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Sci-Fi games about something

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Most sci-fi novels and stories are about a specific concept. In games sci-fi is usually an excess to blow things up with plasma instead of shotguns. What do you think about a game design that''s based on a concept and actually explores and sticks with it.

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Being a certified Arthur C. Clarke fan (the man who gave us gems like "any sufficiently advanced form of technology is indistinguishable from magic", and "given any field of endeavor with a sufficiently elderly and esteemed expert; if he tells you something is possible, it almost certainly is, and if he tells you it''s impossible, it almost certainly isn''t" - Clarke''s second and third laws, respectively), might I point out that science fiction is actually about science. The objective is to make one cardinal assumption - say, the possibility of space travel or the discovery of the "hyperdrive", or the idea that four dimensions can be unfolded into three (Robert Heinlein - "Tesseract". Good story.) - and proceed logically from there. of course, since sci-fi involves humans, human emotions and characteristics must play a part in determining their responses to challenges, dilemas and threats.

Whew! I get more voluble by the day! The works of Isaac Asimov are rich with examples of this type of creative, sci-fi thinking (I actually read the above assertion in a collection of short stories edited by him - "Earth is Room Enough", I believe. Good stuff!) A number of his short stories feature Multivac, a massive, intelligent computer used for a variety of purposes. In one scenario the voting process has been analyzed down to a single individual, supposedly representive of the average opinion of the general populace, being statistically selected. The human aspect is the turmoil of being "the One", due to the two possible outcomes: if "you" elect a good president, the nation will love you. If you elect a bad president, "it''s all your fault" and you may even receive murder threats and attempts on your life.

So find some tenet of science that intrigues you and attempt to draw rational extrapolations from twisting it just so.

Oh yeah... May the force be with you, Luke. (*does Vulcan "V" thingie*).

Mixing my movies, I know...

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Have there been any games that genuinely explorer a sci-fi theme? I guess right now the Mind Forever Voyaging (old Infocom), and Deus Ex, come to mind. There have to be at least a few more though.

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I would like to point out novels are often richer if more than one cardinal assumption is made (I know this is exactly the opposite of what somw respected authors say) , and at least one of the assumptions must be about sociology - your society should be different and alien and shaped by its environment. You can''t just pick up a handful of everyday people and give them fur and antennas and super technology, then expect them to behave just like they did on earth. Examples of books where this is done really well are C. J. Cherryh''s _Cyteen_, Donald Kingsbury''s _Courtship Rite_, and Vernor Vinge''s _A Fire Upon the Deep_ (the tines, not the humans).

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go s&s!

I always create new races by starting with cosmology and planetology. Pick a blue dwarf star with heavy orbiting bodies and noxious atmosphere! Pick the weirdest damn place for life to grow, and then evolve (no creationism dammit) your lifeform logically in your mind from whatever it started as to tool-user. To point out some classic examples:

Vulcans evolved a secondary nictating membrane and extremely strong constitution due to their harsh sun and thin atmosphere.

Minbari (sp?) evolved based on their life-form having discrete ethereal/corporeal entities en symbiote. I don't even know the environmental considerations that caused the evo!

Formics (Buggers from the Ender's Game universe) do not have speech, because they are a telepathic hive-mind.


Xenomorphs... Just TRY to think of whyw these things evolved as they did. Great stuff!


the Xenos reaise another great example.. the dominant life form is not always the most advanced. Xenomorph "culture" is one of super-protectiveness first and breeding second. They breed only as long as there are gestates available. We are meant to think of them as antithesis, but they do no more than Africanized bees would do if they were disturbed.

Some people don't like to build their universes or worlds first, but to create races and then fortify the world to support them. I find this unrealistic as it usually results in alot of pulp-science to tie together loose ends (which we should all agree is a Bad Thing, don't be L. Ron Hubbard).

Once you have a race or races, it is a deliciously simple matter to take an element AWAY from the idyllic world you have created, thereby creating this universal antagonist (or several) and all of the various threads and facets it will trickle out into. I believe this makes a good formula for having "about something"s in your game.

------------------
-WarMage
...Think Globally, Evolve Logically!

Edited by - WarMage on July 18, 2001 3:37:33 PM

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Hey guys, I''d just like to say that I also am aiming for a game like Impossible describes. I''m a very strong beleiver in games with a strong single-player story-driven environ, MMOGs don''t yet give me the ability to do this unfortunatly - that would be cool.

Anyways, after reading Ron L Hubbards Battlefield Earth (do NOT associate this with the movie), I was awe syruck. I had never read such a large book before (it had close to 1000 pages!!) and the plotline was immense!! But it was captivating every step of the way... I could never put it down and even as long as it was I never got bored.

So that''s my goal, to make an epic out of a game through character and storytelling. Of course all games must be interactive, so I also aim to throw in plot twists and branches dependant on character actions and interactions. It''s a big thing to think about and I still haven''t fleshed too much out, but a game like that i think would be awesome

==============================
"Need more eeenput..."
- #5, "Short Circuit"
==============================

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Perfect Dark was a pretty good sci-fi FPS, and I liked Syndicate Wars also for a scifi theme.

"There is humor in everything depending on which prespective you look from."

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My friend Dan Snyder and I developed a world together that is plausible and alien in virtually every way. Our world has a history, climates, seasonal changes, and its very own indigenous flora and fauna. All of our conclusions were based on logical assumptions, which were in turn based on the planet''s geological and solar data.

Then we dumped humans onto the world and tried to figure out how they could survive. It was fun, and we had to muster all of our creativity to do it. Then, after we''d established a 600-year history of mankind''s presence on this planet, we tried to make a story out of it.

So, basically we started from the ground up. We made a world, populated it with aliens, then with humans, and now we''re working on a very intriguing story that involves realistic technology in a future era. I guess that means I agree with what sunandshadow and WarMage said.

I''ve said this before and I''ll say it again until everyone in the world takes the hint: PLAUSIBILITY is the single most important factor in designing a sci-fi universe. I still see ameteurs dusting off ideas from the early 1900''s and trying to make the next Final Fantasy. Make something original, dammit! But also make it believeable.

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Impossible,

Is it enough for you to experience the sci-fi theme through story and environment? If so, then games like System Shock or (I hear) Deus Ex do a great job.

But the MAJOR problem I have is that story and environment are nothing if they're invalidated by gameplay. Sure, Starcraft is set in a science fiction universe, but it's about as far from the heart of what science fiction is as can be. Same for System Shock, though through the character logs and some of the game events it gets a heck of a lot closer. The perversions that are most Star Trek games provide another great set of examples.

Most SF games are closer to the (dumb but fun) Hammer's Slammers or Honor Harrington series, or any number of B-Grade "Vietnam / World War 2 in space" books and movies out there.

For "real" [bias alert! ] science fiction in a game, I think you need to find a way to enact what sunandshadow and Oluseyi talk about in gameplay. Otherwise, you'll likely end up with hack&slash and puzzle solving in science fiction clothes.

I asked about this not too long ago here. Its good feedback, but my major conclusion is this:

A game MUST create a gameplay framework around elements commonly found in sci-fi in order for the whole experience to be of science fiction (rather than, say, hack & slash).


Two good examples: Cyberpunk vs. Splatterpunk

I can take Diablo, swap out the monsters and put in corporate guards, thugs, and mutants. Hacking can be a form of magick that opens doors and such. Guns can replace magick and the bow, martial arts and "monowire whips" the melee weapons. I can swap out the gfx, story, and mission text so that it's all about killing your way in and out of megacorp complexes. Have I created a science fiction game?

NO!

I've made splatterpunk, which is a poor shadow of cyberpunk. If I want real cyberpunk, I've got to wrap sci-fi issues and pressures around gameplay. Core cyberpunk is about the risk of dehumanization by machinery. So gameplay has to support that concept.

This means that I've got to express what's happening inside the character; I've got to show the world around the character changing; I've got to make things like humanity and memory and emotion quantifiable, manipulatable game objects. I've got to come up with what "human gameplay" is, then what "machine gameplay" is, and if I take the SF position that the latter is horrible, I've got to express that through consequences in the game world.

If this isn't done, then I think you (typically) end up with combat or puzzle solving in sci-fi skin.


--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...


Edited by - Wavinator on July 18, 2001 5:49:36 PM

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What attracts me more to sci-fi than fantasy is that it is at least plausible. As Oluseyi mentioned, I really liked Asimov''s and Clarke''s works, because they were far more than plausible, they were believable.

To me at least, sci-fi is about extrapolating the future. Thinking about what might be possible 10-1000 years down the road. Think about how we lived 50 years ago against how we live today. And not just in materialistic concerns, but how society itself has changed. Now imagine what one or two fundamental changes could do to society....

Cold Fusion; free, clean, limitless power...imagine that
Superconductors; machines could be run at a fraction of their power
Genetic Engineering; wipe disease off the face of the earth
Discovery of Extraterrestials; imagine the impact this would have on society, religions and goverments
Creation of AI; what will happen to human workers?

Now, imagine a few "fate" factors that could throw everything to the wind....

Accidental Nuclear/Biological/Chemical War
Corruption of the worlds Banking systems through hackers
Magnetic Poles shifting so that all AC devices become useless
Impact of a meteorite on earth
etc etc

Well, to me, that''s what sci-fi is about, seeing how a significant change can affect our future. If all it is our modern society dressed in ray-guns instead of chemically projected rounds, it could be interesting, but there''s better ways.

As to why I don''t like fantasy as much, perhaps that''s not the right way to describe it. To me, fantasy can either be a getaway from reality escape, or it can be used as a simile for our current society, but hidden in fantasy clothing. I prefer the latter. So sci-fi is the extrapolation of our future, but fantasy is a parable for our present.

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I think fantasy, or science fiction with handwaving, can also be a parable for human potential - and in this form and only this form I think it can be greater than good science fiction. An example of this type of fantasy is The Sugar Trilogy by Paul Park. A science-fiction with handwaving example is _Don''t Bite the Sun_ by Tanith Lee.

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Sunandshadow:

More then one assumption about certain technologies especially is important in creating a "realistic" sci-fi environment. This is the biggest problem I had with the movie A.I., it didn''t mention any potential advances in biotechnology that make it unlikely that robots surpass biological life in the next 2000 years.

That leads me to another point, any sci-fi (in a game or anything) needs to be should be at least loosely based on real world theories and technologies in development (or at least technologies that seem believable.) Otherwise (IMHO at least) it''s fantasy, with laser guns and spaceships instead of magic and dragons.

That said, as with any fiction you often have to make allowances in realism, but when you''re breaking rules it should at least make logical sense.

Alpha Centauri is probably the best example of a sci-fi game with the premise integrated deeply into the gameplay (I don''t know why I didn''t think of it before...)

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The exception to basing sci-fi on the real world is sci-fi that is set completely among aliens who have never had contact with humans.

Breaking the rules in a logical way is, I think, one of the keys to maintaining suspension of disbelief. Fantasy can benefit from this too - readers are much more likely to accept magic that behaves in a systematic way - this was the big problem with aeris'' death in ff7, phoenix down magic suddenly wasn''t useable because it would have completely screwed up the plot and the emotional significance of the moment.

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quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
I would like to point out novels are often richer if more than one cardinal assumption is made...


Yes! Yes, yes! The only "restriction" is that all assumptions be plausible, and that the development from the "point(s) of assumption" onward be logical.

quote:
Original post by Wavinator
This means that I''ve got to express what''s happening inside the character; I''ve got to show the world around the character changing; I''ve got to make things like humanity and memory and emotion quantifiable, manipulatable game objects. I''ve got to come up with what "human gameplay" is, then what "machine gameplay" is, and if I take the SF position that the latter is horrible, I''ve got to express that through consequences in the game world.


Herein lies the crux: gameplay. The options, the events, the pressures and circumstances, the drives and desires. Because a "storytelling" game is linchpin-ed on the emotional impact of occurences to/about the character(s), if these are not believable, the game as a whole isn''t either.

Cyberpunk used to be quite the fad around ''94...

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Here it comes...

So I''m thinking we might want to take the path to documenting. Am I out of line to want an open source DD on the forums?

Asimov did wonderful things in the Robot novels and Foundation novels to accelerate the human idea .

In the Robot novels he coined and explored the fabled Laws of Robotics, which some say has been proven less than sacrosanct, but the point was that people thought about it ever since they arrived in paper on the shelves during the early days of the space race and transistor technology.

Foundation gave us extreme examples of the power of Empire, and the possibilities of human and mathematical evolution.

Clarke did many of the same, again in the spheres of evolution, mathematics, and Contact.


What do you think should be next to accelerate the human ideal?

-------------------
-WarMage
...let''s focus on the small stuff... let''s get into space first...let''s find out why money doesn''t work the way it should...

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Hehe, I''m glad that I finally have a popular thread .

Sunandshadow:

Even aliens can be based on realworld theories. Depending on the environment they evolved in, and some general biological rules, it''s possible to create "realistic aliens."

Oluseyi:

Cyberpunk is still a viable genre (IMO). It just can''t be stereotypical (or classic), Gibsonesque, cyborg, netrunning, global decay cyberpunk. Cyberpunk now a days is even more viable then it was in the 80''s. Technology (well, computer technology) is now much more a part of the average American''s life then it ever has been. Most of the major technologies in cyberpunk are either widely in use (internet, portable computers), or have at least been developed (cybernetics, neural interfaces.) And now researchers are working on newer technologies that can make cyberpunk even more interesting (biotech, nanotech, quantum computers, etc.)

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Oh, I agree that Cyberpunk is highly viable. What I meant is that there were so many "cyberpunk" (slatterpunk) games coming out in the early-to-mid nineties; now we have hardly any (except the stellar Deus Ex). Go figure.

Whatever happened to that hacking game that was being demoed for Windows and Linux (indie developer, I think)?

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Impossible: I agree

WarMage: You ought to read _Cyteen_, _The Meme Machine_, and _Body Hot Spots_ to see how far the "human idea" has developed since Asimov and Clarke.

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quote:
Original post by Oluseyi
Herein lies the crux: gameplay. The options, the events, the pressures and circumstances, the drives and desires. Because a "storytelling" game is linchpin-ed on the emotional impact of occurences to/about the character(s), if these are not believable, the game as a whole isn''t either.



At the risk of making another End Goblin Genocide type thread, I have to ask: Even with storytelling, how do you convey your ideas and stay true to your form if everything is wrapped in murder-based gameplay?

btw, Alpha Centauri is another great example of a SF game that comes VERY VERY VERY close. Heh, but you still have to kill everybody...



--------------------
Just waiting for the mothership...

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Haven''t read the whole thread (in a bit of a hurry), but for a good way to get into the sci-fi mood, ask yourself "what if?".

What if there were never any televisions?

What if people could fly?

What if animals could talk?

What if clouds were more solid than they are?

What if etc?

Of course you would probably want "cooler" examples, but that''s the idea. Things like "story" and "characters" are common to every genre (at least, the should be ), and building up a world is a thing most RPG''s, at least, require (to be "truly" immersive and epic)

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Good thread. I have just bought Half Life: Opposing Force (and found that it is a lot of fun). But when thinking about it, although it is entertaining and exciting.. it doesn''t *really* explore (m)any themes relevent to the real world. I think that it would be further enhanced if some interesting themes were explored. (Besides government betrayal, and shady research.).

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One word: Psychohistory

Almost all science fiction in existence is geared exclusively towards stunning us with technology and supernatural events.

In order to make good science fiction, you''ve got to do something else. Asimovs Foundation series doesn''t concentrate on specific technology, it concentrates on what he calls psychohistory - the reduction of the entire of humanity into mathematical equations and using these to accurately predict the future of the universe to a high level of accuracy, for millions of years. The reason the saga is so good is because psychohistory is quite plausible, and Asimov also concentrates on the emotional and human side of this system, the way it affects individuals. The fact that even though the Seldon plan guarantees prosperity for a million years to humanity, the people of the foundation rebel against it, because it requires a hidden, guiding force to control them. The sheer strength of human paranoia makes the people prefer the alternative to the seldon plan, total anarchy and barbarism throughout the universe.

Philip K Dick is the same. In his novel "do androids dream of electric sheep", later to become "blade runner", he reveals that science technology has reached the point where beings almost indestinguishable from humans can be created. In your average sci fi game or novel, the author would stop the actual scifi right there and simply concentrate on combat between the androids and humans. The reason blade runner is a masterpiece is because Dick doesn''t do this. Instead, he concentrates on the emotional and moralistic aspects of the situation. He makes us think careflly, makes us wonder whether the replicants are really evil for rebelling against their creators, or whether it is really the human creators who are depraved, keeping them as downtrodden slaves, and hunting the rebels like vermin, even though the replicants are quite obviously sentient, self aware and intelligent beings. This is stated in the opening prologue.

Later in the story, Rick Deckard (the "protagonist")has his own identity and morality called into question. In the film, we are left wondering whether he is actually a replicant himself. If he is, the implications are horrifying - he has been tricked and decieved into hunting down and killing his own kind, and denied knowledge of his own nature.

Few games do this sort of thing. Deus Ex comes close, with the omnipresent, nagging doubt that the central character''s upgrades will soon make him "obsolete" and an outcast, but from what I''ve seen this is a minor plot point, and is not exploited to it''s full potential.

Freshya''s "what if" is a good place to start thinking up a backstory like these.


Oh, and my own two rules of thumb for sci fi concepts which are "acceptably plausible": you don''t have to prove them correct, there just has to be no possible way of disproving them.
If they are completely implausible, liken them to something which is reminiscent of them and can be proven true.

Psychohistory is so believable because it meets both criteria. It follows on from a branch of mathematics which is absolutely true, it''s just on a larger scale. Think of all the dice in a casino. One die is unpredictable, chaotic. If you took into account the trajectory, momentum, friction and aerodynamics of the die and fed them into a massive computer, you''d still be lucky to guess how it would land. If, however, you looked at all the dice in the building, and calculated the probability of winning on each and every throw of all of them, you could calculate a rough estimate of the net flow of money in the system(to the house, of course, that''s how those places work!) The longer you carried out observations, the more accurate your prediction will be. It is the existence of real world examples like this that make psychohistory convincing. In fact, Asimov has picked a winner here, because there are so many real examples of such a broad mathematical concept that he doesn''t even need to point out the comparison in the text. We have experienced it so much that we believe the concept automatically, but we are still awed by the massive increase in scale.

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quote:
Original post by Wavinator
At the risk of making another End Goblin Genocide type thread, I have to ask: Even with storytelling, how do you convey your ideas and stay true to your form if everything is wrapped in murder-based gameplay?


Those are the challenges: either to stay true to your form even though your gameplay is murder-wrapped (the less impressive), or to stay true to your form by creating gameplay based on something other than murder, and yet entertain your fans.

I like the notion of pursuit. I once thought it would be cool to have a game where the protagonist (ie, you ) is constantly being pursued by [insert tired, overused organizational description here] for [insert even more tired and overused conspiratorial plotline here, which protagonist actually had no part in] with intent to kill. The twist would be that, unlike the "norm" where your peaceful scientist looks for the biggest gun and makes Papa Heinz proud (*cough* Freeman *cough*), your character is abhorrent of violence and weapons. In other words, he wont use a gun (at least not to shoot), even if you pick one up. You need to use your wits and the environment - doors, elevators, alarms, crowds, etc - to escape and stay alive long enough to find out out [insert tired, overused plot climax/ending here].

I think creative thinking will reveal that there are options other than resorting to murder - and very viable ones at that.

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