Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Sci-fi Needs Gelatin Badly

Rather than have this blog post rapidly degrade into a semantics argument about the differences between sci-fi and fanasty, I'm going to focus on an example of how the genre could be more like titles such as "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Solaris" instead of the sloppy goop we get way too much of these days.  Of course, this blog is about video games so we'll limit ourselves to that medium of entertainment.

Now, I know a lot of gamers out there probably hear the words hard sci-fi and automatically translate that into really boring.  Sometimes this is true.  After all, science keeps us from doing really cool/fun stuff, right? That's why Mass Effect and Star Wars are awesome and the crap I mentioned in the first paragraph sucks, right?  Well...lets look at a recently released sci-fi video game, shall we?

Dead Space is an iconic third person horror/action game set in a science fiction backdrop.  Plausibility is an important aspect of both horror and action in that the more things stick to reality, the more tension can be produced.  So, the more realistic the backdrop the more exciting it will be, abstractly speaking.  Sadly, the setting in Dead Space never really tried to emulate reality any more than Star Trek: Voyager did, and it's my opinion that the series suffered for it.  Namely, most of the liberties the designers chose to take were completely unnecessarily.  Shockpoint FTL travel...why?  Aside from being unexplained, it reduces the feeling of isolation.  Some kind of conventional concept proven form of propulsion like a fission pulse drive would have been so much more evocative for the setting.

Aegis VII could have just as easily been replaced by an over sized ball of rock floating in the Kuiper belt or the Oort cloud (if you want to get really remote).  Titan Station can remain unchanged, and if you need an ice planet for the role of Tau Volantis the real moon, Enceladus (also in orbit around Saturn), would work perfectly fine.

As for the magic MacGuffin markers and their effects, why not give them some plausibility in the form of xeno nano-machine factories?  Or better yet prion generators.  Another possibility would be that the Markers emit Strangelet particles. Regardless of which sounds best, any of the above would be preferable to the vague defined energy field that does whatever the writers want it to do.  In other words, rule of cool doesn't always apply because awesomeness is subjective.

I guess the point I'm really trying to make is we have plenty of unknowns in the world that can be explored in science fiction. Game developers might think they have to throw reality to the wind to make the futuristic game they want to make, but the truth is it's just plain old lazy design.  If writers can tell stories working within the constraints of poetic verses, then sci-fi setting creators can show actual science a little more respect.  

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