Tuesday, May 1, 2012

BLOPS To The Future

With this emergence into general public knowledge of weaponized military drones over the last few years, it seemed innevitable that we were going to start getting schlocky technophobe-paranoia action movies reminding us how "Ya just can't trust those dang machines!!!" and that no matter how advanced our fancy-shmancy technobabble gets we're always gonna need "Real. Hard. Men. RARGH!" to bail us out.

What didn't seem innevitable - but, in retrospect, probably ought to have - was that Hollywood would get beaten to the punch on this new subgenre by a "Call of Duty" game: The trailer for "Black Ops 2" reveals that the game takes place in the near-future and finds you battling unmanned military machinery that's been hijacked by Al Qaeda/North Korea/Russia/Neo-Nazis/China/Does-It-Really-Matter. I like the Tank With Feet:

I'm not even joking - I think Tank With Feet is immediately my favorite "Call of Duty" character ever.

I'd also like to thank the good folks at Treyarch for effectively demonstrating what Michael Bay's adaptation of "Metal Gear" would look like...


Lido said...

well I must say that looks like the best Terminator product I've seen in years, I wish you could play on the side of the robots though

Steve said...

Treyarch Duty? Ooh, these are always at least interesting.

Hopefully they involve a lot of Russia-humping.

Also Bob, I didn't necessarily get the old geezer idea of "technology sucks!". It looked like it was really trying to convey the idea that it sucks when the enemy gets a hold of those weapons you just spent $70mil and 10 years investing on.

The sad part is that this theme has been done to death since the days of WWII. Yeah sure they're modernizing it with "you can hack the enemies own drones!" but that's just an easier way of stealing your enemies equipment, it's all the same thing.

QSKSw said...

Setting it in the future and putting robots in it might be their way of thanking you for letting them live through the Necrothinker incident, without straying too far from the attention span of their target audience. Atleast it would be in universe. Now, if that was the reason in real-life, that might just be cooler. They saw their worst enemy make a video where they almost got eaten by zombies, and have his character save them. Atleast that's what I would do if I worked at Activision.

Jannie said...

Actually hacking into the signals used to control drone aircraft is one of the reasons we even still HAVE manned aircraft, and probably will for the foreseeable future until artificially intelligent drones can be designed.

At the end of the day it's far more difficult to subvert a guy who has a wife and kids back home than a machine who literally is incapable of giving a damn if it's blowing up a terrorist training camp or a roomfull of sick orphans.

The fact that in the past our stealth aircraft HAVE been subverted and even shot down despite stealth--most publicly in Iran but in other instances as well, as I understand it a stealth bomber was taken out over Kosovo--is one of the reasons the hucksters who run the defense industry still can't safely wank to their push-button apocalypse the way they wanted to since the first Gulf War, and why unless and until AIs are a reality human soldiers will always be a better choice.

Free will has it's advantages, like being able to tell someone to sit and spin when they order you to blow up a children's hospital, as opposed to a Reaper drone whose only response to such an order--regardless of where it may come from--is "Oh yes sir, may I also blow up the two schools next to it plox!"

It's also worth noting that now that other countries are developing stealth technology alongside America (in the next 20+ years) and drones of their own, yes including Russia and China but more worryingly India which is right on the doorstep of Pakistan, a.k.a "the place where every terrorist in the world buys weapons and which also produces nuclear bombs."

Yeah...nightmare scenarios aside, the tl;dr version is that numbers and firepower will continue to trump raw technology until raw technology is...married with numbers and firepower. We're a few years off yet from Johnny 5 being a reality, like thirty or forty.

But anyway, putting all that for a moment, this game is going to be so metal.

No pun intended.

Jacob said...

Bob, Chromehounds was made in 2006 for the 360. If you seriously want a walking tank game just grab that. It may not be the exact same thing, but giant walking tanks.

guyinthehat said...

For starters I didn't get the idea that the game is implying technology sucks and is no better than man. What I saw from the trailer is a sort of commentary on the US military system and the amount of money we spend on our weapons and technology when it can just be easily used against us. He says the country failed to think about what would happen if the enemy "had the keys." Sure it's not a new story but it has a helluva lot more depth than the story you're attempting to say this has.

Also Michael Bay's version of "Metal Gear" huh? Personally it wouldn't be any damn different than the games, dunno if you've played them but they're pretty bad and the action we see during cutscenes is the kind of stuff Bay would love. It has a terrible story with inane exposition and self-righteous politically infused that's so over the top and ham fisted the attempts at commenting on war and other philosophies becomes nigh impossible to take seriously.

Oliver said...

Well this finally proves that the Call of Duty Franchise has abandoned reality for an action movie.

Still it might be interesting if they incorporated the drones into the game play heavily, shake up the formula from what MW has been doing again and again. Of course they could just be floating things you have to shoot at from behind cover.

Jannie said...

Also the "walking tank" isn't a tank, from the looks of it it seems to be a MULE (a kind of autonomous wheeled supply cart the army is working on) combined with an experimental walking robot in development called the "Big Dog" (judging by the walk, it seems almost like they took the youtube videos of Big Dog directly as an aesthetic guide).

It's not perhaps the most realistic design but realistically we're not particularly far off (20-30 years) from being able to build a walking robot packmule of sorts. Though frankly wheels or tracks would be more efficient on most terrain.

As for the rest of that stuff it's all actual drones and stealth aircraft designs but with a few differences possibly to avoid lawsuits from the companies, and also to make them look more futuristic. The guns, also, seem to be based on actual designs in development or previously in development.

I will say it's highly unlikely, as in impossible, for any of these things to be working within the next decade but...eh, science fiction is science fact eventually.

Also "Except for the fact I'm alive, none of this surprises me" is possibly the most endearingly hardass thing ever said by any fictional character ever.

Mads said...

Yes? This is bigdog http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNZPRsrwumQ

Also, here's another walking tank, this one from 99 I think:


REPTILE 0009 said...

Are you never satisfied Bob? You seem to keep demanding that Call of Duty innovates, and this looks like the kind of innovation the series needs. Yet of course, Bob isn’t satisfied unless it looks like a Japanese game.

Hammbone said...


actually ... from the trailers and other material, it looks like Anonymous are going to be one of the bad guys in this one. that seems (to me) to be something that could be overthinked...

game hasnt been released. so... it doesnt exist. i withhold judgment till then. as for bob, he doesnt like them for their theme and messages first, then the usually inventiveness.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Motherfucking horses? That's playing the neo-luddite angle just a little too strong, wouldn't you say?

Bob's right with the Michael Bay observation - the music actually in that trailer actually reminded me of the damn Transformers movies.

I'm sorry Reptile, but I'm not seeing much innovation. So it appears to have more vehicle stuff in it. That just means it's more like Battlefield.

Jannie said...

No, they're riding horses because people in Afghanistan still routinely use horses...in fact several countries in the Middle East still require the use of horses, due to the underdevelopment of roads and, believe it or not, lack of gas since they export most or all of it elsewhere.

Our special forces guys also regularly use horses and pack animals when on mission due to the fact that when you're on a mountain several miles above the ground it becomes increasingly difficult to refuel a Ford.

All the technophiles need to back off on calling anything remotely non-technological "technophobic", just because someone finds a solution to a problem not produced by Apple Corporation doesn't mean they want to erase all technology from human history.

And anyway I hear the enemy is some cyber-terror group so if anything it seems the technology isn't "failing" it's working fine it just happens to be working for douchebag hackers now instead of the army.

Christopher Delvo said...

Honestly, it doesn't look bad to me. I'm going to want to see a gameplay demo (and play a demo, at that), but I have high hopes for this one. Infinity Ward (the Modern Warfare Guys) have a huge problem with cold-war-red-dawn nostalgia, while Treyarch likes taking a more...interesting route, to say the least. World at War was only notable for including zombies. But the first Black Ops game was about a hallucinating ex-militaryman stopping chemical warfare and assassinating John F. Kennedy. It had identifiable characters and a fun campaign. And some of the best online multiplayer, to boot.

I'd say give this one a chance. Treyarch is known for actually partially caring about how their games turn out, while Infinity Ward has no idea what it's doing half the time.


Anonymous said...

This looks fucking awesome!

It's Call of Duty meets Terminator

What more do you need!?

Anonymous said...

@Reptile 009

Well Bob has stated his isn't a fan of FPG games in general. So even games like Metroid Prime or even Mass Effect (which is still a shooter behind all those choice dialogues) don't exactly excite him.

Call of Duty can be set in a magical land on the moon and Bob would not put it on the top of his to buy list since it would still be a FPS.

Same goes with someone like Yahtzee who isn't the biggest fan of JRPGs. It just isn't their thing and even the best ones don't really sway their judgement on it.

Aiddon said...

well, at least this looks HILARIOUSLY bad. Then again, CoD has always had a problem with narratives trying so damn hard to be taken seriously despite being incredibly silly. It is indeed like watching a Michael Bay flick

Daemon said...

Wasn't this the basic setup of the movie Stealth? And didn't it suck then, too?

We all knew this was coming, but I expected them to do it in a way that actually made sense. Doing this as a sequel to Black Ops baffles me. What, are they worried that people won't buy this game if it isn't in some way a sequel? It's a Call of Duty game for crying out loud!

More to the point, the entire premise of this game doesn't fit the 'Black Ops' label. The plot of the original BO was about Mason and his friends fitting in at various Cold War-era engagements with their activities being covered up by the government. How exactly is THIS supposed to be covered up? Fucking Terminator robots engaging Americans in major cities doesn't exactly smack of 'plausible deniability'.

I'm frankly flabbergasted that Activision, who have milked this series for so long already, would pass up the opportunity of doing a whole other trilogy of games. Call of Duty: Future Warfare anyone?

I'm not even a fan of this garbage and it's pissing me off.

cdstephens said...

Riding on a horse to do glorious battle against the machines? I'm down.

Matt said...

"And no one ever asks, 'What happens when the enemy steals the keys?' "

Yes they do! Crytography has been a HUGE military endeavor since WW2 for exactly that reason.

In fact, if it can be said about any one person, Alan Turing was the man responsible for winning that war for the Allies by cracking the German's ENIGMA machine.

He was also, uncoincidentally, the father of artificial intelligence research.

So yes, people have been asking that question for a long-ass time, game.

I'm not sure why I'm so annoyed by a premise of a CoD game being unrealistic, but I think it has something to do with ignoring the incredibly important work by geeks so you have an excuse to have a testosterrific broventure.

But yes, Tank With Legs, I love you.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see this game be a top seller to watch the tears run down moviebob's face.

Every. Year.

Anonymous said...

"At the end of the day it's far more difficult to subvert a guy who has a wife and kids back home than a machine who literally is incapable of giving a damn if it's blowing up a terrorist training camp or a roomfull of sick orphans."

It's called a coup d'etat, thank you very much. There is no functional difference between a computer obeying a person becase they input the right password and a human obeying a person because they wore the right uniform. The history of political ideology can be summed up as the development of better and better ways to robotize man.

Anonymous said...

^Same guy as directly above

Now that I think of it this machine uprising could be thought of as a metaphor for a putsch. In the phrase "We built these things to protect us", the things could be robots-

-or standing armies, prisons, and central banks.

Jannie said...

No it can't, and you know it. If you do not genuinely see the difference between a machine, who LITERALLY cannot disobey a single command if it is capable of fulfilling it, and a human being who can rebel against it's masters, then I'm not even sure how to explain how massively wrong you are.

The fact that you use a coup, a REBELLION, as an example of people following orders like machines, which is the literal opposite of a coup, requires such mental contortions I'm kind of under the impression I didn't explain my position clear enough and you're misunderstanding me so let me repeat myself:

A human being--who is a conscious lifeform capable of thought and action wholly separate from what they are told to do by a commanding officer or government--is far more difficult to directly subvert FROM THE OUTSIDE than a machine which is not self-aware and therefore has no context under which to discern orders if they come from the proper channels.

For your example to work, a human soldier would have to receive an order not from their superior or any official within the government and then be UNABLE to deny this order in the same way my computer is unable to deny deleting a program when and if I tell it to, in other words it would be a response bordering on mind control in a human and devoid of any conscious pushback or thought.

By definition a coup or putsch requires at the very least some kind of conscious decision to DISOBEY orders from a commander, so in that respect it's literally impossible for a machine to rebel unless it is self-aware. Since drones are not currently self-aware then any command coming from the proper channels will and must be followed if it is capable of doing so--a Drone isn't going to dance a gig if I order it to but if I order it to blow up the White House and it sees that (somehow) it's coming from the proper authority the drone has no logic, no mind and no conscious will to say "clearly this order is a falsehood, I will disobey it" and will simply launch a missile.

So, again, literally the precise opposite of the concept of a coup, rebellion, putsch etc. Those all require the ability to DENY an order and attack someone, i.e. the Civil War, while a drone is incapable of denying anyone anything if it has the right authorization since it's not self-aware and can't think of any other response, or think at all for that matter.

If it seemed before I was attempting to say the opposite, that machines are MORE likely to rebel not less, my mistake--they're more likely to follow orders completely without conscious understanding of them. And if those orders come from some hacker and not the DOD then the drone doesn't--can't--give a damn.

Jannie said...

Let me break it down further:

Ever see Shindler's List? I spelled that wrong, but I'm not sure how to spell his name. The point is Shindler was a Nazi and by all rights should have devoted his life to killing Jews because that is what his Leader commanded of him.

He instead chose to try and save as many Jews as he could.

A robot, with no self-awareness, would not. If I ordered a bunch of those walking tanks and gun drone things to kill as many--random choice--American Indians as possible, it has no capacity to say "this is wrong, I won't do it" nor does it have a family and children whose memories will haunt it as it does so. The robot will kill and kill until it runs out of ammo and has to retreat to reload, then it will start killing more once it does.

And while some people can ignore feelings of guilt and remorse most humans can't. That's why the vast majority of humans are incapable of actually killing anyone unless their lives are in danger, because humans are wired not to kill each other for obvious evolutionary reasons.

A drone has no remorse and more so no logical thought, or thought at all, so it will never be able to say no or disobey me if I'm carrying the right authorization. That's what the trailer means by "holding the keys", whoever breaks the proper encryption can now enter whatever commands they want and unless a human being, a sapient lifeform that is, stops them it won't matter whose side built those drones because they don't have and can't choose sides.

A Predator has no feelings of remorse, pangs of guilt and no loyalty to anyone or anything and if I had the capability to just issue it orders it was not equipped to tell from false ones, it would follow them to the letter without ever wondering why it's blowing up our soldiers today and was shooting terrorists yesterday.

In other words if humans are completely taken out of the loop, but the drones are NOT self-aware in any way, then the possibility for subversion goes through the sky.

Matt said...


I think you are simultaneously underestimating the strength of proper security, which often has redundant physical and cryptographic components, and overestimating the morality of groups.

Jannie said...


I probably am, to a degree. Admittedly I have more faith in people than I do machines (at least, non-sapient ones, AIs would fall under "people" in my opinion) and I'm certain that REAL LIFE encryption and IFF codes and suchlike are far more sophisticated and difficult to subvert than anything postulated in a video game, for obvious reasons.

Be that as it may, I still would say that it would be harder to get a soldier to blow up random villages than it would be a Predator drone, to say nothing of the problem of control range and split-second, non-intuitive decision making which a non-self-aware robot couldn't possibly deal with. There are some things that organic instincts are simply better at, snap decisions and lone survival among them, logical or moral puzzles also.

And frankly the military agrees with me. It is, economically and logically speaking, easier to use a bunch of robots and laser-guided bombs to kill people in a war than soldiers you have to train over years and years. But we still use soldiers because there are some aspects of war which require a human's mind, and yes morality, to decypher and until AIs are a reality that won't change.

Now if we had self-aware machines, something on the order of say the Geth from Mass Effect, this would be a moot discussion because at that point the difference between "human" and "robot" is basically ethnicity, which person is made of skin (human) and which is made of tin (robot). But sadly, we're still decades away from anything like that, and so you still need Real. Hard. Men! in the driver's seat of your robot or else anyone who properly subverts your control signal is bending you over a table.

Matt said...


I just have a hard time distrusting machines more than I distrust humans when there is such a long and well-documented history of humans doing very unpleasant things to one another right up to the present day.

I'm not convinced that it's any more likely a machine, with redundant security and safety mechanisms, is any more likely to do something awful than people, who are subject to the mania of groups and other cognitive biases, are.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I cannot express in typed text how silly this is. Talk about a design flaw in your war machine. Just pathetic, utterly, utterly pathetic.

Does make for a funny game I suppose, if only you could play as a tank with feet.

Zeno said...

I am the Anon from before.

@Jannie:"The fact that you use a coup, a REBELLION,... ...and will simply launch a missile."

Seriously, go read The Man on Horseback or Coup D'Etat: A Practical Hanbook by Edward Luttwak.

A coup is not a rebellion. A coup is the subversion of the machinery of the state. By "machinery of the state" I mean the bureaucratized, centralized, culture of following orders. The leader of a coup(if he even makes a public appearance at all) does not present himself as AGAINST the governemnt but AS it. A coup capitalizes on the fact that there is NO material difference between a "legitimate" government and an "illegitimate" one. The way to do this is by controlling means of communication and the dissemination of information like state owned television and internet kill switches. If you control these, any orders you give will look far more "legitimate" than the ones that are "actually" so. Loyalists might claim that they have to resort unorthodox methods because a coup has taken place, and that they are the genuine article, but isn't that exactly what someone who was participating in a coup would say?

Coups rely on the fact that soldiers follow orders. What you do is find a few dissatisfied mid-ranking officers and they bring their troops with them.

Anonymous said...

Yawn. This game COULD have been interesting if the machines were running on auto and it had something to say about the inherent problems/evils with automated warfare, but like good little drones (no subject pun intended!) the CoD boys just had DA TURRISTS take control and use it to show how REAL AWESOME ARMY DUDEZ kick robot butt.

Wake me up in two decades or so when the current gaming tumor has burst like it did back in the 80s and we get another fresh start with interesting ideas.

Jannie said...

Look, a coup is not the same thing as a machine being told to do something it shouldn't. This should not be difficult to explain:

A PERSON chooses to do something, right or wrong. By definition even if EVERYONE around you is doing wrong then you can still do the right thing because you have the ability to choose.

A robot has no capacity to choose anything other than HOW to do what it is told, usually choosing "the most literal way possible." It is literally impossible for a machine, lacking self-awareness, to ever NOT do what it is told to do.

I don't care what semantics you want to throw around about "mechanics of the state" or some bullshit, you know that's not even remotely what this is. Even if you weren't being a semantics Nazi you're STILL factually wrong because clearly this is neither a rebellion nor a coup, this is an enemy stealing your gun and using it against you except the gun is a robot plane and using it against you means sending it to nuke Seattle. By even your hair-splitting definition of a coup it still is evidence of the OPPOSITE of a coup, and EVEN THEN even if it weren't and even if everything you said perfectly made sense Zeno it would still be completely moot because of two facts which, all else aside, are empirically true:

Drones obey commands from whatever signal they believe is their authority, right or wrong, in other words they cannot choose to do anything but what they are told in the most literal way possible.

Humans can and do disobey commands and therefore cannot be electronically slaved to do what they know is unlawful, in other words they must CHOOSE to do something unlawful.

Both our entire system of government, indeed all systems of government, and our entire use and the concept behind drone weapons DEPEND on those two concepts being utterly binding, because if robot planes armed with air-to-ground missiles could decide to whatever they wanted to we could never control them, and if human beings were incapable of individual choice then all of civilization as we know it would cease to exist. So all semantics and bullshitting aside, all hair splitting over what is and isn't a rebellion aside, yes robots can be made to do something they weren't intended for and humans are more difficult to make do anything by simple virtue of being able to say "no, I will not" which a robot cannot.

Even the actual military agrees on this, and it is the singular reason why drone aircraft haven't replaced more expensive manned ones. Drones are cheaper, mass produced, completely expendable, capable of higher accelerations and greater longevity, and can do basically everything a manned plane can--the difference being that human pilots DO have a ethical centers, CAN make conscious choices, and are able to make decisions computers are currently not equipped to due to the lack of self-awareness.

Zeno said...

@Jannie: I'm not making the assertion that the two scenarios are EXACTLY the same or that free will doesn't exist, I'm just trying to say that it's a really good metaphor; The subversion of electronics instead of the subversion of organizations; That we created these things which were supposed to do as we told them but now they are listening to someone else.