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I3DI

What Makes a great Sci-Fi?

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So, with the almost complete world max and myself not being a RPG buff, but a scientist and simulator fan, I was thinking on moving World Max to the interstellar arena and doing worlds you can explore, vast landscapes, space travel.  But, I am stuck with the looming question, "What makes a sci-fi game great?".  Well, what made Star Wars so popular?  What made Wing Commander?  What made Star Trek?  What is the magical components to the greatest sci-fi game in the world?  I am all ears.  Please post your answers.

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A really great mechanism like Transporter Technology in Star trek.  Star wars, well that's The Force.  I'm sure there's a term for what I'm talking about.  Not sure what it is though. ;)  You need a mechanism that can single handedly change the entire outcome of almost any situation, depending on player skill or technical ability/etc/etc...  At least that's what comes to mind first especially with those two examples.  Hope it helps.

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Posted (edited)
38 minutes ago, Septopus said:

  I'm sure there's a term for what I'm talking about.  Not sure what it is though.

I think the semi-formal term for this is a "MacGuffin".

There are some big essays on why some of these sci-fi series are so popular and successful, i think its a combination of a couple of things.

In the Star Wars instance for me it is the story arch, with character motivations that are interesting, good combat sequences, and a good amount of suspense.

Star Trek the semi political nature of the excersions, some downright silly plots, but characters that meet specific tropes also plays a big part.

Stargate the background and using ancient mythology twisted to an interesting 'what if we were all brought here by aliens', along with some of the story archs were really fun to watch.

Just to name a couple.

Something they all have in common is that they have a MacGuffin or two to act as the fictional material plot element or driver, e.g. The force, Di-lithium Crystals, Naquadah,

They all have good action sequences that are iconic that leave you thinking and talking about them after you've seen the scene - Saber battles, destroying the death star, phasers on stun, firing proton torpedos, staff weapons, and escaping through the stargate.

They all have a good healthy dose of political drama, conflict, and opera about them, the Rebels vs the Empire, The United Federation vs Klingons and Romulans, and Earth vs the Goa'uld - all of which the viewer can create a relationship with.

Protagonists tend to be overtly 'good' in their motivations even if they do bad things (Mal in firefly is a good example of this), while antagonists are overtly 'evil'

Finally, Science and technology is often the answer to the problem, and if its not, lets blow it up.

 

<Edit>

I just want to add, being sci-fi doesnt mean you have to be in space... Eureka is a fantastic example where they spend most of their time in a single town exploring all the science macguffins and drama.

</edit>

Edited by Stragen
Adding another thought

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I think the better scifi was the earlier stuff, when stories were based around using real science to solve problems. I'd make the distinction that Star Wars can be awful scifi but still be a great movie. 

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I've had some input that travel in space games is a problem.  You spend long amounts of time with nothing to do traveling from one place to another.  My thinking is, provide a in ship 3D view and permit walking around, maybe social interaction, story narratives, ship maintenance, strategy and command training and planning.  Maybe going to various controls and optimizing things.  Just some things I have been jotting down.  I agree in part, it's terrible you get a ship, outside view but you never are inside experience of ship life and activities.  I was thinking utilize TrackIR and Oculus to immerse people.  Perhaps even a command structure from inside that effects ship combat outside, or actions.  Perhaps interacting with ship systems to perform certain actions.  What is peoples thoughts on these ideas?

Does anyone have ideas that would promote this, would this add to your experience?  Do you have other ideas to add to the list?  What would make the difference in a 3D sci-fi for you in detail?

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I like these ideas a lot.  I think finding a balance between the inside ship activities and outside ship activities would be the trick.  You probably don't want to saddle your adventure seeking players with too much time punching buttons, and the other way around.  Or you could have outside adventurous activities that players can perform while en-route..  Alien attacks/etc...

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19 hours ago, I3DI said:

"What makes a sci-fi game great?".  Well, what made Star Wars so popular?  What made Wing Commander?  What made Star Trek?

It's a broad question. The feedback you've gotten about "what is sci-fi" are appropriate in trying to narrow the question. Star Trek and Star Wars (sci-fi or not) were TV/movie shows - the popularity of the games made from those IPs were primarily popular because they were based on those highly popular IPs.  That suggests that the formula for success begins with an already-popular IP.  Until you get to Wing Commander, which was a 3D space combat sim that became a series because it was well designed and sold well.

In games, "sci-fi" is not a genre. We have simulations, RPGs, RTSes, adventure games, shooters, etc. I3Di, do you consider Borderlands a sci-fi game? Do you consider games with zombies to be sci-fi? I guess what I'm trying to get at is that your question needs focusing. Nobody can give you "the five steps that guarantee you'll have a hit sci-fi game." There's no simple formula. I don't know this game "World Max" that you mentioned. We can give you better answers (better ideas) for your idea if we know more about the genre, the basic play mechanics you're contemplating. 

31 minutes ago, I3DI said:

My thinking is, provide a in ship 3D view and permit walking around, maybe social interaction, story narratives, ship maintenance, strategy and command training and planning.  Maybe going to various controls and optimizing things.  Just some things I have been jotting down.  I agree in part, it's terrible you get a ship, outside view but you never are inside experience of ship life and activities.  I was thinking utilize TrackIR and Oculus to immerse people. 

Okay, spoke before reading this. You want to make a game about space travel? With trade, diplomacy, combat...?  

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1 hour ago, I3DI said:

I've had some input that travel in space games is a problem.  You spend long amounts of time with nothing to do traveling from one place to another.

Space is big and empty, and particularly the folks in the "realistic space flight simulator" camp tend to make you spend the majority of time in transit between interesting things to do.

There's nothing particularly necessitating this, though. Look at the recent crop of space-themed roguelikes (FTL, Orion Trail, etc), where travel is existent apart from a screen to choose the next scenario. Mass Effect does fairly well at this too - apart from a few space mining sequences, you basically just jump from planet to planet, and spend downtime between exploring your ship and interacting with shipmates.

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I suppose the winning formula can be found in works by Verne and HG Wells.  Those were the stories that presented science fiction to the masses before the miracle of film, and if you read them and then study their authors and how they came to write them, then you can start to grasp how much they have influenced sci-fi and fantasy films over the last century.

If you watch The Empire Strikes Back carefully, you can almost make out War of the Worlds.  The empire are the Martians with their overwhelming technology whereas the force is "our microscopic allies" - the Bacteria.  The Empire takes almost everything from our beloved heros and just when the baddies have them beat, Luke places his faith in the force which allows him to connect with his family and start to resolve the galactic conflict.  Yoda teaches us that it is the smallest things in life that are important, but we are blind to that when faced with great adveristy and fear of loss.

Its so easy to look to Star Wars, Back To The Future and Aliens as if they are the turning point in science fiction, but the attempts to emulate their success usually fail to meet expectations because film makers today lack the wonder of past generations where they had little but the imagination with which to build their worlds.

We know that we currently cannot joyride around the solar system, but stories, films and games allow us to over come that fact by saying "okay, lets pretend we have the technology to do that - how would that affect our life?  Would it destroy or revolutionise it?".  For some there is another question "what is stopping us from doing that?".

A computer allows us to simulate that experience to a certain degree - which is constantly changing as we struggle to find the limits of technology.  Elite Dangerous is a game that can truely make us believe we can become part of the cosmos and actually own a space ship.  Playing ED in the dark, using a flight joystick etc - you might as well be flying around in space...

On a personal note, I'm very fond of the Atredies palace in Cryo's Dune.  Whether its in the David Lynch movie, Si-fy series or even the books - its like an old friend to me and a pretend holiday home once every summer.  A similar feeling we get when seeing Bilbo's house once again in The Hobbit after all those years since the first three movies.

I guess what I am trying to say is look back into the mists of time and discover what made us fall in love with sci-fi in the first place, and then how we can bring those worlds and situations to life.

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