Using the Home Town Pop

The live audience of a professional wrestling show is, simultaneously, 1) the people watching the show, 2) playing the part of people watching a real fight, and 3) playing the part of people watching a staged fight that is thought to be real. A smear is drawn across the entire spectrum between reality and fiction out of necessity, in a strange phenomenon called kayfabe.

To interact within kayfabe, wrestlers and their audience have developed a complex language, consisting of sign and countersigns, with both sides dynamically reacting to the other. This is a subject that far to complicated for me to describe here, and even then, I don’t really understand it much, but something I have noticed is that the crowds cheer louder for local wrestlers.

I suppose that some of this is that the kinds of people that are willing to go out on a weekday night for wrestling includes the kinds of people that go to independent wrestling shows, so there’s some level of “I was a fan of this guy before he made it big,” but that isn’t all of it. It’s part of the language, just like turning to the crowd after a really good dropkick.

Furthermore, a wrestler can be billed from two different places, the place they were born and the place they currently live. The ring announcers will mention both, if the wrestler is performing in the one they aren’t usually billed from. The audience doesn’t really make a distinction between either.

One thing about this is that the cheering also applies to the heels. In AEW, the promotion I watch, this is most noticeable with MJF in Long Island, when he’s otherwise such a dedicated heel. But then again, when he’s in Long Island, he kind of acts like a face, like Long Island is the one place in the world he actually likes and doesn’t act like a complete asshole towards, when that’s otherwise his entire gimmick. But that gets back into the language thing, doesn’t it?

The upshot of all of this for the promotion, is that sometimes a heel needs to win the last match of the night, the climax of the show. The good guys can’t win all of the time, after all, but on the other hand, if the bad guys win, the fan feel disappointed. This convention of heels being a little bit of a face in their hometown, means that there’s a particular place that’s a good place for them to win.

This started back in the NWA days. Nobody wanted to embarrass themselves in front of the people they could meet in the street, and this has evolved into a set of conventions around the from part of the wrestler’s billing. It’s just something fascinating that I noticed about the strange art form known as professional wrestling.

Towards a New Project

I need to start writing long fiction again.

Each chapter of Occulted that I wrote took all week to write. I’d come home and write about 300 to 500 hundred words in an hour, and that would be my entertainment for the night. And once I was doing this for a while, The House Apart was starting to get popular. And since I stopped, the bars haven’t been nearly as high.

But I can’t just throw something out there. I tried that with my microfiction serial, and it didn’t quite feel right. Of course, I came up with the Veridity universe with very little planning aforethought. That might have been the main problem with that thing.

I think I might need to look at something that’s been rolling around in my head for a while. Something that I already have an idea for the mood and the theme. Now’s a bit of an awkward time for me to start on a huge writing project, however. Wish me luck.

A Scene from the Unityverse

“Wait, the federal judiciary has it’s own military?”
“Kind of, yes. Legally, the marshals are restricted to enforcing the decisions of the courts, and the only reason they’re so heavily armed is due to the possibility of an armed force – whether independent or planetary – could be a litigant in a legal dispute. As for the possibility of the courts overstepping their bounds, well, all law depends on people…and most of Orion’s military power rests with the worlds.”

Splitting the Party

There comes a time in every campaign comic where the party is split.

A campaign comic is a type of story, like DM of the Rings or Darth and Droids, that recasts the events of a particular piece of popular entertainment as the result of a bunch of people playing a table-top role playing game. Now, in a TTRPG, one of the oldest proverbs is ‘never split the party.’ The problems caused by party splitting are many: what are the players of one group doing while you’re focusing on the other? Do you want to keep members of one group from learning about what the other group is doing, and if so, how? Is it possible for the party members to hurt each other specifically because they don’t know where the others are or what they’re doing?

Ordinary stories don’t really have to worry about those kinds of things. In a TTPRG, the players are at once author and audience, creating a world as they experience it, even though that world is disclosed to them through a different character each. In theory, nothing should be disclosed to a player when their character isn’t present. This doesn’t hold in an ordinary story. What the author discloses to the audience can be shown through any character, and which character is being followed can change.

Less philosophically, keeping track of every character at all times is a pain. It’s hard to figure out how to fit more that a handful of people into a scene, and even then, people are wont to split up into smaller conversations of two or three people a piece. In times of higher conflict, it’s hard to choreograph a fight between more than five people a side, and even then, your probably going to have to split people up just so that the audience can make sense of the action.

Most of the time, any side larger than five, maybe seven people, are going to get collapsed into interchangeable mooks. The mooks are pretty much all the same character, they can just be in multiple parts of the scene, but their not really expected to act like characters. Games can also have mooks, but because the players’ enemies are generally expected to be a problem to solve, it’s much easier to have multiple kinds of mooks, which can be varied to ensure that every player has something to do every fight.

Campaign comics tend to be about asking the question “what kinds of people would create these kinds of characters?” This seems to have something to do with how character-centric TTRPGs are. However, while player characters can’t be easily removed from a game without affecting their players, the players in a campaign comic can simply unexist for a while, because they are part of an ordinary story.

Disclosure

Earlier this week, I did something strange. I made a distinction between the author revealing things about the characters of the story, and revealing things about the world they inhabit. But the characters should be shaped the world they inhabit, it’s history, geography, and culture should reveal themselves through their actions. Their shouldn’t be any difference between using the characters to disclose the world and having the characters disclose themselves.

Except that fictional worlds are inherently incomplete.

I do not mean that imagined universes are unfinished; I mean that they have parts missing. Even if the author has a few firm concepts in mind, these concepts are always underconstrained, there are empty spaces where they should link to other things. In the real world, these empty spaces would be filled with things the author would have no knowledge of, but that’s not possible with a fictional one. The end result is that author must find themselves deciding things, sometimes during writing, even when those things involve the basic laws of physics.

This is how the story the author chooses to tell shapes the world of their story, and not the other way around.

World Building and Narrative Structure

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how narrative structure, how what kinds of scenes and narrative beats are used to create meaning for the audience, affects and constrains what kind of magic and superpowers a story can have. Obviously, different kinds of stories need different kinds of magic systems. The distinction I want to consider for the moment is between rule-based systems that bring the focus of the story onto the world and society as a whole, and “one person, one power” systems where each individual has their own idiosyncratic power set, which focus on the interactions between characters.

By rule-based systems, I mean magic systems where the rules hold for all users of a magic. What magician A does is basically the same thing as what magician B does, either can explain anything the other does, and you can even take the magic system and give it an encyclopedia entry of it’s own. Think of the ‘Ars Arcanum’ bits and the end of Brandon Sanderson’s books. Because there are many users of the same magic, experimenting with it and finding their own applications for it, these systems pull the narrative focus outward, with the characters being the camera by which the world is revealed to the audience. The question these systems bring up is “how does magic fit into this world, and how is society built around the fact of its existence?”

“One person, one power” systems work like a superhero comic. Each user has their own magic, the magic is never mentioned apart from the user, and if you see the power in an encyclopedia, it’s in the entry of the user. These systems pull the narrative inward, away from the world and towards the characters themselves, and their interactions with each other. These questions don’t make the viewer ask how society deals with magic, but rather, it make them ask, “What do the characters do with their powers?”

The story the author is telling determines how the magic system acts. If the author starts out with a “one person, one power” system but keeps going into the history and cultures of the world, their going to find themselves explaining how the powers interact with each other and how the underlying rules link together. Conversely, a story that starts out by laying out the rules of magic and then goes on to focus on characters interactions, including violent interactions, is going to have an extraordinary number of exceptions to those rules. There are times when these are exactly what the author is going for. Sometimes you want to write a story about how seemingly unrelated phenomena are deeply linked to each other. Sometimes you want to tell a story about the limits of human knowledge and shattering all preconceived limits. But if you know that your medium or publishing house is going to push you to on style or the other, you should be aware of that.

A Note on Timelessness

It’s not really possible for a work of fiction to escape from the time it was written, is it? It will always carry some assumptions about how the world works, inherited by being written by a certain person, in a certain era. Just like King Arthur can’t leave the middle ages, and Superman can’t quite leave the 20th century.

Observation on Small Differences

My Hero Academia: Vigilantes feels more like a superhero story than the main series.

The MHA universe is, essentially, the end result of the X-men scenario: mutant powers have become so common the pretty much everyone has a superpower of some kind. These powers, called Quirks in-universe, can be anything from telekinesis to having really good skin. An effect of having such a wide disparity of power is that there are still supervillians that can menace ordinary people, and superheroes to fight them.

Specifically, it’s a world where superheroes make up a class of celebrity crimefighters that are licensed by the government. The main series is about a boy, Izuku Midoriya, training to become one of these superheroes. The spinoff, on the other hand, concerns a rather pathetic college student named Koichi Haimawari that gets pulled into a life of illegal superheroics by a character that was clearly based off of one of the crazier versions of Batman.

Midoriya’s story feels like a superhero-themed Shounen Jump title, in the same way that Naruto feels like a ninja-themed Shounen Jump series. There’s a protagonist that’s starts out weak and derided by his peers, a rival that much better at their chosen profession that the protag is inexplicably friends with, there’s even a tournament arc where finding out who wins takes a backseat to the interpersonal drama the main character has with another competitor. My Hero Academia is a lot like Naruto, now that I think about it.

Anyways, Vigilantes is more like a superhero story that’s structured like a Shounen Jump series. Strangely, it mostly comes down to how the series interact with normal life. There’s a moment in V where the female lead fantasizes about what her future life could be like with the hero, and there’s this one moment where, having grown up and gotten office jobs, they get called away from their date to keep doing the vigilante thing. This is the most superhero moment in the comic.

Midoriya doesn’t really have a civilian life to disrupt like that. The closest that he gets is his mother worrying about his safety, but other than that, everyone around him is a part of the superhero world. He doesn’t really need a secret identity, or anything else to keep his friends safe, because his friends are all superheroes like himself.

Internal Structures 2

I’m afraid that I didn’t say what I meant to say last week.

What I meant to write was an essay concerning the fact that neural net programs create pictures in a fundamentally different way from a human. While a human creates an image by first determining the overall shape of the subjects and then filling in the details, the programs create an image by calculating what pixels would be surrounded by other pixels, essentially creating the details first. This leaves the program very good at imitating photos, but rather poor at simulating highly stylized art, such as the visual novel character designs that EndlessVN hoped to emulate.

To get around this, I proposed a program that could use a hard-coded skeleton to define the overall shape of the human body, and then having the program draw features over that skeleton. More fully, I was envisioning a program that could use this skeleton to draw the same character in several different art styles, with certain features being held constant, and possibly defined by the user. Hence, the same process that could draw a character in the style of a visual novel could also draw the same character as something from an American comic book, or a Victorian painting.

I also proposed breaking up designing characters and posing them into two separate process, both of them using the skeleton to keep things consistent between the two. In the same way a character can be made recognizable between art styles, a similar process would be used to keep different images in the same style consistent between them. I suppose what I’m proposing here is something like the animation industries style sheets, and I think that anything like I’m talking about could be used for creating animations as well as drawings, as long as processing power is available.

I then attempted to extend the idea of internal structures, such as the skeleton used for drawing, to GPT. The main thing I was thinking of was hard-coding the concept of characters into the software. This is the pain of working with GPT, so much so that Novel AI started adding descriptions of characters to the training data, so that the users could use the same formatting the team used to get the program to keep the details straight. A discussion on NAI’s reddit, concerning creating a beneath-the-surface record of who said what, rather than just having to have everything be right there in the text.

Regardless, I don’t actually care much about any of this. What I actually want right now is a website where I can upload something I drew and have it redrawn into something good.

Internal Structures

When the page loads, you immediately see a drawing of a girl. She has silver hair, and is wearing something that calls to mind a Japanese serafuku. Or, rather, your brain begins to starts to interpret it as a school girl uniform, until you catch up to your eyes and realize that the flesh-colored blotches on her chest cannot be hands. In fact, she doesn’t have hands; her arms simply fuse into each other, leaving you wondering why a service that bills itself as ‘AI’ would use a picture that makes it so very obvious that their program has no understanding of human anatomy.

This is the experience of opening the webpage for EndlessVN, a service that seeks to do for visual novels what Novel AI does for literature. Interestingly, while most services would stick to one neural net program, EVN seeks to recreate the experience of a visual novel by stapling several programs together, having different programs handle the text, the pictures, and the music. I’ve tried out the free version, in case you’re wondering, but it was too slow for me to do anything; but before I talk about EndlessVN itself, I want to talk about picture generators.

Picture generators are much like text predictors, in that they both allow the user to probabilistically generate a kind of data. But while text predictors spit out words, picture generators fill pixels with colors, using the colors of the pixels around each one to determine the RGB value of each individual pixel.

A quirk of this method is that, while a human is good at creating an impression of person using nothing but lines and space and would be hard pressed to create a photo-realistic face of someone that doesn’t exist, the program is the opposite. The program relies on the the fact that a photo will have patterns of texture on a human’s skin, hair, and clothing to tell where a hard edge, like where the face ends in a picture and the wall behind it begins, would be. This isn’t possible when it’s imitating drawings, which are dominated by solid blocks of color, whether those colors are supposed to represent the foreground or the background.

But even putting aside current image generators difficulties replicating the anime style, I don’t think Endless VN needs a block of pixels of a given size for all of it’s images. It works fine for backgrounds, for the characters, I feel that you need a completely different paradigm.

The fundamental problem with getting a program to draw a character is that you want individual drawings to be consistent. If a character is blonde and has green eyes, you want every picture of them to be blonde and have green eyes. If a character is wearing clothing for a particular scene, you want them to wear the same clothing for the entire scene. And if you want a character to have a cowlick coming off of the back of their head, you want every picture of them to have a cowlick coming off the back of their head.

In other words, there’s a difference between creating a design for a character, and making drawings of that character in various poses. I suspect that you would need different kinds of programs for each. The first would be concerned with generating variations around a set of attributes, such that not every blue-eyed beauty with freckles looks like every other blue-eyed beauty with freckles, and the second would focus on moving the body parts around, and giving the drawings some facade of emotion. I think that both of these would need some understanding of the internal structure of the human body, even if the end result looked like drawings, and I rather suspect that such an internal structure would need to be hard-coded.

But hard-coding internal structures into neural nets isn’t an idea that’s limited to pictures. As it stands, GPT doesn’t really know when someone is talking, just when words are between quotation marks. If it were possible to hard-code some idea of what a character is into it, and allowing it to create personalities in the same way our first program above, it would bring us so much closer to the dream of a program that can simulate an entire, arbitrary world.

Some GPT services have already started to put character profiles right in the training data, so that when the user goes to describe someone in the form of [name: / appearance: / personality:…], the program has something to latch onto. Even still, text predictors still have difficulty keeping characters straight. And like understanding the word ‘not’, I suspect that this is for mechanical reasons, that no amount of training data can actually overcome.