Friday, August 29, 2014

Have nanites caused science-fiction to cross into fantasy? (part 5)

Healing nanites exist in the Solar Echoes universe, but they may soon be part of reality. Nanites are being designed that would assist white blood cells in the repair of tissue cells. Nanites could attach themselves to the surface of recruited white cells and squeeze through the walls of blood vessels to arrive at an injury site. Nanites could even carry certain substances that could help accelerate recovery from an injury. In Solar Echoes, healing nanites are administered through an injection, and will allow the recipient to improve his injury status by one condition level. For instance, if a character is “Seriously Wounded,” his condition will improve to “Moderately Wounded,” which would incur smaller wound penalties than before. Some research today even indicates that cell regeneration might be possible in the future through nanite usage, which is reflected in Solar Echoes—regenerating nanites continue to work until all wound conditions are repaired (though effectively administering these nanites requires a very high level Biotech-check.) However, medical nanites in Solar Echoes cannot take control of a person or spread across the world through raindrops, as seen in the recent sci-fi movie, “Transcendence.” While Transcendence began as believable sci-fi, it didn't take long for it to transform into fantasy, with nanites infecting people and allowing them super-human strength while controlled by a powerful AI.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Have nanites caused science-fiction to cross into fantasy? (part 4)

We were careful in our design of the Solar Echoes universe to limit the capabilities of nanites because of our concern that they could become a form of “magic,” which would result in a trend towards fantasy and not science fiction. We introduce nanites with this simple statement: “Nanites, while unable to create matter, may coordinate themselves into solid objects or assist in healing.” This sets up the boundaries immediately. In the Solar Echoes universe, nanites have been developed by the military to be useful on the battlefield. One such application is the nanite hedge, where nanites released from a small container will form an interlocking wall of filaments similar to steel wool. This wall of nanites can be used for instant cover, blocking sight and ranged attacks. Another military use of nanites in Solar Echoes is the nanite razor swarm, where a cloud of flying nanites can move and cut anyone caught within the swarm. Nanite swarms can also be used to obscure sight and slow the movement of opponents.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Have nanites caused science-fiction to cross into fantasy? (part 3)

Perhaps the confusion over nanites creating matter is that the microscopic robots can come together and form larger conglomerations of themselves. Modular robots can deliberately re-arrange their parts to adapt to changing circumstances, to perform tasks they otherwise couldn't without re-arranging, and even to recover from damage. Self-reconfiguring robots are more adaptive and durable due to their reconfiguration potential. A robot or group of robots can disassemble and then reassemble to better address tasks. Due to their interchangeable parts, these machines can also replace any broken parts, essentially performing self-repair. Nanites, if designed with similar capabilities, may be able to assemble themselves into a form of architecture, such as a lattice or chain, it isn't a stretch to imagine that these robots could serve as an active patch for damaged human tissue, or potentially close a hole in the side of a spacecraft or sea-faring vessel. Another application, called telepario, claytronics, or programmable matter, involves groups of robots building themselves into three dimensional shapes and adjusting to mimic the movement of the copied source. For instance, modular robotic replicas could mimic the shape of a person or object in real time, and as the original source moved, the replicas would adjust and mirror those movements. Movies like “Terminator 2” clearly demonstrate the potential of a modular robot—something that can sustain damage and self-repair quickly, as well as reform itself into various objects. Though nanites can form shapes, they are not creating matter, nor are they able to self-replicate. Yet.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Have nanites caused science-fiction to cross into fantasy? (part 2)

There are many debates as to what actually constitutes a story as science fiction or fantasy. Though this is a large argument in itself, suffice it to say that fantasy usually involves a world governed by laws that are different those of our own world—often these laws are called “magic” in a fantasy world. Science fiction attempts to stay grounded in reality, projecting forward with what “might be” based on developing technologies and discoveries while staying within the physical laws of our universe. Sometimes, however, the two genres begin to blend. Though some would argue that the Star Wars movies are science fiction because of the starships and laser blasters, others would insist that it is fantasy, due mostly to the presence of “the force,” a psychic ability than manifests through mind control and telekinetic powers. While it is fairly obvious that “the force” could easily be considered magic, somehow the concept of tiny, micro-robots that create matter seems more realistic to us than Darth Vader's mastery of the force. Why is that?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Have nanites caused science-fiction to cross into fantasy? (part 1)

Nano-robotics is a current advancing technology where robots (nanites) are created at or close to the scale of a nanometer (10−9 meters.) These tiny robots are constructed of nanoscale or molecular components. Though this emerging technology is still in its infancy, expected applications of nanites include the identification and destruction of cancer cells in the human body, as well as the detection and measurement of toxic chemicals in the environment. Nanites have been a common theme in science fiction stories, appearing in TV Shows such as Doctor Who and Star Trek, as well as in movies like Vexille and Transcendence. Our imagination has propelled these tiny robots far beyond their current capabilities, and a common assumption is that they can actually create matter itself (despite the obvious contradiction with established laws of physics.) What laws should govern these microscopic robots in our stories in order for them to remain something of science fiction and not pure fantasy?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Character building in Solar Echoes (part 5)

Be sure to have an eraser handy, though, because people sometimes change their minds as they start picking out weapons. The sniper you were planning might take a different turn if you find yourself buying up a lot of close-range melee weapons. You may want to change your talents, and even your skill point investment, if your weapon of choice just doesn't make sense with the talent choices you made. Selecting weapons, armor, and other equipment is a lot of fun, and sometimes it is even a better place to start when designing your character, if you're unsure of your character's role at first. There are also optional physique and personality options you can choose from, which might further influence the direction of your character's design. For instance, the stealthy infiltrator you were planning might change entirely if you decide to pick the “pyro” personality and the “scarred” physique (adds a bonus to intimidate, but a penalty to blending in with a crowd.) Suddenly, your sneaky spy has transformed into an intimidating maniac who loves to play with fire-based weapons. Physiques and Personality traits don't have to dictate how your character turns out, but, if you're uncertain about the type of character you'd like to play, these traits might be the easiest way to get your ideas rolling. In the end, design the character that you think you'll have the most fun playing and will be an asset to your team. Have fun!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Character building in Solar Echoes (part 4)

Talents really set your character apart from others, enabling you to do things that others simply can't. If you have the Fast Break talent, you can avoid the turning penalty when piloting your starship, which might enable you to escape your pursuers, avoid being blasted by his ship as you turn, and possibly earn an advantage and change your orientation to position yourself behind his starship. With certain talents, you can catch a thrown grenade and toss it back, wield two weapons at once, run faster, or even stun an enemy with a swift nerve strike. Talents enable you to do exceptional things, or to be exceptional by ignoring certain rules penalties. You can select three talents when you build your level 1 character, and each level thereafter, you gain one more talent. There are over 270 to choose from, plus 4 racially-specifc talents that each race automatically earns every four levels, so choose your talents wisely. If you want your character to be an expert wheelman, driving your team at high speeds through crazy car chases, then you'll want to plan those skill points out so you can acquire every one of the driving-related talents. Your character's performance in the game will definitely be influenced by the talents you choose for him.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Character building in Solar Echoes (part 3)

Once you have decided on your character type and race, it is time to start distributing the 7 skill points you have (at each level, you'll have 7 to spend.) The challenge is that you can never exceed your level with your skill points, so you can't dump all 7 points into firearms—you are forced to spread them around among other skills so that your character isn't a “one trick pony.” It's a good idea to put a point in firearms, unless you are an Erwani or Chiraktis Worker that intends to wield remote cyberweapons instead. Other than that, though, you really should consider how each player on your team is planning to distribute their points. If nobody on your team decides to put a point in Piloting Terrestrial Vehicles, pursuing criminals in your skim-car is probably going to fail. Another thing to consider are the talents you might be aiming for in the long-run. Many talents have a certain skill rank requisite. For instance, if you'd like to be an explosives expert, you need at least 3 skill points in the Engineering skill. This would allow you to get the Explosives Training talent, as early as level 3. Planning out your skill point investment is crucial if you intend to play a specialized character, or even if you just have your eye on a particular talent that you know you can't miss as soon as it becomes available.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Character building in Solar Echoes (part 2)

Attributes don't dictate what your character can or can't be, but they do indicate what he (or she) has a better chance of being good at. For instance, the slow, plant-like Erwani has a reflex attribute of two, which means that he can only roll two 6-sided dice when performing reflex-related actions. The nimble, reptilian Krissethi has a reflex attribute of four (the highest possible), so he can roll four dice when attempting reflex-related actions. The good news is that the Erwani can beat the Krissethi—he picks the highest number of the two dice he rolled. But the Krissethi has a better chance of rolling high, because he rolls four dice instead of two. He still only gets to pick the highest roll out of the four, but his chances at rolling higher are better—he gets to roll more dice, after all! Take this into account when designing your character, because although it is certainly possible to play the Erwani as a stealthy infiltrator, a Krissethi will be successful more often in that role. As another example, an Omul can be a diplomat or a con-artist, but considering he has an Influence attribute of 1 (the amoeba-like Omuls are the least-trusted people in the galaxy), his one die roll is far less likely to beat the four dice rolls of a conniving Reln.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Character building in Solar Echoes (part 1)

We offer several options for pre-made character in Solar Echoes, with a character from every race in our Starter Kit, another set of characters in the Novaburn Character Pack, and even a set of villains in the free Xenos NPC Pirate Pack. However, you may decide that you don't want a pre-made character and would rather build your very own, customized to fit your preferences. What sorts of things should you keep in mind, and where do you start? There are a couple questions you need to ask yourself before building your own character. First, decide what is most important to you—are you most interested in playing a character of a certain race, or are you more interested in playing a certain type of character (for instance, maybe you're really set on being a stealthy, infiltrator type!) If you're convinced you want to play a particular race and the role of that character is less important to you, then begin by picking your favorite alien race (or human, if you'd like something extremely familiar.) However, if you have a character type in mind, then the best place to start is by looking at the attribute table in the Player's Guide to learn about what each race's natural strengths and weaknesses are.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Can we accept robots in our society? (part 5)

American movies often depict robots as mimicking humanity, with the implication that human jobs, and eventually the humans themselves, will be replaced by robots that can perform the same functions or even do a better job. The deep-seated fear of humanity being replaced is often represented in horror films, such as “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” This fear has been evidenced through other manifestations, such as with our response to the concept of human cloning. Horror stories as far back as “Frankenstein” prey upon the fear we have of being artificially replaced. It is no wonder, then, that our response to robots is far from open and inviting, especially if the robots start looking and behaving “too human.” Yet robots are slowly replacing human workers, doing jobs faster and more precisely than humans can hope to. For example, some hospitals use robots to deliver medications to patients, and some robots are even given the role of filling medication orders (though not without human oversight—yet!) Some robots are even performing certain surgeries! There are robot chefs, factory workers, and even robots that can play in a band! Whether we are comfortable with them or not, robots are fast becoming a part of our daily lives (I already have two Roomba's that vacuum my home!) However, no amount of “cuteness” will be able to overcome public reaction to one of these friendly robots hurting a human, accidentally or intentionally. It is hard to predict just how prevalent robots will be in our lives in the future, but, they are coming—or have they already arrived?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Can we accept robots in our society? (part 4)

The Japanese are leading robotics in many ways, but perhaps one of the most significant is that the Japanese people are so ready to welcome robot counterparts into their lives. Why is Japanese society so open to this? Part of the acceptance may be tied to their history of animistic Shinto beliefs and Buddhist teachings concerning the interconnectedness of all animate and inanimate beings. As a result, robots are not just utilitarian in design, but are intended to be beautiful, something that can speak to the soul. Consider Honda's sleek Asimo, which looks like a plastic astronaut and walks with movements that seem far from threatening, with motions similar to a child that has just learned how to walk. Sony's robotic dog, Aibo, can cock it's head questioningly, roll over on command, and bark electronically, with a toy-like design that appears like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon. HRP-4C is designed with an attractive female face and hands that appear human, and movements that mimic the demure walk of Japanese runway models. When compared with robots from the rest of the world, it seems that the Japanese are very concerned with the cosmetic, outer appearance of their robots while the rest of us make robots with angular steel and protruding wires. If there is any hope in dispelling the notion that robots are the enemies of humans, the Japanese are definitely on that path.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Can we accept robots in our society? (part 3)

American culture has at least borrowed from the Japanese concept of cute-and-cuddly robots. Consider the widely popular movie, “Wall-E,” an endearing robot that won the hearts of Americans without uttering a single word. Even the robots in George Lucas's “Star Wars” had comical personalities, some of them expressing emotion through various blips and beeps. Yet in “Star Wars,” despite their likeable personalities, robots were viewed by those around them as second-class citizens—nothing more than conveniences and sometimes even as annoyances. Perhaps this is where we are most comfortable considering robots—as long as they remain in a subservient, secondary role in our lives, then their presence may be marginally acceptable. However, this is not the kind of view that will make robots appeal to consumers, and a number of companies devoted to bringing robots into our daily lives are looking at ways to improve our attitude towards the mechanical automatons...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Can we accept robots in our society? (part 2)

European and American culture has long viewed robots as a potential threat to humanity, but the Japanese have developed a different view. The Japanese first embraced robotics in industry, using robots for manufacturing, distribution, packaging and other processes. However, the Japanese then began to focus on designing more sophisticated robots—robots that could acquire data as well as recognize and respond to objects. Japan no longer views the role of robots as doing things for humans, but also to do things with humans. For instance, the role of caretaker is one that many Japanese are willing to accept from a robot, and robots are even openly welcomed as companions and partners that can be interacted with socially. The Japanese are advancing robot culture beyond purely technological considerations, looking to the cultural, ethical, and psychological aspects of human interactivity as a guideline for robot integration into society. In Japan, robots are portrayed as “cute” and “cuddly,” rather than as the horrors that have been shown in American movies like “The Terminator.”

Monday, August 11, 2014

Can we accept robots in our society? (part 1)

In order to better understand how we view robots, consider the origins of the term “robot,” penned by the Czech playwright, novelist and journalist Karel Capek in his hit play “R.U.R.” The post WWI play, “Rossum's Universal Robots,” was first performed in Prague in 1921. “Robot” was taken from the Czech word “robota,” meaning work—humanoids designed for menial and repetitive labor.
In Capek's play, robots were produced in Rossum's factory and were shown to be docile, mechanical creatures with human characteristics. Eventually, one of the scientists decided to give them emotions and they became killing machines that took over the world. Almost 100 years ago, stories about robots killing humans and taking over the world have shaped our perception of them. This has become a dominant theme in our science fiction culture, but it is interesting that one culture has not embraced this perception...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Would aliens want to meet us? (part 5)

One reason aliens might be interested in earth, though, is us—if life isn't plentiful throughout the universe, humanity could be a unique and defining aspect of planet earth. What would aliens want us for? Though the TV series “V” suggests humans would be a food source for the aliens, this is unlikely, considering how easy it is to grow food or breed animals. Humans as slaves to their alien conquerors is another popular science fiction theme, but if aliens are technologically advanced enough to travel to our planet, they are capable of designing and mass-producing robots to serve them. The answer to the question seems as simple as it is for us—curiosity. We humans have devoted millions of dollars to SETI and NASA to explore the universe to find out if there are other intelligent lifeforms out there. As soon as we could enter space, we sent Voyager with a message to anyone that would listen, bearing a message about us. We're social creatures, and we'd like to meet aliens, if they're out there. Some seek to find intelligent life to explain their own origins, suggesting that aliens might have “seeded” earth, though if that were true, it just removes the same question one step—who created the aliens, then? In the end, though, it seems that if aliens are out there, the most likely reason they would contact us is the same reason we're looking for them. It's a little lonely thinking that we might be the only intelligent life in the entire universe!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Would aliens want to meet us? (part 4)

There's another reason it is likely that aliens would avoid visiting earth. It is recognized in stories like “War of the Worlds” that we have a serious microbial problem here, one that an alien immune system might be ill-equipped to deal with. Throughout human history there have been massive plagues that have killed off large percentages of the population, and even now we're struggling to contain certain diseases that we've already discovered are creeping across our borders (Ahem!) Even if an alien race had advanced medical technology, they would have to adjust to and design antibodies specific to our particular breed of microbes. Earth is not exactly the vacation spot most aliens would choose, considering how our world is so saturated with such an incredible variety of diseases. If aliens even caught a glimpse of what the ebola virus can do, it's not hard to imagine that they would be busy erecting defenses to make sure we never visit them!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Would aliens want to meet us? (part 3)

A common theme in science fiction is that aliens want earth for some reason. That premise is really flimsy, though, when considering that there's nothing on earth that can't be found on countless other planets. What minerals do we have that can't be dug up somewhere else in the universe? Maybe it's water—the aliens are here to steal our water! No, water is plentiful on other worlds, and there is probably more water on some of Jupiter's moons than we have here! Why would aliens travel hundreds of trillions of miles through space to take from us what they can probably already find in their own neighborhood? Not to mention, how are they going to make such a long trip worth it, unless they manage to haul back enormous amounts of whatever it is they're seeking? Transport alone would be quite a massive undertaking. It's comical, really, to suggest that aliens have any need of what we have on Earth, but it's no surprise that we would imagine such things—we love our planet, and in the scope of human existence, it wasn't really that long ago that we even thought the sun revolved around us!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Would aliens want to meet us? (part 2)

The biggest reason aliens are unlikely to bother with visiting earth is that they have their own problems to deal with. Just look at humans—we are constantly facing conflict, embroiled in wars and disputes, all while dealing with dwindling resources, pollution, the challenges of energy and food production, natural disasters, and disease. Most of our effort is focused on just surviving here on our own planet, so much that America's space program, NASA, was scuttled to focus largely on environmental concerns. If not for private entrepreneurs funding companies like Space X, we might never make it past our own moon. So why should aliens be any different? In the movies, we always see the aliens as one united entity—they don't ever seem to have factions--it's like the alien planet is all one big happy country and the aliens have all learned to work together and put aside disagreements. We suspend our disbelief when seeing this in movies by concluding that they are more advanced than us, so they're more enlightened and have learned to work through all their problems. Yet we somehow also accept that such a peaceful, enlightened race has decided to invade our planet. What possible reason would they want earth for? More on that, tomorrow...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Would aliens want to meet us? (part 1)

This Saturday's article posed an interesting question—would aliens really want to visit us? If intelligent alien life does exist out there, what would motivate aliens to go through the trouble of visiting earth, or even contacting us at all? The assumption that aliens want to meet us has existed for so long, it's almost hard for us to imagine that aliens might know we're here and are intentionally avoiding contact. We at least seem to realize this in one way, because many of the sci-fi movies and stories about alien invasion recognize that humans are destroying themselves, constantly fighting wars, polluting the planet, etc. Alien invasion in science fiction often seems predicated upon the assumption that humanity deserves punishment for their treatment of the planet and each other, and the common moral communicated through these stories is that we should take a second look at ourselves and change our ways. Let's take the focus off ourselves for a moment and consider the aliens, if they're out there. What might prevent or deter them from visiting earth?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Designing Unique Characters in a Science Fiction Universe (part 5)

Another option for developing a unique character is to take a look at your own life. We all know someone from our lives that we'd consider “unique,” for whatever reasons. Why not borrow some of these unique behaviors or backgrounds and convert them over to the science-fiction setting for your character? For example, if you know someone at work who shows up late all the time and claims their OCD is the reason (and gets away with it), your game character could be similar, either with a genuine problem or with con-artist tendencies who games the system to his or her advantage. You do need to be careful, though, because some personalities aren't fun to be around, and role-playing these types of people might ruin everyone's fun. If you know someone who is an aloof, narcissistic megalomaniac with a perpetual victim mentality, role-playing that can certainly make an interesting character, but it might turn the other players against you. Unless you're the MC/Game Master acting out an NPC (who might be the antagonist or villain in the plot), you may want to reconsider playing a dictator-type character in your group!