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"Gaming "Hard" Sci-fi" Topic

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Personal logo Blake Walker Supporting Member of TMP05 Jan 2013 9:38 p.m. PST


Here's the problem with gaming hard science-fiction. You have to deal with sublight travel and the lack of interstellar empires. Doesn't make for good space opera.


Personal logo Mutant Q Supporting Member of TMP05 Jan 2013 11:08 p.m. PST

Which is why I keep my sci-fi campaigns in our solar system. Plenty of real estate to fight over without without needing to violate the laws of physics to get there.

doug redshirt06 Jan 2013 12:40 a.m. PST

I only do near future of the next 20-30 years out. Anything past that is probably pure fantasy. I have the feeling that technology will move so fast that we wont be able to imagine it. Sure a bullet is a bullet, but who thought of true bullet proof armor 30 years ago. Who knew that a tank could mount systems to knock down an ATGM that would work. Drones that can carry missiles. What is next.

Lovejoy06 Jan 2013 6:04 a.m. PST

I'm writing a hard SF game at the moment, and the only way I've found to keep it from being fantasy is to restrict the setting entirely to the Earth, and the next hundred years.

Games that use multiple planets as settings can be good fun, but are unfortunately totally unrealistic. The big problem, as you've mentioned, is travel – the distances are just so big.

But even allowing for FTL travel, games (and books and movies!) just seem to ignore the fact that different planets have different strengths of gravity; living and fighting in gravity much higher or lower than Earth-normal would alter things dramatically. Could be fun working out rules for it, though… ;)

Stick to near future Earth for hard SF, I reckon!

Dynaman878906 Jan 2013 6:09 a.m. PST

I've heard that hard scifi can include 1 piece of "fantasy" tech and extrapolate would it would be like from that. So I would consider the 2300 series from GDW to be hard scifi.

For a harder scifi with spaceships still then I go to Transhuman Space from SJG.

AndrewGPaul Inactive Member06 Jan 2013 7:17 a.m. PST

You have to deal with sublight travel and the lack of interstellar empires. Doesn't make for good space opera.

You'd better tell Alastair Reynolds then, as he's written half a dozen novels doing just that.

OK, no empires as such, but certainly cultural/political entities which can and do exert influence over interstellar distances. There's a few elements where the "hard" gets a bit rubbery, but they're not relevant to this context.

Cadian 7th Inactive Member06 Jan 2013 9:04 a.m. PST

I prefer a hard scifi of "aliens" or"firefly" sort. I do enjoy starwars and star trek and have gamed 40k( umm, notice the moniker! evil grin)
I really do agree with Blake's assessment of suspended animation and limited resourses and logistics for a force. I also welcome the tactical challanges in the wargaming.
I am only a knuckle dragging grunt, that likes Star Wars and Star Trek. I did not apply myself to science and computers but to sports, camping, and a broad spectrum of smashing things. Friends of mine who also enjoyed the same shows; thankfully, did apply themselves to science and computers …and helping me with homework. wink
They now work in chemical manufacturing( a good friend from Eli-lily and on the biodiesel as well as his pet"bacta" project), microsoft( too modest to say, but he spoils me rotten when I visit) But for them it was the tech that put them and( I suspect) others there to make the neat stuff featured in the movies. We may not have FTL travel yet, but we have plenty of bright people now and in the future who will be inspired by the fantasy science fiction. Along the way other neat stuff will be found. Honestly, there isn't one person on this thread that would turn down a fully funtional "real" millenium falcon! … okay, perhaps one or two would sell it! wink

RTJEBADIA06 Jan 2013 9:07 a.m. PST

I love hard SF, but I also love space opera. As a result I game in two settings (mostly; I also game in some other settings), and for both I jump around the timeline a bit:

1) "hard" SF but far future + aliens with magitech (clarke's 3rd law heavily applies though there is some theory behind it). Within a solar system travel is pretty fast due to fusion and such, but to get from star to star you have to use the Gates that the mysterious aliens made/make. They are arranged in such a way to prevent causality violations (unknown if this is by choice or if the aliens are restricted in how they build them). Etc. Its basically a space opera but with a lot of hard SF trappings. I've gone back and forth on whether there is gravity manipulation in this setting; I've generally decided that there is as its theoretically possible in real life with some of the weirder physics that the inhabitants of this setting use.

2) HARD SF setting. Takes place over the next 500 years or so (I game throughout this history). It is not really good futurology, a lot of "optimism" takes place, but the tech and physics is all as hard as it gets. Near future is good for hard military SF or even essentially modern operations, while the further ends of the timeline have what is essentially space opera but within the solar system; don't forget how big our solar system is, especially if there are a lot of space stations!

Caesar Inactive Member06 Jan 2013 9:09 a.m. PST

Star Trek is becoming hard sci fi as every year passes.

Garand06 Jan 2013 9:26 a.m. PST

I've heard that hard scifi can include 1 piece of "fantasy" tech and extrapolate would it would be like from that. So I would consider the 2300 series from GDW to be hard scifi.

Quite so. Hard SF can have interstellar travel, but particularly if that travel is based on plausable theoretical science. For example, we currently do not have any sort of wormhole technology, but the idea has been hashed out in science, and they mught be theoretically possiible. Hard SF could incorporate this technology -- particularly if it is closely associated with the science background -- and still be hard SF.


Lion in the Stars06 Jan 2013 12:35 p.m. PST

IMO, one of the big failures of the Infinity setting is that their FTL and stardrives aren't well described. I suspect that's because the writers don't know anywhere near enough physics.

The 'Human Sphere' is all of 12 systems, connected via wormholes and ginormous ships called Circulars. The Circulars travel from system to system, and give rides to pretty much every civilian ship out there. I'm not sure about military craft.

Another issue is the gravity situation. The Nomads have lots of troops with Zero-Gee training, but most other nations don't. It hasn't been specified whether artificial gravity exists, or if everyone is using centrifuges.

Little Big Wars Inactive Member06 Jan 2013 1:00 p.m. PST

Don't forget Moh's Scale of Sci-fi hardness when attempting to address this… it's a spectrum…

AndrewGPaul Inactive Member06 Jan 2013 1:32 p.m. PST

Lion, Campaign: Paradiso give a bit more information. From what I can see, it's FTL by naturally-occurring wormholes. It looks like ships _can_ travel independently of the Circulars, alhtough it may or may not be economically viable, or for that matter allowed.

"I've heard that hard scifi can include 1 piece of "fantasy" tech and extrapolate would it would be like from that"

Is that an ISO standard, or just a national one? I've got access to a pretty decent standards database at work, so if you have the relevant document number I'll look it up. grin

wminsing Inactive Member06 Jan 2013 1:59 p.m. PST

Doesn't make for good space opera.

This is only a problem if one assumes that space opera is in fact the goal.


Ivan DBA06 Jan 2013 11:49 p.m. PST

What Caesar said.

Most "hard" sci fi games are just ultramodern, with cosmetically sleeker kit. I frankly don't get the point. I'd rather play real moderns, or actual sci fi.

Just because -you- can't mentally invent more exotic technology doesn't mean a real researcher won't be able to, someday. The distances of space are just another technical problem (albeit of an order of magnitude greater than any other problem humans have faced). Perhaps it is a problem we will never solve, but perhaps human (and artificial) ingenuity will overcome it someday. If a writer suggests a vaguely plausible answer ( and that includes wormholes now, because they are theoretically possible), and then applies the plausible solution in a consistent and believable way, that is good enough for me.

Sargonarhes07 Jan 2013 7:40 a.m. PST

If you could excuse the giant robots, Gundam is about as hard sci-fi as it comes.

Well actually the game Jovian Chronicles is more hard than even it's Gundam influence.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jan 2013 1:49 p.m. PST

I once designed a "hard" SF spaceship combat game. And it was pretty darn hard. 90% of the tech was direct extrapolation of current day tech and literally every cubic meter of the ships was accounted for.

The amazing thing was that the game was actually playable. It really worked! Sadly, what I COULDN'T figure out was how to write a set of rules that OTHER people could understand :)

Elenderil09 Jan 2013 2:28 p.m. PST

Wasn't it H G Wells who suggested that a good SF story should start with changing one fact from Our world and then extrapolate from that.

For an interesting semi hard SF setting what about Haldeman's "The Forever War" where the distances and time dilation effect impact the technology you might face. The nearer to the main civilisation you go the higher the tech level you face as it has had less distance to cover. Since being developed. Another interesting scenario is the one in Larry Niven's novel Protector which includes a combat between slower than light Bussard Ram scoop starships.

Lion in the Stars09 Jan 2013 8:00 p.m. PST

Sadly, what I COULDN'T figure out was how to write a set of rules that OTHER people could understand :)

I know that feeling.

freecloud Inactive Member10 Jan 2013 4:53 p.m. PST

"Most "hard" sci fi games are just ultramodern, with cosmetically sleeker kit. I frankly don't get the point"

That's my impression as well, in fact I'd go farther you can look at current "real hard science fact today" trends infowar, drones, smart dust, robotics etc and yet a lot of "Hard Sci Fi" seems not to have more than a passing reference to it, before refighting Vietnam or WW2 or the Cold War etc, just with sexier gear.

Also, if you look at the history of new discoveries in Physics in the last 30 years alone (when I studied it at Uni), its clear that today's concept of what is "hard" Sci Fi and what is "Space Opera" will need some serious revisions in another 30, never mind 300!

Actually, I'm becoming more a fan of Retro Sci Fi – the future as it used to be :-)

zircher10 Jan 2013 10:15 p.m. PST

ScottWashburn said, "I once designed a "hard" SF spaceship combat game. … The amazing thing was that the game was actually playable. It really worked! Sadly, what I COULDN'T figure out was how to write a set of rules that OTHER people could understand "

Ever consider posting it to see if something could be done about that?

Caesar Inactive Member28 Jan 2013 6:39 a.m. PST
Grandviewroad Inactive Member28 Jan 2013 8:46 a.m. PST

Scott, that's the difference between being a host gamer and a game seller. :)

The FTL problem can be temporarily wanged for space / time gates. They are not technological, work mysteriously, and don't mess up most of our present limitations. All you do after that is provide ships that have fabulous acceleration / deceleration and you're off to the races.

The other nice thing about the gate is that it provides specific limitations on exploration, areas to fight over / guard, etc, and also helps develop intersteller politics. The gate becomes one of the more important things around. I believe Urban War uses the gate setting with a United Nations like organization called VASA controlling them "for the benefit of all". This also adds more political intrigue.

At present, I'd say that rather than gates or FTL technology, it is the use of any other sentient species that is the most "space fantasy". Everything else is just a technical problem. The encounter with a sentient species would be much more than that, it'd be an existential problem of the first order, far more mind-blowing than "yet another cool techno-advancement we've seen in a dozen movies".

But of course we've already encountered sentient species in Area 51 – we just haven't been told THE TRUTH!

Mobius28 Jan 2013 12:23 p.m. PST

I say gates over ships with FTL drives for control. But a difficult though possible way to create and operate a new gate. This is not really 'hard' science yet. Then you have to think of the way gates work. I'd go with fast spinning small blackhole creating a ring singularity.

In the blink of an eye or some time delay?
Can you communicate through it?
Costs in energy and money?

Grandviewroad Inactive Member28 Jan 2013 3:43 p.m. PST

Mobius, the best would be some transitional difficulty. Reasonably reliable, reliable enough to use routinely, but not precisely predictable.

This helps create more game friction and possibilities. It also creates a competition for who can nav the gate best.

It also can't be crazy unreliable like travling in 40K warp space where you can go nuts or end up eaten by a demon. That's space fantasy.

But it should be workable but not easily convenient like taking the train or plane.

As for cost, the only workable cost is the price of energy, transition and insurance. Money has no meaning for projects like that.

Lesack Inactive Member31 Jan 2013 3:35 p.m. PST

The Diaspora RPG tries to combine hard-SF (most of it) but has a bit of soft SF (FTL). Newtonian/Einsteinian mechanics with the exception of the FTL, which is provided by gates of a sort perpendicular to the axis of the ecliptic. The mechanism is handwaved away, of course.

I quite like this combination (and if you hate FTL you can eliminate it completely) and solves the problem of not enough space opera in a hard SF setting.

I also found the space combat to be quite enjoyable, and reducing it to one dimension is an unusual approach.

Grandviewroad Inactive Member31 Jan 2013 4:15 p.m. PST

what do you mean by reducing space combat to one dimension? You fight on the head of a pin? Or do you mean 2-dimensional "flat".

But yeah, it sounds like they do what I'm thinking.

Lesack Inactive Member02 Feb 2013 12:54 a.m. PST

In Diaspora, a ship's vector is abstracted into a point on a line. It plays well, although it's probably not everyone's cup of tea.

The space combat chapter is available for free:
PDF link

There's also a system reference document:

Mobius02 Feb 2013 9:37 a.m. PST

Mobius, the best would be some transitional difficulty. Reasonably reliable, reliable enough to use routinely, but not precisely predictable.

This helps create more game friction and possibilities. It also creates a competition for who can nav the gate best.

In my SF rules I didn't use gates but slightly unreliable 'warping'. There was a higher probability of some failure the longer the warp. I think a safe warp was about 1 LY and 50% chance of failure was something like 40 LY. The failure could range to some distance missing the desired point to catastrophic failure and loss of ship. It usually took 10 days to reach the speed needed to engage the warp drive.

Now, I am more inclined to gates. If I was going to write a SF novel the normal interstellar travel would be through established gates. But unreliable travel through a warp ship to a place without a gate would be needed to build the other end of a gate.

Adrian66 Inactive Member03 Feb 2013 12:35 p.m. PST

I`ve always considered sg1 star gates a reasonable travel method if you exclude the other stuff.

An ancient civilisation built them then they where lost to humanity. Because of them no one ever bothered with interstellar travel, just in-system. Tech levels can vary drastically.

Personal logo Lentulus Supporting Member of TMP07 Mar 2013 8:52 p.m. PST

The only problem with gaming non-FTL settings is that you have to move pretty much completely out of the tactical and into the grand strategic contest of empires.

If it makes the slightest economic sense to have interstellar colonies, and they can be profitable, then it makes just as much sense to fight over them.

But it does not look much like "the WWII Pacific Theater in Space" which seems to be what most games and books lean toward. It takes a real stretch in design, and probably turns into an administration game.

"Episodes from the Human Empire" of course could make interesting campaigns of themselves but it would not hang together in a simple way.

Still, Turtledove's "Worldwar" series at least shows that an expanding STL empire is not inconceivable.

(Jake Collins of NZ 2) Inactive Member08 Mar 2013 12:58 p.m. PST

Orbital is a hard sci-fi setting using the Mongoose Traveller rules as a basis.


Wartopia Inactive Member08 Mar 2013 1:29 p.m. PST

Anyone remember Triplanetary?

Sort of hard-SF with space opera dressing. Used a white hex map of the solar system with grease pencils to simulate vector mechanics. Planetary gravity modified ship course and fuel was a big deal.

Yes, I was a geeky kid and loved this game… :-)



chironex09 Mar 2013 5:00 a.m. PST

Caesar: Where? My microwave doesn't even respond to voice commands, let alone output stuff I didn't put in. We can't even fake much of what we see on Star Trek, and anything we can was reality long beforehand.
LBW: I was going to mention that but realised anyone following up would be trapped in TVTropes for hours!
If this is not a problem for you:
And remember not to confuse zeerust or Science Marches On with simple failures of science and logic.

RTJEBADIA09 Mar 2013 7:50 a.m. PST

Space Combat in the Solar System 2001… so its a historical game, right? ; )

Great old game. There is really a lot of hard SF gaming going on, I think sometimes we just don't notice it because we think hard SF has to follow much stricter rules than it really does.

High Frontier is a more recent example for space SF, and a lot of the recent space combat games that have been coming out (or will be coming out soon) are much more hard than the sort of games people were playing a decade ago (full thrust, for all of its excellence, isn't very hard… though people have modded it to be so). Even the not-very-crunchy Star Navy is arguably a very abstract harder SF sort of game, though with a lot of assumptions for tech development. Compare how missiles and guns shoot and you'll see what I mean.

Also hard military SF is very common; a lot of people claim that these folks are playing ww2 with space models while the "real" SF is more wacky stuff (like 40k?) and while thats certainly true in some cases I would not say all; a lot of people heavily incorporate drones, enhanced battlefield awareness, EW, increased firepower and armor at the individual level, scenarios that incorporate SF, etc.

Caesar Inactive Member09 Mar 2013 8:30 a.m. PST

"Caesar: Where? My microwave doesn't even respond to voice commands, let alone output stuff I didn't put in. We can't even fake much of what we see on Star Trek, and anything we can was reality long beforehand."

Are you kidding me? Take a look at your cell phone. Where do you think the idea for that came from? You can't talk to your microwave? Big deal. I can talk to my computer. My car links to satellites and networks with my phone. I can stream music from the internet through my stereo. The technological changes in the last 50 years have been astounding.
Tractor beams in development? Check. Touch screen interface? Check. Tablet computers? Check. Holodeck in development? Check. Cloaking devices? Check. Transporter technology in development? Check. Transparent aluminum? Check. Hypospray? Check. E-libraries? Check. Handheld scanning devices? Check.

Wartopia Inactive Member09 Mar 2013 12:43 p.m. PST

Skin tight leotards for crew?

Sadly, Check*


*Sadly in some cases. In others, I might encourage a crew member to wear such an outfit! :-D

RTJEBADIA09 Mar 2013 5:39 p.m. PST

Tractor beams and teleporters are not in development. Neither are cloaking devices in the sense that Star Trek has them.

Caesar Inactive Member09 Mar 2013 6:04 p.m. PST

Tractor beams and teleporters are in development.
Cloaking technology is already a reality.

chironex09 Mar 2013 6:33 p.m. PST

Childishly vomiting "is too!" is not evidence. No, I can NOT check "tractor beams," nor "teleporters." Even the remote twinmaker kind of teleporters aren't going to happen for centuries (sculpting a plastic shape in response to a data stream from a scanner scanning an identical object is not the same as constructing a functioning organism from the subparticles up) and did you really think human civilisation needed Star Trek to give them the idea of carrying a small communications device with you?
Astounding changes in technology does not mean astounding changes in the laws of physics.
More like ways to FAKE having these things are in development.
Wartopia, you never know, that sort of thing might come into fashion dependent on society, and the implanted technology making it practical and useful, eg medical sensors and thermal control elements.

Remember, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a completely ad-hoc plot device!

Caesar Inactive Member10 Mar 2013 8:42 p.m. PST

"Is too?"
It's really almost as though you don't pay attention to the news or browse the interwebs. It's almost as though you are unaware of basic things like the inventor of the cell phone crediting Star Trek for his inspiration.
Perhaps when a tractor beam was actually used just recently you were too busy attempting to refute facts somewhere else to notice?
Cloaking technology has been in working development for a number of years but I suppose the news has been using it so well you've missed the frequent stories on it?
Yes, even minor advances and possibilities in transporter technology are in development, now. Since you haven't been able to beam anywhere then certainly that can't be true.

Certainly, you are not being childish and are displaying the utmost maturity by stating your personal opinion as fact in defiance of freely available information.

KJdidit Sponsoring Member of TMP Inactive Member10 Mar 2013 11:08 p.m. PST

Teleportation is very much in its infancy; ST-type teleportation isn't even on the horizon: link

…and a similar story for visible cloaking technology (no mention on its ability to 'hide' heat/IR/UV, which means it most likely can't): link

…and tractor beams? Meh. link

FatherOfAllLogic15 Mar 2013 1:39 p.m. PST

It's why I game Napoleonics. No arguments.

SpleenRippa Inactive Member16 Mar 2013 5:36 a.m. PST

The Nappy guys seem to be some of the most argumentative. God forbid you paint your buttons the wrong colour ;)

tkdguy18 Mar 2013 11:14 p.m. PST

I developed a hard sci-fi campaign a while back. It started out as space opera, using the Alcubierre drive for interstellar travel. But I decided to go near future (between 50-100 years from now), so I limited the scope to the solar system.

So there's colonization going on in Mars and on several moons. Spaceships fly around the solar system using VASIMR engines. Projectile weapons are still the norm, with spaceships firing railguns and missiles. I am aware of the progress we've made with lasers, but I dropped them because I decided they were a bit too cliche for my tastes.

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