. Always willing to point you to the right store for whatever you need right now.
Cee: So what’s this mechanic, then?
Ess: It has the same issue as the sensies. What does the runner accessing but not necessarily stealing an agenda even mean?
Cee: And it has the potential-agenda mechanic from An Offer You Can’t Refuse, but there you could easily see how Jinteki is all about making the runner too scared to run, and how proving that you’ve done so is worth political capital within the company. Here, though?
Ess: NBN proves… that the runner is interested in them? That they’ll do what their psychographic profiling says they would? And this is somehow related to Franchises and a City thereof?
Cee: Maybe? Or maybe every agenda is in some way tied back to the franchises being marketed here, and the on-access trigger is meant to represent Franchise City itself receiving a boost in publicity and attention?
Ess: But that again assumes—
Cee: Assumes that runners always cast their runs, yes. Aarrgh.
Cee: I’m thinking D+?
Ess: C-, C, on my end. Again, I’m being generous again due to the super strong flavour aspects.
Cee: Step 1: Be NBN. Step 3: Profit!
Ess: What’s ste—
Cee: THERE IS NO STEP TWO.
Cee: This kind of marketing seems so obviously in NBN’s wheelhouse, that now I’m wondering why Subliminal Messaging is a neutral card.
Ess: Well, Product Placement isn’t exactly subliminal. That can of cool, refreshing Coca-Cola™ is right there in the middle of the shot.
Cee: Makes sense. Typically for ads you need to demonstrates hit rates, penetration, clickthroughs… so I guess they’re just sticking these ads in their servers, because why not? Snoopers gunna snoop.
Ess: Hah. They probably finagled the contracts, too, so that an ad impression by someone in full-dive is counted like one during a sensie. And that, obviously, is worth signficantly more than a placement in any ol’ threedee. “Feel the refreshing taste of the drink going down her throat!”
Cee: NBN at this point probably have some kind of internal motto at this point – “A pair of eyes is a terrible thing to waste.”
Ess: Seems like a solid A then?
Cee: Yep, I’m good with that.
Ess: Is it just me, or is Weyland getting cuddlier?
Cee: Getting? #lizziemills4lyfe
Ess: Calm yo horses. Public Support is the next card.
Cee: But, yes, I do appreciate how this is Weyland literally presenting space colonisation as an achievable, relevant, realistic vision of the future.
Ess: Yeah. Since the Gagarin insert in Order and Chaos, Jack Weyland’s whole “we’ve got to get off this rock or we’re not surviving as a species” thing has been a fascinating undercurrent to everything Weyland does. The anger that gets channeled into a Punitive Counterstrike comes from a very real place, of feeling the Runner has actively sabotaged our best shot at the species’ survival.
Cee: Weeeellll. Remember that Weyland is a Consortium; there’s no real sense of a singular vision behind all of Weyland. Jack heads Gagarin, yes, but it’s an important distinction that he’s not The Board. He’s not even on The Board, I don’t think.
Ess: No one on the board—
Cee: —knows everyone on it, yes, yes, I know.
Ess: But, you raise a good point. As counterpoint, may I present: Worlds Plaza. This is Weyland’s exhibit at The Universe of Tomorrow, which suggests they at least find it useful to present a public face of having this singular vision for space conolonisation.
Cee: Yes, well, in Weyland’s case I think it’s more of a façade than, say, Jinteki or Haas. They’re just such a diverse set of companies with diverse goals, and I’m sure plenty of them just want to smash the runner’s face in because they like to smash the runner’s face in. Or “because it’s the most efficient solution to the problem” yada yada.
Ess: Mmm, okay. The mechanics, then. Presumably, this is again some sort of trade of resources: you/your department take on the responsibility of maintaining and administrating Worlds Plaza, and you get to run Campaigns there?
Cee: Seems fine to me. It’d feel better if I actually believed the flavour text, though.
Ess: “The square can hold almost 1% of… their total population…”
Cee: No way is that actually feasible, right? We have seven billion people on just Earth today. One percent of that is seven million people, which is half the population of Tokyo or about the population of New York.
Ess: Yeah, this would have to be a city, a large city even, in a single plaza. And Expo Grid has an aerial shot of the Universe of Tomorrow, suggesting the World’s Plaza is on the same scale as the rest of the fair, so it’s not even like it’s the dominant feature of the expo.
Cee: Either the flavour text is wrong, or… I don’t actually have any other explanation. The flavour text just has to be utter nonsense.
Ess: How much are you going to dock the card for it, though?
Cee: I like the rest of the card, so call it a B?
Ess: Works for me.
Cee: This is not the happiest we’ve seen Ms. Mills.
Ess: Not by a long shot! Any idea why she has the Bear Flag of California and some sort of seal on the slides behind her?
Cee: Presumably that’s just where she’s speaking. That’s the card: Weyland running an advertising campaign, Mills speaking out on the wealth and prosperity Weyland have brought forth.
Ess: Why is that worth an agenda point to Weyland? You would assume all corps advertise.
Cee: Well, Weyland is the corp that tends to stay the most behind-the-scenes. That spending some time on brand recognition would actually be pretty valuable to them doesn’t seem all that implausible to me.
Cee: Oh, especially—Weyland does a lot of governmental work, yeah? Their public support is explicitly one lever they use to lean on governments. Our world’s FBI is happy to publicly oppose Apple, but you’d assume the governments of ANR have seen that tried over and over and somehow it never works out that well.
Ess: Oh, that’s cute. This is, then, one way in which Weyland keeps itself a separate fiefdom, an entirely separate corporate state working to shed any accountability it has to the governments it’s nominally under the jurisdiction of.
Cee: Yep. I especially like how even here, even as their most nakedly capitalist, Weyland has to engage with what the public wants. With democracy.
Ess: Good practice for all those Government Takeovers ^_^
Cee: I’m thinking A, maybe A+?
Ess: A+, yep.
Ess: oh my gob he’s adorable
Cee: …sure. So this is, what, the software that runs actual tours, within the expo, repurposed into an ice?
Ess: He just wants to take you on a tour of all of the Public Supports and Executive Boot Camps and Contract Killers within the network he has access to! He’s been hacked up to think they’re attractions, you see.
Cee: Why does that become an ETR subroutine?
Ess: He’s very insistent about it.
Ess: Also he probably has standard ice protocols spliced into him. Poor little Tour Guide, still valiantly trying to serve his purpose after being Frankensteined into this monster.
Ess: Free yourself, Tour Guide! We’re all rooting for you!
Cee: This has nothing to do with how annoying he is in those Gagarin builds, right?
Ess: Nothing whatsoever. A?
Cee: He is pretty clean. Sure, A.
Cee: Is it… possible?
Cee: Can it be‽
Cee: HAST THE LORD OUR HOWARD FINALLY HEARD OUR PRAYERS‽??!‽
Ess: okay what is this about you’re kinda freaking me out
Cee: It’s a Region where the effect makes sense!
Ess: …oh. Yeah. Yes. Yep!
Cee: You just get the money if you’re actively using the expo to promote something. Makes total sense.
Ess: How do you advertise a Contract Killer, Cee?
Ess: …fair enough. Straight A?
Cee: Straight A.
The Future is Now
Cee: I swear this looks familiar.
Ess: Dammit, Janet, it’s American Gothic! The classic image of American puritanism and traditional values. This is also adorable.
Cee: For once I agree with your choice of language. It’s a simple little propaganda piece, effective because of how blatant it is.
Ess: Honest ol’ farmers with laser pitchforks and oldskool scifi visors! It’s some sort of reassurance that even in this vision of the far-flung future, we’ll still have our home of happiness, that we’ll still value what we’re meant to, well, value.
Ess: Also, is this Titan? I think it’s meant to be farming on Titan.
Cee: Mechanics-wise… this is going to sound remarkably dumb, but surely the card isn’t suggesting we have actual time travel? The Future, something from our long-term plans, is Now, in a ready-to-deploy state?
Ess: You’re right. That was remarkably dumb.
Ess: No, I’m pretty sure we’re not doing the timewarp here. I think it’s meant to be putting in the time and effort to identify exactly what the next corporate goal is.
Cee: That does seem plausible, but it also feels like you’re contorting a bit. “Identifying corporate goals” is a bit of a jump to the left compared to the puritanism/traditional values stuff we were talking about.
Ess: That’s true. We’re calling the card’s mission a failure, then, its interpretation too extreme?
Cee: Another case where it works thematically but not mechanically, yeah. This thrust of design is really starting to drive me insane.
Ess: That’s almost generous for you ^_^
Cee: And that’s the Universe of Tomorrow.
Ess: I do love this pack. So, so much. Every corp’s vision of our future, every way in which they build for us these beautiful dreams. It’s incredibly dark, and incredibly glorious.
Cee: You’re not going to start singing at me again, are you?
Ess: For you, Cee? Anything.
Cee: Please no.
Cee: But yes, this pack is great. This is the underlying conflict of the entire game, yeah? What do you want the future to look like? Whose vision do you buy into, and how much of it do you believe?
Ess: I’m kinda disappointed we didn’t really get a Crim or Shaper card along those lines in this pack, actually. We got the corps, and we got Power to the People.
Cee: Unless Fisk counts?
Ess: Fisk sorta counts?
Cee: I’m pretty glad we got to end the SanSan cycle on this pack, in any case. And, honestly, despite the overspecificity problems throughout, I think it was a great cycle for us to begin RoI on.
Ess: Yep! It really marks the beginning of the ANR team flexing their creative and narrative muscles, building something coherent and crafted into the story built into these slips of paper.
Cee: Where do we go next? Onto Data and Destiny?
Ess: Sorta. By which I mean no. We’re going to restructure a bit, in the format of our articles. I’m pretty sure we can’t sustain the two-articles-per-pack pace we were trying to hit.
Cee: One article per pack makes sense. And we did just hit ten credits.
Ess: We’ll also be jumping straight to Kala Ghoda. By not trying to cover every card from now on, I think we’ll be in a much better place.
Ess: But don’t you worry, NBN and minifaction fans, we’ll hit Data and Destiny. We’ll be trying out a bunch of stuff over the coming months, and we’ll see what sticks!
Cee: You’re talking about the colour pie series we’ve been threatening for a while, yeah?
Ess: And a card spotlight series, as well! I’m super excited for that one~
Cee: I’m pretty curious to see what our readers will make of them.
Cee: So. We’ll see you next time, folks, as a fresher, leaner,—
Cee: —Running on Italics. I’m looking forward to it.
Ess: And power to us all~