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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Imperial Destiny Page 18

    Four days of dim lighting and stale air, and they were no nearer a solution than they had been at the beginning of the crisis.  The Hermus was in a stable orbit, but the crew were crammed into the common areas, life support was being diverted from unoccupied areas to other critical systems and to charge the reserves.  If the second engine went offline, those reserves would be the only power source until they repaired either of the engines.  Prallan walked into Engineering, nearly stepping on several people.  In the corner, he saw Lily bundled into a sleeping bag.  He walked over to her and gently shook her should.

    "Give me five more minutes or I will hit you with a flow calibrator."  She muttered in her sleep.

     "Remind me to not let you bring any engineering equipment to bed with you."

     Lily opened her eyes.  "Is it something important?  I just pulled a double and this bulkhead isn't comfortable."

     "I just hadn't seen you at all in the last two days, and wanted to check on you."

     "I am tired and cross.  Let me sleep."  She closed her eyes and quickly fell back asleep.  Prallan smiled at his wife, and walked over to what appeared to be a large pile of scrap.

     "Lieutenant," Captain Rickler said, nodding to him.  He was standing in the middle of the pile, talking to Chief Wurstol.  "The Chief was just telling me that this collection of crap is Engine One."

     "I will take her word on it, sir, the last time I saw it it was still in the nacelle."

     "We took it apart to diagnose the problem."  Wurstol said, picking up a badly scorched piece of metal.  "This was a photon flow regulator.  The engines we are supposed to have don't have them, the same concept is built into the design.  They put things like this on experimental engines so they can tune and tweak them until they find a good flow rate, then they build that into the design itself."

     "So your hunch was correct, we had an experimental engine?" Prallan asked.

     "Yes, sir.  It was only a matter of time until this part failed.  It probably stopped working properly after our jump into Spica, and burnt out completely four days ago, which caused the engine to overload."

     "If you replace the regulator, can you get the engine working again?"  The captain asked.

     "Its not that easy, sir.  The regulator I could build out of spare components and materials, but the engine's core was damaged, along with a dozen other parts.  Rebuilding it in a spaceyard with the right materials would take a few days.  Here with whatever I can scrounge would take weeks.  Even then, the new regulator could fail at any point, leaving us in the same situation."

     Rickler set his jaw firmly, thinking hard.  "I don't want this to happen in the middle of a battle.  Other options?"

     "We have one good engine.  I want to build an enhanced version of it...two actually, a new one and enhancements to the other one.  I can salvage what remains of this engine's core as the base of the new engine, and build the rest out of materials we have on hand, all except the inducer coil."

     "What do you need that we don't have?"  Prallan asked.

     "Litanium.  The inducer coil has to be made of it.  This one is shot." She kicked a part with her foot.  "The molecular composition is too broken down to refine into a working coil.  I need fresh Litanium.  Luckily, the planetoid we are orbiting has a deposit of it."

     "How are we going to get it?  We don't have any shuttles.   We have two drop pods, but we wouldn't be able to get them back once launched."  Prallan said.

     "We will need to land the ship."  Rickler said.  "On one engine, running on backup power."

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Imperial Destiny Page 17

     The Hermus was lazily orbiting Vega IV, a small planetoid located on the fringe of the binary star system.  Wurstol had sent him ten different reports on the interesting aspects of the interacting photospheres of the two stars, and theories as to why from settled Imperial space, they appeared to be one, slightly fluctuating, star.  The radiation of these two stars was unusual, and it interfered with their detailed scans of the system.  Two days of recalibrating had brought their equipment back to acceptable levels of quality needed for the mission.  They had detected one other jump point, besides the one to Spica, so where they were heading after the surveys were complete was easily decided.

     The bridge door opened, and Lieutenant Itran walked in.  Prallan checked the time display on the command chair.  The younger officer was early by about ten minutes.  He had shown himself to be a good officer, despite having no Academy training.  "Quiet day so far.  Scanning this rock for another four hours, then moving on to the last one."

     "Very good, sir." Itran said.  "I am ready to relieve you at your leisure."  The only thing Prallan could think of that irked him about the second officer, and that was that he hated standing around with his superiors.  He preferred to be in charge, and seemed very unsure of what he should do with himself otherwise.  His comment was a gentle way of saying 'Please leave the bridge.'

     "If you want to be a command officer, you are going to have to get used to being around other officers, especially those above your rank."  Prallan said it softly enough that none of the bridge crew would hear him.  "I think you can survive ten minutes more with me."

     "Sir, I can take care of the bridge for an extra ten minutes.  What harm would come of you leaving a few minutes early?"

     Prallan was about to respond when the lights on the bridge flickered, before going out completely.  Red emergency lights lit up, and all of the consoles were rebooting.  Prallan tapped the intercom button.  "Engineering, we are experiencing a power failure on the bridge."

     "Copy that, sir," Wurstol's voice came over the intercom.  "We've had it here to.  Looks like engine one has shut off.  We are working on getting power restored using engine two, but  we will have to kill all non-vital power usage.  Give me ten minutes."

     "As quick as you can, Chief."  Prallan turned off the intercom.  "Status, please."

     "Weapons and long-range sensors offline, sir.  I have short-range sensors only."

     "I have partial thrust from engine two, no thrust from engine one.  Maneuvering thrusters are intermittently online.  Sir, I'm not sure I can maintain our orbit."

     "How long until our orbit decays?"

     "Ten hours, give or take.  If I can get more power to the maneuvering thrusters or thrust from engine two I can put us into a stable orbit."

     "Internal sensors are down across the ship.  Life support is fully operational.  Lifts are not operational, we have one that is stuck between decks, but I cannot tell if anyone is on it."

     "Shields are not operational.  Internal forcefield generators are also not operational.  Sir, we are very vulnerable to micrometeorites and other debris."

     "Triage your systems.  Shut off anything we don't need.  Priorities are life support, thrusters and engines until we establish a stable orbit, and then shields and internal forcefields.  Get a team to the lift to verify if anyone is in it.  I will be in engineering."  Prallan walked to the door, which remained shut as he approached.  "Someone wake up the Captain."  He pulled the release latch, and pushed the door open, heading out into the corridor.

-------------------------------------

     Engineering was a wreck.  Wiring and components were pulled out of their housing, and a dozen crewmen were scanning everything in site.  Chief Wurstol was having a heated argument with one of the male crewmen, until she noticed Prallan walking up.  "Sorry for the mess, sir."

     "If tearing apart all of engineering gets my power back, have at it."  Prallan said.  "What is our status?"

     "Not good, sir."  She nodded to the crewman.  "Jenkol here thinks that they gave us a bad engine."

     "A bad engine?  How bad?"

     "Well, sir," Jenkol said, shifting nervously.  "Its like this, sir.  Engine one, she doesn't look anything like Engine two.  I never noticed it before, because usually we only service one at a time, and we've only done a couple bits of maintenance on the whole engine.  She don't look anything like her schematic either, sir."

     "Neither engine looks like the schematic.  Engine two is a DLR-53, smaller than the TJ-40 that we are supposed to have, but a nice engine.  Engine One is nothing I've ever seen.  The design is similar to a TJ-42, but has a bunch of additional components strapped on.  My hunch is the yard, in their rush to get this ship fitted, threw on whatever they had, leaving us with an experimental engine and a small one."

     "How soon can you get Engine one fixed?"

     "All of my experience is with fusion force drives.  I understand the theory of the photon thrust drives, but I've never worked on one.."

     "Don't we have an engine specialist?  Surely they have worked on one before."

     "That would be me, sir."  Jenkol.  "I'm a fusion force specialist, sir.  I had a brief training on photon thrust systems, but nothing useful here, sir."

     "Then I recommend you start taking that experimental engine apart and see if you can get it working again.  First, though, get the conn whatever power you can to thrusters.  We need to establish a stable orbit."

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Nemesis

I saw a recent video for Shadows of Mordor, and something about it has me very excited.  That this is the Nemesis system it is going to have.  More or less, certain NPC enemies will dynamically become recurring enemies, bearing the scars of previous conflicts with them when you face them again.  This seems absolutely awesome, and it has some immersion that many modern games lack.

I think that games are moving more and more to dynamic, player-driven stories.  Procedurally generated maps and enemies are already a common thing, so making NPCs that way too isn't that much more difficult (depending on the complexity of the system).  I think we could be approaching a time where a game is little more than a loose setting, and the rest is generated on the fly as the player interacts with the world.

This is much the way I DM my Dungeons and Dragons sessions.  I have a general idea of where the campaign is going and I know the names and archetypes of the major players involved, but I certainly don't have all the details created.  I give those out as they are needed, creating them and making notes as I go along.  For example, if your party comes along some bandits robbing a caravan, and you never talk to the people in it, I don't have the wasted work of naming them and fleshing them out.  However, I do know its a minor merchant from the nearby town, I just haven't given him a name.  If I need an NPC that owes the party something in the future, nameless McMerchant is available, but I don't have to figure out his motivations until then.  Similarly, if the party has no interest in the leaders of the local church, then they don't need to exist on paper.  Later on, when they become central to some plot, then they can become fleshed out.

I also like reusing hooks I've dropped later on in the story.  For example, if there are some odd markings on a tree somewhere in Adventure 1, then Adventure 5 might have them show up again, revealing that some monster has been in the area all along and they almost became its lunch many levels ago.  I have had very positive feedback from players because of this, and they feel very immersed.

So how do we get this into a game?  Well, I think we need a storage of things flagged as interesting or reusable.  Then, when the game needs an NPC, for example, it looks at this list, and picks from it.  It then fleshes the character out in more detail and introduces it into the story.  Same thing for interesting details.  Maybe flag something to randomly reappear later, and have an associated questline if it gets investigated.  Something like the aforementioned marking.  If the player investigates it, he might eventually come across some fel beast.

In this way, you can have enemies that you don't quite completely kill off come back to ruin your life, and maybe those that you let live will see the error of their ways instead, and become a force of good.  I can see a lot of potential, but the system would have to be carefully created.

-VG

Friday, January 17, 2014

Imperial Destiny Page 16

     "I expect everyone at their stations in thirty minutes.  We will be jumping ten minutes after that."  Prallan said to the gathered department heads.  "We will then traverse the Spica system, reaching jump point TL-114.  We are uncertain where it leads, but our best estimate is in the Phoenix constellation, most likely Vega or Mercon.  Questions?"

    Ensign Orfil raised a hand.  "Sir, I'm concerned about pilot rotation.  As I'm sure you know, we only have two pilots, myself and Crewman Barlin.  I would like to cross-train two additional crewmen to take four hour bridge shifts.  This will give us four pilots, but not take anyone from all of their duties.  Petty Officer Erfold has offered both of the other two security personnel as potential pilots.  Their training profiles indicate they would be decent pilots."

     "Very well.  Any other business?"  Nobody else said anything.  "Very well, dismissed."  The department heads stood and left the conference room, all except Chief Wurstol, who remained seated.  "Is there something you needed to speak to me about, Chief?"

    "I was wondering if you had given any thought to a permanent Chief of Engineering?"

    "I have.  You have the most seniority, is there any reason you think you would not be appropriate for the position?  According to the logs you have done an excellent job in your time as interim Chief.  I see no reason not to make it permanent."

     "The only concern I have sir, is of your wife.  I am not certain of your command style, but I am not the sort of person to be intimidated or coerced just because one of my subordinates is involved with a superior officer."

     "I don't expect any special treatment for my wife.  She is a competent engineer, and can stand on her own merits.  She would kill me if I ever asked for special treatment for her.  If that is your only concern?"

     "Yes, sir.  I will report to engineering.  I have a handful of new crewmen, including your wife, to get settled in."

---------------------------------------

     The Hermus moved gracefully away from the remaining elements of the defense fleet.  It picked up speed much faster than the Jinar ever could, reaching the jump point swiftly.  The bridge was a bustle of activity.  The Hermus had only made one jump previously, with its navigation computer tied into the fleet's.  Now Orfil was feeding calculations into the computer, his hands moving quickly over the station's terminal.  Captain Rickler stood in front of the command chair, with Itran beside him.  Prallan stood near the Sensor and Weapon station, watching Rutgol manage the lockdown of the launchers and guns before the jump.

     Out the front viewport was empty space.  The jump point was an anomaly that could only be differentiated from normal space by advanced sensors.  The screen in front of Rutgol showed it as a swirling blue vortex.  The Hermus approached the jump point, aligning with the center of that vortex.

     "All hands, brace for jump." The mechanical voice of the computer calmly said throughout the ship.  Prallan grabbed a nearby brace bar.  Every ship jumped a little differently.  The Jinar had jarred its crew through every jump.  A ship as small as the Hermus should have been subject to many of the eddies of the jump point that larger vessels could ignore, but she smoothly soared through the jump.  In an instant, the stars shifted, and a binary pair of suns replaced the single one.  The Hermus changed course, heading towards the opposite edge of the system.

     "Traversing to Tl-114.  No other ships in system."

     The crew was operating efficiently, and the Hermus was performing as well as she could.  Prallan was well pleased with both, and hoped that the rest of the year continued in the same way.


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On Garrisons

I was looking at the upcoming expansion, Warlord of Draenor, for World of Warcraft and noticed something very interesting.  The Garrison system is something that very well could get me back into the game.  Just looking at the basics of it, it seems to be a combination of the Duty Officer system of STO and player housing from msot other MMOs, with the added benefit that your followers gain levels.  This is very exciting for me, and while I am soured on most of WoW, I really think I could return solely for this piece of gameplay.

I've been tinkering around with some time on how to have a system like the Garrison system work in a game.  The main problem I see is making it balanced relative the rest of the world.  It has a huge opportunity for interactions in the rest of the game, but you can't let the gameplay in the Garrison replace other gameplay.  I should still need other players to make truly epic weapons, but my blacksmith should be useful to me.  Maybe make some synergy where if you have a high level blacksmith follower, and you also are a blacksmith, you can make something that someone without that combination cannot.  In this way, the absolute best items are still limited and require player interaction.

I love the fact that the followers will grow in level and power based on what they do, rather than the player gaining levels.  This makes them much more "real" in my opinion.  The major downfall to the Doff system in STO is that your Duty Officers remain the way they are.  Sure, they can get injured and killed, but they don't become better at what they do, which is depressing.  Poor Ensign Weatherby will always be an ensign, no matter how many times he goes on a dangerous mission worthy of a chestful of medals.

I will be watching this, and really hope it doesn't get cut or reduced to a novelty by the time the expansion is released.

-VG