Saturday, 10 December 2016

Gateway - Data Overload

Written by Reiko

Broadhead Journal #1: "I've made it to the station, finally. What a crappy place this is. Beats anything I could be doing on Earth, though. Here I can get away from it all and go somewhere totally new. Sure, it's dangerous, but what isn't, these days? Man, that Thom guy has a weird sense of humor. Does he actually expect me to read all this stuff in the data device?"

Home sweet home!

After the background intro, we're dropped into our quarters, very much as if we've just stepped off a transport. It's noon, and each action advances the clock by a minute. Time to get our bearings and learn where to go. But first, the commset is blinking. Who's messaged me?

I pick up the debit card from the desk [2 points] and take a look at it. "Account status information can be accessed through your PV Commset. All amounts are in U.S. Dollars." I examine the commset and find that it has a screen and a card slot, so I put the card in the slot. This shifts the display to a graphical representation of the commset, with a numerical menu. This could have been done in text, but it's a much nicer interface this way.

New currency is one of the top news items.

I read through all the messages and news and bulletin board items. There's a lot to read, and only some of it is flavor text. Both the current events list and the message boards have fifteen items each, and there are three new messages. Relevant points:
  • Ship handling classes are held each day at 15:00 in room T20. Bring the Corporation-issue DataMan. (I don't have one of those quite yet...) 
  • Thom Seldridge is assigned as my proctor. He wants to meet at 20:00 at the Blue Hell bar. 
  • Terri Neilson is the corporation representative. She welcomes me to the station. 
  • There's a Chinese restaurant with prices about 5-10 times what you might normally expect to pay for Chinese food, and it's advertised as the "Special Week of Reasonable Prices!" Later, one of the news articles mentions that the new currency issued in 2100 involved dropping three zeroes in order to return to an adjusted value comparable with dollars in 1995. That's actually about right for an average level of inflation that doubles prices every ten years, since 2^10 is 1024. Still, even the "reasonable prices" seem awfully high, so Chinese food is quite the luxury on an alien space station. 
  • Level Dog has a Hydroponics Lab with an emergency manual shut-off that triggers maintenance personnel to come fix it if someone trips it (intentionally or unintentionally). The announcement requests that whoever's been tripping it for fun needs to stop. 
  • A protest is scheduled outside the Orion Program briefings at 09:00 in Room T52 on Level Tanya. Something about Green Badges getting preference. 
  • Maintenance robots keep the air ducts clean, but occasionally make noises that sound like rats in the ducts. 
  • The Wyoming PetroFood mines have suffered devastating fires (so I was wrong, the mines are mentioned in-game, although it hardly makes any difference to the plot). I guess "petrofood" is some kind of direct conversion of oil shale to manufactured food. Considering how much food these days is grown using oil-based fertilizers and pesticides, I'm not sure how much different this is. Maybe the surface soil was completely eroded or contaminated so this is more like hydroponics? 
  • There's a recently discovered Heechee device, supposedly some kind of sensor, on display in a museum on Level Dog. 
  • A group of prospectors has filed a lawsuit against the Gateway Corporation regarding withholding information relating to the Orion Program, which seems to be an exclusive group of prospectors that receive better course codes for their ships. 

There's also a drawer in the desk, which I open, revealing a book. I take it [3] and try reading it. It's called "Everything We Know About the Heechee." It's blank, but there's a note from Thom Seldridge, the proctor, telling me that it's a joke, and I should take the book to Level Dog and give it to the receptionist in order to get a standard-issue DataMan device. Which I'll need for the training, so that will have to be a high priority.

I check the score and find I have 5 points out of 1600 so far, and an account balance of $1500. Oddly enough, while navigating through the commset information used time, it didn't count that as turns. I've only used 10 turns, but it's 12:45 on the status bar.

Even the receptionist matches the color scheme.

I step out of my room and reach a central area called Heecheetown. I can go east to the Blue Hell bar, north and south through corridors, northwest to the Corporation Administration Section, or back west to my quarters. Apparently this is Level Dog, because if I go northwest, I find the receptionist the proctor mentioned. I give her the book, and she laughs and hands me back a DataMan [5]. Her desk also contains a magazine and a dead rose. It's not clear why I might want either of those things, but she won't let me take them, so I'm going to need at least one at some point, right?

Data devices look awfully plain in the 22nd century.

The DataMan contains another infodump via a device menu screen. Much of the Gateway information section just contains what we already learned in the introduction, but there are a few more details about where specific places are on the station, including the existence of a VR terminal located on the second floor of the Corporation building. The second section concerns the Heechee ships, so that's all new information, but it will probably be covered again in the training session. The third section is labeled "Corporation record" and only lists arriving at the station to start.

Even in the 22nd century, computing technology is subject to stack overflow.

When I go upstairs, I get a little cut-scene with a VR tech, who invites me to try to break the new beach scene he just installed. He offers me a Pedroza Lounge membership pin if I can find the bug. Maybe I can do this before the ship handling class. He gives me a summary of how to break a VR scene, including killing power to the VR, contradicting the purpose of the VR, or creating an infinite progression.

I could see why VR like this would be desirable.

On the other hand, why is there only one VR seat if it's that cool?

I sit on the VR couch and wear the collar, then press the button to start up the scene, since the switch already has Beach selected. The picture shifts to a simple, but relaxing beach, with a comfortable beach chair and a very attentive bartender that will make as many delicious banana daiquiris as one might require by using a technomagical scanner to replicate the drink. Quite the contrast to a cramped space station, for sure. Even the music shifts to a relaxing beach tune.

Ahh...delicious! And quite intoxicating, apparently.

I relax for a few minutes, drinking a couple daiquiris and asking the bartender about his scanner (very sensitive, only for experts). He won't let me do anything with the scanner, of course. Then I take the next drink, and instead of drinking it myself, give it to the bartender. He takes it gladly and drinks it himself, becoming a bit buzzed in the process [5]. drunk will the bartender get? For that matter, how drunk can I get? As it happens, I can get very sloshed indeed before the simulation ends, and some of the antics that go on while becoming more and more drunk are pretty funny. "Just as you decide that life is like a big banana daiquiri, you thankfully pass out."

But we're not here to get drunk, but to break a simulation. So I start handing the bartender more drinks, and he gets more and more drunk, of course. After three, his hand is so unsteady that he doesn't flick the glass straight through the scanner, but pauses, causing three drinks to appear at once, two of which he immediately drinks. Now he's had five...surely he must be close to passing out. And if the scanner can create three drinks at once, it can certainly create more than that. Maybe a lot more...

Overflow achieved! (Pun certainly intended.)

After the next drink, he collapses on the bar, leaving me to do whatever I want without interference. So I put the drink right into the scanner. Which starts producing a steady stream of drinks on the bar, which start spilling and then piling higher until the simulation snaps [10]. The tech is pleased and tosses me his membership pin, as promised. I pick up the pin [10] and leave the VR lounge to head toward the ship handling class.

Next time we'll do some exploring, learn about Heechee ships, and maybe even ride one somewhere new.

Score: 35 of 1600
Balance: $1500
Status: New Fish (white badge)

Session Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. Not that I want to be "That Guy", but the solution to X = X * 2 is X = 0. Simple algebra. Now they should just have used the Star Trek trick of having the computer calculate digits of pi... :)

    1. Yeah, there's an assumption there that X starts no smaller than 1 for virtual objects.

    2. Joe: I guess they are using a not so clear notation for recursion - X to the left of = is meant to be the result that is "fed" to the X * 2, which gives new X etc.

    3. Yeah, I could clearly see what they MEANT. :) But it was too easy to pass by.

    4. By the way, that's "arithmetic overflow" rather than "stack overflow". The latter is when you keep pushing items onto the stack without popping enough of them. An easy example is a function that calls itself recursively without a guaranteed eventual exit. Each time you call the function, you add the parameters and the return address to the stack. Eventually you "overflow the stack", usually resulting in overwriting data past the stack space.

      I've made both types of errors in code at various times. :-) There's an even simpler one - writing a loop in assembly language, and either forgetting the branch to exit the loop or forgetting to increment the loop counter. Both are easy mistakes in assembly since the code is less human-readable than in a high-level language. The result of either error is to have a loop that never exits, so the program runs "forever" or until charging your account an exorbitant amount. I made that type of error at least half a dozen times in school and my early work career.

    5. Isn't it really a multiplicative overflow? Lol. Anyway, it's quite a stack of VR drinks! (Yes, you're right and I should have remembered the difference. I've done enough programming to have made plenty of loop errors myself.)

  2. Special guest star John Goodman as VR tech.

    1. Looks more like Gabe Newell to me... (before he grew a beard, anyway)

    2. I am pretty sure that's Chris Farley.

    3. I was also thinking Gabe Newell.

    4. Or even Norton Mapes from F.E.A.R

  3. I bet drawing the VR scene was fun for the artist. Especially the passed-out bartender. :)

    I wonder if there's an alternate solution where you can trick the bartender into counting the grains of sand on the beach.

    1. Yeah, it's implied that there are other ways to solve the puzzle.

      'Contradicting the purpose' could have a solution, such as spilling the drink on the lounge chair so you're no longer relaxed, and there's probably a solution to killing the power (Pour drink on head may have you pouring a nearby drink in the real world as well, shorting out the VR headset perhaps?)