Monday, June 30, 2014

Human-controlled Robots (part 1)

If you missed the news on Saturday, a project is underway to create a giant robot that juggles Volkswagen Beetles, hence the name, “Bugjuggler.” While this may seem a far-fetched idea, it is interesting that engineers are fully capable of doing something like this, with enough funding. The concept of remotely controlling a robot's movements by human movements is something we have seen in science fiction shows and movies for years. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, just take a look at this prototype video (robotic arm is computer generated):

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Seeds of Chaos Mission!

There is a new product out for Solar Echoes today, a mission for beginning level characters called “The Seeds of Chaos.” Robots are becoming increasingly popular in our everyday life—my wife and I even have two cleaning robots that roam around our house! It is likely in the future that common jobs, such as a janitor, mechanic, or a cook, will be replaced by robots. But what would happen if those robots suddenly malfunctioned and started attacking everyone? This is a fun mission, but there are questions that are raised about the future of our society as robots become commonplace and accepted.

If you like the idea of fighting a wide variety of robots, this mission will give you the opportunity to do just that, in a shopping mall! You and your team from the Union Guard must stop the robots, but you will also need to investigate and discover who orchestrated the malfunction, how they did it, and why!

This mission was beta tested by a group of four 11-year olds (they loved it, and played through the entire mission in one sitting—about a 5-6 hour game.) We really hope you enjoy it, too, and would appreciate your reviews.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Talent Profiles from Solar Echoes (part 4)

Awareness: Spotter
Snipers often have the help of a spotter—someone who functions as a lookout and maintains a persistent awareness around the sniper while he is focused on his target. By observing the environment to aid an allied gunman, the user will accurately make calculations for distances, angles
and atmospheric conditions. The Spotter also keeps a constant vigil, scanning the surrounding environment, which prevents the sniper from being surprised. A +2 bonus is also added to the sniper's attack against his target when someone with the Spotter talent is present. However, this is a high level talent, and requires a number of prerequisites, including an Awareness skill level of 12, the Keen Observer talent, the Rapid Assessment talent, and the Watchful Eye talent.
Persuasion: Culturally Sensitive
Have you ever surprised someone by speaking their language? There is always a certain amount of respect that people have when someone can speak their native tongue. The same applies in space—for example, even if your clicking sounds aren't quite the right percussive pattern, a Chiraktis will smile (sort of) and appreciate your efforts. Most Persuasion Talents allow the character to improve the chances of a favorable response from someone through different approaches, but the Culturally Sensitive Talent automatically improves a character's chances when speaking to a different race, as long as that character has invested some Skills in that race's language. Unlike other Persuasion Talents, this one may be taken multiple times, once for each race other than the character's own race.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Talent Profiles from Solar Echoes (part 3)

Stealth: Quick Fade
Stealth Talents decrease the chances a character will be noticed, whether hiding or moving. The Quick Fade Talent allows the character to react to a ranged attack and duck into the shadows if there is a shadowed area nearby, decreasing the chance that the ranged attack will hit. In addition to a better chance at avoiding the attack, opponents will lose sight of the character more easily.

Vehicle: Immelman Turn
While this Talent does not apply to ground vehicles, it is extremely useful for vehicles with flight capabilities. For instance, in a starship dogfight, the character with this Talent may suddenly pull his craft up and around when being pursued, allowing him the chance to fire down at his pursuer before his opponent passes under and behind him.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Talent Profiles from Solar Echoes (part 2)

Some Cybertech Talents can also be used in Electronic Warfare aboard starships and other vehicles.

Cybertech: EW Training
Though most Cybertech Talents relate to hacking, a few allow for more options when serving as the Com Officer aboard a starship. Characters with this Talent gain a bonus when using Electronics Warfare against enemies, or they can use the Talent to attempt to jam the communications and sensors of enemy starships. This affects enemy piloting and visibility, which is often just the advantage you'll need to defeat them in a starship dogfight.

Engineering Talent: Hasty Repairs
Characters that have invested in Engineering Skills will find that Hasty Repairs is a very useful Talent, also required as a prerequisite for later, more advanced Engineering Talents. This ability allows a character to use his Engineering Skill to try to repair damaged armor or vehicles. If he makes a successful check, he may restore 10 points to armor, a structure, or a vehicle. Imagine how useful a nearby character with Engineering skills would be when your starship's hull is about to crack or you've taken cover under heavy fire and an Engineer is there to repair your damaged armor!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sci-fi reflects our future. Consider “Robocop” (part 5)

In the Solar Echoes universe, cyberware is essentially the same equipment as was seen in Robocop. There are robotic arms, legs, and even ocular implants that enhance or enable infra-red vision. Replacing body parts or systems with technological upgrades has a cost, though—Biotech checks to medically treat characters with installed cyberware suffer a -2 penalty, and cyberware-enhanced characters also suffer extra damage from electrical attacks, just as robots do. All races have their own forms of cyberware to fit their physiology, but except for humans, the other races are limited to only 1 major implant and will suffer the aforementioned penalties if they have more than 3 minor implants installed. Minor implants include arms, legs, hands, eyes, ears, and lungs, while major implants affect the entire body, such as skin or blood replacement, bone lacing, and shielded pain receptors. Humans can have 2 major cyberware implants and only suffer the usual penalties for extensive cyberware if they have 2 major implants or 6 minor implants. If you're planning to design your character as a powerful cyborg, a human character is the best way to go!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sci-fi reflects our future. Consider “Robocop” (part 4)

Our future already involves robotic upgrades to the human body—amputees use robotic prostheses in place of their limbs, and these mechanical appendages are linked directly into a person's nervous system to function in response to the owner's thoughts. Right now, such replacements make sense for those without limbs, but it won't be long before people are actively choosing to upgrade themselves. What will we do when athletes decided to replace parts of their body with more powerful, robotic substitutes? Will we judge athletic events with the same standards that we do now? It is foreseeable that the military may begin to require certain robotic upgrades or implants in their soldiers. It is even possible that government-run health care may begin to mandate robotic replacements for certain health-related situations. The more technology advances, the more it will be integrated into our lives, and possibly our bodies. Is this a future we are ready to embrace?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sci-fi reflects our future. Consider “Robocop” (part 3)

Many of the questions posed by the movie are questions that we will eventually face, such as the question related to Robocop himself—at what point is a man with robot parts no longer a man?
In the movie, the police officer, Alex Murphy, was just a pair of lungs, a heart, larynx, and head (oh yes, and a right hand.) That was it, and when Murphy first saw that was all that was left of himself, he wanted the doctor to pull the plug. Eventually, he accepted his new, robotic body, but the implied question was, “Should he be considered man or machine?” How much of one's humanity must be left intact before we stop considering him as human? One possible answer is that, as long as one's brain is still functioning and he has free will, even if inside a metal exo-skeleton, that person should still be considered human. But in Robocop, even his brain had been integrated with computer chips and control mechanisms. The story was somewhat focused on man overcoming the constraints of his imprisonment—in this case, overcoming programming—but consider a future where neural implants might be possible. Where does the human end and the computer begin?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sci-fi reflects our future. Consider “Robocop” (part 2)

Ownership is another question brought about with technology, whether robotic prostheses or clones. Can an individual be owned by a corporation? While this might seem hard to imagine, in Robocop, almost 90% of the police officer was robot. Robocop was kept from his family, and the corporation treated him as an asset that they owned, rather than an individual. Human cloning is only as far away as our laws will extend—it is only a matter of time before someone tries it, legally or illegally. If a clone was made from your DNA, do you own that clone? Does the corporation that funded the cloning and provided the necessary equipment and personnel to create the clone have ownership? Will clones in the future be looked at as secondary citizens, or perhaps even treated as slaves? These questions should be addressed before we are faced with a situation that we have not prepared for.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sci-fi reflects our future. Consider “Robocop” (part 1)

I recently watched the 2014 remake of Robocop, and was impressed with how they have adjusted the story to reflect current events. One main aspect of the story was that a law had been passed in America preventing the use of robots/drones, due to public discomfort. The question was asked in a congressional hearing, “What does a robot feel if it kills a child?” The answer was “Nothing,” and that seemed to be enough to sustain public support of the robot ban. Yet we are already allowing robots into the public, such as Knightscope's K5 security robot. Questions are being raised about whether or not these security robots can be held to the same standards of privacy and evidence that police officers are held to. It might not be long before robots patrol our streets and drones hover above us, watching. As in the movie, Robocop, this may be achieved by simply selling us all on the belief that we will somehow be safer with robot law enforcement. Are we going to buy that argument?

Friday, June 13, 2014

How does armor work in Solar Echoes? (part 5)

Armor may be enhanced in various ways, most often for a price. Ballistic Resistance, for instance, grants armor an additional +1 bonus against ballistic attacks. Armor with the camouflage feature will grant a +1 bonus to Stealth. Other treatments include resistances towards electricity, energy, or fire type attacks, and fireproof armor prevents burning altogether. A Sealed Suit of armor can filter out most airborne toxins and will grant a large bonus against chemical and biological attacks. Some suits of armor include a helmet, which may also be purchased separately, and though this doesn't add to the total armor value, it will add a +1 armor bonus to attacks that specifically target the head. A combat shield can also provide additional protection—the user can gain 1 additional point of armor against a single attack, though this can only be used once per round and the user cannot wield any 2-handed weapons. Characters will need to decide which armor suits them best, and having the foresight to bring armor appropriate to a situation may mean the difference between life and death.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How does armor work in Solar Echoes? (part 4)

Armor isn't always appropriate for every situation encountered in Solar Echoes, so characters will need to make important choices on missions. For instance, if characters are undercover, attending a formal dinner banquet wearing obvious armor will expose the operatives for who they are. Sometimes dressing in civilian clothing is necessary to carry out the careful planning of a delicate mission, so characters will have to improvise if the situation suddenly turns hostile. In other scenarios, the toughest, most protective armor might be entirely impractical—if characters need to swim, for instance, bulky armor may make that impossible and increase the risk of drowning. Despite circumstances, characters need to protect themselves. This is where talents and the use of cover can make a huge difference. Some talents, like Impromptu Shield, allow you to use an object from your immediate environment to protect yourself from an attack. Using your environment is key to reducing or entirely avoiding damage, and cover can not only make it more difficult to hit you, but it can also serve as a form of damage reduction. For instance, if you have ducked down behind a large chunk of ice, the ice itself will provide armor 2 with a hardness of 10. Even a piece of glass provides some protection, affording you armor 1 with hardness 2, though of course the after-effects of shattering glass might cause more problems. Utilizing cover can make a big difference in a battle, especially if you find yourself in a firefight without any armor.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

How does armor work in Solar Echoes? (part 3)

Like weapons, armor in Solar Echoes can benefit from “augmentation.” Augmented armor has added qualities that make it superior to regular suits of armor. For instance, the “Cushioned” augment reduces falling damage dealt to the user of this armor by 1 point. “Distorting” armor prevents you from suffering penalties to your Dodge when targeted by multiple opponents, as it projects multiple holographic images of you. “Shock” armor does what it sounds like, shocking anyone who physically contacts the wearer, such as in a grapple or through an unarmed melee attack, causing them to suffer 1 point of electrical damage. Some augmented armor requires a charge to function and has a time limit before needing to be recharged, but these features can make a significant difference in a battle.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How does armor work in Solar Echoes? (part 2)

Though some races can easily share armor with others, other alien races have more extreme physical differences than the bipedal races. Even the Humans and Reln sometimes have their own specialized armors, though they can share with each other, considering their physical similarities. The plant-like Erwani--with their 4 vine-like arms, multiple roots (their “legs”) and leafy body—use armor that is essentially plating connected by cords, which drapes over the Erwani's thin shape. The insectoid Chiraktis wears armor that is tailored for its shape, and Chiraktis Battle Armor is famous for its thermal resistance. Krissethi armor is entirely transparent, which allows the Krissethi to fully utilize the camouflage capabilities afforded by the chromatophores in their skin. Archaeloids often go without armor, as their naturally hard shells serve as excellent protection for most of their bodies. The amoeba-like Omul, however, can choose to fit into the armor of just about any race, and can even walk around in humanoid battle suits, though the constraints upon their mobility sometimes cause Omuls to prefer going au naturel.

Monday, June 9, 2014

How does armor work in Solar Echoes? (part 1)

In a large number of RPG's, armor prevents your character from being hit altogether. The higher your armor quality, the harder it is to injure you. However, in Solar Echoes, we view armor differently. Armor is protection that reduces damage if you are hit, but being hit is a function of whether you dodged the attack or not. For instance, regardless of a character's armor, an attack against the character must be better (more accurate) than the character's dodge roll. If the attack is successful, the damage is then first absorbed by the armor before penetrating to the character. However, armor also has hardness, which depletes as it absorbs damage. A standard suit of combat armor has 20 hardness, so if an attack doing 4 ballistic damage hits a character with combat armor (which protects against 2 damage), 2 damage will get through to the character, while 2 is absorbed by the armor, reducing the armor to 18 hardness from 20. Once the hardness of a suit of armor has been depleted to 0, the armor no longer absorbs damage and all damage goes straight through to the character.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Are You Being Watched? (part 5)

In Solar Echoes, you play as an agent of the Union Guard, a special-ops force that works for the Inter-Stellar Union (ISU.) The ISU was established to unify the races and end the border wars that had plagued civilized space. When running a game of Solar Echoes, it is up to the MC to decide just how benign this government is, but as the players take on various missions, they may begin to discover that the ISU is withholding important information from the public, controlling the internet, and might even be stoking racial and class tensions. As the races expand across the galaxy, the further they are away from the core systems, the harder they are to monitor, so it is no surprise that the ISU has extended its reach with various forms of surveillance. Law and order should be maintained, but when freedoms begin to erode in the name of government protection and oversight, one must question how far is too far? In the Solar Echoes universe, cyber-security has become so advanced that single hackers can no longer hope to accomplish much on their own. Groups of hackers, or even hackers with un-skilled supporters on their team, can potentially bring down a system. However, the internet architecture of the future has been carefully compartmentalized to prevent massive hacks from shutting down multiple, major systems. Though such a separation of systems makes perfect sense, we have to wonder if our present day internet is irrevocably constructed with far too much integration and reach. Have we made it too easy for someone to influence, spy on, and dominate us?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Are You Being Watched? (part 4)

Do you think your emails are private? Maybe your phone calls, or your texts? The NSA has archives of all this data, and they can access any of it. Of course, this is archived data and is unlikely to be perused unless the NSA decides you are a person of interest. Just how can you earn such an honor? It really depends on your internet habits and the combinations of words that you use in your digital communications. Our government is spying on us with PRISM, and a source for the Washington Post said, “They can quite literally watch your ideas form as you type.” I guess I should wave my hand to the government right now and say hello? With all the online research we've done to make Solar Echoes a realistic representation of our near future, it is likely that prying eyes have taken an interest. I've always believed science-fiction is an effective warning about the path we're headed down, and Solar Echoes touches on some modern day issues such as government spying.

Have you ever been slightly disconcerted to know that your computer or game console camera is on? What about the camera on your cell phone? Hackers are able to activate cameras remotely and watch whatever they are aimed at. Are you sharing your phone's photos online? Unless you have your GPS turned off (and have adjusted a few settings), all your photos are stamped with a geo-tag, which shows exactly where the phone was when the picture was taken, making it much easier to locate people in the picture. These days, it is almost considered weird or anti-social to want to maintain any amount of privacy with the current internet culture. Facebook, Twitter, and other internet sites are designed around the idea that everyone wants to share, and a new trend among PS4 video gamers is the livestreamed living-room reality show, where people broadcast themselves live to whoever would watch and comment. As a result of this new culture, cyber-crime is flourishing and growing exponentially. We are not only making ourselves vulnerable to criminal attack, but to monitoring by people with their own agendas. Spying has never been easier.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Are You Being Watched? (part 3)

The head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, has admitted to using drones to spy on American citizens. It's disturbing to note that our government is purchasing unusually large quantities of war-time machinery and that most of this is not for the military—it's being allotted to federal agencies! Why are these agencies arming themselves? The Department of Homeland Security has been buying billions of rounds of ammo, as well as thousands of MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles for “homeland operations.” Additionally, a fleet of Predator B drones has been purchased for deployment throughout the United States. Why is our government building its own private military force? Consider that a military directive was issued in 2010 called the “Defense Support of Civil Authorities.” This directive indicates that civilians may be engaged by the military during times of unrest, and gives the military authority to “quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Are You Being Watched? (part 2)

In the movie, “Live Free and Die Hard,” a young hacker joins Bruce Willis to stop a cyber-terrorist who has created a “Fire Sale.” A fire sale is a cyber-attack that performs a three-stage systematic attack on a nation's computer infrastructure. Hackers call it a Fire Sale because "Everything must go." The hacker mastermind in the movie is able to first shut down our transportation systems, then disables our financial systems (banks, Wall Street, etc.), and finally our public utilities such as gas, electric, and communications. Our society becomes increasingly fragile, the more we rely on computers to run everything. Though many of these important computer systems are isolated from networks, all it takes is a single person to infiltrate the system and create havoc. We managed to access Iran's nuclear centrifuges with a single USB drive (look up “Stuxnet Virus”), so it is clear that even isolated computer systems are not safe.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Are You Being Watched? (part 1)

The recent video game release, Watch Dogs, addresses a disturbing trend in our society—government surveillance. Despite Edward Snowden's traitorous acts, we have learned from his NSA security breach that our own government is watching us very closely, stockpiling data on our internet habits as well as our cell phone calls and texts. George Orwell's “1984” no longer seems like science-fiction, now that we see the very beginnings of a “Big Brother” in our own backyard. In Watch Dogs, you play as a hacker who uses his smartphone to tap into Chicago's ctOS security system, hacking into video cameras, unlocking secure locations, and even manipulating traffic lights, road barriers, and bridges. Of course, it seems ridiculous that all this would be tied into a single network, but consider what groups of hackers might be able to achieve? A well-coordinated hack might potentially be able to bring a city to its knees. This week, we'll discuss the implications of this threat in both our society and the fictional futuristic society in Solar Echoes.