Thursday, May 11, 2017

More and more and more space opera

I find that I may be in danger of losing my focus.  After discovering White Star by serendipity, I'm investigating all kinds of other sci-fi (especially space opera) games.  Some of them I've heard of but never investigated (like Thousand Suns and Star Without Number while others are just old and hoary but kind of beyond my experience (like d6 Space or Shatterzone which were "leftovers" if you will of West End's run on Star Wars) and others are ones that I did know but have lost touch with or never really fully explored as much as I should have (like Traveller, Star*DriveRogue Trader or Star Frontiers.)  And some that I've heard of, I'm not even investigating at all, although I would like to (Fading Suns, for instance.)  And I might even pull out my old DragonStar book and have a look at Starfinder material as it becomes available.

In a way, this feels a bit like George Lucas' own experience before embarking on writing Star Wars—he bought up and read as much as he could of old comic books, every space opera novel he could get his hands on, etc.—he really steeped himself in the stuff so that no good idea that might have been in print would pass unseen by his eyes before coming up with Star Wars itself.  And I'm only talking about secondary products; I've also got, of course, lots and lots of actual novels and whatnot to read as well, video games to play, even comic books to read, and movies and TV shows to watch—if I had unlimited time to do all that, which of course I don't.  And in many of them, I find stuff that's easy to love.  But I'm also finding that 1) this space is really quite saturated.  Nearly as much so, in fact, as the fantasy RPG market.  No wonder so many of these have come and gone over the years, most without making too much of a splash.  And 2) It's easy to get distracted and lose sight of the fact that I'm trying to emulate Star Wars and then have my off-brand Star Wars evolve on its own organically, not fuse it with something else necessarily.  Also, 3) This may be more true for genres other than fantasy (maybe) but I see little of mechanical innovation either happening, or being celebrated either one.  Rather, what people seem to be looking for is a toolkit approach that is simple, elegant, flexible and easy to use.  Toolkits like hexcrawl populators are nice—Stars Without Number may well have trumped Traveller as the go-to world generator system, but not necessarily because it was so innovative as opposed to it simply being easier to use and its ability to generate output that is more immediately useful than Traveller's rather esoteric, jargony output.  Finally, 4) with so many options available, many of them toolkits that service potentially multiple uses and settings, one has to ask why (at least in the RPG realm) one would wish to adventure in an imitation Star Wars when one can use the real thing?

Of course, when not talking about personal gaming—writing fiction, for instance, or writing an actual game that I might wish to present to someone beyond my friends—the answer to that last question is quite simple, and similar to the impetus for Lucas to create Star Wars in the first place: he couldn't get the Flash Gordon license.  The second reason is to clean out all of the junk that Star Wars has accreted.  I tried this with STAR WARS REMIXED—i.e., do what Knights of the Old Republic did and separate myself sufficiently from the canonical stories that I had plenty of space to do my own thing, but go the opposite direction.  Instead of 3,000 or so years before the prequels, it was 1,000+ years after the end of the Empire.  But I'm finding in some ways that the junk has become so ingrained that it's almost easier just to reboot and start over the way I want it to really look.  And, of course, I like tinkering for its own sake.  It's actively hard for me to do anything "by the book", especially hobbyist endeavors.

With regards to the first point, the saturation means a couple of things, one of which is that the genre really kind of has a "lingo" if you want to call it that—stuff that you can just simply include and not bother explaining, because so many others have done so already.  This is a great short-hand, and makes things like some magic powers (often with a pseudo-science label like psionics or something like that, FTL, humanoid aliens, space empires, swordfighting on starships, etc.) all feel like something that we already know and accept "just because."  It also means that innovation isn't really what we're looking for, is it?  Execution is what matters.

This kind of goes back to Vox Day's concept of "forking"—when beloved applications like Wikipedia or Twitter get SJW-converged, you "fork" it—you create a new one that offers the same experience without the SJWism.  What if that happens to your favorite fiction franchise that once was cool, but now has serious problems?  Like Star Wars?

Well, I'm not the only one to think that forking is a good idea.  Faraway Wars and Galaxy's Edge are fiction forks of Star Wars—still in ebook form only—and White Star is an RPG fork of Star Wars (although that wasn't really its promise; it was just meant to be Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off so nobody gets sued).  We won't really be cooking with gas until we get some visual medium—animation, or blockbuster live-action movies, or video games, etc.—that are basically "forked Star Wars."  But it will be inevitable.  Star Wars has lots of cachet, and people want more of it.  But it's really lost its way.  It isn't sustainable without being good and it's more often not good than it is anymore.

So what does that have to do with AD ASTRA?  Well, it's mostly developed as an informal RPG system.  It's got a couple of holes left, and a few things that will no doubt get tweaked, but mostly I need to keep going on the setting development.  I was enjoying that, but I've been sidetracked a bit lately and haven't done a new planet in at least a week.  Other than that, rules and mechanics—I'm mostly done.  The rules aren't really anything all that special anyway; I took a similar approach to White Star in adopting a rules-lite, familiar, and easy to use core into a specific genre.  He did it with S&W Whitebox, while I did it with m20, but let's be honest here—those aren't really dramatically different in execution from each other.  Nobody's going to be looking at either of them as a font of incredibly innovative and exciting rules, although they can be seen as similar in the sense that they are an easy to use toolkit that takes the focus off of the rules anyway.  If I can say so without sounding boastful, I think my race and class builder options are relatively cool (although I'm hardly the first person to think of them, and the race-builder rules should specifically be credited to somebody else's m20 variant (nomad4life, whoever he is, although he may well have borrowed them from somebody else too for all I know.)  White Star is very innovative with its complete tear-down and the rebuild of the Traveller chargen minigame in a native rules-lite environment (and with a significantly different feel, as befits something that's more Star Wars and less Poul Anderson or Larry Niven, etc.)

But ultimately, I have no idea what I'll do with the game.  Run it for some players someday, no doubt, but I'd love to write something in the setting, really—and publish it as an ebook.

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