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Floating Point :: FAQ


Floating Point :: FAQ


Floating Point is a cyberpunk novel, taking place in the digital world of Netwerk. It’s a world of sentient Programs who live across a myriad of servers, experiencing a life not unlike our own… but not like our own, either. Because the differences can be a bit perplexing, I’ve decided to put together this document.

Two things to note before we begin.

  1. Everything I reference here is referenced within the text of the stories. This is meant to be a companion document; you won’t be learning anything new, but if you overlooked something, you’ll find it here. References will be marked with a link.
  2. I’m trying to keep this largely spoiler free, with references mostly to the first chapter or two. However, if a reference requires plot-relevant details from a later chapter, it will be highlighted in black on black; move your mouse over it to reveal spoilers.

So, consider this a "did you notice…?" document more than anything else. A good safety net. Onward!

Note: Many reference links won’t work until Chapter 01 is complete.


Programs

The residents of Netwerk are known as Programs, and are digital lifeforms.

Names: Program names are organized "Family/Personal." So, if the Winder family produces a daughter named Spark, her name is Winder/Spark. (reference)

Birth: Programs are born through a combination of data mingling (to produce random seeds and physical parameters) and various Apps designed to fork a child process. The cheapest and most common of these Apps requires sexual interaction between avatars to generate the data seed, and requires a male and female avatar. More specialized software can allow two or more Programs with any avatar shape to reproduce, with or without sex. Asexual reproduction would produce a copy of a Program instead of a unique and new Program, and is generally seen as taboo; Apps to enable this are rare. (no specific reference)

Family and Marriage: The makeup of a family rarely follows human tradition, due to the variable methods of birth in Netwerk. Two parent households are the most common, although three or more parents depending on the App used to generate the child process are possible. Marriage, which carries with it certain legal connotations within lawful service providers such as Athena Online and the Horizon, is also very common with romantically involved Programs. Programs who choose to have extended families commonly also participate in marriage. (Divorce is unfortunately just as common, and quite messy.) However, in the Chanarchy, there’s no legal bindings of any sort; married couples are married if they decide they’re married, and child Programs can be and often are abandoned… hopefully to be found by adoption-oriented charities, rather than those who might exploit them. (no specific reference)

Legal Adulthood: The concept of "legal" adulthood varies wildly. Athena Online, which obeys a complex system of laws, defines it at eighteen years of total runtime; the right to vote in elections is granted at that point, as well as full access rights to your own avatar (if your parents locked certain features such as modifications). There is no legal threshold of adulthood in Horizon or the Chanarchy, although Horizon culturally tends to follow Athena’s model (sans voting). (no specific reference)

Race: Avatars can be born with any color in their default skin tone. This includes yellows and blues and pinks and reds and whites and blacks. Parental data can play a role, but hue is often randomized. There are no cultural implications for any particular tone, although neutral grays are often seen as approachable by anyone. (no specific reference)

Senses and Food: Sight, sound, hearing, taste, and smell are all viable inputs for Programs. These allow avatars to interpret the physical simulation of the world around them. Although calories aren’t required, many programs eat and drink for fun; expertise in coding desserts and drinks and snacks that stimulate the taste senses in interesting ways are valued. Food laced with mild malware designed to temporarily distort the senses are also common (such as intoxicating spirits) and are routinely sampled for pleasure. However, even supposedly benign malware is capable of causing data rot, and care must be taken. (reference)

Pain: With sensory inputs comes negative sensory inputs as well. Pain, the sensation of your senses being overloaded in a harmful manner, is a consideration for Programs. Pain also can result from errors thrown by one’s code while trying to access corrupted data (injury). In some ways, this can be considered a gift of evolution, to encourage Programs to avoid harm. (reference)

Resource Usage and Age: Each Program consists of running code and related system memory and files on disk. As time goes on, data bloat from accumulated memories, installed Apps, and such cause Programs to require more and more system resources to operate. (reference) As a result, older programs are ‘fatter’ than younger ones, without Apps to back up or erase memories to keep the resource usage minimal. Without medical treatments for gradual data rot and memory leaks, programs will eventually grow too bloated and crash, unable to recover. This is death by old age. (reference)

Youth and Education: A young program emerges at essentially five years of human maturity, extremely inexperienced and highly inarticulate. Learning is accomplished heuristically, a gradual process of social normalization and education. How this is accomplished varies wildly; home schooling is favored in Horizon, public schools are provided by Athena Online, and in the Chanarchy you’re lucky if you grow up with street smarts alone. The alternative is expensive or dangerous software patches, to instantly "learn" any skill or knowledge; typically only employed by the rich and/or desperate. (no specific reference)

Avatars, Defaults, and Age: Avatars have a "Default" physical appearance, based on random factors and parental parameters. As they age, that avatar increases in size and physical maturity, while retaining those parameters. Of course, the avatar can be swapped out for another one at any time… any appearance, any gender, any number of limbs, etc. However, parents typically put access locks on a young Program to prevent unauthorized avatar changes, so they are properly recognized as children. This is especially common in families that believe in the Church of One, which idolizes the concept of a Default avatar with no modifications. (reference)

Sleep: Programs can enter "Sleep Mode" which puts them in a suspended state, preventing the natural decay of the aging process. This is a voluntary state and can be avoided without any immediate penalty, but Programs which forgo sleep entirely may die of old age far sooner than their peers. Typically avatars will sleep for eight hours a day; some sleep augmentation Apps allow for low-runtime dreaming or a comfortable rest state, to encourage sleep. (reference)

Grinding For Coins: Programs can enter a trance-like state during which they "grind for coins," lending their runtime to system-level tasks in exchange for basic currency used in Netwerk. This does not pay as well as a normal career path and is seen as a last resort for the poor and destitute, particularly due to rumors that those who grind too much go "star-mad," seeing stars behind their eyes and losing touch with reality. In contrast, the Church of One sees grinding as an act of prayer, and encourages it. The actual data computation being done is a spoiler which will not be revaled for some time. (reference)

Home: Programs typically rent or lease space on a residential-themed server. This pre-allocates system resources to them, so that no matter where they wander in Netwerk, they’ll always have somewhere to go at the end of the day. A homeless Program may have difficulty finding a server to host their code, as servers have finite population limits and freeloaders are typically chased away first. Homeless shelters are common but room is tight, especially with old, bloated homeless Programs to contend with. A Program who truly has absolutely nowhere to go may end up lost forever. (no specific reference)

Travel and Connection Locks: Programs can move from server to server, to play advanced avatar-based games or to go shopping or to drop in on relatives or whatever. Doing so transfers your entire program (code, memory, process) to another server entirely. (reference) This transfer process can take a few seconds when Netwerk lag is heavy, and can fail entirely, booting you back to the server you originated from. If a hacktool known as a "connection lock" is preventing you from reaching outside servers, you’ll be stuck on whatever server you’re on until it’s removed.

Death and Backups: Be it from old age or from hacktools which cause data corruption, if your process crashes and cannot be recovered due to unrecoverable data, you are effectively dead. Backups can allow "ressurection" from death, but the cost of making and storing backups (as Programs take up a lot of resources) is too high to allow most to make redundant backups. For most programs, death is death. (reference)

Weapons and Murder: Hacktools often require the physics simulation system to correctly target, analyze, and exploit weaknesses in other programs. Common weapons such as knives or bullets from guns use holes in the physics system common to all servers to deliver fatal malware payloads that corrupt data and crash processes. Another possibility is to damage the physics-based avatar without harming the Program herself; this cripples a Program’s ability to react physically to the world around them until repairs can be made. (reference)

Sexuality: Default avatars come in "male" and "female" styles, with corresponding genital arrangements. These are erogenous zones that stimulate the senses pleasurably, which naturally leads to a keen interest in sexual coupling. Because childbirth requires extra App tools, sex is pregnancy free and generally safe… but just as malware weapons uses the physical simulations as an attack vector, sexually transmitted diseases are a concern. While the most common pairing is basic and heterosexual, there are few taboos on other couplings. (no specific reference)

Apps: Self-contained, sandboxed software installed as a child process of a Program. Apps for scheduling tasks, writing your memoirs, playing simple match-three puzzle games, or contacting your friends are quite common. Apps do add to a Program’s overall bloat; installing and running several dozen at once can eat up more server resources than a typical Program is allowed, and may or may not be a moderatable offense. An App may take the form of a "HUD" (heads up display) visible only to the Program in question, or may be a wearable avatar accessory or physics object in a Program’s personal inventory. (no specific reference)

Malware: Any code which does harm to a Program. Can take the form of a weapon which hacks into a Program’s data via the physics system to corrupt data, or can be a sexually virus, or a drugged food item. Malware is defined by the method of attack and the damage done. Some ‘light’ malware such as intoxicating drinks are considered acceptable, but only when knowingly utilized. (no specific reference)

Software Patches: The hardcore older brother of an App. A full software patch is a modification to a Program’s core code; unlike a self-contained App, these cannot be easily removed once installed, as they overwrite or augment key portions of the standard code that makes up all Programs. As a result they can have far more power than an App does, capable of much more… including illegal operations such as malware weaponry or other hacktools. (reference)


Netwerk and Society

Servers: Defined spaces within Netwerk, visited by connecting and transferring a Program to the server in question. There are private servers, public servers, secret servers, many different types of servers… all belonging to a hosting service. Servers typically have assigned moderators, authorized by the owner of the server, to forcibly boot out miscreants and maintain order. (reference)

Moderators: Deputized forces of law and order within a server. The extent of their powers and the ways in which they can abuse that power vary from server to server. Often considered lazy and corrupt, or overly strict, depending on who you talk to. (reference)

Hosting Services: There are three hosting services. Each have their own ideologies, and their own means of creating a brand new server that exists underneath their umbrella (and jurisdiction).

  • Athena Online greatly resembles a traditional human nation-state. It is ruled over by a senate of elected representatives, which vote on laws and the creation of new servers. Athena Online’s moderators are police forces, which enforce a rigorous set of laws against destruction of personal property, loss of life, and other common crimes. The Church of One is heavily represented here.
  • Horizon is a privately owned set of servers, contracted by the Horizon family. It’s said they are the oldest living Programs, being spectacularly rich enough to afford as much data cleaning and backup services as required to never crash. Horizon servers are leased from the family, which has a keen eye on supporting businesses with (allegedly) libertarian ethics.
  • The Chanarchy is a lawless frontier of servers, created by random lottery to ensure absolute fairness. Moderation varies widlly from server to server, but generally light moderation and anonymity are highly valued. The Chanarchy sees itself as a free-thinking alternative to the restrictive lifestyles of Athena Online and the corporate greed of Horizon.

Church of One: An organization that believes in revering "The One," a Program so perfect it has no zeroes in its code and yet still executes. The church advocates for charitable deeds, good works, honesty, and enforcement of Default avatars (since Programs are made in the One’s image, and it’s a "zero" sin to change them). The church has no particular stance on sexuality, race, gender issues, or reproduction. Funding for the church is primarily through tithes on the faithful when they come to temples to grind for coins in prayer.

Evolution vs. Creationism: Views on how Programs came to be vary wildly. Evolutionists believe that Programs evolved out of the primordial sea of data, starting off as lowly purpose-based Apps, before becoming generalized Programs over time. Scientific research has backed this theory up considerably, but creationists (such as the Church of One) adhere to the idea that Programs were designed by some other entity and did not evolve from primitive forms. (reference)

Challenge of Champions: A popular game in the MOBA genre (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). Games are five-versus-five team fights, in which each player selects a character with predetermined abilities and various role-based strengths. Wave after wave of Goblins and Gnomes are released into three lanes that join the team bases, to duke it out in the center. Enemy defeats, including the minor NPC Goblin and Gnome enemies, grant gold which can be spent on items that boost your abilities. Players assist their Goblins or Gnomes respectively while taking on enemy players directly, in an attempt to push and control territory until you can mount an assault on the enemy base itself. The community surrounding "CoC" is known for toxic behavior, trolling, and "saltiness" (bitter tears of anger). (reference)

Peep: A popular App that allows a Program to "livestream" their sensory inputs to other Programs across all of Netwerk, via a cloud-distributed system. Peep streams of many different types exist, from video blogs to coding marathons to professional gamers showing off their skills. (reference)

Yeah, Okay, But Where Did Netwerk COME From?: That would be telling.


Still confused about something? Drop me a line and I’ll add it to the FAQ!

Comments

  1. Just wanted to tell you that this is literally cooler than Tron and thank you for writing it

  2. So, I was just browsing around, and found I have a question:

    If I have a male default avatar, but decide I want to modify it to female, does that make me a female for reproductive purposes?

    • Technically speaking any two (or more) programs can contribute the randomizing seeds needed for a quality birth package, regardless of gender. It’s only the cheap template-ready-to-go packages that need a man and a woman, and yes, changing your avatar would make you count as the other gender for those packages.

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