Setting Q&A

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Setting Q&A

Postby pirate » 2018/01/10 16:34

Going to try to cover some frequently-asked-questions in here rather than make a thread for every minor lore point we settle on. Use this thread to ask those burning questions.

Q: What is the Transitional Oversight Committee? Who are these uniformed dudes who aren't as mean as cops? Is this even HL2RP?

A: After the United Nations formally capitulated to the Combine invaders, a transitional government was established, made up of government officials from surrendered nations, many of whom continued to serve in the same capacity as they had previously. This organization would later become Civil Administration. A vestigial unit of this government, called the Transitional Oversight Committee, managed the security forces used to keep the population in line. When Civil Protection was established, it was at first under the auspices of the Transitional Oversight Committee. This allowed the conquered humans to feel like they still had some agency over themselves until they were sufficiently whittled down later and out of energy to protest further infringements.

TOC's "cops" would be better compared to something like East Germany's Volkspolizei - they are not necessarily nice but they are nowhere near as iron-fisted as Civil Protection would later become. The Combine at large is taking its time and working in stages. In our time period, little is really known about the Combine by anyone - Earth is still administrated through the post-UN intermediary/transitional government.

So yes, this is HL2 themed - we're exploring a period of time before the Combine was as ubiquitous as it is in HL2. We have tried to make it feel like it fits into the timeline; in other words, the city as depicted by HL2 is in our setting's future.

Q: Is English the only "legal" language?

A: No. Optimization for HL2 in 2004 mandated that each localization pick one language and stick to it. Due to mass relocations, a variety of languages are in regular use, and Marc Laidlaw (prominent HL2 writer) has stated that in his vision, the player would encounter many different spoken languages among the citizenry, and Breencasts and other announcements would be repeated in multiple languages.

We can interpret that between the UN surrender being delivered in English and Breen himself being a primary English speaker, English is probably the basis for CCA communications, and by extension units need to be able to hold conversation in English, so most characters probably know basic commands and common announcements in English. But there's no official requirement to speak it. That doesn't mean there's no room for xenophobia on an in character basis - just that the system doesn't officially care what tongue you speak in.

Q: Where are we physically located? What's the local geography like?

A: We chose to stick to the familiar East European setting as part of our decision to only change what matters. Physically, City 18 is located somewhere nonspecific in Lithuania. Keeping the actual city vague leaves doors open for us - for example if we decide to say the city has a harbor, nobody can really contradict that.

The local geography is not too different from HL2's by choice - this keeps our map selection for events fairly broad. In other words, once you escape the urban sprawl, you may find yourself in a lush forest, a dying coastline, a mountain range, or some blend of the three.

Q: Citizen diet - do people eat good?

A: Details in HL2 indicate yes - a variety of meats, fruits and vegetables are available to citizens on top of their supplementary rations. It seems like the rations represent a safety net of sorts - even if all the other food dries up, there will still be rations. If you take citizen dialogue seriously, the rations sound like a last resort that many people don't bother with.

All of that being said, the produce available to citizens is probably not very good. People are plenty well-fed and nutrition isn't an issue, but that doesn't mean the meat is deli quality. Fruit and vegetables are mushy and bruised by the time they reach citizens' plates. Which begs the question...

Q: What's the economy like?

A: There is a baseline of "state"-run industry. Like Soviet states, much of the manufacturing is not done to meet any demand - so a lot of manufacturing surplus ends up in a big pile somewhere, never to actually be used. Output from these centrally managed factories is shipped by rail or truck and manufactured goods are fairly diverse: clothing, tools, furniture, fuel, steel products - everything needed to keep a city running.

Citizens receive credits that they can redeem at state-run commissaries, which function as a de facto currency. This enables citizens who do not have a state work assignment for a variety of reasons or otherwise work short hours to make a little extra on the side with grey market "private" businesses. These are not really supported by the government as a matter of policy but they are allowed to exist all the same. These may include grocers, restaurants, tailors, furniture repair, etc. Stock for these stores is primarily obtained by "purchasing" manufacturing surplus - usually in an under the table deal with an Administration official to deliver the surplus to a business instead of a recycling plant. This balance is not illegal, but not strictly legal, either, and such businesses can easily be extorted and strongarmed.

Q: What's the current extent of censorship and information suppression?

A: The only authorized news outlet is a Pravda-esque state paper called The Terminal. In other words, it is run by a government ministry and subject to strict publishing guidelines. It will always put a pro-Union spin on the stories it runs and will not run articles that make the government appear weak (unless it is part of a larger, ultimately pro-Union campaign). However, it is not in the know about everything the Overwatch is up to and so its articles may not always reflect the Union's true agenda.

Other forms of media are highly restricted. Music is regulated; citizens are not explicitly prohibited from possessing music (as in records and tape recordings) but generally music found to inspire individual thinking, rebellious attitudes, and so on will be destroyed at the discretion of the Administration's censorship bureau. Television is a thing but the only programs other than recordings of Wallace Breen's addresses are a form of colorless state news, bland propaganda-filled documentaries, and public service announcements. Pre-occupation films still exist in various formats but almost anything that could be construed as critical of the government or inspiring individuality is banned, so there's not much worth seeing at the local cinema. Perhaps there is still a film industry of some kind, but it would probably reflect that of other historic totalitarian regimes - where the produced films are short, low-budget, and focus on themes that are transparently propagandic in nature.

Finally, art and other forms of expression are, of course, restricted. Art on display is fairly bland, mostly impressionist in style, and presented with no specific agenda. However, confiscated fine art often finds its way into the homes of higher officials in the Administration rather than being destroyed.

Q: Did the Combine kill all the kids?

A: No, but to understand why Valve handily avoided the subject, you have to turn back the clock a bit. The entire time period from the beginning of the game's development to its publishing was rife with anti-video-game sentiment in news media, pushed by people like Jack Thompson. The inclusion of children in any first-person shooter, regardless of how they feature in the story, would have caused a major media shitstorm at this time. Concepts for HL2 show child workers in factories and in custodial roles (e.g. Cremators), so lorewise, it's safe to assume that this is still the case. Marc Laidlaw has explained that Valve cut them from the game only to avoid the negative press it would have resulted in.

Regardless, they will not feature on-server for obvious reasons.

Q: What about animals?

A: The Portal Storms must have had far-reaching ecological impact. Many Earth species from biomes that Xenians are readily compatible with would have been killed off or seriously endangered, however I do not accept that all the Earth fauna up and died.

I imagine the first species to go were territorial predators, followed by defenseless, small-population, easy prey animals - in other words anything that would try to fight invasive Xenian species rather than run and anything that couldn't outrun or kill them is in a population crisis. However, domestic animals are probably still plentiful. Wild herbivores like deer and careful predators like bears can still be found. The introduction of the ichthyosaur probably didn't do much to affect ocean life but leeches likely killed off a lot of tidal pool and shallow coast species.

In other words you are facing a dramatic reshuffling of the food chain, not so much a mass extinction event. Atmospheric changes caused by the falling sea level, however, are probably responsible for a lot of extinctions in the coastal biome.

What's this all mean? Well, nobody's roleplaying dogs but it's okay to mention that your character could have one around if it happens to come up. Just keep in mind cops are probably intolerant of aggressive domestic animals so big, protective dogs are not a common sight.

Maybe Civil Protection has some working dogs, though...

Have questions? Post them here. Important stuff will get added to this post.
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Re: Setting Q&A

Postby pirate » 2018/01/13 05:00

Q: What year is it? What are some other important dates?

A: As you know, there has never been a firmly established timeline for the Half-Life series. While this is fine (and even advantageous) for Valve, whose writers have the luxury of deciding what backstory information to share about characters via limiting screen time and encounter contexts, we do not have that cushion as roleplayers. We can't always choose the scenes our characters are in, let alone the content of those scenes, so creating characters that work together on screen can be difficult without a consistent understanding of the timeline shared between players.

First off, I do not agree with the commonly mentioned timeframe of ten years between the Resonance Cascade and the 7 Hour War. I feel pretty confident in saying that ten years of aliens randomly appearing out of thin air would have rather drastic, obvious, and far-reaching effects on society, but what we see in HL2 is a familiar modern society under the boot of a massive invading empire.

Half-Life 1's date is commonly given as "200X", but for the purpose of our roleplay, I dispute the logic in that. The non-fantasy tech level in Half-Life appears to closely reflect its development period of 1997-1998. The weapons, computer equipment, common materials, vehicles, architecture, etc. are all contemporary to this period. Scientific equipment in Black Mesa was either high tech in 1997-98 or still hasn't been invented. In other words Valve didn't really try to anchor HL1 in a near future setting - it was really just 1999 or so. Keep in mind that around this time, Alyx Vance was apparently 0-1 years of age.

There's no telling how long the portal storms went on for, but we can assume that such a cataclysm can only carry on for so long before it leaves permanent scars. However, the only permanent scar left by the Portal Storms is indeed the Combine itself.

While this is not a Half-Life 2 Beta themed roleplay, we can certainly examine the Beta to get an idea of what Valve was thinking as they designed the game. I think it's a fair assumption that although the art style changed, the timeframe really did not. Some of Valve's design choices for the Beta can give us an indicator of what they were thinking - chiefly, the inclusion of the OICW.

It stands to reason that in order to arm its new human-based forces, the Combine assimilated what was at the time the highest-tech rifle on Earth. From Valve's perspective, that would have to be the fancy new XM29 OICW that was making headlines every other week between 2000 and 2002.

To me, the rough 1-3 year timeframe for the Portal Storms makes sense and is so far consistent. Alyx would then be roughly 4 when the Combine invade at the end of the Portal Storm timeframe, which remains consistent with the idea that DOG was built to protect her around this age, the loss of her mother, and so on. If we go with 1999 for HL1 and 2001 for the end of the Portal Storms, then add 20 years, we get HL2.

Valve did not update the tech level from HL1. There are still no LCD screens, no vehicles built after the mid 90s, no weapons developed after the early 2000s (the newest being the MP7, which was designed in 1999). The world looks like the year 2001 sat around and rotted for 20 years. Alyx is in the younger half of her 20s, consistent with her having been between 0 and 1 year old in 1999.

With all of this in mind, here is the timeline I propose:

1999: Smash Mouth's All Star is released. The Resonance Cascade at BMRF initiates the Portal Storms.
2001: The Combine invade. The UN issues its formal surrender 7 hours after first contact. The Combine begin to suppress the portals.
2006: Kingston's setting begins, 5-6 years after the invasion.
2021: The events of Half-Life 2 occur.

Hope all that made sense.
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