Continuing… submitted by
“Well, if that doesn’t throw the damper on things.” Dax remarks on our trip back down to the ground floor.
“Yeah. How rude. Up and deceasing your own self without bothering to tell anyone beforehand.” I noted.
“This is going to be a bloody balls-up. Trust me. This is going to be inordinately messy. A bog-standard botch job. A total dog’s dinner, just wait and see.” Cliffs adds.
“First, we have to contact IUPGS. Then what? Does Bulgaria have a consulate or embassy here? I wouldn’t think so…Then what?” I grieved. For once, I was rather low; both emotionally and on ideas.
“Let’s go back to the conference room and let everyone know. We’ll pull a brain session together. We should be able to sort out what needs to be done. The hotel already knows, so the state security forces also do as well. Be prepared for lengthy interrogation sessions, Gentlemen”, Cliff advised.
Back in the conference room, we relayed the sad information. All were taken aback and there were general notes of commiseration. However, since no one knew Iskren too well personally, it was more detached professionalism rather than overt weeping and wailing.
“Let us toast to our fallen comrade!” was accepted as both entirely appropriate and a damn good idea.
I got on the conference room phone and ordered up some more sandwiches, mixers, and bottles of booze. The moment was obviously structured that way, I reasoned.
We made our toasts to our fallen comrade and we had half a chalkboard filled with suggestions of what to do next.
The main consensus was: “Nothing.”
As in there was not much we could do. We were foreign nationals in a strangely foreign land. Our comrade was the sole member of his country, that is, Bulgaria, and the closest geographically we had aboard was Dr. Academician Ivan. No one wanted to loose Ivan on the DPRK security forces and have to deal with all that international fallout.
After some number of hours, after I suggested we all remain in the conference room as we’d (A.) be together, as in unity there is strength, (2.) we’d have each other’s backs when and if it came to interrogations, and, (iii.) this is where the free booze was.
Then there was a polite knock on the door.
I, as the den mother of this special education class, slowly got up and answered the knock.
It was a cadre of DPRK internal security forces, kitted out in their spiffy, tailor-made, and actually, quite smart-looking uniforms. Shoes and buttons polished to mirror-finishes, pants creases that could cut flesh, and enough polished brass to construct a spittoon.
“Hello? Yes?” I said through the semi-opened door.
“May we please come in? If the time is convenient.”, the head military type, very treacly asked.
“Of course”, I replied, “Please, do come in.”
Four of them entered as one. They did a quick-step, tight-march formation together and went to the head of the conference table.
“Good day, gentlemen. I am Colonel Hwangbo Dong-Hyeon of Internal State Security. First, we must offer condolences on the loss of your comrade. It must have come as a shock.” He intones.
There are mutters of “Thanks.” and “Damn right it was.”
“I have been entrusted to update you on the, ah, ‘situation’. First, Dr. Iskren Dragomirov Dinev, recently deceased, has been examined by the best medical practitioners in the country. He was obviously a foreign national and state guest, and we do not wish this to be a cause of suspicion or mistrust, especially during this auspicious Festival season.” He asserted.
We listened with rapt attention.
“I am authorized to tell you that it does not appear that the late Dr. Dinev expired of any untoward circumstances; or ‘foul play’, I believe is the western term. It has been ascertained that he expired due to wholly natural causes; namely massive myocardial infarction. Given his age, apparent health, and, ah, mass, this does seem a most reasonable explanation. This has been verified by no less than three DPRK medical professionals; one of which is the Emeritus teaching professor of Cardiology at Pyongyang Medical University. Again, you have our deepest condolences on the loss of your comrade.” He continued.
“I do remember Iskren complaining of gas pains the other night at the bar,” Joon agreed. “Thought nothing of it, given the change in all our diets.”
Colonel Hwangbo studied Joon like an entomologist examining a particularly fascinating new species of beetle.
“Which has been fine! Just rather rich compared to our usual food!” Joon hastily added.
Satisfied that Joon wasn’t making light of the ‘fine’ North Korean cuisine, Colonel Hwangbo continued, “As such, the Bulgarian Embassy here in Pyongyang has been contacted and apprised of the situation. They have taken over the case, as well as recovered the mortal remains and possessions of Dr. Dinev; all of which were conserved and authenticated by his Bulgarian national counterparts.”
“Ah, that’s good”, I said, “I’m pleased that there actually is a Bulgarian embassy here.”
“Ah. So.”, Col. Hwangbo continued, “Yes. They have already taken possession of Dr. Dinev’s mortal remains and possessions as I had noted, and will handle their repatriation to his country and family. As you can see, we have acted in the best of faith and with the utmost respect for your lately departed. Again, our condolences.”
There were some “Harrumphs”, and “Yeah, rights”, from the crowd, but since I was the team leader, it fell to me to handle this situation from here on out.
“Yes, indeed”, I replied, “We see that and do so deeply appreciate your efficiency and your keeping open the lines of communication. We have absolutely no room to complain. You, your team, your country, and your services have acted to the highest degree of professionalism and decorum. Let me extend, for the team, our heartiest appreciations in this most unfortunate matter.”
That seemed to please the Korean security forces. So much so they didn’t see the rolling eyes and smirks of grudging compliance from the crowd. I gave the evil-eye to several who were twittering quietly at my delivery of a load of over-the-top twaddle in the name of international goodwill.
“Thank you, Doctor…? Doctor…?”, he asked.
“Doctor Rocknocker.” I replied, “It’s spelled just as it sounds,”, I chuckled a knowing chuckle.
Colonel Hwangbo cracked a small smile for the first time since we met.
“As long as our orders of business are concluded, “ I inquired, “Might we offer you and your men a drink or sandwich or…”
“Cigar?” he suddenly brightened.
I smiled the sly, smirking smile of one of those used to the old duplicitous game of international diplomacy.
“Why”, I replied smilingly, “Of course.”
Col Hwangbo gratefully accepted a brace of fine Oscuro cigars. Probably more tobacco he’s seen in one place at one time since the last he rousted a snozzeled Western journalist or hammered European tourist with an overage of custom’s tobacco allowances.
His team eschewed cigars, but gladly accepted a pack each of pastel-colored Sobranie cocktail cigarettes.
It still slays me to see these battle-hardened, armed-to-the-teeth, unsmiling servants of the great state of Best Korea mincing about the courtyard smoking avocado, baby-blue, and peach-colored pastel cigarettes.
The Colonel and his team left after a couple of quick smokes, sandwiches, and surreptitious beers. I even enticed the Colonel into a couple of convivial vodka toasts when his team was otherwise occupied.
“Well, gang”, I said, closing the door, “Looks like that situation has been handled, most appropriately at that. We’ll miss ol’ Iskren, but at least he went fast and hopefully painlessly.”
I knew that last one was but a load of old dingo’s kidneys as I’ve had run-ins with cardiac disorders in the past and they are anything but
painless. In any case, that was, as I noted, in the past. What was done is done. It was as it was. It is as it is.
“So, gentlemen”, I say, “Let us get back to work. Reality calls. Now, we’ve given you landlubbers the lowdown on our seismic pleasure cruise. Now we’d like to hear what you who had stayed onshore have come up with.”
Erlan, Graco, and Viv fill us in on the regional geology of Best Korea and lay out a plan to examine the sedimentary piles closest to the few paved roads in the north and east of the country.
We’ll be traveling by bus, as my request for four or five off-road vehicles was denied due to timing and lack of availability.
Yeah. Right. What a massive pile of bovine biogenic colluvium. A country with a military as huge as Best Korea’s and they can’t spare a few jeeps or Hummer reproductions?
Truth be told, they still don’t trust us and don’t want to let us out of their sight.
However, we did manage to snag some internal publications from the Central Geological Survey of Mineral Resources, which we figured as a major coup. Never before were Westerners allowed to even know of the existence of these materials, much less be able to research (read: slyly copy) them.
That ‘personal shaver’ I carried was actually a sneaky personal copier, a Vupoint ST470 Magic Wand Portable Scanner with all the external stickers peeled off, and any serial numbers abraded away.
Hey, they photograph us from every angle on the sly, listen in on our conversations, record our phone calls…hell, turnabout isn’t just fair play, it’s almost expected.
It’d be rude to refuse to play along.
Anyways, we learned that The Korean Peninsula (KP) occupies a junction area of three large tectonic domains that are the Paleo-Central Asian Orogenic Belt, Paleo-Tethyan Orogenic Belt, and the Western Pacific Orogenic Belt.
- The Archean Rangrim massif is divided into the Rangrim and Kwanmo submassifs, high-grade region and greenstone belt, respectively.
- Early Paleoproterozoic rocks underwent metamorphism up to granulite facies, which may be correlated to the Jiao-Liao-Ji mobile belt in the North China Craton (NCC).
- Proterozoic rift sequences in North Korea are similar to those in the NCC with rare late Paleoproterozoic strata and more Neoproterozoic strata.
- Mesozoic igneous rocks are extensively distributed in the KP.
- The main Paleozoic basin, the Phyongnam basin in NK, have a similar Paleozoic tectono-stratigraphy to the NCC.
Of most interest is item #5. The Phyongnam basin is the only sedimentary and depositional basin of mention in the north of the Korean peninsula; and therefore the center of our attention as it pertains to oil and gas.
The potential source rocks, and possible reservoirs, include the Paleozoic Late Ordovician Miru Series was identified as the Koksan Series and subsequently renamed. The 170-meter thick limestone and siltstone centered around the P'yongnam Basin have extensive crinoid, coral, and gastropod fossils. Paleogeography researchers have suggested that corals formed in the Miru Sea-a branch of the South Yangtze Sea. At the base of the Taedong Synthem is the P'yong'an Supergroup, which lies disconformably atop older Paleozoic rocks.
In the Pyongyang Coalfield it is divided into the 650-meter sandstone, shale, and conglomerate of the Nogam Formation, the 500-meter Kobangsan Formation, 350-meter coal-bearing Sadong Formation and 250-meter chert-bearing Hongjom Formation, all typically assigned to an Upper Permian shallow marine environment.
In the Mesozoic, north of Pyongyang, Precambrian basement rocks are unconformably overlain by a Jurassic limestone conglomerate ascending to layers of siltstone and mudstone. The Upper Jurassic Shinuiju Formation northwest of Shinuiju has sandstone, conglomerate, and mudstone up to two kilometers thick.
Offshore drilling in the West Korea Bay Basin indicates these rocks are the onshore extension of offshore units. It is subdivided into fluvial rocks and Upper Jurassic black shale, limestone, conglomerate and sandstone formed in a lake environment.
There are very few Cenozoic sediments are known in North Korea, likely as a result of erosion due to uplift of the peninsula. Submarine normal faults along the eastern coastline may have driven crustal tilting. The 350-meter thick Bongsan Coalfield in Hwanghae Province on the west coast preserves and coal-bearing layers dating to the Eocene.
Further to the north, in the West Korea Bay Basin Eocene and Oligocene sedimentary rocks up to three kilometers thick unconformably overlie Mesozoic rocks, formed in lakes and coal swamps during the Paleogene.
What this meant is that we’d need to travel mostly northeast and/or southwest. This was fortuitous as the paved roads in the country were created in structural valleys formed by the primary fault trends in the country. The main trans-tensional set trended NE:SW and the conjugate set trends approximately 900
to the main set at NW:SE.
The topography was heavily dissected by drainages and the terrain consists mostly of hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys. The coastal plains are wide in the west and discontinuous in the east.
The plan was to take the bus north to Sunchon, then hang a right off towards Unsan and Yongha. There were outcrops between the last two towns and they appear to be upper Paleozoic to Lower Mesozoic clastics. Ideal oil and gas hunting grounds.
From there, we’d head north-northeast towards Yangwon. There appeared to be some fair to excellent outcrops of rocks that are as of yet, unidentified as to age. From there, we’d continue to follow the outcrop belts either to their termination at the basin’s edges or at international borders with China or Russia.
But, once we hit the field, time goes into relative warp. Put a bunch of geologists out on some relatively virgin outcrops and just stand back as they spend hour after hour after hour first looking for evidence of the formation’s provenance, it’s age and field relations. Then begin the heartfelt, stalwart, and sometimes vicious, arguments between all concerned about each and every one of those salient points.
We were all looking forward to it and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s our intellectual and scientific equivalent of meat and potatoes.
We all agreed on a way forward and generated a document to deliver to those in charge of our logistics on this trip. There would be a total of 11 Western geoscientists, four guides, perhaps a couple of national geologists or geophysicists, and whatever cadre the shiny suit squad wanted to include.
There would also be a driver, his relief, and a couple of extra translators. Good thing it was a large bus, as it’s going to be a huge crew.
We needed to allow our handlers a full day to arrange room and board for us while in the field, as we had to be bivouacked somewhere outside our fine hotel. It needed to be secure, pass sanctuary muster, and be ‘controllable’, referring to both Western scientists and nosy locals.
One thing we found odd was the lack of concern for long-term logistics, not to mention the end of our self-ordained indentured servitude. When this trip and all the Western geoscientists were contacted, we were all assured of an opportunity to meet with the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Un once our trip was completed.
We were to personally deliver one hell of an international photo-op. A ‘hey look how progressive we are’ meeting and our findings in this wonderful and progressive country.
But lately, with what we thought was the fallout of the Festival washing out all the usual propaganda, we’ve heard nothing about Herr Comrade Leader Supremo, K1J1-Un. Nor had we heard one iota about our intended final meeting with him before we left for China.
Since there are “absolutely no” COVID-19 cases in Best Korea, it seemed, well, odd that Beijing was our only possible current exit port of call, and onward to our individual homes.
There were all flavors of rumors flying all throughout the basement bars and casinos of the hotel. One claimed that Kim was now receiving treatment at a villa in the Mount Myohyang resort north of the capital Pyongyang after cardiovascular surgery. That he was near death and that his sister, Kim Yo Jong, is already warming up in the North Korean political bullpen if her brother kacks it.
Others said Kim is believed to be staying at an unspecified location outside of Pyongyang, with some close confidants. It was said that Kim appeared to be normally engaged with state affairs and there has not been any unusual movement or emergency reaction from North Korea's governing party, military, or cabinet.
There was also one other that tries to cover up any conspiracy rumors by shouting over a raspy bullhorn: "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"; but most ignored that little crank.
We all thought that rather odd, but of fairly low concern. In the final analysis, it would have little impact on our studies and their outcome. In other words, it wouldn’t affect our pay one way or the other. We all felt like we’ve given more than what was called for on missions such as this.
And we still haven’t a clue as to when this will all come to an end.
However, we all agreed to the consultation, it would have been fun to meet with him and have our pictures taken with the Supreme Leader. Dr. Academician Ivan Ivanovich Khimik. was especially cheesed that he might miss the opportunity to make finger-vee bunny ears behind the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the DPRK during one of our photo sessions.
We all agree if we do somehow find ourselves in the same room with Ivan and Kim Jong-Un, we’ll form a human shield around the latter. We want to get back home; as we’ve all heard the rumors of the horrors of ‘political realignment’ camps here in Best Korea.
So the meeting breaks up and I’m left with Dax to take the final inventory. Two loads of sandwiches gone, piles of used napkins, ketchup-y table linens, bacon rinds and chicken bones, drippy ends of ice cream cones, prune pits, peach pits, orange peel, gloppy glumps of cold oatmeal, pizza crusts, and withered greens, soggy beans and tangerines, crusts of black burned buttered toast, gristly bits of beefy roasts…
“The hell with this”, I say, I grab the last nearly full bottle of vodka and hand Dax a bottle of Royal Navy dark Rum.
“Tally’s good”, I say, not really giving two tiny shits at this point. “At least, I think it is. Let’s make like horseshit and hit the trail.”
“I’m headed back to our floor and going to zone out in front of some old, looped BBC for the next few hours with a cold drink and hot cigar.” I proclaim.
“Oh, hell”, Dax says, “I agree. It’s been a weird couple of days. Let’s go.”
And so we do.
On the way, I leave the logistics concerns and itinerary for the upcoming field trips with the front desk clerk. I slip her 1000 won as its Festival! and I had a bulgy pocketful of same. She smiled and quietly said there’s be a surprise waiting for me in my room when I got there.
“Rock, you fucking old hound!”, Dax exclaimed as he punched me lightly on the shoulder. “Taking a dip in the hotel secretarial pool?”
“Dax, you surprise me”, I said in my defense, “I have been, and continue to be, happily married for the last 38 years to the most loving, most intelligent, most well-connected, and most accurate snap-shot with a Glock .380 Automatic I know of.”
“Well, me ol’ mucker”, Dax smiles slyly, “If one has been happily married for 38 years, one must have a little something on the side. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge, ‘eh, Squire?”
“Oh, nothing like that”, I replied, while waiting the obligatory 30 minutes for the fucking elevator to arrive. “I couldn't break my word to Esme, and not because I don’t believe in a God that will send me to Hell without an electric fan or because it's not the right thing to do. I simply don't want to. A man is only as good as his word; and if he loses that, he loses too much. I couldn’t function without people thinking that I’m square and on the level. My business would crumble to dust. As would my marriage.”
“Yeah, there is that”, Dax agrees, “You say something is going to happen and God damn, it fucking happens. That’s what makes you honest and honestly scary.”
I stare intently at the annunciator that tells me the fucking elevator is stuck on 4 again.
“You’re not mob, are you?” Dax harshly whispers, snickeringly.
I turn to face Dax and smile wistfully.
“Я с уважением отказываюсь отвечать, потому что я искренне верю, что мой ответ может обвинить меня
”, I reply quietly.
“What the hell does that mean?” Dax demands.
“I respectfully decline to answer because I honestly believe my answer might tend to incriminate me”, I calmly reply.
“Oh, look. Bloody elevator’s finally here.” I note and stride aboard.
Dax gets caught up in the tsunami of the crowd and is carried bodily inside. It was so remorseless, he almost lost his grip on his bottle of Dark Rum.
Up on ‘our’ floor, I go to key open my room. Dax is just down the hall and looking around to see what special surprise might show up. I was too tired to wait so I just push in, and see all my field clothes fully laundered, pressed, and either folded or hanging.
Someone broke into my room during the day and committed a compound neatness.
“POUND! Pound! POUND!” Hmm, appears to be someone at my door.
“Yes, Dax?” I said.
“You too?” he fumed, “Everything, cleaned to within an inch if its life. They even polished my bloody field boots.”
“Oh, fuck”, I said and ran to find mine re-pristinized.
“FUCK! FUCK! FUCKITYFUCKFUCK!” I swore. They had polished my field boots and removed the fine years-of-work-to-acquire near-subsurface of the leather’s oil layer. They polished the water-proofing and conditioning out of the leather of our boots.
“OK. OK.”, I said, “Minor emergency. Cool out. I have the solution.”
I toss Dax a small can. It was brown, oily, and claimed to be “Neatsfoot oil”. It was the SPF- 500 of field leathers.
“Go ahead and oil them up with that”, I told Dax, “I’ve got another can, so don’t worry. Use what you need, don’t be shy, but if there’s any left, let me know. I’ll combine ours and offer it to anyone else in the team who had their boots steam-cleaned.”
So, a bit later, I’m sitting on my hotel room’s floor, on several sheets of newspaper, rubbing Neatsfoot Oil into my ancient, multinational size 16 EEE Vasque™ Tracker field boots.
Then there’s a knock at the door.
“It’s open. Enter carefully”, I say aloud.
It’s a bell clerk with a room service cart. On the cart are a bucket of ice, a bowl of sliced limes, I think, several gimlet glasses, some Best Korean ‘Air Koryo’ carbonated citrus drink, and a fresh bottle of “Kaesong” vodka.
“Compliments of the front desk”, the bellman says.
I stand up, tip him a few thousand won, and set a new record in mixology; a fresh brace of drinks in less than 7.3 seconds.
I offer the bellman the lighter one and he accepts with a wide smile.
I say “건배” (geonbae) literally means 'empty glass', which is similar to the expression 'bottom's up'. For you see, my Korean’s coming along a treat.
We clink glasses and send those drinks to the places that they’ll do the best.
The bellman smiles offloads the cart onto the table in my room, shakes my hand, and departs.
I finish my boots, my drink, and my cigar. After another drink or seven, I crater early. Dax was right; it had been a long, weird day.
The next day, Festival! is still going strong, but still no word on the whereabouts of El Líder Supremo
. I find that odd, only slightly interesting, and since it will impact the day’s events zero, I file it away for maybe later use.
I go to the hotel pool around 0530 and there’s no one there. I’m able to get in a good 100 laps, unburdened with either small talk or by yammering kids blocking my lanes. I go early as I don’t wear gloves in the water, obviously. Statistically, there is less chance there will be others, adults and kids included, that would get freaked out by my gnarly left hand. I really don’t feel like recounting the old Russian Rig Accident story again.
After a brisk shower and double shower-scotch back in my room, I dress casually and wander down to the casino and bar level. It’s essentially breakfast time, but with the revelers not giving two hoots to AM vs. PM, it’s surprisingly busy. I find a perch up on Mahogany Ridge and order a classical breakfast cocktail of one liter of beer and 100 milliliters of chilled vodka.
I see Mr. Ho is manning the bar. I ask him to ring the massage parlor down the hall and see if Ms. Nang Bo-Hee is free sometime this morning.
He does and reports that she has an open hour and a half at 0900. Would I like it or any portion of that time?
“I’ll take the lot”, I said. “Tell them I’ll be there spot on 0900.”
“That’s great.”, Mr. Ho says, hanging up the phone, “Doctor Rock, they tell me that with the Festival discount and you taking the full 90 minutes, they can cut you a very special deal.”
“I’ll bet”, I replied, “Like what?”
“Oh, I cannot say for they did not tell me”, he smiled, “They will tell you when you arrive.”
“Marvelous”, I exhaled tiredly. “Another, Mr. Ho; make it a double, if you would please.”
The massage center here is run by a group not employed directly by the hotel. It’s a separate entity altogether. They run specials and have different discount programs that are not only not controlled nor advertised by the hotel, but they’re also not in any way beholden to the hotel, except for rent, I suppose and run it like their own little fiefdom.
Ms. Nang, my preferred masseuse, is a little, tiny Korean lassie about 5 feet tall and probably all of 90 pounds soaking wet. However, she is amazingly well trained and could probably put me in the hospital for a lengthy visit with her wiles and methods of flesh, bone, and muscle manipulation.
She offers a whole suite of different massage genres: Swedish, hot stone, aromatherapy, deep tissue, sport, trigger point, reflexology, shiatsu, Thai, and Rolfing.
Oh, fuck. I know Rolfing. I tried that nonsense back in grad school with an old east Indian lady that could have linebackered for the Minnesota Vikings. That shit fucking hurt
. Today, it’d incapacitate me permanently. That’s a definite no-go.
I decide that it’s going to be the Hot Stone-treatment today. A geological-manipulation inquiry.
At 0900 I’m the only client at the massage ‘store’. It’s early, day two of the festival, and people are either sleeping off the previous night’s festivities or too wobbly to even think of partaking in a massage.
I’ve had several major back surgeries over the years, including one bilateral laminectomy about seven years ago that removed 7.5 kilos
of overgrown bone and muscle from my lumbar region, so I’ve been very cautious about soliciting a massage. The masseuse has to know that area is strictly verboten
and will do everything to avoid annoying that particular piece of bodily real-estate.
I’ve walked or limped out of massages before where the practitioner said they understood my reticence, but went ahead and kneaded and provoked that land of keloids and deep-body scar tissue.
However, based on past experience, Ms. Nang knows full well my reluctance as well as my desires. That’s the reason I’m returning. She’s very, very good; a consummate professional and has a never-ending series of jokes and observations while she’s pummeling you into submission.
Today, we retire to a private cubicle and she hands me a small robe or napkin, not sure which, of Korean manufacture.
She tells me to get au natural
and to wear the robe while she prepares the tools of her trade.
OK, I’m not a small person; not by a long shot. This robe, however, is made for a sprite, not even for a small person.
She returns to our massage cubicle as I’m sitting there, at the end of the massage table, sipping my drink clad only in my dapper red-and-white checkered boxers.
“You need to be unclothed, Doctor. Use the robe. OK, sir Rock?” she says.
“Ms. Nang,”, I said, shaking my head, “It’s one or the other.” I show her how laughable the robe is as I can’t even get it over my upper arm. It’s not even as a tea towel when it comes to covering my expansive acres of exposed epidermis.
“I can close door.”, she says, “I’m used to it. I am professional. Does not bother me if it does not bother you.”
I lost all forms of bashfulness, timidity, or prudery long, long ago. After years and years of Russian banya
, Swedish massage, Turkish baths, and surgery; well, if it don’t bother you, it don’t bother me.
“OK”, I say, using the robe as a small two-dimensional breechcloth. She tells me to ‘hop’ up on the massage table and lie down, facing the floor.
After chuckling about the fact that I haven’t hopped for decades, I wander over to the nicely padded and extremely clean massage table and lie down. She rearranges the ‘robe’ to cover my backside and tells me to relax. She’ll be right back with the stones.
I’ve never tried this type of massage before, but as a geologist, I must; if for nothing else, progress in the name of science.
Ms. Nang returns with a large parcel consisting of many sizes of steamed stones. They were river-washed and tumbled basalt from the looks of them, all wrapped in a large fuzzy towel.
Now she finds the large towels…
She selects them one by one and places them in ‘special, strategic’ spots on my exposed back. From the lower 2/3rds of the nape of the neck, down the spine, over the fundus mountains, and down the back of each leg.
It’s a warm, almost hot in some places, but not an uncomfortable feeling. She returns to adjust them, grind them in a bit in places, and flip them to extract all that igneous lithological thermal goodness.
I have to admit, at that point, it was feeling quite delightful. Relaxed; I had my drink and was being kneaded My dorsal musculature was being de-lithified by the application of hot rocks and expert point massage.
All was going quite well as Ms. Nang was building a huge tip in her ‘job well done’ bank.
Then the rocks had all attained room temperature. She excused herself to reload with another minor outcrop’s-worth and told me to flip over for round two of the process.
“In for a dime, in for a dollar”, I said, as I flipped over and use the robe as a laughable forward-facing breechcloth.
Ms. Nang mentioned that she was always fascinated by Westerners and their surplus of bodily fuzz. With my long, shoulder-length silver hair, full Grizzly Adams beard that drooped down to my sternum, and torso that picked up where my beard left off; she was quite unprepared to see the beached silver-gray panda that awaited upon her return.
“Dr. Rock!’, she exclaimed, “You are as a bear! So much hair. And silver color!”
“Yeah, sorry”, I replied, “Just the hand genetics dealt me. I guess it’s an adaptation for ethanol-fueled organisms that never feel cold.”
“I will soon return.” She titters excitedly and almost runs out of the room.
“Hmmm. I wonder what that’s all about?” I muse as I lie largely undraped in the massage cubicle.
Suddenly, the door bursts open and every female massage practitioner there herded into the room. They simply had to see the specimen upon which the delightful Ms. Nang was working.
OK, truth be told, I was a bit taken aback. Here I am lying on an elevated, and heavily padded, massage table. I’m ‘wearing’ only a crooked, worried grin and a sheet of a cotton washcloth that measures about 12x12 inches.
They Oohed! and Ahhhed!
I did feel like some form of an alien animal suddenly thrust out into public view. It was a bit disconcerting, but as usual, I just tried to deflect any unease with jokes and idiot remarks. At my age, not much is going to bother me, and this I found all the more laughable than troubling.
Suddenly, I was fielding their barrage of questions:
“You are American? All American men so…hairy?”
“Yes and no”, I replied. I also mentioned I hadn’t undertaken a study in that particular subject.
“Why you so big?” one tiny lass asked, eyes as big as dinner plates.
“Genetics”. I replied. “Just a corn-fed Baja Canadian doofus. We grow ‘em big back home.”
“Can we touch?” one particularly brave little lass asks.
“Touch what?” I asked. Look, I might be over 6 decades old, but there are still some areas reserved for my one and only betrothed.
I did tell Esme of this whole event later that evening during our nightly call. She laughed herself silly.
“Your beard! Oriental men never have such beard. We touch maybe?” she implored.
I was going to say “Go nuts”, but I decided that a simple “Sure” would be more fitting.
So they did. They were enthralled. They had never before, from what I was told, seen such a large silver-gray ZZ Top-style beard, especially here at the hotel. That part was weird enough, but when they started in on working their way south toward the equator, I had to say something to dissuade them.
“Where were you girls 45 years ago?” I laughed.
I don’t think they got the joke. They became somewhat bolder in their austral exploratory activities.
“OK! Time out! Ms. Nang! We have an appointment to keep”, I said as I shooed the rest of the lassies away, “We need to finish what we started.”
By the time that the third syllable of that last sentence came into being, I knew it wasn’t the right thing to say.
They all laughed and tittered as Ms. Nang ushered them out of the room. I could have sworn I heard the door lock behind them.
Ms. Nang reprieved her earlier stone placement therapy, with a couple of strategic detours.
She wasn’t that type of masseuse, and I wasn’t looking for that type of massage. She did, however, knead and pummel me mercilessly.
I’ve been bruised less from barroom brawls.
Finally, she announces that she’s finished. She’ll leave while I shower, as she used essential aromatic oils, and would await me out in the lobby.
After showering, I felt like a large bowl of pummeled Jello. I felt relaxed, and for the first time in weeks, my back was silent. My head was clear as a spring Sunday morn in Reykjavik.
The full 90 minutes, plus sideshow, was 4,500 won.
I paid the owner the required sum and handed Ms. Nang an additional 15,000 for a job well done. And for another anecdote that goes into the hopper.
I left the massage parlor feeling quite fine, thank you. I wandered over to the bar to see if I could augment and prolong this feeling of harmony with the universe. The mental picture even now of all those cooing Korean lassies in the massage room never fails to elicit a laugh and head shake.
A few hours later, I’m back in my room, tidying up my field notes and making certain all my paperwork was heavily encoded and up to date. It was, so I placed a number of expensive overseas calls to catch up with everyone on the outside.
I’m thinking of calling room service to have my mini-bar repaired when my room phone rings.
“Now who would be calling me at this hour?” I wondered.
It was the tour group leader. He informed me that the itinerary had been worked out and we’d be leaving tomorrow for the field at 0600. We were to arrive with all our luggage and be prepared to check out. We would spend at least a week in the field, if not two, depending on our results, and be bivouacking in different places in the interior of the country.
I thanked him for the information and said I’d inform the rest of the team. He told me that wouldn’t be necessary as they would come up to or floor, deliver the notice verbally, or by note if they were out of their rooms. If I wanted to later call each participant and ensure they were apprised of the situation, that would be most appreciated.
I assured him I would do so and that we’d be ready, to a man, at 0600 the next day.
I whip up 10 Post-it™ notes and stick one on each member’s door.
“Leaving for the field. Check out 0530. Wheels up 0600. Bring all luggage. Road trip!” To be continued…
1. Kennedy Assassination - The 2nd Investigation by Congress Few People Know About, United States House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA)
The HSCA was established in 1976 to investigate the John F. Kennedy assassination
and the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination. The Committee investigated until 1978, and in 1979 issued its final report, concluding that President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated by a conspiracy involving the mob, and potentially the CIA.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations undertook reinvestigations of the murders of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1979, a single Report and twelve volumes of appendices on each assassination were published by the Congress.
In the JFK case, the HSCA found that there was a "probable conspiracy," though it was unable to determine the nature of that conspiracy or its other participants (besides Oswald).
This finding was based in part on acoustics evidence from a tape purported to record the shots, but was also based on other evidence including an investigation of Ruby's Mafia connections and potential CIA and/or FBI connections to Oswald. To this day, many conspiracy deniers are unaware that the Congressional investigation into JFK’s assassination concluded beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was a conspiracy.
What made them come to this conclusion?
Aside from reading the report, many witnesses (some of whom were CIA agents and station chiefs in Dallas that morning) were killed the night before testifying.
For example, George de Mohrenschildt
was a petroleum geologist who befriended Lee Harvey Oswald during the months preceding the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. He also worked for the CIA.
He also blew his brains out the night before he was to testify to the committee. The committee also uncovered, among many things, that Oswald left the marines where he learned how to speak fluent Russian (at the height of the cold war).
He was given money by the State Department to travel to Russia where he stopped off in Japan at a top secret US Military facility. The Warren Commission even mentioned this part. What most people do not know is that he probably was working in the Cold War infiltrating the Russians as either a “dangle,” “double agent,” or “defector" of some kind.
What is interesting is that upon his return he got more money from the State Department to buy a house and work with an ex FBI Chief and CIA officials in training anti-Castro Cubans for an invasion.
In Louisiana, where he was working, the CIA was involved in Operation Mongoose
, where Oswald worked under CIA Agent David Ferrie
, who killed himself before testifying in a trial on the Assassination as well. Operation Mongoose worked closely with Southern Mafia figures largely because the casinos in Cuba, which were shut down after Fidel obtained control over the country, were epicenters for control on the island.
The CIA even hired the Mafia to assassinate Fidel on many occasions, 3 attempts which failed are common knowledge.
What is funny is that figures who worked very close with Oswald either ended up dead (over 100 of them connected to the assassination died within a few years of unusual circumstances) or they ended up in other conspiracies.
For instance, E. Howard Hunt
(CIA Agent) confessed to being involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Kennedy on his deathbed.
E Howard Hunt was one of the Watergate Burglars. Barry Seal, who worked with Oswald and Ferrie ended up being one of the largest cocaine smugglers in the United States during Iran Contra, as a key player for the agency and informant for the DEA.
There is so much more to get into, but there just isn’t enough time. Oswald's tax returns are still classified top secret to this day. Why? Perhaps he was still getting $$ from the United States, which places him on the payroll. That money trail leads to figures, many of whom were murdered, that would have blown the story wide open. For 14 years, most didn't know this.
The HSCA investigations by congress went against the findings of the Warren Commission and both reports are from the same source, Congressional Committees.
Which is true? Why do we only teach one to our children in school? VIDEO
2. 1919 World Series Conspiracy
The 1919 World Series (often referred to as the Black Sox Scandal
) resulted in the most famous scandal in baseball history.
Eight players from the Chicago White Sox (nicknamed the Black Sox) were accused of throwing the series against the Cincinnati Reds. Details of the scandal remain controversial, and the extent to which each player was involved varied.
It was, however, front-page news across the country when the story was uncovered late in the 1920 season, and despite being acquitted of criminal charges (throwing baseball games was technically not a crime), the eight players were banned from organized baseball (i.e. the leagues subject to the National Agreement) for life.
There are hundreds of other conspiracies involving throwing games, sporting matches and large scale entertainment events. It is common knowledge for many, this list would have to go into the thousands if we included all of them.
3.Karen Silkwood Karen was an American labor union activist
and chemical technician at the Kerr-McGee plant near Crescent, Oklahoma, United States. Silkwood's job was making plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods.
After being hired at Kerr-McGee, Silkwood joined the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union local and took part in a strike at the plant. After the strike ended, she was elected to the union's bargaining committee and assigned to investigate health and safety issues.
She discovered what she believed to be numerous violations of health regulations, including exposure of workers to contamination, faulty respiratory equipment and improper storage of samples. She also believed the lack of sufficient shower facilities could increase the risk of employee contamination.
In the summer of 1974, Silkwood testified to the Atomic Energy Commission
(AEC) about these issues, alleging that safety standards had slipped because of a production speedup which resulted in employees being given tasks for which they were poorly trained. She also alleged that Kerr-McGee employees handled the fuel rods improperly and that the company falsified inspection records.
On November 5, 1974, Silkwood performed a routine self-check and found almost 400 times the legal limit for plutonium contamination. She was decontaminated at the plant and sent home with a testing kit to collect urine and feces for further analysis. Oddly, though there was plutonium on the exterior surfaces (the ones she touched) of the gloves she had been using, the gloves did not have any holes.
This suggests the contamination did not come from inside the glove box, but from some other source, in other words, someone was trying to poison her.
The next morning, as she headed to a union negotiation meeting, she again tested positive for plutonium. This was surprising because she had only performed paperwork duties that morning. She was given a more intense decontamination. The following day, November 7, 1974, as she entered the plant, she was found to be dangerously contaminated - even expelling contaminated air from her lungs.
A health physics team accompanied her back to her home and found plutonium traces on several surfaces - especially in the bathroom and the refrigerator.
The house was later stripped and decontaminated. Silkwood, her partner and housemate were sent to Los Alamos National Laboratory for in-depth testing to determine the extent of the contamination in their bodies. Later that evening, Silkwood's body was found in her car, which had run off the road and struck a culvert. The car contained no documents.
She was pronounced dead at the scene from a "classic, one-car sleeping-driver accident".
4. CIA Drug Smuggling in Arkansas
August 23, 1987, in a rural community just south of Little Rock, police officers murdered two teenage boys because they witnessed a police-protected drug drop. The drop was part of a drug smuggling operation based at a small airport in Mena, Arkansas. The Mena operation
was set up in the early 1980's by the notorious drug smuggler, Barry Seal
. Facing prison after a drug conviction in Florida, Seal flew to Washington, D.C., where he put together a deal that allowed him to avoid prison by becoming an informant for the government.
As a government informant against drug smugglers, Seal testified he worked for the CIA and the DEA. In one federal court case, he testified that his income from March 1984 to August 1985, was between $700,000 and $800,000. This period was AFTER making his deal with the government.
Seal testified that nearly $600,000 of this came from smuggling drugs while working for - and with the permission of the DEA. In addition to his duties as an informant, Seal was used by CIA operatives to help finance the Nicaraguan Contras. The CIA connection to the Mena operation was undeniable when a cargo plane given to Seal by the CIA was shot down over Nicaragua with a load of weapons.
In spite of the evidence, every investigator who has tried to expose the crimes of Mena has been professionally destroyed, and those involved in drug smuggling operations have received continued protection from state and federal authorities.
February 20, 1986 report on Mena Drug Smuggling: VIDEO DELETED
For years, many conspiracy theorists were saying that the rich and powerful met every year in the woods and worshiped a giant stone owl in an occult fashion.
It turns out, ABC, CBS, NBC, and many other credible news agencies investigated this and found out, its true. It is said to be just all fun and games, like brotherhood style fraternity stuff.
These clips can be viewed here
6. Operation Paperclip Operation Paperclip
was the code name for the 1945 Office of Strategic Services, Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency recruitment of German scientists from Nazi Germany to the U.S. after VE Day.
President Truman authorized Operation Paperclip in August 1945; however he expressly ordered that anyone found "to have been a member of the Nazi party and more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active supporter of Nazi militarism" would be excluded.
These included Wernher von Braun, Arthur Rudolph and Hubertus Strughold, who were all officially on record as Nazis and listed as a "menace to the security of the Allied Forces." All were cleared to work in the U.S. after having their backgrounds "bleached" by the military; false employment histories were provided, and their previous Nazi affiliations were expunged from the record.
The paperclips that secured newly-minted background details to their personnel files gave the operation its name.
7. The Round Table
British businessman Cecil Rhodes
advocated the British Empire re-annexing the United States of America and reforming itself into an "Imperial Federation" to bring about a hyperpower and lasting world peace.
In his first will, of 1877, written at the age of 23, he expressed his wish to fund a secret society (known as the Society of the Elect) that would advance this goal:
“To and for the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world, the perfecting of a system of emigration from the United Kingdom, and of colonization by British subjects of all lands where the means of livelihood are attainable by energy, labor and enterprise, and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the Islands of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South America, the Islands of the Pacific not heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay Archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire, the inauguration of a system of Colonial representation in the Imperial Parliament which may tend to weld together the disjointed members of the Empire and, finally, the foundation of so great a Power as to render wars impossible, and promote the best interests of humanity.”
In his later wills, a more mature Rhodes abandoned the idea and instead concentrated on what became the Rhodes Scholarship, which had British statesman Alfred Milner
as one of its trustees.
Established in 1902, the original goal of the trust fund was to foster peace among the great powers by creating a sense of fraternity and a shared world view among future British, American, and German leaders by having enabled them to study for free at the University of Oxford.
Milner and British official Lionel George Curtis were the architects of the Round Table movement, a network of organizations promoting closer union between Britain and its self-governing colonies.
To this end, Curtis founded the Royal Institute of International Affairs in June 1919 and, with his 1938 book The Commonwealth of God, began advocating for the creation of an imperial federation that eventually re-annexes the U.S., which would be presented to Protestant churches as being the work of the Christian God to elicit their support.
The Commonwealth of Nations was created in 1949 but it would only be a free association of independent states rather than the powerful imperial federation imagined by Rhodes, Milner and Curtis.
The Council on Foreign Relations
began in 1917 with a group of New York academics who were asked by President Woodrow Wilson to offer options for the foreign policy of the United States in the interwar period.
Originally envisioned as a British-American group of scholars and diplomats, some of whom belonging to the Round Table movement, it was a subsequent group of 108 New York financiers, manufacturers and international lawyers organized in June 1918 by Nobel Peace Prize recipient and U.S. secretary of state, Elihu Root, that became the Council on Foreign Relations on 29 July 1921. The first of the council’s projects was a quarterly journal launched in September 1922, called Foreign Affairs.
Some believe that the Council on Foreign Relations is a front organization for the Round Table as a tool of the "Anglo-American Establishment", which they believe has been plotting from 1900 on to rule the world.
The research findings of historian Carroll Quigley
, author of the 1966 book Tragedy and Hope
, are taken by both conspiracy theorists of the American Old Right (Cleon Skousen) and New Left (Carl Oglesby) to substantiate this view, even though he argued that the Establishment is not involved in a plot to implement a one-world government but rather British and American benevolent imperialism driven by the mutual interests of economic elites in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Quigley also argued that, although the Round Table still exists today, its position in influencing the policies of world leaders has been much reduced from its heyday during World War I and slowly waned after the end of World War II and the Suez Crisis. Today it is largely a ginger group, designed to consider and gradually influence the policies of the Commonwealth of Nations, but faces strong opposition.
Furthermore, in American society after 1965, the problem, according to Quigley, was that no elite was in charge and acting responsibly.
American banker David Rockefeller
joined the Council on Foreign Relations as its youngest-ever director in 1949 and subsequently became chairman of the board from 1970 to 1985; today he serves as honorary chairman.
In 2002, Rockefeller authored his autobiography Memoirs
wherein, on page 405, he wrote:
“For more than a century ideological extremists at either end of the political spectrum have seized upon well-publicized incidents... to attack the Rockefeller family for the inordinate influence they claim we wield over American political and economic institutions.
Some even believe we are part of a secret cabal working against the best interests of the United States, characterizing my family and me as 'internationalists' and of conspiring with others around the world to build a more integrated global political and economic structure - one world, if you will.
If that's the charge, I stand guilty, and I am proud of it.”
Barkun argues that this statement is partly facetious (the claim of "conspiracy" or "treason") and partly serious - the desire to encourage trilateral cooperation among the U.S., Europe, and Japan, for example - an ideal that used to be a hallmark of the internationalist wing of the Republican Party when there was an internationalist wing.
However, the statement is taken at face value and widely cited by conspiracy theorists as proof that the Council on Foreign Relations (itself alleged to be a front for an "international banking cabal", as well as, it is claimed, the sponsor of many "globalist" think tanks such as the Trilateral Commission) uses its role as the brain trust of American presidents, senators and representatives to manipulate them into supporting a New World Order.
Conspiracy theorists fear that the international bankers of financial capitalism are planning to eventually subvert the independence of the U.S. by subordinating national sovereignty to a strengthened Bank for International Settlements with the intent to,
“create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole”.
In a 13 November 2007 interview with Canadian journalist Benjamin Fulford, Rockefeller countered:
“I don't think that I really feel that we need a world government. We need governments of the world that work together and collaborate. But, I can't imagine that there would be any likelihood or even that it would be desirable to have a single government elected by the people of the world...
There have been people, ever since I've had any kind of position in the world, who have accused me of being ruler of the world. I have to say that I think for the large part, I would have to decide to describe them as crackpots. It makes no sense whatsoever, and isn't true, and won't be true, and to raise it as a serious issue seems to me to be irresponsible.”
Some American social critics, such as Laurence H. Shoup
, argue that the Council on Foreign Relations is an "imperial brain trust", which has, for decades, played a central behind-the-scenes role in shaping U.S. foreign policy choices for the post-WWII international order and the Cold War, by determining what options show up on the agenda and what options do not even make it to the table; while others, such as G. William Domhoff, argue that it is in fact a mere policy discussion forum, which provides the business input to U.S. foreign policy planning.
The latter argue that it has nearly 3,000 members, far too many for secret plans to be kept within the group; all the council does is sponsor discussion groups, debates and speakers; and as far as being secretive, it issues annual reports and allows access to its historical archives.
8. The Illuminati
The Order of the Illuminati
was an Enlightenment-age secret society founded on May 1st, 1776, in Ingolstadt (Upper Bavaria), by Adam Weishaupt
, who was the first lay professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt.
The movement consisted of freethinkers, secularists, liberals, republicans and pro-feminists, recruited in the Masonic Lodges of Germany, who sought to promote perfectionism through mystery schools.
As a result, in 1785, the order was infiltrated, broken and suppressed by the government agents of Charles Theodore, Elector of Bavaria, in his campaign to neutralize the threat of secret societies ever becoming hotbeds of conspiracies to overthrow the monarchy and state religion.
In the late 18th century, reactionary conspiracy theorists, such as Scottish physicist John Robison
and French Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel
, began speculating that the Illuminati survived their suppression and became the masterminds behind the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.
The Illuminati were accused of being enlightened absolutists who were attempting to secretly orchestrate a world revolution in order to globalize the most radical ideals of the Enlightenment: anti-clericalism, anti-monarchism, and anti-patriarchalism. During the 19th century, fear of an Illuminati conspiracy was a real concern of European ruling classes, and their oppressive reactions to this unfounded fear provoked in 1848 the very revolutions they sought to prevent.
Although many say that the Illuminati was disbanded and destroyed so long ago, it is well known that the Rothschild dynasty following the family’s involvement in the secret order in Bavaria received much attention for its major takeover of Europe’s central banks.
The Rothschild dynasty
owns roughly half of the world’s wealth and evidence suggests it has funded both sides of major wars, including the United States Civil War.
9. The Trilateral Commission
The Trilateral Commission
is a private organization, established to foster closer cooperation among the United States, Europe and Japan.
It was founded in July 1973 at the initiative of David Rockefeller, who was Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations at that time. The Trilateral Commission is widely seen as a counterpart to the Council on Foreign Relations.
In July 1972, Rockefeller called his first meeting, which was held at Rockefeller's Pocantico compound in New York's Hudson Valley. It was attended by about 250 individuals who were carefully selected and screened by Rockefeller and represented the very elite of finance and industry.
Its first executive committee meeting was held in Tokyo in October 1973. The Trilateral Commission was officially initiated, holding biannual meetings.
A Trilateral Commission Task Force Report
, presented at the 1975 meeting in Kyoto, Japan, called An Outline for Remaking World Trade and Finance, said:
"Close Trilateral cooperation in keeping the peace, in managing the world economy, and in fostering economic development and in alleviating world poverty, will improve the chances of a smooth and peaceful evolution of the global system."
Another Commission document read:
"The overriding goal is to make the world safe for interdependence by protecting the benefits which it provides for each country against external and internal threats which will constantly emerge from those willing to pay a price for more national autonomy.
This may sometimes require slowing the pace at which interdependence proceeds, and checking some aspects of it. More frequently however, it will call for checking the intrusion of national government into the international exchange of both economic and non-economic goods."
March 29, 1981 News Clip on Trilateral Commission: vid
May 2, 1995 News Clip on Trilateral Commission: vid
I've tried to make this argument multiple times when I was a struggling Game Designer, but it was always too emotional. Now that I've made the smart move and switched to becoming a Developer, and now that I can clearly and concretely see how fucked the game industry is, I'm going to give this one more crack. And I'm going to summarize my argument right off the bat. TL;DR: If you want to design games, design board games, because the modern video game industry has little to almost no need for game designers.
These days, game studios do not invest in training or hiring good game designers, or even if they did they won't be able to find any, because:
- The video game industry has become incredibly capital intensive and therefore taking creative risks is no longer worth it. Aesthetics based monetization and the paradigm of Sofware-as-a-Service means that once you get ONE game, ANY game, to work, you only need to stick with it to print money forever, and you can usually just ripoff someone else's game design at that.
- The smartphone/indie game boom and bust came and went, indie designers continue to struggle to survive, while "get rich quick" cash in mobile game companies are increasingly falling back on tried-and-true design patterns, while at the same time getting swallowed by, well, Tencent.
- Our hypercapitalistic culture is pushing people away from celebrating artistic mediums, or the study of them as rigorous disciplines. These days, leading a triple-A game production is more akin to being a businessman than a creative.
- Crowdfunding disasters, like Star Citizen, has seriously put the whole damn industry in doubt. It's now possible to run a game like a ponzi scheme. Think about that for a second. That's not even mentioning the glut of subpar competition created by app platforms like App Store, Steam Greenlight, and Google Play, which makes exceptional games almost impossible to stand out.
Let me elaborate on these points, but rest assured, you don't have to read these bits if you don't want to, just reread the TL;DR, that's all I'm really trying to say. Point the first:
Team Fortress, Counterstrike, PUBG, Fortnite, League of Legends, DOTA. All of these games were initially inspired by free to play mods
. But now they're non-stop money printing machines, and there seems to be no end in sight.
There is a reason why Steam Corporation is never going to make Half-Life 3. Why should they? They have an effective monopoly over all computer game digital sales. Why take a risk on any
video game, that might bomb, as the costs just keep going up? Even a bet as safe as HALF LIFE FUCKING THREE.
As the years march on, video games are becoming more and more capital intensive. Not only are the increased expectations of tech constantly pushing the costs to the limit, thereby making investors risk-averse, but the fact that the safest bets ended up succeeding the most
: take an established, already popular mod (DayZ King of the Kill), freshen it up so that the mechanics are just a little tighter (-> Playerunknown's Battlegrounds), then just tweak it even more so that the production values shine and the aesthetic appeals to as much of a mass market as possible (-> Fortnite).
As case in point, take Star Wars 1313. Headed by Amy Hennig, of Uncharted fame. You've got one of the world's biggest IP (Star Wars), backed by the world's most powerful entertainment corporation bar none (Disney), a projected headed by a leader who has proven herself with multiple
franchises (Uncharted, Legacy of Kain) by any
metric of game production in the last few decades, this is a surefire win, right? Well, not in 2018, because as we all know, DAT SHIT DED: https://www.svg.com/117164/disney-wont-release-star-wars-1313/
Innovation is arguably BAD for this business model. Look at Fortnite. They tried to blaze a trail by combining minecraft style building mechanics with shooter mechanics. No one cared.
For the longest time, Fortnite: Save the World looked like it was going to be an abject failure. It wasn't until they ripped off the all too popular Battle Royale format
that they started seeing success. People only cared about Fortnite's gameplay innovations after
they wholesale ripped off PUBG's successful foundation, to the point where PUBG tried to sue them
As a further point, just look at Riot Games' approach to League of Legends. In a bid to keep the game "fresh", they tried hiring all these hotshot designers, tried reworking all the systems, essentially made it an entirely different game every year. Unfortunately, it seems that it didn't work: League is hemorrhaging players who can't keep up with all the gameplay changes, and the next generation of gamers aren't drawn to MOBAs, which was so early 2000s, but rather... Battle Royale games. Riot is more than likely working on a secret project now, even though in the last few years the purported goal was to make League of Legends a "multi-generational game", because for sure ALL MOBA games are bleeding players now... except maybe Dota 2, because it's changed the least so that the players who stuck with it don't feel like they have to start over. You get rewarded more for doing less work!!
And just think. Does the BR genre feel "fresh"? Does it feel like there's innovation happening in it? Even a simple change, like when Fortnite removed the ability to reactivate your glider, was met with so much backlash (even though objectively leaving it in makes a lot of the game's early positioning tactics kind of meaningless) that they had to reintroduce it as "Soaring 50's vs. 50's".
Let's just look at the AAA games of this generation that we all love. Witcher 3, Bloodborne, God of War. All games that built heavily on the tried-and-true (*cough* Dark Souls *cough*) and even the current darling, Spiderman, we can all say is just an HD-remaster-on-steroids of the original Spider-man 2 for PS 2 (fitting that the best movie of the Raimi trilogy would coincide with the best iteration of the game), and even the combat is inspired from Arkham Asylum.
As Uncle Ben would say... "With Great Production Values, comes Great Risk Aversion." Point the second:
Indie mobile designers usually thrive these days by going for extremely niche minimalist "microgames" (like 2047, Flappy Bird, Temple Run, etc.) which almost always get hit with tons of copycats (due to the insanely low barrier of entry), while Indie PC designers are forced to scrape by with microcommunities.
There were a few successes initially, when it seemed like it was going to be an indie videogame renaissance. But we now know that isn't true. The market consolidated a few winners (Supercell's Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, GungHo online's Puzzles and Dragons, Niantic's Pokemon: Go, that last one can hardly even be considered a winner anymore) while almost everything else falls by the wayside, buried in the deluge of productivity apps, photo filter apps and geolocation tracker running apps.
And even worse, the winners have seen even further consolidation. Tencent now completely
owns Riot Games and Supercell, and has majority stakes in Epic Games and Bluehole Games (South Korean creator of PUBG). Just take a second and think about that. League of Legends, Fortnite, PUBG, Clash Royale and Clash of Clans... probably five of the most overwhelmingly popular games in the world. Wanna know what happened after Tencent acquired all these hot properties? They post their first losses ever because China won't let them sell PUBG in China: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-15/tencent-posts-a-surprise-profit-drop-as-regulators-hobble-games Point the Third:
While Indie PC games like NEO Scavenger, Undertale, Darkest Dungeon and Underrail are fantastic
games with an immense amount of depth, the sales can barely keep one or two people employed considering that even lo-fi indie games takes YEARS to make, often one dude slaving away for 10+ hour days on end. The initial surge of Indie success has come and gone: just watch the doc "Indie Game: The Movie". Perhaps the biggest winner in this entire sector was Stardew Valley
by Eric Barone... that's ONE GUY, making ONE GAME, entirely on his own, and guess what? It might as well have been a Harvest Moon port.
To be a "game designer" with any sense of creative control over your product (instead of the corporate style "design by committee" formula) you must also: run your own business, be your own PR manager, be your own marketing expert, be your own artist, be your own coder (Dan Fedor was a technical artist and made lots of the pixel art and coded almost all of the game by himself, Dejan Radisic practically built the entire Underrail alpha with his own two hands, Eric Barone made all the art and did all the code for Stardew Valley). Game Designer is now a secondary title, either everyone on the team has some semblance of Game Design understanding, or no one does (replaced by UX designers, monetisation experts, project managers), because any self-styled "game designer" will have to build the game he designs by himself, ain't no company giving you a job just to crank out a GDD (game design document) if you can't contribute to the project in some other way as well. It is no longer considered a serious job title. You are DevelopeGame Designer, or Artist/Game Designer, or Project ManageGame Designer. There is no "Game Designer". Most of the time, you might as well just leave out the "/Game Designer" bit. I suppose exceptions to the rule exist, but they are more than likely older designers, brought up in the much more creatively inspired industry of the 90s, and maybe had to work brutal hours under a AAA studio as a QA for a decade before they were properly brought up into the "design team".
Not only is corporate culture loathe
to celebrate the auteur (which is logical since out sized individual influence for any employee other than the CEO, who is beholden to a faceless group of shareholders anyway, is the antithesis of how corporations work) but even successful game designers are expected to take on roles than have nothing to do with game design: project manager, team leader, public relations expert, tech evangelist.
Concrete examples: Hideo Kojima's treatment by Konami, or say, Cliff Blezinski's career trajectory, which has clearly gone from "rockstar game designer" to "elite businessman who sells Unreal Engine".
These days, people want to be Elon Musk instead of Steven Spielberg. And at least, with film, you're talking about a much more easily made product with a LOT of rigorous academic discipline behind it. Who gets more respect... Steven Spielberg, or Sid Meier? Is Sid Meier even a game designer anymore, or just a brand name and a businessman who owns Firaxis Games?
One good metaphor, I think, is that of the rap mogul. Are Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent known more for their music these days? ...or their businesses? (Tidal, Beats, Vitamin Water) These are the three biggest fortunes in the rap game, and all three of them stem from business decisions. Just like how it is in the rap game, business acumen has become more critical to making video games than creativity, at this point. Point the fourth:
"business" acumen, and nowhere can this be seen more clearly that Scam... I mean Star
I'm not even going to get into Star Citizen, because the facts speak for themselves. Any project that is going well shouldn't need to ask its massive crowdfunding
(not even customer, because the product hasn't even been fucking finished!) community to shell out $27,000 (only after you've shelled out the roughly $1,000 to even get access to this "deal" in the first place) for "every ship in the game", most of which exist only in the minds of artists and designers.
Right along with the "Indie game boom" was the "Crowdfunding boom". You look at, say, Double Fine Entertainment, and it becomes clear that my last point, that you need business acumen more than you need creativity these days when making games, is best exemplified by Tim Schafer. Taking an underdog studio that made critically acclaimed but underperforming hits into the darling of the Indie/Crowdfunding nexus... and then using that same blessing to bring his company back
into the graces of the publishers... is probably the most brilliant yet circumlocutory path to video game studio success ever seen. Not only were some of the crowdfunded games panned (like the long awaited "Broken Age") but many of the games that Double Fine went ahead and made with their newfound capital were small, experimental games that essentially helped the company paddle leisurely along, making games that were fun for them to make, as their fans continued to give them money before an actual product, until they scored a publishing deal for Psychonauts 2, which, let's be real, was what we all wanted all along. And how innovative do we expect Psychonauts to be, really? Do we really expect weird ass mechanics like in Stacking? ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stacking_(video_game)
) ) Of course not, because that would be sacrilege.
So let me ask you. If you really think you do care about innovation in videogames. Did you give a shit about Stacking? Did you play it? Or did it feel like a gimmick?
Do we really
want innovation in our video games, or are we just looking for the Man to make a better Skinner Box?
Because if we just keep playing Battle Royale games so we can accrue enough soft currency to buy that next sweet hat instead of
diversifying our video game tastes (and thereby putting money in the hands of creative innovators) it really seems like the latter option - the Skinner Box - is what we really want.
These days, if you want a specific type of game that isn't popular, it's going to have to be crowdfunded. I'll take one example that's near and dear to me: Pillars of Eternity. I loved tactical isometric RPGs. When I heard PoE was going to be crowdfunded, I was so excited. But, when the product finally came out, it sucked. Why?
Returning to point the first: games are just becoming so capital intensive that crowdfunding isn't
a guarantor of quality. Moreover, crowdfunding leaves the producer beholden to the fans, leading to shit decisions, like all the lame Mary-Sues, oh I'm sorry "backer characters", strewn about in PoE, with a litany of Fifty Shades of Grey cringe-level fanfiction writing to show you should you be stupid enough to try a talk interaction with them. More often than not, crowdfunding has absurd stretch goals
that perpetually leave the team spread out to thin, no matter how much money is raised, even for features that do not serve the game at all as a whole but just sound cool
on their own, like the stupid, stupid, stupid fucking levels of Od Nua. And even worse, crowdfunding fundamentally sustains itself on hype. When the hype dies down, what happens?
Guess what? Banner Saga 2 bombed hard af. No one bought it. Guess what? Pillars of Eternity: The White March DLCs, although it is commonly agreed by the PoE community to be the expansion that "fixed" the game's combat (after years, with the 3.0 revamp)... did not even break even on sales. Obsidian Entertainment lost money
on The White March. Guess what? X-Com 2 underperformed just as badly as these two, and Firaxis barely recovered by releasing the expansion, which made it a very, very different game. There are probably a lot more examples, but I don't want to hunt them down because... that's depressing. Because we all know what happened. The first crowdfunding surge probably brought in a lot of people who were into it because of nostalgia, only for the limitations of crowdfunding to reveal itself, leaving everyone disinterested... and before you know it, everyone has moved on to a Battle Royale game of choice. Conclusion:
The truth is, game design is just about hijacking human consciousness. It's about getting people to be addicted to the a behavioral loop. There's nothing glorious, or creative, about it when you scale that up to the corporate level, because all you really
need to design is that one lever, that core game loop, that you can pull again, and again, and again, and oftentimes it's just way easier to lift that design from someone else
than build it yourself from scratch.
Ten thousand games of Fortnite would never have the meaning that a single viewing of The Godfather part II could hold. Fifty million games of Fortnite could not compare to Moby Dick. And even the most emotionally devastating and meaningfully masterful games of the 21st century, like The Last of Us, owes more to narrative design, storytelling, film design, character design than it does to game design. Viewed from the lens of pure game design: Last of Us is just another survival/stealth action shooter, except with an escort objective that cannot actually be killed.
If you want truly mindbending, creative, and innovative game mechanics, look to board games. And in fact, it can't be a coincidence that these days we're seeing a resurgence of analog board games. People are sick of the "design-by-committee" philosophy that has completely eaten the videogame industry alive. TL;DR: If you want to design games, design board games, because the modern video game industry has little to almost no need for game designers.
The Game Designer is dead. Long live the Game Designer.
EDIT: P.S, one last data point. Guess what the biggest growing segment in mobile gaming is? It's online gambling/casino games. Like I said, it is easier to lift game design from somewhere else now than to invent it wholesale.
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