Tag Archive: spacecraft construction


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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Work continues on my in-progress novel, the first part of which mostly takes place aboard a space freighter. I find my best “world building” comes from writing about things and letting the ideas fall out as I go along, as I have previously written about here. I have found some of that very challenging during the course of the novel, mainly as I felt it required some aspects of knowledge that I didn’t have immediate access to and dealt intimately with the spacecraft the action takes place in and around. Its one thing to conjure up an image of what it might be like, but to “realistically” write say, an action sequence that is logically consistent with the layout, furnishings and equipment  one might find in such an environment took a whole lot more planning.

By the time I reached that point, I was still wrestling with “issues” of how the overall ship was laid out internally. I felt that I needed lots of answers in a very short time and because of this, progress became stunted and slow. I found myself in a mire of technical details that I might not really need.  The best constructed worlds aren’t full of intricate details of everything, they are full of the right details of the things that are important.

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For The Love of FTL

Sometimes good things in pairs.

Firstly, this weekend I was surprised by the arrival of a little game called FTL by Subset Games. I had heard about it way back when in the year, taken a quick gander and went “hmmm…. meh!” Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for it then, I don’t know, but when mention of it showed up on the Dwarf Fortress Facebook page, my interest was piqued. The masochist in me that loved Dwarf Fortress tapped me on the shoulder and say “Hey! Losing IS fun! Get to it!”, so out came my $9 and down came the game, plucked from the aether. One tutorial later and I was playing the game I set out to try to make in ASCII/Unicode text graphics about three years ago, but never really got to doing any serious work  (I couldn’t get the Unicode thing working and a long time ago I figured that I wasn’t much of a code monkey anyway…)  This is not to take away from Subspace’s achievement and future success, or to climb on their shoulders, but it is interesting to see that some game ideas (though not the method of execution) develop in parallel.

Thankfully Subspace have taken up my slack and made an amazingly simple yet compelling spacecraft experience that is roughly modeled on a Rogue-like chassis.

Not today slavers! The FSM Gothmog wins the day! (FTL, Subspace Games, Mac version)

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Sources of any kind can help visualize what doesn’t exist

Anybody who knows me has probably heard me reference the Traveller RPG and anyone who’s read a few articles on this site must be sick of the references to it by now. There is a good reason for it, however, I do believe that Traveller is the best one-stop shop for figuring out science fiction worlds (and it will get better with Traveller 5, due at the end of the year, by virtue of its comprehensive creation system for anything you can think of: characters, ships, worlds, weapons, vehicles, items, etc.). Whenever I’ve needed a place to start in describing a future setting, I think of Traveller. Traveller is rather open in terms of the universe that comes out of the box – everyone has their Own Traveller Universe (OTU), which always seems to drop down from whatever SF books they read, movies they watched. They read the Traveller rules and see their own universe emerge as they digest them.

So it should come as no surprise that now I’m writing my own SF novel and stories (as opposed to other people’s SF projects), that I come back to Traveller for that cornerstone to build from. In this case, it has been for spacecraft construction.

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