Ess: Hey all, and welcome back to the very third issue of Running on Italics, stimhack.com’s flavour review column. Today, we’re heading back to school to California’s very own Breaker Bay.
Cee: I’m incredibly excited for this pack, actually; I’ve been looking forward to it ever since Hayley was spoiled!
Ess: I’m excited, you’re excited, and we’re both wearing school uniforms. Let’s get to it.
Cee: Wait wha—
Cee: Oh man. Hacktivism! Culture jamming! Subvertising! This is exactly the kind of stuff Anarchs would be up to. You’d have to imagine the immersive VR of the Android world would open up some fascinating potential ways to deface websites.
Ess: Or whatever passes for websites! Digital graffiti may end up being as literal as it can possibly be.
Cee: I can’t really give a pass on the art, though. I mean, yeah, okay, meeting, but there’s no way they’re actually meeting in meatspace. It’d be far too… conspicuous.
Ess: No, what, dude, I love this art. I have been to coderconfs that looked like that. Maybe less wiremess, but broadcasting wifi is also a bit um conspicuous~
Cee: Oh no way I’m not calling you on that one. You know as well as I do that that is a stretch at best!
Ess: Yeah okay fine. What is sorta annoying to me about this card is the loose mechanics. I love the flavour here, but there are so many possible mechanics it could have mapped onto. Why trashing a card randomly from HQ instead of, I dunno, paying an extra credit? Why on non-ice rez instead of on install or on playing operations?
Cee: I mean, as a hacktivist you are publicly calling the corp out on their bullshit and hopefully forcing them to change their ways – I guess you could consider them dumping from HQ being representative of that change?
Ess: My metric is this: If the card had had the mechanics “As an additional cost to install cards, the Corp must pay a credit”, would you have batted an eye? Is this mechanic evocative enough that a different one would have felt weird? Or is this all ex post facto rationalisation?
Cee: Mmm, truthfully, you’re probably right. In all likelihood we’d just be having the same conversation with the [mechanic] swapped. And I’d certainly be more inclined to protest against corps breaking the market by overzealous Hedge Funding than I would say, marketing Sex Bots™. C+?
Ess: I’m okay with a B-, really. Looser mechanics just happen sometimes.
Ess: He’s actually sleeping on a server farm. What did we do to deserve such beauty.
Cee: Man, poor students are such a universal constant. Shitty pizza and soft drinks is all they afford for nourishment. Empty calories!
Cee: Rather, you got tagged and now the Corporation knows where you sleep, and by extension everyone else in the building. I suspect the Tri-Maf aren’t especially fond of having their hiding spots revealed by your carelessness.
Ess: And if you know this Stim Dealer that hangs out at the apartment, you might even be glad the Corp got you kicked out.
Cee: Sometimes you just gotta get those toxic people out of your life.
Ess: I’m happy with a B. You?
Cee: It’s surprising how much the emergent interactions with all the various connections make sense here, actually. B+ from me.
Ess: Have you noticed that the scene in Career Fair is the same as the scene in Recruiting Trip?
Cee: No skipping ahead!
Cee: So, is Jinteki trying to recruit the Runner here? What does it imply that you’re taking on an internship directly with a megacorp?
Ess: It implies you’re a Criminal, that’s what. Recruiters have a significant dispensation, and if you make the right kinds of interested-sounding noises and maybe even do some contract work against some other runner for them, a lot of paths can be … significantly smoothed over for you.
Cee: Didn’t I already say no skipping ahead? What I’m interested in—isn’t this the same guy from Compromised Employee?
Ess: It is! So that’s how he got compromised. Lesson to corps: never let your employees go to career fairs. It’s just not worth the risk.
Cee: The other thing I want to talk about… we’ll talk about this again, at least with Fisk Investment Seminar, but I’m not sure I like the idea of giving these very general effects this highly specific flavour. Modding your own program is a thing you can see anyone doing, but would Iain Sterling really be going to a career fair?
Ess: …you just—you just skipped ahead. But yes, I agree, and it’s not as if there was something intrinsic to the mechanic that needed to be tied to career fairs. This is the flip side to the strong sense of place we mentioned last article; it’s not an unalloyed good, and this is one of the casualties.
Cee: A solid B, then?
Ess: I’m fond of how it just exemplifies the Criminal attitude in a simple package. B+ from me.
Ess: Oh how many ways do I love this card. The day-old pizza at the desk! That these machines can barely handle the essentials of running, and definitely not Siphons! The sheer underlying cynicism of the university-provided education resource only being used for cheap anonymity!
Cee: It’s some really, incredibly elegant design, and every aspect of this card serves multiple purposes. My favourite part? The power counters that track how long until you get suspended. Oh, and by the way, they’ve totally been playing beer pong in that room.
Ess: I also really love how both this and Career Fair are such Criminal cards — but they’re Criminal in mindset only, in the underlying ethos of exploitation. That’s why they’re also only one influence, because everyone has access to the dorm computer!
Cee: … You’re really turning on the pretentious pseudo-intellectualism today.
Ess: My pretentious pseudo-intellectualism is provably persistent, thank you very much.
Cee: A+? First card of the cycle to really nail it, I think.
Ess: Yeah, easily A+.
Hayley Kaplan: Universal Scholar
Cee: Oh Hayley. Hayley Hayley Hayley. I was, and still am, very enthusiastic about her, but she is to date only the second runner after Nasir to have no flavour text—and he had an entire cycle of flavour inserts! We get a little bit from FFG’s media release, her subtitle, and her console with its obvious astronomical link—
Ess: oh god in heinlein universal scholar i just got the pun
Cee: —but I feel they could have fleshed her out a little more. Look how effective the one line every other runner gets is.
Ess: Yeah. Even FFG’s release treats her as a mystery, whose motives and interests can only be gleaned by observing her actions. It does give us some hints; she seems to treat running as an academic exercise and a testbed for her theories.
Cee: But that’s all we get, and it’s purely to explain her and Comet’s mechanic, rather than Hayley as a character or story. Christ, even Comet—for most runners, their console is a simple, elegant way to give them some characterisation, but here Comet has to rely on the drabs we get about Hayley being a data analysis genius to make any sense at all.
Ess: Identities, especially Runner identities, are such a pervasive part of the game, though. It’s difficult to know how much flavour to put on the actual identity itself, because they’re going to be fleshed out via basically every other aspect of the world.
Cee: Tell that to Quetzal. Or Leela. They’ve each gotten some flavour work since their release, sure, but compare this to how much we know about, say, Gabe, or even Valencia. It really seems like lately, if you’re not in a big box, the game doesn’t have time for you.
Ess: It’s true that even at the core set, just from Gabe’s identity, we just knew who he was, and I can’t say as much for Hayley. I hope we get an insert over the coming cycle that stars her in some capacity.
Cee: That would make me so happy, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Which is sad, and incredibly disappointing. A C is the best I can do on her, and now let us never speak of this again.
Ess: No promises.
Cee: It’s a tailgate party! For the non-Americans in our audience, a tailgate party is a pre- or post- game party typically held in the parking lots at major sporting events, around the tailgates (trunks) of cars. Beer and grilling are absolutely compulsory.
Ess: In this case it seems like a pre-game party, so I guess they’re watching the local college teams on the holo before the big game starts? I dunno, I hadn’t quite realised how big Breaker Bay must be, to attract this kind of national competition.
Cee: UCBB seems like a prestigious and famous college; the analogy is probably to UC Berkeley today, yeah? It does feel like the town grew around the college, and I don’t know if it would even have a distinct cultural identity yet.
Ess: I am super fond of the idea that unlike partying at Wyldside or chugging Diesel or any of the other ways Runners have to overcharge their brains, going to a Game Day just won’t let you have more buzzing about your head than you can comfortably think about. Too many distractions!
Cee: It’s a way to actually shut off the hyperactive Runner brain, for a few hours, anyway. And when you get back to your rig, oh, hey, why didn’t I think of that before…
Ess: Happy with an A?
Cee: It’s an internally consistent and well designed card, that gives us some insight into the world to boot. Yep, A.
Cee: So you have this nifty piece of code that summarises courses for you, but it turns out that you can consider ‘learning’ ice the same way, so you just run it through your little algorithm? I like it, and the clean and simple artwork conveys the concept well.
Ess: It works for some ice, anyway. The only kinds of ice worth studying, according to Shapers!
Cee: What I’m not sure about is what the power counter mechanism represents. We haven’t really talked about what the credit costs on breakers represent, have we?
Ess: It’s, again, a pretty loose flavour/mechanics integration. Why I Run has the best answer to this question that I’ve seen yet, which is that you need to buy up vast amounts of compute time to even give these breakers a chance to do their work on these heavily engineered intrusion countermeasure electronics.
Cee: So I suppose the power counter is just you buying up compute time to let the algorithm churn away at more examples of codegate programming found on the open internet?
Ess: Yeah, that makes sense to me. Presumably the algo would have a lot more work to do than when it’s analysing lecture notes.
Cee: This is also the only flavour text Hayley currently has in the game. If you haven’t read the FFG press release, this card is your only hint that she’s an analytics prodigy, and it’s not even a good hint, because lots of Runners throughout Netrunner have commented on programs that don’t reflect on them personally!
Ess: Didn’t you want to never speak of thi—
Cee: I AM DISAPPOINT, ESS.
Ess: Right okay I think it’s time to move on. B?
Cee: Oh, I actually really like Study Guide itself. I’m more inclined to give it an A-.
Ess: I love the art on this. I wish my libraries at university had been this inviting. The warm glow, leading underground into vast stacks of knowledge. It’s like you’re walking into the sun~
Cee: …The London Underground. Bwuh.
Cee: And the mechanics are so cute! If you go out and borrow your favourite book, you have to return it later. The trash is maybe not so clear, but hey, a loose interpretation of a late fee?
Ess: If you don’t return the program you borrowed, the Library’s Information Monitors will come to your house and excise any memory of the program whatsoever from your brain. To prevent piracy, you see.
Cee: And the click costs are so appropriate, too. You know you would actually have to walk down to the library, find the boxed copy of the program on the shelves, wait in line to check it out… even though you could have downloaded it in like ten seconds.
Ess: I’m also super fond of how the Library doesn’t stock viruses. Not even for research purposes, no sir, absolutely against Library policy.
Cee: More A’s? A’s all around!
Ess: You’ve gotten pretty A-happy today, haven’t you.
Cee: I mean, it’s a good pack.
Ess: That it is! But London Library’s program trash is a bit too weird for me to give it above a B.
Cee: How on earth does an observatory let you search for hardware, Ess?
Ess: I’m glad you asked! Picture the scene.
Cee: oh no
Ess: It’s a cold, late night, and you’ve driven out to the observatory, because that’s just the kind of gal you are. You’ve wrapped yourself up warm in your jacket, you’ve got a steaming mug of coffee, and you’re going to see the stars.
Cee: oh god please stop
Ess: So you settle in, for the night. You’ve got analytics engines running on all the data that’s coming in, but the final gatekeeper is, always, your own two eyes. You reach for the eyepiece, and you gaze into the heavens.
Cee: why must you ruin everything
Ess: It’s always so incredibly calming, to do so. Time just disappears, as the distant pinpricks of light melt away the worried knots in your brain. It’s so fundamentally, innately human to reach for the stars in any way we can, to grasp for your pride and your desires and your own self-worth.
Ess: And, as you fade away, into the sky, into the black, into the stars…
Ess: “Oh, so that’s where I left my Desperado.”
Cee: C+ for the card. You, sir, get a D.
Cee: Your brain can hold more if you spend everyday partying?
Ess: Every time I look at this card, I think of Wyldside. Which is not a good thing, because it makes so much less sense than Wyldside. They’re both using the “lose a click” thing to represent a runner who spends all night or day out, but there’s little actual distinction between a seedy nightclub and a beach party at this level. So why do those two cards do such different things?
Cee: I suppose a beach party is far less exclusive than Wyldside, so the credit and influence differences make sense. But, yeah, I’m struggling to work out the flavour here too.
Ess: I’ve certainly never thought to myself, hey, you know what, I’ll go to the beach today, so that I can be readier with options for solving my problems.
Cee: At least the art depicts an actual beach party. Plus… points… there?
Ess: And can we talk about that flavour text? Easily in the running for the dullest, most generic flavour text in the entire game. If there’s some sort of flavour text budget for a pack, and this is what edged out Hayley’s, I will be so cross.
Cee: Why did this have to be the last runner card in the pack? Now we’re left with a sour taste in our mouths.
Ess: Yeah. Ugh. F? I’m… actually willing to give this thing a flavour F.
Cee: Probably fair. And here’s hoping we never have to again.
Ess: Let’s try to wash away the #bile here, yeah?
Cee: Yeah. This is a good pack, our disappointments notwithstanding. The sense of place is alive and well, and the city and university here have been vividly painted. I’m looking forward to coming back as corps in a week’s time!
Ess: In some ways, this feels like the pack that’s designed to be most relatable to us. I’d wager more of ANR’s target audience has been to university than to Silicon Valley, or to Hollywood, and so the stories of students just feel stronger, to us.
Cee: And of how corporations exploit them, too!
Ess: Oy! “No skipping ahead”, he says…
Cee: Until next time, then. May all your runs be—
Ess: are we actually keeping that catchphrase going dude what