4 Things Wrong With Science Fiction Spaceships

Proud Mammal Kane 207 Comments

Proud Mammal is working on a game that deals with some of the physics of space travel, and it’s lead me down a path of thinking about the space ships we see in movies and television. Most of my favorite ships from those sources are utterly bonkers. The Viper (Battlestar Galactica) has terrible maneuverability. The Enterprise (Star Trek) has literally zero true visibility, they rely 100% on computer read-outs. The TARDIS (Dr. Who) is… well it’s a police box, or… a gateway or something, but regardless they show that thing flying through space.

Image by Locozee

No problem.

Those ships don’t work in any situation but fantasy… but that’s not really what I wanted to point out. There are 4 things that I think could improve any space ship design with only tiny changes, and here they are.

1. Add Windows – So many designs in science fiction do away with windows because they have sensors and view screens and emergency back up generators that will protect them from every needing to see anything. Star Trek (at least The Original Series) has the crew receiving all of their information from powered screens. I know for a fact that there is at least one instance of them losing power and becoming totally helpless (Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Maybe if they had a window and some manual propulsion vents (to give them a way to propel themselves without power), they wouldn’t get caught up in so many issues where they just have to talk themselves out of trouble (I know what you’re doing Gene Roddenberry, save a lot of money on those FX, yeah?). And maybe they didn’t think layering of screens would be possible either, but we’re already living in a world of Google Glass, so maybe we can just stick those same sensors and screens right on the window, solve everyone’s problem. Worst case scenario, just swing your view screen in front of the window when you don’t need to see.

from scifi.blogoverflow.com

Sooo, which direction is this thing looking?

2. Add Rear View Mirrors – Even the ships with windows generally don’t have any means of seeing behind themselves. Point to any number of space fighter and they have these cockpits that can see (at best, and not counting blind spots) 180 degrees around their ship. The X-wing, the Viper, and Starfox’s ship, none of them can see behind themselves and none of them can turn on a dime (for some reason, their versions of space don’t let you spin while maintaining momentum). The most egregious violator of this and the one with the most prominent problem? Firefly’s Serenity. There is an entire episode dedicated to what happens when they don’t look behind them (1 whole episode of their short 14 episode run – I.E. that’s a problem for them 7% of the time: which is huge compared to most of my other fixes on these other ships). They’re followed into deep space by a bounty hunter trying to catch them off guard… and they don’t know he’s there despite the fact that he’s been following them at close range for hours! Just mount a mirror on the outside of that ship and they would never have had a problem.

From Dash Z

A quick look backwards once in a while… not too difficult.

3. Reduce Ship Size – There are so many enormous ships in science fiction that it’s basically a trope at this point. But I’m going to point to the absolute biggest of them all, The Death Star. Clocking in at 160 Kilometers in diameter it’s easily one of the biggest ships in science fiction history. But what is that space used for? It’s not all power and laser workings, I can tell you that. There’s a standing army aboard, but why? It’s a blatant misuse of manpower and materials… because instead of building the extra 80 miles (diameter) of crew quarters, mess halls, cinemas, shopping plazas, family barracks, pre-schools, roads and breweries – they could have just made it smaller. They need probably 3 teams of 20 to pilot the ship, 3 teams of 20 to shoot the gun. 20 kilometers would probably have been plenty big enough to house the gun, have enough power and STILL have room for homespun niceties for the crew. Plus, with all that extra metal and crew, they could have manned additional ships to help protect the giant mega weapon. And it’s not just Star Wars that gets this wrong. Almost every giant ship in science fiction is absolutely too big for what it’s designed to do. Oh man… and don’t even get me started on the logistics of keeping these ships supplied. Unless they’re essentially magic like Star Trek’s replicator… only then is it possible.

from  Cartuse Imprimanta Refill Profesionist

Never get between a Klingon and his magic whiskey.

4. Add More Engines or Thrusters – The thing about space craft is that they need more than one thruster to get motion in more than one direction, and a lot of space craft in movies and television do have more than one… but, and it’s a huge but, they’re so often asymmetrical that it’s a wonder these ships don’t go spinning out of control immediately. Take Battle Star Galactic’s Viper, its 3 main engines aren’t directly behind the center of mass, and they are not symmetrical. That ship is going to go into some wicked spins. The X-wing design on the other hand is a bit better, it has 4 engines, directly at center of mass and they’re symmetrical. Good. But something we never see in the movies are nose-cone thrusters, something to give it a good dog fighting maneuver. Getting followed? No problem, just swing your ship 180 degrees and blast away while you move backwards.

from Gizmodo

Great luck for the Cylons that whoever designed this ship was drunk.

There’s my nitpicks, and they’re all valid. These ships just aren’t as good as they could be. They can’t see, they’re wasteful and (in a real situation) they would probably just spin out of control forever. With my proposed changes, the Empire would have won the war, the crew of Serenity wouldn’t have to deal with uninvited madmen on board, and the Enterprise would certainly get to decrease the number of red shirts it orders.

from couples costumes

“Thanks buddy!”

Behind the Scenes #2: References in ACHTUNG!

Today I’m just going to take it easy this week and showcase some fun I had with writing the cards in ACHTUNG! The game had me coming up with a lot of different ways to be silly, and I borrowed a few of them from real people and various media. Take a look at this short list and I’ll point out some of my favorites.

There are two cards in the deck that each refer specifically to one person. Both of these people have extremely identifiable traits that are hard to miss.

The first of these two will have you choose from these laws: “Wear something on your head,” “Speak in an old west accent,” and “End everything you say with, ‘Pilgrim.’” Of course it’s John Wayne, The Duke himself. He’s pretty much the most famous cowboy in movie history. Go check out him out in the movie Stagecoach, it’s pretty great.

 

The second of the set reads: “Do not move your right hand,” “Hold a writing utensil in your right hand,” and “Only refer to yourself in the third person.” Any guesses? Good guess! That’s right, it’s our old friend Bob Dole. If you were that guy in the back of the room who guessed wrong, well then let me tell you who he is. He’s one of those career politicians that hang around so long that everyone gets to know his name and face. His mannerisms stem from a wound he received serving in World War 2 and while that isn’t funny, I feel like a bunch of people imitating him would be.

 

Sourced from https://chicanes.wordpress.com/

Ball(point)s to the wall.

There’s also a ton of movie references tucked away in the box. Here are a few of my favorites…

“After playing a law, raise your arms into the air and shout ‘Can you dig it?’” If you’re a fan of the action film genre then I’m sure you’ll scream “Yeah!” The Warriors is a movie that gives us so many great lines… especially the insane villainous gang guy who sets The Warriors up for murder. I had to use restraint to only shove one quote into the game.

 

Not all movies are great, and some aren’t even good. The movie that I took, “The losers of a filibuster must say, ‘You are tearing me apart, Lisa!’” from is what you call a so-bad-it’s-good movie… and even that might be generous. The line comes from the incredible Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus The Room. The wikipedia page quotes a review calling it the Citizen Kane of bad movies, which couldn’t be more accurate.

 

I’m a sucker for smart comedy that doesn’t mind being silly and the boys (men? (grandpas?)) of Monty Python are some of the best. Which is why I had to co-opt a line from their brilliant questing film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “If you must insult someone, refer to their parents as rodents and fruit.”

 

I don’t want to go through everything and produce a list four times this size, so I’ll just skip straight to some musical reference. This one is a bit absurd out of context (and it doesn’t make much more sense in context but… there you go). The Ramones are one of my favorite bands and they have a song called Commando from which I took the idea for the law, “One your turn, be nice to mommy, don’t talk to commies, and (pretend to) eat kosher salamis.”

I wanted to pack as much silliness and reference into the game as I could so players would, just once in a while, go “oh yeah, I recognize this!” I know that reference is the lowest form of creativity, but damn if it isn’t a good time.

PSA: Turkey Day coming up!

Proud Mammal Kane 23 Comments

In the U.S. Thanksgiving is coming up at the end of the month and with that comes a proud holiday tradition, The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon! On Thanksgiving Day at noon eastern time, Joel will be back again to show us some more bad movies topped with the sweet and savory gravy called riff. I’ll be there to stuff myself full of the dark meat of bad movies and the cranberry sauce of robotic comedians.

For those not in the know, riffing is basically just talking over a movie, responding to things said or actions taking place on screen. Nobody does it better than Best Brains (the team behind MST3K) and their progeny (Rifftrax & Cinematic Titanic). Those outings are also good, like ham, but stick with the great big turkey bird that is MST3K if you don’t know what you’re getting into.

The official MST youtube channel (get to it through that first video!) has two full movies on it, and they both come with a riffing guide built into the annotations; which is kind of great considering a lot of the references are to things that happened long before I was either born or cognizant of pop culture. But don’t let that dissuade you young’ins, even the fruit cake of obscure reference is delicious in the quantities MST serves up.

If you’re looking for a good time right now (yeah, lets keep this anonymous, just like a bathroom wall) then go to youtube and… don’t tell anyone I told you this, but type in “mst3k” into the search bar and you’ll be able to find almost every movie they’ve ever done. A good jumping in point to brine you for Turkey Day? Try “Catalina Caper” the movie is as poisonous as a raw potato, but the MST boys boil it thoroughly and stick a fork in it when it’s done.

And never forget to end your MST3K meal with a big helping of the pumpkin pie of overused simile.

Game Review: Cards Against Humanity

Already, in my second review, I regret establishing a rubric to grade the games that I play. Some games simply don’t fall into the appropriate headings. So consider that grading system repealed. I never want to be beholden to the system when a game that doesn’t fit comes along. And that’s what I’m going to be talking about today, the popular funny-word-shouty game called Cards Against Humanity.

Image Taken from Amazon

This game.

Yes. I invented the genre classification of funny-word-shouty game and I’ll use it quite liberally throughout the article when making comparisons. “But you don’t shout anything out in Cards Against Humanity”, someone might angrily point out. Well you’re right, but the core concept of every game that I’m going to classify as a funny-word-shouty game involves promoting (or provoking) fun and humor through the use of words or actions especially via other players. Some of them involves shouting things out, some of them don’t, but they all have the same end goal with their style of play. Perhaps I could have come up with a better genre title, but I’d rather write about the games than build complex taxonomies. Does that appease you? “Well, yes.” Good. Then lets get started.

The whole funny-word-shouty game genre seems to have emerged in the mid 1800s with the extremely well known game Charades. Charades, as far as I can tell, is the mother game of the whole genre. The omnipresent acting game that everyone should know about is all about being both competitive and silly at the same time, which highlights the great thing about this genre; it means that you don’t need to winning to be having fun. Every single one of these funny-word-shouty games core conceit is fun for the sake of fun. See if you agree with me.

Image taken from www.obeygiant.com

^ What he said. ^

Another influence for my subject this week is certainly Mad Libs, the game-book where kids install their own nouns, verbs, and such into stories to humorous effect. Mad Libs presented a shift in the genre, for 100 years the game had been played physically with people moving around and acting and guessing. It moves us into a more sedentary lifestyle of sitting around a table rather than standing in the living room. Which is great for board gamers, because we love to sit.

The next few games I’m going to mention are obvious influences for Cards Against Humanity and they’re much more alike than the originators of the genre. They are: Balderdash (With the right group, it can be even more offensive today’s topic), Pictionary (the funny-word-shouty game that in my opinion best represents the genre), and finally Apples to Apples. Apples to Apples is so similar to Cards Against Humanity they may as well be identical cousins. They differ in very few regards, of course their text is different and they look different but in the important gameplay aspects they’re almost the same, the biggest most egregious difference is… only one of these games has a real win condition.

The Cards Against Humanity rulebook is literally one page and only half of that is actual content. And that’s great! I love games that take seconds to teach someone. It means we can get to the game all the faster. My problem comes when there isn’t a way for the game to end. “Hey Jerk”, someone out there is saying right now, “I like that Cards Against Humanity doesn’t make me stop playing, it’s not the boss of me, I’m the boss of it.” Good point anonymous name caller, games are often bogged down by the ideas that their creators instill into them. Like last week with the game Ikusa, they forced a convoluted dice rolling system into a game that could have been simpler. If they asked players to come up with a fighting mechanic, I bet nearly every polled player would have come up with something simpler. Some people don’t like to stop playing games, and that’s absolutely up to them. I love them for it, but at some point… during my first ever game of Cards Against Humanity, going into the second hour or play, I found myself thinking ‘why can’t this game just be over?’

“I’m going to come to your house and beat your brains in! Cards Against Humanity is my favorite game in the whole world, bro!” Settle down, man! I’m not saying you have to stop playing. Just build a fatigue buffer into the system. That is my main issue with the game; the people who play it just never want to stop and it seems like everyone wants to play. I don’t know how they captivated their audience like they did, but they targeted a fiercely loyal and obsessive demographic. The same groups of people that love other mediocre things that are good at the start but quickly peter out, like Family Guy, Starbucks, and every single restaurant chain on the planet. And just like those things, I never find myself wanting more after the first serving.

Image taken from Wikipedia

Especially this one.

Is this a personal problem? Quite likely, but this is also a review filled with opinion. So suck it up, crybaby. “Brodudeski, you didn’t read the House Rules section of the rulebook! They talk about ending the game over there!” Ahem, bro, they talk about ending the game after everyone is tired of playing, not because someone has won. “Then just make up your own rules, making shit up is totally ham!” Sure, I could, and I certainly would if I owned the game and organized a group to play. But that isn’t me, I’m never the guy whipping it out at a party and it would be rude on top of presumptive of me to enforce my own rules on the situation. So it’s really up to the truely ham bros out there to elicit their own changes. I’m pretty sure they won’t. “Me and my bros at the frat house play every night, all 15 of us!” Really? And what do you guys do while you wait? “Wuh?” You know, because having 15 people play Cards Against Humanity just becomes an incredible time sink of listening to people read cards that quickly lose their humor. “Dude, it’s hilarious every single time.” To each their own.

I can’t put this under the review headline when I’m just complaining about one poor aspect of their design, so I’ll shove a couple of things in here that make me smile. I love the fact that they put their game online for free, good stuff. I really wish more companies would take on that try it before you buy it mentality. Also I loved the first hour and a half I played of this game. It’s funny and dark and worth a try. “That’s what I like to hear!” You’re welcome.

Bottom Line

Cards against humanity is a funny-word-shouty game that will make or break a party, and nothing in between. It catches attentions and it holds them for an inordinate amount of time.

If you want my suggestion, play until someone wins 3 cards, then just play again if you’re not sated. Otherwise it becomes a Möbius strip of mildly humorous word diarrhea with half the players eating it up and everyone else just hoping someone else is brave enough to leave the table first.

 

95% unrelated Post Script! – Our friend Mariko over at Artsy wants everybody to know that the Say Yes Cover art up there is a work by Shepard Fairey. You can see/read/learn more about him over at their dedicated page https://www.artsy.net/artist/shepard-fairey Check it out!

Behind the Scenes #1: ACHTUNG!

This Behind the Scenes article is going to focus on Proud Mammal’s first published card game, ACHTUNG! The game was developed quickly over the course of about 2 months for entry into a contested hosted by The Game Crafter website. We didn’t get past the first round of voting, but we were pretty happy with our score considering we don’t have any clout in their community. But about 2 weeks before that vote, the game went through a massive revamp. The original version of ACHTUNG! was a very different game from the one that was submitted to the contest.

In the beginning, ACHTUNG! wasn’t the silly, slow build that it became. It was an ultra competitive rules memorization game. The player who could remember the most rules from the rulebook would always come out the victor. We had this wild image of high-level competitive play where people, who would basically have to be Mentats, would know every rule and be able to follow them perfectly. An ideal game would go on and on and subtly change as time went by and different cards were played. It was a Chess match with a deck of cards where everything you did HAD to be deeply layered strategy and perfect moves… and it wasn’t a whole lot of fun.

Image sourced from http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science-Fiction-News.asp?NewsNum=1643

This is a Mentat. Don’t you want to be just like him?

You certainly couldn’t teach it to somebody in one sitting, and players who didn’t study the rulebook, just really didn’t have a clue how to play. In my own shortsighted defense, the rules were designed to be referenced during game (via a wildcard mechanic), but if you needed to look at those rules then it’s certain that someone else at the table is already beating you down. Again, it ended up being completely void of fun thanks to the rules we set up.

In ACHTUNG! we actually call the rules of the game, Laws, and the original version was no different in this. Each different list of rules also had a title. The set of cards came with a Declaration of Authority from the Authoritative System States (yes, acronyms are funny, don’t doubt it). I’m going to quote the entirety of the Declaration’s Preamble because it’s something I enjoyed writing and it’ll help give you an idea of my headspace while we were designing the original version of ACHTUNG!.

 

We the people of the Authoritative System States declare that, now and forever more, all people everywhere will be free from being free from tyranny. Everyone will police everyone, and everyone will be lawful in our nation under the watchful eye of The ACHTUNG! Special Police and their deputized civilians.

We hold that the ACHTUNG! Lawbook will be our sole guide in matters of domestic control and internal guardianship of the land we shall hold eternally. And as such, the ACHTUNG! Lawbook shall never be abolished or dismantled, and never will a citizen ignore or break its definitions without reprimand.

With this Authority granted to us by a higher power and enforced by our agents on Earth, the Authoritative System States proclaims each of you to be deputies of the System, for the System and forevermore implementing the System in every writ the ACHTUNG! Lawbook holds. Go forth and ACHTUNG!

 

image sourced from http://www.biography.com/people/thomas-jefferson-9353715#synopsis

“I see the Apprentice has become the Master.”

The whole silly point of that was world building, and giving the game an excuse to be brutally mean to its players. The declaration held the primary group of rules and how to play the game at the most basic stage, but the game was incredibly easy if you played only with the declaration, and only got difficult after players went to our website and started printing out Amendments. See, the Amendments had themes ranging from dress codes to curfews and they added most of the complexity to the game. (Can you believe that? We added a dress code to the game! Players would have to know they’re going to play this game well in advance to be able to play it successfully. Sheesh!)

The actual deck of cards was very different as well. Since the laws came from the Law Books the cards were basically just your average number and color matching game. The difference being that all of the crazy rules make the convoluted matching the central aspect of the game. As often as you had to fake a sneeze at the player on your right, you also had to be prepared to know exactly which card in your hand can be played on top of an ”Orange 86.379”. yeah… not the “Purple 1.2388” do you know why? Of course not, but if you had read the instructions you might understand.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that we always wanted the game to silly, maybe even a little frustrating, but we designed it back-asswards. We started at the rules rather than starting at the cards. Which was a mistake. We didn’t care about the fun because it was supposed to be competitive, which is totally the wrong approach to game making (especially when you actually want people to play your games). Which is why we almost totally scrapped the first version of ACHTUNG!. Which is why the current version of ACHTUNG! (Available for purchase now at https://www.thegamecrafter.com/games/achtung- ) is so much better than the version we started with.

Laibach Everybody!

My baby. My ACHTUNG! baby.

Designers don’t be afraid to change an idea that isn’t working. It’s better to erase your mistakes and give yourselves more work than to cover them up. And really… make sure your game is fun to somebody out there. If your audience isn’t going to like the game, then it’s not a good idea to make it. The current version of ACHTUNG! is supposed to be for the silliest of people and that’s really the audience we wanted all along (Believe me, don’t play it with a party pooper).

Anyway, I’ll leave you now with one final comment. A small piece of advice for the design minded out there. Ideas are a dime a dozen, and not all of them can be perfect, but never throw out the idea with the game. If a concept feels good but it’s not working, it can survive a remake and come out even better in the end… and if a concept feels bad and it isn’t working, then it probably wasn’t good in the first place. (*cough*TheKarateKid*cough*)