Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Neuromorphic Computing (part 2)

Neuromorphic computing—computers that aren't dependent on a power source and can remember their processes despite power loss—raises a question that might disturb futurists like Elon Musk: What about artificial intelligence? AI has long been deemed safe because people assume “we can always unplug it” if things go wrong. Yet a rogue AI using neuromorphic computing will continue to operate despite the loss of a power source--unplugging the system will not halt its processes or clear its data. An AI will always focus on completing whatever tasks it has been assigned, or has assigned itself, and if those tasks could be disrupted by being unplugged, the AI will prioritize eliminating the possibility of this hindrance to its goals. Neuromorphic computing could potentially allow an AI to persist indefinitely, regardless of a power source, making things that much more difficult to isolate and contain. Hopefully, safeguards will be implemented as AI's are developed, such as preventing AI from existing on or having access to computers utilizing neuromorphic components.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Archaeloid vs. Omul Battle Art Update

I'm still working with John Fell on poses for our two sci-fi alien warriors, and the Archaeloid stances with the steel bo-stick are just about decided, though they are rather contingent on what happens with the Omul. Not to be too “punny,” but the situation with the Omul is still rather “fluid.” We're trying different poses with the Omul to figure out just what to do with his arms with regards to the katana he's wielding. One arm just didn't look right to me, but the current approach with two isn't exactly right, either. I've given John some suggestions to try for the next iteration, and we'll see how that goes, but below is where we're at right now. The Omul bottom is also a concern, but we haven't started working on that yet. My idea is to take the stances of humans and convert that over to an Omul somewhat, but I told John to draw the legs like someone wearing really baggy pants. I don't want the Omul to look like he has legs per se, but I think his base needs to look like he has some kinetic energy wound up and releasing as he strikes with his sword.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Neuromorphic Computing

Engineers have been developing microprocessors which mimic the biological synapses of the human brain. The projection is being led by Joshua Yang and Qiangfei Xia, professors of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts. Their work focuses on ionics instead of electronics, specifically “memristors,” which “enable neuromorphic computing by reproducing the functions in biological synapses and neurons in a neural network system, while providing advantages in energy and size.” These synaptic emulators have a distinct advantage over traditional microprocessors because they are not dependent on a power source. Essentially, a memristor has a memory, so even if it loses power it can remember what it was doing before and continue the action. Computers of the future may be able to shut on and off as fast as a light bulb without losing any data, files, or processes. What implications might this technology have upon our future?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Website Re-design Underway!

The Solar Echoes website at is going through a complete make-over. It has been nearly four years since the website's initial launch, and I've been feeling that the current website looks a bit dated. Plus, it isn't optimized to display well on tablets and smartphones, which a large percentage of us are using to browse the web these days instead of desktop computers. I've also wanted to use the artwork of artist John Fell for the website, and an overhaul was a great opportunity to put his talent on display. With his fantastic alien artwork and the new alien emblems, the website re-design is looking good already. Here's a sneak peek at some of the homepage. I'll definitely let everyone know when the new Solar Echoes website is live—I'm hoping it will be very soon! It's a good time to go visit for a last look at the old site, because it's about to vanish into memory.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

French Game Club Mission Report (part 2)

By crossing-checking the information gathered from the hacking of the captain’s computer and the interrogation of the crew, the team discovers that the rendezvous is set in a bar on the Hemera Spaceport, a space station in orbit around the mining planet Lithos. The captain never met his contact, and he is supposed to find out his identity in a coded conversation with the bartender, which will reveal the contact who is ready to offer payment for the smuggled cargo. The team leaves the smugglers in the custody of the agents onboard the XR-Celthrin and takes the cargo ship to the rendezvous point on the Spaceport. On the way, they take a closer look at the cargo, and Khassim discovers the hidden Chiraktis eggs. Khassim also manages to plant a passive tracker in one of the Chiraktis eggs crates in order to trace the cargo if it moves beyond their surveillance. A few hours later, the cargo ship arrives in sight of the spaceport, and the team manages to work together to solve a problem that could have had dire consequences--they realize the smugglers deactivated the ID beacon of their ship to be less detectable, which could have triggered the spaceport to shoot them down if they did not reactivate it on time. Once the team docked their ship at the Spaceport, they looked for the bar mentioned by the captain, the Star Wrangler. A success on their Awareness check allows them to spot a holo-animation, where a Krissethi with a large cow-boy hat captures stars with a lasso at the bar entrance. The Star Wrangler is crowded by many patrons when they enter, and members of all the different races occupy the establishment. The team decides to split up around the room, just in case things take a violent turn when they approach the smuggler contact.

Monday, November 21, 2016

French Game Club Mission Report (part 1)

The French gaming club, Les Petit Joueurs (“Little Gamers”) has recently played the “Egg Drop” mission in Solar Echoes. The mission involves intercepting an operation to smuggle Chiraktis eggs and then posing as the smugglers to determine where the eggs were being moved to. Chiraktis are known for trying to illegally expand their kind outside their own borders, and their actions violate the Non-Proliferation Addendum of the Interstellar Union. When the team finds the smuggler's ship, the Reln, Prof. Zholtaân, decides to communicate with the ship’s captain. He attempts a bluff to pretend he is a young and inexperienced captain, that the communication array of his ship is damaged. The high persuasion score of Prof. Zholtaân also allows him to convince the smugglers that he is the nephew of a rich Reln merchant, and he offers part of his cargo in exchange for repairs. Once they are onboard, Prof. Zholtaân, flanked by the Archaeloid Oosnubu, negotiate with the smugglers, who ask for all their cargo for the repairs. They are distracted by the cunning words of the Reln and the imposing presence of the Archeloid, and fail to spot the third member of the team, Khassim, the Krissethi infiltrator, stealthily moving between the crates of the cargo bay, arriving suddenly at the captain’s back to hold him at gun point. Khassim uses his intimidation advantage to convince the captain to order his crew to surrender and get onboard the XR-Celthrin without resisting. Once the smugglers are placed into custody within the ship’s cabins, the team reveals they are in fact UG agents, and proceed to a quick interrogation, as well as a search of the crew and cargo.

Friday, November 18, 2016

ESPodcast_42 Group Plays Solar Echoes (part 4/4)

The ESPodcast group consisted of 6 players, which in some other role-playing games might result in slow gameplay. However, the pace moved quickly in combat and when the group was out of combat, their interactions were very entertaining across all of their different characters and personalities. There was Mike, who played the well-spoken Reln, the “face” of the team in social encounters and commander of the crew aboard their starship. There was JT, the lurking Krissethi that seldom spoke but often assisted from the shadows, also serving as the team's Science Officer aboard the starship, helping the pilot maneuver into blind spots. The tough Archaeloid was played by Nick, who often used his presence to intimidate and served as the team's tactical officer, operating the starship weapons to great effect. The pilot of the team was Stacey, aka “ACE,” played by Dominick (Dom), who not only piloted the team out of danger in starship dogfights but also was quite effective in social encounters, especially with human males. Dave played the team's Erwani, who helped with the investigation and sometimes took over as captain so Mike's Reln could use his engineering skills to assist in battle. And finally, there was the chaotic Omul “Jones,” played by Jordan, who was the team's hacker and Com Officer aboard the starship, often jamming the sensors of enemy ships to confuse them in battle. Together, the 6 players made every game session exciting and very interactive, and it was great to see everyone working as a team aboard their starship, using their respective skills in their investigation, and to survive or bring down enemy starships in the starship race known as “The Tarball Run.”

Thursday, November 17, 2016

ESPodcast_42 Group Plays Solar Echoes (part 3/4)

An interesting encounter with the group of players was when they happened upon a Reln black-market dealer of Voidsea artifacts at the race. He was of course advertising his wares as if they were “curios” from a past culture, but when the Arena Security guards were not around, he revealed that what he really had were powerful pieces of ancient technology discovered in the Voidsea. Most of the team wanted to move on, but two of the player's characters were very interested. They let him make his sales pitches and he explained that he'd just sold one of his most powerful items to another racing team, so if this team had any chance of beating them, they needed one of his artifacts. Despite the constant warnings of the Archaeloid teammate that they was being scammed, the human female, ACE, and the Omul on their team, “Jones,” really wanted to pool the team's resources so they could afford to buy one of the expensive items, the “Comet Harness.” It was a lot of fun watching the players interact during this encounter, as they argued and reasoned together—the role-playing was excellent. Unfortunately, in the end, the supposedly wiser heads won the argument and they moved on, though later in the race, they did encounter the racer that had purchased a Voidsea artifact and witnessed a spectacular display of technology they had never seen before.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

ESPodcast_42 Group Plays Solar Echoes (part 2/4)

The mission for the team was to infiltrate a famous sporting event—a starship race—and locate a particular pilot wanted by the Union Guard (UG). The pilot had won the race 5 years prior (the race occurs every 5 years) and the UG had tried to capture him then, but he had used deadly force and killed the agents pursuing him. One problem was that this pilot was very good at hiding and changing his true identity, so the team had very little to go on. The plan was for the team to enter the arena several days before the race to talk with various racing teams and try to narrow things down to locate the target.

Things did not start well, because the team's pilot, a human female character named Stacy (aka. “ACE”) failed her pilot check as she was entering the landing bay, scratching their starship against the inner walls in the tightly-packed starship bay. This earned them a bit of a negative reputation right from the start, and it was difficult to be taken seriously when word spread to the other racing teams in the competition. The player who was playing “ACE” did a great job with his character, though, and stayed in character through a number of challenging situations. One comical theme that continued to return with his character was her desire to win the race—“ACE” kept losing sight of their mission goals and was intent on figuring out how to beat the other teams. The Reln character, “Ki,” on their team that played the role of commander continually had to reprimand her and remind her of their true purpose, and the players did a fantastic job at acting this out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

ESPodcast_42 Group Plays Solar Echoes (part 1/4)

Sorry I missed my post Monday—I got in at 3am thanks to a late-night Solar Echoes game, and had to be somewhere at 4:30am, so I spent a few extra hours sleeping! The last couple weekends, I ran a Solar Echoes demo for some of the guys over at ES_Podcast. Their group of players is much more role-playing focused, and the six of them seemed to not be very interested in combat. I decided to run a mission for them that was focused on investigation and story, with a variety of characters. The only problem was that this mission is written for character levels 8-9, and these guys were just starting out at level 1. However, one advantage of the Solar Echoes game system is the ability to quickly adjust level challenges without having to rewrite everything. If you'd like more details on how this works, check out the free download of “The Overnight Elite Pack,” which explains how to quickly level up a scenario—this same process can be used in reverse as well. In the end, I think the mission challenges felt very balanced and the usual fast gameplay Solar Echoes is known for was not affected. This week, I'll cover a few of the memorable moments during the mission and share with you some of the fun role-playing moments of the ES_Podcast gamers!

Friday, November 11, 2016

D&D arrives in Toy Hall of Fame

Congratulations, Dungeons and Dragons, for making it into the Toy Hall of Fame! My many years playing D&D (I still have the original purple-cover set pictured below!) provided many memorable experiences, and inspired me to create my own tabletop RPG, Solar Echoes! Thanks Gary Gygax, TSR, Wizards of the Coast, and everyone else involved in keeping this great game going all these years! 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Mission: The Seeds of Chaos

An excerpt from Sunday's mission report of an agent that encountered rampaging, malfunctioning robots at a shopping mall:

At this time, we were attacked by a Cleaning Bot. “Help me relax, so I don’t have to wax, keep the floor clean.” Why do we program these bots to project themselves as sentient? Their entire mechanical purpose is to clean. Why is this one requesting a reduction in his labor?
I move Nassarius away from danger and follow the unit into formation.
“Please drop your valuables for me, I accept tips.” Again I have to question the intent of the command. Are the robots collecting tips for the creators? The maintenance crew? Themselves?
Jones makes a strange request for me to throw trash. I assume this is some sort of gleamed information regarding the robots purpose. Jones nanite-swarmed the robot. He was then counter attacked and made a tactical dodge. UG training pays off.
“You drop it I mop it.” This cadence seems much more sensible.
I move Nassarius against a wall, and deployed the contents of the local trash receptacle, as per my ally's request. Ka repositioned within my peripheral view, so I monitored his blind spots, with Nassarius to my rear.
The robot attacked Jones. I believe he was hit. Ka discharged his weapon into the combat zone. It is reasonably assumed that his attack was successful.
“Please don’t litter, it makes me bitter.” This is the 3rd abnormal statement made from the malfunctioning robot...

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

"What is the Voidsea?"

 I was asked this question during a Solar Echoes game Sunday night. As soon as you enter the Solar Echoes universe, it won't be long before you know the answer to this question, because the Voidsea is the most noticeable and prominent feature of known space--it is a massive dimensional tear in space from which few have ever returned. Only the Reln have figured out how to enter and leave the Voidsea. The secrets they have uncovered there about a vanished, powerful alien race and an ancient war are secrets the Reln are keeping to themselves. But what is the Voidsea, exactly? Uncover some of the mystery here: 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

It's Election Day! Vote for your favorite alien government!

Archaeloid Demarchy: Rule by officials that met requirements and submitted their names to a lottery from which they were randomly chosen. After term, citizens vote either for continuance or for a new lottery.

Chiraktis Monarchy: Rule by the queen with absolute power over the Hive

Erwani Technocracy: Rule by technical experts, scientists, and engineers

Human Meritocracy/Democracy: Rule by the intelligent and skilled, with appointments made by votes of the citizens

Krissethi Confederated Oligarchic Aristocracy: Rule by the largest tribe with the most status and wealth, with power from the top down among competing, lesser tribes

Omul Collectivist Anarchism: Officially lacks any specific ruling leaders. Production is owned collectively and managed by the producers, shared among all citizens.

Reln Noocracy: Rule by the educated elite

Monday, November 7, 2016

Omul Miniature Painted!

Saejin Park finished painting my Omul miniature last weekend, and he has done an impressive job! It looks just like the art by John Fell that the sculpt was modeled after by 3d-sculpting artist Jeremy Gosser. This sculpt is available online from Shapeways, where you can order your favorite Solar Echoes character and receive the 3d-print in the mail at your doorstep.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Anniversary Sale Ends Soon!

The 4th Anniversary Sale (40% off our products!) ends Monday, November 7. Don't let the weekend pass and miss out on this once-in-a-year sale, we only slash our prices this much during our anniversary week! Monday (Halloween) was officially the fourth year since the release of Solar Echoes! Thanks for staying with us these past four years! A lot has happened since release, and looking at where Solar Echoes is now, it's exciting to see how much it has grown and how the gaming community has grown as well. Since the initial release of 3 books (the Player's Guide, Mission Controller's Guide, and Starter Kit) 23 other online products have been released for the game. In addition to that, there are now 7 miniatures available at through 3D printing—a miniature for each Solar Echoes alien race! New art, new maps, new supplements and missions are all on the horizon. Enjoy the sale this weekend!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Process of Designing New Artwork

As I usually do when I work with artists, I try to provide images of some things I have in mind. I went online and did a search for “Bo-stick vs. Katana,” and I found a few youtube videos of martial artists engaging in fights with these two weapons. Then, I paused at a few cool moments and took screen-shots of the image. Here is an example of an image I liked (one of the eight images I sent to John). I've also taken some of the original Solar Echoes artwork by Jay Darnell and made a few sloppy alterations with photoshop so I could make the Omul look like he was wielding a katana. Of course, the final poses drawn by John Fell will be different than these, but this is almost like a “story-board” piece of preliminary concept art to help visualize a few things. I can't wait to see these two in battle, and I'm excited to see what John does with the poses. Making an Omul look like an agile ninja-type warrior with a katana is going to be a challenge, but it's going to be really cool!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Help Design New Artwork! (Which Weapons?)

From the feedback I've been getting, the Omul is looking like he is going to be the Archaeloid's opponent in the upcoming Solar Echoes alien fight artwork! (I ran a popularity contest last week and the Omul was the clear winner, and people I've been talking to would all like to see him fight the Archaeloid.) Now the question is, what weapons should these two be using to fight? I want them to be up-close and personal in a melee fight, so ranged weapons (firearms) are out. We already have a variety of melee weapons available in Solar Echoes, but a number of them hint at Japanese culture: katana, bo-stick, razor-ono (axe), and throwing knives (kunai). I've always seen the Archaeloid as kind of a samurai-type character, considering his thick, armored shell. The Omul almost seems like a ninja, so I'm leaning towards the Archaeloid using a steel bo-stick while the Omul uses a katana (maybe with a few kunai in a pseudopod, as well). Past art for the Archaeloid has him holding two energy swords, and I considered an energy sword instead of a katana, but then I'm sure everyone will be arguing about whether it can cut through a steel bo or not (trust me—just google online about “lightsaber capabilities” and you'll find tons of geek discussions about it). Yet, if I use the steel bo and a katana as the character's weapons, will it look sci-fi enough? They'll of course have other gear and firearms in holsters and such, so hopefully that will be enough to convey this is still sci-fi. Thoughts?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Help Design New Artwork!

I've worked with several very talented artists on new artwork and miniature designs, and I'm looking forward to future projects with them. One of my newest endeavors is to produce some Solar Echoes art showing a battle between two characters, and I've recently talked with artist John Fell about this project. I'd like to get your ideas for which two races you'd like to see fighting, and what weapons, armor, and gear you'd like to see them using! I'll select my favorite (and most popular) ideas, and then relay that information to John so he can start working. I'm going to share some of the images of the process with you as we work on putting this scene together! So, let me know in the comments below or through a personal message what you'd like to see in this artwork!