I seriously thought about posting this under the subject line of
"What Hard Science (or Reality-based) Gaming Means to Me"
My short stay on the Traveller Mailing List (TML) this summer introduced me to a large cross-section of Traveller fans/players/referees on the 'net. The TML has a rather diverse population of people that fit into no mold. Watching and thinking and analyzing the events of the "list", culminating with the "spreadsheet" response, which one of my own players, uninfluenced by TML, echoed the same sentiments about Fire, Fusion, and Steel II (FF&S2).
It recently occured to me that I could try to reach a number of disparate groups of Travellers with an approach to the status of the game that I believe is mostly untried. The bashing of FF&S2 pointed out several things to me, which brings me to the "hard science" comment above. I lifted those words from the sidebar of the article in Pyramid #25, which I only recently had read. (A pleasing discovery was the line, "So, we had to fill in the holes." Yeeeessssssss, that's what I have been saying for awhile now.)
Having nearly completed my B.S. in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Colorado at Denver, USA, I realized recently, while playing a gaming session of Traveller, that my referee, in his latest incarnation of a Traveller campaign c.1100, was trying to approach the game from as much a "realist's" perspective as possible. Realist is my euphemism for "gearheading", and like it or not, "gearhead" is becoming euphemistic. He had even gone so far as to abandon anti-grav.
In the past, I have used a play on the old Traveller slogan, "Science (Fiction) Adventure in the Far Future." I have been rethinking this, and have come to a major realization about the problem with this attitude.
The vented frustration of one of the list members, while somewhat heated, was very accurate and hit right to the point. I won't condemn him on some of the language he used attacking gearheads, partially because I know what it can be like to be frustrated to that point, and also because it should have caused everybody to consider the reasoning behind his claim. Anyway, onward.
That referee I mentioned above, is the only one of our group (he and I alternate refereeing) without out a "hard" computer background. I have been in the industry back to "Jurassic" times (1979). One player is the IT director for a large taxi-cab company here in Denver. Another is a Software Engineer for Hewlett-Packard in Fort Collins, and the other player and I used to work together, and now works on computers for the U.S. government at the Bureau of Land Management. Two other players of my former campaign are also computer engineers of one sort or another.
We have a combined industry experience exceeding 80 years! As it turns out, only my character has Computer skill, derived from his Robotics skill. During one session, we got caught up in "what was possible to do and what wasn't" and I got the motivation for this Traveller Solution Series.
It is very likely, though he would never admit it, that our referee felt quite intimidated by his player group. At the same time, it is possible that he just did not have a very well thought out "view" of computers in a "Far Future" setting. In any case, the level of frustration I felt, since I was the one with the skill, and the real-world experience, led me to design an entirely new Computer Architecture.
Having the undergraduate experience tucked away, and realizing that there are not too many people "pioneering" new computer architectures for several hundred years down the road, I could (facetiously) make the argument that I have a PhD for these purposes in Computer Architecture.
The first article for the Traveller Solution Series is for a Computer Architecture designed to provided a "hard science" feel for it, and at the same time, leave all the vagueness of what I call "Black Box Design", where a Jump drive, for example is simply a man-made machine which weighs X tons, provides performance of Jump-Y in a ship of Z tons total displacement. It requires Y*0.1*Z tons of fuel per Jump-Y. There are other details, but it really is that simple.
Remember: we can make more and more complex models, but ultimately, all we have are models, and barely even working prototypes. I think it would be really cool if other referees with areas of knowledge, expertise, or experience, could provide similar presentations for future subjects to be posted to the Traveller Solution Series. [This sentiment is enthusiastically seconded by the Freelance Traveller editorial staff!]
The goal should not be lost sight of: having fun. If gearhead bashing or too much gearheading start interfering with a campaign, it should be done away with since the original goal was to have fun.
This post/series is not for everyone, but it may help some of those who don't have PhDs or a lifetime of experience in a given field.
Remember, those of us in the scientific community have an obligation to everyone else we share ideas with. Many of those with other experiences may not appreciate being subjected to the ups and downs of scientific experimentation, building that hypothesis with all of its considerations and assumptions, then going for the roller coaster ride of publishing the hypothesis, developing conclusions from it, extrapolating the future, and then in a few years time, revising the hypothesis given the findings from the new experience of testing the hypothesis.
We are only constructing models of reality, and any sufficiently advanced reality will always be distinguishable from the models. We may be rationalizing our complex models on the basis of our understanding, but that does not make it any less a "willful suspension of disbelief" than anybody else's.
By the way, I was always an opponent of Traveller: The New Era's AI Virus for many of my instincts about what computers are capable of. After all, they are just 1's and 0's and with fun things like AI, or expert systems, or whatever the latest "craze" is, it is easy to lose sight of that fact. Admittedly, the problem with TNE's Virus was not so much the Virus itself, but its effects on the Universe. Many of us still attacked the AI Virus on technical grounds rather than just bellyache, give us back the Imperium.
Anyway, TSS#1 can even be used to justify and explain the TNE AI Virus, which I considered a good test of the feasibility of my design. Let's put the "Fiction" back with the Science and get the players of this game back together, rather than petty squabbling about the particular version we all have a particular fondness for.
It can also be used to justify/explain Book 2/High Guard computer tonnages, energy requirements, etc. or any other computer system for that matter.
I invite other TSS subjects to be posted, including alternative Computer Architectures of the same intent.