Friday, April 29, 2016

What style of game is Solar Echoes? (part 5)

Many existing game systems, including those that are firmly based on the sci-fi genre, have magic in some form or another. Magic breaks the laws of the natural world and allows players to perform incredible feats, often giving them an advantage over their adversaries. Science fiction differs from fantasy; sci-fi is something that might be possible, based on current knowledge while fantasy is something that is entirely imagined. The rules system for Solar Echoes is based on reality, but we discovered, in the process of designing our universe, that a sort of “magic” did emerge in our game: Void-technology. Highly advanced technology from a lost race became our magic, with items and weapons that violated the laws of physics, or at least seemed to. These artifacts were developed by a race that had pursued dimensional science, something that we in the present day have studied: quantum fields, string theory, temporal and spatial dimensions are all forms of dimensional science. While discovering Void-tech in our game is rare, encountering a foe equipped with an artifact from the Voidsea or somehow obtaining one for your own character is a mind-shattering experience. No, there is no magic in Solar Echoes, but Void-tech will bend reality in ways that will blow your mind.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What style of game is Solar Echoes? (part 4)

We made the decision to keep the game grounded in "what might exist" for several reasons. First, we found it was easier to get new players familiar with our game universe when we avoided changing everything they understood about the world around them. Even with a straightforward rules set such as ours, it still takes some time to learn a new game system; turning the laws of physics on their head or introducing overwhelming amounts of magic or similar powers would only make this situation worse. Secondly, by keeping the game grounded in a potential future version of reality, players become more attached to the characters and locations in the world--the realism requires less suspension of disbelief and draws the players closer to the game world and those who exist within it. Finally, staying close to reality allows us to write missions related to or even inspired by present-day scenarios. “The Heist Stratagem” is an example—the bank of the future isn't too dissimilar from modern-day banks, which allows players to feel more capable of figuring out their options while utilizing the tools and advantages of their environment.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

What style of game is Solar Echoes? (part 3)

When we created the Solar Echoes game universe, we aimed to base it upon actual astronomy and related sciences: the size of the game universe, the distribution of stars within it, and the details of each world and the lifeforms that could live upon them are all rooted in a mix of observational data about our galaxy and theoretical science that fills in the gaps of what might exist. While our races are fictional, they are each theoretically possible given the nature of their homeworld. Similarly, the technology in the game could exist, and focuses upon classic staples of science fiction, such as directed energy weapons, faster than light travel, energy shields, advanced robotics, and so on. We're always keeping a close watch on current technological trends in the real world, and when we see something that would add to the Solar Echoes universe, we either add our interpretation in through a new mission, or we keep the design ready for release through other future products. The Solar Echoes universe is constantly growing and developing, just as the real world is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What style of game is Solar Echoes? (part 2)

Science fiction universes each tend to have their own general rules on robots: how capable they are, how common, and so on. Some fictional universes are full of robots, while others almost lack them entirely. We chose to have robots commonplace in Solar Echoes, and while they are capable of performing a variety of tasks, they are still rather limited and clearly artificial in nature in nearly all cases. Common robots allow for MC's to quickly create a variety of interesting opponents that can provide stiff combat resistance or perform mundane tasks. Additionally, robots make excellent disposable opponents and provide great fodder for trigger-happy players. The limitations placed on robots--their single-minded nature and limited adaptability--ensures that they are not a replacement for the player characters. Plus, players always seem to light up when I bring lego or transformer robots out onto the table. If you're excited to battle a variety of robots, “The Seeds of Chaos” mission is full of them.

Monday, April 25, 2016

What style of game is Solar Echoes? (part 1)

As we developed the Solar Echoes universe, we often asked ourselves questions like, “What does everyone do for entertainment? How are robotics utilized commercially? What kinds of problems exist and how do people feel about them?” These questions often produced answers that, while they made perfect sense, sometimes had an unexpected comical result. I remembered a used-car dealership where I grew up that had a hilarious name (the “Jalopy Jungle”), so I wondered what a used-starship dealership would be like and how they would try to sell old, broken-down ships. In another instance, I got an idea while I was in the hunting section of a sporting goods store and I read about bag-limit restrictions and hunting rules for minors, so I spun that into an ad about hunting alien lifeforms at a wildlife preserve on a Reln planet. A lot of humor in our game can be found in racial interactions and cultural misunderstandings, though we also had fun with sci-fi cliches in our material. “Flavor text” was used throughout our books to enhance descriptions, offer creative ideas, and help develop and flesh-out the Solar Echoes universe.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Invasive Tech: Neuromarketing (part 5)

From my perspective, I have no training in marketing or psychology, but I have somewhat thrown myself into the arena of sales because of Solar Echoes. I'm a creator, and I want to spend as much time creating as possible, but at the end of the day, I have to figure out ways to let people know about my product and hope that they buy it. Otherwise, how can any creator justify the continued investment of time and money on a product? Last week, I talked about the growing Solar Echoes community, and that is major fuel for Solar Echoes and its creators. But the more people that know about it, the better, so it would be awesome if you could actively help spread the word. I promise, I won't be scanning your brains to figure out how to manipulate you into buying products—I'll just try to keep creating more of the things you all tell me that you like and want. Solar Echoes! Get it! ;)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Invasive Tech: Neuromarketing (part 4)

From one perspective, we could say that companies are now better at figuring out what we really want. From another perspective, we can wonder if we really actually wanted their product, or if we were somehow influenced to believe we wanted it by neuromarketing. The Center for Digital Democracy has criticized neuromarketing's potentially invasive technology, and the executive director, Jeff Chester, has claimed that neuromarketing is “having an effect on individuals that individuals are not informed about.” He goes on to say that adult advertising has not seen much regulation because adults have defense mechanisms (unlike children) to discern what is true and false. He feels neuromarketing should be regulated “if the advertising is now purposely designed to bypass those rational defenses . . . protecting advertising speech in the marketplace has to be questioned.” Yet some advocates support neuromarketing with the argument that society benefits ultimately. “Neuropricing,” for example, uses data from brain scans to help companies identify the highest prices consumers will pay. These brain-scanned prices enable an increase in profit, allowing a business to survive during economic recession.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Invasive Tech: Neuromarketing (part 3)

It may not seem at first that our freedoms are being violated by neuromarketing, because marketing is based upon consumer response to products. Yet questions arise when marketing dips into areas that exploit us in ways we have no defense against. Subliminal advertising once existed and exploited consumer subconscious, and in 1973 the board game, Hūsker Dū? aired commercials in America and Canada with a flashed subliminal message that read “Get it.” Wilson Bryan Key released a book shortly after called “Subliminal Seduction” which cited various uses of subliminal messages used by advertisers. Thanks to this book, heightened public concern caused the FCC to investigate. In 1974, the FCC finally issued this statement, “subliminal advertising is contrary to the public interest and intended to be deceptive, and that any [tv] station employing them risks losing its license.” Subliminal advertising was thus banned, but is today's neuromarketing treading the same path of manipulation?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Invasive Tech: Neuromarketing (part 2)

Neuromarketing technology was first developed in the late 1990's by Jerry Zalmen, a Harvard professor, who patented his technique under the name Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET). This method basically targets the human subconscious with specific sets of images that are proven to cause positive emotional responses and activate hidden images, which in turn stimulate purchases. Traditional marketing studies include focus groups and surveys to evaluate consumer response, but it fails to provide a deep understanding of the consumer's subconscious thoughts and emotions. Neuroscience has vastly improved behavioral predictions, allowing advertising to communicate and meet the needs of potential customers with different predictions of choice. Product design is then altered to attract and appeal to a target consumer's conscious and subconscious thoughts. This, of course, results in more effective marketing and successful sales. The ZMET technique has been widely used by hundreds of companies, including Coca-Cola, General Motors, Nestle, and Proctor & Gamble. Knowing this, does it bother you and cause you to question any purchases you may have made of their products? Do you feel like you may have been manipulated?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Invasive Tech: Neuromarketing (part 1)

A relatively new field of marketing is actively being explored by several large companies. The field is known as neuromarketing, and it is aimed at providing enhanced knowledge of consumer behavior. The research focuses on a consumer's sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. MRI's, EEG's, and SST (Steady State Topography) are an example of the technologies that are being used to measure brain activity and changes in one's physiological state (biometrics), which include details such as a person's heart rate, respiratory rate, and skin response (electro-dermal activity—basically, how much you sweat in response to emotional arousal.) Large companies like Google are engaging in this research and have the ambition to predict consumer behavior--they have invested in their own labs, science personnel, and even have partnerships with academia. What does all this mean for our future?...

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Growing Solar Echoes Community (part 5)

As you've seen this week, Solar Echoes fans are very creative people, and it's exciting for me to see people contribute their ideas to the Solar Echoes universe. I love seeing new artwork for Solar Echoes, and sometimes gamers draw little character mug-shots on their character sheets. I met a gamer at a convention and we set up a game for him and his friends, since they live in the Maryland area. He built an Omul character named “Oot,” and drew a character sketch on the notepad I gave him to use during the game. In the art, his Omul is releasing a swarm of razor nanites, and holding a shield for defense. I would love to feature your artwork, sculpts, and other ideas through Solar Echoes social media sites such as this, so please feel free to send it. What does your character look like? What strange alien lifeform did you see on that planet you discovered? Please share! Let's keep building and growing the Solar Echoes Community—thanks everyone!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

A Growing Solar Echoes Community (part 4)

Thomas has also shared some of his alien life form designs that he developed for the Solar Echoes universe, complete with icon-art ready to use on the game table! He designed each lifeform with a lot of consideration, and he details the biological reasons for the various physical characteristics they have. For instance, his “Silver Glider” organism has a metallic, reflective skin, which will actually bounce the energy blast of energy weapons. But Thomas goes even further, and adds background details: teenagers often like to disturb the nests of Silver Gliders at night to serve as reflective light shows for illegal rave parties. Please feel free to add your own ideas for lifeforms, planets, organizations, artifacts, and other new content to the wikia. Here is a link to Thomas's Silver Glider, and you can find a link to Thomas's other lifeform creations at the bottom: 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Growing Solar Echoes Community (part 3)

I’m excited to see what the French gamers, “Les Petit Joueurs,” will do next with Solar Echoes! They are planning to begin a campaign soon, and Thomas has informed me that he will let me know how their game develops. Thomas has also shared pictures with me of some of his miniatures, clay designs of Solar Echoes characters. So far, he has a very impressive Archaeloid, a nearly-finished Erwani, and a few amoeba-like Omuls! One of the things I hope to do for Solar Echoes someday is develop a line of miniatures, though there is quite a lot involved in making that happen. In the meantime, though, it is great to see players taking the initiative to design their own miniatures for the game! Check out Thomas's work at this link to his facebook page, here: 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Growing Solar Echoes Community (part 2)

Last summer I learned of a group of gamers in France that calls themselves “Les Petit Joueurs” (“Little Gamers”) that have become fans of Solar Echoes. The group had been looking for a sci-fi role playing game that followed these guidelines: 1. A fast character creation process 2, Easy to master core rules 3. Game scenarios played in one night, if possible 4. The option to modify the line-up of the team, depending on the players’ schedules 5.An original sci-fi universe. I was contacted by one of the group, Thomas, and asked if I would be ok with them translating the Solar Echoes rulebooks they’d purchased into French for use within their club. They just finished their translations recently and have begun to design their characters. Thomas has graciously added an English translation to their website (scroll down under the French version), which can be found here: 

Monday, April 11, 2016

A Growing Solar Echoes Community (part 1)

It is awesome to see gamers going the extra mile with Solar Echoes! This week, I'll highlight some of the things a group of gamers in France are doing with Solar Echoes. I would like to see the game expand further by fans, and I’m encouraging everyone to consider posting comments, questions, and especially ideas on The forums there are a great place to share your gaming interest, and I will be actively involved there, reading your posts, answering your questions, and spreading the word about your ideas, as well as giving tips, secrets, and previews of some of the things I am planning for the future of Solar Echoes. Also, please mark that you’re a “fan” of Solar Echoes on, because the more buzz we can create, the more opportunity Solar Echoes will have to grow—believe me, I have tons of plans in the works. Let's continue growing the community!

Friday, April 8, 2016

JohnCon Mission Report (part 5)

In a different mission, the Heist Stratagem, players gave up their weapons and armor to go undercover as civilians into a mafia-owned bank. Another undercover agent embedded in a street gang was staging a bank heist with the gang, and the players' team was to use the distraction to steal valuable intel about the mafia from bank computers. However, a lot went sideways. One of the characters was seen sneaking around in a wide open area by a gang member and was shot in the leg (one of his team-mates decided to call him “Chuckles” after this). The team initially failed to successfully hack the bank servers, which alerted both the police and the mafia. Thankfully, though, they were ultimately able to gain the computer data with help from a hacker among the civilian hostages. The team then decided to try to take on two of the gang at once, using crafted weapons and armor from items found throughout the bank...this did not go extremely well at first, considering the two gang members were armed with a shotgun and assault rifle. If not for the assistance of the other undercover agent, the team might have met their end. There were some great moments, though, with home-brewed tear-gas made from bathroom cleaning chemicals followed by attacks from a hairspray flame-thrower. The team ultimately managed to eliminate the gang and foil the heist in the end, and everyone survived (though if not for the duct-taped book-cover armor they'd made for themselves, there would have been a death or two!)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

JohnCon Mission Report (part 4)

Another team, the next day, was playing the same mission and they tried a different approach at the warehouse. When they failed their stealth checks to avoid the robot's detection and the robot gave them a verbal warning to leave the restricted area, one of the characters decided to hold out his badge and insist that, because he was a Union Guard agent, he had authorization to be there. His persuasion check was successful and he was able to temporarily confound the robot's AI as it cycled back and forth between its altered programming—to attack any intruders—and its root programming (Union Guard do have jurisdiction in all areas.) The robot's confusion resulted in a reboot, which gave the team a few moments to gain superior positioning. Once the robot rebooted and began to attack, the team already had the advantage and was able to take it out quickly. The team then proceeded to hack the warehouse security system and managed to gain control of the garage door. They locked down the door and chose to breach from the side door of the warehouse, throwing grenades at the gang members and their cars. Though the gang managed to shoot down the garage door with the cannons on their cars, it took several rounds and the team was able to damage the car and drivers before they finally rammed the weakened garage door down and drove off. The team was able to successful run down one of the two cars and recover the stolen contraband, with one of the players using his Sideswipe talent to slam into the car and cause it to crash into the sidewall of the freeway.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

JohnCon Mission Report (part 3)

The group of agents not only positioned metal crates outside the warehouse garage door with the forklift, but aimed their squadcar at the opening, training the car's mounted rotary cannon directly at the entrance. When they finally breached and gunfire was exchanged, one of the gang members jumped into a car and tried to drive it past the corner of one of the crates. Though he managed to scrape past it, his car was damaged in the process and the move forced him to face a hail of bullets from the team's squadcar. He crashed his moving car into the stationary squadcar and knocked it sideways as he drove past, sustaining more damage from the hit. One of the players agents jumped into the squadcar to drive while his teammate continued to man the rotary cannon, and they tore after the escaping (but very beat-up) gang car. Not only were they able to catch up to him on the road, but one more hit from the rotary cannon was enough to send the already beat-up vehicle spinning out of control into a crash. That was definitely the fastest car chase I've seen in Solar Echoes history!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

JohnCon Mission Report (part 2)

The team also sent their Omul agent into the warehouse's air conditioning ductwork on the ceiling to get an inside view of the layout before they breached. Unfortunately, the Omul player was unsuccessful with her stealth check and the gang below shot at the ductwork in response. I assigned a number to each of the six squares in her area and rolled for each gang member when he fired to determine which square he was targeting. Amazingly, the Omul player's square (4) was not attacked while the gang fired at squares 2, 3, and 5 around her. It was hilarious watching the player's reaction as she stared in panic at the table, almost as if she was worried her own movements would result in getting hit by gunfire. She wisely decided not to move again until the other players were making lots of noise outside with the forklift and crates...

Monday, April 4, 2016

JohnCon Mission Report (part 1)

This last weekend at JohnCon was a lot of fun, and I was able to run three different missions with three different groups of players. This week, I'll be sharing some of the highlights from these missions—as always, Hopkins players continue to surprise me with their creativity and ingenuity! The first group of players began with the Gun Runners mission found in the Starter Kit, and they successfully dispatched robotic sentry drones outside the warehouse with teamwork and focused fire. One particularly creative solution to dealing with a drone involved driving their squadcar at it while firing the rotary cannon mounted on the car. They severely damaged the drone with the bullets and followed up by smashing into it with the car, which resulted in an electrical explosion of robot carnage. After dealing with the drones and realizing they had made quite a lot of noise to alert the smuggling gang inside the warehouse, the team used the forklift they found nearby to move crates in front of the large garage door of the warehouse to prevent anyone from escaping once they breached.

Friday, April 1, 2016

What type of gamer are you? (Part 5)

There are all kinds of varieties and combinations when it comes to gamers. The important thing is to find where you fit, and to figure out what types of gamers you most enjoy sharing your interest with. If you can find a group of like-minded gamers, it can be an amazing experience. Personally, I'm all types (casual, solo, and social), but I have the most fun when sitting with a group of gamers that enjoys role-playing games. I'm looking forward to the John Con convention this weekend at Johns Hopkins, and I'm excited to play Solar Echoes with other gamers like me.