Strange New Worlds

I’ve been reading a lot more recently and kinda enjoying the low-tech aspect of it. It doesn’t require batteries, works in almost any light and gives more of a sense of achievement than scouring digg and reddit for interesting links.

Last week, Aidan and I were discussing unresolved physics problems as well as discussing our beliefs that there MUST be other life out there in the Universe. It got me thinking about a lot of writing I did back in 1996 for a game that was codenamed ‘Frontier’. The premise was that there were a lot of things we liked about playing in the Star Trek world but there were also a lot of things we didn’t like. Colin was the lead developer at the time and he put in some solid work I’m told (by Eamon, because Colin didn’t show us much of his work).

Doing my own space exploration game has been attractive to me for a number of years especially as I played my way through games like ‘Homeworld’ and read Iain M Banks ‘Culture’ books.

So I figure I’ll write a little about it and see what I think when I see it all down on “screen”. This will take multiple installments!

The premise of the game is that after expending a lot of time and resource sending out slow boats to local stars, we were eventually visited by a starfaring race who agreed to trade us a FTL drive. We built a few Explorer craft and sent a few hundred of our best and brightest out into the void.

The FTL “Key” drive can detect engineered stable wormholes in space. Each wormhole is unique and most are discrete, leading to and from one destination. We have discovered that these locations are not local by any means, their end points tending to be thousands of light years away. This has made identification of the “crow flies” direction from Earth to be nigh impossible (and in most cases it remains to be seen if we’re in the same galaxy). Trying to detect the Sun and Earth as they were one thousand years ago from an unknown reference point has been challenging.

The first locations we were led to were uninhabited but it wasn’t long until we encountered another alien race.

Over large distances and high speeds, laser weapons become of less use. The amount of time it takes for a sensor reading to be received and processed, a craft will have moved a considerable distance; it takes light 8 minutes to travel one AU (93 million miles). So the sensor reading you’ve just received is 8 minutes old and it’s going to take another 8 minutes for your laser (coherent light) to travel to that location. If you know their thrust vector then you at least have a chance of hitting them but 16 minutes is a lot of latency. At 0.1G of acceleration (entirely reasonable), you could be up to 23 km in ANY direction from your last observed point. Filling that space with laser fire is going to be tough. For this reason, lasers are really only useful against stationary targets. And if you have a stationary target you’re probably going to get a better kill coefficient by hurling a large rock at them. Where they do shine is when the need to hit smaller, close-range targets – such as incoming rocks, missiles and kinetic slugs.

Sensors and Detection
It’s impossible to hide in space unless you turn everything off. The only saving grace is that the electromagnetic radiation your engines are spewing out will only travel at light speed and even at only 1 AU, that information will be 8 minutes old.

Artificial Intelligence
Every Explorer craft will have one or more Expert Systems. These are not all-seeing and all-knowing machine intelligences but tend to be specialised in a few areas – notably what the AI is actually interested in. Like humans, AIs have opinions, interests, emotions and most important: the power of choice.

The planet Earth in it’s short life has produced innumerable differing examples of life: a cornucopia of diversity. While only one species became top predator in this ecosystem on account of their cognitive and memory faculties, it behooved us to think hard when it came to the truly alien; that is things not borne of Earth or even this Solar System. The universe is not populated with English-speaking humanoids with cute little wrinkles on their noses and even if it was there is no chance we’d be physically compatible never mind able to interbreed. This doesn’t mean that sapients from vastly different species can’t be friends or fall in love. We’ve nothing to test this theory on, however, our species having executed every last member of a potentially sentient second species on this planet (which explains why we get so excited when we find that Dolphins and Octopi are pretty smart.)

The sciences of Exobiology and Exosemantics have come to the fore. The first is the physical/physiological study of alien ecosystems and life. The latter, the search for meaning related to alien intelligences whether encountered first hand or from relics or manufactured goods. The fourth world discovered by the first Explorer ship was best described as a Tombworld. Sobering images and video were brought back to Earth by the Explorer depicting a society which had, at their height, extinguished their entire world. Though the physical forms of the beings had long rotted away enough remained of the buildings and civilisation that we could see that, although not human or humanoid, they were not totally unlike us.

It seems possible that in the future all common sense with regards to clothing and fashion will vanish and everyone will either wear form fitting quasi-military uniforms or piecemeal rags (basing this on Star Trek admittedly). Possible but unlikely. How do we work out what people will wear in the future? We look to the past.

This site shows what I’d consider as reasonable shapes for Explorer ships.

About matt

Gamer. Writer. Dad. Serial Ex-husband. Creator of The 23rd Letter, SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis XDO, ZOMBI, Testament, Creed. Slightly megalomaniac
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