The Last of Us EP22: Hail Hydro!

By Shamus
on Nov 19, 2014
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

In this episode we run into some rock-solid acting, backed by skilled dialog, supporting some great storytelling, supported by a complete mastery of themes and tone.

And then we fight bandits.

I know we mention the ending in this episode. I’m hoping we can hold off on discussing the ending until it gets a little closer. I don’t want to get to the last block of episodes and feel like we’re all repeating ourselves and everything has already been said. Particularly since there is so much else going on right now. This episode is dense with stuff to talk about. For example…

Joel brings up an interesting topic when he’s talking about the hydroelectric plant. We’re a civilization of specialists, because the sum of human knowledge is orders of magnitude larger than any one person could ever learn in a lifetime. If 99% of us die, we’re certainly going to lose a lot of that. But what parts would survive, and how difficult would it be to fill in the blanks?

With no proof on my side, I’m going to assume technologies like smartphones are over for the time being. The screens, batteries, interface, protocols, satellites, security, software, chip fabrication… the device itself represents the best of the best of our ideas, and it’s only a small part of the larger system required to make it go.

But taking few steps back, I wonder how we’d do with early 20th century tech. Keep in mind that a car needs more than just a mechanic. A mechanic is nothing without tools and parts. Parts have to be precision machined and that process requires electricity. And you need the raw materials: Plastics, metals, petroleum, glass, rubber. Some of that would actually be easy to get: Just recycle the millions of cars that have rusted into uselessness. Sure, you could scavenge auto parts from the old world for a while, but a generation into the new world you’re going to need to be able to make stuff from scratch. And if any part in that long chain of knowledge is lost, the whole thing collapses. You might end up with tons of recycle-ready steel to make parts and a viable supply of mechanics, but nobody knows how to design and machine an engine block from the raw materials. Or maybe nobody knows how to get the steel hot enough so that it can be worked.

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  1. Tizzy says:

    Actually, 20-th century car technology would be difficult to maintain if you were trying to live off the remains of 21st century cars. Not as much overlap between the two technologies as you might think.

    • ET says:

      Not to mention if you tried to repair new cars with other new cars – all the computer chips are proprietary, with proprietary software tools, and the physical parts…

    • Tom says:

      Without road infrastructure, cars are worthless anyway, and roads need constant, industry-backed, labour intensive maintenance. I think the ideal mode of transport post-apocalypse would probably be horses, or just damn well staying put. At the end of the day, rapid transport is a luxury most of us did without until well into the mid 20th century.

      Now, stationary engines are another matter. I think you’d mostly see cars looted for just their engines to drive generators in the short term. Which is just as well; the large surface to volume ratio of the engine means it will likely survive exposure to the elements long after the thin sheetmetal car shell has rusted through. In the long term, though, I think steam engines or Stirling engines, at about 1900’s levels of development, would be more popular – they’re simpler and easier to build reasonably efficiently, people do it today using scrap aluminium and a backyard foundry (for an intriguing look at how to bootstrap machine tools out of nothing, a la Minecraft but in real life, check out the series of books by Dave Gingery). They also have the key benefit that they can drive heavy, low speed machinery like machine tools, pumps, cranes or winches directly (this is how they used to plough before mobile tractors came along; two stationary “agricultural engines” would haul a plough up and down a field with rope drums); modern small internal combustion engines, especially Otto cycle (petrol) engines run much too fast and need reduction gears to drive anything except a generator or an aircraft propeller, a maintenance nightmare. I believe this was actually a key reason for the initial delay in their adoption in the first place; nobody could think of a use for such a fast engine.

      • Jan says:

        Bikes, bikes everywhere. Need a somewhat reasonable road, but these are going to stay around for a few years after apocalypse, especially if the cars aren’t driving on them.

        Quite reasonable to take care of and build (if we don’t consider fancy schmancy carbon fiber light-weight hipster road bikes, but these you don’t want anyway, you need some off-road capacity).

        Biggest issue is the rubber tires, these require some industrial capacity, and access to rubber.

        • Awetugiw says:

          Rubber tires are somewhat optional though. They increase stability, grip and comfort (especially comfort) but an iron/wooden tire will do if necessary. See for example here or here (note that this one has a wooden tire on the rear wheel, but the more important front wheel has a very small rubber tire).

        • cassander says:

          Bikes aren’t at all easy to build, they require a lot of very precisely made, highly machined parts. That said, a decent bike is practically immortal and with good care will last a very long time, so there won’t be a shortage any time soon.

          • SKD says:

            I would be willing to bet that a basic bicycle requires much less precision machining than you think. And as you point out, a well maintained bike is practically immortal. Your main wear parts are the bearings, wheels and chains. I would hazard that any competent smith could fairly easily make most replacement parts with bearings being the trickiest part.

  2. Tizzy says:

    Also, Campstr picked the exact same moment of the game to make fun of the in-game conversations with an invisible Ellie. But admit that it’s a pretty smart choice:

    1. the game offers quiet moments for the player
    2. the moments are being put to use to advance the plot rather than being just here for pacing
    3. it allows the game to deliver more exposition with an active player, and reduces the need for cutscenes.

    For all these benefits, I am more than happy to put up with the visual incongruity. I’d like to see more game use this.

    • Thomas says:

      I don’t think it’s a fundamental flaw either. Better pathing on Ellie would fix it up fine.

      I do hope they find a way to stop you from missing conversation opportunities though (The press triangle ones). Maybe if Ellie was more glued to the player that would happen naturally

  3. guy says:

    It’s worth pointing out that all that necessary knowledge is probably in physical books with literally tens of thousands of copies. I mean, the people who know that stuff learned it from somewhere, and the apprentice system fell out of use for high technology quite some time ago.

    Heck, a large engineering school library could very well have all the knowledge you need.

    • tzeneth says:

      True but we also suffer from the issue of the life length of the various types of media we use to store information. A book can easily mold and rot over time. Unless we start going back to the style of some of the older book making methods or having a group dedicated to copying, like the monks in the middle ages, we can easily lose that knowledge.

      I’ve always found it interesting how the length that information lasts in storage seems to be the inverse of the technology used for its storage. Stone tablets last longer than dried animal skin which lasts longer than modern wood pulp paper which lasts longer than a cd or dvd.

    • Tizzy says:

      I don’t know… Go to my local engineering library, and you’ll probably find a huge gap somewhere between elementary Physics and top of the line technology. These are not really places that fill in all the steps to go from A to Z.

      • SKD says:

        It’s not necessarily that there are gaps so much as that a non-expert in the field would have trouble determining where to start and how to proceed. As tzeneth pointed out, the major difficulty would be in preserving those books as modern printed material is not particularly durable. Pick up any modern textbook and feel the paper compared to textbooks from the early twentieth or nineteenth centuries. The inks also aren’t made to last long-term.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I’m a public librarian, but have academic librarian friends, so these are my first-hand anecdotal observations with some second-hand ones sprinkled in.

      Over the past two decades we’ve been pushed into more and more digital collections and less print. E.g., the system I work for had dozens and dozens of Chilton’s auto repair manuals for a variety of makes, models, and years. We now subscribe to an online database that contains most of that information, so we weeded (i.e. got rid of) most of the print editions. And systems that can’t afford to go digital probably also don’t have much money to keep on top of their print collections. You might find smaller, rural or inner city libraries that still have old auto repair or electrical manuals. And even if you find gardening and farming books, most are going to assume you have access to a Home Depot or gardening centre with packaged seed, feed, etc.

      Academic libraries are probably worse off. They’re usually less likely to weed their old print collections, but they’re also less likely to collect new print, because students and faculty prefer the convenience of digital. This is even more true for STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Medicine) fields, where almost all the cutting edge research and knowledge is in journals, not books, and the journals are increasingly digital-only.

      A lot of documents and books printed between about 1880 and 1955 were printed on acidic paper. A lot of these materials started disintegrating even with the benefit of modern HVAC systems–without basic climate control, most print materials from that era will be gone within a few years.

      Most libraries have been hit by budget cuts in recent years, whether from the governments that fund them or within the academic institutions they’re part of. We’re feeling it here in Canada, and everything I hear tells me it’s much worse throughout most of the US.

      Really, if you’re hoping to have an effective reference library for surviving the zombie apocalypse, I’d recommend building your own. Maybe start with this book. And the Foxfire books. Maybe the SAS Survival Handbook.

      • tzeneth says:

        And yet law libraries make sure to carry large updated collections of law books…Because we’ll definitely need those in case of apocalypse when law and order have broken down. ;) “You’re wrong, according to Bob v. U.S. it is not self-defense to kill a guy just because you think you’re in danger, it must be objectively reasonable! Wait…why are you pointing that gun at me?”

    • ehlijen says:

      Books alone are still no substitute for a teacher and supervised practical exercises. You’ll be hard pressed to get any kind of engineering degree without going through a lot of pracs, and the apprentice system is alive and kicking for a lot of trades.

      Having the knowledge sit there in a library is a far cry from having a trained worker applying it to your problem. It helps, absolutely, but who is going to tell you which books to read in which order, show you how to practically apply theoretical knowledge and who will feed you while you do all that learning?

      Higher education is an expensive thing to support, as a society. Really useful, but expensive.

      • Noumenon72 says:

        This. “All the necessary knowledge” is not in books in libraries, huge amounts of it are encoded in the organizations that actually make the things, as well as the intuitions and experience of millions of workers.

    • Abnaxis says:

      To me, if you want to collect knowledge to survive in an apocalypse, libraries might be useful, but what you really want are textbooks.

      You should find plenty of those scavenging. Personally, if you went up to my bookshelves, you’d find a ton of stuff to help you learn science and make stuff.

      Any college library I’ve been to avoids carrying many copies of that stuff, because that would violate monopoly agreements with the campus bookstore.

    • Behatted_Wanderer says:

      I was going to make this point. Textbooks, and technical manuals specifically, will be remarkably valuable materials in any kind of technological collapse coincident to massive population demise. Almost every machine I’ve worked with had several binders around it somewhere that described every operation and function it has, even if they mostly go unread. Now, sure, some of that would get destroyed, but most of it would remain intact. They tend to be stored in places where they won’t get destroyed, if only for the few times someone actually needs to pull one out to solve a problem.

      Shamus’ example throws us back a lot further than we’d be, since most civic equipment has a manual control option, and it would be relatively easy to gather people together (when they aren’t entire towns full of murderous raiders, anyway)and manage certain facilities. You couldn’t do it on the scale we do now, but that doesn’t mean all of the infrastructure would evaporate overnight. Between tech manuals and textbooks, you could easily reeducate a portion of your populace and make a functional, albeit reduced, facsimile of our society.

      My first reply to anything on this site is to respond to this.

  4. Isaac says:

    I have to disagree with Mumbles on bottling up emotions. Sometimes, people like Joel are able to compartmentalize traumatic experiences and they do so in order to function. Joel is just trying to teach Ellie that she can’t focus or talk about Henry and Sam’s death because she needs to be able to focus on the present not the past. It is a brutal world that they live in and talking about things like that could also drive you crazy (i.e. guilt) That sort of mentality is what has kept Joel alive for so long and while he leads a miserable existence at least he’s still alive.

    • Thomas says:

      I kind of feel that Joel has stepped past the point where continuing living means anything though. He won’t let himself feel _anything_ It’s where his advice goes wrong.

      Tommy calls him out on exactly that during this section “I helped you survive” “What we were doing wasn’t living” kind of thing. He doesn’t let himself love people or things, he doesn’t try to make the world better and he will actively make it worse to continue living. He’s a zombie driven forward by evolutionary instincts and he doesn’t have anything he strives for anymore. Everything he wants is in his past

      • Isaac says:

        He doesn’t really want anything either but you’re right about this: for the last couple of years, Joel has done everything to he can to survive. He’s murdered, tortured, smuggled and robbed people just to stay alive and doing all those terrible things have made him inured to violence which is what allows him to detach from people so quickly.

        One thing that is interesting is how willing he is to let Ellie go with Tommy. Its only been a couple of months and he’s already willing to dump Ellie on someone else so that he can do…what? Tess is dead (goodbye smuggling ring!) and if Tommy escorts her to the Fireflies then he won’t get his reward (a giant weapons cache). I wonder what he is planning to do after he leaves Ellie with Tommy.

        • Sougo says:

          It’s pretty obvious why he wants to dump Ellie though. She’s actually bonding with him. He doesn’t want anyone to be able to get in that space again so he’s looking for someone to dump his load on.

          As to what Joel would do next, I’m pretty sure he’ll do what he do best: surviving. All by himself, not letting anyone get close and die as a lonely, tortured man. He already did it for the last 20 years. Another 20 is nothing.

          • Abnaxis says:

            Speaking as someone who has been a fly on the wall when children have been dumped onto other relatives, I found that scene between Joel and Tommy to be exceptionally powerful.

            Unfortunately, adequacy as a parent is not in any way related to the ability to procreate. Some people have children when they just aren’t ready, and that has devastating effects for both the children and the parents.

            After that scene, I don’t think The Last Of Us is a story about a tough guy who learns to bond. It’s a story about a guy who becomes a father when he never intended or desired to be one, and the sheer destruction that causes when it happens.

        • James says:

          I think part of it is he sees alot of Sarah in Ellie and he does not want that at all, he senses that he is breaking down old walls and revealing old wounds, but he does care and he knows he can trust Tommy with her care despite his disagreements with his brother. his willingness to give up his reward somewhat shows this, he no longer really cares about money or guns or perhaps even Boston, i mean how the hell would he get back there anyway, he just wants to get away from Ellie and away from feeling.

      • Tom says:

        Wow – Joel’s made a kind of zombie of himself to survive the zombie menace – I never thought of it like that! Oh, the irony – you sir, are a genius.

        Come to think of it, isn’t that a classic trope, in literature and real life? One must always be wary of becoming like one’s enemy to defeat them?

    • MrGuy says:

      I think that whole conversation is a brilliant bit of “show, not tell.” That whole scene (including Ellie recognizing a hopeless conversation when she sees it) says a lot more about Joel than the world they live in.

      Joel never dealt with Sarah’s death. Not talking about it and bottling it up is his coping method. And the game’s entire portrayal of Joel to date shows us what that’s done to him. And it’s not pretty. He broke with his only family (and he’s one of the very few people in this world lucky enough to HAVE family). He’s gone for petty thieving and smuggling. He’s distant and cold to everyone around him. He’s a miserable human being.

      Rather than have the game TELL us about what bottling up emotions can do, they SHOW us. We’re invited to draw our own conclusions on whether Joel’s philosophy of life and how we “move on” is appropriate or harmful by presenting him as “exhibit A.”

      Is his hard, cold attitude what made him a survivor, or did it not worth him surviving in the first place? I think it’s brilliant commentary by not commenting.

    • Sougo says:

      I don’t think Joel is trying to teach Ellie anything. He was doing it all for himself – He actually got close to Sam & Henry and once they died, he wants nothing to remind him of them. He keep those emotion inside and do whatever he can to stop them from bursting out. Case in point, in the next couple of scene, he did the same thing with his daughter’s picture because he doesn’t want to be reminded of that. EVER.

      It doesn’t matter that it would actually help Ellie to talk about them so that, as Mumbles said, at least she could move on. No, it’s all about what Joel wants and this is the first few signs of the game highlighting this flaw.

      • Isaac says:

        Well if that is the case then why did Joel tell her to drop it and not talk about it? I think it was not only for his benefit but hers as well.

        • Thomas says:

          It could be because he doesn’t want to face the deaths of those people even slightly.

          But I think I agree with you, I don’t think he wants to think about those deaths, but I do think he is trying to pass on his mode of thought to Ellie. Or rather tell her what the correct way to think is. I think part of what he’s clinging to is the need to believe that the ways he’s dealt with his feelings and everything he’s done is _justified_ by his need to survive. (Which, as Rutskarn pointed out is slapped down by Tommy and his wife). If he let Ellie talk about her feelings, then he would be admitting there’s another approach other than bottling them up.

          So instead he tells Ellie what the ‘best’ thing to do is.

        • Sougo says:

          It’s because he doesn’t even want to think about it. If he ignores it hard enough, he’ll never have to deal with it. He’s basically running away from his suffering.

    • Mumbles says:

      Okay, let me clarify. I do think that some people need to compartmentalize and obviously not everyone is built the same mentally or experience wise. Everyone deals with trauma differently and one way isn’t always the healthiest way. But, when a kid says I need to talk about this traumatic thing happening, that’s not her saying she needs to compartmentalize, that’s her saying she needs to talk about her feelings to get past it. Joel as an adult should have been able to put his selfishness aside and thought “well I don’t like talking about this stuff, but she needs to.” Instead, he assumes that the only solution to dealing with grief is pretending it doesn’t exist and forcing this belief on her.

      • MichaelGC says:

        Absolutely. Some people compartmentalize or tactically suppress negativity because they’ve realised from personal experience that such works for them. (Hello, guy in mirror!) Attempting to impose such coping mechanisms on others when that doesn’t come … naturally (for want of a better word) is, as Galaxy Gun said in the episode, a one-way buoyant pallet to the Funny Farm.

      • Chamomile says:

        The typical way that people deal with trauma is by compartmentalizing for a while until the wound has had some time to heal, and then they talk about it so they can move on. Ellie’s been through the compartmentalization stage in the timeskip, but even 20 years later Joel is still not ready to talk about his daughter’s death (as comes up later on), because he sucks at emotions. And Ellie has to suffer for that, because he’s the only person around to talk to.

        Honestly, Joel is 100% right in trying to push Ellie onto Tommy. The only thing that bugs me is that he can’t come out and admit to his reasons when he tries to talk Tommy into it. Rather than saying that he can’t handle people anymore and Tommy obviously can and has, he tries to paint it like Tommy’s still a Firefly and still owes them loyalty that he doesn’t especially (particularly considering that he seems to be doing a better job of rebuilding civilization than they were).

  5. William says:

    Not related to the episode, but it appears to be titled wrong, with both this and the last episode being episode number 21.

  6. MrGuy says:

    Oh, dear god, the Alan Wake flashbacks from the river gorge! Not made any better with Josh swinging a flashlight around for no reason.

    Coffee? I love coffee!

  7. Sougo says:

    Mumbles, I thought the game did a good job at not actively judging Joel – They just present him as he is without nudging us one away or another. That is, until the ending:

    They ruin the impact of how much flaw a character Joel is by having the Fireflies acting like a tremendous bunch of asshole when you risk the entire game getting to them.

    1) They knock the harmless Joel (he was almost drowned) out without any questions. Even though there are more of them, they were armed and Ellie was begging them to save him.

    2) The moment Joel wakes up, Marlene (the lady who hired Joel to bring Ellie to them), told him that they’re going to cut Ellie up. That’s it, he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye – I can’t even remember why they were in such a hurry, the game said they were desperate but if that’s the only reason, it makes them even MORE of a dick.

    3) What’s worst is that they even considered killing Joel but Marlene stopped them, saying that he will understand how she feels about letting Ellie go to die since he bonded with her during the course of the game.

    4) When Joel refuses, they forced him out and the guard who’s escorting him out is the most smug, idiotic, generic henchmen ever. ‘Just give me a reason to shoot you.’ Outright provoking him when he’s the one risking his life traveling all across the country bringing the ‘cure’ to them.

    What kind of moronic organization do this? If I was on my last rope and someone showed with the just the thing I need, with the intent of handling it over to me my first response would be to kiss his feet not freaking put a gun to his head to tell him to piss off. The Fireflies were outright hostile, so contrived that I believed other reason for this is just so the Joel have a ‘justifiable’ reason for his rampage at the final section. This goes against the whole point of Joel’s character: that he is so broken he will do anything, no matter no morally reprehensible, to prevent himself from being hurt. So instead of Joel being a selfish bastard who put the needs of himself over the needs of the entire human race and even Ellie, we have people arguing that he was right to murder the Fireflies because they were a bunch of incompetent asshole who wouldn’t succeed at creating a cure anyways, missing the entire point of his character.

    I believed the writer were afraid of alienating the people who did identify with Joel at the end because unlike Spec Ops, the game don’t criticize Joel’s action every turn so it’s so much easier to forget that Joel is not someone you’re not suppose to agree with the whole time.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Yeah, the ending had a few issues. The ones you indicate, plus it’s maybe the most video game-y part of the game. Worse than Pittsburgh. They give you an assault rifle (why?) and have you gunning down or stealthing past dozens of dudes in tactical armour. Really, if the Fireflies had this many people with that much kit, why haven’t they taken over yet? It stopped being a post-apocalypse game and became just another manshoot. The very end still lets you make up your own mind on whether Joel did the right thing or not, but it’s not nearly as ambiguous as it should have been because of the demonization of the Fireflies.

      • Isaac says:

        What is wrong with the ending of the game being a big action level? What is wrong with it being videogamey? Is TLoU not a video game?

        • Shamus says:

          When someone says a scene is videogame-y, they’re usually saying that some other aspect of the game (lore, story, tone, theme, characterization) is discarded simply for the sake of the videogame stuff. Like, if Dr. Breen had put on a mech suit at the end of Half-Life 2 so we could have a traditional “dodge his big attack and then shoot his vulnerable spot” type fight, that would have been a very videogame-y way to end the game. Likewise, the boss fights in Human Revolution were extremely videogame-y, throwing out EVERYTHING for the sake of a bog-standard boss encounter.

          A game can still be fun to play if the story, setting, tone, characterization, etc is mangled, but games are generally BETTER when it all works together holistically and harmoniously.

          • MichaelGC says:

            Completely agree. If only that’d been what the Mass Effect 3 director had meant by “videogamey.” (The thinking seemed to be: ALL I need to do to make the ghost of Orson Welles jealous is not put Breen in a mech suit. Lore, story, tone, theme, characterization, you say? Pfft. All of those are secondary compared to the GENIUS absence of tentacled boss monsters.)

            Just to emphasise: I completely agree – it’s just one of those concepts one can appear to be grabbing a corner of, whilst actually missing the entirety of the point.

        • Endominus says:

          It sort of clashes with the tone of the rest of the game in favor of spectacle. Imagine replacing the ending of Godfather with a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They are both movies, after all, and both great movies, but they are not interchangeable.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Videogamey is an unfortunate expression because it sounds like something its not.For example,Shamoose brings up human revolution.

          Compare the boss battles in original with the boss battle in the missing link dlc.The vanilla ones were videogamey,the dlc one was not,because it remained true to the tone,it didnt throw out everything that was established earlier,it was well set up,etc.Sure,you still get to shoot the boos,and a bunch of dudes,but you also get to use everything else that the rest of the dlc allowed you to do.You werent forced into a melee fight,you werent forced into a gunfight,you werent forced into a stealth section.

          Meanwhile,the original threw out everything that the rest of the game established,so far that killing the boss didnt even count towards your nonlethal playthrough.Thats videogamey boss fight.

    • Tizzy says:

      I’d like to think that you are not supposed to agree or disagree with Joel. Just like in the tragedies of old, Joel is set on his path by his circumstances, and nothing can really derail that.

      And I agree that having less jerkass antagonists at the end would be both more believable, and make the ending even more poignant.

    • Brad says:

      1) To be fair, those Firefly mooks do not necessarily know who Joel and Ellie are. And even if they do, perhaps Marlene has already explained the plan, thus making it easier to knock Joel out than deal with the repercussions.

      2-3) You said yourself. Desperation has kicked in, along with the belief of the Fireflies having a “savior of the universe” complex. Marlene also likely assumes Joel will go back to his old ways because she isn’t considering he and Ellie may have bonded. In fact, she’s irrationally believing his bond is no greater than her own. Marlene was essentially a surrogate mother (or thought herself as one) and assumed if she could make that decision for “the greater good” than Joel would.

      While it isn’t executed perfectly, I did like those subtle details because they do depict Marlene’s desperation.

      4) Now here is where I agree, video game-y takes control. As good as the subtle nuisances of this game’s story are. They still cannot quite deviate from the “video game monsters” aspect of setting up combat levels. I kind of wrote off the guard as not caring about Joel because, hey, cure. Yay pragmatism! And while I do believe there is some truth to that, I’m not going to say this wasn’t set up to be a contrived “it’s okay to murder these people” scene.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So this school thought ellie how to fight in melee with dudes twice her size,how to shoot guns and bows,how to drive manual shift cars,but not where the electricity comes from?Damn obama,cutting on our childrens education!

    EDIT:And she knows how to ride a horse.Just wow.Not that she knows all that,but that she doesnt know some easy stuff.

  9. Endominus says:

    That actually reminds me of opinions I hear in urban survivalists and “doom prepper” circles; that if something catastrophically destructive occurred on a global scale, most people, particularly in industrialized nations, would be dying within a month. The logic is that most people don’t store enough food, and don’t live near enough food production centers, to support the community. If the electricity is out for a week, all of their food rots. There are no trains or trucks coming in (due to congested and impassable roadways, fuel shortages, war, or other reasons), so all they have on hand, and whatever they can scavenge, is all they’ll have to live on for a while.

    The end result is that the majority of people living in urban population centers will no longer be living soon after such an event occurs. They will not have the equipment or knowledge to heat their homes, acquire safe water, secure their property, safely move around a dangerous environment, or any of the other necessary skills for survival in that scenario (how much of our intelligence is bound up in the internet now? What happens when that safety blanket is removed?).

    It’s not always a realistic prediction of events, but it dies rather handily point out how fragile some of the central pillars of modern life are. I read a blog post (if I could remember where it was, I would link to it here) wherein a man gave an account of what happened when the power to his neighborhood was cut off by some unfortunate incident near a power plant. By the second day of the shutoff, people were throwing garbage bags of rotten food out, and no one could bear to stay indoors in the summer heat. Except for one fellow who had invested in a power generator; he was accosted by his irate neighbors, demanding that he loan it to them to prevent their food from spoiling.

    Minor, but simultaneous, disruptions to the national train network would cause blackouts in most cities, particularly those powered by coal, not to mention the deleterious effects this would have on the supply of fresh food in those regions. One factory in America outputs 80% of the ground beef consumed in the country. Less direly, despite constant maintenance, the undersea cables that connect countries together through the internet break regularly.

    The sad thing is, despite all of these fragilities in the fabric of civilization, we always come back to the same few tired cliches when discussing its demise. Zombies and robots and aliens. There are so many interesting ways humanity’s reign on the planet could end! A mutant strain of kudzu leaps above the Mason-Dixon line, immune to the cold, faster-growing and resistant to pesticides (what happened to the stories of mutants and science gone wrong from the ’60s? Perhaps we stopped fearing mutants, and began pitying them instead. But there’s no reason to pity a plant, particularly one as murderous and without conscience as kudzu)! The slow degradation of apathy and ignorance, as the conditions of life improve and human progress slows to a crawl, until there remains no desire or understanding of it (also known as the Foundation future, or the plot of Idiocracy)! The quiet desperation of a human race that has surpassed every hurdle, that has averted the disasters of global warming and thermonuclear war, only to face the bleak knowledge that their planet is slowly being starved of the resources needed to sustain their lives, and no longer possessing the potential to rip more of them from the stars above (not even an environmentalist message as much as a “We need to go to space, eventually” message. We are going to run out of something, eventually, no matter what we do, so we might as well see if we can get more of it now)!

    But no, we need an easily identifiable external foe to place bullets in. Ah well, at least gaming as a hobby is improving over time.

    • Otters34 says:

      You wouldn’t even need something so far-reaching. Just set a video game in the aftermath of the bombing campaign by just about anyone in WWII on Continental Europe, during the fracturing of the Balkans, the warlord era in China in the early 20th century.

      That’s all you need. Desperation, survivalism, ruined splendor. We’ve already seen and caused it, just change the premise a little from almost any zombie game to surviving a war and you’re good to go.

    • ET says:

      The ephemeral nature of our internet-based lives is a big problem. Luckily, books/journals/etc take up very little storage space for how much information they store, compared to say, videos. Like, a half-hour informational video is going to take up something like 500 MB, but a digital survival manual like the Doom Guide (general knowledge) would be, let me check…20 MB. That video is probably about a tenth of the knowledge (at best) for 25 times more space. So, yeah – build up a library. Heck, there’s an experimental offline-Wikipedia smartphone app, which can fit the English version (minus images) in something like 20 GB. As for finding books sold without DRM, so you can back them up in case of zombies…

    • Josh says:

      Yeah, but you can eat kudzu.

  10. bloodsquirrel says:

    Another big issue with re-developing technology after an apocalypse is economy of scale. The only reason a lot of technology is currently feasible is because we can produce it at a large enough scale to compensate for the startup costs.

    Let’s say you did build a new car: what good would it do you if you’re still subsistence farming? You’ve got nowhere to go (There’s little use for trading when everyone is just farming crops) and no roads to go there on. Neither of those problems can be fixed without major economic development.

    Let’s say you build a tractor to help you farm. What does it run on? Just pumping and refining enough oil to run the tractor is more work than the tractor is going to do for you. Ethanol is even more expensive to produce.

    That’s why steam engines didn’t become big until thousands of years after they were invented. It took until there was enough industry to benefit from them before they were worth building.

    • ET says:

      Well, if you’re smart, you can use the best of old tech and new tech. For example, you can run modified vehicles with wood gas. Sure, it’s not as good as liquid fuel, but it’s a lot easier than building an oil refinery, or even a steam engine (since you’re using the ICE for a lot of the moving parts). Plus, there’s projects like the Open Source Ecology where people are trying to make blueprints that would bring a small town up to a 1980s-level of technology, and mostly self-sustainable, in a manufacturing/building kind of way, not a green/environment way. (Although they have that as a secondary effect in a lot of their things too.)

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Finally joel does something understandable and sympathetic.See,he can not be a an actual dick while sounding like one.

    EDIT:And he goes on to overcompensate on that by being a massive dick.

  12. Tychoxi says:

    People have the ability to create precision parts with their hands essentially (using relatively simple tools). Unless it’s a microprocessor or something like that, I don’t see the creation of rather precise machinery parts too far off after the apocalypse.

    Another interesting thing in these kinds of fiction is the assumption that specialists have it all in their brains. If a couple of engineers come to a dam, chances are there will at least be a *lot* of trial and error before they figure some stuff out, even if they belong to relevant engineering branches. And nowadays we are offloading so much into Google and pocket calculators and etc…

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Case in point for fine crafting: Watchmaking predates the industrial age by a century or so. By 1800, you could hold in your hand a clock accurate enough to tell you when it was noon 3000 miles away, which told you how far around the world you were, which told you when local noon was, at which point you could measure how high the sun was in the sky, consult a book, and know your latitude and longitude to within a half-dozen miles or so. And THAT was plenty good enough to tell you which direction to sail to get to Hispaniola or Boston from an empty sea.

  13. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Guys,you definitely need to play this war of mine.Its a game set during a war,where you get to understand the raiders,because you get the chance to actually be a raider yourself.And its harsh,brutal,and haunting.You also get to experience slow death due to gunshot wounds.And suicide because someone in the party raided some old people.And freezing to death because its winter and theres not enough stuff to burn.And all the other things war brings to the civilian populace.

  14. Ivan says:

    “… and then he had to put down his pet velociraptor, who was ailing with arthritis. And then like as he’s saying this Josh is moon-walking backwards while he’s trying to pick up a bottle of water. And it just, reminds me you know that there are all sorts of tiny little obstacles that you need to overcome to immerse someone in a video game.”

    You say that Ruts, but I respect a game much more if it lets me screw around during serious moments. The worst is when they start to limit what your character can do, like removing your ability to jump or run, but not completely taking control away. That just makes me really frustrated instead. Rather, once I establish that this is a game where I can screw around during a moment like that, I am actually much less inclined to do so.

    Basically what I’m saying is that you should never try to force your player to behave, because if you don’t let them pick up that bottle of water they’re going to spend the entire moment thinking to themselves “BUT IT’S RIGHT THERE! I just want to pick it up!”. If you let them be responsible for their fun then they’ll take the game much more seriously.

    Obviously though I’m only talking about scenes that are not cut-scenes and do not take control away from the player.

    • ET says:

      I think the crew’s mentioned this regarding HL2 a couple times. Like, if I want to throw trash at an NPC’s face while they’re talking, I can choose to pay attention to the story. But in games where they take away control, I’m so distracted by the lack of input, plus now my fingers have nothing to do, so you better believe I’m getting bored listening to their poorly-written* dialog…

      Also: scenes vs “cutscenes”. I personally wish that all cutscenes were done with the in-game engine, with player control. Like…this is basically the same situation as what you describe above, but even worse, because now the player has zero control. :S

      * Ugh. It seems like it’s always the most poorly-written, boring games, which take away your controls. ^^;

      • ehlijen says:

        My only problem/request for a fix would be that most games that use halflife style cutscenes don’t offer an easy way to skip them (that said, some video cutscenes are also not skippable).

        It’s slightly harder to skip such interactive cutscenes, but it would really help replay value if such features became standard, even if it then doesn’t hide the loading screen anymore.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The thing is,most players will at least give a chance to your writing the first time they go through the game and will just sit there patiently listening to the npcs talk,not dicking around.And if its good writing,they will only start dicking around on their subsequent playthroughs,instead of before the game even ends the first time.But if you dont give them that small nugget of freedom,they will get restless long before even the first cutscene is over.

      • Ivan says:

        “Also: scenes vs “cutscenes”. I personally wish that all cutscenes were done with the in-game engine, with player control. Like…this is basically the same situation as what you describe above, but even worse, because now the player has zero control. :S”

        I can understand that, I made the distinction though because I generally don’t mind cutscenes (the first time through). At least a cutscene sends a clear signal that “you do not have any input so don’t even try” so I can just sit back and relax, but when they start taking control away from me bit by bit I become way to distracted with figuring out what I can and can’t do and frustrated with what I can’t do.

        It also doesn’t really help the situation, because if the player wants to do something stupid, they will. “Oh? I can’t jump on the table while we’re having a serious discussion? Well let me spin around in circles as fast as I can.” Arbitrarily limiting what a player can do for the sake of cinema is usually just more trouble than it’s worth and doesn’t really accomplish anything. You’re much better off making a narrative that the player wants to be involved in rather than just trying to force it on them.

  15. I figure Shamus got turned when the clickers closed in on his house and he stood out on the porch waving a finger, yelling “YOUR BIOLOGY MAKES NO SENSE, SO JUST KNOCK IT OFF! YOU! YES, YOU, YOU CAN’T BE REAL BECAUSE SPORES DON’T–”

    And the last he ever uttered was a plea for someone to record what everyone ate.

    • guy says:

      No, no, he was alive. He ranted at the raiders about how they were wasting gasoline by lighting people on fire with it.

      • ET says:

        No, he was shot by a raider. “Why do you have thirty pounds of bullets, but only two cans of beans, and a diet Coke? You’re not even going to last long enough to hunt any animals! Also, why don’t you have a shovel, walking stick, or some rope? Even I have rope! How are you going to…”

      • Isy says:

        If it were not for the fact his asthma would straight up kill him, I like to think Shamus would wind up as Pittsburgh’s top bandit lord. Like, they kidnapped him, and he nitpicked their tactics until eventually a bunch of them went “hey, that’s kind of a good idea. Maybe we should take his advice.” Now he sits in the center of a thousand man army, who all live in constant terror of his fatherly scoldings. “You fired a bullet at some random teenager who was passing through? DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND HOW VALUABLE THOSE ARE IN A POST APOCALYPTIC SCENARIO? Now go out and do some more subsistence farming so we can all eat later.”

  16. And of course the river has no current. The hydroelectric dam is where all the current from the river is.

    /rimshot

  17. Thomas says:

    Just as Spoiler Warning trivia, I think this is only the third or fourth game you’ve ever covered where you praised the story, right?

    ME1 was the first, obviously you didn’t think quite so highly of ME2 and ME3’s story. Or Fallout 3. Or Skyrim.

    Alan Wake I think the consensus was that there was a good story in there somewhere, but it was back to front and conveyed badly.

    DX:HR was all about the tone and flexibility but the actual ‘save the girl’ story didn’t go down very well. Likewise in Fallout New Vegas it was about the ability to roleplay rather than the story being actively praised.

    The Walking Dead was an unqualified story success.

    And then I’m not sure about Metro, Bioshock or Tomb Raider. I feel like maybe the opinion was that the good parts of TR weren’t directly about the storyline and more about the character? Because a lot of the Matthias stuff was kind of rubbish. Metro was about tone. And all I remember about Bioshock is Josh dying a lot :P

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Tomb Raider, they mostly agreed with Chris’ original Errant Signal assessment, right? The first third of the game is pretty good, but once Lara reaches the radio mast, things start to spiral downwards?

    • Otters34 says:

      The Spoiler Warning Crew were of the mind that Bioshock‘s story was flawed but interesting up until right after they went golfing with Andrew Ryan and learned that Fontaine suffered from a terminal case of Bad Guy Voice. Then it was just griping and moaning right to the credits. Especially when Fontaine merged with his Stand and became a video game boss enemy.

  18. Joe Informatico says:

    So Mumbles’ discussion reminded me of these two very different interpretations of Joel and Ellie’s relationship (discussing TLoU alongside other games):

    Bad Dads vs. Hyper Mode: This one suggests Joel is a very bad father-figure, for a variety of reasons.

    Some of gaming’s greatest heroes are mentally ill, and that’s a great thing: This one suggests that Joel is actually helping Ellie through her mental trauma.

    The ending of the game is fairly ambiguous (but not as ambiguous as it should be, as Sougo explains in hidden spoiler text), so I feel both articles make interesting points. I suppose I lean more towards the first one, but I also have little direct experience with mental trauma or illness, so that might be a factor as well.

    • Thomas says:

      Whilst I’m very much onboard the anti-Joel train (because I don’t respect the self-focused “I do what I do for me” viewpoint much, although I can definitely see the arguments other people make for why you should), I do like that second interpretation. It’s an interesting other angle on it.

      I’m sure we’ll get into it more when we reach the end, but I feel like maybe the best way to look at the situation is that the Fireflies were too reckless in their goal, Marlene was too weak-willed, Ellie let depression get the better of her and Joel…

      …Joel was not the answer that any of those people needed.

      And whilst the others might be saved, there was nothing left that could save Joel. It’s interesting that Mumbles thought the story was on the “Gruff guy learns to love again” path. The best thing about TLOU is how it makes you believe that’s going to happen and how it absolutely wrecks you with it.

      • Isy says:

        Well it is, basically. “Gruff guy learns to love again” essentially sums up the whole of Joel’s character arc. It’s just the game subverts the expectation that, once he learns to love again, everything is going to magically turn out great.

        The second article raises a point about how these games tend to glorify killing yourself for the good of all, which ties into ideas of depression – it is really easy to convince yourself that your loved ones are better off without you, and suicide vs. heroic sacrifice can tread a pretty thin line. I know at some point, the game heavily implies Ellie is dealing with survivor’s guilt, and wants to die because of it. So there is kind of an interesting idea there: that these glorified visions of self-sacrifice can be tied to real life mental issues, and that the ending of this game (even if derided as completely selfish) throws a brick in the face of that concept.

        • Thomas says:

          I don’t think Joel does learn to love again. If he loved Ellie I don’t think he could have lied to her as easily as he did. What he does is let himself desire the relationship that he had long ago and he uses Ellie as a creepy puppet doll to fulfill that.

          He doesn’t love Ellie, he loves that when Ellie is around he can pretend that Sarah is still alive.

          • Isy says:

            I think this is a contradiction we have in the definition of “love”. People tend to hold love up as the highest ideal. Therefore, anything bad gets thrown out the window as “not real love”. But I don’t think we can dismiss Joel’s feelings so easily when he fought tooth and nail from ever having them or acknowledging them. I have no doubt he himself tried to use “she’s just a stand in for Sarah” to keep himself from getting close, when he even allowed himself to think of Sarah at all.

            I tend to agree more with the phrase “love is only as good as the lover.” Joel’s a screwed up person and love doesn’t magically fix him.

            • Thomas says:

              I guess I could see that, but I think it’d be a pretty fair definition of love to be “cares for the other person”. I don’t think Joel cares for Ellie, I don’t think he wants to think about whats going on in her head or help her with her life. If he did he would take at least some of her needs and wants into account.

              At the end of the game he’s still treating Ellie like furniture. It’s just it’s now an antique clock instead of a old suitcase.

              I think there was a period in the middle of the game where he might have started to love Ellie. But then his defence mechanisms kicked in and found a new way to kill that love off permanently and replace it with something wholly focused on Joel.

              • Isy says:

                We can both agree his relationship with her is terrible, so it’s more a question of semantics. But I think he does love her – it’s just that love doesn’t magically make up for his deficiencies in every other area. Joel’s a train wreck. His interpersonal skills are garbage. He can’t even figure out what he wants and needs, much less what Ellie wants or needs. The only thing that’s clear in his head is that he’s a bad person who should not be taking care of a young girl, but his continual attempts to shove her away only makes things even harder on her. So he reverts back to the only thing he knows how to do, the same thing he’s been doing for the past twenty years – the same thing that drove his brother off with a parting shot that their survival wasn’t worth it. Given that little family tiff, it’s not surprising that his way of doing things, to put it mildly, sucks.

  19. djshire says:

    Bandits? I love bandits!

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Everyone talking about the infrastructure breaking down in a case where 99% of humans die out forgets one crucial thing:99% of humanity dies out.Our economy is so fragile because it is designed to support this huge mass of people we have.Weed out a bunch of them and you get basically start of the 20th century civilization with enough infrastructure to jump start start of 20th century technology.Sure,our hi tech firms will stop working,but the things we actually need:coal mines,oil drills,hydroelectric dams,…all will still be there,just waiting for the right people to restart the production.It will be harsh in the first decade or so,but we would quickly reach an equilibrium(quickly on a big time scale,not quickly as in during one short lifetime).

    • Abnaxis says:

      See, this is what I keep thinking. Yes, there are going to be huge gaps in specialized expertise, but you don’t need super specialized expertise at that point. When you’re not trying to produce steel at $1.00/lb, but are instead just trying to make enough to make ends meet, a lot of that expertise is superfluous.

      That, and the scavenging remnants of the old world gives us a lot of time to learn how to do things, without starving to death because we are reading books instead of plowing farms. As long as you have enough leadership to tell people “X is what we need, go learn how to make it,” it’s quite possible to establish enough small-scale industry to have a reasonable quality of life by the time the scavenging runs out.

  21. Ranneko says:

    I would kind of expect a post-apocalyptic world to have a certain amount of schizo-tech. Because you end up losing a lot of expertise but fairly randomly, so you will have some toolchains that survive, where the gaps can be filled by deriving from earlier or later parts of the chain.

    You probably will also have a certain amount of really strange looking solutions to puzzles, where the original solution is lost, but an expert from a similar field can cobble together a workable but odd solution to the same problem that then is adopted as standard.

  22. arron says:

    Hi Shamus,

    This technological survival stuff is a real thing of interest for me as I’ve got a real interest in what happens when stuff goes wrong. James Burke already covered this in his Connection series where technology and science is basically an exercise in linking elements together to form something greater..but it also falls apart in the same way when you cannot maintain that technological base. As the more advanced things become, the more doomed it is to failure once that technology cannot be maintained. In much the same way that if you can’t maintain rubber tyres, then you can’t build effective wheeled vehicles. You can’t keep a petrol engine going without oil, or petrol..or spark plugs, or battery technology or anything else it needs.

    I found this clip very interesting. The survival of mankind following some kind of acute disaster is dependent on a lot of elements and information you may not have and you may not have the opportunity to acquire. In that situation, you either choose to take what you need or to choose to die, because there isn’t going to be anyone else to save you as all the support mechanisms have failed.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sb7bOljBAQ

    The rest of the series is well worth watching. It’s not as apocalyptic as this first episode (covering the New York blackout of 1963) but it shows you how fragile and specialised our civilization is. It would not take much to bring it down a level of technology equivalent to medieval levels if we could learn old skills that don’t require a high level of technology like blacksmithing. And even that is beyond a level of skill of most people because blacksmiths have been largely replaced by foundries and engineering workshops with their reliance on chemistry and electricity.

    Pretty scary knowing that within a month, all that we take for granted is pretty much gone should there be a global pandemic, nuclear war or even a natural disaster like a asteroid strike.

    • Arstan says:

      Well, not all places have those fancy mechanized drills, saws, and pumps. In my city’s vicinity there are farms with sheep and cattle, no or rare electricity, no cell phones, cars with carbs, and wells without pumps. Kinda seems that most backward places will find surviving quite easier. But i suppose english farm with central water supply and sewers and all those electric gadgets is doomed without some kind of generator.

  23. Chamomile says:

    I question whether cutting someone open would help you determine why they’re immune at all. I don’t know exactly how fungal infections work, but it seems like they either have to work like regular infections, spreading through the blood on a level that is either cellular or close to it, in which case all you need is blood samples, or they work like cancer, spreading as a growth throughout the body, in which case that infection Ellie’s got just isn’t spreading which means that 95% of her body specifically does not have any fungus in it to study. You would, at worst, cut open the arm where she got bit, which is something she could totally survive.

    • guy says:

      Apparently the fungus has spread throughout her body and into her brain, it just isn’t doing anything up there. It’s totally present in her blood, and grows in Petri dishes, but they can’t find elevated white blood cell counts or antibodies.

      Frankly I’m still not sure how they expect to get useful information by killing her.It seems like you’d want to monitor her brain to see how it’s interacting with the fungus.

      • Ivan says:

        Weird, so she is infected but just not turning then? Does that mean that in 20 years she’ll be a human clicker? You know, I probably shouldn’t even bother asking that because it’s already clear that these zombies defy entropy. Trying to apply logic to them just simply won’t work.

      • Chamomile says:

        What a spectacular medical mystery. Let’s destroy our only subject on the off-chance that the answer won’t be ruined by the death of the subject and is actually located in her brain/other innards somewhere and is not just something in the blood or surface tissue we overlooked. This is a brilliant plan that can’t possibly fail.

  24. MichaelGC says:

    I dunno. I’d like to think that if I met MY brother in such circumstances, it’d be some hours before we were able to calm down enough to string together intelligible sentences, and several days before we were able to act cool and crack idiomatically wise.

  25. The Unforgiven says:

    Ok, am I the only one that noticed that Rutskarn kept saying that wool clothing was bad to wear while swimming? Because that’s wrong. It’s cotton that’s horrible to swim in. Cotton becomes extremely heavy, loses all of it’s insulating power, and takes forever to dry. Wool, on the other hand, is still able to keep you warm when wet, and doesn’t weigh a ton after you’ve gone swimming in it.

  26. Blake says:

    16 minute mark:

    “Hey guys, you don’t need these smoke bomb schematics you have laid out in your workshop where you’re currently all working do you? No? Ima just hold onto them for a while then.”

  27. wswordsmen says:

    It is nice to know that I actually have some knowledge that would come in handy after the end of the world, like how hydroelectric plants work or just how to use stuff to generate electricity (hint: magnets).

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