Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Spacetime and Time Dilation in Science Fiction (part 3)

Yes, the explanation for the time dilation on the planet was poor in Interstellar (thankfully, the comedy “Other Space” didn't even bother to offer an explanation for their time-dilated planet, which ironically made it seem more plausible.) Despite that, time dilation is real and has been confirmed by many scientific experiments: the relativistic decay of muons from cosmic ray showers and the slowing of atomic clocks aboard a Space Shuttle have shown us that the duration of time can vary according to the point of reference. It all makes for great science fiction material, where someone might travel faster than the speed of light, spend a lifetime on a time-dilated planet, travel back to Earth, and be the same age (or younger?) than when he or she left, maybe even arriving close to the original departure date.

Spacetime and Time Dilation in Science Fiction (part 2)

I once thought I understood the fourth dimension and stated that it was “duration,” the existence of an object in three dimensions was only possible if it existed within time, the fourth dimension. It is more complex than that of course, but our understanding of time is based on what we have experienced here, on earth. We live on a planet with a steady state of gravity moving at a steady pace around the sun. In the movie, Interstellar (minor spoiler ahead), there is a planet orbiting a black hole and anyone on it experiences severe time dilation. Red flags go up yet? Yeah, sorry Hollywood, we just lost our suspension of disbelief. But let's get past the fact that a planet would have to be so close to a black hole to experience the amount of time dilation stated in the movie that it would get sucked into the black hole, and the fact that a rotating planet would experience tidal forces of gravity that would rip the planet to pieces. Let's put all that on hold and examine the concept itself...

Monday, June 29, 2015

Spacetime and Time Dilation in Science Fiction (part 1)

What is the fourth dimension? It is generally referred to as “spacetime,” the unification of time and space as a four-dimensional continuum. More and more science fiction these days involves spacetime in some form, and it is an intriguing concept. The Yahoo space comedy “Other Space” and the recent movie “Interstellar” both come to mind as examples of how time might behave differently in other parts of the universe. It is a complicated concept, one that involves “special relativity” and other theories advanced in physics, but there are some basic tenants that we can grasp without holding a degree in quantum physics. To put things very simply, time is relative to velocity and the strength of gravity.

Friday, June 26, 2015

No Classes! (part 5)

Words can be the most powerful weapon of all in Solar Echoes, and a wordsmith character type is what we call the “Negotiator.” Characters investing in Persuasion will find a variety of options in their arsenal, using either diplomacy, bluff, or intimidation. Relns and Humans are the most effective negotiators, and will want to invest heavily in Awareness, Disguise, Discern Motive, and Persuasion skills. Talents such as Convincing Lie, Fast Talker, Crazed Exuberance and Culturally Sensitive give bonuses during dialogue encounters, and it may also help to consider one of several personality types that will add further bonuses to bluffing, intimidating, or the use of diplomacy. Helpful tools of the trade are disguise kits, and translators can sometimes be helpful (though more than a bit imprecise!) but being multi-lingual will provide an immense advantage in almost every dialogue encounter.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

No Classes! (part 4)

There aren't always weapons around, but the Martial Artist is always prepared for a fight! This approach to character design focuses on melee attacks, and ideal skill investments are Melee Combat, Athletics, and Endurance. Useful starting Talents include attacks such as Surprise Kick, Sweep Kick, Thrust Kick, or the Snapping Thrust strike, all of which are chainable. These attacks allow you to chain into another Talent marked “chainable” in a single round, meaning that you can attack twice as your Action for that round. This not only allows you to do more damage, but to inflict multiple effects upon your opponent or gain bonuses to your attack. A character focusing on martial arts may also want to invest in a pair of spiked boots, spiked gauntlets, and the Strike the Weak Point talent, which allow for more focused damage to bypass an opponent's armor when attacking.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

No Classes! (part 3)

Prefer to stay in the shadows? Another general character type can be classified as an Infiltrator, which will have skills focused on Athletics, Awareness, and Stealth. Races like the Krissethi and Omul are ideal for infiltrators, though Chiraktis and Humans can also excel in this area as well. Talents like Conceal Location and Watchful Eye are perfect for infiltration, and equipment such as a Camo Cloak or a pair of Hush Boots will greatly assist in staying hidden. Whether he attacks from the shadows or snipes from afar, the Infiltrator is the kind of opponent that sees everything and who prefers victory by any means over a “fair” fight.

Monday, June 22, 2015

No Classes! (part 2)

Some characters may be classified as Battlefield Controllers or Hackers. This type of character likes to manipulate the environment to his advantage, using skills and talents to hack security, conduct electronic warfare against enemy starships, or even reprogram hostile robots to serve as his personal mechanized army of doom. Battlefield Controllers are known to create obstacles on the battlefield, using nanite hedges to instantly erect barriers to protect against gunfire or seal off areas temporarily. He also enjoys generating fields with varying effects to protect against specific types of gunfire, to reflect gunfire, or to even create alternate gravitational zones. Many Battlefield Controller-types use remotely operated drones, known as cyber-weapons, to distract, stun, trip, or even kill an opponent. They may not be great in a melee fight, but good luck getting near this type of character in battle!

No Classes! (part 1)

Unlike many RPG's, Solar Echoes does not involve actual classes for your character. This has been a growing trend in recent video games, and we felt that it was the right direction to go for our game. You are free to design your character however you like, investing in any skills that interest you, and further customizing with over 270 of the talents available. However, your choices could end up focusing toward a particular build. This week, we'll talk about a few of the different types of characters you could choose to play.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Facebook is Watching You! (part 5)

Yet most people probably aren't really concerned. Does the younger generation care, or even notice, the complete absence of privacy these days? It's the “new normal,” and as kids are brought up in a society where a lack of privacy is not only commonplace, but is encouraged, we will eventually see the gradual acceptance of these changes become complete ignorance of what rights we've lost. It all seems somewhat innocuous, but that's how all major changes are often implemented—a little bit at a time. The slow erosion of personal privacy will continue until it will eventually become impossible to secure our own privacy without living off-grid like the Amish. We could just go back to living without our smartphones if we truly want some privacy. At least we would start to have actual conversations again. The irony.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Facebook is Watching You! (part 4)

There is nothing suggesting that all this will be conducted exclusively through Facebook, especially once it catches on with businesses—and why wouldn't it? The ability to directly reach a potential customer and tell him or her about your product is crucial to sales, but being able to tailor that message to an individual further increases the chance of a sale. The current system uses GPS, Wifi, and Bluetooth to track you and gather your information. What if these beacons were at every street corner, built into every new car, and in every building? Don't think that all this will be limited to Facebook and that avoiding having a Facebook profile will stop these intrusions. The NSA probably already has their fingerprints all over this new system. Big Brother is not only watching, he's listening, and he's building a detailed profile, all about you.

Facebook is Watching You! (part 3)

According to Facebook, users will have the ability to turn the “place tips” on or off. That doesn't mean that the system won't still be tracking you. Personally, I feel that if my habits are to be logged somewhere for advertising research (or for other purposes), I believe I should have the right to opt out of that completely. I suppose I do still have that right, in a sense: I can turn off my smartphone wherever I go. But didn't I buy it so I could freely use it and be in contact with those I want to be in touch with? Why is my own device now being used against me?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Facebook is Watching You! (part 2)

Supposedly, the amount of advertisements we are bombarded with on our smartphones will be limited to our habits and buying preferences. If you never buy chunky peanut butter, chances are, you won't be harassed to buy it when you pass it in the store, but “helpful” reminders to re-stock your favorite yogurt supply at home may be very likely. The system will keep track of your shopping cycles, and will make assumptions based on the frequency of your visits. If you're like me and hate predictive technology such as auto-correct, life is about to get a lot more annoying.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Facebook is Watching You! (part 1)

Have we already lost the war on invasiveness? Faceoook is stepping things up yet again, this time by sending out free Bluetooth beacon devices to any business in the U.S. that wants one. As of today, once a beacon is set up at a business, it can detect when a Facebook user with a smartphone is within a certain range. It can then track the user while they are visiting and collect an unprecedented amount of data. This new system allows the business to send advertisements and other information to the user, with customized welcome messages, notifications, and even coupons. Imagine walking past the coffee aisle and suddenly receiving a text from the store with a discount for your favorite brand. Now, imagine the same thing happening for all the other products you pass as you walk through the store.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Virtual Reality—Is it going to last? (part 5)

Other features are touted as reasons to get a VR headset, including high resolution, more motion-related interactivity (do we really want to try that again?), and immersion. I can definitely see VR headsets finding a market as medical technology, for military training, or even for remote viewing through external devices (for example, drones.) Yet VR just doesn't quite convince me that it's going to revolutionize the entertainment industry. Don't get me wrong, I'm going to try it--I'm definitely going to pre-order a Sony Morpheus when pre-orders open up. But to Sony, and everyone else developing VR headsets, I want to say this: Please, please aggressively support the new hardware with tons of applications and software! If things go the same way as the Move and Kinect (where it seemed like they were depending on the technology to sell itself) well, there just isn't going to be enough reason to have one around in a year or two.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Virtual Reality—Is it going to last? (part 4)

A VR headset is essentially your own private movie theatre. TV's have tried to accommodate the desires of multiple viewers simultaneously by using in-screen viewing of other channels simultaneously, where one person can hear the audio from the TV and watch a favorite channel while another can plug in a set of earphones and watch his own section of the screen (open in a smaller window) for his channel. There are even TV's that project two, full-screen channels at once--one is visible to the naked eye, while another can be viewed on the same screen by someone wearing a pair of special glasses to filter out the other channel. With VR headsets, an entire family can all sit together and watch their own shows. Though again, don't we already do this anyway with all of our tablets, smartphones, and laptops?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Virtual Reality—Is it going to last? (part 3)

Yet there are some really great advantages to using a VR headset. The most obvious is the 360 degree view--wherever you look, you'll see a part of the virtual world around you. This will undoubtedly be more immersive, just like watching an IMAX dome/Omnimax movie projected inside a giant dome. But even if the IMAX dome movies were impressive, how many of us clamored for more? It was a neat experience, but we are satisfied with the normal theatre experience or our giant flatscreen TV's at home. However, a VR headset offers more than a 360 degree viewing perspective...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Virtual Reality—Is it going to last? (part 2)

Consider the short-lived motion-control fad for a moment before looking at VR. It was a neat concept-- move your body to control things on screen--but people wearied of this "feature," so much that Microsoft had to begin selling their XBox360 without the initially mandatory Kinect. I played a number of motion-controlled games and they were indeed fun, but for a short time. Gaming for me (and I think for many others) is a way to relax after a long day at work, and moving around in front of my TV was just not as appealing as sitting back on my couch with a controller--a far more precise and relaxing way of interfacing with the game. In my opinion, if VR is going to be successful with gamers at least, it will need to pass that "couch potato" test.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Virtual Reality—Is it going to last? (part 1)

VR is supposedly the next, big thing in technology and several companies are hard at work to bring their versions of VR to the market this year. Project Morpheus and the Occulus Rift are the two biggest names behind the VR headsets that are under development. Many of you might wonder, "what's the big deal?"while others are saying that VR is going to revolutionize the world. Though I have yet to experience it, I certainly can see some ways that our world may change if this technology is implemented effectively. If it isn't, well, then we might just be looking at another gimmick that goes the way of passing fads like Nintendo's motion control Wii, Sony's Move, and Xbox's Kinect.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Not a Hack and Slash Game (part 5)

There are a few more deterrents to playing Solar Echoes with a “hack and slash, blow everything up” approach. There are XP penalties incurred by outright going against mission parameters. For instance, some XP will be deducted at the end of a mission if the team of characters needlessly killed everyone in cold blood, or needlessly destroyed everything when they could have been more discreet. After all, the characters do play as agents in an interstellar special ops/CIA type of outfit called the Union Guard, so even though they can operate above the law, flagrant disregard for it and outright lawlessness can result in a loss of XP, a loss of Karma and Fame, and might even land them in jail if they go too far. Karma and Fame are also measured in Solar Echoes, and earning negative amounts of either can hurt the characters' reputation, though sometimes, having a really bad reputation might be useful when seeking to infiltrate criminal organizations. Generally, though, players are encouraged by all these aspects of Solar Echoes to conduct themselves in at least a somewhat civil manner to achieve their mission objectives, and because there are so many options, hack 'n slash often seems to be the last choice on the list.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Not a Hack and Slash Game (part 4)

At the end of each mission, XP rewards are given not only for mission goals achieved, but also sometimes for how they were achieved. For instance, extra XP might be given for managing to board a smuggler's ship without attacking. Hacking into and deactivating a weaponized robot sometimes awards XP when simply destroying it doesn't. However, XP is given for a kill when the mission goal was to assassinate the target, though sometimes even more XP can be gained if extra parameters were maintained for that assassination. In other instances, XP can be awarded for surviving a challenging situation without taking any damage.

Not a Hack and Slash Game (part 3)

From what we've seen with Solar Echoes players, it is clear that an RPG without XP being rewarded for killing can still be very fun. In fact, it ends up encouraging creativity, as players devise ingenious plans for achieving their mission objectives. Often, fights with enemies happen because the enemies first attack, so for anyone worried about there being a lack of combat in Solar Echoes, trust me, there's nothing to worry about. Yet there are a lot of options available to players, which encourages the use of other skills. For example, if you need to get past a guard, instead of using a weapon or your fists, you can try to sneak past him, use a disguise, or even persuade him through diplomacy, a bluff, or intimidation to let you pass. Fighting might get the job done, but often, there are mission-affecting repercussions for combat. Making a lot of noise might alert a target and reduce your chances of capturing him. A battle might be very dangerous for civilians in the area. And blowing things up has a tendency to anger a variety of people: property owners, businesses, and even the local government.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Not a Hack and Slash Game (part 2)

From the very initial design of the game, one of the core premises we insisted on was that this was going to be a game based on achieving mission objectives. In most RPG's, experience points (XP=points that level up your character so they can be further customized to become more powerful and capable) are awarded for killing bad guys, and the more difficult the bad guy or the higher level a threat he is, the more XP you are rewarded for killing him. The more you kill, the more XP you get, and the better your character becomes so you can take on even tougher enemies with higher amounts of XP. It's very circular, and is great for video games especially, because it has an addictive drive to it that keeps you coming back for challenge after challenge. After all, we love seeing our characters develop, and if the currency for development is slaughtering hordes of evil monsters, then off we rush to the dungeons (or wherever). Is an RPG without this lure even capable of being fun?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Not a Hack and Slash Game (part 1)

I was recently talking with a friend about his RPG gaming group, and he was complaining about how his group rebelled against every game premise and seemed intent on showing “how awesome” they are by killing everything. Not every RPG group behaves this way, of course, but some people just want to blow everything up and create as much mayhem and destruction as they can. Though I can't say that such players wouldn't do the same thing in Solar Echoes (my friend insists his group would), I will say that in several years of running games with countless new groups of players, I have never seen things degenerate to that point. I think there are several factors in the design of Solar Echoes that, even though they might not prevent the hack and slash approach, do at least discourage it...