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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Imperial Destiny Page 21

     Prallan watched from the corner of Engineering as Lily and the other Engineers finished assembling the new engine.  In a few minutes, the Hermus would power up its engines and struggle to free itself from the planetoid.

     "Everything is about ready, sir." Chief Wurstol said, handing him an InfoTab.  "Tests are good, much better than I expected.  Crewman Tigrole was able to configure the inducer coil with the old engine, and everything seems to work fine.  We will know about the new engine shortly."

    "Very good, Chief."  Prallan said, handing the InfoTab back.  "Give me one good reason I should keep you as Chief after this."

    "Well, sir, if we get off this planetoid, that will be reason enough.  If not, then the Captain will take it out of your hands anyway."  She headed to help the other engineers with the coil.

--------

    "Bring engine one up to 50% power." Wurstol said.  The lights in engineering brightened from their emergency levels to a normal level.  Both engines hummed softly.  "Readings?"

     "Everything good here, Chief."  Lily said, running a scanner over the engine.  "Inducer is working at 70% efficiency."

     "Bring engine two up to full baseline power."  The engine noise increased in pitch, but the lack of sparks and fire was a good sign.

      "Engine two's inducer is at 90% efficiency.  Recommend we can push this engine by another 25% without risking burnout."  Jenkol said, scanning the other engine.

     "Let's not push our luck, Chief.  Bring engine one up to par with engine two."  Prallan said.  Both engines now hummed loudly.

     "Engine one's inducer is at 87% efficiency and stable."  Lily said.

     "Engineering to the bridge."  Prallan said into the comm panel.  "Sir, we are at baseline power levels, and stable."

     "Copy that, XO, all hands, brace for takeoff."

     Prallan placed a hand on the brace railing by the console.  If anything went wrong he wanted to be on site in Engineering.  His fate, as well as that of the Engineering crew, relied on the engines working.  The Hermus shook as it lifted off its landing skids.  As power was transferred away from the engines and into the thrusters and other systems, their noise changed pitch.  "Report?"

     "That's normal, sir."  Jenkol said.  "Transferring power away reduces the engine feedback loop.  Inducer two at 75% efficiency and falling slightly."

     Prallan gritted his teeth.  The inducers had to hold.


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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Imperial Destiny Page 20

     When Prallan returned to his quarters, the lights were all out and Lily was in bed.  He apparently was not quiet enough entering the room, because she spoke without moving from the bed.  "I'm so angry at you."

     "This situation has put me in a bad position.  If I do nothing, then discipline breaks down.  This is an alternative."

     She turned on the light and glared at him. "You could have ignored it.  You could have let this slide."  Her face was red and puffy, showing that she had been crying.  "You chose to treat your wife like this instead of considering the alternatives."  She shut the light off.  "Maybe you should sleep somewhere else.  I wouldn't want you to associate with an insubordinate crewman like me."

     "Lily...."  Prallan said.  "I can't go back on it now.  I had no idea what to do.  I'm so unprepared to handle this situation."  He sat on the bed.  "We can work through this.  We can figure out how this needs to be handled."  He touched her thigh, and she shifted away from him.

     "Go away."  She said.

-----------

     Prallan sat in the officer's mess, staring out the viewport at the barren planetoid.  "Trouble sleeping?"  A voice said from behind him.  He turned, and saw Itran standing in the doorway.

     "This is a bad situation.  I will be able to sleep in about ten hours, when we are clear of this rock."

     Itran sat down in a chair across from him.  "Assuming the inducers work, yes."

     "Why wouldn't they?  Its sound engineering."

     "Sir, we both know what is going on here.  I'm not certain the Captain knows, but I do.  The fact you confined your wife to quarters and are here instead of there means you know it too."

     "Lieutenant, I'm not certain what you mean."

     "Your wife's father is a lead scientist in a field of study that interests me.  It so happens that the theoretical work that is the building block of the experimental piece of equipment being hooked up and tested right now is a frontier of propulsion.  In the standard testing and production cycle, even assuming a full out war was in effect, it would be five years before the first prototypes would be put together.  Ten years before something workable was in production.  Triple that timeframe for a peaceful era."

    "I'm going to tell the Captain exactly what has happened once we are safely off this planetoid.  Until then, there's no point."

     "You should release your wife from her confinement.  Release her to her duties at least, Engineering could use her expertise to ensure we do get off this planetoid."

     "I'm going to recommend Engineering for the Silver Technician's Badge.  Everyone who worked on the inducer idea except Lily.  I cannot recommend her, because it is a conflict of interest."

     "I will recommend her, then.  I have no such conflict."

     "She doesn't report to you, except through the default chain of command.  I can do it, and her department head can, but nobody else except the Captain.  I doubt he will be pleased with me, or willing to reward anyone on the team that deceived him like this."

     Itran smiled.  "Things will work out, sir."  He stood.  "I should get to the bridge."

     "Unless there's a subordinate around, just call me Prallan.  You only have to call me sir by a freak accident of timing.  In another universe, I'd be calling you sir for the rest of my career."

     "Si....Prallan, I don't think for a minute you wouldn't have surpassed me at some point.  I'd rather it be by a freak accident than by clear differences in skill.  Nothing is worse for a superior than to have a junior officer surpass them, especially through a test of combat."  He walked to the door.  "It's Jules Itran, sir, in case you did not recall from my file."


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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Imperial Destiny Page 19

     Even limping on one engine, the Hermus set herself down almost gracefully onto the planetoid.  As she made contact with the ground, she shook to a halt.  Three crewmen in exosuits walked out onto the surface, carrying heavy drilling equipment.  It took three hours for the crewmen to return with a load of refined Litanium, the alloy was to toxic to refine onboard the ship.  Prallan knew it would take two days to manufacture the components and install them.  The only upside was that only a handful of engineering crewmen were needed for the process, and maintenance was minimized with the ship sitting on the planetoid.   It meant Lily was no longer pulling double or triple shifts, and he might actually see his wife occasionally over the next few days.

     Prallan quietly opened the door to his quarters.  Lily was not there, but her shift was not over for a couple hours.  He was exhausted, but the crisis had meant many hours of reports not being filed, and other piles of paperwork to sort through.  Somewhere between a supply inventory report and an injury list from the engine failure, Prallan felt that something wasn't right.  Digging through the reports, he found the one that bothered him.  It was Chief Wurstol's scans of the prototype engine.  Not being an engineer, it took him some time to make sense of it, and find what bothered him about the scans.  He pulled up an inventory of the components present when the engine was dismantled.

    Lily opened the door and smiled upon seeing him awake.  "I'm glad to see you waited up for me," she said, tossing her work satchel onto the other desk.  "No engineering equipment in bed, right?"

    "Do you trust the Chief?"

    Her smile faded.  "You want to talk about work after we haven't really been around each other in days?"

    "Not particularly, but  can't get these reports out of my head.  The component the Chief is building....the inducer coil....there doesn't seem to have been one on Engine One.  There definitely isn't one listed in the scrap."  Lily bit her lip.  "You know something about this, don't you?"

     "Do you know who my father is?"  She asked him, sitting on the edge of the bed.

     "No." He admitted.  "We haven't really had time to meet the family."  His own father was an instructor at the Academy, and his mother had died a number of years ago in a shuttle crash.

     "My father is Erdnal Brishan."

     "The famous particle theorist?  The guy whose papers make everyone else in the field look like children?"

     "Yes, that's my dad.  The point being that inducer coil is something he theorized to improve propulsion on photon-based engines.  He has written four different papers on it."

     "The point being?"

     "The inducer coils being built are prototypes.  Five of us came up with the design, based on those papers.  Simulations and initial testing indicated that there was a good chance it would work."

     "If it doesn't, then we are stranded on a planetoid on the edge of Imperial space.  At least before we could have jumped back for repairs."

    "Engine two isn't powerful enough to get us through the jump by itself.  If it was the engine we are supposed to have, then it could, but not the one we have.  The inducer should fix all of that."

    "You should have told me about this idea before we set down on the planet."  He stood from the desk, and walked over to her.  "I could have presented it to the Captain, and he could have decided what to do.  Instead, you and the others have intentionally lied to superior officers and put this ship further in danger."

     "Rickler would never have approved this, and you know that.  He would have tried the jump, the engine would have failed under the strain, and we would have all died."   She was crying now, and Prallan realized he had been yelling.

     "As Captain, that is his right.  He could order us to run into an asteroid, and he would within his rights."

     "Stop yelling at me, I am your wife."  She said, crying openly.  "We did what was best for the ship."

     "In this, you are a crewman and I am the first officer of this ship."  He headed for the door.  "You are confined to quarters until further notice.  I need to speak to your department head, and see who else I need to discipline."

----------------------------------

     The walk to engineering felt much longer than usual.  He had just dressed down his wife and confined her to quarters.  This was precisely what he had worried about.  He stepped through the doors to Engineering, and saw Chief Wurstol and several other engineers milling about the engine they were building.  "Chief, can I have a word?"

    "Of course, sir."  She handed the tool in her hand to one of the other engineers, and walked over.  "This engine should be finished in about ten hours, and inducers installed on both engines about twenty after that.  Then a few hours of testing and tuning and we will be on our way."

     Making sure they were out of earshot, Prallan said in a low voice.  "Assuming the unproven prototype your team invented actually works."

    The Chief's face went white.  "Sir, its the only way we can...."

     "We are stuck on a planetoid unless it works, so it had better.  I have not yet made up my mind as to when I will bring this to the Captain's attention, but it will be brought to his attention."

     "So, you are going to let us continue?"

     "I don't have a choice.  I've read your reports, these engines need the theoretical boost of the inducer to get us safely off this planetoid and through a jump point.  If you succeed, then you have field tested a theoretical component successfully and validated years of theory and research.  If it fails, we are no worse off than we are now."

     "Thank you, sir, I...."

     "Crewman Tigrole has been confined to quarters for the time being.  Don't make my wife lie to me in the future."  Prallan turned and left engineering, dreading with every step the conversation he would have when he reached his quarters.


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Saturday, February 1, 2014

WoW's success might also be its downfall

I was playing a free pandaria trial of World of Warcraft this week.  In about three days I got my 85 death knight to 90, and tinkered around with a few of the other aspects of the game.  While some of the improvements are very solid (multi-loot, for example), I can't help but feel two things: 1. The server population is much lower than I remember and 2. The same missions and mission types are being used over and over again.

It seems to me that everyone is "done" with pandaria.  Serious players maxed out end-game reputations already, and have beaten the major raids.  With Warlords comings sometime this year, it makes zero sense to gear up when item levels will just receive a major boost again at the next expansion.  As a comparison, I user my Gurthalak, Voice of the Deeps, until level 86, and it only lasted that long because I didn't want to death gate out and put a new rune on the axe I got as a quest reward.  Now, it was just the LFR version of the sword (item level 390), but even the heroic one would have only lasted until 88, when I got several item level 414+ weapons (from quests accessible much earlier than 88).  In all honesty, it took about 4 or 5 LFR runs to get that sword, but when I think about all the other purple gear I had, and all the time and effort put into those (all gone by the time I hit 87), it makes me not want to do it again, ahead of the next expansion.  WoW PVP has not interested me since the original twink era, and with all the redone classes it turns into an even bigger gear game.

This is such a sharp contrast to the vanilla WoW I remember.  There, everyone was doing whatever they could to gear up for raids, and get as much gear as they could.  Blizzard was releasing new content almost as fast as people could conquer it.  Not to mention that getting to 60 was so much of a longer journey.  Raiding actually required farming materials, using professions, getting geared before stepping foot into a raid.  Reputation factions were a major grind, where there weren't as many dailies (if any at all) to ease your way.  The three PVP factions were actually good sources of gear in general, for PVP or PVE.  Above all the game was fun, even for all the challenges.

The quest type problems are a consistent theme in WoW.  I think that the "quest node" idea has been taken a little too far with MoP.  Every zone has about eight to ten areas where quests are given out.  You usually have three to four "rounds" of quests for these areas, culminating in a harder quest (longer or more difficult) and that one usually rewards a piece of blue gear.  Rinse and repeat about fifty times.  Most of these are kill x creatures, kill boss creature, gather x drops, or gather x items from clickables.  There are some rare exceptions, but I don't recall any of these being fun.  They were a chore list.  It is not helped at all by the fact that you cannot fly in pandaria until 90.  This, to me, makes zero sense.  It resulted in me racing to 90, and getting flying, only to look around the area and discover all the areas that were previously inaccessible held lvl 90 mobs and were typically sites for dailies.  So, they basically repeated what they did in TBC with that.

The net result is that the game is no fun.  The lore is still interesting, but I can read wowpedia for that.  There is nothing in this game for me anymore.  Warlords might change that with Garrisons, but I feel like I am just going to be disappointed with the way Blizzard will do those.  I will be even more disappointed when they announce another new expansion shortly after Warlords goes live.

WoW was released in November, 2004.  TBC was released January, 2007 (26 months later).  WotLK was released  November, 2008 (22 months later).  Cataclysm was released December, 2010 (25 months later).  Pandaria was released September 2012 (22 months later).  Warlords will be released sometime this year, if we assume December that is 27 months (though 25 months seems more likely, which would be October, meaning beta should be April).  This 2ish year release cycle makes the game predictable.  6 months of solid playtime, levelling characters, completing original raids, doing server events.  Then 6 more months of raiding the newer content that is patched in or gates are lifted to make it available.  Finally, the next expansion is released, and there is 6-10 months of languish while everyone leaves to do more fun things.  Then the beta hits, people get interested, and start setting up their accounts and characters to be ready for it.  Then the cycle repeats.

I will certainly try to be a beta tester for Warlords, and I will be watching, but something needs to change about WoW, or it will stop making enough money for Blizzard to keep developing it.  The cosmetic upgrades will certainly help, but it will be too little too late if they don't change the game's structure.

-VG

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Imperial Destiny Page 18

    Four days of dim lighting and stale air, and they were no nearer a solution than they had been at the beginning of the crisis.  The Hermus was in a stable orbit, but the crew were crammed into the common areas, life support was being diverted from unoccupied areas to other critical systems and to charge the reserves.  If the second engine went offline, those reserves would be the only power source until they repaired either of the engines.  Prallan walked into Engineering, nearly stepping on several people.  In the corner, he saw Lily bundled into a sleeping bag.  He walked over to her and gently shook her should.

    "Give me five more minutes or I will hit you with a flow calibrator."  She muttered in her sleep.

     "Remind me to not let you bring any engineering equipment to bed with you."

     Lily opened her eyes.  "Is it something important?  I just pulled a double and this bulkhead isn't comfortable."

     "I just hadn't seen you at all in the last two days, and wanted to check on you."

     "I am tired and cross.  Let me sleep."  She closed her eyes and quickly fell back asleep.  Prallan smiled at his wife, and walked over to what appeared to be a large pile of scrap.

     "Lieutenant," Captain Rickler said, nodding to him.  He was standing in the middle of the pile, talking to Chief Wurstol.  "The Chief was just telling me that this collection of crap is Engine One."

     "I will take her word on it, sir, the last time I saw it it was still in the nacelle."

     "We took it apart to diagnose the problem."  Wurstol said, picking up a badly scorched piece of metal.  "This was a photon flow regulator.  The engines we are supposed to have don't have them, the same concept is built into the design.  They put things like this on experimental engines so they can tune and tweak them until they find a good flow rate, then they build that into the design itself."

     "So your hunch was correct, we had an experimental engine?" Prallan asked.

     "Yes, sir.  It was only a matter of time until this part failed.  It probably stopped working properly after our jump into Spica, and burnt out completely four days ago, which caused the engine to overload."

     "If you replace the regulator, can you get the engine working again?"  The captain asked.

     "Its not that easy, sir.  The regulator I could build out of spare components and materials, but the engine's core was damaged, along with a dozen other parts.  Rebuilding it in a spaceyard with the right materials would take a few days.  Here with whatever I can scrounge would take weeks.  Even then, the new regulator could fail at any point, leaving us in the same situation."

     Rickler set his jaw firmly, thinking hard.  "I don't want this to happen in the middle of a battle.  Other options?"

     "We have one good engine.  I want to build an enhanced version of it...two actually, a new one and enhancements to the other one.  I can salvage what remains of this engine's core as the base of the new engine, and build the rest out of materials we have on hand, all except the inducer coil."

     "What do you need that we don't have?"  Prallan asked.

     "Litanium.  The inducer coil has to be made of it.  This one is shot." She kicked a part with her foot.  "The molecular composition is too broken down to refine into a working coil.  I need fresh Litanium.  Luckily, the planetoid we are orbiting has a deposit of it."

     "How are we going to get it?  We don't have any shuttles.   We have two drop pods, but we wouldn't be able to get them back once launched."  Prallan said.

     "We will need to land the ship."  Rickler said.  "On one engine, running on backup power."

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Imperial Destiny Page 17

     The Hermus was lazily orbiting Vega IV, a small planetoid located on the fringe of the binary star system.  Wurstol had sent him ten different reports on the interesting aspects of the interacting photospheres of the two stars, and theories as to why from settled Imperial space, they appeared to be one, slightly fluctuating, star.  The radiation of these two stars was unusual, and it interfered with their detailed scans of the system.  Two days of recalibrating had brought their equipment back to acceptable levels of quality needed for the mission.  They had detected one other jump point, besides the one to Spica, so where they were heading after the surveys were complete was easily decided.

     The bridge door opened, and Lieutenant Itran walked in.  Prallan checked the time display on the command chair.  The younger officer was early by about ten minutes.  He had shown himself to be a good officer, despite having no Academy training.  "Quiet day so far.  Scanning this rock for another four hours, then moving on to the last one."

     "Very good, sir." Itran said.  "I am ready to relieve you at your leisure."  The only thing Prallan could think of that irked him about the second officer, and that was that he hated standing around with his superiors.  He preferred to be in charge, and seemed very unsure of what he should do with himself otherwise.  His comment was a gentle way of saying 'Please leave the bridge.'

     "If you want to be a command officer, you are going to have to get used to being around other officers, especially those above your rank."  Prallan said it softly enough that none of the bridge crew would hear him.  "I think you can survive ten minutes more with me."

     "Sir, I can take care of the bridge for an extra ten minutes.  What harm would come of you leaving a few minutes early?"

     Prallan was about to respond when the lights on the bridge flickered, before going out completely.  Red emergency lights lit up, and all of the consoles were rebooting.  Prallan tapped the intercom button.  "Engineering, we are experiencing a power failure on the bridge."

     "Copy that, sir," Wurstol's voice came over the intercom.  "We've had it here to.  Looks like engine one has shut off.  We are working on getting power restored using engine two, but  we will have to kill all non-vital power usage.  Give me ten minutes."

     "As quick as you can, Chief."  Prallan turned off the intercom.  "Status, please."

     "Weapons and long-range sensors offline, sir.  I have short-range sensors only."

     "I have partial thrust from engine two, no thrust from engine one.  Maneuvering thrusters are intermittently online.  Sir, I'm not sure I can maintain our orbit."

     "How long until our orbit decays?"

     "Ten hours, give or take.  If I can get more power to the maneuvering thrusters or thrust from engine two I can put us into a stable orbit."

     "Internal sensors are down across the ship.  Life support is fully operational.  Lifts are not operational, we have one that is stuck between decks, but I cannot tell if anyone is on it."

     "Shields are not operational.  Internal forcefield generators are also not operational.  Sir, we are very vulnerable to micrometeorites and other debris."

     "Triage your systems.  Shut off anything we don't need.  Priorities are life support, thrusters and engines until we establish a stable orbit, and then shields and internal forcefields.  Get a team to the lift to verify if anyone is in it.  I will be in engineering."  Prallan walked to the door, which remained shut as he approached.  "Someone wake up the Captain."  He pulled the release latch, and pushed the door open, heading out into the corridor.

-------------------------------------

     Engineering was a wreck.  Wiring and components were pulled out of their housing, and a dozen crewmen were scanning everything in site.  Chief Wurstol was having a heated argument with one of the male crewmen, until she noticed Prallan walking up.  "Sorry for the mess, sir."

     "If tearing apart all of engineering gets my power back, have at it."  Prallan said.  "What is our status?"

     "Not good, sir."  She nodded to the crewman.  "Jenkol here thinks that they gave us a bad engine."

     "A bad engine?  How bad?"

     "Well, sir," Jenkol said, shifting nervously.  "Its like this, sir.  Engine one, she doesn't look anything like Engine two.  I never noticed it before, because usually we only service one at a time, and we've only done a couple bits of maintenance on the whole engine.  She don't look anything like her schematic either, sir."

     "Neither engine looks like the schematic.  Engine two is a DLR-53, smaller than the TJ-40 that we are supposed to have, but a nice engine.  Engine One is nothing I've ever seen.  The design is similar to a TJ-42, but has a bunch of additional components strapped on.  My hunch is the yard, in their rush to get this ship fitted, threw on whatever they had, leaving us with an experimental engine and a small one."

     "How soon can you get Engine one fixed?"

     "All of my experience is with fusion force drives.  I understand the theory of the photon thrust drives, but I've never worked on one.."

     "Don't we have an engine specialist?  Surely they have worked on one before."

     "That would be me, sir."  Jenkol.  "I'm a fusion force specialist, sir.  I had a brief training on photon thrust systems, but nothing useful here, sir."

     "Then I recommend you start taking that experimental engine apart and see if you can get it working again.  First, though, get the conn whatever power you can to thrusters.  We need to establish a stable orbit."

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Nemesis

I saw a recent video for Shadows of Mordor, and something about it has me very excited.  That this is the Nemesis system it is going to have.  More or less, certain NPC enemies will dynamically become recurring enemies, bearing the scars of previous conflicts with them when you face them again.  This seems absolutely awesome, and it has some immersion that many modern games lack.

I think that games are moving more and more to dynamic, player-driven stories.  Procedurally generated maps and enemies are already a common thing, so making NPCs that way too isn't that much more difficult (depending on the complexity of the system).  I think we could be approaching a time where a game is little more than a loose setting, and the rest is generated on the fly as the player interacts with the world.

This is much the way I DM my Dungeons and Dragons sessions.  I have a general idea of where the campaign is going and I know the names and archetypes of the major players involved, but I certainly don't have all the details created.  I give those out as they are needed, creating them and making notes as I go along.  For example, if your party comes along some bandits robbing a caravan, and you never talk to the people in it, I don't have the wasted work of naming them and fleshing them out.  However, I do know its a minor merchant from the nearby town, I just haven't given him a name.  If I need an NPC that owes the party something in the future, nameless McMerchant is available, but I don't have to figure out his motivations until then.  Similarly, if the party has no interest in the leaders of the local church, then they don't need to exist on paper.  Later on, when they become central to some plot, then they can become fleshed out.

I also like reusing hooks I've dropped later on in the story.  For example, if there are some odd markings on a tree somewhere in Adventure 1, then Adventure 5 might have them show up again, revealing that some monster has been in the area all along and they almost became its lunch many levels ago.  I have had very positive feedback from players because of this, and they feel very immersed.

So how do we get this into a game?  Well, I think we need a storage of things flagged as interesting or reusable.  Then, when the game needs an NPC, for example, it looks at this list, and picks from it.  It then fleshes the character out in more detail and introduces it into the story.  Same thing for interesting details.  Maybe flag something to randomly reappear later, and have an associated questline if it gets investigated.  Something like the aforementioned marking.  If the player investigates it, he might eventually come across some fel beast.

In this way, you can have enemies that you don't quite completely kill off come back to ruin your life, and maybe those that you let live will see the error of their ways instead, and become a force of good.  I can see a lot of potential, but the system would have to be carefully created.

-VG