Friday, July 29, 2016

Robot Violates Asimov's First Law (part 5/5)

Considering the statement from Knightscope about their K5 robot injuring a young child, it's obvious that we'll be seeing more of this kind of response—in the effort to protect their company, robotics-based businesses will insist their robots functioned as programmed and were not at fault (even if it seems to be true in this case). Keep an eye on this, because we'll likely see more of the same for the next few years as robots become more commonplace in public. How long will it take before some kind of programming standard is mandated to protect the public? And then, how long will it take before that standard is violated somehow? The next few decades will likely be a period of adjustment as the “kinks” are worked out while introducing a robot presence to the public. There will always be the question, though, at whatever stage we are at with robots and how they have integrated into our society: how much will it take, and how big will the shockwave be, when robots injure another person? The answer might be the collapse of entire economies that rely heavily on robots, which is a scenario that occurs with one of the possible endings to the Solar Echoes mission, “The Seeds of Chaos.”

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Robot Violates Asimov's First Law (part 4/5)

The Knightscope company that manufactures the K5 robot issued an apologetic statement regarding the injuries sustained by the toddler, and Knightscope felt it was important to also point out that their robots have driven over 25,000 miles without similar incidents. Knightscope also provided their description of the event, based on the data gathered from the robot's sensors: “A K5 Autonomous Data Machine (Machine Identification Number 13) was patrolling at a local shopping center when, at approximately 2:39pm PDT, a child left the vicinity of his guardians and began running towards the machine. The machine veered to the left to avoid the child, but the child ran backwards directly into the front quarter of the machine, at which point the machine stopped and the child fell on the ground. The machine’s sensors registered no vibration alert and the machine motors did not fault as they would when encountering an obstacle. Once the guardians retrieved the child and the path was clear, the machine resumed patrolling. The entire incident lasted a few seconds and a scrape on the child’s leg and a bruise with minor swelling were reported.“

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Robot Violates Asimov's First Law (part 3/5)

What will the repercussions be of an incident like the K5 injuring a little child? One incident is rarely enough to shake an industry to its core, but if more incidents like this occur in the future, there may be a change of course in the robotics industry. It's similar to a dangerous intersection—amazingly, there is actually a quota of car accidents that must be met before the department of transportation will consider some intersections for the installation of a traffic light! How many robot-related injuries need to occur before specific regulations are established? This question is actually addressed in the Solar Echoes mission, “The Seeds of Chaos,” where shopping mall robots suddenly malfunction and go on a rampage, attacking and injuring shoppers. In the Solar Echoes universe, robots are commonplace and they perform jobs in serving or protecting the public, and some robots even perform jobs that would be too dangerous for people to attempt, even working in lethal environments. The robot industry in the Solar Echoes universe is huge, but what would happen if peoples' faith in robots was shaken by a number of incidents involving robots malfunctioning and putting people in danger? What does our own future look like in this regard?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Robot Violates Asimov's First Law (part 2/5)

Robots have injured humans before, including underreported mistakes and deaths caused by surgical robots, a man crushed to death by a robot at Volkswagen, and the first robot-caused deaths of Robert Williams and Kenji Urada. The robot that injured the young 16-month boy was a security model being tested at shopping malls. The Knightscope K5 is a five-foot, 300-pound security robot that begin trials at the mall a year ago. It relies on a variety of sensors and cameras to monitor its environment, and it can be directed around by human security guards. The robot is programmed to report any unusual activity to a central guard station. Consider that using the K5 robot costs only $6.25 an hour, which is lower than minimum wage. With recent government mandates to increase the minimum wage, what will businesses do to adjust to the new demands? Some will simply cut their workforce down and try to survive with fewer employees, others might skirt the law and pay illegal immigrants lower wages, and still others may look to robots to fill the roll. It certainly makes sense—robots can do some of the same jobs humans can with much less operating cost. But what will the cost be to us? Fewer jobs, for certain, but the public might suffer as well, if little Harwin is to serve as a warning. It's certainly clear that more needs to be done before filling our shopping malls with potentially dangerous robots!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Robot Violates Asimov's First Law (part 1/5)

Earlier this month, a security robot at the Stanford Shopping Center in Silicon Valley hurt a young child. The robot knocked down the 16-month old boy, Harwin Cheng, and then continued driving on its patrol route. Harwin Cheng's mother, Tiffany Teng, commented on the incident, saying, “The robot hit my son's head and he fell down facing down on the floor and the robot did not stop and it kept moving forward." The parents also reported that the robot ran over his right foot, causing it to swell, but thankfully no broken bones were suffered. Little Harwin's leg was also scraped from the robot drive-by, and according to his mother, "He was crying like crazy and he never cries. He seldom cries." Thankfully, the young boy was not seriously injured, but this does raise questions about robots operating alongside humans. Isaac Asimov's famous novel, “i-robot,” outlines three laws that robots must follow if they are to coexist with humankind safely. The first law states, “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Are we already putting robots in public without proper safety precautions?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Solar Echoes at Shore Leave 2016 (part 5/5)

The final battle-report for last weekend's Shore Leave convention involves the end of the Derelict mission, where the team of agents finally located the pirate's hideout on a desolate planet. The team braved many dangers to find the hideout, barely surviving deadly alien lifeforms and an attack by a Krissethi sniper team (they managed to escape the snipers by using a nanite hedge/wall and smoke grenades so they could flank them.) The team finally arrived at a ledge overlooking a flat area where pirates were loading contraband onto stolen starships. However, instead of springing into action, the team passionately debated their tactics and overall strategy for quite a while.

The team finally decided to send their two Krissethi characters down into the group of pirates, disguised as the sniper team they had defeated. It was an excellent ploy, and it worked at first, until they were standing close to the pirates, spoke, and failed their disguise check. Suddenly, the pirates were drawing their pistols and katanas, so the characters dropped a smoke grenade and the others waiting on the ridge rushed into action. The team was surprised to discover, however, that the Krissethi pirates were quite accustomed to the low gravity on the planet—suddenly, Krissethi were leaping 50 ft. through the air and landing everywhere with aggressive katana strikes. One of the characters used her “Play Possum” talent and tricked several Krissethi into thinking she had been killed already in the crossfire, and she managed to surprise and take out two of the pirates by herself. It was a brutal fight, but in the end, the characters managed to defeat the pirates, and they even rescued a female Krissethi biologist that was being held hostage, uncovering information that could eventually lead into another mission. I should mention that one of the Krissethi players decided the female biologist was his new girlfriend!

It was a great weekend, and the players at Shore Leave were fantastic—they were very clever, great at role-playing, and were a lot of fun to hang out with. Thanks, everyone, for making Shore Leave an awesome Solar Echoes experience!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Solar Echoes at Shore Leave 2016 (part 4/5)

In another mission, agents were assigned to investigate a distress signal from a drifting starship. The characters boarded the starship after testing for life-signs, but because of the ion gas emanating from its damaged engines, they were unable to get a reading. Half of the team stayed on their ship, while the other half went onto the derelict craft and hacked into the database to access log files. There was evidence on the ship that someone had attempted to wipe away bloodstains! Without revealing any big spoilers to the mission, let's fast forward—events unfolded so that the characters ended up on a nearby planet. The planet's atmosphere was primarily CO2 and Argon, so characters had to put on sealed suits to survive the deadly environment. One character became curious about the existence of strange plant life, and went to investigate a plant. He got too close, and the plant lashed out at him with a thorny vine, puncturing his sealed suit. Another teammate came to help, but he, too, was attacked by the plant and vented oxygen. The team was without any ability to seal the holes, so they spent some of the mission with one hand plugging the leak until they could change into the only 2 spare suits they had available. Some sage explorer's advice: wherever you go in the galaxy, always carry a roll of duct tape!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Solar Echoes at Shore Leave 2016 (part 3/5)

The demise of the Krissethi agent was looking certain, since none of the other agents on his team would be able to get to him within the 3 rounds (equal to his stamina attribute) he had before he bled out and was officially dead. Dire situations like this are when something miraculous needs to happen, and that's why all 1st level characters start with 1 “hero point.” You can get an additional hero point if you are voted as the MVP at the end of a game session by other members of your team. A hero point allows you to auto-stabilize, which means that you can stop the countdown to bleed out yourself if you are in the dying stage. Your character will still be unconscious, but you will no longer be in danger of dying, and you can later be resuscitated by a dose of minor healing nanites. The Krissethi agent had to use his hero point to stabilize, and then waited until another agent could get to him.

Meanwhile, the two of the other agents on his team opened the garage for a distraction and rushed in, hiding behind the cars while exchanging gunfire. At the same time, two of the other agents entered from behind through the side door of the warehouse, and the Chiraktis agent grabbed the target in a grapple and dragged him backwards, back out of the warehouse, under the protection of the human agent that had entered with him—she laid down cover-fire and protected his retreat, before she exited as well. It was the human agent who later went back to retrieve and revive the fallen Krissethi, and he was thankfully able to rejoin the team. The rest of the smugglers were stopped, except for the gang leader, who escaped in a hover-car. A car chase ensued, but the team managed to maintain close range to his vehicle and shot up his engine, bringing his car to a crashing halt. Though we had to finish the mission there, the team had performed impressively, achieving all of their mission objectives!


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Solar Echoes at Shore Leave 2016 (part 2/5)

During the first game I ran at Shore Leave, the team was supposed to raid a warehouse where a gun deal was being made. The team hacked the controls to the garage door and also positioned two agents at the side entrance, while sending their fifth agent to the roof. That agent, a stealthy Krissethi, quietly crawled into the air duct system and made his way to an air vent opening, where he could look down and see some of the warehouse. He quietly moved to another section in the air ducts and removed the screws of the grate, succeeding at his stealth check. The agent then released a tiny flying drone into the warehouse, with the video feed broadcasting to the other agents so they could see and plan their tactics. Unfortunately, though, the Krissethi failed his stealth check and the smugglers grabbed the military assault rifles and opened fire, guessing at his position based on the noise they had heard. I assigned numbers to three squares near the agent: 1 and 2 for the square with the grate, 2 and 3 for the second square, and 4 and 5 for the third square. The player decided to jump to second square to avoid the bullets, but out of the five smugglers, three of them ended up focusing on that very square as a result of the random die rolls I made to select the squares they targeted. The Krissethi agent was reduced to unconscious/dying bio-status, which meant that, unless a teammate could reach him with healing nanites within 3 rounds, he would bleed out and be dead! Find out what happened to him...tomorrow!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Solar Echoes at Shore Leave 2016 (part 1/5)

I'm back from a very full weekend at the Shore Leave sci-fi convention, where I ran Solar Echoes games all weekend. I began on Saturday at 10am and did not finish until 1am, and Sunday I ran things from 10am until 4pm when everyone started closing up shop. Usually, I have anywhere from 3-5 players per game, but this weekend, there were never fewer than 5 players at the table, and most of the time it was up to 7 or 8 players! This really put the Solar Echoes game engine to the test, but we were still able to keep things moving quickly for everyone, and the energy and excitement of the players was continual. This week, I'll share some highlights of the games, but today, I'll open with a new twist on the “Gun Runners” mission: I used a newly completed full-color map for the warehouse in the mission, and I also tried out a new system for stealthy characters trying to recon through the air-duct system in the ceiling of the warehouse. Look at the pictures below to see how a character can open up a small field of vision when moving over the air-conditioning grates.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Solar Echoes at ShoreLeave!

This weekend we will be running Solar Echoes games at the Shore Leave convention--check us out in the game room!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Interview with model painter, Saejin Park (part 3/3)

Question: How was painting the Solar Echoes miniatures different from what you normally paint? What did you do to adjust to those challenges?

Saejin: I usually build and paint military vehicles and airplanes. In order to paint my models like the real object, I should follow the actual color scheme. Sometimes, I have a strong desire that I want to paint these model as I want, without following instruction’s color guidance.
Contrary to most models, I can paint Solar Echoes miniatures as I want, which I can increase my creativity. For reference, the Solar Echoes website ( provides each character’s image, but people can paint these characters whatever they want.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Interview with model painter, Saejin Park (part 2/3)

Question: What painting techniques do you use, and where did you learn them? What tools and paints do you prefer?
Saejin: There are several painting techniques, such as fading, washes, decolouration, dry-brushing, and paint chips. They all depend on what/how I want to delineate.
There are no specific time frames I learned these techniques. Whenever I look at well-built models and want to apply these techniques to my models, I have tried to learn them. Fortunately,there are numerous resources available these days, modelling books, many modelling websites and youtube. Also, many model/paint companies provide very useful video clips to explain these skills.
For painting large area,I usually use lacquer or acrylic paints with an airbrush.In order to describe fine details, I use oil or enamel paints. Recently, I am using pigments, but still needs to practice more.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Interview with Model Painter, Saejin Park (part 1/3)

I have a short interview with model painter Saejin Park that I'll be posting over the next 3 days. Saejin painted the Solar Echoes miniatures I posted pictures of on Monday.

Question::When did you first become interested in building and painting models, and how many years have you been involved with this hobby? Do you remember the first model you built and painted?

Saejin: I remember that I have built numerous models without painting them when I was around 9 or 10 years old.I believe that I have painted my models since I reached at 12 or 13 years old. I have involved with this hobby for 30 yrs. When I was young, I used Tamiya enamels with cheap brushes. When I was 20 years old, I bought an airbrush (OlymposHP-100C) and a compressor, which I am still using.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Newly Painted Solar Echoes Figures!

I was hoping to run a feature on 3D modeling and the painting process this week, but whether that happens or not, I want to share with you pictures of the finished products. Below are photos of the Archaeloid and Erwani figures that have been painted by Saejin Park, a serious hobbyist who spends a lot of his free time painting WWII vehicles. I think Saejin did a fantastic job on both of these, especially considering he is totally unfamiliar with the Solar Echoes universe. I'm currently in the process of making sure these figures become available to everyone through Shapeways, a 3D printing company that allows you to order prints of figures that they will then mail to you within a few days (they are located in New York.) As you've seen in the last couple weeks through the pictures I've shared, they do a great job with the prints, so as soon as I get all the kinks worked out with uploading and listing the figures in my online shop at Shapeways, I'll be sharing the links so you can order your very own Archaeloid and/or Erwani figure. In the meantime the 3D sculptor, Jeremy Gosser, is already working on the other races, so in a few months, I plan to make all 7 Solar Echoes races available for printing! Enjoy the pictures!

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Secret Ingredient for a Successful Game (part 5)

Overwatch has followed the same Blizzard formula. With 21 characters to choose from, you'd expect some overlap, but each character feels unique and plays differently. Players can easily find several characters that suit their playstyles, and I even found myself branching out into playstyles outside my comfort zone (I'm still horrible with snipers!) Each character has a variety of spoken phrases, skins (colors and outfits), victory poses, art tags, etc. that can be unlocked with extended play. I could go on and on detailing the differences, but once again, Blizzard has done it—they've made characters that are exciting and full of personality. Blizzard has provided enough variety that there are always a few characters that each person can identify with. I admit, I've tried to take a cue from Blizzard in the design of the Solar Echoes characters, giving each alien race a distinctly different feel, look, personality, and culture. Thanks, Blizzard, for continuing to make great games, and for inspiring me in game design!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Secret Ingredient for a Successful Game (part 4)

There has always been something about Blizzard games that feels a little different from other games. For me, the definitive game was Starcraft, probably one of my all-time favorite video games. I think I first recognized in Starcraft the secret formula Blizzard has been using. It's all about the characters. What I mean is this: in other games, you might have a character or unit that you can move around and use in the game. Maybe it's a paratrooper unit with a machine gun, as an example. Other games will give him one or two sounds, and he'll have his standard ability and maybe a secondary ability. But when compared with other units in the game, he sort of blends in and doesn't look or feel very distinct. Yet in Starcraft, Blizzard makes sure that every single unit feels unique, not only in the exclusive abilities they have, but in their character art, sound, and animation. If you click on the unit, it has more than just one repetitive sound or comment that it makes and these comments either build the lore of the character or are humorous. Each character's animation when moving and attacking is distinctly different from others. Every ability affords distinctly different tactical approaches to winning. In short, Blizzard taps into your creative mind and gets you excited about every character in their games. Even the units I liked less than others were still unique and fun to use.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Secret Ingredient for a Successful Game (part 3)

Then came the World of Warcraft, an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.) This is a genre I'm not a huge fan of, and though I tried WoW, it wasn't my thing. This game, however, is considered the most addictive and successful MMORPG ever. Releasing in 2008 and still running, it holds the Guiness World Record for the most popular MMORPG by subscribers, and by January 2014, Blizzard announced that more than 100 million accounts had been created over the game's lifetime. This year, Blizzard released Overwatch, a game in yet another category, the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.) I have it, I've already pumped many hours into it, and I'm not even into MOBA's! My daughter, who isn't into video games, tried it and loves it, asking me often if she can play it. With all this success in so many different types of video games, it is clear that Blizzard has figured something out that other game designers haven't. What is it? I have a theory...

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Secret Ingredient for a Successful Game (part 2)

Consider that each of Blizzard's huge hits is in an entirely different genre, which makes their success even more impressive. Though they might spend years in development, each game they release flies to the top of the list for that particular genre. The Diablo series was a massive success in the genre of action-RPG's. Explore and design your character as he levels up, constantly juggling new pieces of powerful loot to further enhance him so that you can take on tougher enemies, advance further, and gain even more powerful loot. The addictive carrot-and-stick system worked so well that it was copied by countless other game companies, with varying degrees of success. Blizzard essentially established the genre themselves, and they set a standard. When Blizzard entered the genre of RTS's (Real-Time Strategy), their first offering, Warcraft, was a great success, but it paled in comparison to the incredible popularity of Starcraft. Starcraft is still very popular, decades later, and South Korea even has professional Starcraft players with tournaments aired on TV.

The Secret Ingredient for a Successful Game (part 1)

Most game designers are searching for the holy grail—that special something that keeps people coming back to play their game, again and again. There isn't a perfect answer, but given the continued success of certain game companies, such as Blizzard Entertainment, it's easy to wonder if maybe they have discovered that secret ingredient. The recent success of Blizzard's “Overwatch” game is one of many successes in a long line of games with high ratings--World of Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo--you've probably heard of these giants in the game industry. Blizzard's track record is stellar; few, if any, game companies can boast such an impressive track record. Just what is the secret behind Blizzard's magic touch?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Science and Personality (part 5)

Though our society rewards extroverts while introverts are constantly coaxed into being more outgoing, there is a growing movement that is protesting the trend. The book by Susan Cain, titled, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,” asserts that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. I've known a number of introverts that have read this book and felt vindicated, relieved that there is nothing wrong with them and happy to hear their struggle given voice by Susan Cain. A number of other books are available on the topic, and introverts are finding ways to cope with the expectations of a society structured around extroverts. Yet, if introversion is shown to truly be a genetic disorder—something that can be medically treated—how many of those introverts would gladly give up their shyness for the “normalized” oxycotin levels of an extrovert? Think about the introverts in your life, and how there are introverts that you really like and maybe one you are even in love with. Now try to imagine that person suddenly becoming an extrovert. What if, someday, introversion is considered a condition that must be treated, and medical treatment is mandated to “cure” something previously labeled as a personality trait? What if it is determined that you carry this gene and your children must be genetically altered? It is a disturbing prospect: half of the population of the U.S. might be someday required to undergo a personality change!