Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dude, where's my L5 colony?

(Insert standard blogger apology for not posting more frequently... my teaching this semester is rewarding, but it's taking up a huge chunk of time.)

In the last post I began outlining a new game concept where players take on the roles of 1960s astronauts.  We follow both the missions and the personal lives of our intrepid sky pilots, and each success helps them "improve" in various ways.  They can spend their down time honing their technical skills, or they can choose to do things that may benefit them in other ways (who wants to go on Johnny Carson?).

But if one turn is one year, then players would reach the end of the Apollo period pretty quickly. We all know that things slowed down a bit after 1972.

What if they didn't?

In the comments on the last post, Porky predicted that this game could shift into alternate futures quite easily.  Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was entranced by the grand goals of the L5 Society...

In the last post I threw out the phrase "engineering positivism" about the gung-ho early NASA period. That was nothing in comparison to the L5 peoples' attitude!  They were planning for the evolution of humanity into a fully spacefaring, space-living race.  I'm overjoyed that their full collection of L5 News PDF files is online... I'm going to read a bunch of them as inspiration for where I'd like to go with the game.

(There's a lot one could say about the sense of disappointment felt by many that these imagined futures didn't come to pass.  That's a whole 'nother post in itself.  I feel it to some degree myself, but I also cringe when I hear people say, even in jest, things like "I was promised a flying car! Where's my flying car?"  Come on... does this really look like a societal contract to anyone?)  :-)

For the game, I'm leaning in the direction of having the players choose from a set of several possible "Event packages."  (I could call them "decks" if I was settled on the use of cards, or "tables" if I was sure the players would all be familiar with D&D-style lookup charts... we'll see!)  These events will contain the possible space missions -- and their progressions and prerequisites -- as well as the "worldly" events that may occur randomly.  I'd also like to include guidelines for players to make up their own packages.  I'm hoping these will get rid of the need for a human "Game Master" (GM) and allow everyone at the table to actually play a character.

Some sets of events will be more "out there" than others.  As I work on these packages, I'll certainly start by emulating history and tracking some of the "retro-future" paths not taken.  But there's nothing stopping the game from containing increasingly sci-fi-ish elements such as alien first contact, self-aware AIs, terraforming Mars, and having to save the Earth from being hit by an asteroid.  It's a cliche, but the sky is the limit!


  1. That L5 image looks like a cornucopia. Interesting psychological effect ...

  2. Something about these rotating space colonies must spur the romantic side of the artist. The L5 Society's wikipedia page (linked above) has another opulent example.

    Of course, the modern-day reality is a little less lush... :-)

  3. This is a big part of what I had in mind. Thanks for the L5 link too - it's inspiring stuff. The big question is of course just how possible it all really was if the momentum had stayed high. If it could have happened then, it presumably could now. The key is really just that 'engineering positivism', and the speed the big interests are catching up, even against the momentum and the leftover barriers, suggests the earlier thinkers might have been close if not dead on.

    The event sets idea is very interesting. Do you think it would be possible to have the sets interact at key points? That way particular sequences of choices could lead back and forth across related sets, increasing the potential and mixing the moods. The trick there would be getting the right degree of specificity to have them comfortably compatible and congruent, but it could be as simple as building it all off a general framework, so the specifics of a general event type depend on the set that event is drawn from.

    I won't leave a link, but a few posts down my front page at the moment is a batch of four cards for a deck that has a similar interactivity. I use key words as the anchor points - maybe something similar could work here.

    Also, have a read of the way this very cool game plays for more inspiration:

  4. Thanks for the additional ideas and pointers. I didn't think to look to wargames like 40K for "GM-less" resolution tricks like your cards. This is very useful.

    High Frontier: Didn't know about that one, either. So much techy detail! I just downloaded the "living rules" documents from the Sierra Madre Games web page, and in those few dozen pages are hundreds of cool ideas. I don't think my game will go in such a hardware-focused direction, but it's great to see all those options.

    Not sure yet about inter-acting event sequences, but they will certainly be "intra-acting" :-) (i.e., the next one in the sequence will depend on what came before). All possible missions will be ranked with a kind of "difficulty level," and the world at any one time will have its own maximum current level of achievement. Comparing the two will determine how risky a mission will be. I'll have to think of a relatively simple way to figure out what subset of missions are in that intersection of the sets of "doable" and "novel enough to be worthwhile." Only those missions will be offered to the players (who will do some kind of bidding on them).

  5. I could imagine getting very immersed in High Frontier. It really evokes the possibilities of this kind of more rigorously imaginative harder sci-fi.

    One other thing you could look into is the Elite series of computer games. If you've ever played one, or can get hold of one or see how it plays, it might help with ideas for representing the physics.

    Making those sets of missions is going to be a lot of fun...