Category: World Building


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The original text-based adventure game, Adventure by Will Crowther.

Imagination is a key element in any kind of video game, movie, novel and indeed, any creative art. With advancing technology our creative arts have found support in many new tools, making it easier for an audience to experience our visions that much more easily, but even in this age of technology, the imagination is still a vital part of experiencing this art.

When I was a kid, video-games were in their infancy, yet they still attracted my interest and kept it there as long as the photo-realistic, fast moving and beautifully crafted games of today. Games then were spasmodic blocks of monotone colour, or not even that, just plain text, but they didn’t suffer from their graphical limitations, but very possibly gained something from them. That’s not to say there weren’t bad games and that my imagination would fill in the blanks or overlook pallid art or design – far from it: imagination has to be engaged or captured, before it can be exploited, and not every game has that level of craft.

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Upper deck detail of the Latent Pulse, showing crew related features.

Upper deck detail of the Latent Pulse, showing crew related features.

I find that designing deck plans for imaginary spaceships to be a meditation into pseudo-engineering. At its most basic level, it draws us further into the imaginary world of our creations, encouraging us to think about aspects of it we wouldn’t do otherwise. As a writer and game designer, I’m able to visualize the action of my stories, or the progress of a player, or the inhabitants of this imaginary environment. At the other end of the spectrum, it is an exercise of applying all kinds of reasoning to its imaginary function, strengthening a concept and bringing change to it to make it feel more… real, though it is unlikely any of these exercises will be made into real things.

There is no real methodology for the process of creating one – our approaches will be entirely different based on our purpose for hashing the design out from thin air. It may be about visualizing the environment, so one can describe a single room; it may be the act of arranging obstacles or furnishings to provoke game play strategies, it may be to stage an action sequence in a novel, or an encounter in a tabletop RPG.

Copyright Ken McCulloch 2012

Latent Pulse development Concept sketch

What is going to be put forward here is a collection of points for the Starship designer to consider while planning their decks, in the hopes of drawing about a deeper sense of accomplishment and rationality within the design. Regardless of the actual result of the process – whether a “realistic” design is achieved or not, since how can we prove it one way or another – the most rewarding aspect of it is the thoughts that arise from it. Just as in meditation.

These thoughts are what came to me as I designed the Latent Pulse, a medium sized FTL freight/trading vessel from my WIP novel, Pan Spectrum Analyzer. Each one forced me to move elements about, rethinking their placement, use and relevance both to the design and to the narrative of the novel.

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There’s an interesting aspect to the thing referred to by fans as “Canon” with regards to the individual creations. Its forms a life raft, if you will, of information, upon which the imaginations of both the creator and fan (viewer, reader, player, etc) stays afloat. Without the idea of “canon” material, a creation cannot have its own fundamental identity.

Wikipedia defines the term “canon” as:

In fiction, canon is the conceptual material accepted as “official” in a fictional universe’s fan base.

By default, this is the set of information defined by the author(s), creators and other people working creatively on a specific. When writer Jimmy Joe describes his character smoking Indonesian Kretek cigarettes, that’s canon. When fanfic author Jammy Johns suggests he smokes Camels, its not.

Canon is what keeps the wolves and bears at bay. But it can also be a hazy, vague and infuriating thing to define properly and protect. Yet it is also the first thing to lay by the wayside when popularity hits and more and more people want to share in it.

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battleship-dvdLast year’s  movie “Battleship” seems to attract an unhealthy dose of ire from pretty much everyone I mention it to. It appears to fall into that strange category of art that people love to hate, even when they haven’t seen it, or taken the time to try to make sense of it. Most people can’t seem to get past one of these things:

  • It’s based on a boardgame.
  • It’s trying to be a Michael Bay movie – an empty summer blockbuster, devoid of imagination
  • Everyone says its crap.
  • It uses eye candy like Brooklyn Decker, Alexander Skarsgaard, Rihanna and Taylor Kitsch to put asses in seats, rather than engaging acting and drama.

Well, I’d heard all of these things and even grew fearful of what they might mean for a film before I’ve seen it, yet I walked away from the movie rather surprised and quite happy I’d seen it.

Now, this article isn’t about how I’m going to try to change the minds that are already predisposed against it, prejudiced or not, or trying to point out the redeeming qualities of a piece of art that balances on the threshold between mediocre escapism and dreck, or claiming that it is a misunderstood wonder of modern film-making because of x, y and z, but rather an examination, if not a thought experiment, about how it might make sense in terms of world-building. To try and suggests reasons for this and that – to put some science behind the fiction, as it were, or the missing piece to the puzzle.  SPOILERS ahead, in case you actually want to see the movie.

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TBRSRKR1979he Berserkers have been around a very long time – and not just in the fabric of its own universe. Fred Saberhagen published his stories of planet-sized robotic killing machines gradually extinguishing all life wherever they encountered it in 1963 and ever since, its been a strong contender: Berserker stories were still being published in 2005, with Rogue Berserker as its most recent title.

Its hard to say whether Saberhagen created the original race of robotic killing machines, but in the wake of Berserker, there are an awful lot of similar creations expounding upon the concept and not just in SF Literature circles – the Inhibitors of Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space series, the Necrons of Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 and the Reapers/Old Machines from Bioware’s SF RPG video game, Mass Effect and these are just the most notable ones. Aliens and their robotoc creations have always been rather opposed to human life (and life in general), so as a concept they have attracted the imaginations of many an author.

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The Vintage SF Not-A-Challenge over at The Little Red Reviewer

Berserker has been sitting on my “Reading List” shelf for nigh on eight years now, ever since I kicked off my own “vintage SF reading spree”, though it was a very hard task to actually find a copy. Eventually, I buckled in to online stores and got myself a nice paperback version. It sat there for quite some time, as my reading list is well over fifty books and never seems to go down at all, but Berserker got fast tracked when the Little Red Reviewer announced her Vintage SF Not-A-Challenge.

Berserker is an anthology of short stories connected by the common thread of their subject matter – the Berserkers, and described by one of the Carmpan, a race of telepathic aliens that almost saw extinction at the hands of the Berserkers, if they hadn’t have allied themselves with good Ol’ Humanity.  The Berserkers are the left over weapons of an ancient war between two technological advanced races, the Builders and the Red Race. When the Builders perfected their doomsday creations that would later be called “Berserkers” by the children of Earth, they weren’t to know that they would take their programming to incredible lengths and continue their destruction well after the last of the Red Race was to fall, or that they’d be the next and definitely not the last, civilization to fall prey to them. Since then, the Berserkers have roved the galaxy, exterminating any semblance of living sentience – learning about their enemies, understanding their defences and taking them apart piece by piece until nothing is left. They are pretty much the biggest kick in the teeth Asimov’s Laws of Robotics ever received, I think.

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