Friday, January 29, 2016

A Few Questions... (part 5)

What role would you prefer in a starship?

1. Commander—I should be in charge!
2. Com Officer—I'm great with computers!
3. Engineer—I can diagnose and fix things up!
4. Medical Officer—I can diagnose and fix YOU up!
5. Pilot—I can keep us in the air...uh...vacuum of space!
6. Science Officer—I'm your eyes and ears!
7. Tactical Officer—Give me something to blow up!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Few Questions... (part 4)

What type of alien would be the scariest opponent you can imagine?

  1. Something that could mimic the form of anything it touches, including you?
  2. Something ethereal, like an alien ghost, that can reach through walls and floors to grab you?
  3. Something gargantuan, that seems impervious to all weapon-fire?
  4. Something fast and tiny that darts around while it attacks and hides as quickly as it strikes.
  5. Something that could transform you into one of its kind, or into something even worse.
  6. Something that is vastly more intelligent than you, and always seems to be a step ahead
  7. Something with technology far superior to yours
  8. Or, something else...?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Few Questions... (part 3)

How do you prefer your character solves problems when you're role-playing?

  1. With brute force and violence
  2. With clever words and diplomacy
  3. With your charm and good looks
  4. With stealth and deception
  5. With careful planning and timing
  6. Or something else...?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Few Questions... (part 2)

If you were on a mission in deep space, what do you think would terrify you the most?

  1. Running out of food, supplies, or oxygen?
  2. Running out of fuel and drifting to wherever your starship might end up?
  3. Encountering an unfamiliar starship that probably belongs to an unknown alien race?
  4. Traveling too near a black hole, flare star, or some other dangerous anomaly?
  5. Crash landing on an uncharted, alien world?
  6. Being trapped on your starship with something horrible, like a deadly microbe, an ex-girlfriend or an angry coworker?
  7. Or is there something else that would frighten you the most...?

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Few Questions... (part 1)

This week I'll be posting some questions for you to consider, and though you don't need to answer here, it's always fun if we can have some feedback. So, here's the first question:

If you were stranded on an isolated world with only 1 other crew member, what Solar Echeos race would you prefer that other crew member to be, and why?
  1. The mollusk-like Archaeloids aren't particularly bright, but are loyal protectors and strong warriors that wear their hearts on their sleeves emotionally.
  2. The insectoid Chiraktis are also very strong warriors or workers—the workers are very intelligent but not so strong, and vice versa for the warriors—though Chiraktis tend not to be the most compassionate types.
  3. Erwani are plant-like and thus don't require food, only sunlight and soil, and they are very intelligent, though very weak and are poor fighters unless they have technology to rely on.
  4. The reptilian Krissethi are expert hunters, very stealthy, but they are quite competitive and of only average intelligence.
  5. The mysterious, humanoid Reln are highly intelligent and they excel in social situations, though they are only of average strength.
  6. Omuls are intelligent, amorphous creatures that can ooze and climb just about anywhere and are strong and stealthy fighters, but they are absolutely the worst in social situations.
  7. And of course, there are Humans, which are about average in everything but can excel in one or two areas almost as much as another race.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Artificial Gravity? (part 5)

The concept of artificial gravity has existed in science-fiction movies and shows as an affordable convenience to movie-studios hoping to avoid expensive zero-g special effects, and has been used as an explanation for gravity-environments in sci-fi long before those special effects options even existed (think of the original Star Trek or Star Wars.) We don't give it much thought, because we often assume that somehow, in the future, anti-gravity technology will exist. Even in Solar Echoes, all of our starships have an antigravity system, which exists in the game not to avoid realism, but to provide an added layer of challenge—these systems can be targeted by enemy ships, and a zero-g environment can be quite a disadvantage to a crew trying to fight off pirates boarding their starship. Artificial gravity is even a component of some weapons in Solar Echoes, with the potential to produce an anti-grav field to stick an opponent to the ceiling or fix him in place. Right now, the many uses of anti-gravity are fun to imagine, but we may soon see this sci-fi concept becoming part of our reality!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Artificial Gravity? (part 4)

A proposal has been made by André Füzfa, a mathematics professor from the University of Namur, Belgium. He believes a device could be built using current electromagnetic technology with high-end superconducting electromagnets to generate its own gravitational field. His proofs for this device are detailed in his paper, “How Current Loops and Solenoids Curve Space-time.” The technology does exist to make Füzfa's anti-gravity device a reality, but the high-end superconducting electromagnets are similar to those used in CERN's Large Hadron Collider. In other words, such a device would be extremely expensive. However, consider the revolutionary implications of gravity manipulation—no longer would there be a need for the huge, dangerous rockets used to launch and propel spacecraft into space. Artificial gravity generators would remove the need for the giant, centrifugal-based gravity systems used in the fictional spacecraft in The Martian and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Artificial gravity technology could even potentially be used to make faster-than-light travel a reality!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Artificial Gravity? (part 3)

So what about the design of the spacecraft (the Hermes) in “The Martian” movie? This seems a viable approach to generating artificial gravity in space, and already a giant centrifuge was built to NASA specifications in El Segundo, California at Wyle Laboratories to study this possibility. The centrifuge was delivered to UTMB in 2004, and many tests have since been performed with the giant device. It has two arms with a radius of 10 feet each, with one subject on each arm, and the stresses upon astronauts are being studied by scientists and physicians from all over the world. Movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the recent Martian movie have implied that the issue of gravity in space has been solved by the giant rotating spacecraft design, but not only are such large designs extremely expensive to construct, they also come with many engineering concerns. The adverse effects of living in a rotating spacecraft include motion sickness and other negative effects caused by head motions rotating 180 degrees a second. This perpetual rotation would interfere with cognitive and motor functions, in addition to having an effect upon the bones, muscles, and vestibular system (sense of balance and spatial orientation). Isn't there a better way to produce artificial gravity in space?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Artificial Gravity? (part 2)

Why is weightlessness a problem? We've had astronauts in space before, and zero-gravity environments have been discovered to impose a number of physical problems, affecting cardiovascular functions, bone density, neurological activity, and other physiological systems. There are other debilitating effects as well, including muscular atrophy and balance disorders. Astronauts that have lived in space for weeks have suffered calcium deficiencies, which results in weakened bones that are easily broken if the astronaut bumps into something or falls. A fall is more likely on earth, too, because of the lower muscle mass experienced from life in space. Living in a zero-g environment can also initially cause nausea and disorientation, and can adversely affect astronaut performance and jeopardize mission goals. A famous incident occurred during the Apollo 9 mission in 1969. Rusty Schweickart was unable to perform a planned spacewalk because of his nausea. If he had vomited while in his spacesuit, imagine the problems of the fluid spreading through his helmet, obscuring vision and possibly interfering with the breathing apparatus.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Artificial Gravity? (part 1)

This last weekend, I watched “The Martian,” and the realism of the movie reflects a lot of the challenges we'll face when someday going to Mars. One of the issues that didn't need to be addressed in the movie was the long journey to Mars, and the effect a zero-gravity environment would have on the astronauts. This was shown to be a non-issue because the spacecraft the astronauts traveled in had a rotated centrifugal design, generating gravity inside the capsules on the perimeter ring. Astronauts were also seen running on treadmills inside these capsules, so we are to assume that the long journey did not affect the pioneers adversely. However, weightlessness in space is a very real problem that NASA is currently addressing through research in artificial gravity, a study that has been previously on and off for decades. The three-year long journey to Mars has made gravity-related issues very crucial, and NASA is now devoted to finding a solution. Answers need to be found soon, if we are really going to go to Mars.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Our Future in 2045 (part 5)

It wouldn't be DARPA without some military application, and DARPA's vision of the future for the military is too broad to cover here. However, one particular innovation really caught my attention: they want to “digitize the squad” by equipping soldiers with remote sensors to control unmanned drones and robots on the battlefield, “organically” sharing and collecting information. This would involve “integrated access to and control of mobile sensors, including full-motion streaming video, a 3-dimensional common operating picture, and the ability to organically locate and identify friendly forces and threat location in near real time.” In summary, DARPA is trying to turn actual, live combat situations into a video game that saves actual lives. Keep the people off the battlefield, and send in the robots!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Our Future in 2045 (part 4)

DARPA is also working on robotic designs that can take the place of humans in dangerous environments while performing complex tasks. Firemen may no longer need to risk themselves in burning buildings, Hazmat suits might not be necessary because robots will clean up chemical spills, and workers can send specialized robots into the radiated areas of nuclear power plants to prevent major catastrophes. These are just a few applications, but robots may extend our lives by doing the jobs that are hazardous to our health. The DARPA Robotics Challenge was issued in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, and participating robotics teams from all over the world had the difficult task of completing a complex course with their robots. The course included eight tasks relevant to disaster response, including driving unassisted, walking through rubble, tripping circuit breakers, climbing stairs and turning valves. Both Korea and the U.S. took home over $3.5 million in prizes.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Our Future in 2045 (part 3)

Pam Melroy, the deputy director of DARPA's Tactical Technologies Office, is an aerospace engineer and former astronaut. She believes that there will be a time in the near future where just a few simple words or the push of a single button will activate machines far more efficiently than using a keyboard or an archaic voice-recognition system. For example, landing an aircraft currently requires an involved series of steps that must be performed in proper sequence with perfect timing, but in the future, landing an aircraft (or even docking a spacecraft) may be as simple as saying, “Prepare for landing.” The computer will not only understand those words, but will perform all the necessary, complex steps to complete the command. Of course, considering that we are looking at self-driving cars in the future, it is quite possible that we won't need pilots in the future!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Our Future in 2045 (part 2)

One of DARPA's program managers—a neuroscientist who works in DARPA's Biological Technologies Office—believes we will someday be able to control things with our minds. Dr. Justin Sanchez is not talking about psychic powers or telekinesis, he's referring to brain implants that convert brain signals, allowing you to control your environment with your thoughts. You could control different aspects of your home with just a thought, or communicate with friends and family through your brain. We already have examples of this with current technology, with brain implants enabling control of a prosthetic arm or allowing people with memory loss to regain their memories. Imagine walking through your home with lights turning on and off at your whim, temperature adjusting appropriately if you're uncomfortable, and TV's displaying your favorite channel or website at a mere thought.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Our Future in 2045 (part 1)

According to scientists at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), our future is going to look very different. If anyone has a good idea of what our future will look like, DARPA is an excellent choice for a fortune-teller. These are the same people that innovated and developed GPS (global-positioning systems), advanced robotics, and even the internet itself. It's already rather certain that artificial technology and robots are going to change a number of industries. It's also obvious that drone aircraft will continue to move into the civilian market, and we are likely to see self-driving cars as part of our future as well. Yet DARPA scientists see even bigger changes ahead for us in the next 30 years...

Friday, January 8, 2016

What are your talents? (part 5)

Vehicle talents in Solar Echoes are a bit unusual in that many of them are actually free! This means that you automatically get certain vehicle talents when you have invested the required amount of skill ranks in the pilot: terrestrial or pilot: air/space skills. We found that these talents add a lot of exciting options to car chases and starship battles for players, and that it made sense that when facing high level opponents with lots of skill piloting, they should be able to do more advanced maneuvers. The free maneuvers for terrestrial pilots include: 180 (degree turn), Drift, Sideswipe, and Swerve. The free pilot air/space talent maneuvers include: Fast Break, Immelman Turn, Barrel Roll Loop, Jinking, and Scissors Defense. However, if you really want to be an expert driver or pilot, you'll need to invest in some of the more advanced talents, such as Combat Pilot, Elusive Pilot, Maverick Pilot, or Hyperdrive Blink. These talents are more powerful and don't come free!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What are your talents? (part 4)

Where would a team be without some engineering knowledge? Considering that the Solar Echoes universe is full of vehicles, robots, and all sorts of other contraptions, engineering is often vital for success on a mission. Engineering talents allow for a character to make quick repairs to armor or vehicles, scrounge up necessary parts, jury-rig vehicle systems to work temporarily, understand material properties and gain armor piercing against objects, and even boost the performance of weapons or starship systems. There are explosives talents, where a character can learn to build a variety of explosives, chain them together, conceal and disguise them, identify and disarm them, and even have the ability to create explosives out of common items. Another logic-related talent involves robotics, where a character can identify weaknesses, hack into robots, confuse or deactivate them, and even create your his robot servants, avatars, or even a horde of robotic minions!

What are your talents? (part 3)

Other non-combat talents include the Discern-Motive and Disguise categories. Read-Between-the-Lines gives a bonus when making discern-motive checks to ascertain the truth during a dialogue encounter. Politician allows a player to re-roll a poor discern-motive check. Experienced Negotiator helps the user to avoid being surprised from an attack during a tense negotiation. Combat Opportunist, Study the Battlefield, and Warrior Sight enable the user to gain bonus dice for attacks, gain an extra Reaction per round, or gain a bonus to the Dodge roll in combat, all through the use of a sharply-honed Discern Motive skill. Disguise talents enable the user to give evasive answers, effectively mimic and impersonate a specific person, hide items or objects from view, and even play dead convincingly. Disguise is frequently useful during missions, allowing a character to hide one's true identity or intent. The longer a team can avoid combat and achieve mission objectives, the better chance there is for survival and mission success!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What are your talents? (part 2)

There are quite a number of talent categories to choose from. Solar Echoes of course involves combat, so there are a number of combat talents available, but being a Union Guard agent is not all about combat. There are talents tied to the Awareness skill which allow for a sharper eye, the ability to anticipate and avoid being surprised, the option to accurately target specific limbs when attacking, and even the ability to locate traps and see exploitable opportunities in patrol patterns. Biotech talents relate to protection and healing, availing options to shield the wounded and drag them to safety, or even the option to surgically install cyberware. Some biotech talents also relate to combat, with one allowing for the anatomical understanding of a particular race to yield better combat options when fighting that race, while another biotech talent enables the user to more effectively poison his weapons.

Monday, January 4, 2016

What are your talents? (part 1)

In Solar Echoes, there are special abilities that define your character and give him unique options, and these abilities are called talents. When you first build your character, you may select three talents. Every time your character gains a level, you may select one additional talent, and every four levels, your character also automatically gains a racially-specific talent. There are over 270 talents available to choose from in Solar Echoes, but most talents have prerequisites. Sometimes you need a certain number of ranks in a skill, other times you need to have previously selected a particular talent, and in some instances, you need a combination of skills and talent selections to qualify. The system is designed so you have to plan your character and really formulate, with each level, a vision for the type of character you want to play. The vast number of options and combinations that are possible guarantee that your character is going to be one-of-a-kind. But what types of talents are there?

Friday, January 1, 2016

Resourceful? (part 5)

This skill isn't magic—it doesn't solve all problems or enable players to do unreasonable things. Ultimately, it is up to the MC to decide if the player's suggested use of the skill will allow him to achieve what he intends. No amount of success in resourcefulness rolls will allow a player to figure out how to hack a military installation by fiddling with the wires of a guard's coffee maker, but perhaps those security cameras are on the same feed as the prison TV's? If a player has a great idea but doesn't have the resourcefulness skill to attempt a check, someone else on the team that does have it might bring that idea to fruition with a successful skill check. Basically, resourcefulness is putting the player's ideas into a skill check. There should be a chance for success and failure with most ideas in the game. Otherwise, the players will create the game-world as they go and argue with the MC about the way things “should be” if he disagrees. If you're an imaginative and creative player, I'd recommend dropping at least 1 point in resourcefulness for your character!