Monday, October 31, 2016
Happy Halloween! Did you know that Halloween is also the 4th anniversary of the Solar Echoes release? We first released our Player's Guide, Mission Controller's Guide, and Starter Kit back in 2012 on this very day! So, to celebrate our 4th Anniversary, I'm putting ALL Solar Echoes products (that are priced over $1) on sale, with 40% off! This is the biggest price cut we've ever had, and it's only going to last 1 week, so take advantage of it while you can. Thanks, everyone, for your interest and support over the last 4 years!
Friday, October 28, 2016
The results for our interstellar popularity contest are in! With 30% of the vote (including online polls at twitter and everyone I interviewed this week), our most popular alien is the amorphous Omul! Our second-place winners include the Archaeloid and the Erwani, and the Chiraktis, Krissethi, and Reln are tied for third.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
You may wonder what my favorite alien is, but to be honest with you, I really can't choose. I've put so much time and thought into designing each of them that there's a lot in each of them that I like. However, we often choose something that we identify most with (my wife, for example, is an extremely tenacious person and she chose the Chiraktis as her favorite), so if I had to pick a personality type I identify with, I'd say the Reln. Reln have the highest natural "influence" attribute of all the alien races, and they are master wordsmiths. I love writing, so that appeals to me, but on the other hand, Reln are also great with the spoken word, and I'm, well, not great at public-speaking. I can do it, but I'd much rather write to express myself. The mysterious nature of the Reln, too, is appealing to me, because they've seen things in the depths of the Voidsea that no other race has. What mysteries and secrets do they know? To me, these aliens are very intriguing, and I can't wait to write more about them in the future! Yet at the same time, the reptilian Krissethi holds a special fascination for me, because I have always loved lizards—I had a pet iguana back in high school that grew to be 5.5 feet long and bit me on the face (I had to get 9 stitches.) Lizards are so cool! The Krissethi totally fits my combat preference—they love sneaking around in the shadows, sniping at enemies and attacking from behind. They can climb walls and ceilings, shift their skin color for natural camouflage to blend in with their surroundings, and at high levels, they can even snatch weapons out of enemy hands with their sticky tongue! But honestly, there are things I like about each of the Solar Echoes alien races. Who is your favorite?
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
I asked the GM of the French RPG group, Les Petits Joueurs (“The Little Gamers”) what his favorites were, and he talked about his players' favorites:
Fabrice plays Oosnubu, an Archaeloid tank/sharp-shooter. He was attracted by the resilience of the Archaeloid race, and having a background in wargaming, he associated the movement disavadvantage, as well as the shy and protective nature of the Archaeloids with the classic fantasy Dwarf, that he tends to play in a number of other settings. We also have a running joke in the group that one of the players MUST have a character with Swimming in his skills, and with their aquatic full movement, it was quite fitting.
Guillaume plays Khassim, a Krissethi inflitrator. He was attracted by the stealthy aspects of the krissethi, but also their tendency to be brash and greedy, that he associated with gangsta hip-hop. It was also an obvious choice for him since he prefers to play rogues and archers. More than that, he also wanted to play a "Bad Cop" character, so the reputation of mobsters of the Krissethi was weaved into his smuggler backstory.
Nicolas plays Prof. Zholthaân, a Reln negociator and Battlefield Controller. He was attracted by the Reln social advantage, and highly amused by their racial concept of stoicism (he insists every session that his character doesn't "believe" in radiations). He also tends to play spies and "Black Barons", morally dubious characters with extensive secret knowledge, so the Reln and their link to the Voidsea was an obvious choice for him. Oddly enough, he also decided that in his family (he is the son of a famous veteran), the concept of government-issued procreation rights of the Relns was pushed to the extreme, and his background is based on his rivalry between him and his brother to gain the approval of his father, that will decide which of the two will get the right to get married first.
I asked two friends of mine, one that used to play RPG's and another that still does, what their favorite alien races are in Solar Echoes.
Chad: “I would have to saw Erwani because it's a non-humanoid species. Of course the Omul would fit into this category as well, but I like the Erwani better. I think role playing from the perspective of intelligent plant life creates many interesting scenarios.”
Gregg: “All of the Solar Echoes races hold some appeal, but the one I keep coming back to is the Omul. Part of the reason is that I see myself first and foremost as an individual, and the notion of collectivism makes me cringe (I would not make a good Chiraktis.) But the true appeal of the Omul is that I wonder what their culture and society look like. Is it as formless and mutable as the Omul themselves? What does their architecture and art look like? Would life in an ever-changing world be ultimate freedom, or total madness? I imagine that like the Omul themselves, the answer is a paradox.”
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Matthew, my friend and the co-author of the Solar Echoes game, emailed me about his favorite alien. He wrote: “My favorite Solar Echoes alien is probably the Archaeloids, though they are all interesting races with cultures that mesh well together in a roleplaying game. The Archaeloids are a prime example of how a book should not be judged by its cover, but on multiple levels. On the one hand, they are physical hulking and mighty creatures with strange bodies and an aquatic origin that is utterly alien to not only people who play Solar Echoes, but the other races in the game. In short, they appear disturbing and dangerous. On the other hand, they are often gentle giants that face many challenges integrating into the community of alien races because of their unusual nature, remote home-world location, and need to catch up to the technology advances of the other races. But aliens, like people in real life, can have many layers to them, and Archaeloids are well suited for this role. Those who don’t know them assume that they are big, dumb, and deadly. Those who do know their race assume they are relatively peaceful and perhaps a bit innocent or even backwards. But reality could be anywhere in between or something else entirely. A mighty, battle-hungry Archaeloid warrior as a player character would be unexpected – as would be one who is skilled at manipulating others by using the seeming innocence of his race as an advantage. And an Archaeloid villain – cruel, cunning, and as deadly as his physical bulk would indicate – is something nobody would expect. So, for interesting variety and a race with many layers, some of which are easily understood, some of which are not, I’d go with the Archaeloid as my favorite alien race in Solar Echoes.”
Monday, October 24, 2016
This week I've asked a few friends and family to tell me what their favorite Solar Echoes alien is, and why. I'd also like to hear from you and know what you think in this inter-stellar popularity contest. At the end of the week, I'll share the results and let you know who won! So, to start today, I'll share what some of my family thinks, starting with my wife. Her favorite is the insectoid Chiraktis, which she likes because they are intelligent (she must be referring to the worker drones of the race, not the warriors) and are extremely tenacious workers. She's definitely right about their tenacity, because the worker drones get a racial talent called "Devoted Tenacity." Plus, she thinks they look really cool, which is saying something because my wife hates bugs! My own parents, however, both chose the amoebic Omul, which might be because they've both read my unpublished Solar Echoes novel (know of any agents or publishers that might be interested? I'm looking...) My mother said she likes the Omul because it is a clever, intelligent creature that lacks social graces, interrupting conversations while acting like a child needing attention. Omuls do, in the Solar Echoes game, have the lowest possible "influence" attribute, meaning that they are really, really bad at persuasion-related skills. My father said he chose the Omul because it is the creepiest creature, especially with its "displace loyalty" and "inhabit other" racial talents. In his words, the Omul is "totally weird."
Friday, October 21, 2016
I have had a number of other VR experiences, including the “Sports Bar VR,” “Invasion,” some of the 360-degree short films in “Within,” and some of the games from the “VR Playroom.” Invasion was a miniature animated movie where you are standing in one place (with the body of a rabbit) and can observe what is going on around you. It is a neat way to watch a movie. “Within” allows you to look around in a 360-degree film, but I must admit I became motion-sick in one that had me strapped into a moving wheel-chair in an insane-asylum. Motion sickness is not something I have ever experienced from a game, but it may take a while before my brain can adjust to the belief that I am moving without the inner-ear sensation of actual motion. “Scavenger's Odyssey” in VR Worlds was very unsettling in regards to movement, and I could only play it for short sessions before I had to stop. Women naturally get motion-sick more easily than men, and my daughter barely managed a minute in Scavenger's Odyssey before she had to take the headset off. Despite this side-effect, though, a number of games I've played don't induce this feeling, and the experience of VR is really something you can't fully imagine—you really need to experience it yourself! This technology is not the gimmick I first suspected it might be. Virtual Reality is a revolution in gaming, and we're going to be seeing it implemented into the entertainment industry from all angles, not to mention its military, educational, and medical applications. In my opinion, VR is here to stay, and its only going to get better!
Thursday, October 20, 2016
After finishing the “VR Worlds” passive experience of Ocean Descent, I decided to try "London Heist." This felt very much like an immersive movie and video game combined. In one of the early scenes, it began with me seated at a table in a smoky bar. I was using the two "move" controllers, and I had two hands in the game that I could move like my own to pick up and manipulate objects. In front of me was a cigar and a lighter on the table, so I picked the cigar up in my left hand and the lighter in my right. I clicked the trigger on my controller (I think it was the trigger--I don't remember which, it felt so natural) and the lighter lit with a flame that I used to light my cigar. Then, I pulled my left hand close to my face and breathed in--the embers on the cigar glowed. I then blew out onto the air, and the microphone on the VR headset translated that into smoke blowing out of my mouth in VR! I was smoking a cigar, without the risk of lung cancer! Shortly after this, a man showed up and sat at my table, talking to me about a jewel heist. I felt like he was right there—the physical presence was almost palpable. His cell phone rang and after answering it, he said it was for me. I reached over and took it from him, and when I instinctively held it up to my right ear, I could hear the voice of the other guy on the line, in my right ear! The 3D audio in VR is impressive! Later, I picked up a handgun in one hand, smacked a magazine into the handle with my left hand, and began shooting with amazing pinpoint accuracy at bad guys on motorcycles outside the van as an incredibly life-like VR character drove. I even leaned out the window and looked behind the van to see more bad guys coming, but in reality I was staring right at the back of my couch. The weirdest thing is, when I touched my couch, I actually thought there was some kind of invisible object I'd bumped in the game!
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Instead of my reactions, I'll share those of my wife, who is not a gamer at all and is generally unimpressed by technology. Immediately, she was looking around, leaning over and reaching out, waving her arms trying to touch the fish, and getting nervous the deeper the cage was lowered into the ocean depths. She was "oohing" and "awwing" when she saw manta rays, sea turtles, and jelly fish. She asked, "is this a movie?" not understanding it was a video game--she said it looked incredibly real (And this is coming from someone that thought Uncharted 4 on an HDTV "still looks like a game.") Finally, the great white shark showed up, and my wife pulled her legs up onto the couch each time it circled the cage. When it attacked and bit onto the cage, trying to tear it apart to get to her, my wife was screaming at the top of her lungs, hugging her legs and leaning away from the virtual shark, shouting to me, "I don't like this!" After the game ended, though, when she took of the VR headset she told me she thought it was amazing and felt incredibly real, that even though she knew the shark wasn't real she believed it was. I know exactly how she felt, because when I first experienced it alone the night before, I had been shouting at the people above on the boat to pull me up. My daughter and I laughed silently when watching my wife go through this, and when it was my daughter's turn to try, even though she knew what would happen (we'd watched it together on the tv screen, which showed everything my wife saw) when she tried it herself, she had all the very same reactions.
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
During the unboxing, I have to say that I was impressed with the packaging. I don't normally care about or notice such things, but this impacted me the same way that some Apple product packaging has: it was very stylish and almost classy. Just opening the box and removing the compartmentalized components made me feel like I'd bought something special. The instructions were very straight-forward and easy to follow, short and simple on each page. I had it all hooked up in minutes and was ready to go. The device fit easily onto my head and was surprisingly light and comfortable. The only thing I didn't like was that it has a cord and I had to figure out where to adjust that so it didn't interfere with my movements or break my suspension of disbelief. I decided to purchase VR Worlds, which has several short games. I first tried Ocean Descent, which is an entirely passive experience where you just observe. You start in a shark cage submerged in the ocean about 50 feet below the surface, and are then slowly lowered down. I'll discuss reactions more tomorrow, but I can tell you this--VR is not just another 3D-gimmick, it is incredibly immersive, and I truly believe it will completely change the future of gaming and entertainment!
Monday, October 17, 2016
Last Thursday, Sony released their new virtual reality (VR) headset to the public. I've been skeptical about virtual reality ever since we all started hearing about the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and other competing VR devices. The motion-controlled games that were a passing fad back with the Nintendo Wii were at first taken seriously by Sony with their "Move" controllers and even more seriously by Microsoft with their attempt to make their "Kinect" motion-controlled device mandatory with the purchase of their Xbox 360. Microsoft continued to stubbornly insist upon this despite massive gamer protests against it and dismal sales until they finally relented months later and offered the Xbox without it. Motion-controlled games are now seen as a fad and a failed venture, so it's very easy to understand the reluctance of these companies to get behind VR, and even easier to understand the hesitance of gamers to invest in it. The PlayStation VR headset isn't cheap, running at about $400 for just the headset and $500 for the bundle that includes the camera and two motion controllers. Thankfully, I already had the camera and motion controllers, so I bought only the headset (which I learned was a bit of a feat, since my pre-order for this was apparently rare and available during only a very small window of time earlier this summer.) The night before release, I went online and downloaded a lot of the free VR offerings, since I hadn't decided which official game to get yet and wanted to wait for reviews. I later bought and downloaded PlayStation VR worlds, and this week I'll cover my initial impressions...
Friday, October 14, 2016
Finally, once we had established the histories and positions of the races, we needed to fill in the blanks, so to speak. What was trade like? How did they travel and how long did it take? What other factions existed? Questions like these prompted miniature stories and we filled our universe in with details that “fleshed out” the game world we had created. One example involves the gigantic, roaming asteroid-prison called “Thanatos,” where I imagined a futuristic, isolated Alcatraz-like penal colony for the very worst prisoners. Another example involves the three biggest criminal organizations in the universe and what their goals are—you can read more about these in the recent release of the Union Guard Handbook. Even a disturbing cult exists in our universe, which believes in a mysterious alien race that they are convinced will elevate them to immortality, hence the cult name, “The Immortals.” Many of the other details in our universe were inspired by actual events in reality, and some of the stories we tell through our missions actually reflect these events with occasional, subtle commentary implied through the telling of these stories—what will happen to us if we keep going down this path?—for example. I've always seen science fiction as a warning, reflecting truths about our reality and spinning them forward into the future to show the dire consequences of our choices. The Solar Echoes universe is an imagined space opera, but interwoven throughout its fabric is a lot that might challenge players to reflect upon the direction and choices we are making as humans. At the same time, the game universe is ready for you to write your own stories—there is plenty of room in the reaches of outer space for everyone!
Thursday, October 13, 2016
We needed a solid history for the Solar Echoes universe, to explain how everyone had arrived at the point where you, as a player character, enter the game. We drew up territories for each of the races, deciding on their locations in the universe, figuring that this might help provide a starting point for their histories. Their personalities and cultures helped shape their histories based on their proximity to each-other. For example, the aggressive, expansionist Chiraktis bordered the territory of the Krissethi, so it was logical to conclude that the two fought countless wars against each-other. The Omuls bordered the Erwani territory, and the weaker, Elder-faction of the Erwani that refused to use technology provided the perfect victims for the Omul conquests, which also prompted some of the growth of the technological Erwani faction—these Erwani became the defenders of their Elders, even though the Elders had cast them out for their “apostasy” for using technology. When the Reln encounted the humans, trade and knowledge was exchanged, though some aid was given to the humans in dealing with the warlike Krissethi on their own borders. The Inter-stellar Union (ISU) was formed to facilitate peace among the races, starting with the defining of territorial borders, which thankfully helped placate the warring races. Through joint explorations, the reclusive Archaeloids were discovered upspin of the Chiraktis and Krissethi territories, and they also decided to join the ISU, though their increased military build-up had many of the races concerned. The Archaeloids explained that they hope they'll never need it, but knowing now of the other races and their warring histories, the Archaeloids think it is foolish to assume that the peace will hold forever, or that the 7 races are the only life in the universe.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
After we'd decided on the alien races (plus humans, of course), we needed to design their cultures and histories. Some of these were easy, based on the organism that inspired it--the culture of the insectoid Chiraktis could be similar to the hive structure found with ants. The competitive nature of male iguanas somewhat inspired the culture of the Krissethi, though I will admit it was also influenced by some of today's culture in wealthier societies where status and appearance is highly valued. The formless, solitary behavior of amoebas inspired the culture of Omuls--a chaotic society of relativist anarchists. Yet I conceived some of the cultures totally by imagining what a possible outcome of today's trends, taken to an extreme, could produce. For instance, it is becoming increasingly difficult to succeed in American society without advanced degrees and countless updated certifications. For the Reln, I imagined a society that suffered under the weight of “educational inflation,” where they spent most of their lives advancing their education. Their government leaders were the educated elite, with the most degrees and expertise in their fields. This government is what is known as a Noocracy, an “aristocracy of the wise.” Another theoretical government I imagined was that of the Erwani, whose constant pursuit of technology caused me to conclude their government would be a Technocracy—a government where only the most technically skilled engineers and scientists were considered for leadership.
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
The Solar Echoes universe naturally began with the characters--the alien races. We designed each of the races based on what we thought were the best survivors on earth. If any life from earth was to survive on another planet, what would it be? Insects were an easy and obvious choice, so the Chiraktis was born, which I designed based on the mantis with some grasshopper added in for a tougher appearance. An aquatic creature that has lived in our oceans since ancient times--the Nautilus--inspired my design of the Archaeloid; I turned the nautilus upside-down and added some lobster-like arms and legs. Giant reptiles once roamed our planet, and may still if not for the catastrophe that wiped them out, so the Krissethi was another obvious choice, it's appearance based on a fusion of an guana and a chameleon. I feel sorry for the artists, though, because I was especially picky about the Krissethi's look, since I once had a pet iguana and love lizards! Of course admitting this reveals my bias towards wanting a reptilian race in the game.
The plant-race, the Erwani, was Matthew's area, because he is quite an expert when it comes to anything botany-related. We both fondly remembered the 80's computer game, "Starflight," and the plant alien we'd sometimes encounter in space, so we loved the idea of having intelligent vegetation in our game. As for the Omul, that was inspired by a sci-fi novel I'd been writing back in high school about alien amoebas invading the earth. Plus, the top of our list for the most likely life in outer space was single-celled organisms, so the formless Omul made a lot of sense. The Reln was based on our decision that players needed a choice of something similar to humans, but different enough that it still felt unique. We struggled on that at first, and when a dog-like race was proposed, I was very against it, but it wasn't until I did my best to make the concept look "cool" in my sketches that it was finally agreed that we drop the idea--my sketches were decent, but dog-aliens just didn't feel right for Solar Echoes (werewolves in space? Gnolls with guns? No thanks.) Instead, we decided bats were great survivors, so we loosely based the Reln humanoid on the bat, especially considering that the Reln spend much of their time underground in the dark, due to the intense radiation of their resonance-locked sun.
Monday, October 10, 2016
When I was developing the Solar Echoes game initially, I worked with a friend of mine, Matthew Hannum. Though we spent nearly two years developing and testing the rules system, we also spent those two years talking about the game world we were designing. We often began with questions, like, “What type of organism would most likely survive on another planet?” and “What would the culture of an intelligent reptilian species be like?” Yet this was much bigger than designing a single world--we were designing an entire universe! If we'd had any idea when we started how big this would become, I think we'd have been overcome and might not have finished. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from my wife, when she and I decided to repaint our entire basement. When we finished, two full days later, she said, "It's amazing what you can accomplish when you have no idea what you're getting into!"
Friday, October 7, 2016
In the Jetsons, Rosie was a household robot maid that served the family. Today, we already see robots in the home such as the Roomba--a robotic, roaming vacuum, or Spykee, a robotic, roving dog that enables the owner to access its mobile webcam and keep an eye on things around the house. For instance, you can log into your robot spy through your smartphone and shout to your dog to get off the couch when you're not at home. There are other robots that have made their way into homes, such as Rockaroo—a robot that will rock your baby for you, Litter Robot LRII--a cat-litter changing robot, Robomow—an electric grass-mowing robot, Nanda Clocky—a robot alarm clock that drives away to get you out of bed in the morning, and even Agent 007—a security robot that patrols your home and monitors your doors and windows, shouting “Freeze, police!” at intruders. These robots aren't nearly as sophisticated as the Jetson's Rosie, but robotics is advancing so fast, it is just a matter of time!
Thursday, October 6, 2016
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Flying cars are the exciting news, since they haven't exactly taken off yet. Other technologies envisioned in the Jetsons, however, have. Flatscreen TV's and interactive flatscreen computers were commonplace in the Jetsons, mounted on walls like paintings. It's unfortunate some of our favorite classic science fiction shows and movies failed to predict this, because seeing the inside of starships outfit with clunky CRT computer monitors really ruins our suspension of disbelief. Not only were flatscreens commonplace in The Jetsons, but video chats were also a feature of the futuristic TV show. Today, Skype, FaceTime and others all allow for us to visually chat, real-time, with people anywhere in the world. Video-chat and video-conferencing is widely used in business, and it has become so common that it is considered as only a feature on most devices. It's impressive that the writers of Jetsons saw this coming back in the early 1960's!
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Have you heard of Terrafugia? Maybe you've heard of the vehicle they are developing, the Transition? The Transition is a hybrid electric flying car with vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities that won't require an airport runway, and it will drive on all roads and highways. It appears that the current move is towards automated flying, where you just tell the car where you want to go, and it will fly you there. Automated piloting isn't something unheard of—Google has been developing self-driving cars for several years now. Uber has also been looking into self-driving cars, and they have been researching VTOL technology. Jeff Holden, Uber's head of product, claims that in 10 years, “passenger drones” may be ferrying you to your destination through the skies!
Monday, October 3, 2016
Was the future depicted in “The Jetsons” cartoon far-fetched, or...strangely accurate? The cartoon was first aired in 1962, and later revived with new episodes from 1985 to 1987 in full color. It wasn't long ago that we might have chuckled at the suggestion that anything in the Jetsons would actually happen (if you even remember the show!), but as we approach 2017, it's looking like the futuristic cartoon may have been right—about a lot! Back in the 80's, many of us earnestly believed that flying cars would be a thing of the future. Movies like the “Back to the Future” series show flying cars as a way of life only a generation away. The setting of the Jetsons was also around the same time-frame, taking place in 2062. As we look around in frustration, feeling disappointed that flying cars never happened, something you might not have known about is brewing...