Monday, August 31, 2015

Japanese Anime and Solar Echoes (part 1)

I believe my first exposure to anime was Voltron, back in 1984. Although I somewhat enjoyed it as a kid, I eventually formed the opinion that most anime was mecha-based, a genre involving giant robots piloted by humans. I could never see this as realistically happening in the future—it just doesn't seem likely that the military will ever design colossal robots to fight with super-sized laser-swords. I also saw Akira, a popular anime movie which many consider as one of the greats, but it didn't appeal to me, either. I swore off anime and it was until the very early 2000's that I would give it another chance, at the urging of a fellow gamer. He insisted that anime was much more than mecha and a lot of it very different from Akira. I hesitated at his recommendation, an anime series with a ridiculous-sounding title, but I gave it another chance. I'm glad I did, because I can honestly say that his recommendation is what drew me back into anime--a stylized genre of animation where science-fiction flourishes. What was the anime that started it all for me? It was a series known as Cowboy Bebop.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Future Human (part 5)

Genetic engineering may actually be able to solve some of the aforementioned problems that are likely to arise with human cloning. However, genetic engineering itself is a slippery slope that is just waiting to define the future of the human race. Movies like “Gattaca” address a very likely future where genetically modified children will be improved by families that can afford them. It is disturbing that our current law is somewhat vague regarding future restrictions in genetic tampering. Once even one alteration has been made to the human genome, the change is there forever, affecting all successive generations from that child. Today, companies are working on genetically engineering our food, and as usual, law is lagging behind technology, trying to keep up. Growth hormones and other chemicals already exist (as approved by the FDA) in our food and household products and are affecting our children, causing them to enter puberty several years earlier than normal. The course of natural human development has already been altered, and whether genetic manipulation enters the scene under the guise of savior or merely as a supposedly prudent option, we are likely to see it affect our society in profound ways within a few decades. Once it begins, we will have ushered the monster of eugenics into our failing world.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Future Human (part 4)

In the future, we may see clones lobbying for equal rights and the right to marry clones or non-clones. This brings up questions of genetic degeneration. Would marrying a clone result in more frequent birth defects? Would clones marrying clones produce even more genetic risk to the clone-family child? In the Solar Echoes universe, if your character dies, he can be cloned, though with each successive cloning, he will degenerate until eventually it will be genetically unsafe to copy another copy. Your character, each time he is cloned, will sustain skill loss and personality changes until the last allowed, ninth generation of cloning, which produces a clone that is entirely mentally unstable. This can be a fun challenge to role-play in a game, but in reality, we don't yet know the genetic implications of repeated cloning. This perfectly sets the stage for yet another ethically questionable science lurking upon the horizon of of our future: genetic engineering.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Future Human (part 3)

What if cloning someday becomes economical? Ethics often quickly erode where there is money to be made, and if cloning could produce a cheaper work-force for large corporations, we may have to worry about more than robots taking our jobs away. Assuming that someday technology will exist to produce a fully-grown human, a company may decide to generate its own work-force through a person's DNA, licensed for use. Someone might be able to go in for a job interview, prove themselves capable of a job, and simply submit their DNA to a company, then sit back and earn licensing fees as the company produces cloned workers from that DNA sample. In the Solar Echoes universe, for instance, the Union Guard clones its highly-specialized, deceased agents to save money on having to retrain new recruits. All of this, of course, assumes that somehow cloning will be able to capture a person's knowledge via a neurological “brain map,” but perhaps this will be possible some day in our future as well.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Future Human (part 2)

Movies like “The Island” and books like “House of the Scorpion” address the issue of organ replacement through fully-grown clones which eventually discover their intended purpose and fight to escape having their organs harvested for someone else. Though it is a stretch to imagine that a civilized society would degenerate to this point, it does bring up the question of how we will consider fully-grown clones as a society. Are they individuals, or are they property? A clone is no different than a twin, yet it is likely that the individuals (or corporations) that paid for the clone to be made will insist on some legal guardianship or control over the clone. Clones might be incomplete copies of their source, missing certain aspects such as intelligence, long life, etc. This would quickly result in a class of “lesser humans” that may end up treated as property and denied basic human rights. Will we someday find ourselves in a society that has essentially established a system of slavery under the guise of clone-ownership?

The Future Human (part 1)

The path of humanity into the future will undoubtedly involve human cloning—it is only a matter of time before someone does it. How we navigate this issue may be what defines the future human. Though cloning is currently considered unethical and is illegal in most forms, it is interesting how there are so many variations of what is acceptable. Even when only considering the various restrictions in each of the 50 states in the U.S., there are a number of states that allow therapeutic cloning—also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. This means that specific replacements for missing and damaged body parts can be grown in a lab, which is accomplished by extracting the nucleus of a cell and putting it into another egg that had its nucleus removed. The egg then divides and grows, and is used as a source of stem cells for the desired organ or tissue replacement. In some states, the law simply indicates that state funds may not be used towards cloning, so what about private funds? If you're interested in what your state allows, visit this website:

Friday, August 21, 2015

Robots and the Law (part 5)

One scary aspect of all this is that, while some restrictions might be made on robots for civilian use, our government may make a number of exceptions for government and military use. Already, civilians have less freedom in personal drone use than the government, and Big Brother seems perfectly fine with military drones being used to monitor and even eliminate it's own citizens--any that are deemed a threat to national security, of course. The more robots become a part of our society, the more it becomes necessary for laws to be implemented not just to protect us from the robots, but from those that might seek to use then to harm or control us.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Robots and the Law (part 4)

With our openness on Facebook, many of us don't mind sharing details of our personal lives. In the future, it is very likely that people will have personal drones following them around, streaming video of their lives to anyone interested in watching. Already, sites like Twitch allow people to stream live from their home computers and living rooms, and it is amazing how so many people love having their own personal "reality show." How is it possible to regulate any of this? Many would insist that it shouldn't be regulated, so are age restrictions soon to become a thing of the past? Rated "R" material is supposedly controlled by the site, which relies on users to police and report abuse, though it's doubtful many do. Soon, with personal drones and other robots around, will the concept of privacy be entirely outdated?

This fast-moving sci-fi RPG just became faster!

Enjoy the first official GM Screen for Solar Echoes! We call the GM a Mission Controller (MC) and with this referee screen, running a mission will be even easier. The tables MC's use the most are presented clearly on the 3 inside panels, with rules covering character conditions, combat actions, damage types, weapon range penalties, and even that elusive grenade-bounce diagram!

The 3 outside panels include the cover art from the Player's Guide, the Mission Controller's Guide, and the work of our newest artist, John Fell! Step onto an alien planet with a new team of Union Guard agents that is ready for anything. Maybe your character type is among them!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Robots and the Law (part 3)

One possible future with robots could see us benefiting and living with these machines in a rather benign fashion. For instance, in the futuristic Solar Echoes game universe, robots are prevalent but have been kept at a certain level of AI. Established law restricts extremely advanced AI in robots, allowing them to serve functional purposes in society while avoiding the threatening implications of robotic sentience. However, in one Solar Echoes mission, service robots at a shopping mall malfunction and begin a dangerous rampage. Without spoiling the story, suffice it to say that hackers are involved with the malfunction, which could be a very real threat in our own future, even if we have laws confining robot AI to certain parameters. Already, people have managed to remotely hack drones right out of the sky and take control of them. Just imagine the risks of having a robot in your own home that could be accessed by a hacker!

Robots and the Law (part 2)

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the use of robots in our lives--I even own two cleaning robots for my home and am thankful I no longer have to vacuum. But robot AI is becoming increasingly more sophisticated, so much so that we might one day see people (and robots themselves) lobbying for robot equal rights. People may even want to marry robots someday! If you think this is preposterous, think again: there are already robots that are being developed to be very realistic female companions. Movies like "Her" and "Ex Machina" address these trends. Regarding AI, people like Elon Musk are extremely concerned about the current unrestricted path the development of artificial intelligence is taking. We need to prepare now, because in ten, maybe twenty years, our society is going to be very, very different. The robots are coming, but will our laws facilitate or restrict their impact on our civilization?

Robots and the Law (part 1)

What role will robots play in the future of our society? As we become increasingly accepting of the presence of robots in our homes and workplaces, what restrictions, if any, will exist to regulate robots in the future? We have seen in just the past ten or twenty years that laws are not keeping up with technology. CD burners, radar detectors, and other pieces of technology emerged long before there were laws governing their use. Currently, we're just beginning to see the implications of private drone ownership, and lawmakers are working to establish proper restrictions. Laws are more likely to form as a reaction to technology instead of preceding it, but robots are steadily being integrated into all aspects of our lives. Will the laws that are sure to come actually be too late?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Stories from Shore Leave Con! (part 5)

There were a lot of unexpected events during a mission where the team was supposed to follow a smuggled shipment of Chiraktis eggs. The eggs, among other foods, were loaded onto a food delivery truck and the characters decided to follow. When the truck broke down (clearly it had been sabotaged), the characters convinced the food delivery crew to allow them to wear their uniforms, and posed as the workers when another truck showed up to continue the delivery. Several of the team hid in the back, while two were in the cab with one of the new drivers—who turned out to be a smuggler. Our alluring, devious Reln (mentioned in these week's posts) held him at gunpoint so he would tell them where the contraband was to be delivered, but he managed to send out a message on his MPC (smartphone.) Two heavily-armored skimcars showed up on either side of the driving truck, with mounted rotary cannons on the front of their vehicles. 

The Reln proved her aptitude with grenades once again by tossing one out the window, right into the cab of a skimcar, blowing it up from the inside and taking out the driver. The second skimcar quickly pulled directly behind the truck it pursued, hoping to use the truck as a shield against the Reln in the front, but suddenly, the back of the truck opened and the rest of the team opened fire. A brave Omul suddenly leapt from the truck, landing right on the skimcar's front windshield with a splat. Another Reln player did the same, and the driver of the skimcar shot through the window at them as they shot back. The Omul was hit and fell off, but the Reln climbed through the opening in the front window and got inside the cab with the driver to finish him off. It was one of the most cinematic battle sequences I've seen—Shore Leave players, thanks for an awesome weekend!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Stories from Shore Leave Con! (part 4)

I was a little surprised that the first group I ran a mission with was entirely lacking grenades, which often seems to be the first thing new players buy for their characters. But, it wasn't long into the day before other new players started to use them, especially after the success a particular female Reln had with them (she was mentioned on Monday, luring a look-out to his doom with her charms.) In one instance, her teammate opened the door to a room in an apartment and was nearly shot dead by the three criminals that were waiting in ambush, aiming at the doorway. He was critically wounded and barely crawled away but the Reln player decided to simply toss a grenade into the room from down the hallway. The grenade injured everyone, and they quickly repositioned to avoid another possible attack. But the devious Reln decided one wasn't enough, and she bounced another grenade into the room right into the very corner the criminals were huddling in. Even though they all dove for cover, the blast center was too close and they took close to full damage from the grenade. Although some of the intel they needed was destroyed, the Reln had effectively eliminated the threat with only 2 grenades--that's definitely one way to clear a room!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Stories from Shore Leave Con! (part 3)

Car chases in Solar Echoes can be full of surprises, and last weekend was no exception. At high speeds the team pursued in two separate vehicles and took on sharp turns, obstacles in the road, and swerved around traffic while shooting vehicle-mounted rotary cannons at their target. He did everything he could to lose them, even dropping magnetic caltrops that attached to the underside of their skimcar with a chance every round to completely deactivate their anti-grav system and send them crashing into the pavement. Just when it looked like the car chase would end with the team capturing their target, he acted in desperation and shot at an innocent civilian's car as he passed. The car spun wildly and the pilot of the team's leading car failed to avoid it, crashing right into it and flipping it up into the air as they spun out of control. Behind them, the trailing team members tried swerving to miss the lead car, but could not avoid the civilian's car that was spiraling through the air directly toward them. The crash was so catastrophic that almost everyone on the team was in the Dying/Unconscious state, and even though one of them managed to stabilize the others, they had to wait for another Union Guard operative to show up to help them before they could continue their mission.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Stories from Shore Leave Con! (part 2)

One of the teams that played this weekend was on a mission to stop malfunctioning, rampaging robots in a shopping mall. In Solar Echoes, if you reach the Dying/Unconscious stage on your bio-status track, you are in serious trouble—it means that unless treated medically, your character will die in a number of rounds equal to his stamina (usually 3 or 4.) When the team's Omul faced a malfunctioning maintenance robot, the robot sprayed him with oil. The slippery oil caused him to lose his footing and made it nearly impossible to stand up again. The robot then proceeded to light him on fire with a welding torch, and the character had only a few rounds left to live. Another team-member, an Erwani, rushed to his defense to try to revive him, but he was also sprayed with oil and was lit on fire by the robot. As both counted down their remaining life, the human on the team (who was a good distance away, dealing with another robot) decided to try sprinting the distance to reach them in time. His sprint would not be far enough, but he dove and landed in the oil, heroically sliding past the robot with only seconds to spare as his outstretched hand successfully injected his team-mate with medical nanites. Thankfully, the others arrived in time to destroy the confused robot before it could “repair” anyone else needing “maintenance.”

Monday, August 10, 2015

Stories from Shore Leave Con! (part 1)

This weekend at Shore Leave was awesome! There was a lot of interest in Solar Echoes, and never a shortage of players. I ran games from 10am until 1am on Saturday, and some of the same players as well as new players played Sunday morning and afternoon. It was a dynamic group of people, some who were veteran table-top RPG gamers and others who were trying it for the first time, ranging in age from as young as 13 up to the mid-twenties. This week I'll be sharing some of the highlights of the missions we experienced together, and I'll begin with a new player's clever manipulations: She was playing a Reln—an alien race known for their diplomatic/con-artist wordsmithing skills—and she had chosen the “good looking” feature for her character's physique. Her Reln saw that there was a lookout posted outside of an apartment the team needed to infiltrate, so she approached him flirtatiously. He was seduced by her feminine charm and lured away from his post to meet his untimely death under a nearby tree, the very tree where he had hoped to plant a kiss. It wouldn't be the last time her beauty and charm influenced the minds of those around her!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Shore Leave Convention this weekend!

This weekend Solar Echoes will be at Shore-Leave--I'll be running demo games for new players! They will take on the roles of Union Guard agents, going on missions as a team to stop smugglers, pirates, malfunctioning robots, and deadly aliens! I'll be back with battle reports next week, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Solar Echoes and Conventions (part 4)

Although it would be ideal to have miniatures available for Solar Echoes, it is expensive to mass-produce them, though that is a future plan. Most Corefun products are digital, which makes vendor sales at a convention a little tough. If we printed more of our digital products for physical sales, it would be difficult to maintain profitability—printing is expensive! However, I have been looking into making Solar Echoes posters with some of our new artwork, as well as full-color map icons to use for your characters (which will have to do until actual miniatures become a realistic investment.) T-shirts with your favorite alien is another idea, but again, this can get really expensive, especially considering there are 7 different races in the Solar Echoes universe. What types of Solar Echoes merchandise would you be interested in?

Solar Echoes and Conventions (part 3)

I would like to return to running a vendor table at some point because of the increasing number of products that may be available, and if Solar Echoes goes to Gen Con someday, I think it will be necessary. I learned one valuable lesson from my own daughter, who attended a convention with me and wandered around to spend her money in the vendor area. She later told me that she thought I needed to have a wider range in prices, with some smaller-priced items available in addition to the rule-books I was selling. In addition to this, I think capturing the attention of customers is very important at a huge con like Gen Con. I remember at one con last year a lady visited my table simply because she said my hat caught her attention (I was cosplaying as the human on the front cover of the Player's Guide.) Something like a costume or a big back-drop with posters is a good way to capture the eye of potential customers.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Solar Echoes and Conventions (part 2)

I've talked with a lot of other vendors at conventions, and have learned from them a great deal. The biggest difficulty I've had at conventions, though, is being in two places at once. I want to demo Solar Echoes so people can learn the game and have fun playing it, but convention rules are such that no sales can be conducted in the gaming areas. So, I've paid for a vending table and worked with a few helpful friends/recruits to run games in the game room while I handle sales. However, I have found that if I can be in the gaming room running games, I can answer questions and showcase the game better than someone less experienced with Solar Echoes. Thankfully, I've been able to make arrangements with Walt's Cards and Games to include Solar Echoes in their vendor area, so I can stay busy running game demos.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Solar Echoes and Conventions (part 1)

I received an email from a friend of mine, a science-fiction author, who is attended Gen Con this past weekend. She was telling me about the thrill of the convention, how huge it is, and how on her first day she sold far more books than she expected. Just hearing her excitement was contagious, and it made me dream a little about one day trying to take Solar Echoes to Gen Con. What would it take for a small, indie-publisher to capture the attention of gamers? I've taken Solar Echoes to three different cons this year, with great results, but each time I learn something new. You see, I'm not exactly a marketing expert—I'm much more a creator than a salesman. Still, considering the excited reception I've seen for Solar Echoes at these cons, I guess it's only natural to start looking at Gen Con!

Saturday, August 1, 2015