Saturday, January 24, 2015

Space Navy Naming

Here is a problem I have with the current science fiction that we have: the names for these new things that are created tend not to be very good.  I'm not talking about any proper noun usage.  Those are very author specific on how good they are.  What I'm talking about are the generic nouns.  Any word like spaceship, space station, or space marine; these are not very well built.  Unfortunately, I don't have many good answers for good names, but that's the purpose of this writing.  I'm looking to see if anyone else has any ideas, good or bad, for how you'd name some of these things.  Good or bad, any ideas would be great to have.

Here's the characteristics I'd consider for a good name:
  1. No use of the word "space".  Ideally, I'd think the usage of "space" would be kept to a minimum, so as to keep it from being repetitive.  The prefix "astro-" should be treated similarly.
  2. The name should be fairly unique.  If I'm ever wanting to use it in normal conversation, I should be able to use it without specifying what type it is.  This leads from the first, as I can shorten the word "space marine" down to "marine" but it's not descriptive enough. I still need to first establish which type I'm using beforehand before using the short form.  Even more ideal, is the short form also being unique.  For example, both airplane and plane are unique enough that I can guess what you're saying without context.
  3. If possible, I should be able to know approximately what the thing is by its name, without knowing the word itself.  I could replace "space marine" with Gobblegork, but no one will know what I'm talking about unless they're familiar with the new name.  (If Gobblegork makes sense to you, please see a doctor)
  4. It should be pronounceable in English, by native English speakers.  Over on Atomic Rocket, (reading this was also some inspiration for this post) "Espatier" is suggested as a replacement for "space marine", but I personally never liked it. I'd have no idea how it's pronounced, and it seems too long for a proper military word.  (My guess without reading the pronounciation for it would be "es spa tee er" or "spay ter" if I'm going quickly.
  5. Not a proper noun. Probably not terribly relevant to this discussion, but it pops up a lot in fiction as a good solution, so I wanted to head it off, as it's often shortened to look like a generic name.  The Galactic Armada would be a good name for the space navy in a certain setting, but shortening it to the armada does not mean that armada would be a good name for a generic space navy.
I think that's all of them.  If you think of more, also leave that as a suggestion!  Though note as well that the idea I have here is that space is treated similarly to an ocean, rather than closer to an airforce model, so please keep that in mind.  (So, for example, ships will be expected to be in space for extended periods of time in general)

Here are some general words that I'd like to have words for, but don't. (Beyond the generic space-nouns)

Space Navy: I'd imagine this to be a military branch similar to the modern military branches of the US armed forces, but dealing with all the space ships and stuff necessary to be an independent force.  

Space Sailors: The people that crew the space ships for the space navy.  The crew is not a bad name for these people, but ideally something a bit more specific.  Ideally too, nothing relating to nautical terms like sailing.

Space Marines: I'd think that a space navy would have a sub-branch of fighting soldiers that are trained and suited to fight in personal combat, rather than employing vehicles.  The ideal use of force for capturing space stations or other key locations or fighting off intruders.  Also likely to have some form of special suit.

Space Station: I think this one mostly fits, given that we've used it for so long and the objects are fairly generic and plenty of other synonyms can exist for it (like outpost).  But it's there and a good word would be great.

Spaceship: The things that fly around in space.  It always annoys me that I have a large inclination to shorten this to just "ship", but that often isn't doable without providing context.

Space: The vast emptiness between planets.  I think most people are used to using this word, but if anyone has a good suggestion for what to replace this with, I'd be most appreciative.

Those are the main words I can think of.  And for those that read this, please respond and share.  I'd love to hear your ideas and get this spread out a bit more.  Even if it's something you think is stupid, it may turn out to be actually great, or perhaps spur someone else to think of something good.  Thank you!

PS: if you've got good proper names for leaders, ships, etc, feel free to share those as well!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Keeping it hard

One of my goals for this game was to try, as much as possible, to keep to hard science, straying only when I needed to. Primarily, this is because I tend to prefer harder science fiction, but also because I have a habit of starting at the beginning for everything and I don't want to spend too much time digging.  (This is also why I've started my blog posts here at the beginning, rather than, say, starting it with all the cool things that my game will be. That would be getting ahead of myself.)  For those that don't know what I mean by hard science, here's a short explanation:

One way to rate science fiction is by how hard or soft it is.  Harder sci-fi holds more to the rules of science as we know them, and softer sci-fi does the opposite.  This isn't necessarily a rating on how good the piece is, (though people may tend to have a preference towards one side) but is instead a way to compare or categorize it.

For me, I use the following categorization of objects and technology when thinking about how hard the science is in a particular piece, and listed from hardest to softest.

Current Tech:

This is anything that we have currently built and know how it functions.  Sometimes hard to use too much of, depending on how current the piece is.  For SEAC, this is what you start out with.  An example for this is the chemical rockets we currently use for getting to space.

Future Tech:

Future tech is anything that we've got plans for and have a reasonable idea of how to build, but haven't actually built.  As with most technology, the actual thing is likely to have some quirks that weren't thought of with the initial plans. The nature of what we have now though means that most tech that I see in this brand of sci-fi comes from this section, rather than current tech.  NASA isn't exactly eager to outfit their shuttles with weapons, after all.  This is what you'll tend to see in SEAC.  For an example look at one of the myriad number of nuclear rocket designs made during the cold war.

Theoretical Tech:

I name anything where we don't have a good idea of how to build, but do have an idea of the limits and possibilities of, as theoretical tech.  Here we stretch things a bit, and it's something that I want to stay away from if possible. Because the limitations aren't really known, there's a lot of leeway in their capabilities, which means there's plenty of temptation to stretch the limits that I think will keep the game good.  I'll certainly add some, but I want to keep these in check as much as possible. The fusion drive is a good example, as it's a possibility for a very strong drive if I'm willing to handwave away all the limitations that currently make it a Very Bad Idea.


Anything that doesn't have a basis in known science falls here.  These are the fun things that can often make each piece of fiction unique, but come with all sorts of dangers. For me, in designing a new system like this I need to make sure that there's not too many unintended consequences and that it fits without taking the fun out of something else.  A common example that you'll see is anything that enables faster than light (FTL) travel.

For magic in SEAC I'm going to stick as much as I can to only including FTL travel and energy shields.  FTL because, as established, the universe is just too big for slowboating it around if I want to have a good colonial empire.  Shielding is there to keep the setting to a more maritime model.  Without it, I'd need some sort of super-armor for the ships if I want them to withstand the damage that the weaponry of the time could likely throw at them.  It's also a handy tool for dealing with radiation nicely without needing to worry too much about the excessive weight required.

On a side note, I saw this video today and thought I'd share:

Monday, January 12, 2015


Last week I talked about the scale of interstellar travel, in the hope that I could impress on my readers just how important some form of fast travel is.  If you've ever wondered why some variant of a warp drive exists in other fiction, dealing with the vast emptiness of space is why.  For me too, how the drive works will impact how the world will function beyond the obvious that interstellar travel is possible.  Star Wars would look very strange if the ships were unable to jump by themselves and needed instead to use a stationary gate, to give an example.  All of that is why I start SEAC with the discovery of its warp gate technology; it really is that important to everything about it.

I'd like to point out that anything here may change in the future, but the current timeline goes something like this: Sometime around 2018 some scientists somewhere in Europe stumble onto warp gate technology.  (As an aside, if anyone has a good, specific location for where this could occur, please let me know in the comments!)  By 2020, prototypes are built and warp gate technology is shown to work within the solar system, with plenty of promise towards interstellar gates being possible to build.  Unfortunately, only one gate in and out of each area can function.

The politicians of the world bicker and debate about how to resolve the issue.  Meanwhile, the scientists and engineers in charge of the warp gate tech continue to test and improve on the initial network they set up.  Gradually, they settled on the general idea of setting up an organization that would control the gate network and any human settlements in space up to a certain size.  Much debate was had over whether to give them a military arm as well.  Eventually, they agreed to a small military, with set rules for later allowing a larger military if the universe turned out to be harsher than they initially thought.  (Of course it's going to be harsh. It wouldn't be a good sci-fi game if there were no epic space battles possible)

This new organization would be named SEAC (for Space Exploration and Colonization), and is built to accomplish those two goals, along with the unspoken directive to defend humanity from outside enemies.  To limit its power and to guard against corruption, the organization is prevented from selling or providing anything to the peoples of Earth. (Though some research is shared if it's relevant)  The nations of the world control the organization, with each paying based on set tiers, with the money being the only source of income for the organization. More influence in the organization comes at a higher cost; as an example, only the top tiers can select the president for SEAC.

SEAC is ceded the land from the initial tests, along with all the equipment that was previously built, and then set loose. (I'd think that in practice it'd be sent to somewhere in the US for this. But I haven't done that sort of research yet. Any suggestions, please let me know!)  That's where the game starts for the player. You have a few facilities on Earth, along with a small network in space.  The current starting date takes place in 2025, which I'd guess to be quite optimistic, but not really sure just how optimistic.

Friday, January 9, 2015


Here's a fun topic only tangentially related to the game: the scaling of objects in space. This probably isn't something I'd expect most people to look into, outside of a generic "space is big and we're small", or perhaps you have an image in your head of the scale of the solar system from a picture you've seen.  If you're anything like me, you're probably familiar with objects in space being within an order of magnitude of the same size.  But that's not really the case. Objects are wildly different in size and scale.  For example, here's a to-scale photo of the solar system:

"Planets2013" by WP - Planets2008.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
(Distance not to scale)

The sun is obviously stupidly massive compared to first 4 planets. Even compared to the outer gas giants, it dwarfs them.  Numbers wise, the sun is ~100 times the size of the Earth, ~10 times the size of Jupiter, and ~300 times the size of Mercury (poor little Mercury); but that's only by radius. The sun has a volume 1 million times the volume of earth.

The distances between planets are even more absurd.  The first four planets are spaced remarkably evenly every ~50 million km.  That's about one planet every 35 suns. Even the sun, as large as it is, is massively dwarfed here.  We're not even out to Jupiter though, which is 3.5 times as far away from the sun as Mars is. Neptune is some 7 times farther away than Jupiter is. (or, some 3,200 suns away).

When I actually sat down to work out some sort of scaling for my game, I quickly realized that if I wanted any sort of scale, there's a large incentive to split the solar system up.  The differences in size are just too pronounced to keep them on one screen unless I want to ditch the scaling entirely.

The real fun part came when I started looking at some interstellar scales. This is the weird one, because it's just that big, but is never represented well in any sort of scale we can comprehend.  This is especially problematic when we start using different notation.  I can represent distances within our solar system relatively easily with kilometers.  Neptune is only 4.5 billion km away from the sun. Even written out as 4,498,542,600 km it's not too bad.

For interstellar distances we switch from kilometers, a measurement we're fairly familiar with, straight over to light years. The closest star system to ours is Alpha Centauri at ~4.4 light years away. That doesn't sound too bad, does it? There's no million, or even thousand there, and certainly no billion.  It can't be that far away, can it? For me, this often leads to thinking "step 1, Mars, step 2 other solar systems".  If we can only figure out this space travel thing, the universe is open to us.

But how different is that scale, really?  Farthest distance between the Earth and mars is ~400 million km, and here to Alpha Centauri is 4.4 light years. That means the trip to Alpha Centauri is ~100 million times longer than the trip to Mars.  That's pretty bad, but doesn't illustrate as well the difference I think. Here's an analogy:

I'm about 2 meters tall.  With a good ladder, I can double my effective height to 4 meters.  With my eyes up this high, I can reach quite a few places around my house, and it's pretty obvious that with a better ladder I'd be able to reach even the highest points of my house.  Yet, there's no real possibility that I'd be able to reach the moon with any sort of ladder.  The same problem exists with comparing going to Mars to going to another solar system. The two are fundamentally different beasts, even though they may look similar.

Not to say that we'll never get that far.  I can't use a ladder to reach the moon, but we've managed to send many missions there using simple rockets. There's no reason to think that it's impossible to do because we haven't found a way to do so yet.  Perhaps some day later there'll be someone contemplating about the differences in scale between galaxies, rather than merely solar systems.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


So, someone suggested that I should build a blog for this game idea thing of mine, and here it is. My wonderful new blog. Onward ho!

The game is a Dwarf Fortress-esque (or Minecraft-esque if you've never heard of Dwarf Fortress) space colonization game set in the near future, one where we've discovered a way to travel to distant stars.  You head the multinational agency (titled SEAC, Space Exploration and Colonization) setup by all the major powers of the world tasked with exploring the new boundaries and establishing colonies on other planets. You're given all the resources you'd expect such a large multinational agency to get: enough to get started. Maybe.

The standard game involves the player starting with very little, and going from there to construct a colonial empire spanning many star systems.  The player will extract resources from asteroid belts and the planets/colonies to build the ships, stations, and colonial infrastructure needed for the empire. Construction, development, and logistics are the main focuses of the game, with space combat being an additional fun bit.

My idea for this game originally used the term "4x grand strategy game" because the genre of the games I pulled lot of my inspiration from.  But later I realized that inherent in that genre was a sense of competition.  The classic Civilization game, for example, is you against a group of other players each with their own civilization all stuck together in a single arena the size of the world.

However that was never an entirely accurate description of the game.  The focus was never on competition with the other entities you'll encounter, but instead on building your own empire that would have points of contention with them.  Hence why I've switched the genre to one where there is no explicit win condition nor focus on winning and where only losing is possible.  The player sets his own goals that he wishes to go for; a sandbox where you can build as you wish, but there's always someone around wanting to knock it down that you have to defend against.

Well, hopefully that's enough for now.  I'll have more posts in the future to focus on each section, along with the occasional personal post. Thank you for coming to the blog, and hope to see you again.