Yearly Archives: 2013

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:

665-65-6
65-64-65-6
65-64-65-6
5-65-65-65-6

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.

FranchiseGenreLocationTimeAliensFocusProtagBase of OpsAntag
Star WarsSpace FantasyOther GalaxyPastCountlessWarSoldiersShipEvil Empire
Star TrekSpace OperaOrion spurCenturies in the futureCountlessExplorationSoldiersShipEvil Aliens
Babylon 5Space OperaOrion spurCenturies in the futureManyWarSoldiersSpace stationEvil Aliens
FireflySpace WesternDistant systemCenturies in the futureNoneCrimeCriminalsShipEvil Empire
FarscapeSpace OperaDistant regionPresentManyExploration, EscapeFugitivesShipEvil Empire
Eve OnlineSpace OperaDistant clusterMillenia in the futureNoneWar, Economy, ExplorationVariousShipEverybody else
Mass EffectSpace OperaMilky WayCenturies in the futureManyWar, ExplorationSoldiersShipEvil Aliens
TravellerSpace OperaOrion spurMillenia in the futureManyExploration, EconomyVariousShipEvil Empire
Known SpaceSpace Opera40lyCenturies in the futureSeveralExplorationExplorersPlanetsVarious
Battlestar Galactica (2004)Space OperaMilky WayPastNoneWarSoldiersShipRobots
StargateSpace OperaMilky WayPresentSeveralExplorationSoldiersEarthEvil Aliens
Doctor WhoSpace ComedyMilky WayPresentManyTimetravelSpecialShipRobots
AlienSpace HorrorClose to EarthCenturies in the futureFewHorrorSoldiersPlanetsEvil Aliens
Warhammer 40kSpace HorrorMilky WayMillenia in the futureManyWarSoldiersPlanetsEvil Aliens
Dune?Orion spurMillenia in the futureNonePoliticsNoblesPlanetsEvil Empire
PiperSpace OperaMilky Way GalaxyCenturies in the futureSomePolitics, ExplorationVariousPlanetsVarious

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).

 

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.

 

Shattered Grounds – Updated Concept

A long time ago I came up with what I tentatively call “Shattered Grounds”. It is post-apocalyptic fantasy setting, but unlike the trope (in which magic awakes after a nuclear war), it is an actual fantasy setting that experienced a doomsday.

The – as of yet unnamed – world was a normal fantasy world with dragons, wizards, orcs and humans. It also featured a vast underworld, similar to the Underdark from Dungeons & dragons. If anything, this underworld was much more extensive, with underground caverns hundreds of kilometers across.

One day, and without warning, large sections of the surface collapsed into that underworld. The continent-sized caverns caved in, causing huge valleys and lowlands, effectively lowering leaving continent-wide, kilometer-deep scars behind. The oceans of the world flowed into the now exposed underworld, flooding much of it; consequently, with much of the water gone, the surface world turned into a vast desert. Civilization was devastated and the world was plunged into chaos and savagery…

Shattered Grounds - Concept
Shattered Grounds – Concept

Should make for some awesome vistas…

So what’s happening in the world?

Continue reading “Shattered Grounds – Updated Concept” »

Star Trek: Enterprise

When it comes to Science Fiction, my two starter drugs were Captain Future – the animated TV show – and Star Trek.

I first saw part of an episode of Star Trek when I was a kid. I think my father was watching it, and I caught a glimpse when I came downstairs after my bed-time. Many years later, my mother bought me the novelization books of the TV show, one book at a time. I think I got the first one when I was sick, and I am guessing maybe 12 years old or so. I read all of the TOS episodes as books before I watched them – and I always liked the books better.

Even though I got started on Star Trek early, I never became a real Star Trek fan. I think that’s mostly because I read so many other, better, SF stories before I ever watched Star Trek. And of course there was Star Wars, too.

Still, I always liked certain aspects of the show. The ship design for example. So iconic! – and let’s face it, for a teenage geek, Star Trek offers good escapism.

I never really got into TNG or DS9 either. I never watched a single episode of Voyger – I think. But one show that caught my eye was Star Trek: Enterprise. I liked its “back to the basics” approach.

I recently re-watched the entire 4 Seasons show, due to a cold that “grounded” me for two days. Since I am currently working on my own Science Fiction setting, I tried to watch Enterprise with a critical eye.

So, what’s my take-away from watching Star Trek: Enterprise over five days?

Continue reading “Star Trek: Enterprise” »

Robert A. Heinlein

One of my favorite science fiction authors, Robert A. Heinlein, died today – twenty-five years ago – on May 8th, 1988. Heinlein was one of the early pioneers and famously a guest commentator for the Apollo moon landing. In other words, he was the star among science fiction writers, and can only ever be surpassed by whoever gets to be guest commentator for the Mars landing, whenever that happens.

Heinlein became successful and famous through several “Juveniles”, books aimed at teenage boys.

I’d say that Heinlein’s most famous books are Starship Troopers – which popularized space marines and powered armor – and Stranger in a Strange Land, which fit right in with the Hippie subculture of its days.

Heinlein’s works are not without controversy; he often dealt with “taboo” topics – racism, nudism, and so on – and got decidedly weird later on, when many of his stories featured excessive amounts of incest and at least borderline pedophilia.

If you are not familiar with Heinlein’s work, I recommend the following reading list:

If you are ever going to read one Heinlein book, make it Starship Troopers – and if you have seen the terrible movie adaption, you must know that the book and the movie have almost nothing in common except for a few themes and character names etc.

I read several of Heinlein’s books before I ever realized they were written by the same guy. The Rolling Stones and Between Planets were among the earliest Science Fiction books I ever read, and especially The Rolling Stones is a great influence on what I am working on (Somnium, Dragonfly). Unfortunately I was too young to ever see Heinlein in person, and had I had the opportunity I would not have been able to have a meaningful conversation with the man. Even if I do not like his later works, I will always have great respect for Heinlein and his achievements.

 

Frontier Transport, Version 2 WIP 1

I spent way oto much time on this. Desining spaceships is hard work. Maybe once I get a bit more practice…

shipdesign-actual04

I like this new version quite a bit more than the old one. However, I am well aware of some problems with the design:

  • Need to work out bow design
  • Ship is veritcally unsymetrical – this moves center of mass “up” and will probably look shabby in 3D
  • 96 TEU cargo plan would mean that anybody who wants to pass through the cargo bay has to go through the passenger/crew level. Not a big issue, but seems inefficient.
  • How/where does the landing gear retract?

There will be more problems once I work on this again, I am sure… But well, anyway, I thought I’d share and see what you guys think.