Yearly Archives: 2013

Lots of assortedness:

  • Airships. I love airships and The Atlantic has some nice photos.
  • Earth-sized Lava World has been discovered
  • Stone Lake – so called because it petrifies (literally) animals.Awesome, awesome, awesome setting, as Realmwright points out. I do have some doubts about the validity of this, and even if it actually works about the details mentioned on Gizmodo, but for a fantasy / sci fi story, you can always bend reality enough to make use of it.
  • Living on the Ocean: For your waterworlds.
  • Piracy pays: If you need to rationalize piracy in a modern or a Sci Fi setting, then Somalia is your friend.
  • Technovelgy is an old site that keeps track of reality’s imitation of science fiction.
  • As many as one in five suns may host habitable planets.
  • Abandoned toy factories – Creepy dolls everywhere make for an awesome setting
  • Is it right to waste Helium on party balloons? – Interesting thoughts, plus: It turns out the US had a strategic helium reserve established in the time of airships. What awesome plot point that would make…

The Making of Colonial Space: Drawing the Map

I am currently building a Traveller sector. I am using the Mongoose Traveller rules as a basis, though I have modified them somewhat. First of, a word of warning: If you want to create a Traveller setting, do not be deceived by the simplicity of the statistics for each world. A sector can easily contain 400 or more worlds, and this results in a lot of work if you want to have some sort of consistent result.

First step: The Region

As you know, Traveller subsectors are arranged in a 4×4 grid within a sector.

As my first step, I decided how common stars should be in each subsector. I decided that my “core” subsectors should have a higher number of stars and that the periphery of Colonial Space should include some rift-like regions. I settled on this:

6 6 5-6 5-6
6 5-6 4-6 5-6
6 5-6 4-6 5-6
5-6 5-6 5-6 5-6

To give myself a better idea what the region of space looked like, I then drew the following small map of a 3×3 sector grid:

adjacentsectors3

Second Step: Star Placement

Next, I rolled whether each hex had a star system in it or not. And, yes, at this point I was still rolling dice. To make things faster, I rolled a bunch of d6 at one time and checked hexes off top to bottom. Needless to say this was a ridiculous approach; I should have just written a small script to roll up the sector. More on this later. At this point I had a hexmap with a lot of circles.

Third Step: System data

I quickly discovered that rolling actual system data took way too long to even contemplate doing it manually – there were too many dice modifiers involved, especially since I wanted to use the “realistic” optional rules in the hope that it would reduce the silly results I would get.

This is the point where I whipped together a simple awk script. It had no awareness of the actual layout of the sector, and it could not draw maps, so I spent another insane amount of time to center all those star system circles, colored them according to water/no water, and added spaceport classes.

I also added “trade routes” – basically just solid lines connecting A class ports that were in proximity of each other, and dashed lines connecting B ports to A ports and other B ports in their proximity. (Disregarding the Traveller 3rd Imperium jump limitations, as my FTL will work differently.)

Finally I used the result to sketch a rough border for my primary polity, an Empire (again, more on that later). At this point my map looked like this:

sector-maponlyI did have to refine my script multiple times during this process, to eliminate bugs as well as some glaring problems in the Traveller world creation system.

Step Four: Name That Star

After I had gathered data, the next step was to assign a name to every system. I had a bit of an easy start, because I had already gathered a list of 600+ potential names for colony worlds. Many of them were based on Earth locations, people etc which are not suitable for this setting. I did decide to leave in many of the mythology based names – out of necessity as much as anything else. So there’s no “New California”, for example, but a “Morrigan” and an “Uller”. Picking names, coming up with more names, and placing everything on the map took several days. I also began to draw additional borders for minor polities.

This is a snapshot of the work in progress.

sector03-maponlyAs an aside, I keep the world profiles and other related data in a LibreOffice spreadsheet for easier maintenance.

Step Five: Consistency and Detailing

After I had named all star systems, I began an interative process – this is where I am currently at. Basically, I am transcribing every system from the spreadsheet to a text document. At the same time I add Amber/red zones on the map, check for problems, and try to make sense of the results.

  • Why are the values as they are? – For example, if a world is a colony or captive government, who captured or colonized it, and why?
  • Are there values that make no sense? – Such as a vacuum world with a TL of 2 and 33 inhabitants. These results get fixed as I spot them.
  • Are there obvious implications, such as an Agricultural world next to a world with massive population?

One side effect of this process is that a number of smaller states have appeared on the map, for example the Atsinanana Star Empire – one clearly powerful world was sitting right next to two captive worlds.

As I type this, I have 8 out of 16 subsectors to go, but I picked the subsectors with fewer systems to start with – call it 40% done.

Lessons Learned So Far

Creating Traveller star maps is surprisingly much work. If I were to do it again, I’d do a few things differently:

  • Let the random generator handle more of the work; look into drawing maps automatically. If the script could produce a basic SVG, that would save days of work.
  • Change the world generation order. Traveller does some things right and some wrong. In my opinion, I should generate all the physical stats first, then decide a sort of habitability index, and then generate population and stats depending on population based on that. It could even easily be an iterative process, where all the nice worlds get colonized first, and then people spread out to less desireable worlds or to nice worlds that are further away. This could even result in a basic timeline.
  • Include stellar data and a few more odds and ends in the design sequence.

Current map WIP

sector12-maponlyMore on this setting will surely follow…

Science Fiction Franchises

I spent some time jotting down a few commonalities of various popular Science Fiction franchises. Here’s what I have so far.

Franchise Genre Location Time Aliens Focus Protag Base of Ops Antag
Star Wars Space Fantasy Other Galaxy Past Countless War Soldiers Ship Evil Empire
Star Trek Space Opera Orion spur Centuries in the future Countless Exploration Soldiers Ship Evil Aliens
Babylon 5 Space Opera Orion spur Centuries in the future Many War Soldiers Space station Evil Aliens
Firefly Space Western Distant system Centuries in the future None Crime Criminals Ship Evil Empire
Farscape Space Opera Distant region Present Many Exploration, Escape Fugitives Ship Evil Empire
Eve Online Space Opera Distant cluster Millenia in the future None War, Economy, Exploration Various Ship Everybody else
Mass Effect Space Opera Milky Way Centuries in the future Many War, Exploration Soldiers Ship Evil Aliens
Traveller Space Opera Orion spur Millenia in the future Many Exploration, Economy Various Ship Evil Empire
Known Space Space Opera 40ly Centuries in the future Several Exploration Explorers Planets Various
Battlestar Galactica (2004) Space Opera Milky Way Past None War Soldiers Ship Robots
Stargate Space Opera Milky Way Present Several Exploration Soldiers Earth Evil Aliens
Doctor Who Space Comedy Milky Way Present Many Timetravel Special Ship Robots
Alien Space Horror Close to Earth Centuries in the future Few Horror Soldiers Planets Evil Aliens
Warhammer 40k Space Horror Milky Way Millenia in the future Many War Soldiers Planets Evil Aliens
Dune ? Orion spur Millenia in the future None Politics Nobles Planets Evil Empire
Piper Space Opera Milky Way Galaxy Centuries in the future Some Politics, Exploration Various Planets Various

Now, obviously a few of these entries require  comments:

Dune: Not exactly sure what “genre” this is. I’d say science fiction politics, since the dynastic struggle is a big focus. But then there are also religious/philosophical tones to it. I do have to admit I never could bring myself to finish even the first book, so take this with a grain of salt.

Warhammer 40k: It’s also a space fantasy if there ever was one (Elves and stuff, hello?)

Doctor Who: It isn’t really a comedy, but while it has gotten more “mature”, I still have a hard time taking the show serious. It’s a weird mix, at any rate; it’s kind of a time travel show (though time travel is really only a gimmick), sort of space opera, and sort of zany. The protagonists are The Doctor (a time traveller) who is aided by “everyday people” companions.

Traveller: Did not really have an antagonist per se. The Zhodani work as an “evil empire”. The New Era featured the vampire computer virus.

Known Space: Doesn’t really have an enemy per se. The Pakh protectors, the Kizinti, the Thrint, and so on all count but there is not really one standard enemy. It’s more a series about exploration in my opinion.

Piper: Very similar to Known Space in that there is not one enemy species or polity. The Federation serves as an antagonist in some novels, but is the protagonist in others.

So, what sort of conclusion do we draw from this?

A successful space franchise should either have no aliens at all or a whole bunch of them (and in any case most of them are clearly strange humans in strange rubber suits). It’s set centuries or millenia in the future, covers a large volume of space and features soldiers or rebels who use a spaceship as their basis. No real surprises there.

Of course this ‘research’ is very unscientific, I’d like to include more franchises and a measure of success for each franchise (Star Trek is more successful than Firefly – by far – and thus should probably weigh more in the analysis).

 

Lots and lots of assorted goodness this month:

Not a lot this month, but hey, I’ve been busy.

Stuff

Spaaaaaaaace! and the Future

  • Low-mass exoplanet imaged – It also “poses a challenge” to theories about Gas Giant formations.
  • The City of 2050 – Nothing too original but probably worth a look if you are working on Sci Fi
  • Not strictly Sci Fi: Check out Project Iceworm. Seems that in the early 60s, the US Army attempted to build a huge nuclear missile launch facility under the ice of Greenland. Valuable leads if you intend on ‘building’ an under-ice colony or lair for your supervillain. Also, see the propaganda video for some impressive visuals.

Settings Poll Result

I decided – rather arbitrarily, I’ll admit – to close the settings poll. First of all “THANK YOU!” to all of you who did cast a vote.

The results are:

settingspollSo Enderra and Antarctica are tied. Somnium – the Science Fiction setting – is in second place, followed by post-apocalyptic Desolate Earth, the parallel worlds setting Terra, and Arnaron.

I knew Enderra and Somnium would score relatively well – I posted a lot of Sci Fi stuff, and worked on the map much; and Enderra is, after all, the namesake of the site; I am, however, surprised Antarctica and Arnaron scored so well. As for Terra and Desolate Earth, I think those are just genre votes.

I am not sure what exactly I can take away from these results, except that people by and large voted for what I post about already – I guess perhaps that I should focus more on Fantasy-ish things. We’ll see – I already know that I need to focus better anyway.

 

More odds and ends:

Game Design:

  • The League of Legends lead designer talked a bit about player needs vs wants, a worth-while read. This is not exactly news to anybody who has even dabbled in the field, but he expresses it well – and many players do not realize these principles.
  • Geeks On had an episode on RPG design.

Tools of the Trade

Question for you guys: Should I keep posting these here, or just on Facebook – or both?