Twenty three, she told him: I'm twenty three.
"Twenty three's a very spiritual number," he said sagely. "I've just come to know that. It's because it is a prime number, it doesn't divide into other numbers. And there's another reason as well, but I can't remember."
She nodded. He had brought her to one of those big chain pubs, this one on the top floor of a mall. The neck of a 2012 Sauvignon Blanc chilled against the rim of a steel bucket. From their table you could look outside - still daylight - and watch the pedestrians run out against the traffic.
"I'm 28," he added. "And I'm 29 on my next birthday."
And he was 100 per cent shoulder muscle. Huge arms, really just ridiculous, he was all about those arms, which pushed out of a skimpy white t-shirt like elephant legs. Tanned, too, he'd put a lot of time into that tan which still didn't quite cover all the acne scars. When he spoke, which was often, it was in a soft English lisp, the kind of voice you can't imagine could ever be raised.
"You speak English very well," he noted suddenly. "You just need to expand your vocabulary. Your pronunciation, though, is quite good. It is American, but it's quite understandable. It's not a fault."
She said thanks, in the English that he had now sanctioned, and then pointed out all the jewellery his was wearing: the copious rings, bracelets, necklaces and chains.
"Yes, this is my gold," he confirmed. "Not all of it. And some of this is platinum, but mostly this is gold. Sometimes gold and platinum go together well." He sighed. "It's not good to wear too much gold."
She asked why.
"Well, you know," he said. "People get jealous."
Later, she told him about home, about Taiwan. He wondered aloud, was Taiwan a very interesting place? and she began a story about the deadly tsunami nine years ago that had torn through Southeast Asia.
"I'm sorry," he interrupted, "I was just thinking about gold. I was just thinking I want to get my nephew something gold, maybe a gold belt. Sorry, what was the question? Please continue."
From where she sat, she could see, over his shoulder, the exit to the bar and the escalators that ran back down to the street. Instead, she stayed.
November 7, 2013
This is the true story of John Swartwout, a man whom history remembers not for who he was or what he did, but because he hung around with someone actually famous.
John Swartwout's claim to notability is that he knew Aaron Burr, the third vice president of the United States. Swartwout, along with his brothers (the Sensational Swartwout Brothers) was a long-time member of Burr's entourage. His duties as an entourage member included 1) offering counsel and 2) not known.
Aaron Burr was roundly disliked in his time. He was considered ruthlessly ambitious, and the archetypal career politician. The aspersions cast on Burr were vicious and correct. For example, on the moment of Burr's greatest political victory, winning the vice presidency, he immediately looked into forcing out the president-elect, Thomas Jefferson, and claiming the presidency for himself.
But once, Aaron Burr stepped up in a time of public crisis. Yellow fever had broken out in Lower Manhattan, thought to be the result of a contaminated and sub-par water supply system. "I will do something about this," Aaron Burr announced. "I will make a water company, and provide clean, safe water to the people of Manhattan."
Even Burr's political enemies were like: "Yes. We like this. We love this idea, and we will do whatever it takes to make it happen, Aaron Burr." With broad support and political goodwill, a bill setting up Burr's water company and assigning it responsibility for servicing Manhattan was swiftly signed into law by the governor of New York.
"Thank you," said Aaron Burr, "thank you for your faith in me. One thing, though, one thing and it's almost not even worth mentioning, I changed the legislation you signed at the last second so that I don't have to do any of that water supply stuff, and instead I can run my new company as a bank. And I can use the capital we raise to fund my presidential campaign. I think I'm probably going to do that. The yellow fever thing... yeah, that's tough. Yeah, I don't know the answer to that one."
Burr's plan had worked, and everybody was mad at him again. With his newfound largesse, Burr ran a strong campaign, barely losing the presidential race to Thomas Jefferson. He became Jefferson's vice president in a show of unity. Things were good for John Swartwout, too. Burr had set him up with a job as associate director of the fake water company/secret bank, drawing upon Swartwout's skills and experience in 1) not known.
But the enemies of Burr had not forgotten. In 1802, a year and a half into Burr's vice presidency, they struck. A gang of New York politicians, led by senator and rising star DeWitt Clinton, forced a takeover of Burr's company and ousted the vice president from his position as director. Swartwout was thrown out as well.
Swartwout wasn't happy. He complained that DeWitt Clinton was a big bully and had only gone after them for personal reasons. And whether or not he meant for this to happen, word of his complaints reached Senator Clinton, who responded publicly by branding John Swartwout "a liar, a scoundrel, and a villain."
Swartwout was shocked. "You're calling me names!" he said. "You're saying that I'm a liar and a scoundrel and a villain and that's not true. That's not fair." Such an affront, Swartwout figured, demanded a public apology. He drafted a letter for Clinton to sign, in which a remorseful, pathetic Clinton threw himself upon the mercy of a righteous Swartwout and begged him to accept his profuse apology. Clinton told him to fuck off.
Now Swartwout was furious. "You have offended me, DeWitt Clinton," he said, "and I must have satisfaction. I want to fight you. I want to fight you in a duel. I challenge you to face me in a duel, and if you have any honor at all, you must accept."
"Whatever," said Clinton. Clinton was in!
In the honor duels of the 18th and 19th centuries, killing your opponent was not the point. The rules of duelling, in fact, made that extremely unlikely. The flintlock pistols typically used in duelling often misfired, and duellists had no more than three seconds to take aim. It was not common at all for participants to be killed or even shot.
The purpose of duelling to settle scores was to prove that both parties had the courage of their convictions. The wronged man could face his aggressor, fire a pistol at him, then - as was his right - declare honor satisfied and call off the duel. The two men would live, look each other in the eye and shake hands, secure in the knowledge that they were cool, sexual guys.
There was still the problem of duelling being illegal. So to do it you had to get up very early in the morning, before anyone else was awake.
John Swartwout and Senator DeWitt Clinton met at the duelling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey on July 30, 1802. They were joined by their 'seconds', William Stephens Smith and Richard Riker. The seconds were responsible for negotiating on behalf of the 'principals' - Swartwout and Clinton - and officially calling the duel to an end once shots were fired and honor was satisfied. The principals were not able to do this because they were required to glower at one another in anger.
Clinton and Swartwout stood ten yards apart. When ordered to fire, they were to raise their flintlock pistols and, within three seconds, shoot at the other.
Swartwout sized up the senator from New York.
Both men took aim, quickly, and fired.
"Well," said William Stephens Smith, Swartwout's second. "Is honor satisfied?"
"What?" Swartwout blinked. "No! That was very disappointing for me!"
The seconds conferred. "We're going again," Smith called out.
Swartwout and Clinton reloaded their pistols, took aim, and fired at each other.
Again, they missed.
"Is honor satisfied?" Smith asked Swartwout.
"No!" Swartwout said. "He called me a liar!"
Clinton shrugged, and they prepared to go again.
Clinton and Swartwout fired again. And missed each other again.
"Is honor satisfied?" Smith asked.
"No, it's not."
The men reloaded and waited for their instruction.
Swartwout missed. Clinton's bullet ripped through Swartwout's leg, tearing into the flesh below the knee. But Swartwout stayed standing.
"Oh shit," said Smith, looking at the wound. "Okay, this is definitely over. We have to get you to the hospital or something."
"No," said Swartwout. "Honor is not satisfied."
The code of duelling dictated that only Swartwout could declare an end to the duel, and so, the principals reloaded to shoot guns at each other again.
On their fifth exchange, Swartwout missed and Clinton hit Swartwout in the same leg, above the knee. Still, Swartwout remained standing.
"I want to go again," Swartwout said.
"No, this is really stupid," Clinton interrupted. "This is really dumb. I'm not doing this anymore. I'm going home."
"What! You can't do that!"
"I don't want to kill this fool," Clinton said. "Maybe if the real principal was here, maybe if I was up against Burr, rather than this child... but no. Forget this. I'm going home in my boat."
Clinton left with his second, and Swartwout, bleeding from two holes in his leg, turned to Smith helplessly.
"I don't know what to do."
Smith took Swartwout back to, of all places, Aaron Burr's house. Swartwout was carried inside and set down on the carpet.
"What the fuck?" Aaron Burr would probably have said. "What the fuck is this?"
"I did it for you!" said the bleeding John Swartwout. "I did this for you."
Swartwout survived his injuries, and slandered DeWitt Clinton as a coward. Clinton didn't even respond. And from there, John Swartwout served out the rest of his natural life in a manner that history has declared not important.
September 24, 2013
The tattooed arm you see in the photo above belongs to Gone Home designer Steve Gaynor. Further around that arm, you’ll find a second tattoo of a stylised owl, an image that formed part of the logo for Gaynor’s first project as a lead designer, BioShock 2: Minerva’s Den. Steve Gaynor is a man who bleeds for video games.
Five years ago, I wrote about “0451”, a numerical phrase that shows up as a password in the System Shock, Deus Ex and BioShock games. I defined 0451 then as a kind of DNA marker. Each of the games to include the reference had evolved out of a specific design aesthetic: first-person, set in densely interactive and interesting worlds, with a style of play blending action, stealth and exploration. Since that article, the 0451 sphere of influence has expanded: the code has appeared in Dishonored, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, BioShock Infinite, Gone Home, and on human flesh.
When 0451 first appeared in System Shock in 1994, it was as a nod to Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, but there was no obvious meaning to the reference. 0451 gained significance not for how it was originally used, but through its usage – in the games of Origin Systems and Looking Glass Studios, and by designers like Harvey Smith, Warren Spector, Ken Levine and Doug Church. 0451, in each of the games that it appears, represents membership of a broader design philosophy.
Steve Gaynor is of the first generation of game developers to have grown up with, and been influenced by, games like Looking Glass’ System Shock and Thief, and Deus Ex. For a while, his career in the games industry followed in the Looking Glass tradition about as closely as possible. He worked as a level designer on BioShock 2 and BioShock Infinite, before leaving triple A game development to found an independent studio, The Fullbright Company, in Portland, OR.
On the face of it, Gone Home - Fullbright's first - couldn’t be less like the games that had inspired Steve Gaynor. Gone Home is decidedly realist, without sci-fi or fantasy elements, and has no combat, no stealth, no enemies, and no puzzles.
And yet Gone Home is an 0451 game, both technically and in spirit. What does that mean, to be an 0451 game? Here's Steve Gaynor.
STEVE GAYNOR: For me, it denotes a dedication to a certain design philosophy, and a certain way of relating to players of your game. It comes from this background of System Shock and Thief and Deus Ex and that lineage of games that on some level, aesthetically, are about being first person games that are very aesthetically immersive and atmospheric and having worlds that are deeply interactive and all that kind of stuff.
But the other side of it is, I feel like all of those games are about trusting the player, in a really meaningful way. Saying we're going to make a world that stands on its own, and that you're a part of, and that you're visiting and interacting with, but that doesn't cater to you, that trusts you to be curious enough and invested enough to navigate it and be interested in it and figure it out and be a part of it because of your inherent interest in exploring that space. And not because of extrinsic rewards or awesome cutscenes or all these things that are made to motivate the player to play the game in this heavy-handed way, but instead are hands off and an invitation for you to invest yourself.
I think it's a really important design philosophy to be represented. I don't think every game should be like that, but I think it's important that there are games like that. They're inspiring to me and I think that they're an important part of what games can do that isn't especially common, but that I think speaks to people, or at least speaks to me, in a way that's totally different than any kind of other entertainment experience or way that a creator can communicate with an audience. And that means a lot to me.