Thursday, May 19, 2016

Monolith Metrics - Component Three

For better or for worse, doorways to our cthnonian self are indelibly imbedded in our psyche, and have been ab aeterno. The monolith, we realize, is a lot older than we think it is.

Of course the monolith is more than an unembellished jet-black slab.

The featureless simplicity of the shape - a simple geometric form - belies the complex profundity of its essence. Of course, as a mere block the monolith emits no menace, it simply is. Even Moon-Watcher himself literally forgets the existence of the brick once he has established it is neither edible nor a threat.

We should not dismiss the dark hunk so easily, though. There are several layers of meaning embedded in the chunk o' charcoal, and if one manages the inconceivable - scratching the surface of it - one finds it is veritably rife with symbolism and suggestion.

The Overmind

Perhaps the most obvious analysis is to compare the metamorphic capacity of the gateway to the transcendence of Man into the Nietzschean Übermensch. It has been said the opening leitmotif was chosen by Kubrick singly due to its majesty and brevity, but the tangential references to Zarathustra are difficult to ignore. The "perfect Intelligence" which Zoroaster ascribes to Mazda is fully realized in the monolith.

In Nietzsche's view, the übermensch is the purpose of the Earth, or rather, all of Creation exists in order to bring forth said super-human. And it must be remembered the übermensch prevails in the present, in the here and now, it is not an angelic post-mortem existence beyond these dying realms, þás sáwlung wuldorgesteald. Hence it is devoid of all need for deities and revelation; it is, in Nietzsche's words, the "death of God."

The Nietzschean transformation sequence is complete with the emergence of the Star Child, when Bowman as a panthera leo says "I will," and leaves the company of Man and ventures past the mouth of the Dragon - "on every scale glittereth golden Thou Shalt!" of all others, symbolized by the unobtainable monolith - and finally realizes his own will cannot prevail and can only submit.

When Bowman returns to the present after having been transformed, he is essentially resurrected as a higher being, as a child, as the "sacred Yes." This being cannot be anything or anyone else but the übermensch; the "one who has died but who has been resurrected", and is now living on another plane, the egenomen nekros. The monolith is thus the final grammatikos, leading the traveler to enlightenment, to the Campbellian boon. The Star Child is of course the Nietzschean child, who no longer exists codependently, but is unrestrained, utterly free "for the sport of creation: the spirit now wills its own will ... its own world."

But there is much more to the monolith than this. It has, after all, a shape. A constitution.

Eternal Change

When the monolith is seen as pure Form, it cannot really be the Form for anything but the eternal, as we shall see. Before we do that we must acknowledge there exists a minor problem with this, however. Or not as much perhaps a problem as a lack of definition. It is impossible to ascertain whether the monolith represents the morphē or the eidos, or whether it is, indeed, its own form and ideal.

The monolith is due to its nature both the nominalist universal, as well as the platonist Form; it is "a shape for something that has no shape." The impossible perfection of the shape makes it a platonic Form, but since there exists nothing else that it can be a Form for, it is both its own Nominalist universal, as well as its own Nominalist particular.

Forms are immaterial, of course. Thus even the shape of the monolith is not real, it only resembles itself. And voilà, we thus paradoxically end up with the only post-Platonic conceptualized object in existence.

Change, perpetually fixed.

The changing chameleon nature of the slab is what makes it everlasting, for change itself is the only facet of permanence we can both control and be enslaved by. Schopenhauer acknowledged this when he said "change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal."

It is best you don't think about it too much.

The Philosopher's Gravelly Voice

The monolith is fundamentally the Philosopher's Stone, the item of legend that had the ability to turn any metal into gold, turning the worthless into the possession most priced.

But perhaps the greatest mystery of the monolith is akin to the mystery of the silent Sphinx of Giza. It's complete silence invites us, beckons us to give the monolith a voice. Ultimately the voice is our own, of course. The monolith never speaks, it is we who expatiate.

We prefer the impossible to the inarticulate - we want to agree with Parmenides; out of nothing, nothing is made. But the quietude is unrelenting.

Yet no analysis of the mystery can be complete without the monolith's voice.

The monolith is unknowable, recondite. Yet the noumenon that it represents is unnerving by its very stillness. We acknowledge that even Kant's transcendental logic of the Ding-an-sich, the thing-in-itself which is eternally and perfectly unknowable per definition, perfectly renders the monolith, but yet we cannot accept its saturninity.

And this is where we - at last! - interface with the Form and gift it with our voice. We bestow the twilight, the dark, with our words; we impart our beckoning, our Siren's song to "the endlessly echoing halls." Holmes saith, What endless melodies were poured, As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!

When we communicate through silence, said Marcel Marceau, we are connected via the thoughts of Man. This is then after all the possession most priced, the established contact to what we can only understand as the higher existence, it is like Gandhi's longing of the soul.

The contact is inevitable, of course, and is only a matter of time. When Form and Essence become the same, we will be right there with it, endless. Time, as it were, is only a temporary obstacle.

I do not think we will have to wait for too long.

Images copyright©2015 MMXOA.

Monday, May 2, 2016

2010 - The D&D Game

Time-wasters come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Movies might be the epitome of entertainment, but there are many other ways of imploding hours upon fantastic hours.

The movie tie-in industry that blossomed, withered, and died in the 1980's and 1990's saw some rather unorthodox entries into the entertainment market. Some were spectacularly successful: the Star Wars paraphernalia market dwarf the revenue from the movie ticket sales by a factor of 25. Others were not so. The 1982 ET game for the Atari console has since become the gold standard for hubris and vanity projects, not to mention it ultimately crashed the video console industry itself.

However, some tie-in products are so peculiar, bizarre even, that the items still carry a novelty value due to their very eccentricity. We have previously mentioned the offbeat 2010 Graphical Action Game and the even more mystifying 2010 Text Adventure Game. Perhaps stranger still was the oddball 2010 tabletop role playing game released by Wisconsin-based, original Dungeons & Dragons publishers TSR - or Tactical Studies Rules - in October of 1984.

The Game and Box Contents

Loosely based on the plot of the novel 2010: Odyssey Two, the game was released as part of the Star Frontiers science fiction series begun by TSR in 1982. The game box came with a lot of game playing material, and expanded the 2010 universe quite commodiously. The rule book addition was a rather hefty 32-page document, detailing many elements of the game setting such as the Jovian system and even the moons. For the first time floor plans for the Discovery XD-1 space ship were made public. Many players bought the module for this reason alone.

The Discovery plans are consistent with both the movie 2001 and the movie 2010, plus they reveal details that can only have been known to the production designers, such as the water tanks and the radar dome that can be found in the original plans from 1966 (although the HAL 'Brain Room' is on the wrong side of the ship). This leads us to believe the module producers were closely collaborating with the movie producers. It is however not known whether graphic designer Ruth Hoyer was given access to the movie material. TSR has never revealed the extent of the collaboration, nor indeed if there ever was any. The Russian space vessel Leonov's ship floor plans were also part of the package, of course.

Leonov floor plan.

Other peculiarities included lengthy bios for the characters on board the ships. Some of the biographical information was naturally geared towards the game canvas, but some information was more general. This is the only place we find out, for example, that the Russian commander - captain Tanya Kirbuk - is 37 years old, or that engineer Walter Curnow is explicitly second-in-command on the Discovery. It is unknown at present whether the information was gotten from movie director and original script writer Peter Hyams, whether it was conjured up by module writers Curtis Smith and Bruce Nesmith (nowadays Director of Design at Bethesda Softworks), or whether it was straight from 2010: Odyssey Two novel author Arthur C. Clarke himself.

Even more strange is the inclusion of portraits of the characters, clearly taken by the movie production crew. Some of the pictures distributed with the game have never been published anywhere else - they are in fact copies of Polaroid pictures taken by special effects supervisor Richard Edlund during film production, further cementing the claim - or at least suspicion - that the TSR game producers were working closely with the MGM movie producers.

The Play

The widely held consensus among the D&D community is that plot-driven games created out of pre-existing properties commonly do not make great modules. The plot requirements demand a linear progression through the game chapters and segments - thus such an installment is often contemptuously called a 'railroad module' - and regularly does not offer much variation. Their replay value is frequently nil.

Another issue to keep in mind is the Star Frontiers game system does not usually lend itself well to slow-moving ruminations, it is rather better suited for quicker paced scenarios focused on battles and conflict.

However, the 2010 module - as well as the previous 2001 module - were created with the mentioned limitations in mind. The game system changes, as well as the minor plot enhancements, makes the module remarkably gratifying, even surprising in some facets. Both the Odyssey Sequence modules are similar in this regard.

Jupiter system hex map.

But even here the 2010 game fares better than the game based on the previous film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The invisible rails that were extant in the 2001 game are of course present in the sequel, too, and they must be in order to maintain game cohesiveness. The sequel does however allow quite a lot of divergence from the plot.

Science Fiction die.
To offer an example, the repair of HAL-9000 might fail, and the computer can despite the player's efforts duly return to it's psychotic, homicidal state.

Trying to save a derelict spaceship while a treacherous super-computer - hell-bent on your forthcoming demise - is running the show is not really how the novel panned out, much less the movie. Yet, the gruesome scenario is most certainly possible in the game, and makes for great entertainment.

Other minor deviations exist, such as the possibility the players - both PC and NPC players - might receive additional orders, all of which have the same tone as the Cold War narrative in the movie. The information presented to the players is obviously expanded beyond the scope of the linear narrative of both the novel and the movie.

All in all, the 2010 Odyssey Two Adventure is an enjoyable module, and as a player-only experience offers a solid, well-crafted romp through the Solar System. Additionally, for the game referee it presents a quite finely balanced, consistent system and is a sturdy foundation upon which to create Hard Science Fiction adventures and scenarios.

Where We Are

Requiring both the basic Star Frontiers box set Alpha Dawn and the Knight Hawks expansion in order to be playable, the game itself places the players right in the middle of the universe of 2010. The plot-driven game that comes with the package follows the basic plot of both the novel and the movie to a degree, and is rather standard role playing fare, albeit well crafted. The real value of the package lie in the character skill sets and the game setting, both of which can be used to create interesting game creations of your own.

When re-assessed in retrospect, the main buying incentive of the modules has proven to be the deck plans of the two spaceships - causing even non-gamers to buy the module - and to a somewhat lesser extent the mechanism of the new skill sets and the rules expansion to the underlying Star Frontiers system.

The module is rather rare these days. Original manufacturer TSR went bankrupt in the late 1990's, and the production runs were not huge. This means the odds of finding a mint copy of the game box is close to nil. It is rather recommended you buy one if you find one.

They sure don't make them like they used to. Whether that is good or bad is left to the discernment of the reader.

Images copyright ©1984 Tactical Studies Rules.