Sunday, May 12, 2013

Billyuns and Billyuns

I was originally planning to do my Obscure RPG Appreciation Day (May 30) post about a quirky sci-fi game called Starfaring.  I've since switched to another topic, but I did want to talk a little bit about this one, too.  This quirky game of seat-of-the-pants interstellar exploration was written by Ken St. Andre and published in 1976.  Not only did this game precede nearly all other sci-fi RPGs, it was also released into the wild a full year before the coming explosion of space opera to be ushered in by some bearded dude from the Central Valley.

Starfaring has already been very ably reviewed by Grognardia, and the offbeat (very un-PC, slightly NSFW) charm of its no-budget illustration style was conveyed further by Jeff Rients.  Since I've never played the game, I didn't think I could add much to what's already been said out there about its rules or its jokey aesthetic.  Even though its sci-fi setting is highly evocative of Star Trek, I think it also presages a bit of the sci-fact wonder that this guy managed to communicate...


...just a few years after 1976.

For me, one of the most fun parts of Starfaring is its extensive tabular system for the Game Master (um, "Galaxy Master") to randomly create interesting solar systems for the players to explore.  In the latter part of the 1980s, this was something I was trying to do myself, with the seemingly infinite tools afforded to me by a spiffy 128K Mac.  In my first forays online, I also found something called the Universe Simulation Mailing List (USML) in which people exchanged ideas and programs to do similar things.

One thing that I never really thought much about was what I would do with the simulated stars, planets, and alien races, once I had created them!  A copy of Starfaring would have done me good at that time, whether or not I would've been able to convince my friends to sit down and play a game or two.  As it was, I didn't really finish constructing any elaborate alien realms, but I can still remember a lot about my fractal algorithm for making random world maps.  Maybe I'll have to try to code it up with the, ahem, slightly more powerful tools that are available today.

Another fascinating thing about both Starfaring and USML was that their creators were working with the certain knowledge of only 9 planets.  Today, astronomers know about more than 800 planets (and those are for sure, with more than 3000 other "candidates" awaiting firmer confirmation) circling hundreds of different stars.  There are some that may be very similar to our Earth, but there are many other weird types that sci-fi authors never dreamed possible.  Here's an animation of the orbits of just a few hundred of them.

And yes, there are some like this, too.

Prediction time:  In my lifetime (I'm in my mid-40s now, FYI) I'm saying there will be convincing data from an extrasolar planet that indicates that some kind of life exists on it.  Probably a combination of pure molecular oxygen (O2) in the atmosphere, liquid water covering much of its surface, and a signature of chlorophyll or some other photosynthetic molecule covering the rest of it.  Of course, the best bet about the details is that it'll really be something that nobody has yet imagined!  All of this is just beyond the reach of current telescopes, but a lot can be done in a few measly decades.  :-)

6 comments:

  1. 'Of course, the best bet about the details is that it'll really be something that nobody has yet imagined!'

    Very nice.

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    1. We'll see. Though with so many people speculating about these things, there will probably be someone who greets that big discovery by saying "I told ya so!" :-)

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    2. As I was reading your post, I was thinking that the discovery would not be 'a combination of pure molecular oxygen (O2) in the atmosphere, liquid water covering much of its surface, and a signature of chlorophyll or some other photosynthetic molecule covering the rest of it.'

      My thoughts entirely with no empirical data to back them up: lifeforms will be the sort which can be 'housed' in digital temples -- signals.

      Again, just speculating.

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    3. Oh, well that's SETI. Different ball game -- much higher risk, much higher potential reward. It's good to keep our portfolio diversified...

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  2. Hello! Very nice blog and interesting posts, great atmosphere.
      Have a nice day. :)
    Welcome to our blog about photography. +
    I hope you also enjoy it with us.

    Greetings!

    "Do what you love is not even that, but anyway"

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for stopping by this little corner of the internet. I will ponder the zen koan nature of your final quote.

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