Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Tuesday!

     ...I hope the weather where you are is better than it is here...

     Anyway, I don't have too much for you today, RocketFans, as I spent most of the weekend actually working on the Core Book for The Black Desert!  I don't want to reveal too much of the book at this early stage of development, but I will share my first draft of the Skill List for the game:

Acceleration Combat
Acceleration Maneuvering
Airship Maintenance
Airship Operation
Avionics Maintenance
Beam Weapons
Beam Weapon Maintenance
Computer Maintenance
Computer Operation
Customs and Cultures
Firearms Maintenance
Free-Fall Combat
Free-Fall Maneuvering
Ground Vehicle Maintenance
Ground Vehicle Operation
Gunnery Maintenance
Manual Labor
Melee Combat
Melee Weapon Maintenance
Nuclear Engineering
Spacecraft Operation
Spacecraft Maintenance
Strategy and Tactics
Telepresence Maintenance

     ...That's where that is, so far.  I am writing the descriptions of the different skills and putting together the entries on Die Pools, the Wild Die and all that good stuff.
     I did get one other thing done...I turned the diagrams from my combat scenario into an animated diagram! Check it out and Enjoy!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Happy Cyber-Monday!

     It's that time of year again, RocketFans...It's Cyber Monday!

     To celebrate this most busy shopping day online, Blue Max Studios is proud to offer a special deal on all of our merchandise.  Through our partners at DriveThruRPG and RPGNow, we are offering our entire inventory for 20% off the regular prices, just TWELVE DOLLARS!
     In addition to 20% off, buyers of our Cyber Monday Bundle will receive, via email, a sneak peek of our December offering, the Barsoom-class Martian Airship!  Only preferred customers will get to see these plans early.  We won't offer a deal this good again until the week of Christmas, so don't delay,follow the link to order yours right now!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Space Combat in The Black Desert V: A Combat Scenario

     ...or, "How to Destroy 40 Billion Worth of Military Hardware in 10 Easy Steps!"  Because, essentially, that's what we're about to do.

     That's right, RocketFans!  This is the moment we've all been waiting for; a blow-by-blow explanation of combat in deep space, using all of the nifty gear we've been discussing.  Rather than waste time with the build up, I'll just link to the appropriate post so you can get a recap.  All done? Then let's GET IT ON!

    STEP 1:  The two opposing IPVs have been slowing down for days now, and at this point they are only going 15 kps or so.  They release their Wings of rockets, and continue to change vector.  I say 'continue' because even throwing everything they've got into it, those IPVs change direction reeeeeeeeeal slow.  In the diagram, IPV-1 is in the top left and IPV-2 in the bottom right.
     WHAT TO REMEMBER: The deployed Wings are also moving at 15 kps, and will only add to this prodigious speed as they maneuver.  While the below pictures are static, remember that in space everything is moving all the time.

      STEP 2:  The laws of physics cannot be denied.  As soon as the opposing IPVs change vector, their probable positions in space when the enemy's Wing intercepts are easy to calculate.  The opposing Wings blast off to the intercept points, intent on their prey.
     In atmosphere combat, opposing Air Wings would engage each other in a dogfight to gain air superiority.  This is not the case in space; the distances are too vast, and rockets have only so much Delta-V.  Therefore, the opposing Space Wings are flying on the most direct vectors to their targets.
    WHAT TO REMEMBER: You do not have enough gas to screw around, here.  Maneuvering for position is useless at these speeds and with these weapons. 
   WHAT ELSE TO REMEMBER: The IPV I showed you all the other day carries 16 rockets...only one of which, the Command-and-Control (C2) rocket, will have a crew on board.  The rest of the rockets are drones controlled by their autonomous systems and directed by the C2 rocket.  Don't put the Wing Commander in the center of your formation, or in the very back- it's way too obvious.  Pick a defended-yet-random location in your formation.  That is, if you want to live...

      STEP 3: If the opposing rocket Wing reaches your IPV intact, you will have a long ride home.  To keep this from happening, both Wings fire their kinetic missiles on a vector that will put them between the enemy and their IPV.  They won't be going after the bad guys directly; like I said before, the distances are too great.  Besides, physics being what it is, you don't have to.  Anywhere along the opposing Wings attack vector will do the job.
      WHAT TO REMEMBER: Timing is critical.  Launch your kinetics too soon, and they will pass the enemy's vector before the enemy does.  Launch too late and they will miss the party; their speed along the Wing's vector will be to great to turn away from.  The best tactic is to listen to your ballistics computer.

     STEP 4: As the two opposing sides continue towards their deadly rendezvous,  the kenetic missiles begin to break up into clouds of debris.  The debris continues along its course.
      WHAT TO REMEMBER:  There is no friction in vacuum.  No matter how tiny the particles of debris, they will continue along the same vector, at the same speed, until acted upon by an outside force.  The only difference is that the debris will be impossible to dodge by the time it reaches the opposing Wing.  Don't bother trying; save your Delta-V for deceleration and, if you're lucky, the trip home.

     STEP 5:  As the two opposing Wings reach their closest approaches to one another, they launch their laser missiles.  These are sneaky; they will attack the opposing Wing and the opposing Wing's L-Missiles in an attempt to catch the enemy's rockets in a pincer later on.
      WHAT TO REMEMBER: By now, two opposing Wings are going to want to find the enemy's command rocket real bad.  There will be at least one person in charge of this, and another person charged with keeping your command rocket anonymous.  The tangled knot of rockets, lasers and sundry distractions is one of the few times when specific spacecraft are difficult to detect.  Use this to your advantage.

     STEP 6: The L-Missiles open fire on one another.  These are the first direct attacks of the battle.  The goal here, obviously, is to keep as many of your L-missiles intact while taking out as many of the enemy's.
      WHAT TO REMEMBER: Do not fire your rocket's lasers.  You are as likely, at this range, of hitting one of your own L-Missiles as the other team's  Besides, you'll need them later.
       WHAT ELSE TO REMEMBER: Lasers travel at light speed.  Targeting optics do not.  If one of their L-missiles is in a "staring contest" with one of yours, hit it!  These missiles only have one laser turret apiece; concentrate your fire.

      STEP 7: By now, the two swarms of L-Missiles have passed one another and have clear shots at the rocket Wings.  Even better, the rockets are about to enter the debris clouds from the kinetics.  This is where the fun begins.
      WHAT TO REMEMBER: Flip, you fool, flip!  For one thing, you're halfway there, so you need to shed all that acceleration you've been putting on since step 1. For another, Any ship designed to enter atmosphere has its heaviest armor and thickest insulation on its rump.  And things are about to get very hot indeed...
      WHAT ELSE TO REMEMBER: Now you can fire your lasers at the L-Missiles.

      STEP 8: Congratulations!  You are now officially in the kaky.  Both Wings are fighting through a hailstorm of debris with laser missiles sniping at their noses.  This is where the most damage will occur to the rockets.  
           WHAT TO REMEMBER: There is really only one way out of this:  Fire the Fusion Torch.   Nothing clears away unsightly space debris like a searing jet of hydrogen blasting out at ten million degrees.  Just remember, you only get a few seconds of hard burn before using up your propellant reserves, so don't overdo it.  Besides, if you survive this, you still have to take out the IPV.  Keep in mind also that the debris is coming at you sideways reletive to your vector.  There is really nothing you can do to avoid this, as firing your Torch in that direction will blast you off course and into space.  Spread the damage around by rotating your rocket nstead of letting the debris shred only one side.
            WHAT ELSE TO REMEMBER: Those L-Missiles are still out there, and they don't have to enter that cloud of death to shoot at you.  Make sure you keep shooting back.

             STEP 9:  What paltry few rockets escape the debris intact will now spread out and attack the enemy's IPV.  The IPV will attempt to hold them off with lasers long enough that the thrust imparted to the IPV by the rockets' attacks boosts it out of there.    
     WHAT TO REMEMBER: If the rockets in question are Heinleins, they have, in addition to their Fusion Torches, four laser turrets on their tails.  Use them to stare down the IPV's lasers so those expensive Torches get a nice clear shot.

      WHAT NEXT? It depends.  A surviving IPV will continue its long, slow turn, eventually reaching the point in space that its rocket Wing was fighting in.  If any of the rockets happened to survive, they will maneuver and change velocity with any remaining propellant they have (or can scavenge from the wreckage) and dock with their parent craft.  At this point, the survivors of the losing side's command ship scavenge what propellant they can as well and plot a course for the closest friendly port.  They will not have the resources to attempt another pass; they may not be able to get home again.  The victorious IPV can rescue them, of course, and take them prisoner.  Any stranded drone rockets are pick up if possible, because they can be repaired and used to replace the victor's losses.

      Quite often, of course, there are no  survivors.  Just more debris and wreckage strewn across the Black Desert.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Space Combat in The Black Desert IV: Weapons!

I was going to put out a post yesterday, but my wife had a better idea.  Best laid plans of mice, right?

     Anyway, since last post was about IPVs and why they are so hard to destroy, this post is about the weapons used to destroy them - and rockets and pretty much anything else in space.  We'll start with the basics:

     Spacecraft weapons come in three flavors in The Black Desert: Beam, Fusion, and Kinetic. Beam weapons means lasers.  This is pretty much it; plasma is a crappy weapon in realistic space combat because it expands into a cloud and dissipates too quickly to be of use except in some Character-scale melee combat (that is so another post), and particle beams, while both looking and behaving like phasers and turbolasers and whatnot are a little out of our technical league. But lasers are just fine; we have lasers that can vaporize a tank in three seconds now.  Granted, with silica aerogel insulation rockets will be harder nuts to crack,  nevertheless lasers can fulfill the requirements of a Hard SF RPG combat system.
     Lasers have, like everything else, advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages of lasers are their theoretically infinite range and instantaneous strike capability.  In other words, you can't dodge and you can't outrun something that hits you going at light speed.  Lasers can miss; and targeting was the bane that killed the YAL-1 airborn laser system in the first place.  The major disadvantages are that lasers generate a lot waste heat, and the laser itself is the best target of an attacker's laser.
      What this means, in practical terms, is that lasers engage in "staring contests" in an attempt to burn each other out.  Since lasers power virtually all spacecraft propulsion systems, this is roughly the same as shooting the tires in a car chase and shooting the bad guy's gun out of his hand at the same time.
     The obvious solution, of course, is to shoot first.  The next best thing is to have more guns, or lasers that don't hook into your engines.  You can kill two birds with one stone (pun intentional) by stocking cheap, autonomous Laser Missiles/Satellites that fly in formation around your rockets and try to fry the other side's lasers while yours are safe.  Assume that the other side ain't stupid either, and you have wings of Heinleins carrying L-sats in their primary payload bays on both sides.

     Such is the nature of arms races.

     The next category of space weapon we will discuss is Fusion weapons.  These do not include nukes of any kind for reasons that will become obvious in the following section.  The major Fusion weapons in The Black Desert are the Fusion Torches on the rockets themselves.  I realize that this is the second time that a space weapon is also a propulsion system and I can't help that.  When physics hands you a Massively-Powerful-Weapon-O-Massive-Destruction, real life economics dictates that you don't waste billions on R&D trying to outdo it.  The economics of an indie game designer dictate that you don't either, so there you have it; Fusion Engine=Kill-O-Zap.
     I mentioned in a previous post, when you has such a powerful weapon in your Character's arsenal, you must limit it or face breaking the game.  Fortunately, Fusion Torches are pretty limited; in addition to having short ranges, the Torch uses up so much propellant that it's only good for a few shots before you run out of gas.  Therefore, you will want to save its ten-million-degree plume of radioactive death for the most expensive and heavily defended targets.  Targets like the nigh-invulnerable IPVs, that can stand up to almost anything but not to a Fusion Torch.  At least, not for very long.

     Thus, balanced in maintained in the Universe.

     The final type of space-borne weapon in The Black Desert is the Kinetic weapon.  This is basically Mass+Speed=Ka-Boom.  As Rick Robinson pointed out, anything moving at 3 kps will hit you with a force equal to its own mass in TNT.  Doesn't matter if its lead, lunch or laundry- at orbital speeds it's all deadly.
    This is why nukes are impractical. The added expense of an atomic warhead is wasted because the radiation is not especially higher than the rocket can tolerate and the heat storm you get in atmosphere has no medium to travel through in vacuum.  It is much cheaper to make a missile with no payload that is designed to explode in to a cloud of tiny particles in an enemy's vector.  Think about it; a ten- ton solid projectile and a huge cloud filled with ten tons of coin-sized debris is still ten tons. The physics does not care about form or composition, only mass.  And you have to admit that a ten-ton cloud of debris is a lot harder to dodge than a projectile.
     In the Heinlein PDF, I mention that the eponymous rocket's military version is equipped with twelve Piranha Kinetic Missiles.  They follow the example above; once launched, they approach the oncoming Space Wing's vector and explode into choking clouds of debris that rapidly spread out.  The clouds spread out and are almost impossible to avoid, especially at high speed.  Even with diffusion as the clouds spread, having a dozen of these missile-clouds in front of you will pretty much ruin your day.  And your ship.

     Piranha indeed.

     Now, there are tried and true tactics for avoiding the ghastly fates promised by my arsenal of space weapons.  They will be discussed in the next installment of Space Combat in The Black Desert.

    By the way, if you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a safe and happy one.  If you don't, have a safe and happy one anyway.  If you protest the celebration of Thanksgiving as glorifying the beginning of the end of Native American culture...In The Black Desert universe, the American Middle West is part of the Union of the Americas, and is under the leadership and cultural mores of the remainder of North America's native population.  This is one of the first things I decided to do with the campaign setting, a decision I made over two years ago now.  Granted, giving fictitious land back to the natives two hundred years from now is not much, but it's the best I can personally do right now.

    So everybody have a happy and safe whatever. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Space Combat in The Black Desert III: IPVs

    I have been at the Doctor's Office all day today, so this may not be the longest of posts.  That being said, I'll bet most people in the States will be doing the Thanksgiving thing for the rest of the week, so I'm gonna try to give you all some pithy content to remember me by.

     As the title suggests, I will begin by discussing IPVs, or more specifically, Strategic Spacecraft.  Thanks to Wings 3D, one of the many, many optional programs that Ubuntu has let me download, I have been able to build a CG model of said Stategic Craft.  Let's take a look, shall we?
Strategic Spacecraft. 

  The ends of the spacecraft contain the fusion reactors and magnetic sail "poles".  The cylinders behind those contain the IPV's hydrogen propellants.  Next, there are two docking rings, capable of transporting eight Heinlein rockets apiece.  Cargo pods are mounted beneath the rings.  The little spheres contain life support gases and lithium for the active radiators that are not shown in this model.  The exact center of the spacecraft is the primary habitat ring, which houses all the crew, medical facilities, offices, command and control elements, and food and exercise equipment.  I have also not pictured the avionics booms, connecting spars and...well 90% of the detail.  It's just a basic mesh; in February, when I will have my first IPV up for sale, it will be hand-drawn in all the detail of the other deckplans we put out.  I will use the model here to make a perspective drawing, if you're lucky...  

I know it looks like a space station, and that's for a good reason.  It is, a mobile command and control station capable of rapid response any where between the orbits of Terra and Mars.  How fast?  With constant boost, and an acceleration of 0.001g, It is twice as fast as the fastest spacecraft in existence today.  It only takes an IPV a mere 2.4 months to reach Mars orbital space from LEO, compared to 5 months via asteroid cycler.

     Space is really freaking big.

    To make sure everyone has the same mental picture of how one of these things flies, I made this handy diagram of the magnetic sail in relation to the IPV:

     For those who are unfamiliar with how a magnetosphere looks, The stubby end is the one facing the sun; the ship is traveling to the right.  It is safe to fly in any orientation except parallel to it's long axis; the poles are vulnerable to damage from debris.  The fun part is that there will be auroras around the fusion plants, just like there are in Alaska and Australia.

     These things are tough nuts to crack; just as Jon's Law shows that a Fusion Torch is the ultimate weapon, the Magnetic Sail is the ultimate shield.  Because it's designed to repel debris and stellar radiation, it can shrug off lasers, shrapnel, kinetic kill weapons and even nukes with relative ease.  The only theorized effect as of 2010 is that the sail will inflate and accelerate the IPV away from the attack.

     I assume that eventually, the sail will overload and shut down.  It will in The Black Desert at any rate; otherwise it would be a pretty pointless game.

     Tomorrow, we will arm our imaginary Space Wing and see what kind of trouble they can get into.  Have a good night!


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.   

Friday, November 19, 2010

We Interupt our Regularly Schedualed Blog...

     ...To bring you this important announcement!  Well, it's important to me anyway...

     I have family visiting from far off realms this evening, so I have been doing my rendition of "Flight of the Bumblebee" trying to clean house.  Cleaning house with small children in residence is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.  No matter how hard you try...

     With all of this going on (and some last-minute research if I'm lucky) I will be waiting until Monday to continue with Space Combat in The Black Desert.  Hope everyone has a great weekend!

   I'll leave you with a shot from the L5 Production Blog (link's on the right).  It's suits....in...SPAAAACE!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Space Combat in The Black Desert II - Military Spacecraft

      ...I forgot to put the laundry in the dryer and now I have to stay up with it until it finishes, so I can start it again.  What can  I say, it was $275 new nine years ago...
     So, yesterday I presented you with a modest proposal:  Space Combat from the purely from the Character's perspective.   It's not a new idea, and I proposed it as an act of desperation so I could avoid the daunting task of trying to compete with enthusiasts with much more experience.  What I want to do today is expand on just what I am thinking of when I say "Space combat scenarios" in my previous post.  I have had multiple inquiries via Facebook and the Open D6 OGL Forum on the subject, so I had better deliver the goods before going further, huh?
     Jeez, I just put, like, four links in that paragraph...Oh, well, you all had better get ready for more, because I will be relying on Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets site to back me up on a lot of this.  Also not that none of this is set in stone; the articles on this blog are the beginnings of a role-playing game, and the ideas presented will evolve.

      So in order to imagine the combat scenario, we need some imaginary ships spacecraft.  They will be plying the endless ocean empty deserts of space.  Intrepid Admirals Mission Commanders will command coordinate  fleets wings of frigates fighters kinetic-kill UCVs which will dogfight engage at a vast distance with opposing wings of UCVs...
     ...I hope I've made my point.
     I'm sorry if the above sounded snarky or uncalled for, that is not my intention.  I wanted to convey in a single paragraph how frustrating it has been for a Star Trek loving, Lucas worshiping, Space Opera nut like me ended up writing a Hard SF game like this.  I can't help it, either.  I'm too logical to come up with an original SF setting that doesn't end up as hard as cider in the backwoods.  So I have had to lose a lot of misconceptions and unlearn what TV and movies have taught me over the years and start from scratch.
      The following will go faster if you look visit the Atomic Rockets site.  Not smoother, but faster.
      ...Back, okay.  Here we go.
     In the Black Desert setting, there are interplanetary vehicles (IPVs) and orbital vehicles (OVs).  IPVs travel between planets (obviously) and to the different asteroid nodes that cycle between Terra and Mars.  (Why do they cycle?  That has to do with space economics; we'll get to that later.)  Orbiters travel between asteroids in the same nodes, planets and moons and, of course, a planet's surface and orbit.  OVs use L-Drives, making them a species of Lightcraft that uses internal lasers and has limited Delta-V.  IPVs use magnetic sails to achieve constant boost at very low acceleration (say, .01g) and very high specific impulse.  To translate, OV= high thrust and bad gas mileage, and IPV=crappy thrust but great gas milelage.  So, IPVs ferry OVs to other planets or asteroid nodes, then the OVs carry cargo, people and ordinance to the surface, to moons and to the asteroids in a node.
      Everything clear?
     Moving on then, military IPVs (which, if we use the real world as our guide would follow Air Force conventions, not Naval ones) fall into two general categories:  Missile Craft, and Strategic Craft.

     Missile Craft are just what they say.  IPVs that carry lots of missiles. They are more common, because they are cheaper.  Their mission is resource denial; they're basically siege weapons.  They attack asteroid or Lunar installations.  Not by direct bombardment because a) that's suicidal (ICBMs make great surface to space weapons) and b) if you bomb the crap out of your target on an asteroid, there's nothing to capture.  By using indirect missile attack, you can fill the orbital space above your target with so much junk that its impossible to land or take off until you sweep up the debris.  Bereft of supplies the colonists are forced to surrender the base or starve.

     Space Combat is not pretty.

     Once a Missile Craft cut off an asteroid (to get more specific), the Strategic Craft comes into play.  This is because the attackers need to clean up the orbit and occupy the base, and the defenders need rescuing.  So both side will want to send Strategic Craft; and you have a race.  At constant boost speeds (which can reach thirty-six thousand m/sec), there is going to be little difference in engine performance; basically, the closest one wins.  That's why both Missile and Strategic Craft go on long patrols and asteroid outposts will be on alert when enemy craft are on the move (they can totally see them coming, after all).

     -Laundry's done!  I can finally go to bed!  We'll pick this up in they next post...which will probably be later on today.

      Questions, comments, criticisms?  Discuss here.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Space Combat in The Black Desert

     The Valkyrie has been selling like hotcakes, and it pleases me to no end.  Thanks for all the support, RocketFans!   I have a special surprise for those who get the entire inventory that everyone has to wait till December to see...

     So, about two weeks ago, now, I said I would begin articles about space combat in The Black Desert.  Then some things happened.  So, now that all the craziness is over, I can finally begin discussing my ideas for Space Combat.

     The D6 system is fine for space/vehicle combat in Space Opera, Pulp Space, and other settings where the Rule of Cool is more important than the Laws of Physics. For Hard SF...honestly, I'm not sure I can manage it. Not without roughly doubling the length of the rulebook.
     Another reason I am not thrilled with the idea of making hard sf space combat rules can be summed up in two words: Ken Burnside. Ad Astra Games' Attack Vector: Tactical is the definitive 3D space combat game and has become the gold standard by which all others are measured. Not only am I unsure that I could make something half as good, I don't really want to try. In my SW games back in the day, Space combat was always glossed over or ignored completely. In fact, the reason my wife (one of the best DMs I've ever seen) is loath to play sf games is that space combat does not interest her and most of the characters she wants to play have little to do when the blaster bolts fly in the Black.
      This got me thinking...even though I design spacecraft and they are an integral part of my Black Desert setting, do I need to make rules for space combat, with all the hex maps and other nonsense? I started to wonder if I could, maybe, have space combats fought in the Character Scale.
      Bear with me. I will explain.
      First of all, many GMs ignore and/or gloss over space combat if it doesn't move the game forward, so its not like I'm introducing something radically new here.  Most of the time, you can just pull a "...it takes twelve hours to reach the Alderaan system."  and be done with it.  Of course, part of designing a plausible spacecraft is to keep in mind its functions in the game.  Transportation is one function, but it's kind of lame to just do that and nothing else in a space game.
      Especially if you sell spaceships.
      Second, I have no problem with big space combats; I just never thought they worked well in a character-based RPG. They make for great board games, but in the context of an RPG I feel that they interrupt game flow and take away from the main focus - the Players. It's understandable why space combat included; after all games like Star Wars wouldn't be complete if you couldn't take an X-Wing into a dogfight with a couple of TIEs. But in a Hard SF game, combat in space is really short and it's dangerous as hell.  It's hard to maneuver, hard to stop, and you only have a few minute's worth of fuel. If you run out of fuel, you still keep on flying...right out of the Solar System. If you get hit, you're probably done for.
      Now, If I wanted to, I could do this in The Black Desert, because it is not a visualized setting. There are no movies or television series that I have to pay service to. I can describe space combat as it would truly be; too fast to react to and too deadly to ignore. But let's think about that for a minute.  The part of a realistic space combat where the opposing rockets are in visual range of one another is less than one average gaming round. In an eye blink, its all over. Even Hard SF games usually fudge a little here, as narrating an epic battle like this:

     “...the two opposing wings meet and pass each other in less than a second, there was a flash of light, and (roll, roll) you're dead. Good game, everybody!”

      This is absolutely no fun for all of the Players whose dead characters didn't get to roll.
      In its proper place (like in AT:V), the milder version of Newtonian space combat is really fun. But one of the most frustrating experiences for a Player in an SF RPG campaign that I have observed is, like I said, to have their bad ass character that has almost no skill in pilot or repair, look on helplessly as the ship is blown out from under them and they cannot fight back.  Now, in all fairness, most games include suggestions for things that non-spacey-ly characters in space combat can do.  That being said, you cannot force a Player to do things they think are a) boring, b) out of character, or c) not likely to lead to loot/XP.  Back in the day, we could tell such surly player to lump it.  Nowdays, we Pen and Paper Gamers can't afford to be so picky.
       With all of this in mind I thought it would be interesting to make a set of space combat rules that kept the focus of the action inside the spacecraft, where the characters are, and give them things to do that have an important impact on their survival, are exciting, and grant XP.
       Now, the quoted example above is lame, this is granted. However, if the focus is on the characters, then preceding that snippet are several dramatic scenes where characters can earn their XP by getting their spacecraft braced for battle. They will be struggling to get everything on their ship ready, optimizing the engines and lasers, hoping that if the ship is hit their station is not in the section that decompresses and that kind of stuff.
      How is this different from other helpless situations? For one thing, everyone that performs successful actions increase the chances that the ship will survive. For another, since maneuverability is not a tactical consideration at these speeds and with these weapons, everyone is helpless.
      And out hypothetical Player who thinks That stuff is lame?  They're in the airlock, suited up, ready to jump into vacuum the second the rockets pass one another.   That's cool, right?
      Anyway, after the “flash of light” part, the fun really begins. All of the characters will have to struggle in a deadly melee combat with the hazards of space itself. The Pilot will have to try to change vector and find a course that lets them land the rocket before the fuel is used up, The Engineer will have to get the engines back on line, or shut down to prevent a meltdown, and everyone else will be performing Damage Control. You will have disabled systems, decompressed compartments, possible radiation zones, flooding, fires and any other dangerous (and high XP) condition a GM can imagine. Even better, all the desperate running from one disaster to another will be in zero gravity.
      Sure, it's not a chasing a squadron of Vulture Droids in and out of Star Destroyer formations, but it will be exciting. And a Player need never depend solely on the skill of the Pilot or the stats of their ship to survive.
      This may not sound very different from what other games suggest; I've admitted as such.  The difference is, by using physically realistic combat scenarios, all this suggested stuff isn't so much optional as it is pretty much all you can do.  I'll explain that part in a later article; for now, I'll just try to get by with this:  The part of plausible space combat where ships actually start taking damage is less than one combat round.  Before that, you have all the time in the world to attack.  After that, you have all the time in the world to clean up and try to come about before your fuel runs dry.  You probably won't get a second round of space combat.
      Granted, I'm using really broad strokes right now.  If I haven't painted a sharp enough picture for you, don't worry. As the idea continues to evolve, I'll add details, mechanics, and scenarios from GM and Player perspectives.
     I've opened this up to discussion on the D6 Online OGL website; you can follow along and post comments there.  If you aren't a member, it's free to register.  You should totally join up; it's the only place I know of where award-winning professional game designers, hardcore veterans of 1e D&D, and total noobs get to hang out together.  You could even see the beginning of the next big thing in gaming in those forums...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Valkyrie Officially on Sale!

     Despite fussy downloads in the middle of the night, the Valkyrie spacecraft is now available through the good offices of DriveThru RPG.com.   On time.  I am happy.
     What now, you may ask?  A little down time between projects?  Not a chance.  I've already started the artwork on our December project:  A Martian Dirigible!  I also plan to release an edit of the Heinlein rocket, since the PDF turned out to have some layout problems.
     I could take a few days off, I suppose...but I'm not going to.  I barely got the Valkyrie finished on time, and I don't intend to be caught out like that again.  If I take any time off, it will be the week before the next release, not the week after this one.  Besides, Thanksgiving will be coming up in a couple of weeks (next week!) and my youngest child's birthday at the beginning of December.  And between his birthday, Jesus' birthday, and my birthday on the 27th, I will be pressed for time sorely and need to get as far ahead as I can.
     So, that's the life of an indie game designer, work, work, work, and no steady pay check.  The only compensation being what you, the RocketFans, decide to spend and the satisfaction that I'm doing something I truly love.
    I wouldn't trade it for the world.
    Enjoy the Valkyrie, folks.  After all the complications, I feel like we all earned it.  See you tomorrow!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tomorrow's the Big Day...

     That's right!  Tomorrow, on schedule, the Valkyrie Anti-Debris Orbital Module (ADOM) will go on sale via the good folks at DriveThru RPG.com.  I am glad to be able to publish on time; it was a near thing there, for awhile.  For those of you who have been rooting for me here, I thank you. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Valkyrie Text Finished with Two Days to Spare!

     ...It looks like I may just pull a rabbit (or an angry beetle-mole) out of my metaphorical hat after all.  With a working OS to back me up, I did indeed get the main body of the Valkyrie text finished just now.  Its been proofread once;  It will be carefully critiqued by my editor (read: wife) as well before moving into the final stage of production, where I add the artwork and stuff.  Still, It looks like a go for launch on schedule after all.
      For those of you thinking about getting into this business, getting your stuff done on time is perhaps the most important thing you can do.  In the publication world, authors that are known to finish on time with mediocre work often get a job over authors that do great work but can't meet deadlines.  Of course, I strive to do great work on time, so hopefully I will get your business over that other guy...
     All this goes double for the indie publisher.  Sure, I can't get fired, but If I don't keep putting out superior content on a regular basis I can suffer a worse fate : I can be forgotten and lost in the sea of literally thousands of other publishers who can post on time.  Anyone who has written a blog and failed to update regularly knows what I'm talking about.  Gamers, who in this decade are older, pickier and have houses, cars and families to spend money on, are not going to give us the benefit of the doubt if we cannot deliver.  There are simply to many other awesome products out there already.
     In all honesty, I hadn't meant to write a whole article on deadlines in this post.  After all, I still have a PDF to finish!  I did, however, want to leave you with a little sample from said PDF, this time in the form of the supplement's Introduction:

      The Valkyrie Anti-Debris Orbital Module is the first fusion-powered spacecraft to be produced in the Eur-African territories. It is considered by many in the Aerospace community to be overly ambitious at best and complete overkill at worst. While the Valkyrie can unquestionably perform the missions it was designed for, the rocket is controversial because of its alternate use: It is one of the few spacecraft that can easily be converted for use in orbital piracy.

     Yes, that's right, I found a plausible use for Pirates....In....SPAAAAACE!
     How, you may ask?  You can find out on the 16th!  Until then, Enjoy, and I'll see you tomorrow!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ubuntu FTW!

     I have defeated the infamous Blue Screen of Death!  I downloaded the Linux-based OS Ubuntu!
      If you haven't heard of this, the advantage of the OS is that you can run it along side your existing OS and not lose your files.  This is very important to us, as this computer has some irreplaceable files that we could not afford to lose.
    This means that I can finally get on with my life and continue working on the Valkyrie.  It will may not be completely finished by the 16th, but it will be published in a timely manner.  Keep checking here for updates.  I am also on Facebook and Twitter @BlueMaxStudios, so you can follow my updates there as well.
     Anyway, that's all I got for now folks...except, of course, for this:

Enjoy, and see you tomorrow!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

T-Minus Five and Counting...

     Moving along...I'm working on the write-up as we speak.  However, I've had a tragedy befall me, the loss of my desktop computer.  Apparantly, the Think Point AVirus won in the end.  This makes it nearly impossible to work on a regular schedule.  I'm doing my best, but...anyway, If anyone has a computer they're not using anymore...
     Here is some more of the Valkyrie artwork.  Enjoy, and I'll see you all tomorrow.

Valkyrie Finished 1

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

T Minus 6 Days and Counting...

     If you turn your attention to the right, you'll see what I've been doing today.  My Flickr photostream now has watermarked copies of the full-page graphics for the Valkyrie.  That's right, after nearly the entire month of sketching, outlining, element creation, assembly and layout, The main art work for the "Ships of the Black Desert: Valkyrie Debris Sweeper" PDF is DONE! 
    Alas, I have no time to celebrate; I must immediately get to work on the write-up if I'm gonna make my deadline.  That's tomorrow's headache; today is already taken care of.  Time to relax for a few, tuck in the kids, and get some rest.
     ...Admittedly, there is a 50/50 chance that I will still be at it at one AM.  My wife is an insomniac, and I'm a workaholic.  Oh, well...see you tomorrow, and Enjoy the pic!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Valkyrie Plan View Finished!

      Okay, we're moving right along now.  The two main exteriors and the cutaway are now completed.  I gotta say, The Valkyrie is far and away the most complex ship I've tried to draw.  You guys are lucky that I already set the price for this monster at $5.00.  If I had known...
     Seriously, though.  I just couldn't cut corners on this or any other rocket I draw for publication.  If you have as much fun using these ships as I've had drawing them, then we're even.  Tomorrow I will clean up the interiors and layout that map pages with thier notations and indecies and stuff.  Then...its time for the write up.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Back Online!

     The Think Point Virus is officially defeated!  This means that I;m posting again from my own computer, with my very own cookies that let me log into all of the forums and stuff I've been missing out on for the last week.  I am so happy right now...
     Unfortunately, time is running out on me now.  Because of the delays caused by all this, I am behind schedule on the Valkyrie.  I'll catch up and publish on time, but until the 16th, I'm not gonna have the spare time to start a new long article series.  So I'll be posting updates on the Valkyrie for the next week, and then I'll start the new articles after that.  Fair enough?
    See you tomorrow.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Last Chance to Post...

     ...At least for a few days.  By then, the computer will (hopefully) be fixed and life can return to normal.  I have nothing to new to show you guys from my own work today, but a I found this awesome web-based miniseries project in production called L5.  It looks fantastic and I can't wait to see it!

     Here's a short video from the project's website that details the basics of the series:

L5 - Amazing Science Fiction Miniseries from Stanley Von Medvey on Vimeo.

     Isn't that cool!

They also have a production blog, so you can follow their progress.

   Unfortunately, this is really all I have for you right now.  Hopefully next week we can begin to get back into a routine.  Since the publication date for the Valkyrie is getting so close, I will be focusing on that and showing off excerpts and stuff from the PDF until the 16th, when I'll announce the December offering and start posting articles of space combat in the Black Desert.

     ...At least, that's the plan, anyway... :)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

...Ever Heard of the Think Point Virus?

     I hadn't either.  I know all about it now, though.  My computer contracted this little nasty over the weekend and is still sans Internet and cookies.  This means I that even if I could get online reliably, I can't sign into anything!  Its terribly frustrating; I'm writing this post on a borrowed computer. 
    Hopefully, I will have my computer fixed sometime next week.  In the mean time, I'm working on the Valkyrie diligently and trying to make some head way on the core rulebook. 
     Obviously, I'm not gonna start my series on space combat in The Black Desert until I have my PC up and running again.  Until then, I'll just have to ask you to bear with me.  I have not fallen off the face of the Earth, even though it feels like it with out contact via forums with the gaming community and all my friends.  This is certainly a case of realizing how much social networking meant to me now that it's gone.
    Anyway, I just wanted to take this opportunity to let everyone know what was going on and why I haven't updated my blog in a while.  Oh, and to show off a little...below are the final versions of the Valkyrie's elevation and cutaway.  Enjoy!