Cee: Hello and welcome to the very ninth issue of Running on Italics, Stimhack’s flavour review column! This issue, we’ll be going over the Runner… half… of Old Hollywood, home of all your media conglomerate needs!
Ess: There you go, you can intro us! We’ll get you on Daily Casts yet.
Cee: guuuuuhch. Never. Again.
Ess: Oh, surely it wasn’t that bad?
Cee: iiguhhurrgurkk— to the cards!
Cee: I genuinely have no idea what’s going on here.
Cee: I mean, I know I say that a lot, but I’m actually, completely baffled here.
Cee: I guess the counters are tropes? That it collects, somehow? And somehow a trope lets you recycle a card into your deck? Not even your hand, your deck?
Ess: okay so, go with me on this journey here
Cee: Oh no.
Ess: Trope is a program that watches your life with you. It slowly builds up a model of your life, a way to view it, a way to try and describe and explain the things that happen to you.
Ess: That’s what it’s doing, sitting there, building up these innocuous little counters, right? It’s constructing a grand vision of your life, full of friends and enemies and arcs and drama. It’s selecting important moments of your life to pay attention to, and discarding what it considers the day to day boring bits in between.
Cee: Where are you going with this?
Ess: It’s building a story of your life!
Cee: …guuuuuh. I mean, okay, I guess a program could make a sort of This Is Your Life montage from recordings of you…
Ess: Right! And the important part here is that it’s a different story, to the one you tell yourself. You have your own vision of what the important parts of your life were, but this program has entirely different salience metrics and arc resolution correlators!
Cee: So when you activate it, you’re watching the documentary? It’s portraying you as the trope of the Gal Hopped Up On Stims, and that new self-image means you notice more opportunities to Stimhack further down the road?
Ess: Exactly! Though I don’t think it’s anything as prosaic as a video; I think it’s a properly immersive VR thing. Maybe even with memory aides or such. You come out of it with a totally changed self-image, after all.
Cee: At least until you change it again… Okay, so I can see the appeal of this read.
Ess: But? I can feel your but coming on.
Ess: I am intimately familiar with your—
Cee: BUT do you see how much we have to really stretch to make this interpretation work? It’s not the usual complaint we have to make, about mechanics/flavour mismatches, but it’s in… I dunno, a sheer implausibility?
Ess: I mean, it’s no Brain Cage.
Cee: No, no, that’s not quite what I mean. Brain Cage’s problem was, yes, that it was wildly implausible, but that didn’t hurt the card as a story. It takes a second or two to snap into view, but then you realise, holy crap they’re actually replacing their skull. It’s clear.
Cee: Whereas Trope is … I can believe something like your read is what the designers had in mind, sure. But it takes a very specific mindset to come to that read; you have to be willing to think of stories as their constituent components, willing to believe these components can be snapped together by the program…
Ess: Not necessarily well! The cheesy This Is Your Life-style documentary is pretty much exactly what I was thinking.
Cee: Sure, fine. But you still have to believe that’s doable. And the card points us in that direction some, I guess, what with the name and the art, and even the mechanics once you process them, but I worry that it’s an obscurity too far for many players.
Cee: I’d think people trying to understand this card would be more inclined to look at similar cards, instead. Like, say, Levy AR Lab Access.
Ess: That’s a good question. How does LARLA work?
Cee: It calls out the AR labs, right? I’ve always thought of it as some sort of holodeck situation, where you sneak in and take some (compressed) time off.
Ess: And that gives you a fresh lease on life, ready and willing to take on this massive corp again? Sure, I can buy that.
Cee: So, I dunno, maybe that lends the idea of retelling the story of your life some basis. You come out of the holodeck as yourself, but you come out of Trope as…
Ess: Charitably, a much more focused person.
Cee: And a much more stereotypical one. Repetitive, even!
Ess: You know how you can always predict the tropey B-movies?
Cee: Heh. But yeah…
Cee: The larger question here is, I guess, to what degree should a card be this difficult to understand? We can’t say they didn’t try; the art and name and mechanics and flavour text all are trying to get at this one concept…
Ess: But it’s still pretty difficult to construct a fictional understanding of the card?
Ess: So Maro talks about this some in—
Ess: Oh—”Maro”, Mark Rosewater. He’s the head designer of Magic.
Cee: …oh. I think I’m legally obligated to boo and/or hiss here.
Ess: No, no, that bit of your contract got superseded by Section 293(c). I love Netrunner and I love the team behind it, but there’s a lot of the problems we as a game or community face that Magic’s already come to and solved. We should be willing to take on board their analyses and lessons, I think.
Cee: Mmrrrm. Okay, so what does Maro say?
Ess: So he’s talking in the context of Magic, obviously, but he talks about the pacing of a set. Magic sets are generally an exploration of an entire world, and some climactic story within the world, right? Maro says that in a set, cards that are clean and simple and familiar expressions of your theme should be at common rarity, and the cards that take work to understand and integrate with the larger storyline should be at higher rarities.
Cee: The point being that a player, as they open packs of Magic, gets a good understanding for the theme first, before they have to think about the rarer cards. Right, okay.
Ess: Yeah. So we don’t have rarity in Netrunner, but FFG has some tools for managing the … narrative pacing of datapacks, weird as that is to say. For some of their audience, there’s the official spoilers; have you noticed how they’ve been hammering home the themes of Democracy and Dogma with their pack previews?
Cee: That seems like a fairly weak tool. How much of the audience even checks those out, anyway?
Ess: More than you’d expect, I think, but yes, I agree. (And that’s not even counting unofficial spoilers screwing with that plan.) So the only consistent tool they have is, well, collector number. That’s the order the cards are in in the pack.
Cee: So you’re suggesting that part of the problem here is that Trope is the first card of the pack? That if it had come at the end, after we’d understood Old Hollywood, that that would have helped? Because, honestly, that doesn’t feel like a huge effect to me.
Ess: I mean, maybe? We’re talking on fairly thin ground and about fairly thin margins here either way, but maybe the mindset you were talking about would have been easier to come across then? I think the larger point is just that FFG currently doesn’t have anywhere near a strong tool as rarity for managing the pacing of a pack.
Cee: You’re surely not suggesti—
Ess: Don’t even think it! We learn from Magic, we don’t adopt its solutions blindly!
Cee: Fair enough. Relative to Magic, though, Netrunner has much stronger pacing within a cycle. We get, what, about six datapacks and a deluxe, so seven releases over about eight months to process about the same number of cards as Magic drops in one set?
Ess: That’s true, actually! So that’s, then, the greatest tool FFG has, that they release to us these chunks of story over more time and in smaller packages. SanSan Cycle has been fairly disconnected in that respect; each pack is a new location and a new set of themes for us to explore, but…
Cee: Now that you mention it, that’ll be super interesting to watch out for in Mumbad.
Cee: So. The card, then?
Ess: oh right there was a card here
Cee: I mean. It’s still a difficult card to read, and the interpretation we have is a stretch.
Ess: But it works! It makes sense of all the things!
Cee: It is a stretch, though.
Ess: …sure, fine.
Cee: So I can’t do better than a begrudging C.
Ess: I’ll go to B-, but I can’t deny your point.
Cee: I expected a big, flashing “SPOILER ALERT” sign across the card. I am disappoint, Ess.
Cee: …though, two cards in a row where I have no idea what it’s actually doing. I may actually be disappoint.
Ess: Another disappoint is (and yes, I’m gonna harp on this again) the overspecificity problem. I’m not sure what the mechanic has anything to do with film spoilers, but the card’s certainly pushing you to that interpretation. Every agenda is not a sensie!
Cee: Well, maybe. It’s pretty clear that whatever’s being spoiled, the thing you know about “before it’s even out”, is the card on R&D, not the agenda.
Ess: …huh. Why is the card leaning so heavily on the film interpretation, then?
Cee: I think it’s just for the pun.
Ess: Between spoilers-as-in-movies and spoiling-meat? You’re suggesting the only relevance this card has to film is what pack it’s in?
Cee: Hey, I never said it was a good pun.
Ess: …right. Well, let’s get past that and look at the mechanic. We’re trashing the top card of R&D?
Cee: The Corp is trashing the top card of R&D.
Ess: Good point; as of Hostile Infrastructure, there’s mechanics weight to that distinction.
Let’s see… Noise, Gravedigger, and Data Leak Reversal are the other cards with that effect. The idea, I guess, is that somehow the data has gotten corrupted, forcing the Corp to actively trash the now useless data stored on that file.
Cee: “Uh, boss? All our project work’s been overwritten with noiseisbetterthanyou.gif, on infinite loop”.
Ess: The most horrifying part of that scenario is that we’re still using gifs.
Cee: Though, clearly it’s not that corrupted. The resulting file in Archives is still worth agenda points, can still be pieced together by Interns or Jackson or any of the billion other ways we have for archives recursion…
Ess: So what’s the link between the Corp achieving one of their corporate agendas and this quasi-corruption of the data for the next project down the pipeline?
Cee: Is the Runner finding unsanitized data in the released agenda documents? Information trails and email headers and whatnot? That seems… unlikely, that the now-public Project Vitruvius would have information leading to the data files of the folk developing a way to use Biotic Labour internally.
Ess: Maybe the wonks at R&D are ragequitting because the Agenda that they worked so hard on was itself spoiled? But there’s no way these are the same teams, right? Each card in R&D is assumed to be a different project somewhere inside the corp, at some degree of completion…
Cee: I’m starting to wonder if this mechanic is even all that plausible. Noise/DLR/Gravedigger I can somewhat buy; the runner has to do some sort of positive action that you can spin into investigation and corruption. But this is completely passive, requiring nothing other than the corp scoring an agenda.
Ess: What is so revealing about scoring an agenda?
Ess: And I know we don’t think the card is actually tied to the Sensies, but it doesn’t even work with the Sensies! Why would spoiling the film, Explode-a-palooza, cause the Corp’s data on SanSan City Grid to be corrupted?
Cee, Ess: …
Cee: I’m too confused to even consider a grade.
Ess: I think we’ll have to leave it at as one of our rare no-scores, then.
Ess: This looks simple! I am sure there will be no problems whatsoever in covering Drug Dealer.
Cee: …and here I was looking forward to a break, too. Stop invoking Murphy on us, dammit.
Ess: Does this dude’s stall literally use pill symbols as it’s advertising? Has Hollywood sunk so low that there are sanctioned illicit drug dealers?
Cee: Maybe it’s a tourist thing?
Ess: “Live life like your favourite star” and then pose for a picture with a fake line of cocaine?
Cee: I could absolutely see that happening in ol’ Hollywood.
Ess: Why is a tourist street stall on the art then, if it’s all placebos?
Cee: Wait… It’s the perfect cover, isn’t it? The one place you wouldn’t look for real drugs: the folk selling fake ones! You need to know the right folk to get past the façade, obviously.
Ess: Aha, that’s cute. The “right people” here being the one pip of influence with Criminals~
Cee: I do like how the mechanics feed into the drug addiction thing, too. First hit’s free!
Ess: You know, the way this card is presenting the drug habit is really interesting. Netrunner hasn’t been shy of depicting addiction and drug use before; Stim Dealer and the ever-classic Stimhack, right? But you can see something of a change in the portrayal, over those three cards.
Cee: Well. Stims are presumably harder drugs than these “designer” stuff.
Ess: That’s certainly part of it, but… hm. I want to frame it as the distinction between cyberpunk and cybernoir.
Cee: “Cybernoir” is the description Lucas Litzinger, Netrunner’s previous lead designer, prefers, right? I’ve always sort of wondered why.
Cee: …we need Maro-style nicknames for both him and Damon Stone, by the way.
Ess: So the thing about the punk genre is that punk is about the outsider. The people who don’t fit into normal society, who don’t do things the normal way. So when punk portrays drug use, it’s almost reveling in it, as another marker of how much of an outsider this person is. They’ll lovingly portray the high, the crash, the burning addiction. All of this is part of what marks apart the outsider, and so the genre is happy to indulge that hardass identity.
Cee: You just described Stimhack and Stim Dealer. And… Anarchs in general, sorta.
Ess: They’re certainly the punkiest things we have in the game, yeah. Look at how Stimhack’s art portrays the, uh, stimhacker, right?
Ess: Whereas noir instead will just have your chain-smoking detective, or your femme fatale who shoots up, and it’s not really part of their characters so much as just part of the assumed background of the world. It doesn’t tend to focus as much on the effects the drugs have on the person, just in what their pervasiveness says about the world they live in.
Cee: Given that distinction, yeah, I now see why Lucas would insist on the “cybernoir” label. Netrunner as a whole isn’t really about outsiders, it’s just about the kind of world that produces outsiders.
Cee: And that’s perfectly captured in Drug Dealer. You don’t even see the addict on the art, just an open stall on a busy street.
Ess: Yeah. The game can be pretty elegant sometimes.
Ess: Okay, now it’s my turn to ask what in high heaven is this card. The art doesn’t so much convey “Rolodex” as “Rolodex-adjacent”.
Cee: It looks like a character select screen.
Ess: “Choose your Contact!”
Cee: So I think I have an idea for the mechanic. You buy a rolodex—
Ess: —I tap the People app on my phone—
Cee: —and you spend all this time putting all your contacts in it. As you’re going through all your contacts you’re like, hey, I should see how ol’ Tom is going these days?
Ess: I mean, really? This is the same question we have about cards like All Nighter; does it really take a whole card, more than 2% of your identity in the game, to, what, be the kind of Runner who organises their contacts?
Cee: Let’s make the assumption that this is, say, rolodex.com, and they do predictive stuff based on who knows whom?
Ess: Eeeeehgrmrf. Fine.
Cee: In any case, if your stack represents what you can possibly “call in”, either a favour from an old mentor like Mr. Li, or that nifty Memchip you spotted at a hardware joint your friend works at, rolodex.com surfaces people and connections to you you may not have considered so soon otherwise.
Ess: And so you re-order the cards, to represent how they’re all about as ready to your mind? Okay, sure, that works.
Cee: As a website, the trash makes sense, too. “I told you to lose my number!” The corp takes over the site, or just spies on it, and you end up compromising a few people!
Ess: It’s very Old Hollywood to get blackballed for that kind of irresponsibility, isn’t it? Even if you still know where the hardware joint is without rolodex.com, they’ll shut their doors and look at you pointedly from inside. Arms crossed.
Ess: Yeah, okay, this actually makes sense. Huh. I wasn’t expecting that when we started.
Cee: I know, right?
Ess: I still kinda don’t want to like it. I have issues with… how impressionistic the card is, I think.
Cee: I know what you mean. The art especially hits that issue, but the whole card seems to want to hint at flavour instead of being clear about it.
Cee: Still, I find I’m not hugely bothered by that. B?
Ess: Sure, fine, B.
Ess: My Elizabeth Mills shrine got a whole ten hits this week!
Cee: Well, at least it’s not Bagbiter.
Ess: In any case, this card actually does seem to track.
Cee: Oh? Do tell.
Ess: Agenda scoring is a Big Thing, right? It’s going to generate activity: discussion, commentary, analysis.
Cee: Oh, I see where you’re going with this.
Ess: Where better for this to happen than on the fan site dedicated to the public face of that corp? Or even a representative of them; /r/lizziemills perhaps?
Cee: She certainly does have a lot of Public Support…
Cee: Right, so of course the Corp is going to want image control, so they’ll have their own representatives floating around the fan site monitoring the discussion.
Ess: Exactly! So, if you’re the admin, and you carefully examine your data and access logs, you might figure out some very interesting facts. Important enough that a Data Dealer might be willing to pay for, perhaps.
Cee: Or to incriminate someone with a Frame Job? Okay, sure.
Ess: Well, it’s literally only these two cards we care about so far.
Cee: That’s where the looseness of the card comes from, I think, that only these two other cards interact with it.
Ess: Yeah, like bypass, runners forfeiting agendas is another mechanic that hasn’t had much flavour love. Still, I’ll go a B+.
Cee: I can’t fault the card, I guess, but I’m just not a huge fan of the pack. I’ll make it a begrudging B.
Ess: Speaking of not being a fan of this pack…
Cee: Folks, I’m gonna take down the kayfabe for a sec and speak directly to you. I know we’ve been getting consistently more and more delayed in these articles, and, I mean, while there’s reasons for it, it still really bugs us that that’s true.
Cee: But cards like this? They don’t make it easier.
Ess: sigh. Let’s just… do what we can.
Cee: Yeah. Okay.
Ess: So! This pack’s winner for the Overspecificity Cup, a full two strides ahead of its closest competitor, and Owner Of A Screenwriting Gerbil, Ms. Film Critic!
Cee: Yeah. Every agenda is not a Sensie. They just… aren’t. Not even close.
Ess: To be fair, the mechanic does sort of work when you’re talking about the Sensies. You have to read the Sensie on-encounter effect as some function of renewed excitement for the movie or merch sales or whatnot due to the Runner stealing (or just Casting their access of) the Sensie.
Cee: Whereas with the Film Critic on the board, the Runner can turn their leak over to her, and she dehypes that hype?
Ess: Scathing early reviews, right?
Cee: I have issues with the way you’re modeling the Sensie on-encounter effect, but we can talk about that when we get to them. For the sake of argument, let’s say I buy your mechanism. It’s still a terrible card!
Ess: I… yeah.
Cee: Riddle me this: even with a Sensie, why does it turn off Midseasons? Punitive?
Ess: Midseasons I can at least argue that by not stealing it and making your exploits known, the Corp has a much harder time of spinning your story into a new drama. But Punitive? I… yeah, I’ve got nothing.
Cee: Right? I see no reason why the Corp couldn’t just punish you as they are wont to do. This card is just broken. It’s not confusing, like Spoilers, it just doesn’t work as the flavour wants it to.
Cee: Two no-scores? Or is this an outright fail? In any case, for only 7 cards, that’s a pretty bad percentage.
Ess: Well, we have a track record that whenever we’ve given an F, our readers have given us at least some reason to reconsider. It happened for Beach Party and for Turntable, and while I’m still not sure I completely buy those cards, I’ll grant that they’re not Fs.
Ess: So let’s try to invoke that magic again, shall we? cough I Am Disappointed In Film Critic And Am Giving It An F.
Cee: I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you cannot put downe…
Ess: Oh, we’ll be fiiii—
Cee: Is it bad that I have problems not cracking up whenever I think of the flavour of this card? I mean, I don’t think I’m a bad person…
Cee: But it’s just so funny! The scum of the earth are being your literal meat shield. That sneaky Traffic Accident the Corp tried to set up just took out of a bunch of pop-magazine writers instead! *smirk*
Ess: I can’t imagine this being very fun for the runner, though. The constant attention would surely get on your nerves… aaand it just occurred to me that I would absolutely read “Gabe’s Latest Fashion Statement!” heeeee
Cee: MaxX would just be a walking bundle of rage.
Ess: Breaking their cameras and throwing people the ground.
Cee: I guess Valencia is just chillin’ with her buds?
Ess: I suppose you think all journalists know each other? That’s racist.
Ess: See, my real question here is, why would this prevent your apartment building being razed to the ground?
Cee: Well, it wouldn’t, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. Someone at Weyland gave the order and committed resources, but then someone higher up vetoed it.
Ess: “There’s a billion goddamn cameras out there. Do you want to totally destroy this company?”
Ess: Yeah, okay, that works. Scorched takes time and preparation, as does Punitive, and a Traffic Accident can be traced back. Argus and Private Security Force and Dedicated Response Team and Checkpoint, all can be traced back. Vulcan Coverups are hard when they’ve got eyes on them all the time. And Flare… can’t be prevented!
Cee: It makes perfect sense that Flare is the one that can’t be prevented here. I really like that.
Ess: Wait, what about the Runner-side stuff, though? Titanium Ribs and Net-Ready Eyes, and Tri-maf Contact. Tri-maf maybe works for the same reasons; they don’t want a hit to be traced back to them. But I don’t see how having a crowd of Paparazzi would help when you’re undergoing surgery.
Cee: Maybe the local chopper takes extra care when you’ve got all those cameras on you?
Ess: I suppose it is true that Chrome Parlor can prevent both the meat and brain damage.
Cee: And the Paparazzi don’t prevent the brain damage because… your local chopper still isn’t that good? They’ll try, but they’ll still make that unfortunate incision…
Ess: Two words: Brain Cage.
Cee: Yeah, okay.
Ess: I do love the templating of Paparazzi, though. Seven short words, for a flavourful and elegant effect. It’s almost disappointing that they chose to give it such … average flavour text.
Cee: Scratch “almost”, it is disappointing. For all the times we appreciate good flavour text, or ask for it on cards that don’t have it, there are times when the card is cleaner without it. And I think that’s true here, as the mechanics and name are clear enough by themselves.
Ess: I’m gonna tell another Magic story here.
Cee: I can’t really stop you.
Ess: Time Stop, is the comparison I want to make. They wanted a card that had the simple, elegant effect, “End the turn.” But, as it turns out, Magic has lots of rules—
Cee: 
Ess: —and this is the card they ended up printing instead.
Ess: Thankfully they were able to reprint it in its true glory in a later set, but yeah.
Cee: Whoa, that’s a comparison. And Paparazzi doesn’t even have the excuse of needing reminder text. …it’s not getting above an A- from me, I think.
Ess: It’s just frustrating that it came so close. But, yeah, A-.
Cee: So this is Old Hollywood.
Cee: This pack is really disappointing me so far, Ess.
Cee: It’s not even just the big stuff, like Spoilers and Film Critic. It’s a lot of the small stuff as well, like the looseness of Fan Site, or the weirdness of Trope. It’s just…
Cee: And the sensies are coming up.
Ess: And Haaaaaarpischord.
Cee: Isn’t it Haarpsichord?
Ess: Or maybe ol’ Haarpsi’ buddy.
Cee: Haarp C. Chord, Attorney At Law.
Ess: Yeah, I’m with you on how disappointing this pack has been. And, I’m not seeing much sunshine in the Corp half of the pack.
Cee: Well, Universe of Tomorrow is only two articles away!
Ess: Sure, I can put all my faith in Tour Guide and his adorable face.
Cee: Until next time, folks.
Continue the discussion at forum.stimhack.com