Tag Archives: gameplay

Playing With Minds

Today I’m going to talk a bit about a concept that I’m not sure I’m going to add to Slower Than Light, but is currently on the table.  This is one of those times I’d like to actively solicit feedback from my audience, because this feature could radically alter the gameplay experience of Slower Than Light one way or the other.  That concept is Whole Brain Emulation, otherwise known as mind uploading.

The basic premise is that with sufficient resolution, we can (in theory) create a snapshot of a human brain, transfer that snapshot into a computer with sufficient processing capability, and the computer will simulate that person in all their mental and intellectual complexity.

Along with this concept comes a tremendous load of ethical, philosophical, legal, and moral implications, especially when you consider the related capabilities that might come along with it: mind manipulation, creating multiple copies of the same person’s mind, or most pertinently to our conversation: transmission of the snapshot.

If you have two colonies separated by some transmittable distance, mind uploading offers the potential to move “people” from one system to another at light-speed or very near light-speed, transfer them into a computer or a robotic frame, or perhaps even a human body, and allow them to act at their new location.

Being able to cheaply move population between colonies at the speed of light has tremendous implications for the political and colonial aspects of Slower Than Light.  The technology does not, itself, violate the core stipulation of that game that the speed of light must be respected.  The presence or absence of this technology, though, will shift the focus of this game and the role of spacecraft in it dramatically, so I’m thinking very long and very hard about whether to include it in release.

NOTE: From a technical coding perspective, implementing this form of transhumanism is just this side of trivial, given the architecture of the game’s data structures.  This is strictly a design consideration.

Nikolai Kardashev And His Marvelous Scale

Nikolai Kardashev is the deputy director of Russian Space Research Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Since the 1960’s, he has been responsible for a number of major contributions to SETI and related fields, both directly to the Soviet programs related to Extraterrestrial Intelligence, as well as IAU operations on that topic. He is perhaps most well-known for the Kardashev Scale, taken from a paper he published in 1964.

The theory behind the Kardashev Scale is that as a civilization becomes more technological advanced and extends its reach further and further out into the universe, its energy requirements will grow along with it.  Since all life as we know it must consume energy to interact with our universe, we can use the energy consumption of a civilization to judge its advancement.

Kardashev originally defined a Type I civilization as consuming the amount of energy humans used at the time of his paper’s publication (1964), or about 4 TW.  A Type II would be a civilization that consumed energy equal to its home star’s entire output (about 400,000,000,000,000 TW).  A Type III civilization would consume energy roughly equal to its own galaxy’s output.   The number of terawatts would be unwieldy to write here, so I’ll just say it is one-hundred billion times the energy consumption of a Type II (or ~ 4 x 1037 watts.)

In 1973, Carl Sagan suggested that the scale’s utility could be improved by adding intermediate values (providing fractional type values, such as a Type 1.1 civilization), and the scale would be revisited by Guillermo Lemarchand when he considered detectability of alien civilizations in 1992.  Lemarchand’s major contribution for our purposes was to move the rating for a Type 1 civilization up to the total solar energy impacting the Earth, which demotes modern-day human civilization to approximately a Type 0.72 civilization.

Slower Than Light uses the revised Kardashev scale as a mechanic for gauging what challenges the player is capable of handling.  The game will handle up to about a Type 2.0 civilization (indeed, achieving Type 2.0 would likely indicate a player victory, even in a sandbox mode.)  The gameplay director will use energy consumption as a metric to decide which of its library of crises are appropriate for the player.  For example, for Earth in 2014 (Type 0.72) an incoming large asteroid impact would be a planetary-scale crisis that needs to be dealt with successfully, or the civilization will collapse.  Humanity at Type 1.0 would probably be able to handle that situation without a strategic taxation of its resources.

A Type 1.0 crisis might be a solar flare of particularly aggressive demeanor approaching the Earth.  Such superflares have never been observed coming out of our sun, but have been found in similar stars.  They may be products of interactions with Hot Jupiters, or it may be possible for our sun to produce such a flare otherwise unprovoked.  Either way, stopping such a flare or recovering from its effects might be in the realm of a Type 1.0 civilization.

As the Type gets higher, what it takes to pose a challenge to that civilization gets more impressive.  At Type 1.5, a rogue planet set to alter Earth’s orbit (if not impact directly) would be a threat of epic magnitude, although by that time Earth would likely only be one of several planets humanity controls; losing it might no longer be an existential threat to the species.

Of course, certain crises carry the same weight no matter how advanced the civilization is technologically.  Political issues, such as revolutions and power struggles, will simply turn the technology humanity already has back on itself.  Biological or nanomechanical dangers have a minimum level of advancement required to become an issue, but can affect any civilization above that level.

Finally, there’s always the lurking possibility of an Outside Context Problem, usually in the form of a brushing encounter with another civilization much further up the scale than the base civilization.  Whether ETI will be making an appearance in STL is still an unresolved question, but such an encounter could easily be manifest as any of the crises listed above, or it could be an entirely different problem altogether.


Public Exposure

Links to this site began hitting social media yesterday, and since then there’s been largely positive responses.  It has also been very interesting to see comments on sites like Reddit.  I expect to be directly responding to a number of concerns raised on those sites in the near future, since I suspect that comments there reflect a general sense of what our target audience is thinking as more information becomes available.

Right now the top comment on this thread is a concern as old as this game concept is: When the build time is so short as compared to movement time, won’t the game just become a frustration of doing a huge amount of local activity and waiting for a ship to cross the immense void to arrive at a distant star?

There is some truth there; the in-system game will proceed considerably faster than the out-system game.  The basic (although not atomic) element of game time is the day, and almost every star system will be less than a light-day across.  As a result, in-system play won’t be greatly affected by the signal-delay mechanics.  Most of the early game (at least when starting from a single Homeworld) will be in-system play as the player builds toward their first interstellar colony ship.

Eventually, though, the in-system game is going to get less interesting as the player’s home system becomes adequately developed to meet and exceed all of its productive requirements, and the challenges at home will take a back seat to the challenges in the stars.  At that point, the home system will more or less run itself — only construction of interstellar ships or mega-engineering projects will engage the player at home.  Reacting to events in the colonies will be the major gameplay of the later game, because some interstellar challenges only the Homeworld will have the resources to cope with.

Considerable thought has been put into not only how to overcome the technical and mathematical challenges of Slower Than Light, but also the game design challenges.  I am confident that the game upon release will keep the player engaged for the duration of their play experience.

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