Friday, December 31, 2010

Hey, It's New Year's Eve!

          I completely forgot!  I also got caught up in another round of morning chores/errands.  Tell ya what; let's just meet back here on Monday and pick up the discussion of Apps in BD's virtual worlds then.  Sound good?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Virtual Worlds in The Black Desert: Combat = A Fate Worse than Death?

          What's the point of having an RPG with virtual worlds if you can't fight in them?  If the Wold of Warcraft phenomenon is any indication, people will be fighting in fake environments with even more gusto than in real ones.  But what will it be like, when the distinction between real experiences and sensations become indistinguishable from virtual ones?

           The primary question is of course, if you "die" in a virtual world, will die in the real one?  Obviously, when it comes to sims and games, the answer would be "no".  After all, game companies can't collect on their subscription fees and sell fake gold for real money if all the noobs die in the real world.  In addition to that, is real death caused by virtual trauma even possible?  My says it's not.  While Gibson had "Black ICE" in his Matrix and Wachowski brothers had "your mind makes it real" in theirs,  I suspect that the technology will not be developed to make lethal virtual environments, even on the black market.  The reason for this is that the machine/organic interface will not involve a physical connection; you can't electrocute what you can't reach.  In addition, exotic weapons such as Medusa programs or the fictional Basilisk have no basis in reality, as cool as they sound (pun!). 

          Theoretically, one could project disturbing images in an attempt to terrify and nauseate, but in the context of The Black Desert, this idea is impractical.  The game is set after a horrible war that killed half of all life on Earth;  I'm not sure how useful horror-show images would be to the survivors.  Just as the truth is stranger than fiction, the harsh realities of war are more brutal than any virtual image could simulate.

          It would seem that I have once again logic-ed myself out of dangerous combat in BD's virtual worlds.  Never fear, RocketFans, I do have an idea of how to make virtual combat important, dangerous, and exciting as it is in the real world: Pain.  If the tech exists to make people feel physical sensations virtually (and it will),  then I suspect sensory overload from too-strong physical sensation will be a major stumbling block to implementation of the technology.  I alluded to this in the first post on this topic; the idea of using this fact to simulate dangerous combat evolved from there.

        So what will this be like?  Let us first imagine our virtual combatant's goal:  To remove someone from the virtual system.  This can be accomplished by hacking them out of the system and other security measures; characters with these skills will find them put to good use as they try to lock-out virtual baddies and keep system access open for the goodies.  But there is also the option of getting someone to voluntarily leave the system by making them hurt.  A lot.  Epically, in fact; in a virtual system that has its pain safeguards  removed, the virtual security can hack, shoot, scratch, stab, burn, boil and otherwise make life hell for whoever hacks into the system via teleoperation.  Even better, the system can be amped-up to make even minor virtual injuries seem excruciating.

       My, doesn't that sound fun?

       In game terms, virtual attacks will do virtual damage in equal portion to their real equivalents; a virtual laser will do 3-5D of virtual damage.  Wound levels will be equal to their real-world equivalents as well.  The differences will be in the teleoperator's virtual "powers" (let's call them Apps).  There will be Apps that increase pain levels (virtual damage) and Apps that allow for exotic and physics violating attacks against virtual targets.  This way, magic and fantastic combats will be a part of The Black Desert without losing it's Hard SF street-cred.  Instead of using Strength+Stamina to soak damage, virtual combatants will use Knowledge+Willpower to resist the felling of being wounded.

      Remember boys and girls, this is all still in it's infancy; ideas are subject to change without notice.  Tomorrow, I hope to have some Skills and Apps ready for perusal.  Here's hoping, anyway.  I will also make an effort to post before 5:00 Eastern Standard (UTC minus 5) for those of you who read this at work or school.  I can't promise that; my wife's on late shifts and I've been having to run after-holiday errands everyday this week.  Again, here's hoping.

         Enjoy, RocketFans!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Virtual Worlds in The Black Desert: Better, Faster, Stronger?

          So among the comments on yesterday's post was a question about whether or not the perception of time would be accelerated for people inside virtual worlds.  My first instinct was to simply say "no".  The implications are simply to far reaching; school in a year?  Military training in a week?  That may work for a story or movie, but in an RPG, when character progression is a vital part of game play, the instant learning thing is simply a game breaker.

           That being said, it's only logical that AI would naturally work on an accelerated clock speed.  And if it's logical for AI, then it's also logical for Trans-Humans and NuApes, since their brains operate like computers most if not all of the time.  The consequenses of that, of course, is that mainline Humans would be hopelessly out-classed by the other species in The Black Desert.  This sucks as much as instant learning for everyone, if not more so.

          This is where an author of Hard SF and a Futurist must part ways.  A Futurist would leave the instant learning in place, and follow the machine-organic interface and Trans-Humanism to their ultimate conclusions.  A writer must out of necessity leave certain things about human life and nature the same, even if there is no good reason to do so.  Science fiction is about critiquing and illuminating the present by taking it out of context; post-singularity speculation removes the timeless issues of human nature from the equation.

             Obviously, a compromise is needed.
             With that in mind, I propose that it is possible for Humans to match the incredible clock speeds of computers and AI, but it is an acquired skill.   In gaming terms, it is a "power" that is gained when one adds dice to their Telepresence skill .  This means that I will need to develop "powers" (gad, I must think of a better name) that correspond to different number of dice.  It will be like, for example, a Character with one die in Telepresence can create an Avatar, with two dice they can access the virtual worlds' basic programming and enable flying or other stuff, and so on.

             It's gonna take some work and research, to develope this concept, so I guess that will be the next step.  Over the next couple of days, I throw out some ideas about how to game-ify these ideas.  PLEASE COMMENT AND OFFER INPUT!   This game design thing is harder than it looks; I could use all the help I can get!

             Anyway, now that we have a plan, we'll meet back here tomorrow and continue our discussion.

             Enjoy, RocketFans!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Virtual Worlds in The Black Desert

          And we're back, RocketFans!  I enjoyed the vacation, spent time with the family, had a great birthday (yes, birthday) and generally got to soak up vicariously the innocent joy of toddlers destroying wrapping paper and exclaiming over their new stuff.

         I highly recommend it.

           For my birthday, I got to go see the new 3D eyegasm Tron: Legacy.  I won't recap or review the movie; that's been done and this isn't that kind of blog, anyway. That being said, I thought since it's been awhile since my last major post (or any post, for that matter)  I would start a discussion on the role Virtual Worlds play in the twenty-third century solar system of The Black Desert.

           Virtual Worlds have been part of RPGs for a long time. For the most part, These worlds are part of a fantasy setting, but they occasionally existed in the sci-fi/cyberpunk genre.  The irony of this is that now conventional table top RPGs are being replaced by the on-line virtual worlds they inspired.  As popular as these games are, the interface is a simple keyboard-and-mouse, just as it has been since the days of Starship Titanic and the other early computer RPGs.  Not that the lack of cheap VR technology has stopped millions of people from becoming citizens of virtual worlds already...
Screenshot from Second Life

       So what will virtual worlds look like two hundred years from now?  There is no doubt in my mind that they will still exist; after all, they are already super-popular.  When the technology for full virtual immersion becomes available, virtual worlds will be ubiquitous and fully integrated into society.  This is especially likely when one considers the psychological rigors of life in space and on planets with limited ecosystems.

         When discussing the technology, let's break it up into hardware and software; or rather, how we will enter and interact within virtual worlds and how realistic those worlds will seem.  As for hardware, it looks like movies such as The Matrix are actually being conservative.  The technology to teleoperate robotic machinery wirelessly with nothing but thought actually exists right now.  Granted, it's only being used by monkeys, cats, an in controversial applications like Mattel's Mindflex game but the fact remains that cybernetic, hard-wired connections will not be needed for people to control either robots or virtual avatars in the future anymore than it's needed now.

 The End of Line Club in Tron: Legacy
          So, your brain waves can control avatars - what will the avatars be like?  Right now, most 3D avatars are low-poly models such as in the picture above.  We have the tech to render photorealistic models and backgrounds now, limted only by computer speeds and memory capacities make such true-to-life CG expensive and impractical.  But that's right now; it won't be long before even the most realistic and complex CG objects will be available for real-time interactions. Same with sound; it will be realistic.  Touch may take some time to refine so that it conveys information without causing pain.  I imagine that taste and smell will be the senses that take the longest to replicate; which may very well be the only way to  tell the difference between reality and virtual-ity.

        There are many, many implications of such realistic virtual technology, and as I've said before, when writing Hard SF it's important to think through the consequences of any tech that you introduce into a setting.  Will schools exist as they do now, or will everyone jack in from home?  Will prisons become endless bays of coffin racks that store inmates doing virtual time?  When the time before ubiquitous virtual worlds passes from living memory, will they still be considered virtual, or will the distinction between real and virtual blur and eventually disappear all together? Throughout the rest of the week (and maybe longer), we will continue to discuss this topic.  Hopefully, we'll eventually bring it back to RPG rules and get some useful game design out of it.

        I say "we" because your comments help make the setting of The Black Desert more realistic and most importantly, more fun.  So please comment on this post and any other that your agree with, disagree with or have a question about.

          Anyway, enjoy the post, and I'll see you tomorrow RocketFans!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I am so sorry...

...but I will not be making a good post today.  For those of you who don't know, I am a diabetic and a fairly severe one.  Some days are pretty good.  This is not one of them.  Right now my family is visiting relatives and looking at Christmas lights; I have elected to stay home because when my sugar is off, so am I.  No one wants Christmas memories of Daddy being a jerk because his CBG is 441. 

The soonest I expect to make another post is the 26th.  I see you all then.

Happy Holidays from all of us to all of you.  I don't care which holiday it is, as long as it's happy and safe.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Super Sale!

          That's right, RocketFans!  From now until the 27th, we are offering a bundle of all of our deckplans for 20% off!  YAY, discount!!!
          Why until the 27th, you may ask?  Because that's my birthday!  YAY, thirty-four!
          Sorry about all the silliness, folks.  I'll have a actual post for you tomorrow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Anime Aesthetic and Future Fashion

        One of the things I've been wondering about while working on the design ethic of The Black Desert is how fashion will morph and change over the course of the next two centuries. This kind of thing is simply impossible to predict with any accuracy, which means that I can cut loose and use my imagination to come up with a sleek, futuristic sci-fi ethic that will...oh, who am I kidding? I'll steal from some previous era and call it new, just like all of the other writers of SF out there.

        That being said, I am curious to see how present-day trends will effect future fashion. Personally (and my professional artist wife agrees) I believe that fashion will not follow any single trend any more than it does now. The trends that do develop will also be capable of being carried to extremes that are simply not possible with the technology today. Like what, you may ask? Clothing that has built-in WiFi and the capability to project images on the surface of the fabric will make the cut and design of the clothes less important than the art/video one plays upon it. This'll give a whole new meaning to the question, “who are you wearing?”

My, Gaga...what big eyes you have!
        But as the title suggests, I am wondering about the modern trend toward the anime aesthetic of really big eyes. Frankly, I don't see this one going anywhere; thinking big eyes are cute is actually hard-wired into our brains as one of the mechanisms that insure we cuddle and love and feed babies. The advent of CG has allowed the big-eyed look to become common in live-action mass-media, which has spawned an industry of making over-sized contacts to attempt to simulate the look.
Get yours today!

        So, in two hundred years, when it's common to have organs and limbs grown in vat to order (BTW, this isn't science fiction), will the anime aesthetic be able to reach it's logical conclusion? I think so. I think we will definitely see people with eyes twice as big as they were born with, and probably in a variety of colors. Hair color, which in most if not all anime covers all the colors of the rainbow, will not only still be as common as it is today, it will probably be permanent and able to change at will. Or to match the d├ęcor or your outfit. Bonus cool points for hair and eyes that coordinate.
She's even from the 23rd Century!

        Of course, the Big-Eyes-Blue-Hair thing is not the only thing that defines the anime aesthetic. There is also the Teen-Age-Androgynous thing as well. This one will be even easier to replicate in the future; thanks to biotech breakthroughs that should become reality in the next few decades, people in The Black Desert will be able to stay young looking for pretty much as long as they want. As for the androgyny thing, this also pretty likely. Right now is, as far as I can tell, the only time in history that big boobs and skinny bodies have been considered the standard of beauty. And despite what many popular media outlets would have us believe, it's by no means universal, either. When you throw in the facts of life regarding space travel, where weight and limberness are essential factors, sheer practicality will also limit the size and dimensions of the physical ideal. So the beautiful women of the future may very well be lithe, petite, and have adorably big eyes.

        I say "may" because other factors will be at play as well. Ethnic and cultural demographics have always dictated what is considered beautiful. The racial makeup of the world and population growth predict that Asians, Indians, and Hispanics will be the dominant races in the future, and in that order. Each one of these groups have their own physical ideals that will inform the future concepts of beauty.

        That all I've got for you on this topic right now, RocketFans. If you agree, disagree, or have another opinion all together, feel free to comment below.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Crimson Dark: An example of Teleoperation

          Thanks to all my RocketFans that have purchased copies of the Barsoom-class Airship!  I really appreciate all the support.

           So to wrap up the last day of week, I thought I would highlight a webcomic that I have fallen in love with over the last week: Crimson Dark.  This SF comic is done in full 3-D with a style that evolves from simply awesome to Officially-Taken-A-Level-In-Badass. While it's not hard SF, it is internally consistent and is able to thwart mere physics under the authority of the Rule of Cool.

           One of the things I like about it is the use of Teleoperation by many of the characters in the strip.  In the Crimson Dark continuity, there is no AI; human brains, however are wired into machine mainframes in order to control the essential systems of large spacecraft and stations.  People with WiNi (wireless neural) connections can control tech from anywhere, just by thinking about it.

          Needless to say, this can lead to some truly epic scenes of totally pwning hapless baddies with their cyber-skills:

          This webcomic is definitely worth a look-see.  Check it out!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Barsoom-class Airship Officially on Sale!

          After a frustrating day of shopping and a long night of last-minute layouts, The Barsoom is posted on-line and ready to go! I am pleased with how it turned out. I'll admit that there are a few rough edges; this beauty was the first project that I did in GIMP, so there was a learning curve. Still, with every completed project I learn more and find ways to increase my production values and streamline my design process.

           The good news is, about half of the work for the January offering is already done. It ties into my article in the OpenD6 Magazine, which is why so much is already done. This means that I can relax and enjoy the holidays (and my birthday) without worrying about being ready come Jan 16th.

Anyway, check out the boat, and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One More Day...

          I spent an hour and a half in the AT&T store trying to get my wife's phone switched over.  This means that I am behind on getting the airship PDF finished up.  I am going to work on that now.  See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Airship Interiors and Mars Images

          Sorry to post so late, was one of the few days off my wife has before Christmas, so we got the shopping done, the tree up, watched It's a Wonderful Life, and all that holiday goodness.  We have even wrapped all the gifts.  It is both unusual and pleasantly surprising that we are this far ahead on all the Yule-tide chores.

           But that's not to say that I didn't get some stuff done on The Black Desert.  Thanks to the ridiculously powerful open-source CG program Blender, I managed to take my improved Mars map and wrap it into what you see below:

Mars in 2210.  Deimos in the foreground.
              And because the Barsoom goes on-sale in just 2 days, I will give you all another taste of the airship's interior.

          That's all for today, RocketFans.  Tomorrow is the final proofreading and layout session for the Barsoom project, and then...  well, and then I just start all over again.  Anyway, Enjoy!

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Blue Shores of Mars...

          Happy Monday, RocketFans!  I am happy to report that I have finished the text for the Barsoom  and have also finished the all-important stat sheet!  I will be working on a Freesourse excerpt of the Vehicle stat sheet rules similar to the one for Spacecraft we released in September.  I expect it to come out either at the beginning of January, or by the 16th along with the monthly offering.
          Below is a version of my terraformed Mars.  It is only an early draft; doing planetary cartography is new to me and I will be spending a portion of my spare time trying to learn the ins and outs of this demanding art form.  What makes my needs for The Black Desert so demanding is that the planets are real.  This means that if I make a mistake or leave out an important detail, everyone will know.  Still, it will be worth it when I can gaze upon the deserts of the American Mid-West and the blue shores of Mars and see with my eyes what I had only seen before in my imagination. 
          Wow, that sounded deep!  Anyway, here's Mars; enjoy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

i can has laserz?

          For those who care, My kid's birthday was great!  He did get into the sprinkles again, though....

          Anyway, with only six days left until the release of the Barsoom Airship, It's time for production to shift into high gear.  Pretty much everything next week will be about the Airship (which includes nifty previews and excerpts, so say tuned), so I wanted to leave you on this glorious Friday with something completely different.

          As I've mentioned before, in between projects, or when I get a little spare time, or simply whenever I feel like it, I work on The Black Desert Core Book.  This week I figured out how to get the simple-yet-useful free CG program Wings 3-D to put out a decent mock-up of my laser pistol concept.  It's based on a hand-held Flir camera design that I liked, which is actually a pretty plausible way to design a laser.  I imported a screen cap into GIMP, and produced the line work you see below.  I'm happy with how it tuned out; after the 16th, I'll work up a Long Arm and maybe some others before going full tilt into January's offering.

         In case you're wondering, I do have January's project picked out and it's actually half-way done.  It will tie into my article for the premier issue of D6 Magazine, so I'm excited about that.

          But that isn't laser guns, is it?  This is:

          Hope you enjoy and I'll see you Monday!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Day of the Dragon...

          For those of you who follow such things, Private spaceflight company SpaceX succesfully launched its Falcon 9 vehicle today and placed its Dragon re-entry vehicle into orbit.  This is, to the best of my knowledge, the first privately funded capsule launch into orbit.

          Not everybody's happy about it, either.  The Utah-based aerospace division of ATK has been trying through political lobbies and other skull-duggery to get the Dragon declared either unsafe or failing to meet congressional requirements.  Which makes sense; the cancellation of the SRB-derived Aeres rockets and the retirement of the Space Shuttle have pretty much dried up the company's most lucrative contracts.  The Obama supported plan to develop private spaceflight as opposed to funding incumbent developers has been controversial and desperately resisted since the proposal of the FY2011 budget.

          However you feel about the Constellation program or the whole private spaceflight debate, you have to admit that the successful flight of the Dragon is great news for space buffs everywhere.

Here's a look.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Airship Interiors...

...Have been the thrust of this week's work.  I have been diligently designing the staterooms, restrooms and galleys on the Barsoom-class Airship.  This means that I have once again found myself in the glamorous position of drawing toilets.  Yes, toilets.  Check it out:

See?  More toilets!
One more thing; if you're into Miniature gaming and Hard SF, you've gotta check out Ebble's Miniatures.  This guys is awesome, makes great work, and the people on the Forum are friendly and helpful.  Definately worth a visit.

Have a good one, RocketFans, and I'll see you tomorrow!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Black Desert Timeline

          It's Monday again, RocketFans, and I thought I would start off the week with a little background on the game I have been talking about for the last...well, since I started this blog.

          What follows is a draft of the time line for The Black Desert.  This part of the game has been in development for over two years now, and is still a work in progress.  I have borrowed shamelessly from real history, the writings of various futurists, technical commentaries, and advice of other fans of the genre.  The majority of the material, of course, comes my my own sick and twisted imagination.

          Through visiting forums and chatting with other fans and reading SF Blogs and all that good web-enabled goodness, I  have stumbled upon what may be the central dividing line between Soft and Hard SF:

           Soft Science Fiction tries to make technology fit the imagination, and Hard Science Fiction tries to imagine what fits the technology.

Granted, this is a flagrant and shameless generalization, but it kind of goes straight to the core of the issue.  In The Black Desert, I began with certain imagined ideas of what I would like to see; terrraformed Mars, cheap, SSTO, prevalent space travel, yada yada.  Then I did research to to see if my ideas were possible, plausible and likely.  Then I went back to the imagined setting and modified it to fit the data.  Then, as I alluded to in a previous post, I went back and changed things fairly radically from my original picture to account for the logical consequences of my actions.  This proccess basically repeats until either you get a reasonably plausible Future History, or you logic yourself out of a setting.  Part of the commitment to writing Hard SF, whether games or novels or stories, is to know when you can't plausably use a plot.  I know that most people adhere to the axiom that Plot Trumps Reality, but I must disagree.  Plots are a dime a dozen and let's face it; they've all been used before.  I believe that it is not only possible but easier to tell good, human stories and to give meaningful social commentary on the present by avoiding Space Opera tropes and hand-waved plot devices that compromise the audiences' suspension of disbelief.

           But that's just me.

           Besides, you didn't click on my link to read a preachy manifesto on Hard SF,did you?  I'll bet you wanna see robots and spaceships and cool future stuff, right? So, without further ado...

The Twenty-First Century
           The first hundred years of the new millennium were marked by both extreme growth and extreme stagnation. The United States dropped out of the space race early, relying on the development of private aerospace. Russia, China, India and Japan began aggressive programs to develop both commercial and exploratory craft, culminating in Lunar landings by the mid century. The US tried to catch up while China and a joint team of other space faring nations, Including the European Union, set up separate bases on the Moon to harvest Helium-3; The rare isotope that makes stable fusion rectors possible. With Fusion powered drives, the nations of Eurasia go on to Mars. Japan and America lead the world in robotics, with the East concentrating on form, the West on function.
Back on Earth, a quiet revolution was brewing that would eventually lead to the greatest upheaval in human history. Fabrication machines, using bio-plastics that were introduced at the start of the century, become ubiquitous. The ability to use free or very cheap templates downloaded from the Internet allow people all over the world to not only manufacture their own goods, but to manufacture the fabricators themselves. The standard of living rises while the economy slows down.
           Medical science succeeds in developing stem cell research into useful therapies. Custom grown organs make diabetes, cirrhosis, and most cancers a thing of the past by 2040...for those that could afford them. The developing world gets little benefit from this until the end of the century. Even more infuriating is the isolation of the so-called “aging-gene”, allowing the decadent westerners to live into their 130's and their children to live into their 200's.

           The United States begins an ambitious plan to build a Space Elevator in Equador while the rest of the space traveling world concentrate on terraforming Mars. The Brazilian government sponsors research into laser propulsion and begins quietly wooing American scientists and aerospace engineers with grants and other incentives. By the middle of the century, Mars is a thriving colony, Asteroids have been pulled into orbits between Earth and Luna and Earth and Mars. The Destiny Foundation, one of the US's most active space concerns, open colonization to these moonlets to everyone with their ambitious and successful business plan. America's economy receives a shot in the arm from the influx of resources.
           The resources are put to good use as fabricators spread throughout the world. Consumers become able to make their own electronics and synthetic textiles. Businesses in these markets respond with copyrights on templates and aggressive lobbying to make open source design illegal. World economics continue its upheaval as resource-rich developing nations are now able to make their own manufactured goods. The industrialized world scrambles further into space to find new sources of raw material as brush wars over conflict materials increase exponentially.
           Medicine branches out into further developing gene therapies and simultaneously increasing the reliability of man/machine interface. Cybernetics steps out of science fiction and becomes viable as birth defects are eliminated in the West. Americans embrace the “designer baby” fad and successive generations will be healthier, longer lived, more intelligent and more beautiful that any in history.
The most significant advance made in this period is in computers. The invention of the Quantum Orchestrative Objective Reduction (QOOR) Processor creates the first true artificial intelligence. These sentient computers are surprisingly “human” because of the use of advanced neuroscience as a model. The AI are installed in virtually every piece of military hardware and public service by mid-century.
Even the advent of AI is less amazing than the discovery of titanic vaults below the floor of the Valles Marinaris on Mars. Within, undetectable by any previous probes or expeditions, was life. An entire ecosystem thrived in the caverns of Mars including, miraculously, intelligent life. Martians existed.
January 29th, 2152: The Great Space War
           To say that the Great Space War was the largest and most deadly conflict in history is hopelessly inadequate. Half of the human race perished, not a single nation that existed before the war existed after, and half of humanity's five hundred-odd colonies were either destroyed or isolated afterward. No less than three new intelligent species were created; two of which are now considered to be potentially capable of causing the extinction of biological life. Every sentient currently alive is either a veteran or the child of a veteran of the Great Space War. Worst of all, it is unknown if Terra's ecosystem will recover, despite the collective knowledge and resources of all humanity attempting to save it.
The war began shortly after the Space Elevator was completed in 2151. Brazil, emboldened by its new space technology and America's economic weakness, invaded Equador. The nation capitulated and became a state along with Brazil in the newly created South American Union. In response, The US began a vicious land and sea based war with new state. Brazil responded by revealing the fruits of its investments in space: The L-Drive, which put rockets into orbit without using fuel, and the Plasma Sail, a magnetic field that used solar wind to achieve constant boost. The remaining world powers are terrified as the United States loses its colonies one by one and is decimated by sub-orbital attack.
Espionage and reverse engineering soon reveal the secrets of Brazil's war machine, and the rest of the world arms itself. Most space conflicts end in stalemate as the magnetic drives prove to be shields against not only cosmic rays, but lasers, metal projectiles, and nuclear warheads. Kinetic Kill Drones become the weapon of choice and their AI pilots are destroyed in droves only to be replaced by backups on Earth.
           Advances in man/machine interface with AI allow humans to be replaced by clones with all of their memories. This is rare for American and Japanese soldiers as most of the fighting done by their armies is with robots controlled by advanced telepreasence. Civilian populations bear the brunt of the casualties in the early years of the War.
           Two years into the conflict, It is discovered that AI reincarnation results in a unique consciousness- meaning that AIs actually die. This leads to Intelligent machines from all nations deserting in what is known as The Turing Fallacy Revolt. They are given sanctuary on Mars and the Red Planet declares its neutrality, effectively leaving the War.
           Terran governments scramble to replace the massive losses to their forces even as resources dwindle. “Civilian” rapidly becomes an obsolete word as entire populations are conscripted into the conflict. The Russians bolster their forces by the ethically questionable means of using QOOR technology to grant sentience to cloned gorillas and orangutans. These “Nu-Apes” even the field against the combat robots of other nations.
           The war continues in this fashion, with no clear possibility of winning for any faction, for the next two decades. The only major change is the European Union's successful campaign to conquer most of Africa for its resources, while Asia and the Americas are locked in a downward spiral of annihilation. This move by the EU virtually assures that a clear victory for any faction is impossible.
The war may have continued indefinitely if it weren't for the horrible, final solution of atomic attack. It is still unknown which of Terra's twenty-five nuclear powers fired the first missile, but the result was inevitable. Heat storms, fallout, and flooding from the loss of the polar ice sheets effectively ended the war...and half of all life on the planet.
           Thanks to magnetic radiation shielding, enough Infrastructure remained to prevent the total collapse of civilization. Nevertheless, it took a generation before the people left on Earth could think of anything but survival.
           Terra might not have survived the holocaust, if it weren't for the fact, sometime during the war, the Trans-human Singularity had occurred. Humanity had the technology to save itself, by using artificial ecology techniques and terraforming strategies on Terra herself. Humans in disaster areas were uploaded into massive computers and lived virtual lives until the world could sustain them. These “cyber-morgues” became the first bastions of the new Trans-humanity.
           It was also during this time that experiments in Nano-life- recreating bodies and consciousness using nano techniques- were attempted. This was too successful; Nano sapiens was a cure worse than the disease. It took the concerted effort of all of the world's remaining military to fight it off. This could have led to a united Terra...but didn't. Nano sapiens also led to a “anti-Trans-human” sentiment among mainline humanity. The majority of the cyder-morgue population chose to leave Terra and become what would eventually be called the Dyson Federation.
           Meanwhile Mars, out of contact with her war-torn sister for decades, emerged on the scene. The AI/Martian expedition was not there to conquer, however. Mars was a terraformed enough to support Terran life on the surface, and the Consensus, its new government, offered to mediate a final end to the Space War conflict. Political boundaries were redrawn again and again over the next five years as the leaders of the Earth struggled to make their world stable and, hopefully, habitable. The final draft of the Treaty of Mars, signed New Year's Day 2206, offered little in the way of satisfaction for the embittered veterans- essentially the entire population- but it was fair in a way only the combined power of multiple quantum computers could make it. There was finally a chance for lasting peace.
         But only a chance.
           The Treaty of Mars has been in effect for four years. On Terra, there are three modern superpowers: The Union of the Americas, The Siberian Empire of Japan, and The Parliament of Africa and Europe.
           The remains of the United States and Canada are divided into Pacifica on the West coast and The United American and Canadian States in The East. The American Middle West is now part of The Brazil's Union of the Americas, and is ruled by a council of allied Native American tribes.
           Luna is recovering from the ravages of war. Her surface is covered with both abandoned and active military bases from the Big Three and independent or corporate gas mines. The situation is tense as the different interests spread to find the remaining pockets of Helium-3.
           Mars is becoming the new center of culture and learning in the system. Its freshly terraformed shores are open to any sentient willing to sign the Articles of Consensus, and follow their strict rules of conduct.
         The Dysonites, Trans-Humans so-called due to their creation of a Dyson Swarm in orbit around Venus, are a frighteningly unknown factor. They not only threaten to eventually block the Sunward passage for interplanetary travel, they are in a prime position to assert sovereignty over Mercury, the richest source of metals and Helium-3 in the entire Solar System. With access to these resources, the Dysonites endless Trans-Human missionaries will prove very hard to stop if it comes to a showdown.
           The cycling asteroid colonies, which outside of Terran orbit were the most common and rich settlements before the war, have become a disorganized and isolated collection of nodes containing anything from thriving cities, starving ghost towns, pirate dens, nano-swarms, or even space fleets that don't know (or care) the war is over. Political and corporate interests from all over the system are sending expeditions to the colonies in an attempt to reestablish the flow of resources and get the Solar economy started again.
           This vast, unknown territory is full of more opportunity-and more danger- than the rest of the Inner System combined. The aboriginal Martians have a name for this area of space that caught on with the romantic writers and artists of human Mars and through their work, the rest of humanity.
           They call it The Black Desert.

          Questions, comments, criticisms?  Feel free to comment below.  And as always, follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep abreast of the fun.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Comments Enabled!

By popular demand, Comments have been enabled on all posts!  So those of you with questions, comments and criticisms, please feel free to ask, say or break it to me gently.  Hope you all have a good weekend!

Go ahead and comment...all the cool robots are doin' it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Telepresence: Never Split your Party Again!

    One of the omnipresent banes of a GM's existence is having a group of Players who assume, simply because there are more than one of them, they somehow have the right to try to do more than one thing at the same time.  I am of course talking about splitting up the party.  While this seems like a good idea at the time, it almost never is from the Game Master's perspective.

   It's not that the typical GM wants to ruin the Player's fun (well...).  It's that the game flow and mechanics problems with splitting the party up are numerous and tedious.   For one thing, the GM's duties as far as NPC interaction, die rolling, and rules arbitration double for every time the Player's split up.  In addition to that, every pre-generated encounter created for that particular adventure session has to be hastily re-calculated to account for the fact that there are less Players in the encounter than originally planned (either that, or the Players are gonna have a real bad day...).  What usually happens in these cases is that the Game Master becomes quite stressed trying to essentially run two games at the same time, the Players complain about how long it takes for the GM to come back to them, and the whole process takes at least three times as long as it would have if the PCs had stayed together and taken the encounter on one at a time.  I know that, every GM since the Great Gygax knows that, and even worse, every Player knows that.  Yet, I will even find myself suggesting, when playing in games, that the party split up.  It's some bizarre quirk of the gamer's consciousness that even fellow GMs must make the current GM's life Hell...

     As the title above suggests, I have a potential solution.  Telepresence.

     In the context of The Black Desert, Telepresence is listed as a General Skill on the Skill List and includes both virtual communication (the actual telepresence part), teleoperation, which is the remote control of stuff through virtual means, and telexistance, a la The Matrix. The first two of these definition are what will help GMs breathe easier.

      First off, let us understand just how prevalent technology will be two hundred years from now. Augmented Reality will be such a constant presence in people's everyday lives that the boundary between virtual worlds and the real one will be not only blurred, but actively debated in philosophical circles.  It'll kinda be like this:

      ...Which is actually fairly scary and overwhelming and stuff.  But that's another post.

      What AR means to Players of The Black Desert is that, by using this kind of total immersion technology, PCs in different locations will no longer be completely separated.  They will not only be able to communicate instantaneously but will be able to literally see with each other's eyes.  The problem of one group of PCs not hearing or seeing something and the whole Player knowledge/Character knowledge dilemma can be eliminated in most circumstances.
      While AR will solve the communication problem between split parties, it doesn't help with the interaction problem.  You know the one; One group of Players is sighing and whining and trying to get the GM to listen to their spontaneous actions and stuff while the GM is trying to run a combat with the other Players.  This kind of situation drives me personally up the wall when I am GMing.  As a sooper-kool-indie-game-designer, I still haven't found a reasonable solution that will work for all games, but I've got a honey of one for The Black Desert...teleoperated robots!

       One of the virtues of using robots in this capacity is that it's already a reality.  This isn't science fiction anymore; it's simply an extrapolation of current tech into the mid-future.  While my final designs are probably going to be too conservative the truly reflect the twenty-third century state-of-the-art, they will serve the in-game purposes required of them and have sufficient cool factor.

      How cool?  In The Black Desert, the PC party can split up and still keep their numbers the same by adding a couple of robots from the rocket.  Maintenance bots will be the most common, while combat robots will be expensive, restricted, and therefore good treasure and/or goals for PCs. The 'bots are can be used autonomously, which lets them interact with the intelligence of a trained dog or so.  They can also be controlled by the rocket's on-board AI (instant NPC!), or be teleoperated by an absent PC during combats (maintenance robots aren't that great at tactics, after all) and then left alone the rest of the time.  In this way, a PC party could be split up but each Player can participate in every combat encounter no matter which group the PC is in.

     An example of this can be seen in the forgettable Lost in Space reboot from back in '98.  Click on the link below to see a video clip of the whole scene:

I don't care what you think about the movie; this part was cool.
     Below is a little teaser of the Robinson's real-life counterpart:

      Anyway, that's all for today, RocketFans.  Enjoy and I'll see you Monday!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hey Kids, It's Technorati!

Sorry about this, but I've gotta put a claim token from the ubiquitous Technorati website in a post to prove I can.
I'll put in a real post tomorrow.
Here is the Claim Token.  Remember, it mine; you can't have it.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And Now for the Reveal...

     ...Of the much alluded to December offering from our studio, the Barsoom-class Martian Airship!
     Until today, only our platinum customers have received a look at these plans.  With only 16 days until the airship goes on sale, it's time to let everyone in on the action.  So, here she is, in all her organic beauty!

Hey, it may be a little grainy, but it was free!

    The Barsoom also marks the first set of plans from Blue Max made on the free program GIMP.  Our move to GIMP from Adobe Photoshop is also significant in that the our entire production - writing, graphics, layout, CG, and even operating system - is run on free, open-source programs.  What this means for young, idealistic lunatics that want to become indie games designers is that you do not need to make a huge financial investment in order to get started.  I have been in business nearly three months now, have a library of PDFs on sale, my own website, Google AdWords, and all the other trappings of a legitimate business, and I have spent, out of pocket, precisely zip.  All of my investment has been in "sweat equity"; my time and creative effort, not my money, is what is keeping Blue Max Studios on the market and making money.  So if you've got the time and the will and the dream, don't worry about the money!  You too can join the ranks of indie game designers!
     Come's fun and stuff...

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.