The world in construction pt.2: Inhabitants

When designing SF setting there is a temptation to throw humans into it because ‘why not?’. If it’s space opera then add some altered humans that will imitate some alien races, maybe some robots and that’s it, right? Well, not this time. While there’s nothing wrong actually with humans in SF worlds, we wanted our universe and its inhabitants to be more symbolic and less literal. We wanted the game universe to be populated by creatures seemingly human, but featuring some traits that will amplify the theme of ‘power vs. impotence’ formulated in our creative vision statement. Completely clueless,  I scratched my head and proposed some hallmarks giving the proper spin to world inhabitants design. Here they are:

1. Short-lived: that’s a key component of the ‘impotence’ aspect. Human lifespan is just an eyeblink compared to the history of universe, and the efforts of individuals look pretty meaningless from afar. We wanted our creatures to live even drastically shorter than humans, and let the player experience the passing of time. Given that player character will also feature limited lifespan, it will put a pressure and experience of rush. From a practical point of view, it will allow us to present social and economical changes in the game universe in reasonable play-time of 10-20 hours (single run).

2. Fragile: or, more precisely, an impression of fragility. While our creatures don’t have to be exceptionally easy to kill, they should appear as they were. It contributes both to ‘power’ and ‘impotence’ components because their helpless look would naturally associate with ‘impotence’, and on the other hand it will contrast with the power that technology gives them at further stages of the game, which is fun!

3. Vividly mortal: It should be clear at first glance when our creature is in full health, as well as, when it is a step from perishing. Some easily distinctable features should give a clues about creature’s condition.

4. Adorable: the creatures, through most of their lifetime, should be fun to look at and easy to sympathize with. This will give us a chance to spark a feeling of care in the player  and  also turn-up the contrast when it comes to drastic events. What’s important, the ‘cuteness’ fades away with the time passing by, making the creatures off-putting.

5. Peaceful/Pacifist: at least when the majority of the population is considered. This feature gives the brutal advantage to those individuals that choose the way of violence, contributing to ‘power’ component of vision statement theme.

6. Avoid animal features: while cats and other furries could be really cute and support the adorability requirement from point no.4, we actually want our creatures to resemble humans. We’re still on the far left of uncanny valley, but keeping it human-ish nevertheless.

Few beers later, I figured out, that design-wise, we should fit somewhere within the triad of classic PC games characters: Lemmings (mortality, simplicity), Worms (contrast cuteness vs. violence) and Kerbal (anthropomorphic features).

And that’s how the Luding was born.

Ludings are human-like race populating a small planetary system ‘somewhere else’. Their name comes from words ‘ludic’ and ‘ludek’ (polish word for tiny creature resembling human). They tend to live short, because as a species, they suffer from genetic flaw – ‘demastosa’, which makes their organic essence (that we called ‘omasta’) degrade over time. Their anatomy is pretty simple, but their physiology, though omasta-driven, is fairly similar to human. Luding morphology was inspired by anemones – those strange plant-like animals living underwater. These creatures have no skeleton, but their shape is kept by contractile body. They can walk and talk, they feature sex dimorphism, so after all the appear pretty human. When they die from omasta degeneration they don’t leave the corpse, but rather a shapeless goo called ‘poomasta’. Ages long poomasta evolves into omastite – the mineral that can be mined and processed to acquire construction materials or fuels. What’s important, it’s not only the ludings that are based on omasta, but all the organic life in the game universe. But the ludings are only sapient race that we put into the setting. I bet you can clearly see an obvious connection between omasta and it’s real-life analog and that’s perfectly fine. That is how it’s supposed to work, giving us a practical advantage of simplicity and safe margin for some fictional twists, as well as fueling overall symbolism.

And so we have seeded a setting with a concept of sapient life forms. We’ll see what will grow out of it.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

The world in construction pt. 1: Backstory

We started to build the world for our next PC game. This will be the science-fiction trading game with transhuman tropes. We’re still exploring the idea, but I managed to put together some backstory based on our discussions with Rafał. We agreed on the concept that the world of our game will be on the brink of transhuman revolution, after the fall of regime that regulated the lifes and suppressed technological progress of people populating fictional solar system.  For starter, I came up with short generic backstory, which we may use to buid the setting upon. Rafał prepared some decent visuals. Here’s what we have.

The reign of Humane Collective is over. Consumed from the inside by beurocracy, corruption, inner friction and other afflictions of power, the Humane Collective party has left the stage after decades of ruling the Hearthstar solar system.

Once they were the heroes, the saviors shielding the people from aggressive capitalism and dashing industrialization. They stood up for the laws of toiling masses against the corporations. They helped those who couldn’t catch up with dynamics of digital industry. They protested against replacing people with robots and AI. They fiercely fought the powerful establishment. When the Humane Collective finally reached for political power they were given a great credit from the Hearthstar population, granting them almost absolute power.

Humane Collective put a great legislative effort to protect the mankind from its own inventions. They formulated the Prime Doctrine – a set of rules preventing the mankind from losing the nature of humanity in lieu of technologically improved existence and reaching technological singularity. This enabled the HC to ban the AI research and advanced robotics, leaving only man-operated tools and machines legal. The genetic research and transplant surgery was also blocked by Prime Doctrine that was constantly inflated with new regulations and interdictions. The people of Hearthstar system were given back the right and privilege to work with their own hands. The Humane Collective cared that everyone has a job to do and feels necessary. They valued the life and work of ordinary men and women. Once again, the work – the act of creation, was the domain of people, hence the symbol of Humane Collective: a human hand.

While protective towards obedient citizens, Humane Collective enforced the Prime Doctrine with full power at anyone who questioned this order. The Scrutiny Office – versatile security force, was founded and tasked with suppressing any expressions of non-adherence with Prime Doctrine.

In order to improve the control over the population, the bureaucracy was increased and civil rights were reduced. However still, no one died in misery but also no-one died in luxury.

But no power is given for eternity. Like many regimes in history, Humane Collective collapsed under its own power, and the regulated lives of Hearthstar system citizens went off the rails. The explosion of freedom re-evaluated the rules of existence. The smartest profited from rapid socio-political transformations, others were pushed into poverty or economic slavery. Science and gene-engineering, finally unleashed, allowed to expand the lifespan, cure diseases and sculpt perfect bodies. The free trade flooded the planets of Hearthstar system with wanted and unwanted goods. Some made fortunes overnight, some lost the lifetime savings in shady, ill-placed transactions. The population of Heartstar system, united to this day under the emblem of human hand, split into quarreling factions following conflicting ideas. The remnants of Humane Collective regime tried to find their place in emerging new order. The bureaucrats and officials placed their bets on those who held power in various factions, the Scrutiny Office enforcers went rogue lending their firepower to the highest bidder in sight. Some tried to carve their place in the world by raiding and conquering. Daring enterprises were launched to scavenge material and non-material resources of fallen regime. New cities were built upon public buildings and blocks of flats. Soaring skyscrapers towered over monuments and crude palaces of Humane Collective. A toiled hand of Humane Collective became only a symbol of times that passed.

Hearthstar System faces more than more than just the crisis. After slipping into decentralization and federalism, it stands on the doorstep of turbulent new age. The Prime Doctrine ceased to apply and restrictive laws are no longer enforced. Ungoverned, unchecked and unleashed technological progress, pushes the Hearthstar system toward the brink of transhuman revolution.

The future is uncertain. Again.