Monday, March 30, 2015

Mars Sucks

Last post I mentioned that Mars sucked as a place to put down a colony.  I figured it'd make a good post to elaborate on that comment.  First, I'd like to preface that when we're looking at doing anything within the solar system, all options suck.  If it were easy or a good choice, we'd have done it already.  Chances are good that there's no good option anywhere in the space around us either, but we're not entirely sure yet.  We're not able to accurately look at planetary systems just yet.  I plan on fudging the numbers a bit to allow for a good number of potential colonization spots, if only to make things interesting.

What would I define as the perfect place to colonize? Anywhere that a caveman could live, or to be a bit more accurate; anywhere a human doesn't need any tools or knowledge about the environment in order to survive.  Any aspect of life that isn't handled naturally by the environment must be handled by the humans on the colony.  Thus, the more tools and knowledge needed for anyone to survive, the worse an area the place is for colonization.

For an example, think of where you live and see what you'd need to live.  Here in New Hampshire, I'd need at least fire for warmth, probably shelter as well, and a little bit of knowledge on what to eat and what to avoid eating.  That's a small bit of tools compared to requiring an artificial habitat and importing nearly everything that a potential Mars colony would require.

Here are the major points I'd pay attention to when determining good locations:

Radiation. For anyone that isn't familiar with this, the radiation I'm talking about is roughly any particle that is relatively small and has a relatively high amount of energy.  Light is radiation, but not really relevant due to it being relatively low energy, while x-rays are energetic enough to be worrying.  On Earth, the main protection we have against radiation from space is our atmosphere and the Earth's magnetic field.  Unfortunately for Mars, it has neither, and unfortunately for us, we know of no way to restart it.  (At least, as far as I know)

Luckily, as far as I can tell the magnetic field is not terribly important for protecting living things from radiation.  The main problem would come from vastly increasing the loss of water (along with some other molecules, but water is the big one).

Atmosphere. The big factors that we care about in regards to atmosphere are: we want it breathable, we want it safe, we want it to protect against radiation, and we want it to keep the planet warm enough.  For the atmosphere to be breathable it needs to contain enough oxygen to support life, and at a proper ratio at the given pressure.  Too little oxygen and we can't pull enough out to support us;  too high and the oxygen becomes poisonous, along with increased fire risks.  For an atmosphere to be safe, breathing can't be harmful from toxins or harmful organisms.  To give some examples, the air in my home is safe and breathable, the air at the top of Mt. Everest is safe but not breathable, the air in a burning building is breathable but not safe.  The atmosphere on Mars is both unsafe and not breathable, along with not being dense enough for protection against radiation or for providing a proper temperature.

Fixing Mars' atmosphere is something we know how to do on a technical level.  Spewing gases into the atmosphere isn't exactly something new for us.  The primary problem we would have is one of scale.  I'm sure we're all well used to hearing all about carbon dioxide, but the amount we put out is very insignificant compared to the entire atmosphere.  Suddenly exporting all our carbon dioxide production to Mars would still take millions of years to get a more reasonable atmosphere.  Though ideally it'd be more similar to a nitrogen/oxygen split, as carbon dioxide is harmful in large quantities.

According to estimates we can make, Mars should be able to hold onto an atmosphere dense enough for breathing and to keep a comfortable temperature.  The only real unfortunate problem is Mars isn't big enough to hold onto the smaller molecules at all easily, which is only made worse by the lack of a magnetic field.  For our purposes, the steady loss of water would be unfortunate, but occurring over millenia.  Certainly replenishable by an interested space-faring race. Any caveman stuck on Mars would thus have a clock to rediscover space flight before all of the water on the planet ran out. No pressure.

Biosphere. The plants and animals and other living things that reside on a planet make up the biosphere of that planet.  As far as colonization is concerned, it's useful for providing the food and oxygen we need.  Also likely to be a major source of problems with any foreign planet that has developed it's own biosphere independent of Earth, but on Mars that problem should be minimal.  All of Mars' biosphere would come from Earth, and unlikely to cause problems.  The difficulty comes with getting it built quick.  Given a long stretch of time it'd be fairly straightforward to bring on, but there's plenty of problems, like the lack of soil, water, and oxygen that is hard to build incrementally.

Gravity. Mars is on the small side of what is likely to work well for humanity, and is possibly too low for long-term viability.  Mars' gravity is only 37% that of Earth, which is pretty low.  Unfortunately, we don't exactly have much research on the subject, as we understandably don't have many options when testing biological beings at gravities smaller than that of Earth.  We don't even have very much research on how we're affected in free fall, especially as in regards to fetuses. (Highly important if you're looking to live in space is whether or not you can have kids)

Hope that helps outline all the things that Mars is missing.  Remember that for everything here, missing something means that the colony must provide it in some other manner.  Comparably, popping a colony down in the antarctic is easier and requires less resources than one on Mars.  Far less cool though, suck it Antarctica. We're going to Mars.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Game Beginning

Let's talk a little about gameplay today, and where best to start but at the beginning? I'm a huge fan of starting at the very beginning and turning a small base into something worthwhile, so you start the game with just the bare essentials; humanity has just entered this new age of space travel, and it's your job to build everything.  (Sidenote: I'll likely put in different start points for those looking to start with more if you're not as interested as I am in beginnings)

You start with a few buildings in your isolated base on Earth, along with a small population and some resources.  Your buildings are:

  • Capitol building, there for administrative purposes.
  • Factory, for building components which will be used in the construction of buildings and spacecraft and everything in between.
  • Research lab, where researchers research new research.
  • Academy, which produces people. (Trains people, at least you hope)
  • Space gate with accompanying loading and unloading infrastructure.
  • Storage and housing, with a good amount of starter goods already stored.
For now, I've got population split into five categories:
  • Leaders.  People with names, stats, and roles that they can fill.  I'm sure some will use them as simple stat sticks, but they're also there to give life and build stories around.
  • Officers.  Those that lead others, but are too low to be really notable to the player.
  • Crew.  The state employees, soldiers, and engineers that crew positions and get the crap jobs.
  • Civilians.  Those not aligned with the state that are paid to do their work and not get in the way.
  • Colonists.  The people I spent two blog posts talking about beforehand who are interested in living on other planets.
To begin with, you'll have enough officers, crew, and civilians to run the operations, along with some extra to get you started.  In addition, you'll start with a few (1-3 I'm thinking) leaders to place around.  You don't however, start with any colonists, as you haven't built any colonies yet.

At any point in time, the player can always buy more resources and people on Earth.  Buying is expensive though, and so the player is encouraged to produce their own resources.  The player begins with a fair bit of cash to start to enable initial construction, but it won't last forever.

Upon taking the gate into space, you've got a small setup that all planetary connections will have, including:
  • A gate leading back to the planet.
  • Small, robotic tugs that take cargo from the gate to the station.
  • A station (or a ship serving as a temporary station) with storage, housing, and useful facilities.  At game start, the starting station is made primarily for storage and has a decent assembly platform.
  • A secondary gate leading into the system network which can be used to transport ships to any other system network gate.  Not actually built at game start.
Along with the standard setup, you also begin with an assembly ship that assists with construction.  (Something had to build that station)

At game start, you have two major goals in mind.  You want to place and maintain a Mars colony, and build a gate connection to another system.  Sure, a Mars colony makes very little actual sense, but it's romantic enough that the politicians in charge want it anyway (Plus, what sort of space game would this be if you didn't colonize Mars?)  Going to another system is a much greater accomplishment, but the colony is easier and more straightforward, so I'll begin with that.

Let's start building! The rough outline works like this: create a connection from Earth-space to Mars-space, create a connection from Mars-space to Mars itself, build some initial infrastructures so colonists can survive, and then send them over.  Pretty straightforward, but let's go into some details.

To build a connection between two areas, you need to build a gate on both sides.  Building the gate in Earth-space is easy.  The components are built in the factory on Earth, shipped up through the gate, and then assembled by the starting assembly ship.  Building the other gate will be a bit more fun.  Gates don't work at all unless there's another gate to connect to; instead, you need to use a jump module.  Unfortunately for the player, these are also one shot devices that are pretty expensive component wise.  So, the player starts the factories up, producing both the components for a jump module and a gate.  The module is assembled out in space before activation, but the gate components need to be carried in some sort of ship storage.  The player will need to build ships as well, and can use either the pre-generated storage ship design, or create one of his own.

So, the ships go through with the gate components so another gate can be constructed to connect the two locations.  Building the next gate is easier than the last.  Another gate is queued up in the factory, components are transported up to the station, storage ships take the components from the station, go through the new gate, and unload their storage so the assembly ship can construct the gate.  A similar process exists if the player wants to build a station in the area, which is recommended if the area sees much traffic.  (You can always abandon it later)

Now for the final gate.  For the player, this one is fairly simple.  A more traditional rocket is built that can land on Mars with the gate payload intact.  The rocket is assembled in space and launched towards Mars.  Assuming everything goes right, the gate is set up, connected to space, additional material and crew can be sent to construct a functioning base on Mars.  Finally, the colonists are sent (in ships designed for a large amount of people) and the colony is constructed.

Of course, during all of this, the player has options to increase industrial capacity and infrastructure in order to make things smoother.  For example, the player can choose to have more/larger factories to make construction quicker or set up a mining base in the asteroid belt for cheaper raw materials.  Hope this beginning example is entertaining and helps with learning about the game.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Colonization Part Two

Here's the promised continuation of who I would expect to actually go out and colonize other planets.  Well, wait. I lied. First, I want to show my reasoning for my thinking, and then I'll actually talk about the colonists. Procrastination!

Let's work backwards. The way I've deliberately set the systems up, once you pass through the gate to the stars as a colonist, you're not really coming back.  This means both that you leave anything you can't bring with the keepers at the gate, and that you can't sell much of anything to someone who hasn't entered the gate.  While all this includes family heirlooms you'd want to bring but can't, it also includes money and precludes you from getting loans as there's no possibility for you to pay them off once you've entered.  If you want to enter that gate, you need to pay the gatekeeper his fee, and pay it upfront.

How expensive is the gatekeeper's fee? I'd think pretty expensive.  In this setting, I'd assume that much of the actual fee would be helped by side effects from having the fleet and infrastructure anyway, but it'd still be expensive.  If I had to guess, I'd put it at least one million dollars to start before any side effects, with the price dropping off as research and familiarity with the subject increases.  But I wouldn't be surprised if the cost were higher; the scale of these projects can get away from me sometimes, especially when there's few good analogies in the present day.  I can use cost to orbit, for example (~$10,000/kg) as a reasonable cost, but it'll always have accuracy problems.  Military deployment calculations are also useful, due to similarity at times where one is attempting to get materials and personnel to locations without the proper infrastructure for it, but the lack of good transportation parallels still makes it odd.  Good to read for learning about random things one might not have thought about.

But I digress.  Calling it expensive is enough for this exercise, I think.  I don't plan on using real numbers anyway in the game precisely to avoid these sort of issues.  (Think of X-COM's credits as an example)  It's expensive enough that only rich people will be able to afford a ticket straight up.  Anyone middle class could put in a sizable dent, but certainly not enough.  For most people, they're going to need a sponsor of some sort that can help pay.

Historically, the sponsors for colonies were often rich men looking to profit, viewed it as some variety of charity, or were looking to go there themselves.  Unfortunately for people in this setting, I'd be surprised if there was much funding from those hoping to make a profit, as no goods can be sent home.  I'd imagine some company with too much money might try it as an advertisement stunt (Facebookopolis!) but I wouldn't get my hopes up.  I'd also be surprised if there were many willing to go themselves.  That brand seems more the type to participate in the administration, then settle down on a colony later, rather than becoming an outright colonist.

However, the availability of charity seems quite likely to be a good sponsor.  Especially nowadays, there's no requirement that it be just one sponsor, but that general funds could exist.  Along with charity, they'd have a major advantage in funding over their historical counterparts with the large expansion of the state.  State subsidies for colonists seem likely, and possibly plentiful as states compete with one another.  For the setting, I'd think the interesting point would be less gaining state funding, but intentionally limiting it to make things more interesting.  State colonies that are extensions of their Earth counterparts would work, but would also break a personal rule of the setting that space colonization is seen as a deliberate side show, and dissociated with the governments themselves, leading to the outcome where the costs are borne by the player, but effectively subsidized by the budget from the combination of all nations.

Which leads to the final question: who actually goes?  Historically, it seems that the vast majority did so in order to flee something from the old world.  Well known sources of fear were religious persecution and war, but also more mundane fears like economic hardship.  Along with those who chose to go, some were also sent.  Prisoners and debters were common, along with the occasional man effectively exiled for political reasons.  I'd think that much of these would certainly apply today, dependent on availability of volunteers.  Sending prisoners isn't a very good option if there's already a flood looking to leave, but if you're having troubles finding people to go, giving prisoners the option of going doesn't seem like a bad idea, especially for the less popular destinations.  (I'm assuming that such prisoners would have at least some restrictions based off of their reason for incarceration.  In the long run, it's likely to be quite a bit cheaper)

What does all this mean for the player?  I'm not really sure yet.  It does provide me a lot of room to experiment with to see what works best though.  All that I've said here allows for more information and possible game restrictions for the player player to deal with, but I'd be lying if I didn't think a lot of it was unnecessary and possibly unwanted.  For example, does it matter why the colonists left Earth? It could affect stats or place restrictions on which colonies they could end up in, if I were interested in showing that.  Could be pure fluff, if I don't want to simulate it to such detail too.  Should be fun exploring though, to see which works best, and how far it gets before it becomes just noise.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The People that Colonize

Here, I'm going to talk about the people that would go colonizing, which sci-fi books tell me would be something like an explosion once the key to space has been unlocked.  If only we could develop a warp drive, you'd have people flocking to new planets, spreading humanity across the universe (and perhaps comparing humanity to a disease), or so conventional wisdom goes.

 Personally, I don't really think that's going to happen.  My experience with people has tended to show that most are perfectly willing to live where they are, perhaps moving to follow a job/career in another area.  But; going to a new world isn't some new job that you take up in a different location, it's an act where you create a new life in a new location, something very different than I think most modern people are used to.

Certainly after some time the colony is established enough such that new arrivals are better categorized as immigrants instead of colonists, but there is always that new land around established areas where the wilds are tamed so that civilization can emerge, and so there's that option available. (Do remember that the first areas are chosen for good reason. Get it quick before all the good stuff is taken!)  So, these colonists are the ones I want to talk about.  Not people looking to emigrate to a colony, but the people looking to establish that colony.

Historically when I look at how and why colonies are established and who goes, I'd split them up into three different categories: Extraction, base(port) building, and new home.

Extraction is the type of colony usually set up as the big evil of European imperialism.  This is the sort of colony that attracts colonists looking to get rich usually by extracting some natural resource in the area.  The spices and exotic plants from South America, the gold mines from Mexico and California, or the rubber from Africa were all good examples of these sort of colonies.  What usually made these evil were the usage of non-Europeans to work the areas, either imported or native to the area.  Not necessarily used everywhere, but still is the idea we often associate with colonies when talking about the evils of imperialism.

Ideally, I'd imagine that these wouldn't really occur in SEAC's game lifetime, as I've intentionally cut off the possibility of a profit motive to the homeland.  (More out of pragmatism.  As long as no government or individuals can plunder the stars, then there's no need to fight over who controls access out or worry about who pays for the enormous start-up fees)  I'd certainly guess that once colonies become established that they'd have these sort of towns pop up outside the bounds of civilization, but I'd be surprised if they were all that harmful.  Historically, the California gold rush was a great example of this sort of colonization that didn't result in mass enslavement, but did result in an enlargement of civilization in the US.

Base building is the second type of colonization that I've seen occur frequently.  A state or other major entity seeking to expand its power projection builds bases so that it can satisfy the logistical demands of a larger area.  During the age of European colonization, these bases were typically ports, built to act as way stations or to receive goods to send inland.  For this sort of interstellar empire, you'd have the same function in space stations or in some sort of initial base camp (that's likely to form into a city or town as local government replaces the foreign government).

As far as colonization goes, these bases are characterized by having workers manning the base, paid for by the entity in control of the base, along with a good amount of support positions for the people of the base.  So alongside the administrators and dock workers maintaining the port, you'd have the shopkeepers and cooks (and less savory jobs like whores and swindlers), all maintaining this point of civilization.

These bases are likely to serve as points of extraction for natural resources as well, but only for maintaining the state's interests.  Selling the resources too much puts it more in the Extraction term of colonization.  In normal game play the bases should be expected to provide resources (think asteroid mining), industry, and to expand logistics for the player by acting as mass storage for fuel and other necessities.

Long term colonization of the area depends on how nice the area is and how large it's able to become when the base inevitably becomes obsolete.  I'd imagine that for space stations, the long term population would be a direct function of traffic in the area and usefulness of the station itself, as I don't see much growth from colonists choosing to stay, as the area is expensive and expansion difficult, but the planets nearby are likely targets for these people looking to settle down after their stint in the station.

The last brand of colonization in my categorization is those seeking a new home.  North America (excluding Central America and the Caribbean, to be clear), Australia, and South Africa (mostly. Until the industrial age at least) were popular areas for this brand of colonization.  Unfortunately, I think this post is already quite long enough, and I'll talk more on the subject of what I imagine these colonists would like at a later time.