Friday, October 30, 2015

The Genesis of Aliens (part 5)

The seventh race in the Solar Echoes universe is, of course, human. We felt the same way you probably do about this—humans aren't all that exciting. Yet when asking ourselves which creature on earth is most likely to venture forth and explore the cosmos, it is undoubtedly the human. Already, we have landed on the moon, built a space station, and we may someday soon put a man on Mars. It is in our nature to explore and reach out to the stars. In Solar Echoes, the humans are the ancestors of pioneers that set out in a convoy of large colony ships seeking new planets for humans to settle. In designing the human race, we focused on their flexibility and adaptability, making them the race that can take on any role and perform that role well. While some races are not entirely suited for some roles (such as an Erwani trying to be a melee fighter—they can do it, but their strength will never reach that of an Archaeloid), humans can compete at anything because of a little more flexibility with their attribute scores. Due to the long journey through space of their ancestors, the humans of Solar Echoes are survivors, pioneers, and natural space pilots. The other races all agree—humans are a long list of contradictions, but they are not to be underestimated!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Genesis of Aliens (part 4)

Another factor that we considered when developing the Solar Echoes alien races is competitiveness and the ability to spread one's kind. I wanted a plant-like race in Solar Echoes, and though we make no attempt to explain how a plant can develop intelligence, the Erwani became our sentient race of plants. Plants are quite capable of spreading their kind across vast distances through spores, seed pods, and other means, so the idea of plants in space didn't seem too far-fetched. Plants thrive on CO2, so an alien race that could live in an environment toxic to other races was very appealing. Plus, there was a cool opportunity for an almost symbiotic relationship with Erwani and other, oxygen-breathing aliens on starships and space stations. Another race that was decided upon because of its competitive nature, resilience, and ability to spread is the reptilian Krissethi. The dinosaurs once dominated almost all ecosystems on Earth, and if not for the cataclysmic event that resulted in their extinction, these reptiles may still rule the Earth, and might have developed greater intelligence than the reptiles on Earth today. Maybe the reptiles managed to flourish somewhere else out there, on another planet? Reptiles reproduce in large numbers, they are resilient, and they often compete to the top of the food chain. It's not a stretch to imagine reptiles doing well somewhere else in the universe!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Genesis of Aliens (part 3)

Intelligence was another parameter we used to help us decide which creatures on earth might have a space-born counterpart. The Archaeloid was designed not only because I wanted a marine-based alien, but because of the octopus, one of the most intelligent animals in the ocean. An octopus can learn, process complex information, make use of tools to solve problems, exhibit emotions, and even possess a distinct personality. The Archaeloids aren't the smartest of the Solar Echoes races, but they managed to develop their own technology and culture, and are able to focus and compete at intellectual tasks as well as most of the other races. The Omul, which is basically a giant amoeba, is the most bizarre of our races, but it was an easy choice for me because I had already written a sci-fi story in high school about man-sized alien amoebas invading our planet and taking over. Amoebas are unusually intelligent, capable of gathering and processing information, in addition to having a sense of self-awareness. They are also great survivors, and are the third simplest organism on Earth. It seemed an obvious choice that this hardy, intelligent creature might have an inter-stellar cousin somewhere!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Genesis of Aliens (part 2)

Insects are some of the most resilient creatures on this planet. Spiders and roaches can be found in almost any climate, and have even been able to adapt to unusual environments such as the arctic regions. Insects manage to expand their population to just about any corner of the earth, so it made sense that insects would somehow manage to do the same in space. The structured “society” of ants really inspired the idea behind the Chiraktis—a race of mantis-like insects that, in some ways, resemble an insect centaur, like the man-horse combination in Greek mythology. We figured that if insects are going to advance, they need to be able to manipulate and design tools, so we gave them hands. Another Solar Echoes alien based on survivability and adaptation is the Reln, which is somewhat modeled after a bat. Bats are found in most corners of the world and are considered one of the most successful mammals on Earth. The mysterious, humanoid Reln live on the harshest planet of all the Solar Echoes races, and they have a tendency to live underground to avoid the radiation of their resonance-locked sun. This, their appearance, and their natural echolocation ability all reflect the bat-like inspiration in their design.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Halloween Sale at RPGNow!

The Genesis of Aliens (part 1)

One of the most exciting aspects of developing Solar Echoes was designing the alien races that players would be able to play as their characters. A lot of decisions weighed into the design of each alien race, but the key to each one was hinged upon the question, “What are some of the most resilient creatures on earth that could adapt to life in space?” We're not saying that the Solar Echoes aliens came from earth, but we looked at the universe and thought about what types of creatures would be able to flourish throughout the cosmos. Another question we tried to keep in mind was intelligence—what creatures on earth display something that might be considered as beyond animal intelligence? We also considered creatures based on other unique qualities, such as their ability to spread their kind. If life exists somewhere else in the universe, it might not look entirely “alien” to us, after all. This week, we'll take a closer look at the inspiration for each of the Solar Echoes aliens.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 5)

Despite all the excitement that the mystery at KIC 8462852 has spawned, we need only look at our tendency over the years to let our imaginations run wild. How many images of Mars have excited people hoping to find aliens? The Mars rat/iguana, rocks that look like a monk or cloaked figure, and even the alien “toltec” face in the rock formations. We're almost as good at imagining images in Mars rocks as we are at seeing them in our own planet's clouds. Considering that the presence of water on Mars and Europa makes it slightly more possible that some kind of organism might exist beyond earth, we still have found no evidence beyond the water itself and our own biased assumptions that water is necessary for life. As long as scientists and astronomers keep their findings based on actual data and not on their imagination, the cause for excitement is genuine. Just what is it out there, on KIC 8462852, that is randomly blocking the light of that sun?

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 4)

Yet, if there are gigantic alien starships or space stations, the same factors that have caused astronomers to rule out natural causes also apply to the alien megastructure theory. If something is absorbing 20 percent of a star's light, that energy should be re-radiated as infrared wavelengths, plus, the structure is going to get really, really hot. So far, no extra infrared wavelengths have been detected. If the object was a giant Death-Star space-station, it should also have a consistent orbit causing the periodic dips in light as it passed in front of the star. At least my theory about a massive fleet of alien starships passes that test, right? Ultimately, the only way we can get closer to the answer is by repeated observations over a longer span of time, possibly using other telescopes to generate a cross-reference for collected data. Radio telescopes at SETI will also be used to listen for alien broadcasts that might be made from the star system. It's exciting that we may finally have somewhere specific to start looking, and listening, for extra-terrestrial life!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 3)

One proposed theory to explain the erratic and significant dimming of KIC 8462852 is that a comet broke up around the star. The frozen remains would expand into giant clouds that could, for a short time, block out the light. However, this would cause dust to scatter near the star and produce excessive infra-red radiation, something easily detected from earth. However, no such radiation has been detected. One astronomer, Jason Wright, has proposed the theory that, though aliens should be the last hypothesis to consider, “this looked like something an alien civilization would build.” The term “alien megastructure” has seen lots of Google searches since the announcement, and theories range wide and far. Personally, I think the idea of an alien space station seems a bit far-fetched, considering that even the Death Star in Star Wars was no where as big as this object would have to be. Perhaps it's a fleet of alien starships, engaging in a gigantic inter-stellar battle?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 2)

The dimming of KIC 8462852 is significant for two reasons. First, other stars have seen drops in light emittance by 1 or 2 percent at most. However, KIC 8462852 has dimmed by up to 20 percent. Secondly, unlike a planet obscuring light from a star at regular intervals because of its orbit, the dimmings occurred randomly during the 1600 days Kepler monitored the star. Near the 800th day of monitoring, the star's light dropped by 15 percent, but near the 1500th day, there was an odd disturbance that caused a drop of 20 percent of the emitted light. A drop that significant would mean the object passing in front of the star would have to be almost half the star's diameter! Considering that KIC 8462852 is 1.5 times larger than our own sun, and that the largest planet in our solar system (Jupiter) is only 1/10th the size of our sun, can you imagine how huge the planet would have to be? Astronomers are concluding that the object could not be a planet.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Alien Rumors (part 1)

Last week, NASA's Kepler telescope was focused on KIC 8462852, a star about 1500 light years away from Earth. What interested astronomers was the strange pattern of dimming that they noticed when looking at the star. Natural causes have apparently been ruled out (see link below if you want the technical details—and I DO mean technical!), so astronomers are beginning to consider another possibility. Could the dimming patterns be the result of an alien presence? A little history first: the Kepler space telescope was directed for use, starting in 2009, in a project to find planets by looking for a small dip in light caused by a planet passing in front of a star. So far, the project has been extremely successful, with 150,000 stars being monitored and thousands of new planets being added to the roster. However, none of the monitored stars have exhibited the dramatic amount of dimming that KIC 8462852 has evidenced...

Natural causes ruled out:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 5)

Developers need to consider all types of players, and when on a budget, it's understandably difficult to accommodate each type. Personally, I think it is a poor decision to exclude single-player offerings from any video game. From a business perspective, it seems questionable as to whether excluding single-players will justify avoiding the financial investment in developing a single-player campaign. In other words, if only 30% of the players that buy the game are completing the single-player campaign, would sales to that 30% compensate for the investment in the development of the single-player portion of the game? My concern is that, if developers continue on this path, the current drive towards multiplayer-only content may alienate those of us who aren't interested in the online social aspect of video games. However, maybe the developers are right—perhaps I'm part of a continually dwindling minority of gamers that prefers the solo experience. What do you think?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 4)

My interest in Destiny faded partly because of the game, but partly because I really didn't feel like talking while playing the game. Destiny, however, is a different design from the typical multiplayer game—it is designed, in a way, much like Solar Echoes—it almost requires the presence of others on a team in order for game goals to be achievable. Considering that I played Destiny often with others online for about 8 months, the developers definitely did something right with their game design to get me to be a social player online. But Destiny had a single-player campaign as well, and I certainly spent a lot of time enjoying it alone. I think it is unfortunate, though, that some developers (like EA) are trying to force multiplayer by removing single-player entirely. It's important to incentivize players of all types. The developers of Destiny (Bungie) were wise in their approach—they offered up a great single-player experience that got me hooked enough that I was willing to stay around for the multiplayer offering. If the game had been multiplayer-only, I seriously doubt I would have given it much of a chance.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 3)

I'll be the first to admit—I'm not a social online video-gamer. Obviously with Solar Echoes, I quite enjoy social gaming when it comes to tabletop RPG's, but when I sit down on my couch at night after a hard day at work, I really don't want to interact with anyone. However, I quite enjoy playing multiiplayer video games when I have friends or family to sit on the couch with for a game. Lately, though, it has been nearly impossible to find what are called “local” multiplayer games—everything is shifting towards online play. I understand this to a degree—I played “Destiny” last fall and spring quite a bit, and made a few online “friends” through the experience. However, the approach to Destiny was a bit different than most multiplayer games out there, as it was designed to require cooperation after a certain stage in the game, while most multiplayer games are designed to support a number of players competing for similar goals.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 2)

From what I've been hearing, there is not a single-player campaign in the upcoming Star Wars Batthefront game. In the past, it has been a tradition for online, multiplayer-shooters to include single-player campaigns, and some developers have even linked the single-player portion with the online portion by awarding players with special items that can only be earned in the campaign. Yet, despite these incentives, data has shown that players rarely finish the campaigns and spend most of their time in online mode (they must not be paying any attention to my gaming habits!) Sony and Microsoft both have a rewards system with game trophies or achievements that reflect certain in-game accomplishments. These awards are intended not only for player bragging rights, but to serve as tracking mechanisms by which game companies can see just how much people are playing their game, and what they are achieving in it. Data for single-player campaign completion is miserably low, so it's hard to blame publishers like EA for deciding to leave the campaign out. Instead, they spend all their development time and money on multiplayer.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Single Multiplayer Video Games (part 1)

With the upcoming release of EA's Star Wars Battlefront in November, there has been a lot of excitement about the game. This last week, EA hosted a free beta for video gamers to try the new game, and though I didn't get involved, I've been reading a number of reactions. Some of what I've read has brought up some interesting questions about the future of multiplayer video games and how we're playing them. Games are increasingly becoming more social experiences, and even Sony's PS4 has a “share” button to broadcast gameplay (or even hand off the gameplay to an online friend!) A number of factors are pointing big game developers like EA in a particular direction, and though their decisions seem to be unpopular with a lot of people, the data doesn't lie...

Friday, October 9, 2015

Krissethi vs. Archaeloid Combat (part 5)

The next round begins with the movement phase, and to stand up again, the Krissethi must spend his entire movement to get back on his feet. Realizing the Archaeloid can get to him, the Krissethi uses 1 Stamina point to Sprint, which allows a character to double-move. He uses his second move afforded by the Sprint to run his full movement of 5 squares, running away to stand behind a crate, hoping to gain cover against future gunfire. Meanwhile, the Archaeloid has run to where the Krissethi dropped prone, and sees the Krissethi sprinting away. The Archaeloid also decides to spend 1 Stamina point to Sprint, and he runs his full movement of 4 squares—just enough to put him right next to the Krissethi trying to hide behind the crate. Archaeloid's are brutal foes, especially in melee fights, so it is looking like things are about to go very badly for the Krissethi. But the Krissethi has a few surprises and tricks up his sleeve, so it's really hard to say how this is going to go. The entire battle has already been recorded on a warehouse security camera, so find out who wins the fight in this video:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Krissethi vs. Archaeloid Combat (part 4)

To pick up where we left off yesterday, we're still waiting to find out who succeeded and who failed in the gunfire exchange. The Krissethi dove for cover and is prone on the floor—that dive through the air gave him a +1 against Ranged Dodge, which was just enough to avoid the Archaeloid's attack with the Urban Warrior—the bullet whizzed past the Krissethi and punctured a metal crate behind him. However, because the Krissethi had spent his movement phase aiming, his +1 to attack essentially negated the +1 to Ranged Dodge the Archaeloid gained from the Sidestep talent, and the thorn bullet successfully hit the Archaeloid. Erwani Thorn pistols do 3 points of damage, and the Archaeloid has natural armor of 2, which is basically damage resistance. Only 1 point of damage goes through, so the Archaeloid is just Lightly Wounded. However, 1 point of damage was all the Krissethi needed for his bullet to deliver the Jitters poison into the Archaeloid's nervous system. In 1 more round, the poison will take effect and the Archaeloid will suffer -1 to all of his skills for the next 2 hours!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Krissethi vs. Archaeloid Combat (part 3)

The Krissethi decides to spend his Movement phase aiming at the Archaeloid to give him a +1 bonus to hit the heavily-armored alien. The Archaeloid walks forward, not seeing the Krissethi at first, but when he finishes his movement, the Krissethi is in his line of sight to the right. During the Action phase, both attack simultaneously—there is no turn order in Solar Echoes because all attacks resolve together. The Krissethi fires his Erwani thorn pistol, a weapon preferred by assassins because of its ability to deliver toxins to the target. At the same time, the Archaeloid fires his Urban Warrior pistol at the Krissethi, who is now in full view. The Krissethi uses his Reaction, which may interrupt any move or action but may only be used once per round. The Krissethi's reaction is to Dive for Cover, which gives him a +1 bonus to his Ranged Dodge as he dives for an adjacent square, the only downside being that he ends up prone in that square. The Archaeloid also uses his Reaction, but he has a slightly better version of Dive for Cover—a talent he selected called Sidestep. The Archaeloid also moves one square and gains a +1 bonus to Ranged Dodge, but he stays on his feet instead of ending up prone. Find out tomorrow who gets hit by an attack and who manages to dodge!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Krissethi vs. Archaeloid Combat (part 2)

We find our two combatants facing off in a warehouse, with only a few scattered shipping crates to use for cover. The Archaeloid is on the side of the law, and he prefers a straight-forward fight, but the Krissethi smuggler knows better than to take the powerful Archaeloid on directly and has positioned himself behind some cover. As the Archaeloid angrily prowls the warehouse searching for the Krissethi, he must make an Awareness check vs. the Krissethi's Stealth in order to see the skulking reptile. As the Archaeloid nears, the Krissethi is positioned behind a crate well enough that he has 3 points of cover (meaning that out of any line drawn from the corners of the Archaeloid's square, only 1 out of the 4 can be drawn directly to the Krissethi without passing through the crate.) In Solar Echoes, you can't stealth in plain sight--the Krissethi could not have made a Stealth check if he didn't have at least 3 points of cover, though he could also stealth if he was in darkness, smoke, or otherwise be completely out of the Archaeloid's line of sight.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Krissethi vs. Archaeloid Combat (part 1)

Just what is going on under the hood in the Solar Echoes combat system? The game moves fast, but there are a few quick calculations conducted to measure skill and chance. Each alien race has its own set of attributes, which determine the number of dice you can roll when attempting a skill check. You may only consider the roll of the highest die, but the more dice you roll, the better your chances of rolling high. After the roll, you may then add in any skill ranks you have invested in the relevant skill, the limit of skill ranks being the current level of your character. It sounds like a lot, and when written out it looks a little busy, but the simplicity and speed of this system keeps the Solar Echoes combat engine running fast. This week, we'll take a glance at some combat between two characters as we lead up to a short video showing their combat. Who will win? Place your bets now!


Friday, October 2, 2015

AI in Video Games (part 5)

How will AI influence and change video games we play in the future? PC and console hardware is getting more and more robust all the time, so game developers are now facing new territory—games so vast that they might not be able to fully playtest it before release. In the recent past, many big-name game releases have been plagued with bugs at the beginning, and developers scrambled post-release to patch the problems that the gamers discovered—bugs that the developers themselves couldn't possibly have discovered in the limited time they had to produce the game. Once a game releases, hundreds of thousands of gamers will be playing it, and if there's a bug to be found, it won't take long. Consider the cost of hiring even a small portion of that number of gamers to playtest a game—we'd rarely see any games hit the market. The cost of an AI program, however, is much more reasonable, and an AI can fully explore and test a game, reporting back with data on all encountered errors. We may be seeing bigger and better games released to the public much faster than we've seen before, and these AI tested games are likely to have fewer bugs. Imagine starting up a new game and being able to play it right away, instead of waiting for an hour while a huge update patch slowly downloads. Hard to imagine these days, but it's the wave of the future!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

AI in Video Games (part 4)

Developers at Hello Games are also using AI to test their game, No Man's Sky, a procedurally generated universe so huge that thousands of players wouldn't be able to playtest everything. Even the developers themselves have admitted that the game's universe is so expansive that they haven't even seen everything. Normally, no publisher would release a game with content that developers have not personally inspected and tested, so how can a game this large be released to the public? The nearly infinite algorithm used to create the game's universe produced tens of millions of planets with unique lifeforms inhabiting the planets, dynamically breeding as time progresses. The developing team could not possibly playtest the game and see everything the algorithm had created, so they designed virtual, automated AI drones that journeyed throughout the game universe, taking screenshots and sending them back to the team for viewing. With procedural generation, huge amounts of game content can be created without the need for hundreds of dedicated developers, and with AI playtesters, games can be tweaked and bugs fixed without the need for thousands of hours of playtesting.