Thursday, June 30, 2016

Science and Personality (part 4)

Despite all this research, however, the results that were published are still considered preliminary and more needs to be done to clarify the role of oxytocin and the genes that influence it. However, researchers are still confident that this may lead to treatments for a variety of social disorders. The question is, is introversion a social disorder? Methylation is a dynamic process that can change to varying degrees over the course of a person's lifetime. For example, I took the Myer's-Briggs personality test when I was in college, and I was categorized as an extrovert. I took it again a year ago, and now I'm a borderline introvert. You wouldn't know it—I have to give lectures, talk with a variety of people every day, and sometimes I even need to assert myself for many hours in sales situations, but I will admit, I am feeling more exhausted by social environments these days than I used to be. I attribute it to age, but maybe there's more to it? Maybe I am becoming more of an introvert...I do prefer to stay at home in my basement and remain off-grid for days at a time. Is that so wrong? Some don't think so...

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Science and Personality (part 3)

During a study of social behavior, participants were evaluated through a number of tests that measured their social skills, their brain structure, and its function. They were presented with videos of people's faces, beginning with a neutral expression that gradually changed into an emotional expression--the participants just needed to press a button when they were confident of how that person was feeling. Participants with greater methylation of the OXT gene (and thus, had lower oxytocin levels) were less accurate in their descriptions of the emotional states of the people in the videos and pictures. This same characteristic is associated with autism. Participants also had their brains scanned with an MRI during some of the testing, and the results showed reduced activity in areas of the brain associated with sociability. It was also discovered that the participants had reduced amounts of grey matter in areas important for face processing and social cognition.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Science and Personality (part 2)

If you're on the fence as to which category you fall into, ask yourself a few questions. Do you feel recharged by being around people, or drained? If the latter, you are probably an introvert. Do you more carefully consider your words, and speak up only if there is something meaningful to say? Introvert. Do you prefer to stay at home, work alone, and avoid parties? Again, you are most likely an introvert. That's not to say that extroverts don't have some of the same characteristics, but it is less likely. So why are introverts this way? According to recent research in a study of 129 people, those found with less of a particular gene had more difficulty recognizing emotional facial expressions. As a result, they tended to have more anxiety about relationships, which greatly impacted their social behavior. Scientists found when the gene OXT was restricted by a process called “methylation,” participants in the study produced less oxytocin, a hormone that plays a part in human bonding...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Science and Personality (part 1)

How many of you would consider yourself an introvert? Wow, ok, a lot of you. Now let's add to that those of you who were too shy to even admit you're an introvert. Despite what we may think (or might have been told based on a 1960 estimate that has circulated the internet for decades), introverts are not in the minority in our society. Based on a random sample conducted by the Myers-Briggs organization in 1998, 50.7% of the population in the U.S. are Introverts! Yet why is everything, from class participation to college and job interviews seemingly based on having the characteristics of an extrovert? Those that talk a lot are often those that are picked for leadership positions over people who talk more sparingly. We teach our kids to be more assertive, to speak up, but as a result, introverts often struggle to defy their natural state of mind in order to be accepted in a society that judges them rather harshly for being quieter than others. And now, there is research that this condition can be “cured...”

Friday, June 24, 2016

Preview of New Products (part 5)

Probably one of the more ambitious projects I've been working on is developing 3D miniatures for the Solar Echoes game. For those of you that have played the game and have been frustrated that the stand-up paper icons sometimes blow over or get easily toppled by stray dice, this may be an even better alternative. And of course, for hobbyists, there's the opportunity to have and paint an awesome 3D sculpture of your favorite Solar Echoes character! I've been working with artist Jeremy Gosser on bringing two Solar Echoes characters to life, and he is nearing completion of digital, 3D sculpts. The next step will be to find a high-quality 3D resin printer that can print them with all the detail he has put into them, but in the meantime, I plan to use my own 3D Flashforge printer (a very generous gift from a friend and investor) to produce some prototypes for use at conventions. Someday, I hope to make a line of figures available, but though I'm moving past the early stages into reality now, I may need to look to crowdfunding to make this all possible. Again, if you're interested, let me know—your interest can help launch this project into something bigger and better!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Preview of New Products (part 4)

Does anyone remember the Explorer's Pack ? It was released two years ago and included four new planets and four new alien lifeforms. Alien lifeforms in Solar Echoes are organisms found throughout the universe that can pose a threat to players, but these lifeforms are not intelligent enough to use technology or tools—they are essentially “monsters” in a science-fiction universe. Though Solar Echoes missions often involve the character races and robots as foes, some missions require venturing out into the wilderness, and this is where deadly alien lifeforms are found. I have recently finished working with artist John Fell on four new, full-color alien lifeforms, which I'm planning to feature in a future product. I enjoyed working with John on these creatures so much, though, that I'm looking into crowdfunding so that he and I could design a lot more of them! If you're interested, let me know—your interest can help launch this project into something bigger and better!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Preview of New Products (part 3)

I've had full-color art from John Fell for each alien character since last summer. You can already see this art in the Solar Echoes profile on Facebook, Twitter, and blog, with the characters clustered around the Solar Echoes title. I have an ambitious plan for each alien, and was waiting to use that art for this plan, but time and other projects have prevented me from completing it, though I still hope to. In the meantime, though, I used the art to print out small, full-color map icons for use at conventions, and have been contacted by Solar Echoes fans for these icons. This summer, I plan to release a new product that includes the full-color character icons so you can use them for your games. I am also in the process of doing a full webpage redesign at, using this new, full color character art.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Previews of New Products (part 2)

As you saw last week, the French gaming club, Les Petits Joueurs, spent a lot of time preparing full color maps for Solar Echoes. Originally, when I released the game in 2012, I was on a strict budget. Color art was reserved for book covers alone, because artists charge a lot more for color work. However, since then, sales have allowed for me to reconsider, and I was inspired by what the French gamers were able to do with online clip art. Due to legal concerns, however, I don't want to put free public-use art into products sold through Corefun Studios, so I asked artist John Fell to design full color map tile art for me. I now have a lot of map resources available, and I plan to fully redesign in color the maps in missions that are currently released. If you've purchased these missions already, you'll receive an email notifying you of the update when it's ready, and you'll just need to download it again, for free!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Previews of New Products (part 1)

Usually new Solar Echoes products arrive in the summer, when I have a little more time to put into them. At the moment, I'm overwhelmed because I have a lot of potential products I've been investing time in, though nothing is quite finished. I'd like to share the details with you this week, and it would be great to have your feedback. I've worked with a few artists and I'm excited to talk about their work in these projects. I'm also looking into crowdfunding because I'm hoping some of these projects could become much bigger and better with the extra support. Hopefully, some of these projects will appeal to you, and it is my hope that they will not only enhance your game, but excite your imagination! Stay tuned for exclusive details this week...

Friday, June 17, 2016

French Solar Echoes Team Stops Smugglers (part 5)

When the leader of the gang tried to escape through the damaged garage door, he was defeated by the coordinated actions of Oosnubu, who ambushed him by shooting through the office window. The gang leader was finally put out of combat when Khassim knocked him unconscious by ramming him with the rear of the forklift. Once the gang was defeated, their operations sergent contacted them to inform them that the rest of the smugglers gang was spotted driving to Vega Starport, trying to leave the planet after the failure of the firearms purchase. Once at the starport, the team located, fought, and managed to surround the smugglers inside the ship docking umbilical. Oosnubu, sided by Khassim, sealed the ship door, while Zholtaân made use of two of his cyber-weapons, a Trip-bot (able to trip enemies) and a Nanite Hedge (a moving wall of nano-robots) to prevent the escape of the smugglers. Despite threats of incoming shots from a second approaching enemy ship, the players managed to convince the smugglers to surrender, and the mission ended with the smugglers throwing their weapons over the top of the nanite hedge while a Union Guard ship was arriving at the Dock. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

French Solar Echoes Team Stops Smugglers (part 4)

The planned assault started when Khassim managed to pry open one of the sky windows to check the positions of the enemies inside the building. Oosnubu piloted the forklift to park in front of the garage door, while Khassim tried to slide down a rope to land atop one of the containers inside the warehouse. Unfortunately, a failure on his stealth check canceled the surprise round, but the entrance of Zholtaân and Oosnubu (which remained undetected) through the two other doors was enough to give an advantage to the team.The team began to shoot at the criminals, who were trying to reach the vehicles and the doors and discovered that they could no longer open them. Desperate, the gang leader tried to shoot at the garage door with the automatic cannon mounted on his gang skimcar, but when he rammed the door, he crippled his vehicle when he hit the forklift parked outside. At the same moment, Zholtaân and Oosnubu were engaged in ranged combat with the rest of the gang, while Khassim, still atop the same container, used his Side Step Talent right in time to avoid the other gang skimcar shooting at him, opting to fall prone behind the container, using the next round to gain a stealth bonus by adjusting his natural camouflage. Zholtaân made extensive use of his cyber-weapons, disarming one of the gang members with his magnetic Disarming Orb. He managed to equip the illegal rifle, thanks to his Snare Ray Bracelet.


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

French Solar Echoes Team Stops Smugglers (part 3)

While exploring the yard around the warehouse, Prof. Zholtaân easily spotted a forklift, and the group rapidly decided on a strategy consisting of blocking the gang vehicles parked inside the warehouse by parking the forklift in front of the garage door of the warehouse. On the next round, Oosnubu, piloting the patrol vehicle, directed his front lights at the robot, and tried a long distance shot with the vehicle's EMP Net, inflicting crippling electrical damage upon the robot, leaving the circuits of the machine fried and unable to trigger the alarm. Oosnubu then ran up to the forklift, while Prof. Zholtaân examined the side door of the building. Khassim moved furtively on the roof to observe the enemies through the sky windows. Prof. Zholtaân decided to hack into the security access of the warehouse, and he easily defeated the security puzzle, thanks to his Multi-Task and Scan Node Talents, along with the help of Khassim, who assisted him by wearing Neural Relay Glasses which allowed him to join the same virtual reality instance of Prof. Zholtaân. Once inside the system, he decided to deactivate the alarm and change the access code of the doors to trap the criminals inside the warehouse.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

French Solar Echoes Team Stops Smugglers (part 2)

Khassim was the first to enter the warehouse perimeter by climbing up the fence, and he avoided detection from a guard robot, using his Stealth to climb up the ladder to the roof. The rest of the team drove around the building to position their patrol vehicle in front of the gate before the robot could detect them. Prof. Zholtaân decided to also climb the fence and deploy one of his cyber-weapons, a Disarming Orb, for recon around the side of the building. Oosnubu worked on the locked gate, finally opening it to aim his vehicle weapons at the security bot. Zholtaân, possessing the Robot Identification Talent, asked Khassim to give him a visual on the target, who used the camera of his Micro Personal Computer. Looking at this picture, Zholtaân was able to determine the model of the robot, as well as the weakness of it’s design: hyperactive sensors that malfunction when a bright light is aimed at them, imposing shooting penalties upon the robot.

Monday, June 13, 2016

French Solar Echoes Team Stops Smugglers (part 1)

The French gaming club, Les Petits Joueurs, has put a lot of time into preparing to play Solar Echoes. They've translated the Solar Echoes game books and missions into French, they've carefully designed their characters, they've designed their own full-color versions of mission-maps, and they've constructed 3D models of crates, skimcars--even a forklift! This week, check out their battle reports and some of the pictures they've provided of their game while playing the “Gun Runners” mission in the Solar Echoes Starter Kit (I've removed spoilers). Their mission was to stop a gun sale of restricted military firearms and to extract a particular target, alive. The player’s team, featuring Khassim (a Krissethi infiltrator/Pilot), Oosnubu (Archaeloid Engineer/Tactical Officer) and Prof. Zholtaân Junior (Reln Hacker/Battlefield Controller), managed to circumvent the defenses around the warehouse by strategically surrounding the building, blocking the exits, and in the end, starting the assault...

Friday, June 10, 2016

If you can't beat them... (part 5)

Elon Musk has said that humans are already cyborgs. The world's first government-recognized human cyborg is a man named Neil Harbisson, who has an implanted antenna that enables him to “hear” colors. Musk has pointed out that we are interfacing through email, texts, video-chat, and other instant forms of communication using various devices, and this has essentially already made us cyborgs. It isn't a big step for us to start integrating that same technology into our bodies. While technologies are pursued to make robots more human, many of these same advancements are being considered for humans. Robots are becoming more biological, but aren't we becoming more...robotic? It is likely that we will be exchanging and sharing parts and systems with robots someday. Artificial Intelligence has already passed the Turing test—the AI was considered indistinguishable from an actual human. In the future, the line between humanity and machine may become so blurred that we might not be able to discern the difference. Musk's belief that we will soon adopt neural lacing so we can “output” as fast as a machine addresses the fear of a robot apocalypse in a very simple way: If you can't beat them, join them.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

If you can't beat them... (part 4)

Infrared vision has already been experimented with and researched for humans. Microchips originally implanted in test animals to study mental deterioration and to prevent diseases like Alzheimer's have been found to enhance actual intelligence as well. A day looms in the not-so-distant future when technology originally designed to help people will become a thing of fashion, convenience, or even competition—those who can pay may decide to enhance themselves for a variety of reasons. Superhuman soldiers, bionic athletes, and fast-thinking operators of various machines may become commonplace in our future. Perhaps it may one day be a job requirement to be implanted with a brain-enhancing chip that allows the employee to better interface with coworkers, computers, and robots. Military service may involve mandatory physical enhancement, strength boosting, and heightened reflexes (and of course, those infrared eyes I mentioned earlier). People that are integrated with “cyberware” (cyborgs—man and machine) will be commonplace.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

If you can't beat them... (part 3)

Consider that we are already replacing body parts with machines. Retinal microchips, though not on the market yet, are proving that vision can be restored. Bionic prostheses for legs, arms, and hands are becoming increasingly sophisticated, operated by neural control. Even neuroprosthetics, which can provide a motor, sensory, or cognitive ability that might be lacking or damaged are already in full use—tens of thousands of people already have cochlear implants for hearing loss. These implants are surgically installed with a direct neural connection that is run by tiny computers. Soon, advanced genetic and neural therapies will be available to enhance our senses and our strength. Biological engineering and neurobiology are already making huge advances that have replicated the functions of many of our biological systems electronically and mechanically. Elon Musk was not far off with his prediction that neural lacing might be the next step for human enhancement.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

If you can't beat them... (part 2)

The term neural lace was first coined by novelist Iain M. Banks, and it was intended to describe a mesh that conforms to the brain in order to allow the programming of neurons. Even though this concept was originally science fiction, there is a basis in actual science. In 2015, a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology detailed how a flexible circuit was injected into the brains of living mice—the circuit is actually capable of interacting with neurons. Technology also exists to allow users of robotic prosthetics to activate and manipulate their artificial limbs with their minds. We are not far from extending these technologies to the common public someday, where making a cell phone call might be as simple as a thought and turning the volume up or down little more than momentary intent. Yet how tapped in do we really want our brains to be with technology? What doors will this open, and once open, can they ever be closed again?

Monday, June 6, 2016

If you can't beat them... (part 1)

Elon Musk has long been an opponent of the direction Artificial Intelligence is taking, and has made frequent warnings that measures should be made to stop the singularity—an event where robot intelligence will exceed all collective human intelligence. Yet recently, Musk has taken a new direction with his comments, describing the problem humans face when competing with computers. While human mental processing is extremely fast, output is incredibly slow when compared with machines. We cannot physically output information as fast as machines because of physical limitations—we cannot speak, write, or type at a rate even close to the speed at which we think. If this could be solved, Musk insists, we wouldn't have to compete with AI, we would be on the same level and therefore not face an AI/robot apocalypse. How would this be possible? Elon Musk asserts that “neural lacing” the human mind is the answer...

Friday, June 3, 2016

Balticon 50 (part 5)

There are so many other highlights of this weekend, it's hard to choose from among the 6 or 7 games that I ran, but I remember one classic moment quite well. One of the players had to leave the table briefly, telling the other players to use his character to make a cybertech check to hack into the malfunctioning mall robot they had just nearly destroyed. The mall robots were all rampaging because of an unknown problem in their programming (which the team had learned was by design), and the team was supposed to try to shut them down. To do so, they had to severely damage a robot, but not destroy it, enough so that they could get in close and hack into its CPU. This was no easy task, and they failed a few times because some of the players over-did things with the damage, destroying the robot beyond repair. They had finally damaged a robot just enough for them to hack it, but unknown to them, the robot had sent out a distress signal to other robots in the mall. You should have seen the surprised face of the player who had left the table—when he returned, he saw what you see pictured below: a variety of twisted, malfunctioning robots converging on the players as they huddled over the damaged robot. It was up to him—could he make the necessary cybertech check to hack the robot's system and disable the distress signal? ...and...yes, he made it, the robots disengaged and the team survived!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Balticon 50 (part 4)

I've seen some really interesting tactics in this game, and this weekend was no exception. One particular team was playing the “Gun Runners” mission found in the Starter Kit, and they breached a warehouse where gun smugglers were finishing their deal. While one of the team, an Omul, got everyone's attention by entering through the side door of the warehouse and immediately took cover, the Erwani on the team outside hacked open the electronic garage door so one of the team's Krissethi could rush in. At the same time, the team's other Krissethi moved through the air-ducts above it all, athletically dropping onto a nearby crate while the team's Reln did the same on the other side of the warehouse, dropping onto a crate just above a smuggler that was busy attacking their Omul--the Reln used her height advantage from atop the crate to finish him off. The smugglers were spread out and were attacked from all directions, so one of them decided to jump in a car and speed away. Another one exchanged gunfire with the first Krissethi, shooting through the windows of the parked car between them. The Krissethi dove for cover and crawled under the car, slashing with his katana at the smuggler's ankles. The crippled smuggler fell to the ground and tried to shoot the Krissethi under the car, narrowly missing him just as the Krissethi finished him off with a quick stab from his katana. The entire warehouse was cleared in only a few rounds!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Balticon 50 (part 3)

During the “Heist Stratagem” mission I ran at Balticon this past weekend, the players managed to circumvent having to deal with the bank robbers quite well. Though they failed one of their mission parameters by doing so (which was to make sure the robbers didn't harm the civilians—they left the civilians with the robbers!), they did manage to get what they came for during the heist distraction, and rescued the undercover operative that had staged the heist and was posing as a bank robber. However, when they took two cars and tried to escape the scene, an armored mafia vehicle (the mafia owned the bank) was soon in pursuit, and soon, the police were in pursuit as well. The team decided to split up, and the mafia vehicle and two police followed one to the right while a single police car stayed with the other to the left. The team on the left managed to shake the police car by dropping magnetic caltrops, escaping with the undercover operative, but the other half of the team made a tactical error—the driver decided to slam on his breaks to cause the following police cars to crash into him. While he and his team were dazed and trying to recover from the painful crash, the armored mafia car pulled in front of them and finished them all off with a mounted point-defense cannon. I guess we can say the positive side is that half the team survived and completed the mission...?