In November 2001, Terry Pratchett was in Chester, famed for its Roman ruins and well-preserved medieval architecture. Staying at a hotel in the city centre, Pratchett opened the window of his room, and looked across the historic skyline. “I realised I could drop down on to a roof,” he wrote later. “And from then on there was a vista of roofs, leads and ledges leading all the way to the end of the street and beyond; there were even little doors and inviting attic windows …
There is a line break, and then he adds. “I’m going to have to stop playing this game.”
Pratchett was not considering a new career as a cat burglar. He was reflecting on his favourite video game – Thief II: The Metal Age. Released in March 2000, Thief II was the sequel to 1998’s Thief: The Dark Project, a pioneering stealth game set in a gothic fantasy world. In both games, players donned the cowl of Garrett, a laconic master thief partly inspired by Raymond Chandler’s PI Philip Marlowe. Thief charged players with breaking into medieval mansions, rooftop apartments, banks, cathedrals even police stations, stealing as much coin and valuables as they could while avoiding patrols of sword-wielding guards.
Pratchett’s relationship with video games is well documented. Always technologically savvy, he was an early adopter of PC gaming, and enjoyed everything from Doom to Deus Ex and Call of Duty. He even helped to create a mod (an unofficial add-on) for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, writing lines of dialogue for a character. But Pratchett held a particular affection for Thief. He played all three games in the series, and often contributed to a Usenet newsgroup named alt.games.thief-dark-project.
That newsgroup, analogous to a modern forum, has long since been deactivated, but its posts survive in a Google groups archive. Combined, they provide a fascinating record of Pratchett’s evolving relationship with both the Thief series and video games in general.
Pratchett first appears on the forum in August 2001. Like so many players who become involved in online communities, he posted because he was stuck. In a post titled: “Help! Spotted Every time” he requests assistance with Thief II’s eighth mission Trace the Courier, in which players must follow a Lieutenant of the City Watch as she carries a secret message to an unknown recipient. “Whatever I do, the game ends on the basis that I’ve been spotted – even if, as I head up the slope, I go invisible. Can anyone help, please?” Pratchett wrote.
But he soon begins to share his own thoughts on the game. In a post titled: “Favourite Thief II Mission”, he chooses Life of the Party, an expansive level wherein Garrett gatecrashes an extravagant reception hosted inside a vast, mechanised tower, infiltrating the structure via the city’s rooftops. “Life of the Party before you get to the tower seemed to me what [Thief] should all be about,” he wrote. “High above the city in a world of your own, exploring every opportunity, with no other goal than ‘nick anything you find’, and the sounds of the Watch are floating up from below …”
Pratchett liked that Thief II was a game that you could finish without killing anyone, which appealed to his personal morals. “I get edgy in games that require killing as an objective,” he wrote in July 2002. “But being able to hide from guards who appear to have amazing acuity sometimes is a talent in itself.” He also liked that Thief II let you solve its problems at your own pace, and in your own way. “I think a game goes wrong when you start to fight the programmer rather than the game,” he observes. “The Thief games are good in this respect – there are plenty of problems, but they can be solved by forethought, care, cunning, lateral thinking or running like hell.”
There was shared lineage between Thief’s nameless city and Pratchett’s own work in the Discworld novels. Both take popular fantasy tropes and recontextualise them into a more human world, unafraid to explore the weirder edges of fantasy. Thief’s bumbling, grumbling guards share certain traits with Pratchett’s own motley crew of city watchmen. Pratchett was fascinated by Thief’s rich and distinctive atmosphere. “I wonder what the quintessential ‘Thief’ quality is? The sense of ‘being there’? The feeling of free exploration?’” he pondered in 2003. “THE Thief moment was me dreamily roping my way from beam to beam across that big hall in the Bank, while below me the guards patrolled. No other game has offered that, although Deus Ex had its moments.”
Posting under his own name, Pratchett’s presence on the forums did not go unnoticed by the wider community. “Having Terry involved was a very cool experience,” says David Geelan, an associate professor at Australia’s Griffith University, and a contributor to the alt.games Thief forum during the same period as Pratchett. “This was an early example of an author I was a big fan of engaging with something else I loved.” This sentiment is shared by another user, Mika Latokartano. “Being a big fan of Discworld novels, it was naturally great to see him on the forums and to be able to exchange a few words with a world-famous author.”
It’s worth pausing at this point to ask: how did the community know this was the real Terry Pratchett, and not some impostor masquerading as the author for a jape? Geelan points out that Pratchett didn’t make a big deal out of his identity, and his purpose on the forums appeared earnest. Geelan believed he could “recognise [Pratchett’s] ‘voice’ from both the novels and the various interviews with him I’d read and seen.” The most compelling evidence, however, is the email attached to that particular usenet account – firstname.lastname@example.org – an account fans had used to send emails to Pratchett since the early 90s.
“I tried to be cool and just be a fellow gamer and not behave like a fan,” Geelan says. Nonetheless, the community sometimes couldn’t help but wonder about the relationship between Discworld and Thief. Pratchett addressed their questions patiently but definitively. When one community member asked whether Pratchett had spotted any references to Discworld in Thief, he answered: “I’ve been careful not to look for DW references. There’re quite a few similarities between the city and Ankh-Morpork but that is because they’re drawing on the same general tradition.”
When another user asked whether any of Thief had inspired Ankh-Morpork, Pratchett was a touch more sarcastic. “Well, sure. From now on I’ll definitely set my books in a quasi-medieval city with anachronistic modern touches, like a police force, and I’ll definitely have these guys who wear black and sneak around the rooftops)”. That said, Pratchett makes minor nods to Thief in some later Discworld novels, such as Night Watch. In July 2002, months before the book’s launch, Pratchett mentions a “moment” that is “only a reference for taffers” (a slang insult used by Thief’s guards). “A corridor, one lamp out, barely any shadow … you’ll see,” he teases.
Thief II was Pratchett’s first experience with the series, and his favourite. He called The Dark Project “Tomb Raider with edged weapons”. The third game, Deadly Shadows, didn’t come out until 2004. “I sure hope T3 takes after T2,” he wrote in December 2001. “The ‘genius’ of the Thief world is in levels like The Bank, or Life of the Party – proper honest thieving.” Deadly Shadows didn’t quite live up to Pratchett’s expectations, but he praised the game’s most famous mission – Robbing the Cradle – for its intense atmosphere and cunning use of horror. “I’ve always said I play Thief for the immersion, but on that one I came closer to drowning,” he wrote about the infamous orphanage-turned-insane-asylum. “Insofar as it does exactly the job it sets out to do, this is a wonderful level.”
Outside Thief II, Pratchett’s favourite Thief experiences were delivered by Fan Missions, or FMs. Thief has a small but dedicated community which, over the years, has created hundreds of custom maps for the game. Many of these are enormously ambitious, and Pratchett frequently praises the talent on show in FMs such as Durant, Lord Alan’s Fortress, and Calendra’s Legacy. “I can’t help being amazed again at the quality of so many FMs.” he wrote in July 2003. “I recently played through T2, and some original missions paled by comparison.”
Pratchett continued posting until the end of 2006. By this point, he’d been introduced to Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a fantasy RPG that featured stealth systems similar to Thief, but in a much larger world to explore. Ironically, it was a user of the Thief forums who put Pratchett on to Oblivion. In April 2006, Mika Latokartano asked Pratchett: “Have you tried Oblivion yet?”, to which he responded: “No, but it’s now been ordered.” Two days later, Pratchett posted again, writing “Aaargh! What have you done to me? Bought the game on your recommendation, and now I see my life slipping away.”
Pratchett’s posts on the alt.games Thief forum are a unique record. Not only do they evidence in detail an artist’s heartfelt affection for another type of art, they also represent a mode of interaction between a creator and fans that is far less viable in the age of mass social media. Geelan, who around this time also frequented a cyberpunk forum visited by William Gibson, notes that “authors could react more directly with the few hundred or couple of thousand people who might have been on a web forum or usenet group in the mid 90s, than with the millions or tens of millions who would want that contact now.”
On the alt.games newsgroup, Pratchett may have been posting as a famous writer, but he was also posting as a fan, with all the unabashed enthusiasm, obsession with minor details, and debates that entailed. Thief established common ground between him and the rest of the community, allowing them to talk on level terms, and share in the devious delights the game offered. Nothing demonstrates this better than a post he made in June 2002, titled “Back in the dark”. “Brothers and sisters, I hay-ave sinned,” Pratchett began. “I forsook the true path, and took the way of Medal of Honour, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and even of Alien v. Predator 2, for the new games machine here was top of the line.
“And then I reloaded T2 the other night, and how nice and calm it all is. Just me, the night, the occasional jingle of a key, and the thwop of blackjack on helmet. Here’s to stealth gaming. I’m back.”
VMware has restored availability of vSphere 7 Update, a release that it withdrew in late 2021 after driver dramas derailed deployments.
Paul Turner, Virtzilla’s veep for vSphere product management, told The Register that the source of the problem was Intel driver updates that arrived out of sync with VMware’s pre-release testing program. When users adopted the new drivers – one of which had been renamed – vSphere produced errors that meant virtual server fleet managers could not sustain high availability operations.
Turner said around 30,000 customers had adopted the release, of which around eight per cent encountered the issue. That collection of around 2,400 impacted users was enough for VMware to pull the release before the other 270,000 vSphere users hit trouble. That level of potential problems, Turner admitted, was considered a sufficient threshold to justify a do-over and the embarrassment of a pulled release.
VMware has since reviewed its testing program and procedures in the hope it will avoid a repeat of this error. Doing so, and repairing the release, meant a busier-than-usual holiday period for VMware developers. Turner said those who put in the extra hours will be compensated with extra time off in the future.
VMware also used the time needed to get the release ready to ensure that vSphere 7 U3 thoroughly addresses the Log4j bug. It took the opportunity to update to the latest version of the tool – which is free of the critical bug that allowed almost any code to execute without authorisation.
But VMware decided not to add anything new to vSphere while it addressed Log4j and sorted out the driver drama. Users will have to wait a few more months for another dose of VMware’s usual concoction of security updates and feature tweaks.
There’s more interesting stuff on the way, too. VMware has promised a full vSphere-as-a-Service offering is in the works, and the Project Capitola software-defined memory tech that will pool RAM across hosts. The company has also dropped hints that its plan to run its ESX hypervisor on SmartNICs is nearing release.
VMware has detailed the new/old release here and made downloads available here.®
The EU’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said she was satisfied for the company now known as Meta to pursue its Kustomer acquisition after it struck a deal for rivals.
Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has secured antitrust approval from the EU to pursue its acquisition of US customer services software start-up Kustomer.
The social media giant’s decision to acquire the start-up attracted EU scrutiny last April, months before its rebrand. Then known as Facebook, the company planned to integrate Kustomer’s products, including a chatbot, into its service.
Now, Meta has assured the European Commission that it will provide rivals free access to its messaging channels for 10 years.
The EU was satisfied that this addressed competition concerns which previously arose from the company’s decision to acquire Kustomer.
“Our decision today will ensure that innovative rivals and new entrants in the customer relationship management software market can effectively compete,” EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
Facebook had initially announced its acquisition plan in November 2020. In February 2021, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties wrote to the European Commission outlining its concerns over data that Kustomer had gathered and what might happen to that data under Facebook’s watch. The Commission also received a referral request from Austria flagging concerns over the Kustomer deal.
Other Meta acquisitions have also attracted the scrutiny of competition regulators. Last November, the UK ordered Meta to sell Giphy after its acquisition of the GIF making company was found to have breached competition rules. In the US, it is facing an antitrust suit that could force the company to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.
The EU’s decision to allow Meta to pursue the acquisition of Kustomer comes following a recent vote in the European Parliament in favour of the Digital Services Act, a companion of the Digital Markets Act. The act represents the EU’s attempt to shift the balance of power away from Big Tech in favour of ordinary people.
The long-debated act was hailed by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen as a “gold standard”.
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‘OK, Dad, this is an incredible essay on the effects of grief and grey morality in a postapocalyptic society,” says the eldest child, AKA the millennial. “It’s got proper female characters, progressive takes on sexuality and tonnes of rain.”
“They’ve made a video game of The Handmaid’s Tale?”
“No, Dad. It’s The Last of Us. Don’t worry. It’s still a zombie shooter. And both games have the best ending ever.”
Now she has my interest. Video game endings fascinate me, because my generation started out with arcade games that didn’t have them. Pac-Man kept eating dots and chasing ghosts and the Space Invaders kept coming, wave after incessant wave. The first arcade game that had an actual ending was Dragon’s Lair and nobody actually saw that because it was so hard to complete.
I have a tough start with The Last of Us because I hate games where you search for stuff in every room of a house. I spend my normal life doing that with car keys and headphones. I want games where you walk into a room and all the objects get sucked into a magic pocket. But that isn’t realistic, I hear you cry. Well, neither is only being able to carry three shivs in a world where, despite the zombie apocalypse, cargo pants clearly still exist.
I also hate any form of crafting, because that was what my generation had to do for “fun” as kids before we had video games. Whether it’s smoke bombs from sugar and explosives or a set of Action Man drawers from matchboxes, it’s all boring to me.
“Keep going,” I tell myself. “The millennial says it’s got the best ending ever.”
Throughout the first chapter of Joel and Ellie’s jaunt across a post-infected US I keep trying to guess what this great ending will be. Maybe Ellie isn’t immune to infection after all? Maybe Joel is her real father? Maybe they’re both unwitting participants in some reality TV show, I’m Infected Get Me Out of Here?
As you will all know by now – and if you’ve yet to play The Last of Us then please stop reading – the ending has Joel murder a perfectly innocent and well-intentioned doctor who wants to cut Ellie open to find a cure that will save humanity. But Joel has no truck with utilitarian philosophy, because Ellie has now become a replacement for the daughter he lost. So, he disregards mankind’s future and, by stopping the operation, effectively murders the entire human race (alongside a whole hospital’s worth of doctors).
“Why does he do that?” I asked the millennial, in one of many fantastic discussions we had about the game.
“Because he’s a white male,” came the answer, because it’s 2022 and she’s in her 20s. And maybe she’s right. Either way it is a jaw-dropping, supremely brave ending and the terrific Left Behind side-story also brought the feels.
So, when it came to The Last of Us Part 2, I was beyond excited. Fifty million hours later I was beyond disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, the millennial nailed it when she said it was a great exploration of the effects of grief and grey morality. But after spending the whole game switching between two strong female characters (literally, have you seen Abby’s arms?) and contrasting factional creeds, you have the final confrontation. They fight. And … they both live. And go their separate ways. The only real damage is Ellie losing a couple of fingers, and the game portrays the worst consequence of this as not being able to play guitar any more. Seriously? That’s the biggest drawback to being fingerless in a zombie apocalypse? The first game ended with Joel murdering an entire civilisation, the second ends with Ellie murdering one song on a guitar. It’s a scene you might have found in The Secret of Monkey Island. It’s hilarious.
The Last of Us Part 2leaves us with exactly the same non-ending as those original arcade games. Ellie and Abby will go on killing to keep their respective postapocalyptic factions going, both driven by the grief of murdered loved ones. They are both trapped, endlessly chasing ghosts. Sounds familiar…
The millennial says this shows there are no winners when it comes to revenge. I say they want both protagonists alive for The Last of Us 3. It’s a cynical cop out. But then, The Last of Us Part 2 is a game that features the most cynical scene ever, where apropos of nothing, after genuinely bravura portrayals of women, transgender and gay characters, alpha female Abby suddenly gets rogered from behind by some guy. It happens out of nowhere. The game spends umpteen hours portraying progressive sexuality, and then it’s like some marketing man decided they needed to toss the incels a piece of red meat to stop them hate-bombing all over 4chan (which didn’t work). It is easily the most gratuitous bit of nudity I have ever seen in games, and I have played The Witcher 3. The rogerer in question even has a girlfriend. Who is pregnant. Way to shit on a sister, Abby.
“It’s basically Pac-Man with gratuitous boobs,” I say to my eldest, who sighs and pours herself a large cup of coffee. This will be another long discussion.