Sunday, June 15, 2014

Relativity

A while ago, a friend of mine proposed a video game based on the concept of special relativity. I believe the name was Relativity. The idea was that you'd have a starship capable of going near the speed of light, enough so to experience time dilation: while to outside observers it would take years or centuries to travel interstellar distances, to the people aboard it would be a much shorter amount of time. Then you could explore the galaxy, seeking out new worlds and civilizations, and interact with them. And by doing so, you would be seeding them with technology and concepts to help them along in their development. Then you could come back hundreds of years later and see what had happened. It was sort of a Starflight meets Civilization concept, though his emphasis seemed to be on the Civilization concept.

Civilization, if you're not familiar with it, is a video game where you guide a fledgling civilization from the Stone Age to the Space Age as its immortal god-emperor (though the last part is only implied). You set up colonies, develop technology, build armies, conquer and defend and make alliances, contesting with other civilizations in a race to either conquer the planet or be the first one to make it into space. There are also similar games based on civilizations in space, such as Master of Orion.  But the most important part for Relativity is the technological development. Each Civilization game has a tech tree. Each technology you develop requires resources and prerequisites, so the more you develop, the more technologies become available to you. And sometimes you could pursue one branch of technology only to discover that you weren't far enough along in the other branch to make any more progress (for example, if you couldn't develop a neural network in the computer science branch if you didn't make sufficient progress in the biology branch).  Adding the concept of seeding would let civilizations advance more quickly, but there could also be risks: you don't want to give nuclear weapons to a stone age tribe and watch it destroy itself.

What I'd really like to see is a larger emphasis on the Starflight character of the game. Starflight puts you in control of a starship, with the goal of exploring the galaxy, gathering resources, upgrading your ship, meeting new civilizations and trading or engaging in combat with them, and ultimately solving the mystery of what happened to the Old Earth Empire and preventing the same thing from happening again. There really hasn't been another game like it in a long time, and I'd love to see something that mimicked it. Relativity seems like a great platform for it, given that the emphasis is on a single starship exploring the galaxy. As civilizations develop better technologies, why not incorporate those technologies into the starship, increasing its speed and range, giving it better shields and firepower.

But what I felt the concept lacked--or perhaps my friend never got around to telling me about it--was a driving narrative, a motivation and objective behind the exploration.  That's something I'd like to propose here:
Humanity has finally made contact with alien life in a nearby star system. Eager to meet their new neighbors, an international team builds an interstellar starship capable of travelling near the speed of light in order to reach the star system.  Just as the ship departs, something terrible happens: the Earth is destroyed.  Soon it is obvious that there is something terrible behind the Earth's destruction, and it's advancing, destroying planet after planet.
This sets up the central mystery of the game.  What destroyed the Earth? How can it be stopped?  Soon it is clear that invaders from the beyond the galaxy are destroying the inhabited worlds in our galaxy, to pave the way for them to control its resources.  It is a slow process, though, one that will take millenia, and in the meantime, you will have to help the galaxy develop the technology to fight off the invasion. Ultimately, you may even discover the ability to travel back in time and prevent the destruction of the Earth itself.
Now I really want to play this game. Heck, if I had the know-how and the resources, I'd love to develop this game.

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