Realistic Space Exploration

My recent… encounter with Mass Effect inspired me to sum up some thoughts I’ve been carrying around for some time now. As you might know, I spend some time digging into astronomy as a sort of a hobby. The reason (and the result) is that I’m very dissatisfied with the way space exploration is conveyed in Sci-Fi.

Milky Way in Mass Effect

It basically boils down to the same argument as my Space Battles post: most Sci-Fi/Space Opera conventions were established around the second world war. Remember that back then, nobody went to space yet. Hell, we didn’t even have rockets. Space exploration in Sci-Fi is therefore not informed by knowledge and experience but largely fictitious and forced to resemble seafaring. Fatally, the audience got used to that and writers didn’t bother to keep up with the development of astronomy. What we have today is the same bullcrap we had 60 years ago but with better graphics and more complicated words.

So I would like to point out what’s wrong with how spaceflight works in Sci-Fi and how we could fix that… and why we should! More after the jump…

Status Quo

Here is how spaceflight works now. Actually, Mass Effect does a great job a repeating the dogmatic formula: you have a ship which is comparable in size to a sea vessel. There is a bunch of guys on board who walk around like on a sea ship. Now this ship by itself is able to roam around a star system and fly from planet to planet within a system in a manner of minutes. Like anchoring to a different port on the same shore.

Also, the very same ship has some magic whatever-technology able to bend the rules of relativity and fly at Faster-than-Light (FTL) speeds. This special technology also happens to negate all time-dilation effects associated with that speeds. With that enhancement, they are able to fly from one star system to another in what seems like a couple of days. Like going from one port to another.

And of course, in the end, you end up traveling about halfway the galaxy. Not the WHOLE galaxy because you always want to leave the audience with the sense that there is yet more to explore. Still, you need that majestic image of the spiral galaxy and the ship tracing its your route along it.

Oh yeah and communication? Happens instantly like radio but with infinite speed.

So you basically see guys in this ship going to a different system, landing on various planets, doing some stuff, collecting clues or something, getting back in the ship, fly to a different system and so on..

Why is that Bullshit?

The real problem here is distance. Dear Sci-Fi writers, the distance between any two planets within a star system is already pretty friggin’ far. I mean FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR. Like REALLY far. Let me spell it out for you: F A R.

It takes a couple of YEARS for a small unmanned probe to cross across that distance even if we strap the biggest engine we can possible build onto it. Yes, even if that rocket is like a small skyscraper and the probe ends up traveling 30 times as faster than fastest jet airplane, it will take months for that probe to reach the next planet and years to get to the farthest planet in the solar system. And that that’s even without things like going into orbit or changing course mid-way. It no way is it anything like the “everything is right at the doorstep”-feeling we are used to from Sci-Fi. Even light takes about 1.5 hours from here to Saturn! So for a ship to be buzzing around the planets of a star system in hours, they would need to be going near-light-speed already.

Which brings me to a sad news for Sci-Fi fanboys. Faster-than-light? FTL? Won’t happen. Sorry. There is no such thing. There never will be. Period. I know your fanboy hearts are revolting right now but search your feelings, you know it’s true. The universe is just isn’t built that way. I know they said similar things about things heavier than air flying but back then there was a simple proof that it could be done: birds. At this point, we have NEVER observed anything move faster than light and we’ve been already looking at some pretty fucked-up things like black holes and quasars and magnetars and whatnot. There are some space-folding myths by some theoretical physicists but those guys mostly just like crunching the numbers. If you look implications at the theories, you end up with ridiculous scenarios where you need fly though black holes (how do you even get there with sub-FTL?) or even build structures made up of black holes or exotic matter or things like harness more energy than you would get my converting the entire mass of the galaxy into energy. Remember, back in the second world war, the Theory of Relativity was still poorly understood. It’s still mind-boggling today. Grow up. Embrace knowledge. Accept.

So how fast can be possible hope to make stuff go? Back when Gliese 581 c was discovered I got pretty excited because it was “only” 20 light-years away. So I started researching the feasibility of sending an unmanned probe there. So far, with current technology we were able to send stuff out of the Solar System with 17 km/s. That’s 61.200 km/h. That’s 0,00005% of light-speed. But it turns out there were studies (Project Daedalus and Project Longshot) researching the feasibility of interstellar probes. They figured if we really invested a huge amount of resources and developed some far-out technology we could maybe get something to go around 10% of light-speed. This is pretty much the limit of what we fathom we could do in the very, very far future. Considering how fast we can go now, this would be pretty amazing. Yet, even with this technology the probe to Glise 581 c would need at least 200 years. That’s not really encouraging as far as interstellar spaceflight goes. Also, at this point you are basically detonating h-bombs couple of times a second (!!) behind you starship for the entire duration of the flight!

And then, of course, if the probe arrives it needs to do everything autonomously because if you want to send a command, it would take 20 years for information to reach the probe… and another 20 years for you to receive the results. It would be a hands-off thing.

Considering this, go take a look at my 32 Nearby Stars application. Check out the distances and realize that we aren’t going there anytime soon. And we aren’t afterwards either. It’s sad but true. We might send out unmanned probes in the very far future but it would take up a lot of resources and they would most likely arrive after the initial builders are long dead. Putting humans on board of that spaceship won’t happen. The economics just don’t work even in best-case scenarios.

Milky Way in Mass Effect

So when I see Sci-Fi games and movies where the spaceship captain traces flight courses along a map of the whole galaxy, I just want to slap the writers. Repeatedly. So that they stop feeding people this bullshit and come to their senses. The Milky Way is 100.000 light-years in diameter. It’s 1.000 light years thick. For us the 20 light years to Gliese 581 c are already almost insurmountable for unmanned projects. Even if we could go 100% light-speed, the galaxy would be still too big. For traveling half of the galaxy in a year you would need to be doing 50.000 times the speed of light. You don’t only do the impossible, you do the impossible times 50.000! And why do you need to go that far anyway? You know, if you travel that far it kinda implies that you already know everything in-between. With around 400.000.000.000 Stars in the Milky Way, you are drinking from a firehose. We are already overwhelmed by our Solar System. We need to realize that while the Milky Way is an awesome image, it is not the kind of subject that will ever crop up in spaceflight. Ever. Enjoy the Hubble images, it’s pretty much the only way we ever experience the concept of what a galaxy is.

So what now?

I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that as far as the future of manned spaceflight goes, we are most likely going to stay in the Solar System for a LONG time. The good news is that the Solar System can be a pretty amazing and awesome place to be. No really! You think we know it but there is more than meets the eye and most of it is yet unexplored. Sci-Fi seems to ignore that mainly because it took time to figure out that the cool places are even there. The important discoveries were made long after the second world war, when we finally send probes to take a first peek.

And lo and behold, there are actually a couple of scenarios that would work very similarly to what Sci-Fi usually wants to get at with spaceflight: a couple of guys (and girls!) in a spaceship, going from place to place and visiting different exotic locations. Here are three plausible ways that could work:


1. The Gas Giants
With the Voyager probes and the recent Cassini probe, we are beginning to understand that the four gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) are actually somewhat like miniature systems on their own. They have LOTS of moons and moonlets. Don’t let the world “moon” misguide you! Among those moons are the most AMAZING places in the solar system. The singe most remarkable is defiantly Titan with a thick atmosphere and the only place in the Solar System (apart from Earth) where there are open liquids on the surface (methane lakes and rivers). But there are also moons that are mysteriously splotched black and white or have epic volcanoes or sub-surface water oceans. Those moons are very much exactly what you would expect from alien planets in a typical Sci-Fi scenario. The best thing is that they are all nearby to each other so going from one to another is quick, cheap and easy. Landing on them and starting again is also simpler than doing that with real planets due to much lower gravity. To give you an idea: it takes less fuel to start on any given saturnian moon, fly to another and actually land again than it takes to go from earth just to low earth orbit (ISS). In some cases, the fuel would be even still enough for the trip back and this is assuming you take the entire ship all the way to the surface. Travel time would be merely hours, in some cases maybe a few days (here a more detailed analysis). If I was to create modern Sci-Fi, I would put it in the orbit of one of the gas giants. Probably Saturn because it is more plausible. As a additional bonus, the rings provide yet another location for intriguing space faring scenarios. Looks awesome too.

Ida & Dactyl

2. The Asteroid Belt
First things first: the Asteroid Belt is actually nowhere anything like what you’ve ever seen in Sci-Fi. It’s basically just a range of orbits where there is a higher frequency of relatively small objects orbiting the sun. I say “relatively” because we are still talking about a couple of kilometers across. They are not rocks boulders like in the movies, they are places. Also, the distances between them are considerable. There are a lot of them but they are spread out along a large space. Their average distance to each other is about 16 times the distance from earth to the moon. So standing on one of them, you wouldn’t be able to even see the next one with the naked eye. Traveling from one to another would still probably take weeks even with high-end propulsion but it’s better than the years you need for interplanetary travel. There are even some special groups of asteroids (like the Trojans) where the travel cost and time would be minimal.
So in total we are talking about over 200 asteroids bigger than 100 km across. That’s big! That’s already a world right there. It’s just not round but you could land and build even a couple of cities on it. And it goes long tail from there with somewhere between 700.000 to 1.700.000 asteroids with a diameter of 1km. That’s still enough to build a space station on/around it. And for the highlights you would have the 4 biggest ones: Ceres, Vesta, Pallas and Hygiea each one the size of a moon.
And the best thing is that they are not too far away (a little bit further away than Mars) and very poorly explored or understood so there is A LOT of wiggle room for speculation and the fiction part. Traveling between the asteroids is in fact so feasible that there is a probe underway right now that will do exactly that: go to one asteroid, scan it, leave the orbit and go to another asteroid.


3. The Kuiper Belt
The Kuiper Belt is a somewhat young discovery. There have been a lot of theories but we only recently arrived at the realization that there is something like another asteroid belt but just outside the orbits of the planets. It also doesn’t consist of rocks so much as of different ices (frozen liquids and gasses). Maybe think of them as frozen asteroids or dirty icebergs in space. We already know of 70.000 KBOs (Kuiper belt objects) but they are difficult to observe and there are theories that there may be many more. Also, we already know a few HUGE KBOs, which are – again – the size of small moons. The most famous one is obviously the ex-planet Pluto but there are even bigger ones.
Although further away, the fact that KBOs are made of ice makes them an interesting target. Outpost built on KBOs could melt down the ice for water and air and become fairly sustainable with little effort. Also, KBOs are even less explored than the asteroid belt so there is even more wiggle room for fiction. Being outside of the orbits gives them this nice “on the edge of space”-vibe. Finally, even if far away, once you get there, traveling from one KBO to another is feasible. There is a probe underway to visit Pluto and one or two others. Because of economical concerns, this one sadly won’t go into orbit though but it kinda shows that there are enough targets to have some reasonable spaceflight going on.


To end this lengthy post I would like to point WHY exploring more rational spaceflight scenarios is important for Sci-Fi: because it’s what Sci-Fi was originally standing for! It was originally fiction about things that haven’t happened yet but COULD happen. It was a way to explore visions and understand the shape of things to come. Somewhere after the Second World war, Sci-Fi spaceflight took a wrong turn. It became Space Opera – continuing and expanding upon the use of purely hypothetical and pretty unreasonable technology to fuel flashy but somewhat inconsistent narratives. Sadly, as we learned more about Space the gap between reality and Sci-Fi widened it started being less and less grounded in reality. Nowadays, I like to call it Future Fantasy. It’s pure Fantasy but in the future. They could just as well have magic and dragons in it, at this point it doesn’t really matter. This kind of Science Fiction just doesn’t deserve the “Science” part of it.

There is a movement of so-called “Hard Sci-Fi”. Guys trying to close that gap. I read some of the books and while I applaud their efforts, what I read was often very similar to Space Opera stuff but but more elaborate background explanations. It hasn’t got into mainstream yet anyway. I’m still waiting for that summer blockbuster Hard Sci-Fi movie and Core Gamer AAA Hard Sci-Fi RPG. But having Hard Sci-Fi flash games would be a nice start.

While this all sounds pessimistic, it doesn’t have to be. Sure, there are a lot of limits but I think one of the things history has though us is its is exactly trough embracing the limits that authors are able to achieve great creativity and insightful innovation.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

49 responses to “Realistic Space Exploration”

  1. Simon Ferrari

    Very good manifesto for hard science fiction. Makes me kinda want to go watch Total Recall again; I always thought their modeling of the space domes and the politics of resources and maintenance on the station was really well thought-out (sure the ending was ridiculous, but, you know).

    I guess the only argument I could see to this is, “I still like dragons, even though I know something that big couldn’t fly or breathe fire… so why the hell should I give up space travel?” It’s a fundamental difference of desires.

    For instance, the kind of soft scifi you decry is still good fun for mainstream AAA titles. But the hard scifi you want to see more of would actually be better for analyzing real world systems such as economics and class (the Total Recall example is good here) – the struggles of actual living in space stations now and surface domes in the future is brutal as shit, exacerbating all kinds of labor and living conditions standards.

    So that’s how I see this stuff – great for educating people on the reality of what space colonization will actually be like and testing people’s economic and social theories of how these things will work… but it’s going to be a hard sell for AAA publishers who might not want to deal with paying actual scientists to advise them on every decision in the game design.

  2. Simon

    Oh and that video is obnoxious. I’ve seen a lot like it, because kids at my school always think it will be awesome to go up on top of the parking garage to get a bunch of “sweet shots” of the cityscape :P

    Anyways, still trying to find myself on XBL the same time as you. I didn’t bring my 360 with me to my girlfriend’s house this week, but this coming week I don’t think my workload is that bad and we might finally get this GoW thing goin’ on!

  3. Graham

    That’s a great post, and I think hugely important and relevant. It makes me think of a conversation I was having with my girlfriend just this morning. We were talking about Planet Earth, that BBC documentary series. There is this one segment that talks about glow-worms. It’s just so incredible and alien. And any time I see something like those glow worms, or read about the recently discovered geysers on Enceladus (Saturn), I think, “What the hell do we need fantasy for?” Of course, that’s over dramatic, but I just can’t help but marvel at the fact that we feel the need to fabricate things about space when what’s out there is already so amazing.

    A game that comes to mind at this point is the original Outpost. One thing that I found fascinating about this game even as a young kid, was that in the first 25 minutes of the game, you had to make a lot of big decisions: You had 25 minutes to decide what you were going to bring from Earth to Mars. And so you’d weight living quarters vs. food vs. fuel, pack up your ship and blast off. Then you’d land on mars and start playing. But for your first few times playing the game, you’d get through a couple days on the surface, and then be like, “Crap. I never brought any satellites to scan for metal deposits to build satellites with.” And so you’d have to start foraging around hoping that there would be iron nearby. Or else you can’t build any more farms and everyone dies. It really gave my a different perspective on space travel that I’ve carried with me ever since. There was no magic warp drive, no matter replicators. Just, “Earth is a long ways away, and here we are with what we’ve got.”

    In any case, keep ranting about this stuff. It’s getting my motivation up to actually work on a game like this. :)

  4. Krystian Majewski

    There is nothing wrong with Fantasy (Dragons and FTL). I understand their fascination very well. The problem arises when you make the argument that this is based on science – when you call something “Science Fiction”. I think we should clearly define if a Work is making statements about our world or not. Mixing facts with fantasy and not telling which is which is a dangerous thing to do, especially when we are talking about mass-media.

    So in a way, Star Wars is more honest than Star Trek. The stuff in Star Wars is just as fantastic but it hardly ever makes any claims on how it’s supposed to work. It’s Future Fantasy but it hardly doesn’t claim to be anything else.

    Star Trek however uses a lot of scientific concepts, theories and ideas which are supposed to give more validity to what is happening. But because the whole scenario is scientifically wrong, it is in some ways lying to people. The audience thinks they consume science while they actually consume fantasy. This creates the many misconceptions people have today about space travel.

    I haven’t read Total Recal. I merely remember the scene in the movie where Arnold’s Eyeballs nearly popped out. The effects of exposure to a low-pressure environment is a famous example of bad Sci-Fi is spreading misconception among a wide audience. Even today most people believe that a man would explode or freeze if he would get exposed to vacuum unprotected. Neither is true.

    And in most Sci-Fi productions scientists ARE being paid for consultation. For example the Movie Sunshine had the rockstar/LHC Star Scientist Brian Cox as adviser. He did an excellent commentary on the DVD. Mass Effect must had some guy involved with great knowledge of astronomy. For example the descriptions of planets reference very recent astronomical discoveries like Hot Jupiters.

    The problem is that this kind of work is done AFTERWARDS. So first you come up with a scenario (which is mostly a variation well-established and wrong ideas) and later you get a scientist to come up with an explanation for the train-wreck you created. It should be the other way around: Science should create the basis from which the scenario and the story would evolve. Otherwise, leave science alone and embrace fantasy.

  5. Krystian Majewski

    @Graham Thanks! I second your thoughts on the glow-worms. There are so many mind-blowing things out there it should be unnecessary to come up with fantasy.

    On the other hand, I do somewhat understand the fascination of the fantastic stories and I fear we will never be able to do without them. *sigh*

    I do remember Outpost. In fact I played it last year. It was a great game. Too bad it was somewhat broken. There are a lot of things about it that seem unfinished. For example, it seems like initially you were supposed to be able to build rockets and build a second or maybe even a third outpost. Still, it is one of the few examples of quite realistic Sci-Fi in games.

  6. Simon

    Yeah the Arnie eye-popping is why I said the ending was ridiculous.

    The Star Wars / Star Trek issue got me going down memory lane. I remember we had a metaphysics class where we talked about transportation in the series, and how you’d essentially be committing suicide every time you got transported, with no assurance of a continuity of consciousness.

    I would like to hear a single example of how misconceptions derived from science fiction could actually be dangerous? Sounds like there have got to be some comical stories out there.

    Talking about hard versus soft science fiction, you know what movie is freaking awesome? The Abyss. I’m sure there were some errors in there, as far as the marine going crazy from pressure sickness (like, he probably would have died or passed out before having the chance to wreak havoc like he did). But the scene where the two protagonists are in a leaking, busted submarine… and there’s only one oxygen tank, so the woman drowns herself on purpose and he has to drag her back to the main ship as quickly as possible. And then he’s beating on her chest trying to resuscitate her… Jesus that is a good scene.

  7. Simon

    Ohh also since you’re the closest thing I know to a buff on the subject, what’s the viability of having a very slowly-moving or stationary vessel supporting life in space for generations at a time (a la Wall-e, but less ridiculous). Like, how many lives could the largest viable ship fit comfortably, how much space would be needed for growing food, recycling water, generating oxygen. And then how would such a thing be powered considering current fueling technologies (or near-future ones). Also, would such a thing have to be constructed in space, because of the impossibility of getting it out of Earth’s atmosphere?

    I’d love to see a game about a small group of people just living on a slowly-moving space station forever. Like Deep Space 9 meets MTV’s Real World – people getting sassy and having sex parties in space, forever.

  8. Graham

    Simon: You might get a kick out of this: Same idea but on the ocean. I’m sure many of the ideas could be extrapolated.

  9. Krystian Majewski

    @Simon Yeah, the Abyss is a great piece of cinema. Have you seen the making-of? Mind-blowing!

    People dying from bad Sci-Fi – well it’s not necessarily that kind of danger I was talking about. But there is a related recent example: the LHC panic that was spread by some ill-informed individuals and propagated by mass-media. The result was that at least one girl in India committed suicide because she was convinced that the world would end. What a useless death.

    I also toyed with the idea of a space soap such as the one you’ve scribed. As for a self-contained ship: see that’s the problem. We don’t have the technology right now. All efforts to build a self-contained biosphere failed so far. We can recycle some resources but not all of them and it’s never 100% efficient and we can’t build ships that would be independent from external resources.

    The ISS will support a crew of 6 but is highly dependent on shipments of resources even though they recycle their water.

    There was a nice documentary by the BBC called “Space Odyssey: Voyage To The Planets” where they consulted ESA to develop a pretty convincing vision of a realistic interplanetary ship. I liked it very much but that one was depended on external supplies as well. And during the plot they even run into some interesting problems because of the recycling. I recommend it!

  10. Simon

    @Graham: Oh man, those people are going to get killed by pirates. Gah I followed the link on your name. I want to move to Vancouver so badly. Are there ample, or scarce, game design jobs in the area?

    @Krystian: Yeah I guess I slept through the LHC thing. I had some friends freaking out about dying, and some friends complaining about their friends freaking out about dying. I was just walking around making jokes about girls’ Higgs bosoms.

    Bummer on the current perceived limits of space stations. I guess that crazy woman driving across the country and pooping in a diaper to stalk her fellow astronaut is the closest I’ll get to a space soap anytime soon.

  11. Simon Ferrari

    Speaking of Higgs bosons, I just remember the first time I ever heard the name Higgs was while watching the American remake of Solaris.

    They use a Higgs field to disrupt the Solaris-people’s connection to the planet. Then the planet gets angry and expands.

    Maybe that’s why people were afraid of it; they just loved their George Clooney toooooo much. God knows I do.

  12. Graham

    @Simon Well, right now the jobs are extremely scarce out here. Lots of studio closures this winter. Once things pick up again… Well, I haven’t really detected any difference in the design-jobs-to-other-jobs ratio here than elsewhere in America. It’s definitely not ‘tight’ compared to elsewhere, worth trying for in any case.

    @Krystian One thing that you mentioned regarding this that is really rattling in my head now, is your comment about how even to reach our expected top speed (0.1C), it would require a continuous stream of bomb detonations. That’s another thing that’s always bothered me in Sci-Fantasy: The waste of material. I mean, it’s cool in space battles when two armies fling at each other and blow each other to bits. But (and I guess this goes back to your previous post about space battles,) I can’t imagine that after all the work collecting thousands of tonnes of materials, spending years and years building a big spaceship, that they’d just fly it over to the enemy’s big spaceship, fling bombs and each other, and then giggle in each other’s wreckage.

    Likewise, so long as it is going to take huge amounts of fuel/energy to travel even just between our plants at a reasonable speed (and lets not forget that energy spent accelerating = energy spent decelerating), then we won’t be making trips frequently, or quickly.

    Again, thank you/damn you for getting me excited about these things again. I have other things I should be concentrating on, but this is so interesting! Haha. :D

  13. Simon Ferrari

    @Graham: Definitely making the romanticism of Firefly a bit less compelling there. “We need to do these crimes so we can put food on the table and keep this ship from fallin’ apart…” without any mention of how they’re paying to power that giant glowing butt on their spaceship.

  14. Simon

    @Graham: Oh, and it’s not that I need to find a place with more jobs than anywhere in the U.S. It’s that I need to get the eff out of this country.

    Speaking of which, @Krystian are more and more universities in Germany opening up game design/studies programs? I still haven’t given up the idea of being a professor.

    … just need to get out of this country.

  15. Simon Ferrari


    Again it was awesome to play co-op with you yesterday. I’m trying to figure out the feasibility of somehow recording our XBL microphone conversations, and like reflecting on both game design, our backgrounds, and the different cultural issues that come from playing in different countries. Could be good, could be lame, could be absolute Hell to edit.

  16. Simon

    Thanks for catching that typo in my interview! Fixed!

  17. Krystian Majewski

    @Graham: Exactly! The economic of conventional warfare and travel on earth just don’t scale up. Thanks for the great feedback.

    @Simon: Firefly is a great example! I think back then it was one of the things that inspired me researching that kind of stuff. I remember they had a reasonable scenario there with only interplanetary travel and they had a lot of gas giants and moons like I suggested.
    But most importantly: they concentrated on telling great story with engaging characters. In Sci-Fi, you often find that the story itself isn’t very compelling and quite often if it weren’t for the fantastic bits, the whole thing wouldn’t hold up.

    I had a great time as well! Recording the play session sounds like an awesome idea! \ ^_^ /

  18. Anonymous

    Thanks … I’m going to take your critique of Sci-Fi one step further. We have two Earth-like planets within reach in the near future. Both have oxygen rich atmospheres and gravity levels that of Earth. But one is covered by water and the other is an ice planet …

    Their names are Antarctica and the Oceans.

    I started out as astrophysics undergrad and ended up with an economics Masters. I too hate the anti-scientific and financially absurd religion called Sci-Fi.

    When I hear nonsense about sending manufacturing off Earth for environmental reasons or due to resource depletion I laugh as hard as when a Fundamentalist looks at me and says the Earth is 4,400 years old and Satan created the illusion of evolution to deceive us.

    Note to Sci Fi. The Earth is a giant gravity well. There is no way in hell you’re going to move any significant quantities of anything up through that well without vast amounts of energy – produced at environmental and resource costs vastly beyond whatever making that would use here on Earth.

    Here is what we are learning. The Earth is beautiful and precious. We’ve been listening for decades to the galaxy for music from the spacefarers’ bar filled with 50 different species and we’ve heard … nothing.

    Simple life may be abundant, it probably does or at least has existed on Mars. Plausibly its on Titan and perhaps elsewhere. But complex life ranging up to radio-tech life may be very rare.

    The most awesome manned “spaceship” isn’t that idiotic ISS … they are nuclear powered submarines.

    The scientific research machines exploring the oceans are as cool and groovy as any Klingon D7 cruiser.

    You want to explore and move scientific knowledge forward? You want limited resources spent on expanding human habitation and improve quality of life here on Earth? Burn your Star Wars DVD … it was a hokey pseudo-religious opera that might have well have been a substitute by Hubbard for Scientology. Now that you have freed your mind from the Sci-Fi religious cultists … focus on what needs to be solved. Green energy, reducing pollution, and using unmanned probes like Cassini to explore the Solar System. If we want to build something really cool in space, let’s send the ISS into a decay and use the freed money to build even bigger telescopes or maybe a giant orbital inferometer.

    Want to consider something really cool (pun) – The high energy colliders may have made good old planet earth the hottest place in the universe. Those colliders are as cool in their technical complexity and scientific discovery as any 1/10th Light H-bomb powered starship!

    Will we ever go out? Maybe. Here’s what the first ships to be sent to a specific target out beyond the Oort will look like … It will weigh very little, maybe a hundred kilos and probably be accelerated by a stationary energy source. It will arrive and deploy extremely a small nano-ship weighing maybe a kilo and using most of its mass to power that tiny ship’s deceleration. This kilo nano ship will then fire various even smaller probes around the system. All the information will come back to Earth at light speed.

    If we colonize a planet it will be with bacteria or a mission specific genetically engineered microbe.

    The first “human” to set foot on anything beyond the Oort, will be an AI robot, probably the size of a mouse.

    Cheers, Glenn

  19. Krystian Majewski

    Thanks for the feedback!

    Yeah, there are those two ridiculous myths about reasons for going to space. You’ve mentioned one of them: for resoruces. That also cracks me up every time. At launch costs of 7750$ per pound just into earth orbit, what exactly are you going to mine there? Diamonds?

    The other myth to provide space for population growth. This comes often with the idea that Earth might become inhabitable. Right now, the ISS struggles to raise its crew from 3 to 6 people. It’s highly depended on awfully expensive supplies and the inhabitants can’t stay there too long because their bones and hearts decay due to no gravity. You know, even if we wanted we couldn’t fuck up the Earth so badly that living in space would become a viable alternative. And if we did, we couldn’t afford to.

    Still, even if manned space exploration seems out of reach now, thing might be looking different when the Orion program gets started.. or maybe some private companies figure out some crazy program.

    I admit I secretly root for space elevators even though the outlook isn’t so hot right now.

    And everybody is poo-pooing ISS because of its high costs. I think the alternative – having NOBODY in earth orbit for years would be even grimmer.

  20. Anonymous

    Thanks for your added thoughts, Krystian.

    Yes, the colonization of space due to an evironmentally destroyed Earth is a good one. So too is the overcrowed Earth scenario. First the population of the Earth will very likely be declining well before the end of this century. Second, you’re going to pack people into orbital colonies or surface domes, get everyone sick due to gravity issues and do so at some very high density. Why not just build a super high density dome in Wyoming? The idea that we are running out of room on Earth is false. Lastly any colony is going to need a supply umbilical chord to mother Earth for a very long long time.

    The Space Elevator was an absolutely genius concept conceived up by a truly great visionary. The cost of the thing would be monumental and the tech is still decades if not a century or more away.

    If we get to a point where you can negate gravity … then sure all bets are off in terms of the economic barriers to space development.

    As a lifelong gamer – including way too many hours playing space expansion games … Space Empires … I would love to work with a group of savvy game techies to layout a truly realistic space exploration and development game. No magic. No artificats on the Moon that gets you warp drive.

    Everything will be constrained by economics, plausible tech development, projected demographics, and political realities.

    Glenn –

  21. Grismar

    Any sane person would have to agree that Space Opera has little or nothing to do with science. And even so-called hard science fiction today takes many liberties with science to arrive at fantastic premises for fabulous stories. So, we can only hope that adopting the term Future Fantasy will do a little good in helping people understand that science fiction is not and will never be real.

    This doesn't change the fact that Future Fantasy (lets start right now) allows for a kind of storytelling that allows for exploration of worlds and ideas that are interesting, even though they will never come about. Just as Flatland is interesting and may teach you something worthwhile about reality.

    Future Fantasy is like the genre pioneered (among others) by John Wyndham (of "The Day of the Triffids" and "The Trouble with Lichen") called logical fiction. You introduce one (or a few) factor that alters reality profoundly, but keep everything else real and write about "what would happen".

    It has a place in and of itself and will allow for storytelling that realistic fiction may never. Thanks for the great article, I loved it.

  22. paolo

    Any reasonably advanced technology will look like magic or supernatural when observed by a relatively primitive culture.

    What would stone age tribes in the Amazon say when you tell them you can talk to someone on the other side of the world using just a small object in your hand, and hear them talk back to you as well?

    Not here to spoil the party, I’m just saying science fantasy has its place, gentlemen.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Yeah, I heard that quote. I’m not convinced. Primitive cultures didn’t have science. Their only mode of explaining surprising phenomena was the super-natural: “magic”. Modern cultures don’t work this way anymore. A good scientist would hardly fall back to super-natural explanations when faced with advanced technology. I find the quote is hardly more than a catchy but conservative rhetoric.

      Science is perfectly capable of acknowledging that there are a lot phenomena we have no satisfying explanation for. But we can make predictions on what is quite likely never to happen. FTL is one of those things. I know it sounds very dogmatic but there are some very smart reasons for why that is.

      1. lukeskymac

        You quite simply shot yourself in the foot. No respectable Sci-Fi universe treats the distances between planets and stars as if they were nothing, not even Star Wars!

        You talk about the impossibilities of FTL as if all Sci-Fi ships simply used super-duper ion engines. That’s simply not true. Everyone of them has an explanation to dogde E=mc^2. Star Wars, among others, has hyperspace. Star Trek has warp drives. And Mass Effect, from where you got that out-of-context screenshot, has Mass Relays, which reduce the mass of any object using it to zero, easily allowing FTL speeds.

        But this is where you show that you only played Mass Effect to complain about the interface (which was indeed horrible):

        ” And why do you need to go that far anyway? You know, if you travel that far it kinda implies that you already know everything in-between. With around 400.000.000.000 Stars in the Milky Way, you are drinking from a firehose. We are already overwhelmed by our Solar System. ”

        This may (or not) be a valid question for most Sci-fi universes, but putting it below that screenshot is just ridiculous. You know (or at least SHOULD KNOW) that all of the system clusters in the game are connected via such Mass Relays, and their existence is connected to the main plot.

        It’s not like the races of the galaxy don’t know that there’s probably a lot of interesting stuff out there, it’s just that they know (wait for it…) that traveling across all of those systems takes time at the “standard”, non-Mass Relay FTL speeds. Who would have thought?! The game states AGAIN AND AGAIN, via the Codex and some sidequests, that further exploration IS occurring, but that it takes time and only happens in the systems in the vicinity of a Mass Relay.

        Finally; it’s Sci-fi! Why be such an irritating nitpick? You think people don’t know how impossible most of Sci-fi is? Sometimes we indeed see good Sci-fi that’s more “realistic”, like the non-trippy half of 2001 and Moon. But while they are revered by most “nerds”, they simply aren’t as fun.

        1. Krystian Majewski

          No respectable Sci-Fi universe treats the distances between planets and stars as if they were nothing, not even Star Wars!

          In the opening sequence of Mass Effect it takes commander Shepard longer to go from the back of the ship to the bridge than it takes the ship to go from Jupiter past Neptune. And that’s BEFORE they make the jump through the Mass Effect relay.

          You know (or at least SHOULD KNOW) that all of the system clusters in the game are connected via such Mass Relays, and their existence is connected to the main plot.

          Fist of all, no such thing as the Mass Effect exists. If it existed, it would violate a lot of physical rules such as the preservation of energy. That’s what I mean by “the universe is not built that way”.

          Second, Mass Effect is very fuzzy about what propulsion technology is used when. As far as I understand, each ship is able to fly FTL on it’s own? So what are the Mass Effect relays for? Also, the game allows you to go from planet to planet in with no significant delay. If you go from star to star, there seems to be a delay. In Mass Effect 1 they use a loading screen that suggests you go FTL (Redshift / Blueshift etc…). In Mass Effect 2 you end up using fuel. So you weren’t using FTL when you were flying in a system? The way fuel is used up is weird too. You use it as you go, you don’t make a burn and coast as in IRL. As if it was a plane or a ship and not a spacecraft. When you run out of fuel EDI says she made an FTL jump back to the nearest fuel depot. So what were you using all the time if not FTL?

          There are numerous inconsistencies in Mass Effect alone. There are plenty of those in Star Wars and Star Trek. I recommend the Bad Astronomy blog if you want to get into details

          My point is that those games and movies represent a deeply flawed and misleading idea of how space is as how spaceflight works.

          that further exploration IS occurring, but that it takes time and only happens in the systems in the vicinity of a Mass Relay.

          Well that get us into all sorts of problems and discussions such as the Fermi Paradox and whatnot.

          But what I mean with “drinking from the firehose” is that games like Mass Effect already fail at depicting even one single planet. Isn’t it weird that when you go to the Citadel or to Illium, you end up walking in an area no bigger than a block or so? And then you deal with minute bullshit like if there are fish in the citadel ponds or doing fetch-quests for some small time criminals. You had the same problem in Star Trek where they would scan an ENTIRE PLANET and immediately find just one anomaly? How many weird things have we found on Earth alone? That’s the equivalent of the nowadays laughable phrase “take me to your leader” – as if the complexity of an entire alien race could be dealt with by talking to just one representative.

          And sure, this is a question of scope. There is just so much content you can depict in a modern game. You must simplify and abstract things eventually. But then my question is why choosing such a hoplessly upscaled setting anyway? That’s just cheap sensationalism that gets immediately disappointed by the execution. All the planets in Mass Effect 1 look deserted. And that’s still better than the vapid planet scanning game from Mass Effect 2.

          Sometimes we indeed see good Sci-fi that’s more “realistic”, like the non-trippy half of 2001 and Moon. But while they are revered by most “nerds”, they simply aren’t as fun.

          1. Genre is not an excuse to turn of your brain. Genres can and should evolve. Sci-Fi is a particular genre that suffers from an advanced from of Ghettoization. This is caused by over-reliance on tired old tropes.

          2. Because the few examples (2001, Moon) are incredibly RARE. If the two sub-genres existed side-by-side with both being roughly equally prominent, I wouldn’t need to write articles like that.

          3. Because in spite of being totally unrealistic, some Sci-Fi franchises still use a lot of scientific / technological explanations. Mass Effect being one of them. If a series is supposed to be unrealistic – go for it. Don’t make up excuses. That’s why I don’t mind Star Wars too much.

          4. Because fun and plausibility are not mutually exclusive. A good example for a Sci-Fi series that does a good job at depicting a somewhat plausible scenario was Firefly. It all took place in one solar system and it was a pretty fun, awesome Sci-Fi series. It is possible. We can do better.

  23. paolo

    And yes, I liked this article as well. I’m still waiting for that AAA hard sci-fi game!

  24. jon

    I guess the one lamest part of no FTL of space folding is even if their are lots of other intelligent life out their we would have no way to get to the and they would have no way to get to use, ever.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Yes, this is a bit of a bummer. On the other hand, we haven’t discovered any signs of intelligent life yet so flying there wouldn’t bring us any good anyway. It is actually one of the many weird dilemmas in science – the Fermi Paradox.

      But keep in mind that aliens in most Sci-Fi are just weird-looking humanoids. Their bodies and minds rarely differ significantly from humans. As Stanislaw Lem said in Solaris: “we don’t need other worlds, we need mirrors”. You can get that level of diversity within our human race, there is no need for aliens if this is the kind of Sci-Fi you are looking for.

      And finally, there are a couple of places where there could be life in our very own Solar System. It wouldn’t be intelligent – probably just bacteria. But that’s the power of Sci-Fi – exploring plausible future scenarios. How would the discovery of alien bacteria affect our society?

  25. Peter

    I agree, FTL travel will never happen, but that doesn’t mean people should stop writing sci-fi or make all sci-fi happen in our solar system.
    Sci-fi is usually on a very large scale, because most people find that more fascinating than traveling inside our solar system. My guess is because it gives a bigger sense of the unknown.

    Fantasy stories with dragons and witches and wizards and stuff, shouldn’t exist either, right? There was never any of that.

    And if sci-fi would be realistic, it would be pretty lame. You wouldn’t even be able to hear ships flying by and exploding and all that.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      My guess is because it gives a bigger sense of the unknown.

      That’s my point. It’s a misunderstanding brought by Space Opera itself. The Solar System is big and unknown. Everything outside of it is ridiculous.

      Fantasy stories with dragons and witches and wizards and stuff, shouldn’t exist either, right?

      No, I didn’t suggest that. But calling them “Historical Novels” would be wrong.

      And if sci-fi would be realistic, it would be pretty lame. You wouldn’t even be able to hear ships flying by and exploding and all that.

      There is plenty of exciting things to happen in a plausible scenario. It’s the author’s fault if a story is lame.

  26. Tom

    To its credit, Mass Effect does make an effort to explain how it gets around the FTL problem in a somewhat different way to most other media that feature FTL, albeit in an extremely hand-wavy way and making use of what might charitably be called “creatively misunderstood” science. The very title of the game refers to this, though you could be forgiven for not realising that, since the game gives you no actual explanation of its title’s relevance unless you go looking for it, and you have to be an obsessive codex/journal/weapon description reader to get any details.

    It’s a reference to the mass-dilation effect of relativity, and how element zero (anyone who knows what atomic numbers actually represent is likely to have a stroke upon reading that term, however, so in the very act of lending itself relativistic plausibility, the game sacrifices basic chemical plausibility!) can increase or decrease the apparent mass of an object without moving it at relativistic speed by having a current passed through it in a certain direction (and here, electrical engineers will also balk – it is meaningless under most conceivable circumstances to refer to currents and their direction when referring to individual particles). The reasoning, if such it may be called, is that since moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light causes an apparent change in mass, then inducing an apparent change in mass by other means (element zero) can accelerate you to relativistic speed. Asimov, this ain’t (to see “realistic” sci-fi done masterfully, read his “The Gods Themselves.” “Nemesis” also has a slightly more realistic seeming development of FTL, in that it doesn’t jump straight from Saturn-Vs to fully functional super-lightspeed cruisers without at least some intervening transitionary stages that only sort-of work), but it’s probably still better than the science found in the average hollywood space movie, and this is why: bad movie science will simple declare something unknown to exist that outright breaks a particular, fundamental scientific principle for the convenience of plot, and leave it at that. Much better movie science will do the same thing, but make some effort to explore the other implications this might have on the rest of the universe. Better movies still will try at least to create the MacGuffin in such a way that you can just, barely, persuade yourself that it might merely be an extension of the law via an unusual set of circumstances, not a complete violation of it.

    There may be real science behind all this. It may even, for all I know with my schoolboy physics, be conceivable for such a mass-effect to exist; according to wikipedia, the game director has referenced element zero to the real life theory of dark matter, which certainly might exist. However, my points above are based only on the information available in-game, which is how I feel it should really be judged; if they wanted to claim validity by referring to anything else, they should have at least stuck it in the codex.

    Mass Effect 2, of course, negates all such high-level discussions of bad science by simply disregarding elementary astrophysics altogether, since the modified map screen lets you fly anywhere you like in a stellar system, including *right through a sun* if you want with no ill effects, without even a passing reference to the likes of angular momentum or energy conservation, reaction mass, transfer orbits, etc. In the first game, where you simply told the map where you wanted to go and the computer did the rest, you could at least imagine that it was working out all that jazz properly. Oh, and would it really have hurt to have elliptical orbits? That’s one case where realism actually looks better.

  27. Fledi

    I’m working on it (hard SciFi game in the solar system), but still have a lot to do.

  28. Peter

    Our Solar system may still be unexplored and mysterious, but there most likely aren’t any intelligent life being other than us in it.
    And aliens are for some reason a huge thing in sci-fi.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Good point but

      1. There might be intelligent life in the Solar System. For example in the hidden oceans of Europa. It’s highly unlikely but that rarely stops Sci-Fi writers.

      2. Going to other stars doesn’t actually change that. So far there is no evidence for ANY intelligent life forms to exist even in the Milky Way. There are no radio transmissions or other giveaways. If there was life out there we SHOULD have picked up something by now. This problem is called the Fermi Paradox.

      3. Sci-Fi works without aliens just as well: Firefly is a good example.

  29. Chuck Shaw

    Thanks for the lesson in Hard Science. Yes, we all know that it is very, very hard to just even put a rocket out into space, let alone go to Mars, Jupiter, or beyond. But that does not mean that something, some day may yet be discovered that may revolution everything we know. Science does not know everything, otherwise we would already have colonists on Alpha Centauri by now. I like what Spock’s Brother said on Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier. See the movie if you haven’t already, and check it out.
    He said…
    People said that man would never never fly, and he flew.
    They also said that the sound barrier would never be broken, and it was broken.
    That Warp Drive, would never be achieved……
    But, given enough time, I think that there is nothing that man cannot achieve. But I think that man’s time on Earth is running out. Because Jesus Christ is coming to return and save the world soon. Then, all of the talk about stars and galaxies will not matter at all. Think about that too. Amen.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      As I have mentioned in the article, the analogy to flying doesn’t fly. Before the invention of airplanes there were birds and plenty of unmanned flying devices. Same for the sonic barrier. FTL travel is different. What we already know for sure that the universe is simply not built this way. It might be more interesting to start thinking about the real consequences of that realization instead of insisting on exploring the same fallacy over and over and over again.

      As for the Jesus comment – that doesn’t really have anything to do with spaceflight either, does it?

  30. sascha/hdrs

    I understand your point of view but you indirectly pretty much point out that most sci-fi is nothing else than fantasy. Just because it’s impossible (and probably never will be) doesn’t mean it can’t be used for fiction, does it?! I have no problems playing a game where I can travel between stars within minutes, after all you don’t want to spend the next 200 years playing the game waiting to arrive at that world 20 ly away, right?

    But I do agree that many games don’t even nearly approach a good sense of the scale of distance of space and Mass Effect is no exclusion. The only game I know of that does it borderline decent is EVE Online. Yes sure, it’s the same misleading vision over there that you could travel between worlds very quickly but at least they did a good job of how to portray it. In EVE traveling from one side of the ‘galaxy’ to the other is quite a bit of work as far as I remember from the few times I trialed EVE Online.

  31. bilouba

    Space Opera doesn’t have the word “science” in it, so why are you complaining ? Space Opera is fantasy but with a futuristic/technological feel. I’m not really into fantasy, but I dig science fiction and it’s variety.
    I sure enjoy some realistic science fiction sometime, but why should people limit themselves to what is strictly plausible ? Why a genre should replace another one ? If it’s a good dramatic polar, why care that they are flying with their psychic mind ?
    Imagination is not a problem, and non-realistic background should not stop one from enjoying the story, the fiction.
    By the way, I still understand your need for more mainstream realistic/hard science fiction and I like the quality of your articles (just discovered you).

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Why a genre should replace another one ?

      Well, I’m not suggesting COMPLETELY replacing anything. The fact of the matter is that this unrealistic brand of Science Fiction became pretty much the ONLY KIND of space Science Fiction we have nowadays. Even Star Trek turned into a copy of Star Wars. And it’s the worst in games.

      And it’s NOT creative at all. It’s all blind repetition of the same tropes. Space ships all behave like planes, they all go into some form of “hyperspace”, passengers go into cryosleep even if the trip just takes a few weeks. A comparison to the real world reveals how a specific, simplified, narrow-minded way of thinking this is.

      Welcome to my Interweb. Always nice to read polite, well-articulated comments like yours. :)

      1. bilouba

        Thank you for your answer, it help me to better understand your point of view and your message.

        I don’t think you should be worried about that. In fact, you hate/are bored of mainstream scifi. Like most of the people into Scifi.
        The anomaly, problem and ridiculous thing we see here, are the same all the other genre are facing.
        I mean, the first time you see something like star wars or star trek, it’s the coolest thing in the world (or not). But when you start stumbling on the hundred of other rip off/inspired by/variation/episode it get old fast.
        Mainstream Scifi is exactly like mainstream music (I don’t want to play the hipster, but I really will sound like one). It’s pretty much alway the same thing, based on previous successful title, and it is extremely popular. And except some rare exception, it’s not good, nor interesting (in an artistic way).
        I’m not a fan of star trek, yet, I have enjoyed really much the 2009 movie. Maybe I should feel this mild shame, the same you feel when you can’t get that catchy tune out of your head :)

        Maybe because I have seen or played less Scifi title, I have enjoyed Mass Effect a lot (even with all the problem with it’s interface).
        I like it when they sound technical even when it’s a complete bullshit everywhere (although I do get pissed by stupid hacking scene in game/movie).
        I like it when you travel the galaxy in a blink of an eye thank to an amazing technology.
        I like it when you speak to different race (but they all speak your language, whatever)
        I want to believe to it. It’s like a role-playing with reality.
        Metroid Prime is, in my opinion, the best scifi game on the game cube and it hold a better place in my heart than Mass Effect. Yet it is also full of incoherence and all.

        Anyway, I’m kind of loosing my point, so let’s wrap thing up.
        Mainstream is mostly shitty. But thank to it we can have some gems like 2001, Moon, etc.
        Without this overabundance of the same stuff, some director/scenarist would not try something different once in a while, and without the money put into mainstream [insert genre] we would not have producer putting money into a less mainstream [insert genre] movie.
        I wish for a world of always new and different contents of premium quality, alas mainstream shitty stuff will alway rule.
        Thank you for your time :)

  32. Francisco

    I’d have a question: what is the feasability of putting all humans in a planet into cryosleep, and have some sort of complex AI oversee the planet while humanity sleeps for a couple of centuries?

    We could produce some kind of complex space opera where the absurd timescales considered for interstellar travel would be solved by the fact that humans would only be awake 1% of the time.
    And yes, I am aware that this would induce huge logistic problems, but I did use the word “complex” in my previous sentence.

    And this post is a huge necro…

  33. What I Do On Weekends | rumorgames

    [...] soon.  Another uses a procedurally-generated model of Earth.  This weekend, I happened across this awesome blog post and was intrigued by the idea of a scifi game set in orbit around Saturn.  Since our Windows Phone [...]

  34. Gucci Bandana

    Dude, whatever. Fuck conventional and near-future science. OBVIOUSLY, after discovering the first Prothean obelisk (and thus mass relays) on Mars, the First Contact War will draw intergalactic pity. The Asari will hook us up with uber-science, far beyond our unrefined ways and means.

  35. Gucci Bandana

    And yes, by “uber-science”, I mean the ability to make spacefaring manners into those of seafaring. DUH. Why do you think the Asari are blue? JEEZ, get out of your scientific mind and get into REASON. By the way, H20 & O2 fo lyfe, yallz. (stupid alien species.)

  36. Peter

    Hi, I just found this. It was an interesting read and I actually learned some new things – which is always a pleasure. I have steered myself well clear of Mass Effect, so I will not defend any of it’s silliness, but I do have a few gripes with what you’ve written.

    The thing I don’t understand, is how you can have a pet interest in astronomy without a consideration for what makes up all that stuff out there. By this, I mean to say that astronomers and particle physicists agree that we don’t know much about the universe, nor what it’s made up of, nor how it works. Sure we’ve made up various guide-lines for what we observe, but they are consistantly proven to have been underestimates a prime example being the recent discovery that neutrinos travel faster than light.
    I certainly don’t mean to discredit any of these guide-lines, but once upon a time even the earth being flat was a standard, this wasn’t proven wrong as such but instead it was expanded upon – to say that it was actually just a bit bent, and bent enough that it went around and joined up with itself in a ball. Like this, I can’t imagine why anyone would consider any of our guide-lines to be adamant truth with no room for expansion beyond what is currently standard, that would be a bit silly.

    Correct me if I’m out of line but I think that when you look at space-transit you’re putting too much emphasis on the restrictions of our current capabilities, which are quite lacking considering we’re the new kids on the block as a burgeoning space-faring civilization. This becomes more apparent when we are compared to the hypothetical civilizations that could have had around one billion years head start on us… that’s a long time to still be strapping oneself to something as primitive as a rocket in order to get somewhere, and yet back on Earth we don’t even have a permanent presence outside of our own orbit yet.

    As for the lack of evidence of said civilizations – if you were a billion years more developed than I, would you really want to talk to me? Perhaps you would, but an even better question would be, do you really think that it would be difficult at all for such an advanced entity to mask it’s presence from the lesser if it didn’t want to talk? – on this topic I would want to emphasise that with our current stage of technology we can already hide objects from many if not all parts of the EM spectrum.

    If you ask me we haven’t found anyone out there because we’re still too young and naïve a species for interstellar _anything_ let alone interstellar relations. As the primitive race that we are we fit very nicely into the Zoo Hypothesis, as nothing more than home-planet-bound tribal animals with a short untampered-with lifespan, since we haven’t reached globalisation yet, we haven’t reached any singularities yet, genetic engineering is yet to make any real splash, and we haven’t even reached extra-terra colonisation yet.

    All that being said, I agree with your point that we shouldn’t undervalue what we already have in our solar system, and it’s unfortunate that what we have is largely excluded from mainstream pop culture. But then, that’s the sensationalistic junk we manufacture as a species who’s interest rides on the latest, most extreme novelty that gives us the biggest dose of brain chemicals in our reward centre. People won’t buy things that seem tame next to the ridiculous. It’s just how we are as a dumb species. :/

    I also agree with your opposition to explaining fantasy with science – since it doesn’t explain anything else the depicted technology would be real. This is an interesting one though, since most R&D derrives inspiration to create things – directly from SciFi – StarTrek comes up with a personal communication device – it was seen as being completely impossible, yet now we have everything on our mobile phones including the internet, and augmented reality because someone saw it and said “Actually… you wait just a minute… I think I could make something like that” and it began the long process of consumer-driven development. So as much as saying “that’s pure fantasy” is completely true right now, one day it might be completely wrong.

    As for FTL – it is a bit rich, isn’t it, and maybe it is impossible, maybe it is possible but our of our reach for the next 10000 years, we will never know if we don’t explore it. Science will give a more accurate answer after we work out more pressing issues such as how gravity works, and why, or whether or not we can create alternate realities which use different force membranes to use for travel in order to negate problems such as the friction resistance and damage caused by the particles in space and whatnot. There is no use in closing one’s mind to what could happen, simply because it’s not currently possible.

    In summary, I agree that Science Fiction needs a kick in the pants, but I also believe that there is a very great need for some wild thinking that ignores what we currently presume to be true, without trying to pretend science is something it’s not and misleading the audience as to what is real for us, now.

    I’d be happy to know your thoughts on any of this.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Wow, thanks for that awesome comment. I don’t think I can add to much to that, I don’t really disagree with you in most cases. Here are some points I wanted to comment on:

      but they are consistantly proven to have been underestimates a prime example being the recent discovery that neutrinos travel faster than light.

      Well, the newest word on the FTL neutrinos is that it was a measurement error after all. Of course there is loads of things that aren’t explained yet. However, we do have the relativity thing down pretty well. And relativity is a pretty groundbreaking and fundamental idea. It goes beyond describing just a bunch of particles. It’s a model for what kind of events can and can’t exist in the universe. See the idea of Light Cone as an example. If we found out it’s wrong or had a loophole, that would be a world-shattering realization.

      I think it would be really cool thing to deal with in Sci-Fi. There is potential for some really freaky stuff. Some time ago I read Schild’s Ladder and it went in this direction. Sadly, that’s not how most authors chose to “break” relativity. They invent workarounds because it’s inconvenient and stands in the way of the otherwise quite traditional story they want to tell.

      I think we both have a similar idea. I agree that Sci-Fi can be a great inspiration for real science. I just think we need to nudge Sci-Fi and science a bit closer together in order for those creative sparks to fire more frequently. I think featuring more of the Solar System in space travel would be a great place to start. I remember being on the Moon was one of the best parts of Mass Effect 1 anyway.

      1. Peter

        Interesting, I didn’t know that news on neutrinos – it seems they have no discernable difference in speed compared to light. I’ll have to keep a better eye on developments as I stand corrected.

        Science fiction authors are absolutely an obscure sort of phenominon given that they generally do not have a clear understanding of scientific principals, an example of their uninformed thought processes being the idea that gravity has an opposite – antigravity (which for all we know it does exist in some exotic fashion, but it does very much seem like beating a dead horse to use that as an explaination for why fictional space vessels can travel from orbit to surface without gigantic fuel stores and exertion of force). I’m currently trying to influence some reality on a family member of mine who is writing scifi for various mediums, including a TV series, so the topic is quite coincidentally relevant for me, heh. I’ll have a read of that story, the blurb got me.

        On Australian TV at the moment there’s a series playing called “Prophets of Science Fiction” by Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus, etc.) – not sure how accurate some aspects are but it’s certainly an interesting look into Science Fiction and Science correlations. It does involve some of those Michio Kaku bits where science is bent to meet pop culture’s absurd demands, some people find that grating to sit through. It’s pretty good on the most part, I would reccomend ‘obtaining’ it somehow if it strikes you.

        You should write on your ideas. Who knows, if you do it in just the right way you might find some AAA material with your brand of scientific justice paving the way. But it won’t happen until someone does it.

        1. Krystian Majewski

          Thanks for the encouraging words. Perhaps I’m even already working on a project. Stay tuned ;)

          I wish you all the best with appealing to your family member. I know it can be a tough sell.

          As for Prometheus and Science? Well, I think Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently had a nice tweet about the subject. But the movie does delve a little into Intelligent Design issues. And hey, there are no guns! Baby steps. ;)

          1. Peter

            Excellent! I haven’t seen Prometheus yet, but Neil deGrasse Tyson is absoutely fantastic for comments on debunking stupidity, ie:

            I meant this: It’s made by the same person who made prometheus is all.

            I’m stuck to a useless old laptop for at least a year but if you need a concept artist/illustrator when I get back to a real computer then just say the word. In the mean time, best of luck for your project.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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