Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fast, Cinematic Car Chases (part 4)

Vehicle weapons have greater range than personal weapons and won't suffer distance penalties, plus, they deal far more damage and are designed to tear up a vehicles “hull.” All vehicles have armor, which doesn't necessarily mean that all vehicles are layered in protective armor. Armor is often simply the outer frame of a vehicle and its “hardness” is the amount of damage it can absorb before damage starts to seriously affect the vehicle's system and chassis. Mounted rotary cannons, missile launchers, nano-flak cannons, and even magnetic caltrops are a few examples of the vehicle weapons that are available. Some weapons may do direct damage, others might create obstacles, and some will even disable particular vehicle systems.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fast, Cinematic Car Chases (part 3)

One of the twists that can make a car chase more exciting is the variety of obstacles that may be encountered. A sharp turn, debris in the road, an off-ramp, heavy traffic, a pedestrian, and more can affect the piloting of all drivers involved in the chase. If you succeed at your piloting check against the obstacle, you will be able to evade it and maintain your speed, but if you fail, your piloting check will suffer a penalty and your opponent will have an easier time changing the distance between vehicles to his advantage. Sometimes obstacles can even be created—the nano-flak cannon can fire a cluster of nanites that spring up as a small barrier in the middle of the road. If the prey decides the predators are getting too close, he can shoot at nearby vehicles to potentially cause them to swerve or crash, creating a difficult obstacle for his pursuers to avoid while allowing him to widen the distance between them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fast, Cinematic Car Chases (part 2)

In terrestrial vehicular combat, in most cases someone will be fleeing and someone else will be pursuing. If you are pursuing, your goal is to catch up to your target and to stop him, which is usually done by shooting up his vehicle enough to disable it. Of course, the target of a pursuit (we call him the prey) wants to get as far away from his pursuers (the predators) as fast as possible, using piloting maneuvers to escape the engagement altogether or by using weapons to damage his pursuers enough that they can't keep up. By staying at long distance for several rounds, in most scenarios the prey will be able to escape. If the predators can stay with him throughout the car chase, however, the prey will reach his destination and squad combat will resume as he exits his vehicle.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fast, Cinematic Car Chases (part 1)

When designing Solar Echoes, we wanted to make sure that players could have exciting, cinematic car chases and starship dogfights. The vehicle system in Solar Echoes is a little different than the squad combat system—you no longer need to count squares on a battle-map for movement and distances. Vehicle combat (terrestrial, air, or space) is abstracted and simplified to three basic distances: long, medium, and close range. You won't have to measure anything or count out your movement, which allows for a much faster-paced and exciting vehicle combat encounter! Cut-out, stand-up icons are provided in several Solar Echoes rule-books to help players visualize the car chase, but you can always use other models, such as hot-wheels cars, to help represent the scenario.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mind Transfer? (part 5)

There are many interesting possibilities with cloning and artificial intelligence being used towards acts of self-preservation, but I personally think it will never be possible to transfer our consciousness, though I do think it might someday be possible to copy it. Having a copy of yourself out there is a disturbing concept, not only for the copied person, but for those who know him or her (maybe it's just me, but the option to clone a pet is disturbing enough). I think physical qualities may be copied, and I do think a "brain print" reproduction will be possible someday. However, there is more to us than our physical existence--I believe our consciousness is more than our physical wiring. Whether you want to call it a spirit, soul, or something else, that is something we each uniquely possess, and it is something technology will never be able to touch.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Mind Transfer? (part 4)

It has always interested me that cloning in science fiction seems to assume that clones will be mental copies of the source. Clones are essentially twins, and we know twins, though similar, are unique individuals with their own separate experiences and personalities. If we could actually copy a person's "brain print," though, perhaps clones would also be mental copies of the source, at least up to the point of copying. From that point, experiences would diverge and the copy might end up a different person entirely, given time. Considering all this, copying ourselves might be possible, though the original source would continue and eventually die separately. The copy, unless somehow engineered to be younger, would probably not exist much longer either.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mind Transfer? (part 3)

To follow this line of reasoning, reproducing or transferring a consciousness requires the existence of a mechanism to properly house and facilitate the function of neural data, whether that data is complex computer code or something else. Essentially, a "brain print" exists with each person, a unique and separate neural design. If we could somehow copy that brain print, perhaps the knowledge, experiences, and even personality of a person could be reproduced. But if a consciousness is tied to its physical brain, the best we may be able to achieve would only be a copy, not an actual transfer, of an individual person.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mind Transfer? (part 2)

First of all, copying one's thoughts into some form of data seems impossible unless thoughts can be quantified. What is personality and intelligence? If we can answer this, perhaps it will someday be possible to move another step towards copying a person's consciousness. However, consciousness may not be separate from the physical realm, as it may involve the particular formation of a person's brain--the connected neural pathways it has formed. Consciousness may be entirely rooted in the physical design of a person's brain, and would therefore be incapable of existing without this structure.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mind Transfer? (part 1)

In last week's posts ("The Future of Death"), I talked about how efforts are being made to battle the effects of aging or even how some seek to essentially gain immortality through technology. One of the posts mentioned Stephen Hawking's belief that someday we will be able to upload our consciousness to computers. A reader sent me an email saying that he doesn't believe something like this will ever be possible, and an interesting discussion developed. If our mind, our state of being, is simply electrical impulses across a complex neural landscape (our brain), shouldn't we be able to reproduce or transfer that somehow? Or is there more to human existence?

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Future of Death (part 5)

Regardless of how we prolong our lives, how will this affect future society? There are now ten times as many Americans age 65 and older than in the previous century. Life insurance companies, health care providers, and other related businesses are scrambling to accommodate the shift. Of further concern is the labor-force-to-population ratio, which is likely to result in labor shortages with an expanding number of retired senior citizens, potentially hindering economic growth. Adjustments on the national level are likely to occur, with higher retirement ages and an increase in labor force participation by the elderly. If we live longer, in order for society to survive economic collapse, we’re probably going to have to work longer! Do we really want to live forever?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Future of Death (part 4)

Stephen Hawking has expressed the belief that we will someday be able to upload the human mind into a computer, and movies like "Transcendence" suggest the same. The Japanese anime "Serial Experiments Lane" offers a disturbing landscape of an internet populated by human consciousness, where people consider the internet as an evolution of human existence. The recent movie, "Chappie," explores the concept of AI and human consciousness linking through a computer and moving to a robotic avatar. Is existence capable of being distilled into bits of data? Some believe it is the ultimate frontier and the pathway to immortality.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Future of Death (part 3)

Cloning body parts and tissues is another way we might be able to postpone our demise. Science-fiction movies like "The Island" address the potential barbaric side of this science, but if vital organs could be grown individually, inside a lab, we might not have to herd our clones into tightly controlled prisons where they are constantly lied to and manipulated until the day of their eventual harvest. Organic replacement parts aren't the only solution, however, as artificial replacements are becoming more and more viable, including the fusing of robotics with our own bodies.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Future of Death (part 2)

Cryonics is one area of study that has gained popularity among celebrities and millionaires. The body, or even just the head, is frozen with the expectation that future medical technology will someday exist so that the individual can be medically resurrected. Though no such technology exists, companies that perform freezing and preservation procedures to "pause" or life insist that it is their belief that improved technology will exist in the near future. This "insurance policy" against permanent death will cost you, though, with prices ranging from $28,000 to $200,000. Cryonics is also being seriously considered for use in long, interstellar journeys for astronauts, where the explorers would enter into a "cold-sleep," only to be revived years later, without the effects of cell aging.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Future of Death (part 1)

Human lifespans are ever increasing, thanks to advances in medicine and access to better health care. It doesn't end there, however, as scientists are constantly looking for ways to improve the human condition and essentially cheat death. Only two years ago, Google founded the California Life Corporation (Calico), and though they have not been entirely overt about what they do there, information indicates they are not just about curing cancer, but essentially "curing aging itself." If the number of studies on life extension that are being conducted around the world is any indication, it can be said that we really are looking at a global war against aging and death.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Humanoid Robots, or Robotic Humans? (part 5)

I'm not sure which would be worse—humans eventually becoming robots, or robots becoming too human. What if these technological developments swing a different direction, and instead of humans improving themselves with robotics, robots are given human abilities like a sense of touch, a sense of pain, and even emotional capacity through advanced AI? Robots may replace our pre-occupation with smartphones and become surrogate conversation partners. The movie “Her” explores this possibility through an AI program that its user falls in love with. If such an AI were installed in a robot that looked and smelled like us, and was even able to tactilely touch and feel, we might see another challenge to what constitutes a marriage. Will robots someday be lobbying for equal rights? As robots become more and more human, the line will be pushed closer and closer until one day, our own creation might be governing us.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Humanoid Robots, or Robotic Humans? (part 4)

With all the developments in robotic technology and the many applications towards human improvement, we haven't stopped to ask ourselves how much is too much? Implanted chips that improve brainpower and raise IQ's, enhanced bionics that exceed normal human functional ranges, electronic skin that could possibly replace our own and regulate or even delete pain signals—it all sounds impressive but where do we stop? The companies that produce these “upgrades” will understandably follow the usual business models, and consumers will pay for this technology if they can afford it. Someday, there may be a distinct upper-class of bionic humans or cyborgs—people that have chosen to extend their lives or surpass common human limitations by upgrading their bodies. What will happen to the rest of us who might not be able to afford these changes, or who decide we want to be more human than machine? Perhaps the robot apocalypse won't occur as overtly as we've suspected with man fighting against machines in a great war—perhaps there will be a slow erosion of our humanity, piece by piece, until all that we are, all that is left, are robots.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Humanoid Robots, or Robotic Humans? (part 3)

Despite some of the more questionable uses of robotic sensory technology, these developments are advancing robotics in a variety of directions. A flexible, stretchable, and resilient synthetic skin embedded with tiny sensors can now convey the sense of touch to robots. Though it is unclear whether this skin could be implanted in humans, many robotic applications are being considered—electronic skin could be used to detect biohazards, radiation, or weapons. It might even be able to register pain, which would be extremely useful when running vehicle crash tests for the development of human safety systems. Artificial skin to simulate human tissue has also been designed to allow for a robot to actually sweat. Why? It certainly seems a useless oddity to us now, but I recall hearing something about infiltration robots with living human tissue that even sweat like us. I think Arnold Schwarzenegger might know something about that...

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Humanoid Robots, or Robotic Humans? (part 2)

Even though technology does sometimes separate us, it is also bridging distances we never could traverse before. Sometimes I video-chat with my parents, who live on the other side of the U.S. In other instances, I conduct business through online-conference video-chats. When my family was across the ocean for a European vacation, we were able to text, send photos and videos, and even talk over the internet for free using our smartphones. It is no wonder that some companies are developing new ways to connect people and make their long-distance experience feel more personal. One group has developed a robotic hand made of silicon and sponge, which can be heated to body temperature and is embedded with pressure sensors. This hand can remotely transmit someone's handshake to make that video conference feel even more personal and to keep that “human element” there. Another robotic device called the Kissenger is able to convey the kiss of a long-distance lover through Skype and other internet chat programs. If you're not creeped out by this yet, you're not really thinking about the implications of this kind of “technology.”

Monday, July 6, 2015

Humanoid Robots, or Robotic Humans? (part 1)

As we continue to develop technology, robotic parts are becoming more and more a part of our future. Prosthetic robot arms and legs are now realistically affordable, providing amputees with close to normal functionality with these devices integrated into their bodies. Researchers are working on implants to improve brain activity and nano-robots to cleanse our arteries. Robotic exo-suits are even in use in some parts of the world that enable the user to lift heavy objects, and the Army has recently designed a robotic arm exoskeleton to steady a person's arm while shooting. Yet, other varieties of robots and robotic interfaces are being developed that might surprise you, with a variety of design intentions—in addition to improved military performance, there are devices that enable physical interactions in online social environments, and even bionic eyes that allow the blind to see. With all of these robotic innovations and “replacement parts,” what kind of a future will we see in the next few decades?

Friday, July 3, 2015

Spacetime and Time Dilation in Science Fiction (part 5)

It just so happens that there is an author writing for Corefun Studios that has recently finished a new Solar Echoes mission involving spacetime, titled, “Temporal Wake.” The author, Matthew Hannum, has written this mission about a temporal experiment that has gone horribly wrong, catapulting characters into a distant, deadly future. Cut off from both allies and resources, characters must find a way to return home while preventing the nightmare from becoming reality. Temporal Wake is a challenging high-level mission that offers a glimpse into one of many possible futures while hinting at some of the most terrible threats that lurk beyond known space. Temporal Wake releases tomorrow, July 4th, at

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Spacetime and Time Dilation in Science Fiction (part 4)

The concept of time dilation, as a writing device, opens up incredible options for the science fiction author. For example, in “Other Space,” two characters spent many long months together on a planet and arrived back on their ship only ten or twenty minutes after they left, already having gone through the up's and down's of a very involved relationship during their isolation together on the planet. The usual linear boundaries for developing characters can be completely transcended in a science fiction story using time dilation almost as a literary device. It's not exactly time-travel, but it disrupts the usual expectations we have for the flow of character development in a story. We can expect to see more of this interesting concept in future science fiction (“future” science fiction...haha)