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Monday, November 22, 2010

The Consequences of Writing Hard Science Fiction

     The thing about writing Hard SF is that you have to take into account all of the consequences of your actions.  With The Black Desert, I thought I'd be okay; there's no FTL, no transporters...in fact, most of the tech seems to be mid-21st century, not twenty-third.  I did that for a good reason, by the way: For one thing, its easier to predict mid-century tech, but the main reason is the consequence of having people live so much longer.  In The Black Desert, lifespans reach up to two centuries.  Because of this, the scientific and engineering "old guard" are around for decades longer, and keep the "young turks" with the radical ideas from taking over.
     Those aren't the consequences I am bemoaning in today's post.  My problem is not taking into account all the consequences of my propulsion systems for spacecraft.  I thought I had it taken care of, because I took into account Jon's Law by making Fusion Torches a weapon and all that good stuff.  But while I had the military consequences worked out, I forgot about the economic ones.  I forgot about the L-Drive.
      Like I said in a previous post, the L-Drive is a species of Lightcraft.  I chose this particular propulsion system because its realistic, and it's cheap.  I needed these factors in order to justify groups of PCs flying around in rockets.  After all, if a single launch costs hundreds of millions, Players aren't going to nip off to the Moon to check out a rumor.  The beauty of the L-Drive is that while a spacecraft is in the atmosphere, it does not use propellant.  It can get away with using the atmosphere under its bell.  This is the best feature of the L-Drive, because the Delta-V needed to go from Terra's surface to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is roughly equal to the Delta-V needed to go from LEO to Luna.  Sounds fantastic, right?  Fortunately, I found a video on Youtube showing the prototype in action:
   



     How cool is that?
     Unfortunately, I hadn't thought out all of the consequences of having such an awesome drive in my game.  The biggest advantage of the L-Drive is also the biggest headache for game design: it doesn't use propellant in atmosphere.  Think about what that means, RocketFans.  The fuel cost of launching practically anything into orbit from our ridiculously deep gravity well is now essentially zero.  Sure, it still takes gigawatts of power, but I solved that with D-He3 Fusion. What's the problem?   There is no reason not to keep shipping stuff up from Terra.  Heck, there is no reason to live in space!  I did the math; with this drive, its actually cheaper to go from Luna to Terra's surface and then go to Lthan it would be to go from Luna to L5 directly.  Commuting to Luna would be comparable to flying to Europe on business today.   
     Needless to say, this puts a cramp in my ideas about permanent settlements in space.  
     But that's okay; once I got over the initial shock, I realized that all this easy access to orbit makes the Black Desert even cooler than I thought!  The orbital space around Terra will be loaded with habs, hotels, research stations, fuel depots, transfer points, and any other thing you can think of.  It may not have a more than a few hundred permanent residents, but there will be thousands of transients traveling to and fro, and that means even more NPCs for characters to interact with.  Even better, running adventures on Terra and in space is simpler, and anything that add potential locations to a game is a good thing.
    I still need to do more research on all of the consequences of my propulsion systems (I haven't even worked out all of the Plasma Sail stuff, yet)  but I am confidant that whatever those consequences are, they will make the game even cooler.   

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