Friday, May 30, 2014

Weapon Technology in Solar Echoes (part 5)

On our last day this week, we'll wrap up with a double feature! The first of today's augments can only be found on armor: Reflective. The wearer of armor with the Reflective Augment unfortunately suffers a penalty to Stealth due to the highly polished, mirror-like quality of the armor. However, ranged energy weapon fire has a chance to bounce off the armor and into an opponent.
The second augment of the day can only be found on grenades: Sticky. Grenades with this augment will not suffer the usual chance to bounce, and may adhere to flat surfaces and even characters.

That's it for our feature on augments this week. Many more varieties are available, and some can be found when playing through our game Missions. An extensive list of our augments can be found in the Mission Controller's Guide.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Weapon Technology in Solar Echoes (part 4)

Today's feature will focus on an augment that can only be found on cyber-weapons: IFF. Our present-day military uses IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) technology to identify aircraft, vehicles, or forces as friendly. In Solar Echoes, cyber-weapons can benefit from this augment, which allows them to fire into combat with a greater chance of hitting your opponent. IFF removes the small cover bonus that enemies receive from any of your allies that are engaged in melee combat with them. This feature cannot work on other weapons because cyber-weapons derive their control from a mix of robotics, software, and the user's own neural input.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Weapon Technology in Solar Echoes (part 3)

Today, we'll feature another one of the possible augments that can be found on a firearm: Brutal. The Brutal Augment reduces the damage threshold on a weapon by 1. What this means is that certain effects, such as catching on fire, will happen more easily, as thresholds require a certain amount of damage be inflicted before the effects will trigger. So, if you have a fire-damage weapon that has a threshold of 3, you need to inflict 3 points of fire damage on your target in order for him to catch on fire. His armor might make that difficult by absorbing some of the damage, but if your weapon has the Brutal augment, you'll only need to inflict 2 points of fire damage to light him up.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Weapon Technology in Solar Echoes (part 2)

Today, we'll feature one of the possible augments that can be found on a weapon: Armor Shredding
The Armor Shredding augment can be found on both firearms and simple weapons. Weapons with this augment will double the degradation rate of an opponent's armor. What this means is that the hardness value of armor will be reduced two times faster, making it much easier to destroy a foe's armor and remove the damage absorption it provides him. The Chiraktis Wrist Blade is an excellent example of the Armor Shredding feature, but it is currently the only melee weapon that performs this function without the actual augment. An average suit of combat armor has 20 hardness and is rated as armor 2, meaning that the armor will absorb 2 points of the damage that passes through. Basically, it does double the damage the armor prevents. If a bullet from a sniper rifle normally does 6 ballistic damage, the armor's hardness would be reduced to 18 after one hit (hardness 20 – 2). However, if the sniper rifle had the armor-shredding augment, the hardness would be reduced by 4 instead of 2. The armor would be reduced to hardness 16 with a single hit from the sniper rifle. This becomes even more effective against a robot, because the “hit points” of a robot are their actual hardness and their armor is often 3 or higher.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Weapon Technology in Solar Echoes (part 1)

Solar Echoes has a variety of weapons, armor, and other gadgets available to players. Over 80 weapons officially exist in the Solar Echoes game universe, with many more to come through Missions and other Solar Echoes game books. We wanted to try to keep our weapons interesting, and focused not so much on the range of damage, but more on effects, such as armor-piercing, burning, freezing, irradiation, blinding, bleeding, and so on. Other options exist through combo weapons--if your character has a lot of ranks in the Engineering Skill, or knows someone who does, 2 different weapons can be combined into one, transferring a feature from one weapon to another. In addition to these options, rare “augmented” weapons can be discovered, which are weapons that have powerful, additional characteristics. Stay tuned this week as we feature several of the weapon augments available in Solar Echoes!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Alien lifeforms (part 5)

Just listen to the Galactic News Network and you'll hear something about an alien lifeform. The other day, there was a travel advisory warning that a tradeship reported a Gangrid infestation in their cargo bay. Authorities responded by isolating and fumigating the ship, and the crew was put into quarantine until the ISU-Department of Health had confirmed total cleansing. Another report indicated that the Yilm Botantical Gardens were closed because they found the drained corpse of a missing dog near a plant that looked like the beautiful Jalu. Apparently, impaler hedges are able to mimic other plants now, so extermination teams are in the process of rooting out other impalers while also testing the area for seeds. There was at least some good news yesterday--snapwhipper breeding season is over and the Reln have lifted season hunting restrictions to contain the exploding snapwhipper population. The daily bag limit is unlimited, but no more than eight tusked snapwhippers may be killed per season. Children hunt for free, as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a hunting license!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Alien lifeforms (part 4)

Some alien lifeforms are outright predators—the kind that wouldn't just inadvertently target a character because he happened along. These predators range from the stealthy mammalian (but poisonous) Rock Creeper to the ice-skating Thalon, a creature that streaks across icy surfaces and rams into its victims with deadly tusks. Some threats come from above, such as the winged beast with a blade-like tail known as the Slicer. Others emerge from below, including the tentacled, amphibious nightmare known as the Kabulehkanja. Alien predators use a variety of methods to capture or kill their prey, and though some use common methods such as clawing or biting attacks, others use more bizarre forms. The appropriately-named “Firespitter” squirts a highly combustible saliva onto its victims, which it then ignites by expelling a flammable gas in the area. Another, extremely deadly lifeform from the Voidsea phases in and out of our dimension, dragging captured victims with it and then phasing them back in to solid objects. The universe is a dangerous place—many brave pioneers have fallen victim to the deadly alien lifeforms that populate the unknown. We should never take our expanding civilization for granted!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Alien lifeforms (part 3)

Plant life in the Solar Echoes universe can also be a dangerous threat to characters. The impaler hedge, for instance, reacts to the presence of another nearby organism by lashing out with its tangled branches, which are covered in thorns. The plant then feeds upon the blood spilled near its roots. Impaler hedges have spread to a number of planets, even those with unbreathable atmospheres. Though this plant is often more dangerous to smaller lifeforms, it can also be a significant threat to anyone wearing a spacesuit for protection against a harmful atmosphere. The hedge's thorns have been known to puncture holes in spacesuits, thereby subjecting the suit's occupant to the deadly contents of a planet's atmosphere. In addition to the impaler hedge, there are also a variety of deadly fungi in space. The Geurina Masinarta, or “Nightmare Fuzz,” is a fuzzy-looking, pale blue saprobic fungus that obtains nutrients from breaking down organic matter. This organism releases spores that, if inhaled, can produce acute hallucinations causing the victim to be seized by irrational phobias. Victims respond by attacking anything that moves, and are often seized by fits of coughing when engaging in increased physical activity such as an attack. Coughing fits dislodge spores from the lungs and spread them to anyone nearby. If left untreated, the spores will develop into the fungus and will eventually destroy the lung tissue, killing the victim and spreading until all remains are consumed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Alien lifeforms (part 2)

What are those strange, feathery worm-like things floating in the air, drifting towards you? Quick, turn off your engines and any other electrical device in the area because those are Ectrobranchia, a species of helium-filled feather worms that are drawn to electrical fields. They'll not only cause your vehicles to malfunction, but they can deliver a powerful shock to anyone nearby. If these flying electric eel imposters weren't enough of a problem, there's another type of worm that can pose a much bigger problem—the Steglar Worm. These gigantic, subterranean burrowers can spit a scalding substance similar to magma, though victims most die after being rammed by these aggressive predators. Above ground and underground, worms have managed to adapt to and spread across various environments. Though they behave on instinct alone, these creatures can be a deadly nuisance to settlers, miners, terra-formers, and anyone else that happens to venture onto their worlds.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Alien lifeforms (part 1)

The term “lifeforms” in Solar Echoes refers to non-sentient organisms. These creatures are not really capable of intellectual responses nor complex emotions. They are the animals and vegetation of other worlds--the organisms that populate and have adapted to various environments. Players in Solar Echoes will likely spend most of their time in civilized areas, dealing with other sentient alien races in a technologically advanced setting, but some missions will take the players' characters to remote, uncharted areas on bizarre new worlds where basic survival skills will be put to the test. With all our technology today, we still hear stories about hikers lost for days in vast wildernesses, and often their rescue was possible because of their survival training and instincts. Imagine crash-landing on an alien world with no way to leave, only a few bullet magazines and energy packs for your weapons, and a basic first aid kit. Without a survival guide detailing the host of lifeforms indigenous to the planet you're stranded on, your chances don't look good--there are a wide variety of strange, alien beasts out there, just waiting to make a meal of you!

Friday, May 16, 2014

The penalty of death in games (part 5)

How do we handle player death in Solar Echoes? In most table-top RPG's, death is sometimes truly the end of the character, and the Game-Master will advise the player to “roll up a new character.” However, at higher levels, death can usually be avoided. For instance, in fantasy games, there are resurrection spells that can be paid for at local churches, and some high level players can acquire magic spells to do the same thing, in some shape or form. We wanted Solar Echoes to be realistic, at least within a sci-fi perspective, so we decided to focus on technology as a solution, rather than the magic you'd expect in a fantasy game. If a character dies, the Union Guard he works for will submit his archived DNA to a cloning facility. The cost of cloning is not cheap, so either the team will pitch in to help—effectively a group penalty—or the player's possessions and money might be used to pay. However, cloning in Solar Echoes carries an additional penalty: if your character dies several times, each copy of the previous clone copy begins to degenerate in some way. Some talents may be lost, some skills may be affected, and eventually, the MC can choose to give your character a new personality entirely. This can make for some excellent role-playing opportunities (your previously shy character seems different now—he's become a bombastic, loud-mouthed agitator), but eventually, if you get to the last clone copy you can make (number nine), your character will have gone totally insane.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The penalty of death in games (part 4)

Respawn timers are another method of punishing a player, making the player wait a preset amount of time before he can rejoin. This type of penalty is common in first-person shooters, and has been tried in action-RPG's. This method seems employed more often in games where player deaths will be frequent, so waiting in a high-energy game can break a player's rhythm just like a time-out can throw off a team's momentum in the NFL. The downside to this approach is that some find it incredibly annoying and deaths are made to feel “cheap” without a more serious punishment, which gives credence to the theory that zero penalties for death will discourage most gamers from playing. Another common method of punishment, often used in RPG's and MMORPG's, is the respawn location. In this scenario, a player will restart at a distant location from where he died, forcing him to journey all the way back to continue from where he left off. This method is sometimes combined with the loss of equipment and/or money, usually deposited on the player's “corpse” from his previous death. Surviving the journey back to one's corpse without equipment can be difficult, and in some games, the gear on the corpse is available to other players who might steal it. All of these punishments reverse the time a player has invested in the game, either by requiring meaningless treks across the gamescape, or removing hard-earned equipment and money. I don't know about you, but I don't have as much time to play games as I used to, so if a game cancels out my time investment, I'm going to move on to a game that doesn't.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The penalty of death in games (part 3)

Lose everything—not a very attractive prospect to a gamer who has spent hours, days, or even weeks accumulating all the money and items he could, only to lose it all to what he undoubtedly feels was an unfair death in the game. Whether the death was legitimate, was caused by unfair circumstances (bad camera angle, computer or internet glitch, etc.), or was due to his own underestimation, losing all earnings is a brutal punishment that causes a reluctancy to play further into the game, at least until the player has done some serious “grinding” (building up his character through repetitive actions to gain experience and level up). While wealth removal can motivate some to keep trying, it can shift the focus of the game into a grind, and the actual progression of the game itself becomes stalled while the player must perform repetitive actions to level his character up so he can resume actual game progression. Often, progressing through the game itself is the main incentive for players as story develops, new challenges and loot become available, etc. Wealth removal can be a significant deterrent to finding enough motivation to stay with a game, when all of a player's time investment is removed and he is essentially sent back to square one.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The penalty of death in games (part 2)

Let's first examine why a death penalty has to be present in a game at all. Why not just let the player restart where he left off, with zero repercussions? Without some kind of penalty for death, players will feel that the game is far too easy and are very unlikely to feel that they accomplished anything when they eventually manage to solve the game. They will also play with complete abandon, behaving recklessly and carelessly. It will seem as though anyone could succeed without skill, if simply devoting the time to go through the game. Penalties increase the challenge and the sense of accomplishment. Yet some penalties can be too harsh and can deter a player from continuing to play at all. The choices a developer makes regarding game death penalties really revolve around the target audience. If the developers are only targeting the “hardcore” gamers—those that will try to solve the game relentlessly regardless of penalties—the developers may limit the overall appeal of the game to a smaller audience. But, if the developers make a game too easy with minor or no penalties, gamers that like a challenge will give the game a pass.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The penalty of death in games (part 1)

In both video games and table-top games, the death of your character doesn't always necessarily spell the end of the game. Unlike the games found in 1980's video-game arcades, there is rarely a “game over” with character death these days. Often, death is merely a set-back, though the penalties are incurred usually place the player at a great disadvantage--at least for a while. It is interesting to note that there really isn't a standard punishment for character death. Some games punish character death by removing some, or all, of your money and/or items. Others put you on a re-spawn timer, making you wait an allotted amount of time before you can rejoin the battle (and you can usually watch other players running around having fun while you wait.) Still others relocate you, placing your character back at the beginning of an area so that you have to do everything all over again. This week, we'll talk about the advantages and disadvantages to each approach, and will let you know at the end of the week what we decided for character death in Solar Echoes, and why.

Friday, May 9, 2014

How can we fight back during an alien invasion? (part 5)

Give them what they want. Maybe meeting the aliens' needs isn't a bad trade when facing complete annihilation. Do they want their friend freed from the probing experiments at Area 51? Do they just want to siphon away some of our oceans? Or maybe they are here to prevent us from activating the Hadron Collider (too late) for fear that it will destroy the fabric of the universe? Diplomacy can be an effective tool, but usually only when you hold most of the cards. If aliens could wipe us out easily, it is very unlikely that they will even bother to turn on their translators to understand our pleas. But if we have something they want yet can't easily take, or we know something they don't, we have the beginnings of a possible agreement—an agreement that could, at the very least, ensure that we continue to exist as a species.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

How can we fight back during an alien invasion? (part 4)

Surrender. Wait, what? Surrender? Don't worry, it's a ruse—if we pretend to give up and allow the aliens to herd us into their ships, we can surprise them by attacking from the inside, avoiding those pesky starship shields that deflect even nuclear attacks (Independence Day, War of the Worlds.) While the aliens might recognize guns as weapons, grenades, knives, and other weapons might escape notice. Depending on the actual type of alien we're dealing with, martial arts might even be an effective surprise against the tiny, big-headed aliens that have allowed their muscles to atrophy over the millenia while relying too heavily on technology.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How can we fight back during an alien invasion? (part 3)

Disguise yourself as one of them. Why not, they do it to us all the time! (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, V, Falling Skies, etc.) The ol' Trojan Horse play seems to work more often than you'd think. If we could just get inside that mother-ship and deliver a computer virus through a mac laptop, we might have a chance to bring down all their shields and infect all their computers (Independence Day). Or, maybe we could secretly gain audience with the alien overlord posing as somebody else, only to blow them up with a small nuke we smuggled in with us. We could join them, pretending to support their cause, and gain valuable information on exploitable weaknesses. Of course, there is always the risk that we might end up sympathizing with them—we've seen that happen on both sides (Avatar, V).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How can we fight back during an alien invasion? (part 2 )

Discern a weakness. Did the aliens travel millions of light years to invade Earth—a planet with two-thirds of its surface covered in water—only to discover they are allergic to water? Ok, not a brilliant move by aliens that have developed the technology to travel at faster-than-light speeds, but if that's their weakness, be sure to stock up on bottled water, water guns, and have the garden hose ready (or leave lots of half-filled glasses of water sitting around. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch M. Night Shyamalan's “Signs.”) You can also hope that they didn't bring any pharmaceuticals and just leave it to Earth's micro-organisms to defeat them—the common cold might give us the sniffles, but to alien physiology, it could be lethal! (War of the Worlds, both Welles and Speilberg versions)

Monday, May 5, 2014

How can we fight back during an alien invasion? (part 1)

Information is key. We are more connected to information sources today than ever before, so our smartphones, tablets, and laptops are great mobile methods of sharing crucial information, assuming the aliens haven't yet figured out how to shut down the internet. Of course, if our government decides to do that during whatever they deem a “crisis,” we could be sitting ducks without any information about enemy movements and capabilities. If we intend to rise up against interstellar, alien oppressors, we need to be able to communicate and coordinate. Otherwise, we could end up as ground-up, terra-forming fertilizer for alien plant life (War of the Worlds, 2005 version)

Friday, May 2, 2014

What have we learned from sci-fi? (part 5)

In science fiction, there are plenty examples of humans enhancing themselves with technology. It isn't a far stretch of the imagination, considering that people are already using robotic arms, legs, and hand prostheses, as well as cochlear implants. We are getting used to the idea, but how far will we go? Will soldiers and athletes eventually seek such enhancements for increased physical performance? Will genetic enhancements become more accepted and possibly become common among those who can afford them? And what of eugenics? It might start with eliminating detrimental genetic factors for health issues, but it is likely to expand from there. Sci-fi movies like Gataca and X-men have shown us that physical variations or enhancements will likely divide us as a people even more, with factions, prejudices, and social stratification as probable outcomes.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

What have we learned from sci-fi? (part 4)

Colonizing other worlds seems like the thing to do. A common trope in sci-fi stories is the need for humankind to leave Earth and colonize other planets. There are various reasons given for this expansion of the human race—Earth is overpopulated, the planet is dying, we've used up all the resources available, we've over-polluted, or we've nuked ourselves to oblivion and most of the planet is irradiated. In many sci-fi stories, migrating to another planet often involves “terra-forming,” a process that converts the new planet into something similar to Earth. Perhaps the new planet's atmosphere is unbreathable, or maybe there isn't any water present. Movies like Red Planet, Total Recall (1990 version), Aliens, or Battle for Terra all involve the process of terra-forming. Sometimes colonies are established only to mine a moon or planet and collect a particular resource—this has even gone as far as establishing a small outpost on a roaming asteroid just to extract valuable ore from its composition. In reality, these endeavors are all likely, once we have the technology and can profit from such efforts. By contrast, privately-funded pioneers are looking to establish colonies with simpler incentives—the pure adventure and challenge alone has driven those with an eye to the stars.