Thursday, January 20, 2022

Way up in the middle of the air

"Biblically accurate angels" are a semi-regular topic on Twitter and such. Particularly around Christmas, of course. You've probably seen photos go by of a Christmas tree topped with a bizarre halo of wings and eyes. I see it's a regular tag on Etsy, too. Wings and eyes, eyes and wings, wheels within wheels.
(From and probably a bunch of other places on reddit too)
When people do this stuff, they're recalling the Book of Ezekiel:
And I looked, and behold four wheels beside the cherubim, one wheel beside one cherub, and another wheel beside another cherub; and the appearance of the wheels was as the colour of a beryl stone.
And as for their appearances, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been within a wheel.
When they went, they went towards their four sides; they turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went.
And their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels were full of eyes round about, even the wheels that they four had.
That's Ezekiel chapter 10. (There's similar stuff in chapter 1. You know when you find two slightly different verses for the folk song, I mean holy text, and you can't decide so you copy them both down to sort out later?)
Now, the first version I encountered wasn't that Biblical text. It was the old spiritual, the version arranged by William Dawson. I sang it in junior high school choir, I do believe.
Ezekiel saw the wheel; way up in the middle of the air! Ezekiel saw the wheel, way in the middle of the air!
Everybody loves this stuff -- holy men tripping balls. Ezekiel is great for it. (Not just wheels! If you're a fan of The Prisoner, you know what the hip bone's connected to, dem dry bones: that's chapter 37.) So quite a few modern texts have picked up the imagery. I grew up with these covers of A Wind in the Door, for example.

More recently, I've become fond of Kill Six Billion Demons, an over-the-top web comic about angels and demons kung-fu-fighting. The angels are chaotic -- well, not chaotic -- assemblages of wings, wheels, and eyes. They bleed wings and eyes.

(From Kill Six Billion Demons, page 2-29.5)
On the videogame side, I recall the original Bayonetta going heavily for wheel-and-wing angels. The PS2 Dororo had some wheely monsters too. (El Shaddai and Darksiders didn't, but they should have, c'mon.)
But that's not really what this post is about.
Here's a (sorta) secret: I always feel a little smug at these illustrations of wheels and wings and eyes. Why? Ten years ago, I saw them.
Literally. Way up in the middle of the air.

(Andrew Plotkin, Medford MA)
This was October 27, 2012. Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on the East Coast. It hadn't struck yet, but the atmosphere was in motion, and that afternoon it slung a whole lot of moisture into the upper air. That means high-altitude ice crystals.
Water droplets in sunlight form rainbows, because water droplets are round. Each droplet refracts light from the sun in just one way; so you see refracted light at just one angle from the sun. That makes a circle in the sky. Part of the circle is cut off by the ground (unless you're lucky in an airplane) so a rainbow is always an arch.
Ice crystals in sunlight refract and reflect light in several directions. If they're all aligned -- which they tend to be -- you see many arcs and circles. Here's another photo, taken by David Hathaway in Alabama on Oct 30th:
(David Hathaway via

But if you're not thinking about hexagonal crystals and angles of reflection, what do you see? What are those shapes? Any child or holy man will tell you: those are wings, and eyes, and wheels within wheels.
That was one of the more unexpectedly stunning afternoons of my life. A thing that I, a Jewish atheist, call holy. But that's not really what this post is about either.
Lots of people saw that sky! My neighborhood Livejournal page had a thread of photos. Local news reported it. People collected photos and photo galleries.
You know what all those links have in common? They're all broken today.
The neighborhood group shifted to Dreamwidth (and copied over the post history, so I can still link to it, thank you). The Universal Hub page is still up but the images are broken. (Wayback Machine got it, thank you.) Lockerz doesn't even remember that it exists. And so on, and so on.
It's been a bit under ten years. Frankly, it's embarrassing. Frankly, we're doing this wrong.
I wish I had a better idea. Run your own web sites, kids. (It's a lot of work.) Keep supporting the Internet Archive and Wayback Machine. (They're great but they can't be solely responsible for saving civilization.) Save your photos and keep backups. Also, backups.
(Someone is going to comment with "bl*ckchain" and I will laugh as I moderate that horsecrap into the ether. Don't bother.)
I guess my point is that nothing on the Internet stays around without people -- actual people, not profit centers -- actively working to keep it around.
Web sites stay up because of love. Long run, nothing else works.
What I've done today is go through all those old busted links and trawl out every photo I could find of those solar arcs and halos. I've stashed them on one page -- the same page I created ten years ago to hold my own pair of humble sky photos. That page is mine; I run it; it's not in the pocket of any social media company. I think it will still exist in 2032.
If not, try the Wayback Machine link. (Which is probably how you're reading this if my web site died.) It should have captured the page and all its photos, as of this writing. If you try to click through to one of the images and it doesn't appear, try hitting "Latest".
(Note that this is all blatant copyright violation. I've linked and attributed every single image, but nobody gave me permission to grab copies of them. (Except the one from Wikipedia, which is CC-BY-SA.) I hear the copyright gorgons are on the march again. But that, again, isn't really what this post is about.)
Look. I can't think of much to say beyond, "I'm tired and this isn't going to get better." It's 2022; that's all of us. I've tried to save one good thing.
If you have photos from the hurricane-weather skies of October 2012, feel free to pass them along.

Monday, January 10, 2022

2022 IGF nominees: fireworks

We come to the end of my IGF review posts: the games that made me stand up and say "Holy zorch, you did not just do that!" Because, let's be clear, they just did that.
As I said at the beginning, this is not the same as being my "favorite game of the year". All of these games also did something else that I wasn't into. Maybe I didn't even play them all the way through.
But this is an important point! I don't want my favorites to become the best-of-the-year stars. I mean, yes I do, of course I do. But next year's games aren't going to be the same as this year's award-winners. They're going to build on these games. They're going to learn from them. So we must talk about the games that pushed the boundaries of technique or design or straight-up bravura.
  • Inscryption
  • Overboard!
  • Opus: Echo of Starsong
  • Tux and Fanny
(Necessary footnote: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of some of these games. I bought Inscryption, Overboard, and Opus: Echo of Starsong on my own before IGF judging started.)

Sunday, January 9, 2022

2022 IGF nominees: miscellaneous

Yeah, I tried to come up with a category to fit this batch into. Nope, didn't work.
You could maybe call these "familiar game genres with a twist", but then you could say that about every game, right? We're all in the business of offering reassuring familiarity with a twist.
  • Sable
  • Papetura
  • Lacuna
  • Dagon
  • Kathy Rain: The Director's Cut
  • Chronicles of Tal'Dun: The Remainder
  • Strange Horticulture
(Necessary footnote: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of most of these games. But I bought Sable on my own before IGF judging started. Dagon is entirely free. Strange Horticulture and The Remainder are not yet released.)

Saturday, January 8, 2022

2022 IGF nominees: intimate and/or personal

Some of these are cozy. Some are the opposite of cozy. All of them tell you straight-up where the authors come from.
Several of these reviews wind up saying "This is really good but I didn't entirely connect with it." Honestly, that's 2021 talking. Connection is hard. We're all walking around with deflectors at maximum.
  • Unpacking
  • No Longer Home
  • TOEM
  • Last Call
  • Lake
  • An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs
(Necessary footnote: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of most of these games. But I bought Lake and Airport Dog on my own before IGF judging started. NORCO is not yet released; I played a demo chapter.)

Friday, January 7, 2022

2022 IGF nominees: on history

IGF finalists are out! Only eight months since the last time I said this, I know. Here we go.
My theme this year is... mixed reactions. I throw no shade! I played a lot of great games. But I didn't come away with overall favorites. Instead, I played a lot of games that did something fantastic but then this other game did something else fantastic and I want to talk about all of them.
...I say "all of them", but of course this week's posts are a highly curated list. IGF got over 400 entries this year -- and that's light; it's usually 500+. I didn't play every game and I'm not going to post about every game I played. Not even every finalist. Think of this as a collection of spotlights. A glint here, a facet there.

In this post: games which interrogate history.
Several of these games use, or riff on, the "database" game model -- a collection of story snippets which the player is free to explore at will. (Or perhaps just the illusion of free will.) These days the database game is familiar from Sam Barlow's Her Story and Telling Lies, but fans of this blog will not needed to be reminded of Rob Swigart's archetypical Portal.
The database game is an easy fit for a game about history, because the database is static. It's a slice of history. The player makes no choices except what to read next. Or is that necessarily true? Let's see.
  • Closed Hands
  • Blackhaven
  • Neurocracy
  • Inua
  • The Rewinder
(Necessary footnote: I was on the narrative jury and played free review copies of most of these games. Blackhaven is entirely free, mind you. Inua is not yet released; I played a demo chapter.)