Saturday, 18 May 2013

Fantasy Map Experimentation

A little off from my normal topics round here.

My work has just seen fit to give me some new toys to play with, amongst them an Intuos 5 M Touch graphics slate. My boss was so keen for me to be confortable with it he told me, "take it home and play with it."

So with a new toy home for the weekend I set to work on my first experiment, drawing a fantasy map in photoshop. So its not as pretty as something that the pros can produce, but with some more work and some textures laid I think it could turn out quite cool.

What do you think?

Monday, 13 May 2013

Technology of D23

Directive 23

Thought I'd ripp some of the text from D23 and drop it in here, some parts still needs some additions before they will make sense, the history section for example is only partly developed.

Computer Technology
Computers have steadily grown in power while still diminishing in size.  By the time of D23 computers in common usage are typically no bigger than a wrist watch, advancements in neural systems and memory emulation technology make the processing capability so powerful that to try to compare 20th century systems with what exists today is simply meaningless.  Storage capacity and processing power are interchangeable and even the smallest computer is run by a dedicated master level AI.

The Internet still exists in a form, though it has been completely redesigned and rebuilt in the last century.  These days it incorporates all forms of media communications from Conferencing (video / voice communication), Passive Entertainment Media (former TV and Radio entertainment) and Active Participation Media (former online gaming, interactive and participation media, and conferencing chambers).  

Gate Technology
The gate has been the single greatest advance in recorded human history.  It opened the way to the modern world and made necessary certain advances in energy production and computer technology, and produced a number of by-product technologies.  Most fundamentally the gate permits people and cargo to enter at one and exit at the other with a near instant transition period.  This essentially provides faster-than-light transportation across any distance, provided that there is a gate on the other end.

While the gate permits faster-than-light travel it cannot be used to send anything but the most limited communications.  The gates can only be opened for a period of up to a minute, then they collapse, establishing communication through this sub-space dimension of the gate is thus extremely limited, making human couriers the most effective manner of moving large amounts of data (encoded on optical wafers) over interplanetary distances.

Manufacturing Technology
The development of industrial process nanobiotic cultures underpinned the 2060’s recycling boom.  Vast recycling plants were built to house nano-culture vats.  Almost any type of waste could be dropped into the vat to be disassembled and organised into new chemical resources and all at the fraction of the cost of traditional recycling.  Many of the ancient landfill sites were excavated and their rich resources reclaimed.

Recycling nano-cultures were the first and the simplest of the industrial process applications for nanotechnology.  Manufacturing applications were not far behind as more exact control of ‘worker nanites’ was developed with the introduction of ‘director nanites’ that could be used to switch workers on and off or adjust their assigned duties.  First relatively simple manufacturing plans were devised permitting the production of various textile fibres, then the first nano-circuits were constructed in this industrial vat environment, ultimately certain specialised fibers that can only be manufactured by nano-processes began enter circulation.

Medical Technology
Medicine has advanced in leaps and bounds, particularly with the advent nanobiotic cultures.  The word nanotechnology conjures and image of microscopic robots performing complex tasks in the repairing of cells and bodily damage.  The truth might seam considerably less high tech, nanobiotic cultures have more in common with protein chemistry than with robotics, each tiny ‘worker nanite’ is formed from plastic fragments with specific sugar and fat molecules attached to ensure that the correct conformation is adopted.  Other ‘director nanites’ can act as keys to trigger confirmation change that in turn changes the function of the ‘worker’.  The typical nanite has an operational life span of anything up to 15 minutes and cannot survive outside normal living body conditions, unless suspended in culture.

A complex medical situation would require a specific course of nanobiotic injections to ensure that tissue is repaired in the correct order and control over worker functionality must be monitored by the careful application of directors.  The nanites are themselves grown in industrial cultures and suspended in an inert solution to await activation upon injection.

Weapons Technology
Military weapons are based on electromagnetic acceleration principles, but they no longer fire solid slugs or have ammunition cases to discard.  A typical modern military firearm requires a both a battery pack and magnetic liquid reservoir.  A small quality of mag-lik is chambered, magnetised and accelerated along the barrel.  The mag-lik forms a needle like projectile under the influence of the accelerator mag-fields, the projectile will rip easily though even heavy conventional armour and expand within soft living tissue causing massive internal trauma, the mag-lik itself is by natural by-product of its mercury based structure, poisonous, though not significantly to increase its battlefield performance.

Some modern battlefield weapons still make use of caseless munitions, such as Guided Explosive Munitions (GEMs) this term has been adopted for similar munitions with different payload condiments like Gas, Refractive Pigments, EMP and a host of other warheads in common usage.

Heavier support weapons and artillery are commonly equipped with larger variations on gauss technology some of which are combined with sophisticated Military AI’s that ID and destroy targets as they present themselves.  This technology has revolutionised warfare.  Air superiority is a thing of the past; the onus is again on ground forces and stealth, vehicles while capable of carrying large support weapons are as easily destroyed as they are identified.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Directive 23

Directive 23 

Like every want to be Game Designer I've written tons of games, most of which languish at the botom of my hard disk waiting rediscovery. Well as it happens I've recently dusted of my old "Directive 23" project. Not really sure why, but I think its good to revisit old stuff periodically, it reminds you where you have come from and renews your vigor to keep going.

Anyway, I wrote Directive 23 back in 2000-1 before I started working on Fading Suns with Redbrick. At the time I'd just parted ways with Eden Studios and their Conspiracy X line for which I had done a little writing.

So here was the pitch I wrote up for the game world, if the reaction is positive I'll perhaps publish a couple of the chapters I wrote for the game.

Directive 23
“Mankind stands anew upon the brink of a golden age, or possibly upon the precipice before the plunge into darkness. Our technology races ever faster and our lives, once short and static are now long and ever changing. Adaptation, evolution, survival, but at least we have hope that, after the trials of the past, there is a future for us.” - Dr. Robert L. Morgan, 2098

World Setting 
Directive 23 (or D23 as my playtest group named it) is an adventure / conspiracy setting in the world only 100 years from now. The world has experienced massive upheaval during the last century; war, famine and pestilence. In the 20’s the small pox pandemic killed 1 in 4 and scared the psyche of the survivors, society could not continue as it had been. The old powers fell and a new order rose. Even three generations on, the scars of that time have not yet fully healed. Technology has leapt to greater heights; this has empowered some, but isolated many. The world is dominated by three superpowers that control the UN World Government. Not only are nations represented within but also, world religions and international corporate concerns. Many claim that this order is corrupt and abuses its power. The assembly asserts that the ends justify the means and that a new utopia is dawning. Those who seek independence from the invasive authority of the assembly migrate off world seeking new lives far from the centers of power, but as technology marches relentlessly onwards the solar system is getting smaller and those with independent spirits must forge yet further in to the dark.

Technology is a key theme of the game setting. Technology has advanced with several critical developments that would seem at first to create an idyllic reality. Death is almost a thing of the past; people can be rejuvenated, even resurrected, if they can afford the procedure. The greatest risk from body death is memory loss. Memories can be manipulated and stored, given new bodies or join the ranks of the transcendent, that swim in the sea of accumulated knowledge that is the datasphere. Many people are permanently connected to the datasphere or employ companion AI systems wet-wired directly into their own minds, to overcome the inherent isolation of this ‘joined’ society. New energy sources can produce limitless cheap power, though not entirely clean, these advances are considerably more efficient and less environmentally damaging than the power sources of the last century. The greatest single change is the ‘gate’, the ability to temporary form a wormhole between two points in space/time, permitting near instant travel to any other gate. This is typically replacing air travel as the primary means of transport between major population centers on Earth, Luna, Mars and the Jovian Colonies. The rest of the solar system is within humanities grasp. The weakness of this technology is that there must be a target gate to form a wormhole and ‘translating’ across a distance is an inherently disorienting and painful procedure that can cause physiological and neuro-biochemical damage to the traveler if not controlled with drugs or mitigation implants. Data comms cannot be transmitted through a wormhole, giving rise to data couriers, who make translation a profession. As a result information transfer between dataspheres is relatively slow in the joined world. So far only Earth and Luna have fully fledged dataspheres, Mars and the Jovian Colonies are likely to move from dataweb to full sphere status in the near future.

Misfits (Player Characters)
In this new utopia not all is well. Some people just don’t fit in; they have difficulties with the advancing pace of technology, social isolation, risk taking or ‘criminal’ psychologies. These misfits usually gravitate towards crime, the new frontier or become troubleshooters co-opted by the government under the 23rd Directive. There is a very wide variety of potential campaigns within the game world. The type and power level of game should be set by consensus between the Game Director and the Players prior to character genesis. With modern technology death will no longer be the end point for many characters, but far more critical is the loss of memory and error creep that slowly degrades the mind and personality of a character over successive regenerations. Society is becoming ageless with static immortal pillars setting the way that things will be.

The Right to Exist 
This theme exists on several levels within the setting. Crime and punishment have evolved, persistent criminal behavior can result in ‘branding’ this places virtual markers on a person that clearly display his criminality and prevents him from legally receiving medical intervention (like rejuvenation or resurrection). Sentences usually involve a minimal time in a custodial facility, but act to inhibit prolonging life expectancy or accessing areas of the datasphere or the physical world. Termed a ‘curtailment of rights’. Much less obvious is the right of future history to exist. The gates transcend both space and time, so it is possible for unintended glitches to cause disruptions in a traveler’s temporal continuity. That is, they might move forward or backwards in time, perhaps arriving only seconds before they left, but in rare cases much greater continuity errors occur (these are not well understood by the gate scientists and not public knowledge). The only requirement for traveling to a destination is that a gate be present. This introduces the possibility of delivering travelers to gates not built by humans. And for gates that still exist in the far future to be accessed as well.

Temporal Conflict
There are a number of possible futures, ‘possible’ because much like Schrödinger’s Cat, the future doesn’t entirely exist until the ‘current’ time frame makes it real. So the Eden, Abyss and other temporal frames are currently in conflict for the right to be ‘the future’. If they are indeed possible futures of our present temporal continuity then they exist on separate mutually exclusive continuities and cannot translate to and have direct conflict with each other, they only place they can fight their war for existence is at a temporal convergence (the present). A few notes no temporal conflict are necessary, paradox cannot exist! It is not possible for a character to step back in time and assassinate Hitler for example. Other than having no gate to access that time, even should that limitation be over come the history has already been set, whatever interaction the character had in that time will only bring about events as they happened in our history. The future is however fluid and much more accessible.

Meta Plot 
Directive 23 has a strong meta plot that will see the game world change and evolve. One of the themes of the game is adaptation and living with the consequences of your actions. The core releases will be lite on information related to temporal theory and warfare and focus on the initial setting. Only the later releases will bring this element to the fore as the general level of knowledge about the conflict increases and the Present becomes a battleground for the future. Although the gates will be a focus of the setting and they are capable of sending people to alien worlds and different time periods this is not ‘Stargate SG-1’ or ‘Quantum Leap’ and should not be played as alien world of the week (though if you want to you can). It is far more about what is coming to our world unknown and unseen and the consequences of that short sightedness. And what happens to a traveler in the ‘nothing / everything’ instant of translation.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

To Infinity Core and beyond...

Infinity Core
By way of a small update. I just sent out an alpha test copy of first eight chapters of Dark Stars to my Alpha Testers. I feels really good to give what I've been working on for months over to other people to take a look at and give me feedback (positive or negative). Of course the first eight chapters is only about two thirds of the full intended project.

So now I have a little breathing space to think about all the other projects that I want to work on.

I can tell you that I do have a second game on the back burner. This game too uses the Infinity Core, but with some changes. I could characterise the Infinity Core in Dark Stars as being very "Cinematic", the abstracted way in which conflict is handled works really well for the style of game, but its not to everyones taste.

The other Infinity Core project that I'm working on is called "c.War", and its a hard science fiction setting with no faster than light communications or transport. It tells the story of mankind's early attempts at interstellar colonialism and warfare. What makes this setting interesting from my perspective is the kind of stories that can be told and how it aims to simulate the disjunction between those who have gone to war and then return to those who haven't.

c.War will offer the opportunity for GMs to run adventures in each of three distinct 'zones'; at Home, in Transit, and on Mission. The use of all three are critical to getting the right feel to c.War. The purpose is to really hammer home the disjunction between home and warfare.

The Infinity Core will see a fairly major revision between Dark Stars with its cinematic approach and c.War with its hard gritty approach and part of that will be a revision of the conflict mechanics away from the abstraction of a conflict turn back to a more traditional role-playing game turn sequence, featuring "combat time" a system that will track actions and reactions in time. How fast a character's reactions are and how quickly he is able to recover from an action that targeted him.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Post Human

Big sister Nina, inspects little brother Keir
As the title might suggest, its been about three weeks since the birth of my son, Keir. I'd like to say that things are getting back to normal, but I have no idea what normal should be right now. I'm operating on even less sleep than normal though his nocturnal cycle is moving slowly towards dawn. A 1am wake up is not good, a 6am wake up I can live with. Its just that he needs to be feed every 2-3 hours. Still the important thing is that he is healthy and swiftly gaining weight.

Dark Stars
Right down to business. I promised an update on Dark Stars and Infinity Core by the end of January 2013, and now its the 1st of February. So I'm overdue, understandably I think. But even with the best excuse in the world, I understand the frustration of everyone who is waiting and seeing time slip past.

So first up the project now runs to 95 pages of text. The contents look something like this:

Just what it says.

History of the Sphere
A look at the 1,000 years of human history from the end of the Commonwealth, through the Ruin, to the Rise of the New Order.

Gazetteer of the Sphere
To include a brief description of all the planets currently linked by the Byway Network. Still have a couple to write up, but most are done.

Game System
Infinity Core with new dice mechanics.

Character Genesis
Amended for the new game system mechanics, and updated to include a lifepath creation method.

Skills and Fighting Forms
Have pruned out the Interface skill (its been moved to Augmentation) and added in a number of martial fight techniques to add some variety. Includes examples of martial arts, related to hand-to-hand, melee weapon, and shooting weapons fighting forms.

Now heavily adjusted to reflect the version of Infinity Core and Character Genesis chapters.

A first and somewhat rough draft of the direction I want to take with cyberware in dark stars.

Still on my list of things needing my attention is the Psi Ops (Psychic Operancy), High Sciences (Techno-Majik), Technology of the Sphere. And a new testing adventure to for the next round of testing. Busy, busy, and more busy. i could a few more hours in the day.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

More or Less Human

My Son, Keir Colin McLean McNicholl

The first piece of news that I'd like to share with everyone is the birth of my son on the 8th of January 2013. Keir was born healthy, and both he and his mother are doing well, though we could all do with a bit more sleep. Who knew that he would be part bat, and like to be wide awake between midnight and about 8 in the morning?

Anyway, I know I have been silent for a long time, life is like that when you have a new arrival bearing down on you. But I offer my apologies to all who have been weighting very patiently. In the last few months I have not been idle, in fact I have been leaning the nuances of Adobe InDesign so that I can do my own layout for Dark Stars. I guess its just that this is my baby and I'm a bit control freakish about it at the moment.

Anyway here is a little something for you read, just battered out on the old keyboard so its still raw and unedited, but I'm sure that you can get the gist of where I'm going with this. This is intended to be part of my introduction to Dark Stars.

More or Less Human

In the days of prehistory, before mankind achieved star flight and spread out from Ancient Earth to grasp the stars, it might have been easy to define what it was to be human. In those days there was only one single human race, certainly it had a number of sub-races with slightly differing physical appearances. But these differences were literally skin deep. 
In the centuries after the first star flights and the mass migrations to the first expansion colonies the transhumanist movement grew in influence and strands of mankind separated to follow various evolutionary paths. Life on the colony worlds was tough in those early centuries and evolution reasserted itself, selecting for genetic characteristics that brought about the best environmental adaptations relative to each world. Mankind diversified and although individuals died, the race went on.
The adage “adapt or die”has never been more true that it was in those early centuries. Advances in the genetic sciences allowed for gene sculpting to remake mankind in the image of perfection, extending life span as well as physical and cognitive capabilities. Most importantly it allowed the race to diversify by incorporating nonhuman gene code into the human genome. Initially these were environmental adaptations, the ability to better survive the often brutal life of a colonist, surviving the desert heat, retaining moisture, adding anti-freeze to blood, providing more efficient insolation to the body, adding membranes to eyes, nose and throat to counter air-born parasites.
These genetic adaptations formed the basis of the “Superior Genome” a catch all term to describe a range of basic modifications to allow the individual and thus the race to not only survive, but prosper on a hundred worlds.
There were those who rejected the biological as a means of improvement, and instead turned to technology to over come the challenges of colonisation. These efforts were largely less successful in those years of the first expansion. Cybernetic implants while contributing significantly to individual survival probability, lacked the heritable properties of genetics and so with the exception of few scattered colonies with specific resources, died out, became extinct.
As the first expansion colonies matured and the second expansion began, genetics were used increasingly for frivolous cosmetic purposes. Expanding the range of human phenotypes with a broader range of hair, eye and skin pigments, even bioluminescence. Encounters with other intelligent species even brought about the transmigration of genetics between these different, but compatible species. At least two exo-sentient species were fully incorporated into the expanding human genome, and ceased to be distinct life forms in their own right.
The development of life extension technologies had effectively stalled evolution on the central worlds, with the ability to life longer, reproduce later, transfer memories into new cloned bodies, or even rejuvenate an existing body. In the early centuries of this field of high science life could be extended first decades, then centuries and finally indefinitely. Racial evolution became less of consideration for colonial longevity and transhumanist thought again resurfaced.
Former staples of biological life such as gender identity began to fall away as some humans became multi-gendered able to both genders, or switch from one to the other in a trans-formative process that only a few weeks to complete. Some even developed entirely new genders or modes of reproduction.
Developments in synthetic intelligence allowed for the creation of sophisticated robotics and the integration of synthetic minds with biomechanical or biological bodies. Although the thought processes of synthetic and evolved (human) intelligences were different they now became indistinguishable from one another and interchangeable with the host body. That is to say a human evolved intellect could exist in a robotic or biomechanical body, while a synthetic (artificial) intellect could live in a biological host form. Increasingly a synthetic mind was no different from an evolved one, and could biologically procreate if the hardware (the body) allowed it to do so. Many of these beings and the fusions they created became known as the “Post Humans” their intelligence rather than physical host becoming the definition of their existence. Some divorced themselves from the physical reality of the universe seeking artificial realms of pure thought, others retained physical interaction through hosts, or solido projections.
The evolution of nano-viral technologies brought about a second evolution to humanity. The beginning of the of the so called “prime human” phase. The unique property of nano-virals had over the preexisting nano technology was that much like genetics they had an heritable component that could be passed down the the generation. These “augments” as they became known formed a second biomechanical component to prime human life, effectively adding an additional array of nano instructive chromosomes to human cells. The revolution that this technology brought about fulled the human developmental leap to the third expansion and beyond to the so called “final expansion” that brought humanity to first galactic dominance, then as masters of the universe. This was the phase that brought about the formation of the Commonwealth, a hundred billion worlds linked together through the byways that spanned the cosmos and beyond.
The basic definition of human had grown in breadth to encompass biological, biomechanical, and synthetic derived human forms. Even the biological forms alone contained such diversity that mankind could scarcely be a single race.
The final phase of human transmigration was now about to begin. Some dubbed it the “metamorphosis” others the “last migration”. So began the “Transcendent Human” phase, a long awaited and true evolution to a higher state of existence. What happened to these transcendent gods is now unclear, but many hundreds of millions completed the migration, before everything came tumbling down.