All posts by Ulacia Ulacia

If I Could Talk to the Planets: On the Inviting Loneliness of ‘No Man’s Sky’

Screenshots courtesy of Hello Games

The sky in question may belong to no man, but it's absolutely littered with planets. More than 18 quintillion of them, goes the marketing behind No Man's Sky, procedurally generated and committed to disk for everyone to slowly pull apart.

Considering the fact many games screw things up trying to produce ten interesting levels, it's understandable you might be leery about the prospect of a functionally unlimited amount of explorable worlds. But No Man's Sky has an ace up its sleeve.

Beneath the hood of the bright and inviting visuals is an algorithm that blasts flat spheres with sine waves, fills them with strange fauna and flora, gives them lakes, oceans and streams. It's an algorithm for creating life where there is none, for making worlds out of featureless orbs.

Not every planet is created equal. You might at any point land on a world filled with verdant grassland, quiet forests, or a suffocating smog that makes finding a place to set your ship down almost impossible. The surface might be too hot for you to safely walk on, or far too cold without the right gear, or perhaps the game's mathematical smarts will spit out a perfect storm of hostile landscape, lethal wildlife, and hyper-aggressive robotic guardians, the latter activated if you fight back against the animals or begin breaking down structures for raw materials. It's all a bit like riling up the cops in a GTA game, only with tiny drones dispensing red-hot-laser-beam bursts of justice.

For all the many worlds out there, though, the overwhelming tone of the game, as I'm seeing it so far (having actually played it, at a preview event in March) is loneliness. Occasionally you'll meet NPC alien races, which are the only things in the game that don't react to your presence with indifference or overt violence, but they don't even speak your language at first. Or, rather, you don't speak theirs—you'll have to learn to converse as the game progresses. They'll help or hinder you based on how well you communicate with them, but even with this limited interactivity with other humanoid, sentient life, the overwhelming feeling of disconnect between the player and relatable peers, even if they're AI, is strong.

In theory, there are other humans out there in No Man's Sky's galaxies, other gamers working toward the center of the universe—where I hope that the game's designer Sean Murray, the man who's led the shaping of this game across five years of late nights, has left a Peter Molyneux–like video for the lucky space-farer that arrives first, and to discover and name every planet, animal, and tree after their first pet, long-lost love, or favorite snack food. The thing is, this universe is so big, and so sparse, that casual players might never find a trace of another living soul. You'll maybe never meet these other players, getting to know them only by the trail of textual dick jokes worn by the many organisms they leave in their wake.

What's the point in seeing attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion or C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate if you can't do it with some company? If you want to show something you've discovered to someone else directly, you'll need to stream it or upload a video, perhaps name one of the grotesque creatures "this looks like a weird horse lol" in the hope that someone finds it a few months down the line and agrees that, yes, it does look like a weird horse. Otherwise, you might get the crushing sense of being alone in the face of this universe's sheer indifference.

Article continues after the video below

Meet Scotland's DIY rocketeers

So what do you do in a game world that doesn't give a shit about you?

You could always try talking to the planets. The AI entities in No Man's Sky may not care about you, and the virtual dirt might not respond, but instead of focusing on the fact the game is largely ignoring you, the player, slayer of a thousand beasts, rescuer of a thousand princesses and conqueror of a thousand video games before this one, why not try finding solace in hopping between the many worlds?

Even from my cursory flypast of the game's early stages, these worlds are as varied, characterful, and developed as any triple-A video game character, and each one's differences are plain to see as you circle above them, in search of a safe landing site. Each planet, whether teeming with life or virtually barren, has plenty to see and do. Want to explore a hole in the ground? You can do that. Want to make your own hole in the ground? Go for it. Sadly, the holes won't track for different players (fortunate, when you consider every planet is going to be scored with cocks and swastikas within hours of the game's launch) and you won't be able to leave any meaningful mark on the landscape around you. But the game more than makes up for that by giving you near-unlimited space to roam within, a ship that can land nearly anywhere and a complete lack of loading screens.

Floating through the vast emptiness of space in a vessel made for one might be lonely, but there's a certain beauty to the isolation when you're standing on a mountain no one else has ever summited, on a planet no one else has ever visited, looking out over a vista no one else has ever shared on Twitter before. I didn't really understand No Man's Sky during my springtime playtest, but now, months later and with the game out in mere days, I get the appeal.

Follow Jake Tucker on Twitter.

Action Bronson Considers a New Alien Theory with Riff Raff and Andy Milonakis Tonight on VICELAND

Tonight on an all new episode of Dead Set on Life, host Matty Matheson goes to Alberta, Canada to visit a farm where bison roam free. Then, Dennis Rodman, Har Mar Superstar, JD Samson, Paul F. Tompkins, Dave England, and Shelby Fero get their party stories animated on a new episode of Party Legends.

Later, on an all new episode of Action Bronson & Friends Watch Ancient Aliens, Riff Raff, Andy Milonakis, and Simon Rex challenge the idea that aliens came to this planet to harvest gold using genetically-modified humans. Check out a preview of tonight's episode above.

You can catch full episodes of Dead Set of Life Thursdays at 10 PM, followed byParty Legends at 10:30 PM, and Action Bronson & Friends Watch Ancient Aliens at 11 PM on VICELAND.

The Man Who Turned His Parkinson’s into an Art Project

Tim Andrews. Photo by Liz Orton

In 2005, Tim Andrews was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. A solicitor at the time of his diagnosis, he had an insurance policy that allowed him to leave the job he'd had for 29 years—news so overwhelming for Andrews that he burst into tears when he heard it.

A couple of years later, scrolling through an issue of Time Out, Andrews noticed a call-out for photographic models and responded to the ad. That would be the first of hundreds of portraits taken of him by all sorts of photographers, from amateurs to established names like Harry Borden and Rankin.

The project, which Andrews titled Over the Hill, came to an end in June of this year, so I went to his house to have a chat about the process, Parkinson's, and why he's naked in so many of the photos.

Photo by Spencer Murphy

VICE: How long have you had a love of photography? Is it something that existed before Over the Hill, or did that come later?
Tim Andrews: I've always liked photography, although I've never been very good at it. But the thing that attracted me to photography from the start was Lee Miller's The Picnic. When I saw that, I thought it was a great photograph and a historical photograph. It also represented the hedonistic lifestyle that I was miles away from. After seeing it, I would visit the National Portrait Gallery and find myself attracted more to the photography than the paintings.

How and why did you turn your diagnosis into Over the Hill?
After I gave up work, I had all of these things I liked to do, like going to the cricket, reading, writing—so I did all of them, but they were all quite solitary pastimes. I missed the connection with people. Anyway, I answered an advert by Graeme Montgomery in Time Out and came back with a professional photograph of myself naked and thought nothing more of it. Amazingly, though, in the next two weeks, there were two more requests listed. The second guy, Mark Russell, came and photographed me at home with a large format camera, which was all wood and brass. And then the third guy photographed me on a Hasselblad. I know what all these cameras are now, but I still don't know much more about how they work.

It was in about 2008 that I went online to see what Graeme was up to and discovered he was advertising on Gumtree. I searched for photography and found all these people—mainly students—looking for people to photograph. It was only then that I began along the path of being photographed by different people. When I wrote to the first person from Gumtree, I realized I had a project. So I never thought, Oh, I have Parkinson's—what shall I do to make myself feel better? This just fell into my lap.

I wrote to Graeme in 2010 to request his permission for an exhibition I was putting on of the images taken so far. He was amazed that, by this point, I had done 128 photographs and told me that in the same time he had moved to New York, fallen in love, gotten married, and had a baby. Time had moved on for both of us, and I realized gradually, then, what I was becoming part of with this project.

Photo by Chris Friel

Have you found the process to be therapeutic?
Yes. The shoots themselves are the best bit; receiving the photographs at the end is like an added bonus. When the shoots start, you get to know someone almost immediately—you're talking about things other than photography, but the thing is you've never got that feeling of, Oh, I've got to spend two hours with this guy.You're too busy focusing on the shoot, and then any conversation that follows is a bonus. So you have this lovely mix of a working friendship, which has been really nice all the way through.

You've worked with some amazing photographers. Do any stand out in particular?
People have always asked if I've got a favorite photograph. My answer is always no, but I honestly haven't. I do sometimes feel stronger about the images in which I have more of an input—ones that feel like they are more of a collaboration between myself and photographer.

One good shoot was with Liz Orton. She was recommended to me by someone—I met her in a cafe in Stoke Newington to discuss our first shoot, which took us to some woods. We took along some balloons, experimented with myself in a suit, myself naked, and it was such fun. She'd direct me this way and that way. But for the second shoot, she put me in a box. And the reason for this is that when I had a panic attack in 1999—which is one of the first signs of Parkinson's—I went and had cognitive behavioral therapy. The therapist said, "Your life is like a pile of cardboard boxes. Each is a section of it, so finance, marriage, kids, etc. It gets to a ceiling, and there's no farther to go. This is what causes a panic attack." This made sense to me and was the reason Liz put me in a box. She wanted me to get in and turn 360 degrees, which is not easy when you have Parkinson's. We eventually stopped for lunch, and I climbed out of the box, but next door's garden had a low fence. Liz's neighbors were doing their gardening. They looked at me and simply said, "Hello, Liz, I guess you're doing your photography." They didn't bat an eyelid at the fact I was stark naked.

The nude is a recurring theme in the project—is being nude significant?
Yeah, I do love being naked. I put it in my first email—that I was happy to be photographed naked or otherwise—so that the photographer knew that was an option. It's funny with nudity, though, because people say, "There are a lot of nudes, aren't there?" I asked Jane, my wife, what percentage she thought it was, to which she answered, "About 50 percent at least." It's actually less than 20 percent.

Do you think Over the Hill is helpful for others with Parkinson's? Have you had much feedback?
Yes, I had a comment from a woman over in South Africa whose husband is a painter with Parkinson's. I think she found it quite inspiring. People with Parkinson's generally don't want to have it, obviously, but it's one of these things that's so slow moving. If people ask me to speak to relatives who have Parkinson's, I say, "Yeah, give them my email address," but I never hear from them again. When I was first diagnosed, I didn't want to tell anybody. I think it's because it's like something has been pulled from under your feet. I was sitting down the other day, and I paid attention to a man walking—I thought about how it's no effort to him; he doesn't have to think about it. Whereas I'm thinking about each step I'm making. And because you don't want to admit you have it, you don't want to mix with the Parkinson's community. But I feel that you're either positive, or you aren't. This sounds weird, but I was very lucky, in a way, to be given Parkinson's, because it gave me opportunity to do things that I would never have been able to do normally. So it's not been that bad a thing, really.

Do the positives outweigh the negatives at this point?
I'd say so, yeah. Someone said to me a while ago, "Wouldn't it be great if you could get rid of it, then you could go back to what you were doing before." And I said, "No, it wouldn't." I'm quite happy where I am. This was severely tested right before I had my operations, though—it got quite bad then. You may notice now that my speech is quite forced, because sometimes when I'm tired or I'm in a situation where I have to explain things, as I am now, I find it not as easy as I used to. That is a bit dispiriting, but then if you get around that on a good day, or you say something that comes out OK, you win that little battle. It's like a continuing fight.

Photo by Chris Floyd

Do you think Over the Hill has been about documenting the progress of Parkinson's, or is it about something else?
Something else, definitely. A lot of people concentrate on the Parkinson's as an idea for their photograph. And of course I can't separate it from my life completely as it's very much a part of my life, but some people have wanted to take photographs for a project of their own that I've fitted into; others have wanted to illustrate me shaking, which I don't mind at all. But I feel it's a project, which is a documentation of me, at a time where I happen to be ill—and therefore this becomes a large part of it. It's been a very interesting way of examining myself and examining the past particularly. It's also enabled me to write in a way that I never thought I would be doing—making a record of the relationships I've made with the people who photographed me. The writing became almost as important as anything else in the project; over the years it has become more thoughtful and deeper. The photography is controlled mostly by the photographers; my main input in this project is the blog writing—it allows me to contribute to this document.

And it's all wrapped up now, right?
It finished on June 17—it just felt like the right time to call it. I've had a few little blips before when I've thought about stopping, but each time felt regretful and carried on almost immediately. This time feels different, though; I feel like it's had it's day. In an ideal world, I'd like to have a book and an exhibition of the whole lot. To have it in a book would mean to have something tangible that I can pick up and look through. But outside of that I'm sure I'll carry on being photographed by people.

Follow Chris Bethell on Twitter.


Remembering the Time Mötley Crüe Made Steve-O Smash the Windows of a Moving Car

The fifth episode of our VICELAND show Party Legends—where celebrities tell us their most unforgettable party stories and we animate them—aired on VICELAND Thursday night.

This week we heard some wild stories from Dennis Rodman, Jackass's Dave England, Har Mar Superstar, JD Samson, and more.

We've recapped our favorite parts of Dave England's story—which involves a rowdy drive on LA highways and a bloody banana peel—for your viewing pleasure in GIFs below.

"We had worked really hard and partied really hard making the first Jackass movie.

Paramount was so impressed with the footage that we turned in, they found it in their hearts to give us another $1 million to film a Hollywood ending. They sent a 15-passenger van to pick up me, Bam, Ryan, Steve-O, and Johnny Knoxville.

The driver was a 22-year-old kid just fresh into the LA scene. Super nice person. like one of the guys that, you know, just you're like, 'Oh, you know, this kid's cool, man. I hope it works out for him.'"

"It was about an hour's drive from LA to the shooting location, so I secured shotgun position and got my iPod into the stereo.

And then, uh, we picked up Steve-O. He comes flying out of his house. Just coked up. He gets in that van. And the first thing I thought of was, I have my iPod. That's a lot of power right now. If I put on the right song, I could get things going in this van.

I scroll through, scroll through. Find 'Live Wire' by Mötley Crüe. Push play."

"Steve-O turned into a pinball bouncing around. Back of the van, front of the van, all over, ripping things as he goes. Like, clawing at seat cushions.

At first, everyone's like, 'Hey, dude. Slow down.'

And then it kind of became fun. And then all of a sudden, I see Bam starting to rip at stuff. And then Ryan's ripping at stuff. Everyone's going crazy."

"The driver's like, 'Hey, you guys. You guys, stop. Stop. I got to pull over if you keep doing this. Stop. Stop.'

At that point, I think almost everyone was peeing when he was saying that. Like, just pissing all in the van and donkey-kicking the windows out.

I can't even imagine what that would look like if you were driving alongside of it. Boom, a window just breaks out of this big-ass van on the freeway."

"The driver swerved about four lanes. He's like, 'Ah! I'm serious, you guys.'

And, then, somehow, we're there. The van is just a steaming mess, and Steve-O has this really deep cut.

He starts yelling, 'Ed the medic, Ed the medic!'

When you make a movie, you to have a guy there—they call it the on-set medic. And ours was Ed the medic. Ed was just itching to give you pills. He wanted to give you pills. He wanted to give everyone pills."

"Ed comes strolling over, eating a banana. He says, 'Let me see that elbow.'

Steve-O is gushing blood. Ed takes the banana peel, applies it to the cut, and just rubs it to get the majority of blood off. The peel had half an ounce of just the most horrific, disease-ridden blood.

It was a different color red than normal blood. It was Steve-O blood."

"When he was done, Ed the medic just chucks the bloody banana peel away. Unfortunately, the flying peel hit that driver kid square in the face.

The kid quit right then."


You can catch Party Legends Thursdays at 10:30 PM on VICELAND. Find out how to watch here.

A Look Into the Life of a Jukebox Repairman

A Look Into the Life of a Jukebox Repairman

Music is always better when there’s a story attached to it. And streaming songs onto a Bluetooth speaker doesn’t tell as good of a story as playing songs on an old jukebox. So let’s revel in the life of Perry Rosen, one of the last vintage jukebox repairmen around. Just hearing him tell his story about fixing jukeboxes is already fun, but getting to see the guts of these old music machines—the vacuum tubes, the arm, the turntables—makes it even better.

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We Asked Terrorism Experts About ISIS and the Olympics

A soldier stands in guard next to the beach volleyball venue at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, July 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Just days after the Islamic State's November assault on Paris that killed 130 people, a French national and known Islamic State executioner named Maxime Hauchard tweeted a grim warning. "Brazil, you are our next target," it read, sparking fears that the group might target the Rio de Janeiro Olympics Games, which start Friday, in yet another attempt to wreak havoc across the globe.

For months, nothing seemed to come of the threat, leaving terrorism a secondary concern after Brazil's ongoing Zika woes and environmental clusterfuck. But on May 29, ISIS launched its first Portuguese-language Telegram propaganda channel, and on June 3, an affiliate channel appealed for help from Portuguese speakers, according to the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC). Throughout the summer, jihadists called for lone-wolf attacks at the games, and in mid July, French intelligence forces acknowledged a credible threat against members of their own team. About three weeks ago, a domestic Brazilian group called Ansar al-Khilafah Brazil pledged its loyalty to ISIS leadership. Over the following days, Brazil launched a sting, arresting a dozen Brazilian-born members suspected of belonging to another group, the Defenders of Shariah. That outfit had allegedly pledged its own allegiance, discussed an attack on the games, and attempted to purchase at least one AK-47 from Paraguay.

Finally, just last week, Brazilian police arrested a Rio man on allegations of supporting ISIS online.

The deluge of jihadi chatter and official responses raise some serious questions about security at the games. Some might brush these fears off as sensational given the paucity of any major ISIS activity in South America since the group became a global menace. But even if the risk of a coordinated, Paris-style attack is low, between a small but longstanding jihadi strain in Brazil, legitimate concerns about security at any Olympics, and the perpetual challenge of combatting lone-wolf terrorist attacks, the danger of some kind of tragedy is real.

To be sure, even if terrorist threats before the Olympics are routine, actual incidents are historically rare and incredibly tough to carry out. Pre-game arrests are also common and often intended to reassure the public. Marcos Degaut, a Brazilian ex-intelligence officer, and Marcos Ferreira, a counter-terror expert at the Federal University of Paraíba, both suspect security theater played a large role in the nation's recent arrests, and indeed, Brazilian officials have labeled the Defenders of Shariah as mere amateurs.

Like much of Latin America, Brazil also has a fairly small Muslim population, which according to Maximiliano Korstanje, a terrorism scholar at Argentina's University of Palermo, is mostly well-assimilated. Combined with Brazil's relative disconnection from Middle Eastern affairs and tendency to look critically on American interventionism, there are relatively few grievances for local or international jihadi groups to jump on there.

Besides, many recent fears—about radicalization among Syrian refugees or an al Qaeda heavy making his way into the country—turned out to be bogus. But Degaut believes we should take recent threats seriously given the wider jihadi dynamics at play in the area. Despite government denials, he (like many others) say militant Islamist groups including al Qaeda have footholds on the porous border between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. A 2011 report by the Brazilian magazine Veja noted 20 major jihadis living in Brazil, whose long-term presence may have been abetted by lax anti-terror laws. Last August, Brazil busted up an alleged pro-ISIS money-laundering-jihadi-funding ring in São Paulo.

Ferreira also says the number of converts to Islam in Brazil is on the rise, and that disaffected urban youth may be prone to ISIS propaganda. He and Degaut both question the wisdom of the government's recent, highly publicized arrests in this context. "It provided potential terrorists the kind of publicity that they need" for propaganda, Degaut told VICE, adding that the crackdown "revealed to terrorists how the government forces work."

Brazil has plenty of experience hosting sporting mega events, and ostensibly the Rio games will have enough security to contain any threat that emerges. Screeners note they've already blocked attempted entries into Brazil for the games by 40 people with suspected terrorist ties, and the state has even received training from partner nations to bolster their counter-terror capacity. "I am in Rio now," Ferreira told me Wednesday. "I've never seen so many police, military, and security in the streets. The vulnerability will be the same seen in any part of the world hosting an event like this."

But Brazil is in the middle of a series of financial and political crises. Degaut says crime remains elevated, even in supposedly safe areas covered by ramped up security—some incidents have supposedly come at the hands of officers. Brazil also waited until last month to award a contract for thousands of venue guards, and as of Sunday, the selected firm had reportedly provided just 500 personnel, leaving the state to scramble police and military replacements. The state has also had trouble massing soldiers to respond to last-minute developments at sites outside of the venues, according to Ferreira.

Again, experts canvassed by VICE broadly agree it will be almost impossible for any group to pull off a massive attack at a major-game site. But they cite the potential for an individual jihadi to launch a lone-wolf attack—especially in a less-hardened city like Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Salvador, or São Paulo, all of which will be hosting Olympic events as well. Other possible targets include a hotel or party site beyond the zone of the games and military-police saturation.

As Veryan Khan of the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium put it, "No one can really prepare for a lone wolf–style attack."

Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.