Something I haven’t really talked about here yet is why I think Slower Than Light is an important project. By a relatively traditional interpretation of my design document, I’m out of my mind. Slower Than Light has huge complexity for its depth, and the complexity and depth are going to go up before I release. So why am I even trying this, when by most modern game design principles, I’m building a train wreck? Because mechanics that teach matter.
Slower Than Light is about trying to help the gamer get their arms around the complexity of human space exploration as we understand it today. I am not trying to build some super-simulator that you can use to draft a proposal for a manned mission to Mars; I am trying to help give players a playground in which they can explore the issues involved at our current and near-future technology levels.
I learn by doing, and so I try to teach by doing as well. For something like writing code or building plastic models, I can sit down with someone and teach them. I can’t take my nephew out to the football field and launch a rocket to Venus. You can grasp an understanding of what the challenges involved are with years of study, reading and watching and listening and attending and solving yourself, but few people have the time or interest in that level of research. Rightly so; we have a few score years of life to live, and we have to be selective about how we spend them.
Slower Than Light aims to take what we know about the challenges of leaving Earth as a civilization, and providing the player with the tools to explore and gain an intuitive understanding of the difficulties involved and what resources we have to overcome those difficulties. Knowing the math itself isn’t necessary; understanding the relationships between these obstacles is.
I deeply believe that if Humanity is to have a future, it lies in space. I also believe that the largest obstacle to space exploration is that how it works is very mysterious to the vast majority of people on this planet. I want Slower Than Light to be the tool that helps people really understand how difficult the task ahead of us is, and how we can make it happen even with those difficulties. I strongly believe that people make rational decisions when they understand the choice they are making, and that off-world colonies are the rational decision for our species going forward. The practical course of action, then, is to explain the choice as clearly, articulately, and completely as I can. I know of no better way of explaining so complex a topic than a computer game.
So that’s what Slower Than Light is intended to be; a game, certainly, but a game that tries to educate and explain what space exploration will be, not in some Star Trek future, but tomorrow, in a year, in a hundred years. Then, we can talk about whether we think it is a good idea.