On Winter.


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I'm not entirely sure which sub forum this should be in, so general it is.

I tend to be more of a reader than a poster, but here goes, because, winter.

Winter is what sold me on backing this game. Winter is, in many ways the best time of year. The most honest time of year. Winter does not care about you, you are nothing to it, and unlike summer, spring, or fall, it doesn't hide this fact. If you do not ready for the winter, you will die in it. That is a fact of life, or at least it was, until the creation of modern bulk transport.

If you live in an area without access to the trains and the highways, without easy access to the grocer and the market, that fact is still an iron law. That much is obvious, and so is something else, that we usually choose not to dwell on, because its a frightening thought. If you do have access to the market and the grocer, to grains, fresh produce and meat from across the continent, across the globe, you aren't made safe from the ravages of winter by this. You are instead made dependent. Your survival through the cold and dark depends on the efforts of others, and the continued cooperation of nature.

What grabbed me on this game is that it rubs the players face in those facts. Facts that I think most, even most who live in the north, have chosen to forget, to lie to ourselves about. Winter doesn't lie to you though. Every chill wind reminds you, and so we scurry from heated building to heated car, perhaps with heated seats. We drink warm drinks, huddle by anything warm, and tell ourselves it isn't that bad. Winter isn't anything to fear.

We tell ourselves we've beaten it. We build ski resorts, and ice hotels, and do our best to laugh in winter's face. Winter doesn't care though, doesn't notice us hiding from it, doesn't notice our efforts at conquering it. It just goes on, like any other season.

But winter isn't like any other season. Winter is not only honest, it is beautiful beyond description. The snow hides the tangle of decay left by the fall, turning the ground itself into a radiant thing, so bright that it can blind. The ice storms coat the naked branches with a million prisms to catch and refract the light into infinite, and infinitely intriguing patterns in the snow.

It is a time of incredible and indifferent beauty. Each day of enjoying the winter, each day stolen from work to spend in the frozen wild, is a trip into a fantastical world for which man is simply not suited. Yes we can survive it. Many, like myself, even enjoy it more than any other time of year, but to survive it, and especially to enjoy it, takes an enormous amount of work and planning.

That, I think, is the best thing about winter. That is what makes me pity those who grew up without it. It is fascinating to watch people who have never encountered winter deal with it for the first time. I had that privilege on several occasions, pursuing higher learning with students from easier climates. They simply don't know how to react to it being -20 for weeks on end, even with full access to an entire planet's imported clothing, fuel, and let us not forget food.

The work that goes into getting through winter had never occurred to them. They think bundling up, or shoveling snow is bad, but that's not even the tip of the iceberg.

Winter takes a lot of work, and a lot of planning to survive. In our modern world, we tend not to think about it much, because, for most of us, other people do most of that work, and all of the planning for us.

Oil wells, coal mines, and nuclear plants, often in far away lands heat our homes. We have nothing to do with them, save paying a bill. Nor do most of us have anything to do with creating or maintaining the furnace that turns that distant source to heat. Few know the work of felling trees, sectioning them up, splitting the rounds, and stockpiling that fuel for the winter. Most probably don't realize that even with manual saws, moving that wood from the forest to the hearth is still the hardest part of the job.

Food is at the market. We simply go and buy it, whenever we want. Perhaps a blizzard or an ice storm closes the roads, and we must make do with what we have for a few days, or even a couple of weeks. This is considered a hardship, an extreme event. How many could make it through the whole of winter's months without a single trip to the grocer? How many have even the faintest of ideas about how to produce, or store that food in the warm months? Failing that, how many could run even a small part of the vast logistical empire that delivers fresh food to those markets? How many could clear and maintain the roads that they depend on to reach that market?

I suspect a number of you reading this, who live in the north, especially the rural north, are grinning, and saying “I could” to at least some of that. You're even thinking about all the things it takes to get through a winter I didn't mention, like, say, proper clothing.

That's actually my point. Winter demands ability, and throughout history those of us gifted with winter's cold truth have done at least one of three things. We have become more able, we have sheltered under the aegis of one who already was, or we have died.

Those options remain the same today. The only thing different now is that more and more find the second path, the path of dependance. The Long Dark here, if I understand it right, is about what happens when that second path falls. When those who shield the masses from winter's cold indifference no longer can, through the eyes of a man who enjoyed the shelter, and finds himself bereft of it, in a single terrifying instant.

Thank you for that. Thank you for even trying to do that. It's not only a great idea for a game, but its something more people should think about.

I could, I want to, write more on the matter, but this is quite large enough a wall of text for a first post.

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Guest Alan Lawrance


That is a brilliant post, thank you for sharing.

One of our goals is to create a world that is harsh and unforgiving, but beautiful at the same time.

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Guest Alan Lawrance

Wow, Raph and I have a habit of responding to posts at the same time! I didn't see Raph's post before I wrote mine -- but clearly we both were moved by your post.

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I often think about our dependency on imported stuff, on electricity, on the wheels turning as they should. I live in a block of flats in the center of a town and blackouts are rare and the longest I've seen here (I've lived in this town for exactly 7 years now) was in summer and lasted an hour.

A couple of years ago, we had -35°C for weeks in winter and I started thinking, what would happen, if we had a blackout like we used to have where I lived as a child. I think the longest one then lasted a couple of weeks. The town center has only a few houses that have the capability of heating with firewood (there are a couple across the street from our house) and a blackout would interrupt the district heating. It would probably also cut water, which in turn would mean toilets wouldn't work. That would be bad enough in summer and a disaster at our worst winter temperatures.

So yes, city dwellers are unbelievably dependent on modern technology. That sometimes bothers me, but the other option, living in the countryside, has its own problems, like the need to own a car and the safety issues that have become apparent in recent years (living alone in secluded areas isn't as safe nowadays as it used to be).

I guess all it comes down to is that you need to believe that nothing too bad will happen. That the society will go on as it has before. And if it won't, then I guess we're f***ed.

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Although my family live in relative luxury in the countryside in the south of the UK, we get power cuts that last 3-4 days, log fires are a must, gas cooking equipment is a must and lots of warm clothes too.

I read your post with huge interest, as I've been wrestling about sustainability in this modern crazy world we now live in. In the UK we have 3 weeks worth of food supply in depots, before it gets to the supermarkets. We are a net importer of all foodstuffs by 75% of what our nation uses. How can a nation not produce enough foodstuffs for its own people and still be classified as a first world country?

These are scary days.

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While I can't say I expected a reply from not one, but two members of the team itself, I can say I'm honored by it. It's always nice to see a game's, or any project's, makers take an interest in what the potential end users have to say. It's nicer still when the end user in question is oneself.

TaraS: You've actually very neatly illustrated several of my points. Believe me, you aren't the only one in your city that's wondered about what would happen if the power went out for a long period of time. The power company has as well. The power company does not want you to die, for one thing it would create a political nightmare, and for another, dead people have no need of electricity, and with few exceptions, don't pay electric bills.

They are well aware how important power is to a city, especially in winter. That's why they've built a system as redundant as the one you enjoy is. That's why the worst power outage you've endured there lasted a paltry hour, and occurred in summer.

That is also why, I suspect, that The Long Dark presupposes a massive solar flare as the genesis of it's technological collapse. We know exactly what a solar flare can do to the power grid, and it isn't pretty. There is no effective defense against it that does not involve dismantling the entire grid, and building a very different one in its place.

Specifically, what happens, is that the long power lines act something like antennas, they drink in the massive electromagnetic flux created by the flare, dump it into the lines, and blow up most or all of the transformers. Fusing the transformers can help. It can make it easier to repair the damage, but, the fusing doesn't always work, and in the event of a flare, especially one of the magnitude described for the game, there simply are not enough spare units.

Could there be? Of course. The small electric company that services my town actually keeps a 120% reserve of substation transformers and other parts on hand, just in case. There's no real reason that larger power companies couldn't do the same, apart from the minor problem that you would need to pay at least half again your current electric bill to pay for their acquisition and maintenance. This is a diseconomy that my local power company escapes by the fact that larger ones don't. They can sell their extras to the big boys when they really need them, at a large markup, because they really need them. That pays for the storage.

The Long Dark also supposes the destruction of most or all electronics from the flare induced electromagnetic flux. This is a less absurd thought than the cries of the EMP fear mongers. Sustained flux will create larger effects than a pulse, but I still have my doubts given the actual data from tests on electronic devices. I could go for a while on this, but in short, yes, a transistor based system will be destroyed if you feed the current through it early tube systems picked up from EMP events. A transistor system is much smaller though, and therefor picks up much less induced current from the same event. There are also a huge number of other factors at play, but that's the biggest, least obvious one.

Also, I wouldn't worry too much about the water shutting off right away. The water departments I've worked with have a good two days worth of water stored in truly massive tanks, and back up generators and stored fuel to run the pumps for weeks. People have put a lot of thought, and a lot of work into making sure that doesn't happen.

To get back on point, yes, city dwellers are terribly dependent on technology and the logistical net. I think you may be making a false supposition though, that country folk are not.

You point out the need to own a car. That's a good example of both of those dependencies. Where does the fuel come from? Even if you can repair it yourself, where do you get the parts? Did you convert it to run on ethanol, and distill your own? Do you own a machine shop, powered by something equally local? Wonderful, but where do you get your raw materials, your replacement tool heads. Carbide and even cobalt tips, they don't last forever, or even very long.

The only ways to escape that dependance is to either reject at least some of modern technology, or to somehow build an entire technological base, from mines to semiconductors, locally.

My own personal ideal, which I must admit I'm doing a poor job of living up to, would be to live in a manner that accepted technology beyond my ability to reproduce, but did not need it. Things would still suck if society collapsed, but it wouldn't be fatal, just inconvenient. Needless to say, I'm still working on that, with a long, long way to go.

Out2Lunch: I suspect I've already given you the meat you wanted to chew on above, and it's clear you've dealt with cold some, but how much cold? The worst I've ever faced was -84F, (-65C). It wasn't a lot of fun. That winter, zero and sunny was T-shirt weather. I think that may have been more about craving vitamin D than temperature though.

I'm honestly not sure I could have survived that night outside, even with my cold weather gear. There wasn't enough snow to make a snow cave, and the wind was up. I was very, very glad to be in my house, next to the wood stove. Even inside, with the fire roaring, it was cold five feet away from it. With the furnace roaring I still had pipes freeze. Those three nights taught me a lot.

Sustainability has, unfortunately, become a buzzword, and in so doing lost much of its true meaning for a time. I'll use it anyhow, because I can. In the true meaning of the word, the vast interlacing logistical net on which almost all of us depend is actually sustainable. Weather on not it can be grown indefinitely is another question entirely. Regardless of that, it is also more fragile than any of us aware of it would like it to be. In large part this is due to centralization. That, however, is a long, frankly political screed that I don't care to get into here and now.

Food in England is a longstanding problem. The question of growing enough food locally to feed England is what originally brought Oliver Cromwell to public attention. To feed the growing population, the fens would need to be drained and planted. This plan gathered a lot of support from everyone who didn't live in the fens. Cromwell was the champion of the fen dwellers, but ultimately he, and they, lost that battle. England became an exporter of food.

Today England has more mouths than acres to feed them once again, and that is unlikely to change, failing a large scale die off or the implementation of that (mind numbingly expensive) dutch urban farming idea I seem to recall from some years back. It was sort of a man made terrace... thing. I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to find online if I knew the proper name for it.

I could spool off ideas, but frankly, looking at the length of this post already, I had best not.

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@Taeonas, I know there are national and regional plans for various sorts of emergencies, but I think I'm not the only one whose trust in the authorities suffered a serious blow when one city's entire drinking water system got contamined by the waste water just because somebody opened a valve between the two systems that shouldn't have even been there. I'd say things will keep working as long as the emergencies are the ones that have been thought about, but the example I just gave surprised everybody.

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I can't dispute that the authorities aren't perfect. I would say that that lack of faith is a major pillar of my world view actually. My point was not that you should trust them to take care of your needs, rather that they do actually do a pretty decent job of it, most of the time.

In a sense, that's the problem. Their plans work, their efforts do produce... most of the time, almost all of the time really. Because they do, most people assume that they always will. Most of the time, that's a safe assumption, but its the sort of assumption that you only get to be seriously wrong on once.

Many people died in New Orleans in 2005 because they trusted the authorities to take care of them, despite the storm. They trusted, and a lot of them died when those authorities failed systemically. A lot more had a miserable time of things, and would have died had others not come to their rescue. All of it was avoidable, had the people in question taken any responsibility for their own lives, had they planned ahead, and deigned to lift a finger to the needs of their own survival and well being.

Yes, yes, I know many there did just that. Those aren't the people I'm talking about.

I realize I didn't do a great job of making this point above, but just because the authorities really do want you alive and healthy doesn't mean they're competent to ensure your well being. Sure, they do well enough so long as everything stays on an even keel, and they have plans for a lot of things, but there's always both the unexpected (wait, what happened?), and the catastrophic (there isn't anything we can do about that if it happens).

With your example of waste water entering the drinking water system, that manages to be both.

Water supply is a nasty one, because its so easy to contaminate, and so hard to clean once it gets into the system. Almost anything that goes wrong with a municipal water system is going to be catastrophic. A leak requires things to be shut down, and a contamination, well, the answer there is still generally dilution, sad as that is.

The problem for cities is that there isn't a lot of choice about having a municipal water system. The ground water isn't sufficient for the population, ergo any number of solutions. All of which feed into a network of pipes, tanks, and pumps, all of which are failure sources. Personally, I would rather have a well, or even a cistern. Granted, wells can be contaminated, but if my well is, it only effects my house, not a whole city. To make water as safe as it can be, the only real answer is decentralization.

Unfortunately its not a politically or commercially viable answer. Authority, be it political or monetary, demands control and dependance. That's the bargain. You get to not think about maintaining your own water system, and you give up your control over it. Yes, its easier, but now you depend on others for something you need if you are to survive. Authority loves that.

The human need for control, and the human desire to not have to think about it much, is why centralized water, and everything else, isn't limited to the big cities, where there honestly isn't a lot of choice in the matter, and has been exported to towns where it frankly doesn't make any sense at all.

I'm not really sure I'm saying anything here I haven't already, and its getting long again, so I'll stop here, except for two words that might be of interest: Hydraulic Empire.

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