Category Archive 'Disasters'
17 Jul 2019

Elmer Keith’s Ka-BOOM!

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28 Jun 2019

“Star Citizen:” $300 Million in Funding, Still No Game

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These were sold last year for $1650 each.

Forbes tells us all about Star Citizen, a video game that attracted $300 million in Crowd-Funding, but still may never be completed.

It’s October 2018 and 2,000 video game fanatics are jammed into Austin’s Long Center for the Performing Arts to get a glimpse of Star Citizen, the sprawling online multiplayer game being made by legendary designer Chris Roberts. Most of the people here helped to pay for the game’s development—on average, $200 each, although some backers have given thousands. An epic sci-fi fantasy, Star Citizen was supposed to be finished in 2014. But after seven years of work, no one—least of all Roberts—has a clue as to when it will be done. But despite the disappointments and delays, this crowd is cheering for Roberts. They roar as the 50-year-old Englishman jumps onto the stage and a big screen lights up with the latest test version of Star Citizen.

The demo starts small: Seeing through the eyes of the in-game character, the player wakes up in his living quarters, gets up and brews a cup of coffee. Applause quickly turns to laughter when the game promptly crashes. While his underlings scramble to get the demo running again, a practiced Roberts smoothly fills minutes of dead air by screening a commercial for the Kraken, a massive war machine spaceship. Eventually the Kraken, like all the starships that Roberts sells, will be playable in Star Citizen. At least that’s the hope. But for $1,650 it could be yours, right away.

“Some days, I wish I could be like . . . ‘You’re not going to see anything until it’s beautiful,’ ” Roberts later says at his Los Angeles studio. “A lot of times we’ll show stuff and literally say, ‘Now, this is rough.’ ”

What’s really rough is the current state of Star Citizen. The company Roberts cofounded, Cloud Imperium Games, has raised $288 million to bring the PC game to life along with its companion, an offline single-player action game called Squadron 42. Of this haul, $242 million has been contributed by about 1.1 million fans, who have either bought digital toys like the Kraken or given cash online. Excluding cryptocurrencies, that makes Star Citizen far and away the biggest crowdfunded project ever.

Rough playable modes—alphas, not betas—are used to raise hopes and illustrate work being done. And Roberts has enticed gamers with a steady stream of hype, including promising a vast, playable universe with “100 star systems.” But most of the money is gone, and the game is still far from finished. At the end of 2017, for example, Roberts was down to just $14 million in the bank. He has since raised more money. Those 100 star systems? He has not completed a single one. So far he has two mostly finished planets, nine moons and an asteroid.

This is not fraud—Roberts really is working on a game—but it is incompetence and mismanagement on a galactic scale. The heedless waste is fueled by easy money raised through crowdfunding, a Wild West territory nearly free of regulators and rules. Creatives are in charge here, not profit-driven bean counters or deadline-enforcing suits. Federal bureaucrats and state lawyers have intervened only in a few egregious situations where there was little effort to make good and a lot of the money was pocketed by the promoters. Many high-profile crowdfunded projects, like the Pebble smartwatch ($43.4 million raised) and the Ouya video game console ($8.6 million), have failed miserably.

If you don’t play video games, you probably have never heard of Roberts. But in the world of consoles and controllers, he is Keith Richards: an aging rock star who can still get fans to reach into their pockets. Roberts first gained fame with his early 1990s hit Wing Commander, a space combat series that grossed over $400 million and featured Hollywood stars like Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell. He followed that success by starting his own studio, Digital Anvil, with Microsoft as an investor. There, he spent years working on Freelancer, a spiritual successor to Wing Commander, which was eventually released years behind schedule and was far from a blockbuster. Roberts also dabbled in Hollywood, spending tens of millions on a movie version of Wing Commander that he directed himself and that was a critical and commercial flop.

Forbes spoke to 20 people who used to work for Cloud Imperium, many of whom depict Roberts as a micromanager and poor steward of resources. They describe the work environment as chaotic.

“As the money rolled in, what I consider to be some of [Roberts’] old bad habits popped up—not being super-focused,” says Mark Day, a producer on Wing Commander IV who runs a company that was contracted to do work on Star Citizen in 2013 and 2014. “It had got out of hand, in my opinion. The promises being made—call it feature creep, call it whatever it is—now we can do this, now we can do that. I was shocked.”

“There is a plan. Don’t worry—it’s not complete madness,” Roberts insists.

But what Roberts has stirred up does seem crazy. Star Citizen seems destined to be the most expensive video game ever made—and it might never be finished. To keep funding it and the 537 employees Cloud Imperium has working in five offices around the world, Roberts constantly needs to raise more money because he is constantly burning through cash.

This is not fraud—Roberts really is working on a game—but it is incompetence and mismanagement on a galactic scale. …

“There’s no two ways about it, man. Star Citizen is nuts,” says Jesse Schell, a prominent game developer and professor at Carnegie Mellon University. “This thing is unusual in about five dimensions. . . . It is very rare to be doing game development for seven years—that’s not how it works. That’s not normal at all.”

RTWT

Boy! That this story take me back to the old days at SPI back in the late 1970s. I can tell you that high intelligence and self-discipline do not necessarily go together, and that long hours and complete obsession can lead to dissociation from reality. We certainly never spent millions on any game, let alone $500 million, but there were definitely some games where development went on, and on, and on, like Achilles and the tortoise, never quite arriving at completion.

16 Apr 2019

Good News

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The Crown of Thorns

Many of the most important treasures of the Cathedral of Notre Dame were saved.

The facade and the two front bell towers survived as did the three Rose Windows over the main portals dating back to the 13th Century.

Apparently, the Great Organ was also saved.

Both what is purported to be the original Crown of Thorns worn by Christ during the Crucifixion and the tunic worn by St. Louis when he delivered the Crown to Paris in 1238 were also saved.

Apparently, Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, entered the burning cathedral and personally saved both the Blessed Sacrament and the Crown of Thorns, passing them out of danger via a human chain.

CNN

And much of what has been lost was not as old as one might have supposed.

J. Duncan Barry explains:

Bear in mind that the “real” — or near-original ”modern” state of — Notre Dame was significantly defaced during the iconoclastic spasm wrought by the French Revolution.

What we see today is largely the result of the highly controversial theories of architect-scholar-architectural restoration advocate E.-E. Violet-le-Duc — as executed by Ballu in the middle of the 19th century.

Today’s cathedral is as much symbol of these historical layers as it is an artifact.

I would even argue that the symbolic quality of this event already FAR surpasses the physical and *actual* damage — which appears to me to be a fire that started in the wooden substructure of the flèche [the tower that collapsed –jdz], a NON-original, 19th-century design put up to “improve” on the original. It was put in place when Lincoln was running for President.

But this “new” appendage carries with it all prior incarnations of the earlier variations of the flèche, as well as the Divine significance it carries as the tectonic marker of the crossing of the cruciform ground plan. It is a real thing, but it is as a carrier of meaning that gives it such power over our thoughts about the building and its place in the way our species has conceptualized our role in creation.

The symbolic aura is precisely what drives our visceral reaction: we respond to an image that is freighted with emotion.

The symbol has become more real than the object.

20 Aug 2016

Obama and the Louisiana Flood

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06 Jul 2016

America Needs a Drink

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A few of these and Hillary & Trump won’t matter so much.

Kevin Williamson offers some consoling thoughts as the country goes down the toilet.

[I]n the 2016 presidential election: The Democrats are offering a corrupt, lifelong machine politician who just narrowly avoided indictment with the help of a remarkably solicitous FBI; short of a rebellion in Cleveland, the Republicans are set to offer one of that Democratic crook’s friends and financial patrons, a semiliterate aspiring strongman whose greatest contribution to public life has been a stint as a game-show host. We are being given a choice between gonorrhea and syphilis.

If there is a silver lining in that ugly cumulonimbus mess, it is this: The country probably will muddle through, just as it usually does. Things will go on very much as they have in the past, and the things that are dramatically different will be things that we are not thinking about very much right now. And that will provide us with an opportunity to learn something important: Yes, it matters who the president is, but not as much as we think. It matters what the character of our government is and who we entrust to run it, but not as much as we think. Jackass A or Jackass B will do his or her worst, to be sure, and the damage will be both real and painful, but America will go on, because America doesn’t actually need these jackasses as much as Americans think.

I can face adversity as well as the next man, myself, but I do think that getting this electoral choice after eight years of Obama is piling on.

05 Jul 2016

No Small Disaster

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trainwreck-8

Holman W. Jenkins Jr. recognizes that Donald Trump is a shrewdly calculating utilitarian who is in it for himself. What, he wonders, will happen if Trump decides at some point that he cannot win?

Before they gather in Cleveland for their convention, it’s not too soon for Republicans to begin thinking about what exactly a Donald Trump defeat might be like.

As with his now-documented habit of charitable promises that seldom materialize, Mr. Trump never intended to endanger a sizable part of his personal wealth to fund a presidential campaign. That means he’ll continue to campaign on the cheap, by saying incendiary things and having them transmitted by the free media. Expect more speeches like the protectionist-cum-conspiracy theory speeches in suburban Pittsburgh on Tuesday and New Hampshire on Thursday, even if such diatribes frighten major donors and mainstream Republicans and make life harder for down-ticket Republican candidates in the fall. …

Here resides the problem all along for those hoping for a Trump-to-the-middle move. Such moves are expensive. Base-broadening campaigns require lots of paid TV to reach non-engaged voters and Trump skeptics, pummeling them with reassuring images suggesting that a Trump presidency would be OK.

Mr. Trump not only is unwilling or unable to finance such a campaign. He evidently is unwilling to do what’s necessary to entice GOP donors to finance it on his behalf. This means GOP officeholders seeking re-election can expect a constant headwind of inflammatory Trump statements designed to stimulate the free media coverage that his asset-lite campaign requires. Republican candidates up and down the ballot therefore become unwilling sharers of a high-risk Trump electoral wager, a gamble more likely to end in a Hillary landslide than a Trump White House.

The more intriguing question concerns what happens if Mr. Trump decides he can’t win and no longer is willing to throw good money after bad. Unless they were born on a turnip truck yesterday, campaign vendors will be the first to figure it out. Look for them quickly to cut off services rather than get stiffed in the inevitable Trump campaign bankruptcy filing.

Mr. Trump’s harsher Republican critics are kidding themselves to think Mr. Trump is crazy or unstable and will suffer a breakdown. More likely, he will simply and coldbloodedly toss the ball to the GOP, saying, in effect, “If you want to pay for some events or TV, I’m available. Otherwise I’m done.” The GOP would then have to shoulder the dual burden of propping up a minimally respectable Trump campaign while also distancing its down-ballot candidates from Mr. Trump so they might survive.

And that’s the optimistic scenario. Mr. Trump has learned the value of audacity. He might well decide to cover his retreat and preserve his amour propre with a flurry of lawsuits and conspiracy theories about a “rigged” election.

He’s already begun putting narrative flesh on these bones. He speaks of “crooked Hillary” and increasingly of the Clinton Global Initiative, Bill Clinton’s philanthropy, and what he calls the Clintons’ “politics of personal profit and theft.” In his trade speeches, he portrays the Clintons as members of a nefarious global elite that has enriched itself while foisting impoverishing trade deals on the U.S. middle class.

He perhaps will throw in a few suggestions that foreign governments hold hidden leverage over Hillary because of her hacked, illegal email server. He’ll mention Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich.

Republicans can also expect to be a target of his accusations. He doesn’t need to be plausible, just tell a story that justifies his own stance that he didn’t lose, the other side cheated, “Washington elites” conspired against him, etc.

If the Trump endgame is destined to go this way, Republicans should hope it does so early, ideally before the convention is even over. To date, Mr. Trump continues to tease top GOPers and conservatives with the idea that he may yet come their way, turn his formidable talents to advancing conservative causes. This merciless exploiting of Republican romantics has begun to seem like something out of “The Blue Angel” or Lucy with the football.

07 Jun 2016

The Seine Is Rising

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The Seine is rising, and Paris is on flood alert.

09 May 2016

Another Lost Orson Welles Masterpiece Resurfaces

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HustonWelles

Josh Karp, in Vanity Fair, recounts the story of another never-finished Orson Welles masterpiece film, The Other Side of the Wind. Imagine a film about a troubled director in which Orson Welles collaborated with both John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich. What could possibly go wrong?

In early 1970, director Orson Welles returned to Hollywood after more than a decade in Europe, and later that year he began work on his innovative comeback movie—The Other Side of the Wind.

The movie was the story of a legendary director named Jake Hannaford, who returns to Hollywood from years of semi-exile in Europe with plans to complete work on his own innovative comeback movie—also entitled The Other Side of the Wind.

Welles said it wasn’t autobiographical.

The story line of The Other Side of the Wind was supposed to take place during a single day. At one point, Welles intended to shoot it in eight weeks. Instead, it took six years, and the film remains unfinished nearly four decades later.

Based on a script Welles revised nightly, the film was financed principally by the Shah of Iran’s brother-in-law and offered possibly one last shot at topping Citizen Kane. The making of The Other Side of the Wind began as a tale of art imitating life, but ultimately morphed into life imitating art, on a set where it sometimes became difficult to tell the difference between the movie and real life.

During production many people asked Welles what his movie was all about. To his star, John Huston, he once replied, “It’s a film about a bastard director…. It’s about us, John. It’s a film about us.”

20 Apr 2016

“It was Midnight on the Sea, the Band was Playing ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee'”

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Watch the Titanic go down in real time.

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Needless to say, Jamie Brockett’s Legend of the Titanic (though amusing) is not really at all factual.

11 Mar 2016

Lots of People Want to

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ItsMyParty

22 Jan 2016

Excitement on the Job

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From Facebook: Railroad Worker sees right-of-way washed out, April, 2011, Sudbury-Timmons region, Canadian National Railway line.

05 Oct 2015

Heavy Rain in South Carolina

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