Eclipse Phase – Part 1

Eclipse Phase

“An ‘eclipse phase’ is the period between when a cell is infected by a virus and when the virus appears within the cell and transforms it. During this period, the cell does not appear to be infected, but it is.”

That little quote is taken from the website of what is currently one of my favourite RPG Games, Eclipse Phase (http://http://eclipsephase.com/).

Recently I was pondering what my next Blog Entry should be, I don’t want to fill it with uninteresting crap or get preachy at people, so I think I’m going to take a moment to talk about this game, what I love about it and what we as a group are doing with it.

Part 1 – The Basics

Eclipse Phase is a Sci Fi roleplaying game which sits firmly in the transhumanist sci fi genre, human science is massively advanced in many ways, a person’s mind can be copied and moved from one body to another (allowing shifts between biological and synthetic bodies, called ‘Morphs’ in the games terminology), it can also be copied (allowing people to have multiple instances of themselves existing at the same time) and/or stripped down and turned into a ‘Fork’ of that person’s personality (a limited function copy that can carry out specific tasks).

Nanotechnology exists and while not perfect has allowed most of the solar system to move beyond a limited scarcity based economy and into a reputation based one based on an advanced form of barter.

Extremely limited space travel is available, there are in system craft but they tend to be ungainly and very single purpose, in system shuttles and cargo movers for the most part.  Most ‘travel’ though uses a system of farcasting where the person ego (their mind) is transmitted from one location in system to another and then loaded into a body.

Earth has been all but destroyed, a hard take-off singularity event occurred that caused a number of hyper-advanced AI’s called Titans wiped out 90% of humanity in a single short and brutal campaign, it’s the remnants of this conflict that make Earth a wasteland now, radiation, bio & nano weapons and other stranger stuff stalk the graveyard that Earth has become.

Towards the end of this conflict the Titans vanished and no-one knows where they went.

AI still exists, but as AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) rather than the recursively self-improving ‘Seed’ AI that led to the Titans, AGIs grow more slowly and are hardcoded to prevent the kind of hard take-off singularity that caused The Fall.

There are also uplifts, various animals who have been uplifted to a human scale of intelligence; these range from the classic apes and dolphins to giant whales that have been modified to swim the corona of the Sun itself.

There are Pandora Gates that open wormholes and lead to strange places (this is the only known way of travelling beyond the solar system) and sometimes close and open without any reason (they are a bit like weirder and less understood Stargates).

Into all of this expansion and chaos comes a covert group called ‘Firewall’ (which owes a lot to the ideas put forwards in Global Frequency), they are a self-organising group of experts and agents who take responsibility for investigating and counter ‘Existential Threats’.

Part 2 – The System & Character Gen

The game uses a very simple D100 system but is designed to be extremely flexible and accounts for all the various play options, various types of biological and synthetic morphs, uplifts, AGI, etc.

As for the character, there are 7 core stats:

  • Cognition (COG) is your aptitude for problem solving, logical analysis, and understanding. It also includes memory and recall.
  • Coordination (COO) is your skill at integrating the actions of different parts of your morph to produce smooth, successful movements. It includes manual dexterity, fine motor control, nimbleness, and balance.
  • Intuition (INT) is your skill at following your gut instincts and evaluating on the fly. It includes physical awareness, cleverness, and cunning.
  • Reflexes (REF) is your skill at acting quickly. This encompasses your reaction time, your gut-level response, and your ability to think fast.
  • Savvy (SAV) is your mental adaptability, social intuition, and proficiency for interacting with others. It includes social awareness and manipulation.
  • Somatics (SOM) is your skill at pushing your morph to the best of its physical ability, including the fundamental utilization of the morph’s strength, endurance, and sustained positioning and motion.
  • Willpower (WIL) is your skill for self-control, your ability to command your own destiny.

And a number of secondary ones calculated from these.  The basic system is Stat+Skill roll equal to or under on D100, there are two mechanisms used here, in a standard test the further under the total you roll the better you do (similar to the Degrees of success that the Dark Heresy line uses) and then when you are engaged in an opposed test the idea is to get under you total but roll high.

The secondary stats cover things like your lucidity and mental resilience, this is important because mental trauma plays almost as much, if not more, a role than the physical stats.

These systems are really easy to pick up and because you’re dealing with a D100 based system adding modifiers is very simple.

Interestingly enough you get other modifiers from your Morph (the body you inhabit) but they are treated as equipment bonuses.

The actual skills list is fairly predictable with many of the basic scifi skills you’d expect and only a couple of odd naming choices, for example Fray encompasses unarmed attack and defence.  Buying skills is easy, they are 1 character point for 1 skill point up to a skill total of 60 (the aptitude level serves as the skill base) so for example if you have a stat of 10 and want a skill of 30 that will cost you 20 points.  To then go over 60 you have to spend 2 cp for each skill point.  You can however buy specialisations to boost a specific area of a skill.

There are some nice touches in the EP skill system, you are required, for example, to spend a certain minimum amount of skill point of knowledge and interest skills, this ensures that every character has hobbies, random areas of knowledge and/or multiple languages.

All of your character generation is done from a single pool of points, with that pool you buy your skills, aptitudes (stats), starting morph, additional reputation and other gear.  You start with 1000 points, of which 400 must be spent on what are called Active Skills & 300 must be spent on Knowledge Skills, that leaves you with 300 to play with, which doesn’t sound like much but in general is plenty.

Once you’ve got your origin (Human, uplift or AGI), Faction, aptitudes & skills sorted you buy your starting Morph and here you have to make the first of a number of decisions that resonate with the whole EP ethos.

Do you choose Synthetic, Biomorph or Pod (Assembly line bodies created cheaply using a fusion of bio & synth technologies), there are advantages and disadvantages to each.  For example Synths are stronger and more resilient, they are also available in a number of different forms and for a variety of functions but they are not good at interaction skills (they are penalised due to poor body language and lack of other queues), Biomorphs on the don’t suffer those penalties but are squishy, even with mods and gene-fixing they are more likely to suffer damage from environmental sources than synths, finally Pods are a halfway house and offer some of the advantages of both side but they are limited in that they are often produced for specific things (she’s your basic pleasure model).

Then you go nuts on the equipment.  There are drugs, implants, weapons, armour & tech galore, some systems are only available for biomorphs, some for synthmorphs, but they are generally quite balanced.  Same goes for weapons, the various weapons are nicely designed to look good and have different advantages and disadvantages that generally balance them out, so there is no clear ‘Buy this gun or you’re a moron’ situation.

In summation though Eclipse Phase is the single best written and best supported Sci Fi game in existence at the moment, their fan engagement and production schedules are brilliant and the fact that the PDF versions of the books are given away under an open source licence shows that different business models do have the legs to make in the market.

The sheer amount of cool stuff in EP is just beyond belief and the easiest way to demonstrate this is to show you the character generation process.  So keep your eyes peeled for my next update where we will generate an EP character.

Console, Games, Music, Books & DRM

Something that I feel has been bubbling under my threshold of rage for the past little while is the ever increasing presence of DRM in my life and all the problems it’s causing me.  So I’m going to talk a little bit about why I’m so opposed to it.

First up, let me get this straight from the very beginning, I fully support the writers, developers, artists etc.  A number of good friends of mine make their living in the creative industries and they deserve to get paid for the awesome work they do.

Right then DRM first; this is the core of all the problems and, in my opinion, also the cause of a lot of piracy as the more intrusive the DRM gets the higher the incentive the get the pirated version.  DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, it is basically a way that the providers of content (note this is not the creators) or the creators of hardware trying to assert their ownership of the thing you have just purchased.

Now you can probably tell from my wording above that I have a huge bias here, I HATE DRM and all that it stands for, the DRM/Walled Garden model is one of the primary reasons I have such a problem with Apple and their products.  DRM is, in my opinion, actively harmful to the development of new technology and any kind of creative innovation as well as a method of actively punishing consumers.

The pro-DRM group always try to make the case that we are not purchasing the product only a licence to use it under conditions they can specify.  This is bullshit in my opinion.  If I buy something I own it, I can modify it and resell it however I want and you can all fuck the hell off.

Again, in danger of getting a bit ranty about that, so moving on….

But what about the pirates?

The reason often given for companies calling for stricter DRM and other controls is that piracy is costing them a fortune, this is (I believe) a total lie.  Most people who have downloaded a pirated album, game or movie simply wouldn’t have bothered to buy the product in the first place, hence why the figures quoted by the ass-hats over at the RIAA & MPAA (I’m using the American organisations in this example as they are both louder and more obviously evil that the UK versions) are nonsensical.

DRM & The Future Games market

This is the problem at the moment, the reliance on DRM and the legal ‘stick’ is now at a point where it is actively harming things.  I know several people who are massively into the computer games scene who have actively refused to by recently released titles because of the requirement for an always on internet connection for DRM verification.  I also know at least one or two who went out and purchased the game, then downloaded the pirated version just because it was a more fun experience without the intrusive DRM.

Microsoft have suggested that the next generation Xbox may require you to have an always on internet connection to play _any_ game at all, if that’s the case then I simply won’t be buying one, same with Sony and the next gen Playstation, if it requires an always on connection then I’m simply not buying it.

Read All About It

Ok then, books.  Everyone loves a book (or should do in my opinion) and eBooks have exploded onto the scene in the past couple of years, unfortunately this again brings up the topic of embedded DRM.

I have a Kindle (which I have fallen utterly in love with) and I am fully aware of the DRM issues surrounding Amazon’s format and the limitations an eBook has, for example I cannot lend or gift an eBook to anyone at the moment, which is quite annoying, and I cannot buy a Kindle book as a gift yet.  Hopefully these things will come and in general Amazon is considerably less evil than Apple.

The biggest issue for me at the moment is the stupid pricing in the UK, we are charged VAT on eBooks (an extra 20%) but not of the physical ones, this means that in a lot of cases an eBook is actually more expensive than its dead tree counterpart despite having much cheaper manufacturing costs (i.e. the layout and upload to Amazon).

What This Means for Me

Pretty basic, I object to DRM in all its forms and companies who consistently endorse stronger controls on these things will be companies I will not be doing business with.

The Future – Technology Snapshot

One of the things I spend quite a lot of time thinking about each day is cool new technology. So I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’ve come across.

First up my friend Savs (@21stCenturySci) mentioned this on G+ today: http://www.txchnologist.com/2012/charged-up-electric-rockets-are-set-to-transform-space-flight

This article talks about Electric Rockets, a very cool emerging technology that provides a much more efficient engine for use in space. You still need good old chemical rockets to get out of the gravity well but once in space something like is just much much more efficient and cheaper to run.

The reason this is cool is that a large chunk of our future as a species is going to be in space. Our planet only has a limited amount of resources and we are going to run out, at which point importing them from space is a good plan. The best way to do it is looking to be unmanned vessels, so we don’t care that it takes 10 years to do a round trip (please note for the space nerds, 10 years is a number I just pulled out of the air) and a more efficient engine is much cheaper.

Second, Ubuntu for Android: http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/android

This is a very exciting project. The basic idea, as I understand it, is that most modern smartphones are as powerful as a decent PC (Dual core processor, 2-4gb RAM 16gb+ storage) and also have hi-def video out, USB & can use Blue Tooth Peripherals such as keyborads. The ‘app’ contains a fully functional deployment of Ubuntu which can be started when the phone is docked and connected to an external screen/keyboard combo this lets your phone function as a full desktop replacement. This is the first real step in device convergence and looks really promising.

Third is V-to-V Technology: http://money.cnn.com/2012/02/21/autos/vehicle_communication_v2v/index.htm?iid=HP_LN&hpt=hp_t3

V-to-V stands for Vehicle to Vehicle and is an idea that a computer system in a car will communicate with all other nearby cars, sharing info such as road quality, current speed, accel/deccel, direction of travel etc. This means that cars can warn each other about accidents and hazards, if one car spins out then the others will know its spun out and will be able to adjust for this and actively avoid/reduce the collision.

Mate this technology with things like traffic lights, emergency services sirens and possibly even a mobile app that could warn cars of your presence and you have a system that could dramatically increase the safety of motoro vehicles.

Finally I want to mention Google Drive: http://www.gottabemobile.com/2012/02/09/google-drive-rumored-to-launch-soon/

Rumors have been flying around about this for quite a while and I am quite excited about it. I am a Dropbox user, I use it for all kinds of stuff and find it to be incredibly handy. Now if Google manage to make a cloud storage solution that is as easy to use and friendly as Gmail/G+/Google Docs then Dropbox are going to have a serious competitor. Hopefully more news about Google Drive will be available over the next month or so.

Anyway, I think thats it for this entry. Don’t want you all to start thinking that this will become a thing. 🙂